Let’s face it – pretty much every hit song you’ve ever heard is, on some level, derived from or “inspired by” something else. Hell, just about every blues song breaks down to the same few, simple chord progressions, and Rock n’ Roll is just an extension of those. Take alcoholism, infidelity and heartache off the table in country music and the whole genre vanishes. You get the idea – nothing is completely original.
Of course, all this derivative talk inspires hypothetical fantasies of going back in time to kill The Cure, Jawbreaker and Sunny Day Real Estate, thus damming the emo tide they inspired, and doing likewise with Run DMC the Beastie Boys to prevent the world from ever having to deal with assholes like Limp Bizkit or Mike Shinoda and his Linkin Park buddies. But I digress.
The following are some of the more shameless ripoffs in Rock’s recent history, who’ve made names for themselves by riding the styles of other, better bands.
Singer Matt Bellamy’s vocal stylings on the first three Muse albums were such shameless adaptations of those of Radiohead’s Thom Yorke that many thought the wonk-eyed singer was actually in another band. Having been called out relentlessly for the similarities, the band has since shifted gears and moved into operatic territory – where the symphonic pretense runs deep, and the kitsch of supposed oppression and Orwellian paranoia saturates and bogs down what could otherwise be perfectly respectable music. Switching derivatives from Radiohead to Queen was a smart choice, albeit a predictable one, but Muse has real potential to create memorable music if they’d get the hell over themselves, abandon the excess frills and leave the impersonations behind.
Owl City: Postal Service
Hey, that new Postal Service track on the radio is pretty good, right? Good in the same way that biting down on a Jolly Rancher that’s attached itself to both your upper and lower cavity fillings is good. That’s what those Postal Service guys are best at, right? But wait, that actually wasn’t Postal Service at all, but Adam Young – aka Owl City – a highly religious young Minnesota man with a knack for carbon-copy musical replicas of side projects by Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard. On MySpace Young has 17 million plays from that damned “Fireflies” song alone. Who needs originality when you’ve got Jesus and ProTools on your side?
Creed: Pearl Jam
Here’s one that never seems to go away. In the mid-nineties, Scott Stapp was the music industry’s highly-publicized answer to Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, only with a Jesus complex, leather pants and a jungle of chest hair instead of flannel and Doc Martens. Did it work? You bet your ass it did; the band has sold nearly 40 million albums worldwide, swapping any hint of artistic integrity for shameless evangelical profiteering wrapped in melodramatic Christian imagery. They may not be able to give away tickets to their shows these days, but for a while they fed well at the teat of spiritual desperation.
Pepper: Sublime/ Red Hot Chili Peppers
Capitalizing on Southern California’s home-team adoration for the Red Hot Chili Peppers and outright refusal to accept that Sublime is gone for good, Pepper moved from Hawaii to the mainland years ago and have made a name for themselves by writing songs just catchy enough to fool those not paying attention.
Singer/guitarist Kaleo Wassman channels both Bradley Nowell and Anthony Keidis better than most, copying every nuance and vocal inflection with irritating, unabashed accuracy. Relentlessly milking the beach-rock formula of reggae-lite beats, laid back drums, feel-good dub basslines and jumpy, ska-tinged choruses, Pepper are a shining example of cheap, unoriginal derivatives. They named their new record No Shame for God’s sake! In an interview a few years back, Wassman summarized his career aspirations with one sentence: “If you’re compared to Sublime, that’s the shit.”
Godsmack: Alice In Chains
When you name your band after an Alice In Chains song and use their sun logo as your own, your singer better not be a shorter, bro’d out impersonator of their long-dead but heavily revered vocalist. If Layne Staley had tribal tattoos, a Napoleon complex and a burning need to show everyone how angry he was, he’d be Godsmack singer Sully Erna.
Atlas of ID: The Mars Volta
Take the Latin magic out of Mars Volta guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and the high-intensity melodic kaleidoscope away from supernatural vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala, and you’d have Atlas of Id – a band so painfully similar to The Mars Volta that it’s impossible to appreciate what would otherwise be some highly impressive talent. Because let’s face it – playing even remotely close to The Mars Volta requires a near-superhuman dedication to the craft.
Atlas of ID had the good sense to disband, and now populate Children of Nova and Silent Armada.