Written by: Rob Van Winkle, CC2K Staff Writer
When it comes to music, most people fall into one of two categories. They are either among the group that loves the popular music of the day, or they are the sort of person who HATES it. Which group you’re in tells a lot about you. If, for example, you are a pop music fan – listens to top forty radio stations, pounds the internet to get tickets when the suddenly hot act rolls into town, etc. – then you are probably either a teenage girl, a parent of a teenage girl trying to connect with her, or a guy (teenager through retiree) who is trying to sleep with a teenage girl. If, however, you shun this sort of mass-marketed product, then you are probably the sort of person who logs onto geek pop culture fan sites to deride those in the former category. This makes you a person of distinction, but this title comes with a price.
By taking the stance that pop music is terrible, the discerning listener must be ever-vigilant with what they say, or what they put on their iPods, for fear that one wrong move will “out” them as frauds. No self-respecting music snob could be caught bopping their heads unironically to…say…a Hilary Duff album for example. We have probably all felt the cognitive dissonance that comes from hearing a song, realizing that you really like it, but then discovering that it is a smash hit by a teenage heartthrob. What do you do then? For this reason, most of us just stay as far away from mainstream music as possible.
This brings me to 98 Degrees. I was in college when this band formed, and only just out of college when it dissolved, and yet I can say for near certainty that I have never heard a single song of theirs. In fact, here is just about every fact I know about this band, going into my April Fools Week challenge of consuming the entirety of their eponymous first album:
- They were the third “boy band” to hit the scene in the late 90s, after Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync.
- In a TV interview I stumbled upon one morning in my college apartment, the lead singer intimated that unlike the other bands of the genre, 98 Degrees was the only one that wrote their own material.
- That lead singer turned out to be some meathead douchebag who became more “famous” for marrying Jessica Simpson than any song he ever recorded.
- I once watched ten minutes of a “Nick and Jessica” Christmas special (accidentally taped by my wife when she recorded the finale of one season or another of The Bachelor), and was utterly flabbergasted at how unbelievably untalented the stars were.
So needless to say, as I prepare myself to listen to this album, and commit to writing a song-by-song account of the material, I have an enormous chip on my shoulder, and a stabbing fear in my heart. The chip comes from the fact that this album ended up making millions for a group of prettyboy dickwads who were nothing more than derivative of an already false and heavily promoted concept marketed toward stupid young girls. The fear comes from a question I just can’t get out of my head…what if I actually LIKE it?
Enough pussy-footing around. On to the album:
Track 1: Intro
Thankfully, my fears are put to bed almost instantly. The first track, while only about thirty seconds long, is perhaps the most appalling thing I have ever heard. With “music” that is almost perfectly halfway between soft-rock radio station jingle and hard core porn accompaniment, the speaker channels the artistry of a high school date rapist with words that were clearly intended to send anticipatory shivers down young female spines, but succeeded in giving me horrified chills."Are you ready, baby? Are you ready?" Dear God, no.
Track 2: Come and Get It
Wow. My whole idea of boy band music has changed forever. Until this moment, I had always assumed that while the songs were terrible, they were at least harmless. “Let me get lost in your eyes/You are so beautiful” kind of shit. But if this song is any indication of the genre, then the songs seem more defiantly in the “Your boyfriend is a fag/I will fuck you until you scream” camp. “Come and Get It” seems to be about a girl at a party with her boyfriend, yet who nonetheless can’t stop looking at the singer. For his part, our hero seems to be wooing her with two moves:
- Bad rhyming – best example: “Lady lady, it seems like he bores you to death/You need to escape, you need to enjoy yourself.”
- Achingly obvious euphemisms – “Show me, show me everything that you'll sacrifice/ To come and get it, me, I'm willing to spend my life/ To keep you comin', forever and always alright/Starting with tonight” In case this isn’t obvious enough, they then have a bridge where a female voice says “I’m comin’ baby,” followed by a dude saying “don’t stop.” Man, and I thought “I’m a genie in a bottle/you gotta rub me the right way” was pushing it.
