Rival Schools - United by Fate (2001)
Long after bands started putting out blatantly commercial records in order to solidify “emo” as an awful post-grunge rock paradigm, Rival Schools formed as a “supergroup” comprising members of Quicksand, Gorilla Biscuits, Youth of Today and CIV (oh, and Iceburn Collective). Rival Schools isn’t really like any of those bands, nor is it really like the Doghouse/Vagrant-style groups that were very popular then. In retrospect, they seemed to have followed somewhat in the footsteps of much more commercially successful alternative rock bands. Gray days in rock music, indeed.
My friend Ryan, who lived around the block back then, was obsessed with them when the record came out, undeniably hyping them up as a “next great thing” to listen for and to save future rock music from Shifty Shellshock. Although I liked their sound and listened to the record a lot when it came out, United by Fate had emptiness and vapidity beneath its surface that betrayed the pretty great sources from which it originated. They could’ve been better: more imaginative, more elaborate, and more of everything we wanted to “break through.”
A couple years later, I read a great story about an ancient show which typified the performances of the golden era of bad emo. I'm probably bound to secrecy about the exact details, but the story ends with the entire band rolling around on the ground (long finished playing one second of blast beats), weeping and crawling, as one member kept crying about how worms were dying because of humans putting concrete on the ground. The one other thing I can mention: that band was RentAmerica! :(
Somewhere between the two, we have this year’s Miami Heat team.
What kills me the most about the songs on United by Fate (and the Heat) is how close they are at times to brilliance yet how consistently they remain too harmlessly boring to be great. In a typical song like “Undercovers On” (which is actually one of the better songs on the record), the audience is presented with the following in a mid-tempo, plodding chorus: “Your undercover’s on / you’re acting kind of warm / But soon you’ve got to leave / There’s something you need.” Lame metaphors about being a spy aside, that’s about as lyrically complex as Walter Schreifels got with Rival Schools, and the disappointing thing's their deliberate plainness: the ordinary results of such an (in the eyes of people who loved what Quicksand or Gorilla Biscuits stood for in the early-mid 1990s) exciting premise.
Similarly, the Heat’s “complexities” (or lack thereof) were widely criticized earlier this season, as many analysts recited tomes about the simplicity of Eric Spolestra’s plays, with armchair sauciers deglazing those words into a “Fire Spolestra! He’s an idiot!” reduction. But those plays frequently led the ball into LeBron James’ hands, driving from the top of the key being guarded by five guys, just like in Cleveland. In Toronto, Chris Bosh made a video where he dressed up as a used car salesman, imploring the viewer to send him to the 2008 All-Star Game through a bizarre, hilarious display of showmanship and charisma – something largely missing from his role and gameplay in Miami. While James is Schreifels, Bosh remains a parallel to the forgotten member of the group, Iceburn Collective bassist (and Rival Schools afterthought) Cache Tolman.
On the cusp of the playoffs, the Heat’s experiment feels like an exhilarating idea with a tiring execution. But if “supergroups” like Rival Schools and the Miami Heat generally result in disappointment, then why are our expectations so high? Unlike in the epoch of Rival Schools, which seemed like a breath of fresh air when the most commercially successful rock acts were seriously Creed and Limp Bizkit, the Heat have come to grow in a world where the NBA has been exciting for years. They should be making things better, but like United by Fate, they will likely come up just short of awesome.
Negative Dunkalectics co-editor Chris Sampson can be found on Twitter here, as well as on YouTube, watching Wu-Tang Clan videos that had dinosaurs in them. For more Emo Spring NBA Playoff Previews, click here and wallow in your weird combination of nostalgia and embarrassment!
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