In HateSong, we ask our favorite musicians, writers, comedians, actors, and so forth to expound on the one song they hate most in the world.
The hater: Daniel Lopatin is better known by his moniker Oneohtrix Point Never, under which he’s released three albums of densely layered, dreamily fragmented electronic music, in addition to his work as part of ’80s synth-pop collagists Ford & Lopatin, a collaboration with the likeminded Tim Hecker on 2012’s Instrumental Tourist, and the score for Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring. He’s also an impassioned, opinionated guy (witness this Grantland interview about the Boston Celtics), so in a way, perhaps it’s no surprise he responded to The A.V. Club’s request to do a Hatesong by sending us, within the hour, the following screed he wrote about Candlebox. While normally we prefer to speak with the haters, in this case Lopatin’s argument was already so fully formed, he insisted we run it as is. So here we are. The new Oneohtrix Point Never album, R Plus Seven, arrived September 31 on Warp.
The hated: Candlebox, “Far Behind”
“Far Behind” is a single from Candlebox’s self-titled record from 1993. The record came out on Madonna’s Maverick imprint and went quadruple platinum, regardless of how much it sucked. My friends and I have often discussed the plausibility of a connection between qualitatively bad music and quantifiably successful music, often citing the example of Candlebox and their paradoxical influence on culture. Let me explain:
“Far Behind” utilizes quiet-loud-quiet dynamics—a musical convention made popular by the Pixies in which a section of quiet music is juxtaposed against an epic section of loud music and back again. Nirvana was really good at it, but other quality forms of QLQ date back at least to Wagner, whose super-dramatic use of QLQ made Mozart’s QLQ in comparison seem flowery and not as big of a deal. In film, Hitchcock used QLQ to build tension and foreshadowing, and these days QLQ is routinely deployed in trailers to convey horrific vibes. In the visual arts, one might even consider [Kazimir] Malevich’s use of red against black to be a form of Suprematist QLQ.
Unfortunately for the copycat grunge band Candlebox, their use of QLQ was unconvincing, and they are generally looked back upon as a non-threatening hard-rock band with a penchant for maudlin ballads. Even at their finest hour (1993), which coincided with my darkest hour (puberty), I kind of knew that Candlebox were hacks. And yet my memory of “Far Behind” lives on. It is less that I hate this song and more that I dislike what it represents: a powerful, self-replicating spurt of pop pabulum that, instead of just dying, somehow survives as a rotting chrysalis in the form of an unwanted memory. Why is it that occasionally I will hear the main guitar riff from “Far Behind” in my head, and why does it happen when I’m doing something repetitive and trivial like washing dishes?
If I’m honest with myself, the problem is not simply a matter of the music industry being brutal and unforgiving. I feel disdain for the kid that I was—a kid who couldn’t look further than alt-rock FM radio to find music to listen to. Then again, it was probably one of the better options at the time. I remember dubbing 45-minute sides of live radio just so I could get Prong’s “Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck” without paying for it. Circumstantially, this also meant I had tapes containing Jesus Jones and Candlebox, so I ended up just listening to that shit as well. These days, commercial radio is considered awkward and most people ignore it, opting instead for the freeform, self-curated world of YouTube, podcasts, etc. Having lived through another time, however, the benefits of an à la carte, mutable existence are not lost on me. Sure, there are other, more brutal ways in which we’re manipulated today—for instance, before allowing me to view a video of my choice, YouTube forces me to sit through commercials based on my browsing tendencies. Which is worse: having to be constantly reminded what kind of consumer you are, or having “Far Behind” stuck in your head? It’s a ’90s vs. ’10s toss-up.
Here are some other reasons I don’t like “Far Behind”:
1. This vocal style is bad. It sits somewhere between The Black Crowes, Blind Melon, and maybe a little Ugly Kid Joe. Gross.
2. The art bothers me. I clearly remember a band standing in a field. The top is black and has an ugly red, Ralph Steadman-esque Candlebox logo on it. Below the logo is a burnt sierra-style photo of some guys in a bed of flowers posturing as a rock band. The first guy from the left is wearing a beige Baja hoodie. I didn’t ask to remember this detail for all of my adult life—it was forced on me by Madonna, and I would prefer it have gone another way. The next guy over is smirking. Probably the lead man. Then there is the guy in the back who I kind of like, actually. I’m assuming he’s the bassist. He seems mellow. On the far right stands a guy with a huge white shirt. It takes up a lot of the picture. Overall, it’s an unremarkable album cover.
3. What is a candlebox? “Far Behind” forced me to consider if a candlebox was an actual object in the world, or just two unrelated words combined to form a new word. I have the same question regarding Sevendust, Silverchair, and Nickelback—perhaps all syllabically inspired by Candlebox?
4. I counted and he says “maybe” 13 times in the song, which is super fucking tedious and also immature.
5. Back in the ’90s, there was this horrible mail-order music catalog called Columbia House. They conspicuously advertised CDs for one penny each, which both frustrated and intrigued me. In this context, Candlebox is a tiny perforated square that you can lick and stick onto things. Another Columbia House classic, for some reason, was AC/DC Live. I didn’t like them either, but their album art was so good. The Live record had Angus Young ripping a solo while in mid-flight on the cover. Candlebox would never do anything like that. The whole Columbia House thing is sketchy. The modern-day equivalent of Columbia House might be when Amazon puts albums on sale because no one cares. It’s not a good vibe.
You might be thinking, “Who is this guy to say what sucks and what doesn’t?” After all, if you’re a music fan and not particularly into my music, you might see my moniker and feel similarly to the way I do about Candlebox. The truth is, I picked the name when MySpace was still a relevant way of sharing your music with the public, and I had to fill out the “band name” field if I wanted an account. At the time I was less concerned about public image, because I had little faith that anyone would really take notice. So I chose a weird name. It’s grown on me now, and I’m proud of it, but some people hate it, which begs the question: Am I both the victim and the offender?
On the other hand, “Far Behind” is a good reminder about how impressionable we are and how manipulative the music industry can be at times. After all, I consider myself lucky to even have been asked to talk about Candlebox—which is an absurd proposition by most journalistic standards.
My new record, R Plus Seven, is out on September 31, courtesy of Warp.