Rock is back. Well, that’s what they’d have us believe, as record labels toss The Strokes, The Hives, The Vines and The White Stripes at us like promotional Frisbees at a football game. Sure, they have some good tunes, but are we really supposed to believe this is anything but the beginning of another trend? Especially when each band is recycling the goods from various Golden Ages of Rock (as evidenced by The Hives’ and Vines’ back-to-back Stones and Nirvana tributes on the MTV Video Music Awards this year)?
Not that reaching backward is bad, but there’s a difference between using the past as a blueprint and using it as a guideline. Not one of these so-called Rock Resurgence bands is forging a new path and as the cycle of backlash tightens with each evolution, it won’t be long before the next fad drops.
But do we have to endure each turn of this vicious cycle? Are our only choices to go with the flow, digging mainstream tripe in a vain swipe at coolness or go Morlock, listening to indie bands and yearning for the days when rock was fresh and innovative and rock stars weren’t vacuous, corporate-conceived clones?
No way. Despite corporations’ best attempts to commodify creativity, for some it remains automatic and autonomous. And right now, one band exists with the potential to reverse the damage inflicted on rock & roll.
CKY, whose licks you may have heard on MTV’s Jackass, have forsaken nearly everything that has occurred in music in the past 20 years. For their brand of metal, they harvest the ripest fruits of Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd, without overtly ripping them off. On their latest album, Infiltrate Destroy Rebuild (Island), CKY takes the thunder and texture, the bombast and the artistry, and owns it. Each song is a tapestry of sound and a stomping rocker. Miller’s vocals add growls (not nü-metal Cookie Monster barking) to a Gilmourian croon, putting genuine passion in scathing, intelligent assessments of a world on the verge of chronic facelessness.
With so many sock-puppet rockers doing their best to look cool, CKY simply is cool. Their live presence is as imposing as its sound; Miller stands stoically, cranking out the robot riffs and singing. Ginsburg is a chaotic counterpoint, pulling off leaps and other physical and instrumental acrobatics with reckless abandon. Bassist Vern Zaborowski and Jess Margera drive the hot rod with frightening intensity. The band functions as a finely tuned machine, yet with distinct and uncontrived personalities. The rock & roll spirit—its actual, original incarnation—is alive in CKY. Says Ginsburg, “The live show is purely based on energy. We’re just going to be ourselves onstage and I wanna see the fans have a good time. The show is the 40 to 45 minutes we live for.”
Additionally, Miller and co-guitarist are certifiable guitar heroes, working in a style Miller conceived. There is no mindless riffage, no attempt at emo/screamo or nü-metal chunka-chunka relevance. Instead, Ginsburg and Miller play smartly composed, quasi-robotic, apocalyptic riffs that convey a similar sentiment as the words. Live, both guitarists let loose, soloing with Eddie Van Halen proficiency, minus the frequency (any guitar outburst is tantamount to venting pent-up frustration).
Guitar heroism plus charisma? There’s your American Idol.
When Ginsburg says, “We’re going to take over the name of rock & roll and piss it its face,” he’s not kidding. CKY is, like so many contemporary metal bands purport to be, pissed off. But unlike these other bands, they have something to say and back it up with action in two forms. First, they forbid record-label meddling, barring Island representatives from the studio, something almost unheard of for a new band.
“[Island reps] are not allowed,” Ginsburg states simply. “It’s a lot easier to work. What you get is a CKY album, instead of a bunch of shit. We’re the final word on it.”
Then there’s the CKY Alliance; what may be CKY’s most revolutionary move. CKY enlists Alliance members from its fan base, and arrange meetings with Island representatives in hopes of producing industry reform. And the label is actually listening. “The Alliance,” says Ginsburg, “is a group of individual thinkers who know if they voice their opinions, they have a chance to get what they want. And nobody is getting what they want. Everybody is really pissed off. Nobody wants to listen to the radio, nobody wants to watch TV, but rock & roll still exists. They believe that and we’re not gonna stop pushin’ it.”
So, if rock is back, or at least en route, its surest vector is CKY.
“I don’t know any other band giving their fans a direct voice inside the industry to say what they want out of a rock & roll show and a rock & roll record—and who the hell they don’t want [laughs]. CKY is the start of a revolutionary band and revolutionary music lovers and entertainment.”