Before he killed himself, Kurt Cobain killed the rock star. With “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Cobain ushered in a wave of frontmen who wore sweaters, were friends with gay men, and did honorable things like play the Tibetan Freedom Concert. Out with the old, in with the new: Kurt’s wife ended up looking like a leftover from the egocentric days of L.A., when it was OK to be loud, messy, and full of yourself.
Ten years later, it’s still hip to be square, as the emo-rock offspring of Sebadoh and Pavement put a damper on anything resembling rebellion. Cobain’s legacy might have saved us from excess, but it screwed us out of glamour. Every now and then, though, someone comes back to remind us that a lead singer needn’t necessarily be articulate, well groomed, and college educated to be acceptable.
Buckcherry frontman Joshua Todd is the un-p.c. rock star of the moment—reminiscent in more than a few ways of one of the slimiest, most despicable, and incidentally, most talented, musicians of the past 20 years. While Todd’s got W. Axl Rose’s nasal twang and his high-pitched tonal qualities, he lacks Rose’s ridiculous range, and so far, his volatile, sometimes racist temper. Niggers and faggots get off easy in Buckcherry’s book—for this band, the world revolves around rattlesnake shakes and fast machines.
Todd looks and acts like the kind of rock star who smells like piss and sounds like vinegar. Skeevy and skinny, he wears his tight leather pants low, like Rose did, no doubt without undies, and tattoos caress his well-carved abdomen. The most noticeable one—CHAOS (with an Anarchy symbol scratched through the A)—stretches across his stomach.
Critics always charged that GN’R ripped off Aerosmith—who were themselves the po’ man’s Rolling Stones—and you could argue that Buckcherry are the best GN’R tribute band ever (better than even the current “Guns N’ Roses”). Some will haggle over whether or not Todd is closer to Bon Scott than Rose (particularly when he croaks his way through “Ridin’ “), but though they nod their greasy heads to AC/DC’s riffs and Scott’s mottled rasp, Buckcherry recall a different era.
The band pulls off the neat trick of triggering nostalgia for a time they were never actually a part of. They feel like an L.A. summer night: sticky with sweat and stinking of dirty sex. It’s a shame that they’ve arrived nearly 10 years too late for the cock-rock party. Back in the halcyon hair days when L.A. Guns and Faster Pussycat ruled the Sunset Strip, Buckcherry might have found themselves at the top of the grimy heap. They rock harder, their riffs are more immediate, and they’ve written one of the best blow songs ever: “Lit Up,” with an addictive chorus that’s got Todd bellowing, “I love the cocaine! I love the cocaine!,” is the jacked-up answer to GN’R’s whacked-out “Mr. Brownstone.”
Instead, bad timing forces Buckcherry to fight for scraps left by pretty-boy poseurs like Matchbox 20 and Sugar Ray. But their two discs, Buckcherry and Time Bomb, make you wish they’d mute both the meathead frat-boy rap-metal of Korn and Limp Bizkit and the dickless pointy-head sensitivity of myriad modestly mousy shoegazers.
It’s all the more ironic when you consider how golden gods like Rose and Vince Neil were kicked off their platinum-plated podiums by Cobain because they were considered pretentious assholes. After 10 years of political introspection and underground snobbery, the tables have turned: Buckcherry seem more down-to-earth than many of their critically praised contemporaries. You can only assume they practice what they preach (what else? sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll). And hell, they’ve even revived the power ballad. “(Segue) Helpless” is woefully sappy, and there’s nothing socially aware about it.
Like GN’R, Buckcherry are especially good at the bridge, that long-ignored bit stuck three-quarters of the way in. “Front Side” ‘s center is as effective as GN’R’s middle march through “Sweet Child O’ Mine”: Todd creepily howls, “Sodomy/Beat me up ’cause you like it, baby,” and those 30 seconds alone make the rest of the track worthwhile. Unlike their forebears, though, Buckcherry don’t stretch for the epic—they keep things short and sharp. Perhaps they’re smart enough to recognize that only bloated rock stars attempt 13-minute rock operas. One can only hope—but unfortunately it also doesn’t appear that Buckcherry are insane or high enough to dream up something as twisted as “Rocket Queen.”
Music, like fashion, tends to repeat itself in 20-year cycles, and all fingers are pointing to an imminent ’80s comeback, from which Buckcherry should benefit. The first sign is always the return of bad hair: Mullets, asymmetrical ‘dos, and tails adorn models sashaying down the runways; they’re wearing off-the-shoulder tops, ripped jeans, and hesher T-shirts, too. Basement Jaxx are set to release their new wave record, electro’s crowding DJ crates, and there are suddenly club nights called Tainted Love and Reaganomixxx. As the stock market plummets, perhaps it’s time for rock ‘n’ roll—the kind that talked about pills, thrills, bellyaches, and girls girls girls—to get back in the saddle again. After all, we once again have a Bush in the White House. And he loved the cocaine.