Track 3: Invisible Man
This track was much more in tune with what I imagined every song to be like. The singer is the spurned lover whose heart yearns for the girl, yet is devastated to see her with another man. Once again the rhyming structure is truly horrific (“wine” is rhymed with “by”, and “up” is rhymed with “love” for example), but this would be just another bland love song if not for two factors. First of all, I can’t get it out of my head that the main audience for this drivel is young girls, which makes it so much creepier that they claim that she says her boyfirend’s kisses “taste like wine,” or that he “holds her close when they’re making love.” Gah. Second of all, about two thirds of the way through the song, the lead speaks the following words: “I see you all the time baby/ Huh, the way you look at him/ I wish it was me sweetheart /Boy I wish it was me /But I guess it never will be.” The way he utters these lines, I COULD NOT get the image out of my head of him saying these things to his beloved while she was duct taped to a chair, and him staring directly into her forced-open eyes.
Track 4: Was it Something I Didn’t Say?
Four tracks (and three songs) in, and I am already distracting myself with online solitaire so I don’t have to focus entirely on this drivel.
This track, also what pure extrapolation would call a “typical” boy band ballad, is clearly the final movement in the three-act mini opera that starts off this CD. If “Come and Get It” was the initial flirtation, and “Invisible Man” is the moment before love’s consummation where our hero realizes that he has fallen for the girl after all, then “Was it Something I Didn’t Say?” is the dénouement, after he has won the girl, then ultimately lost her through his own hubris and self-regard. That, or it’s just another shitty “love” song.
In short, the entire song can be summed up with the first two lines of the chorus: “Was it something I didn't say/When I didn't say "I Love You?” Yes, asshole. Yes it was.
Track 5: Take My Breath Away
And with Track 5, We finally have found a love ballad so cheesy and saccharine, it could never be taken seriously by anyone with even a modicum of self-respect. Having said that, assuming this band reached some level of popularity, then I must conclude that this song found itself included in countless mix CDs to or from impressionable young women, and no doubt if they squinted hard enough, they could pretend that these were real sentiments. But with lyrics like: “If I had castles built on high/ I'd find a million ways to write your name against the sky/ Just to let you know, you've caught my eye.” This is clearly a song written for – and about – a girl you have not slept with yet.
Track 6: Hand in Hand
Track 6 is another love song, most notable for the fact that it includes a female singer who caterwauls in the same trilly, toneless way as the boys do.
Can girls really fall for this shit? I mean, there are plenty of female singers popular at the same time –Spears, Aguilera, etc. – who were all really hot and singing about sex, yet I don’t imagine a single guy was out there imagining that this was how women really were. I mean, the over-sexed, under-satiated vixen was certainly a fantasy…and that was exactly the point. Boys got that…so the same must be true for the ladies, right? I mean, “There will never be a day/ that we'll grow apart/ So we'll forever be/ together hand in hand.” I shudder to think that there were girls sitting in their bedrooms listening to this, and determining that THIS was the definition of true love. No WONDER the divorce rate is so high!
Track 7: Intermood
Finally, a track that let’s you hear once and for all what it would sound like if you hired a shitty a capella group for thirty seconds, to try to convince some chick to fuck you.
Track 8: Dreaming
Another song about pining for a girl who is in “someone else’s arms.” Wow, these guys sure have suffered a lot of heartache!
I wanted to hate this one, but the feeling they describe is so universal, it just touched me on a very deep level. You know that feeling when you love someone from afar who doesn’t love you back, only this doesn’t upset you because you dream about them “every single day and every single night of [your] life,” and so you “know how [their] lips taste” when you “find [yourself] drifting away to [your] secret place?” This song encapsulates that perfectly.
FYI, the notion that you could want someone so badly that “you really didn’t care if they had/any idea how you feel/cuz your dreams are so real” is maybe a half step away from a restraining order. And a can of mace in the eyes. Perverts.
