Friday, Dec. 21, 2007

Rivers Cuomo and the (old) New Radical

By Evan Rytlewski
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I've been enjoying the hell out of Alone, the just-released Rivers Cuomo demos collection. In addition to priceless (and often painfully honest) linear notes, the disc compiles of wealth of prime '90s-era material, including a healthy chunk of the scrapped concept album Songs from the Black Hole, a goofy project that nonetheless spurned a couple of great tracks, particularly the quirky, would-have-been hit "Blast Off."

One particular track jumped out at me, though, 1992's brooding "The World We Love So Much." Rivers seethes throughout the track, sounding at times like early Elliott Smith (who had yet to release a solo album at the time) and Nirvana (who were then at the height of their career.) He delivers the song so convincingly, that I was surprised to learn he didn't write it�Gregg Alexander did.

"Gregg Alexander's music was a beacon leading me towards more personal emotionalism in my own art," Cuomo explains in his notes. "I was in love with the over-the-top personal emotionalism of his vocal performances and his lyrics. I pictured him at sixteen, breaking down in his dark little vocal booth, crying as he was singing his songs, which is pretty much how he was presented in the CD booklet."

So who is Gregg Alexander? Perhaps this video will refresh your memory:

Yeah, that's right: Gregg Alexander is the guy from the New Radicals, those celebrity-baiting, late-'90s one-hit wonders. Before he reinvented himself as the New Radicals, he pursued a (largely failed) solo career as something of a hard-rocker. (Take a look at this epileptic video, which YouTube, sadly, won't let me embed.)

That video is riff with hilarious early '90s music-video editing cliches, but of far more interest is this equally dated video from that same Intoxifornication album, "The Truth," which is angsty even by grunge standards. "The things that make you happy make me sad,"Alexander whines, later shouting: “I’m a Jew and you’re my Hitler!” Image-wise he seems to be going for a sort of effeminate sex symbol a la Morrissey.

It’s difficult to tell if Alexander is being sarcastic when he flaunts his modest, almost pre-pubescent body, but there’s an undeniable wit to the song, especially its end. “Here comes the lawsuit, baby!” Alexander wails, breaking into a lazy cover of “Slow Ride.” Is he satirizing rock stars or does he genuinely want to be one? It’s difficult to tell, and even during his brief reign with the New Radicals six years later, Alexander never made it clear.
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