This summer, Break the Cycle (Flip/Elektra) made Staind the first metal band in a decade to score a chart-topping disc purely on the coattails of melancholic anthems. Yet the real cycle-breaker, in terms of restoring the displaced legacy of sentimental radio-ready loud rock, is “Hanging by a Moment” by Lifehouse. After all, it’s Lifehouse’s Jason Wade who gloats about falling even more in love with you, letting go of all he’s held onto. And with that proclamation, the coast was clear for the time-honored theme of relationship politics to return to a steady slew of hit three-chord choruses for the first time since the diabolical wallop Nirvana wrought. (Hell, even mid-’90s sensitive guys like Collective Soul and Live and Candlebox and Dishwalla felt the need to be profound.)
Lifehouse‘s secret weapon might be incorporating traces of that long-lost corporate rock essential: good backing vocals. Never mind that their first hit owes a hefty debt to “All Apologies”; Wade personifies postgrunge. As the first famous arena anthem songwriter born in the ’80s, he became old enough to drink this summer, but is hardly a candidate to join A.J. McLean in rehab. Rather, Wade is an unabashed Christian whose pulpit has a pout (although, sorry girls, he’s married), yet his stentorian singing never catches a hook to match the insistence of “Hanging by a Moment.” Drowned in dour child-of-divorce indulgences, No Name Face (DreamWorks) is digestible due only to those supporting vocal strains from band manager Jude Cole, himself once a precocious hand for two late-’70s one-hit wonders: the Records and Moon Martin. As for Wade, his pool of memorable fist-pumpers may get deeper in time—but then, Eddie Money never bothered making legendary albums, either.
Besides, sometimes it takes a second try before you can figure out what to fill an entire disc with. Eve 6‘s Horrorscope (RCA), released last summer to mass indifference, is mostly a mutation of Oingo Boingo’s “Weird Science” and Flesh for Lulu’s “I Go Crazy”—theme songs from John Hughes teen flicks that didn’t star Molly Ringwald. Resident redheaded dork Max Collins staggers away from the Green Day-without-the-snot of Eve 6’s then-still-teen debut, only to find that the Fixx is in. And while gratuitous cuss words and stock misogyny might be blamed on the blustering boogie, it all pivots around the belated orchestrated smash “Here’s to the Night,” whose bittersweet slink suddenly brands Eve 6 as purposeful. It’s “Every Breath You Take” without the stalker subtext, “Missing You” by John Waite minus the world-weary psychodrama, and probably Billy Idol’s motivation for a remake of “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” in 2001. But Horrorscope is all about Generation X getting trampled down—what’s gotten played out in the Goo Goo Dolls’ wretched caress becomes charming when it’s groped by Eve 6’s slimy tentacles.
It’s preferable to the arduous arrogance of the exasperating Train, whose ubiquitous dirge “Drops of Jupiter” caws like three kinds of Crowes: Black, Counting, and Cameron. Yet if there’s any fictional construct that Train best emulate on their sophomore album, it’s not Stillwater, but Garth Brooks as Chris Gaines; overall, Drops of Jupiter (Aware/Columbia) resembles an innocuous venture from a lesser member of the Eagles. Stripped of string sections, Train can’t be bothered to soar, paddling instead through jazzy time signatures lest you question their, uh, integrity. It sheds light on what a cynical ploy “Drops of Jupiter” is—as if being the only track meriting liner-note lyrics didn’t provide proof. Because being miffed at the flighty chick who spurns his soy latte for a Milky Way was anguish for singer Pat Monahan, he needs to tussle with bandmates who’d sooner launch into the refrain from the Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” than tolerate his moaning. Otherwise, the biggest revelation on Drops of Jupiter is that its epic-or-bust title tune is a mere 4:20 long.
Meanwhile, nonchalance is what drives Fuel‘s infectious pop crossover strum, “Bad Day,” whose protagonist is perplexed over his muse’s perpetual PMS. Once voted most likely to wither away with the rest of the bubblegrunge latecomers, Fuel managed to transcend their anonymity by reveling in it—”Hemorrhage (In My Hands)” became a radio staple because of Brett Scallions’s willingness to be a doubting Rob Thomas. Consequently, the band’s snarling sound takes on a whiff of nostalgic dissonance, which turns Something Like Human (550 Music/Epic) into more than a beeline for the golden age of power ballads. Instead, it compensates for clumsy late-career efforts of Dokken and Cinderella to adjust after the hair tide had fallen. “Bad Day,” especially, successfully elucidates whatever R.E.M. struggled to telegraph when they tackled Lou Gramm’s “Midnight Blue.” It’s alternative rock as roots music.
Staind, however, hit paydirt by playing the oldest card in the deck: adolescent alienation. Which isn’t to say Break the Cycle is The Catcher in the Rye for century 21—man of constant sorrow Aaron Lewis must feel some duty to patron Fred Durst’s penchant for strident stuff-breaking. But Lewis, the fattest and baldest sensitive troubadour since Christopher Cross, requires a wide berth of atmosphere in order to emote. Otherwise, he’s suffocated from shouldering the burden of belligerence for a nation of youth sequestered behind locked bedroom doors, even starting one song “To my mother, to my father/It’s your son or it’s your daughter,” covering all the bases of blame.
There would be no expectations for Staind were it not for the video of their frontman warbling “Outside” before a stadium campfire as Durst croaks along, and the obvious fact that Lewis’s head is the ideal canvas for sweat beads to trickle down. Yet while his barren confessional “It’s Been a While” has vaulted Break the Cycle into a sphere that hasn’t evolved since the days of Guns N’ Roses, Staind’s abundant bleakness is hardly the aftermath of a debauched existence. Instead, it’s a symptom of always being on the outside looking in, forever uneasy on the eyes. And in the end, Aaron Lewis knows the last thing a square peg wants is someone who’s willing to sing harmonies.