Since the Coldplay explosion in 2003, soft rock is hip. You know this. And this is a good thing. Some of America and the U.K.'s best artists have suddenly gained wild mainstream attention, and one can be cool these days without having to pretend that he's into Chamillionaire or Young Jeezy. Which is good, because you'll never catch me riding dirty.
But it's gone too far. The following list of artists are now under orders to ditch whatever musical direction they are currently heading in, purchase $60 amps from Guitar Emporium and turn them up to 11, watch "School of Rock" non-stop for 72 hours, hire a drummer who hasn't worn a shirt since 1996, head out on the road, and start rocking.
1. James Blunt
You've got so much potential, James. But your album is lousy. 10 songs long, and only five are any good, and three of those are slow. Sure, I love that you've got the former-British-soldier edge, but ditch the cheery poppy tunes, it undermines everything you're doing. There are terrible things that happen during war, but nothing sounds sad when you're warbling it over a plunky piano at 120 BPM. The only rocker on the album is "High," and the guitar sound is so clean it could be an LFO track.
There's a reason that radio stations are starting to ban your songs. They're catchy and bright, but it reaches a point where you want to start banging your head into the wall. Make it stop.
2. John Mayer
Y'know, we called you "the songwriter of our generation." And we meant it. You had the whole package - pop hooks with indie cred, surprisingly solid guitar skills for an acoustic songster, a sad, intelligent, droopy-eyed take on mid-twenties life. You went electric and we bought it, even though we felt that maybe the wheels were coming off a little.
And then, you launched "The John Mayer Trio," a jam-rock three piece set that mashes a succinct three-minute expression of lost love into a painful twelve-minute faux-jazz improv mess. We know jam-rock, John, and you are not jam-rock. I saw your FreeView special on OnDemand a few months back. My friends and I used to see how long we could watch before it became too painful and we had to turn it off. Our record: two minutes and thirty-five seconds. You usually hadn't even hit the second verse by that time.
Entertainment Weekly is recommending you to join the American Idol staff to be a songwriting consultant. You're embarrassing everybody who ever admitted that they liked you. Stop.
3. Jars of Clay
Many people debate which one of your albums is the best. Most feel it was your simple, elegant acoustic-rock self-titled debut. Some favor your classic pop follow-up, Much Afraid. A determined but powerful minority think that your rocker, The Eleventh Hour, might in fact be the best. There's a few votes for bluegrass and gospel flavored Who We Are Instead, and even the quirky failure If I Left the Zoo.
But I'll tell you what nobody picks. Nobody's in favor of this keyboard-heavy, uninspired hymn symposium, Redemption Songs. In one album, you single-handedly destroyed my extremely well-researched theory that though you guys kept switching styles, you'd never put out a bad album. I'm very bitter about this.
4. Gavin Degraw
I'm going to grant you grace here because even though Chariot is spotty, "We Belong Together" is such a good song, and I'm hoping that's what I'll get more of on the next album. Also, you worked with Zach Braff on the "Chariot" video, which also gets you in my good graces. But be warned. I'm watching you.
5. Howie Day
It's gone too far. You are no longer allowed to be to be this good live and this bad on each of your albums. Each of your albums must now be recorded with several of your favorite musicians in a creaky old house/recording studio. These albums must take more than three months to record, must be considered your "major opus" once released, and must feature at least one talented guest musician making a "special appearance." I recommend Mayer, since a) you guys were awesome together on "Sorry, So Sorry" at the House of Blues, and b) he needs the work.
6. Rob Thomas
I've reviewed you before, and what I said stands. You are Rob Thomas. You are a strong vocalist. You are gritty, honest, open. You are capable of summing up a generation's emotions without ever losing sight of the pop hook. You lead, or at least led, a rock band that was wildly successsful and used to be played on Rock radio, Top 40 radio, and Adult Contemporary radio. This is good.
But: you are not Josh Groban. You are not poetic in an Dickinson-cum-Dylan manner. You are not capable of expanding your resume. You are not capable of being "funky." You are not allowed to feature John Mayer on any more of your albums, as I feel that you might be confusing him. You are not allowed to "shout out to your sisters and brothers, of every different color" anymore. You are only allowed to sing songs about smoking cigarettes in the rain after a bad break-up at three in the morning at Waffle House. I am totally serious about this.
You guys rock, you really do. I don't mean to kick at you, I dig your stuff. But it's time for a guitarist. Really. The pianist/drummer/singer three-piece gimmick can only hold on for one, maybe two albums at the most.
Remember: The White Stripes added a bass player after everybody complained that the two-piece band thing was getting stale. And look at them now.
These artists will be under my strict supervision during this next probationary period, which is until each of their next albums hits stores. Failure to show some Townshend-esque potential in this time will result in losing all privileges.