Rock music used to be big business. Oh, there’s still plenty of sales, and even the most cursory look around at whatever the place you live is will yield a probably-thriving situation with lots of rock music around and available with very little effort. Hell, even if you live in place that has no indigenous rock music, you can certainly head over to bandcamp, or spotify, or google, or what have you and, by giving up minimal information, be connected with as much rock music that is to your taste as you could ever want it to be 1. But it used to have a place on the pop charts. One of the last gasps of that time is the debut album from Australian also-rans Jet.
Jet were, at the time, the kind of manufactured bit of business that never really works anymore – they made an EP themselves, it somehow got into the hands of someone at NME, which in turn gave them the press acclaim necessary to get the attention of someone at Elektra. Said contract, and the ensuing full-court-press of their intial single, “Are You Gonna Be My Girl?” was sufficient to get the attention of someone in the Rolling Stones camp, and thus they opened for the Rolling Stones as a band that was less than a year old. They jumped straight to the top of the line, and became very famous without there being any intercedent actual fan presence and/or “buzz.” This is not possible anymore.
Oh, and they were terrible. “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” was a shameless rip-off 2 , and the rest of the record is a slightly-less shameless rip-off. There were three other singles. The piano ballad “Look What You’ve Done” was the best of them, and was listenable in a kind of “this is going to be played six times an hour on the radio anyway, so it could be worse” sort of way. “Cold Hard Bitch” was like someone took all the cleverness out of “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” (there was not a great deal of cleverness to remove, as you can probably surmise). Their nadir was “Rollover DJ” 3, perhaps the only song whose lyrical approach can be called “rockist”, and which manages to attack DJ-culture for containing zero ideas, as the fourth single for an album that is, itself, made up of songs that sound like copyright-dodging library-music rewrites of AC/DC songs. They sold a bajillion records, and got positive reviews in the British music press and in Rolling Stone 4, and there was a good couple of years there where people seemed to be convinced that they liked this band. And hey, maybe they did!
If they did, however, they didn’t for very long. They made two more records that never really captured the same amount of public attention that Get Born had. This is, to be blunt, a problem that the “force-market a band into the public eye” approach often bears out – there’s a way to get people to think something is interesting enough to spend money on once, but once the trick has been performed, there’s basically no reason to buy it again. Their second album, Shine On, sold somewhere in the neighborhood of 1/10 what Get Born sold (the former went platinum, the latter sold 137,000 copies), and their third album 5, Shaka Rock (this is the real, actual title of the album) sold about half of what Shine On had. Then the band fizzled out, having done what they, apparently, set out to do, until just now, when they are making their attempt to cash in on that lucrative reunion money with, of all things, a live album featuring the songs from the one of their albums anyone remembers, Get Born.
2003, however, was a long time ago! I was a different person, etc. We are fourteen years in the future, and I am a kinder, gentler sort. I like lots more radio music than I did at the time 6, and I’m more comfortable being into straight-up braindead rock music. On top of that, the record they’re releasing to remind you how much you liked them at the time isn’t just a retread or whatever, but a live album of the same material 7. Many great bands – Mission of Burma, Cheap Trick, Swans, the Who, Johnny Cash, Neil Young, Sam Cooke – were able to make live albums that were better than their studio albums. Rock music is, after all, for all the posturing otherwise from oldsters and stereo enthusiasts, a live music form – any rock band that’s good enough to elicit a genuine response in the first place is almost certainly at their best when they’re playing their instruments in the same place at the same time in front of an audience. So maybe I’ll enjoy Get Born Live, and answer the titular question of this feature with someone positive for a change.
Besides, the primary gripe about them, at least in terms of what you can find still-extant on the internet anyway, is that they’re deeply derivative. I think that’s kind of a bum criticisms. There are plenty of reasons to praise originality – it’s, y’know, more interesting, for starters – but I think even a band that takes heavy influence from other bands can, by assembling the pieces through their own limbs/voice/experience, come out with something original by the end. I like Cloud Nothings even though I like The Wipers. I like Lightning Bolt even though I like Ruins. I like Teenage Fanclub even though I like Big Star. I think that there’s something undeniably lesser about giving over your whole sound to a sort of cover-band aesthetic the way that Jet did it, but I don’t think that, on paper, I should necessarily be opposed to the music.
Opposed or not, however, it’s a live album released 15 years after their initial splash which is, in and of itself, baffling. For starters, fifteen isn’t exactly a memorable anniversary. Additionally, I can’t remember the last time a live album in the last, let’s say, twenty years that actually managed to sell any real copies (of course, having typed those words, I’m immediately going to remember that there’s some giant exception that I’m just not remembering right now well after I hit “publish” on this piece). Furthermore, aforementioned contractual/label reasons aside, nobody was clamoring for this, right? I mean, it’s recorded in 2004, so it was at least the band at the height of whatever their powers were, but was there material to be mined out of getting people to pay for this particular document of this particular show? It’s so baffling that it almost comes back around: if they’re releasing this particular thing, it must at leat be fun, right?
