Some alternative bands insist they're not so strange


MENTION alternative music and many people conjure up visions of Jane's Addiction, with lead singer Perry Farrell passing out into the drums.

Or worse.

But alternative music has many faces, not all of them strange. There are the art-rock enthusiasms of Pere Ubu, the lyricism of The Candy Skins, the strong melody line of Chapterhouse and the psycho-folksiness of Richard Thompson.

And even the hilarious "theater criticism" of Crowded House, whose single "Chocolate Cake" takes a few below-the-belt potshots at composer Andrew Lloyd Webber.

"We liked the idea writing something nasty about Andrew Lloyd Webber, because, you know, half the world still doesn't like him," says Crowded House vocalist/guitarist Neil Finn in a recent interview. "So a line in the song goes like, he gets introduced to the queen, and his pants fall down, heh, heh.

"We expected to get a lot of flak over 'Chocolate Cake' from his fans. Unfortunately, we didn't."

When asked if Crowded House consider themselves social critics, as do so many alternative bands, Finn says no.

"We really didn't expect the establishment to fall down just because we sang about Andrew Lloyd Webber's pants falling down. But the U.S.S.R. collapsed. Do you think they're linked?"

Alternative bands can be quick to criticize the banalities of mainstream music, although some bands have learned to take the situation in stride.

"Alternative music can be a problem for the radio stations," says Candy Skins vocalist/guitarist Nick Burton. "When a station is at the top of the ratings pile, they get concerned with not alienating listeners. As a result, they get ultra-conservative and start playing a lot of bland, Paula Abdul-type material.

"That's ironic because the Candy Skins has good melodies, harmonies and isn't exactly roaringly anarchic. Because of mainstream radio stations' tight pigeonholing, we're all losing out -- both the musicians and fans. Fortunately, alternative radio is around to pick up the slack."

Many alternative music bands don't sound outrageous -- even when they try. Witness the experience of Chapterhouse.

The one time we sat down and really tried to sound avant-garde, these strong melodies kept sneaking in," explains Andy Sherriff, vocalist/guitarist with Chapterhouse. "I guess that's a natural thing with us, the strong guitars, the hummable tunes. I guess sounding nice doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing."

But as with its other alternative kin, Chapterhouse still manages to maintain a slightly skewed view of the world. So skewed, in fact, that the band took its name from Aldous Huxley's book "Heaven and Hell," which, Sherriff says, "Is about all the things that can take you to a higher level of consciousness, naturally, without drugs."

Not exactly revolution. Especially because all of those nice melodies keep getting in the way.

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