During the '80s, the idealistic young rock band known as U2 designed the mold in which all subsequent idealistic young rock bands seem to have been cast. First, such a band goes through an energetic, callow period during which it captures the attention of the kids. Second, the band enters the period during which it grabs a hit single, some headlines for having said or done something provocative, and the attention of the kids' older siblings. Third, the band scores more hits, sells millions of albums, appears on the covers of magazines-inside which they hold forth on social issues-and has those parents who are concerned with "relating" to their children remarking, "You know, that group isn't just screaming and noise; they really have something to say." Fourth, and finally, comes the cynical phase, out of which the former idealists-disillusioned by their inability to bring about world peace-express contempt for the impersonal, repressive democracies of the West, as if the millions who buy their music were aborigines. Somehow, the impersonal, repressed Westerners fail to notice and continue to keep their heroes in caviar, fine hotels, and private jets, where the rockers behave like aborigines as a show of oneness with their fans. Such a band will at best eventually harden into something like the Rolling Stones; at worst, they'll die young. What this scenario has to do with the Cranberries and King's X is that both bands currently find themselves somewhere between stages three and four. Dakoda Motor Co., on the other hand, having just begun stage one, may yet avert disaster.
Like U2's, the disillusionment that both the Cranberries and King's X express in their latest albums seems to stem from a loss of faith in the belief that Christianity will ever do God's will on earth as it is done in heaven. As a result, the playing of both bands often suffers from the pitiful whining of those who've let their impatience with God get the best of them. In four of Ear Candy's songs, King's X's Doug Pinnick renders his impatience explicit. "[R]eligion burns me at the stake," he sings in "Looking for Love." "I listened. I worshiped. How can I relate? ...I guess I lost my faith." Later, in a painfully sung trilogy, he corroborates what he has told the press over the years about his life: that his grandmother, entrusted with his rearing in part because of his illegitimate birth, kept him in line by misrepresenting God's wrath ("Run"); that the troubled lives of his mother and half-siblings left him with a skewed sense of family values ("Fathers"); and that meeting his father for the first time several years ago enabled him to feel that he had finally begun to know himself ("Picture"). Although these songs endear Mr. Pinnick to the listener, they also make the listener respond more like a psychoanalyst than a fan. Enjoying these songs, in other words, involves a lot of work. With the exception of "The Train" and Ty Tabor's "Mississippi Moon" and "Life Going By," the Texas trio's blend of Beatle-esque melodies, gospel fire, and heavy-metal thunder has shrunk in power almost as noticeably as its audience has in size. How much has its audience shrunk? Well, last month Ear Candy spent one week on the Billboard 200 before disappearing, apparently for good. When the band's 1994 album, Dogman, met a similar fate, the album's defenders justified its low sales by noting that commercial heavy metal in general was no longer selling. Now, however, with Metallica's Load outselling almost everything else this summer, the excuse deflates. Unlikely as it seems, the main reason for King's X's soft support may be the same as Bob Dole's: having initially "run right" (much of the group's early support came from young evangelicals thrilled to have found hard-rockers who were Christians), they've spent the last few years "running to the center," emphatically blaming their reputation as Christians for why millions of people aren't buying their albums. In so doing, they've alienated Christians who can't understand why sales are more important than witness or why, if Jars of Clay can succeed as Christians, King's X can't.
To the Faithful Departed, the latest from the Irish quartet the Cranberries, is still among the top 30, but it too is dropping faster than expected. One reason may be the transformation of Dolores O'Riordan from a humble, at times shy, songwriter into the sort of arrogant and untamed ranter that U2's Bono has been for at least 10 years. Gone is the residually Catholic wistfulness of her early hits. Now, she goes on about Bosnia ("War Child," "Bosnia," "Free to Decide"), Hollywood ("Hollywood"), fallen idols ("I Just Shot John Lennon," "I'm Still Remembering"), and salvation ("Salvation") in a once-lovely voice now violently constricted with forced intensity. But what highlights Ms. O'Riordan's immersion into waters too deep for her is her self-penned dedication of the album "to all those who have gone before us [i.e., died]." "Nobody knows exactly where these people are," she writes, "but I know we would like to believe it is a better place." Adding non sequiturs to grammatical injury, she continues: "I believe it is a Human impossibility to obtain complete peace of mind in this dimension. There's too much suffering and pain particularly for the children. 'Suffer the little children to come unto me, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.'" What is one supposed to make of such a jumble other than that, along with her faith, Ms. O'Riordan has also lost her sense?
Three years ago, Dakoda Motor Co. became a Christian-music overnight sensation. Now, with a new lead singer and the increased visibility that has come from the guitarist's role as a gameshow host on MTV, DMC is the latest Christian band to sign with a major label. Some have accused Railroad, the band's Atlantic debut, of vagueness, but at least two songs-"Falling Down," which raucously mocks materialistic atheism and New Age spirituality, and "Odd Man Out," which celebrates a Christ-like hero-belie the charge. And DMC's stripped-down, punky rock-and-roll more than holds its own among the clatter of the current competition. But what matters more is where DMC will end up. What, in other words, will render the band members' faith immune to the vagaries of success and failure? Until they have an answer, their "vagueness" and simplicity of approach is probably as good and enjoyable a way as any to guard against that combination of zealotry and overreach that has hamstrung their predecessors.