Track 9: Heaven’s Missing an Angel
See, THIS is why we listen to music! Sometimes, mere words don’t sufficiently express thoughts and feelings, and so dulcet tones and tight harmonies add layers of meaning to vernacular. In this case, 98 Degrees has created an analogy – woman as angel – that has never before been uttered.
Except, of course, by every hack poet and failed lothario that ever roamed the earth.
My ears are now so filled with pre-teen sentiments of non-love that I am questioning everything in my life. Does love really exist if it doesn’t come with the desire to make bland romantic “observations” that would cause anyone around you to vomit? Is it possible to express a feeling in song honestly if it’s sung by muscle-bound lummoxes and set to synthesized background music? When a sappy love song includes the lyrics “Each time I see her precious smile/ And she spreads her wings/ It takes me to a place /where love meets eternity” is that supposed to be sweet, or perverted?
Track 10: I Wasn’t Over You
There comes a point in the evolution of many bands where they begin to write ironically of their own fame, and what it has cost them as human beings. For 98 Degrees, their innocence was lost after nine songs.
“I Wasn’t Over You” is the story of a singer in a band called 98 Degrees, who is pursuing his music career in the hopes of doing it “all for [her],” yet has discovered that while he was one the road, she has found someone new.
Given that this was their first album, isn’t it just a touch cocky to write a song discussing the perils of fame FOR THEMSELVES? At any rate, luckily for this nascent relationship, that lucky lady now has her man home. Constantly. Day in and day out. She can sit and hold his hand while he regales her with stories about how popular he was a decade ago, and how depressed he is that he can’t even get onto The Surreal Life now. Ah, fame.
Track 11: Completely
Shit…how long is this album anyway?
It has taken us nine songs and eleven tracks, but we have finally reached what MUST be the creepiest song on the album. After a half dozen songs about love, one could only imagine that a song called “Completely” was going to discuss how utterly and totally in love the singer was with the girl in question. However, after one song, it is clear that instead, this song is the transcript of a conversation between a man and a much younger girl, as he coerces her into giving up her virginity despite the inner voice telling her that he’s a tool. Honestly, read these lyrics and try not feel gross afterward: “We'll take it even further/ If you say that it's okay/ Just let yourself go/ We'll take it slow/ Let's go all the way tonight.”
In this, we have the first song written specifically by the person singing it, TO his intended audience. I hope you feel special, girls.
Track 12: Don’t Stop the Love
This track begun with the same creepy spoken voice that started off the album and has shown up a few times since. In each case, it adds a pastiche of stalker to the song, so much so that even the most innocent lyrics would now sound as though they’re coming from the inside of a van with candy painted on the outside.
So imagine when that veneer is added to a song with lyrics like this: “Now don't get the wrong impression/ I don't do this all of the time/ But when I see you all I wanna do/ Is make you call my name by the candlelight.”
Track 13: I Wanna Love You
Given that this is at long last the final track of the CD, I was prepared to call it my favorite, no matter what it was. However, since it’s YET ANOTHER song featuring the words “make sweet love,” and comes complete with audio effects lifted straight from Kriss Kross’s “Jump, Jump,” then all I can do is sit here in agony until this piece of shit finally ends.
Have I mentioned yet how each of these songs sounds exactly the same? The lead singer uses those uncontrolled vocal runs that has become so popular on American Idol, and the harmonies are completely interchangeable. Add this to the fact that the songs range in emotion from “Man I wish I could bone her” to “Man I wish you’d let me bone you” and “Man I really enjoyed it when I boned her,” then you perhaps see how if you’ve heard one song, you’ve heard them all.
So in the end, it appears I have passed my own tests, and for one more day, I can consider myself a discerning music lover who disdains shit. Now if you’ll excuse me, I overheard the new Kelly Clarkson song on the radio, and I CAN NOT get it out of my head!