It is not fun, guys. The problem with Jet, then, is not that they’re derivative, but that their music is the wrong kind of dumb. It seems insulting, even. There’s a sort of “by the numbers” approach that betrays that they probably don’t even think about what they might be ripping off, because they’re doing all the “right” stuff to signify “rock band” and, therefore, they’re worthy of the attention. It’s like listening to a band assembled out of the worst bits about Oasis 8. If “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” isn’t actually an Iggy Pop rip-off, then “Get What You Need” definitely makes up for it by stealing the riff from “No Fun” 9, and then going absolutely nowhere with it. The aforementioned “Rollover DJ” is done no favors by the setting, and the main riff for that one, a song about making up original music because you’re better than somebody who makes music on computers, is taken directly and completely from “Takin’ Care of Business.” If there’s anyone keeping score, I’ll take a million records made by computers over any given BTO riff.
They run through their retreads, clearly marking time 10 to get to the big pile-up at the end, which starts after a stage-clearing, palate-resetting run through the ballads, including “Look What You Done,” which two paragraphs ago I said was the song I didn’t hate, but does not survive the job done to it on this travesty of a record. “Hey Kids” leads into “Are You Gonna Be My Girl,” which is arranged structurally to show that it is literally one ninety-second song repeated twice. The structural change they make is to shout “WELL C’MOOOOOOOOOON I SAID ARE YOU GONNA BE MY GIRL”. Twice. The dude does this stupid thing twice. Like, he stops the song and does a second time in the middle of the song. And then there’s a brain-dead smash-fingered guitar solo. Then, of course, it’s on to the single they were then developing, the incredibly-awful “Cold Hard Bitch,” except, to create tension, they play the pre-riff for about a minute before allowing the song to start. The song, on the record, starts with an admittedly-impressive “YEEEEAH” that goes on for some time. On the live record, it does not, it receives as perfunctory a “YEAH” as you can imagine having under the circumstances 11. It ends, mercifully, and then there’s a few more songs, including an overlong cover of “That’s Alright Mama” that features a really long guitar solo by the guy from The Living End. It’s bad.
But I repeat myself. So the question here posed is: who the fuck listens to this? And this, as much as anything I’ve done in a long time, is a question I do not know how to answer. People that remember Get Born faintly and/or fondly are going to call up Get Born and listen to that. People that are die-hard Jet fans probably do not need to hear the violence done to the material that this godawful live setting provides. People that have, I guess, heard about this band and wonder what the hype is about will be actively repulsed by how lazy and ridiculous this all is. So your guess is as good as mine.
- I mean, I suppose if the answer is “none,” then you probably don’t have to read the rest of this paragraph. Or the preceding part but, well, I didn’t have the chance to tell you that at the beginning of the paragraph, see. ↩
- it was, to most folks with ears, a rip-off of “Lust for Life,” but according to Wikipedia they insisted they were ripping off the Motown sound, and (again according to Wikipedia – I avoided the seemingly-endless press they got at the time fairly successfully, so most of this is through secondhand sources) Iggy Pop agreed. So fine, it’s a rip off of “Can’t Hurry Love”, not “Lust for Life.” Fair. ↩
- a song that some informal polling reveals most people do not remember at all, which means it’s stuck in my head alongside “Bartender” by Rehab and “FreaXXX” by BrokenCYDE as songs that I am the only person to remember, and in all three cases it’s because a part of me literally died when I heard each one, and each song diminished my capacity to feel joy forever. ↩
- it was also, at the height of Pitchfork’s influence, the recipient of perhaps their funniest ever record review. ↩
- which, prior to writing this piece, I was not aware existed at all. ↩
- biographically, 2003 would have been about as insufferable about things as I ever got, actually, so Jet was always going to be in my crosshairs. ↩
- I’m assuming the reason for this is some kind of label strife or whatever, but I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt for it anyway. ↩
- or, for that matter, the worst parts of their erstwhile tourmates The Rolling Stones. ↩
- not a problem: it’s a great riff, and the best riff on the record. ↩
- seriously – the first half of this record is the equivalent of that shit you do when you clock in for the day where you futz with your coffee cup and read emails and look at the weather and maybe write out a little list or whatever. It literally does nothing for the songs, nothing for the band and, I presume, nothing for the audience. ↩
- it is outdone, for example, by every Plane Break that Comedy Bang! Bang! took in the early days, which used that song as its accompaniment. ↩