Sep 072011

The new Wild Flag single, “Romance,” is pretty cool, especially the verses. I liked Sleater-Kinney, from which two thirds of Wild Flag was sewn, and as I first heard this song I was pretty psyched up. Then the chorus kicked in and made me think of another song and artist, which really bummed me out:

Maybe this isn’t the specific Pat Benetar song Wild Flag’s chorus brings to mind, but please excuse me from doing any further research on the music of that ’80s vixen. Ugh! Whatever song I have in mind, I’m getting a certain Benetar vibe from the chorus. Sorry if I’ve spoiled your day, but I couldn’t suffer in silence.


  56 Responses to “Wild Flag Chorus Is a Battlefield”

  1. I’m just not hearing it. The chorus reminds me more of post-punk, like the Buzzcocks.

  2. Maybe it’s Benetar’s “We Belong” that I’m hearing – I’m definitely getting a Benetar vibe from the chorus.

    I hear some Buzzcocks too, especially with the guitar lick mimicking the melody, but Benetar’s in there. Believe me, I’d love to convince myself that I’m “wrong” about this perception and be able to fully dig the song.

  3. I didn’t hear it either. And I thought the song was pretty deece.

  4. If you’re looking for influences from previous bands, take another look at about the 1:22 mark. The chick playing the Fender seems to have copped the double-knee dip dance move from one of the Go Gos.

  5. I’ll grant you that Benetar copped some new wave influences, but that is by no means the same thing as saying that the Wild Flag song sounds like Benetar. Listen without prejudice, dude!

  6. trigmogigmo

    Not hearing it. Don’t ruin it for the rest of us, man!

    The only thing I got was that the chorus brought to mind the “we are we are we are” from “Whisper to a Scream”.

  7. Yes, I can hear that. You’re getting me closer to verifying this alarming (and surely unconscious) nick. Thanks.

  8. dr john, I didn’t say the whole song sounds like Benetar, just the chorus. The rest of the song is excellent. I hope to get by my Benetarphobia on the chorus.

  9. I thought that for a minute, as well. But the melody line in “Romance” is much more bluesy.

    Lots of new-wave/post-new-wave songs use that stutter hook (probably derived from 50s doo-wop): The Knack, “My Sharona,” Devo, “Uncontrollable Urge,” Eddie Money, “Shakin'”, etc.

  10. And let’s not forget The Who, “My Generation:” it really is a common songwriting technique.

  11. I haven’t paid too much attention to the lyrics, but there’s something about the way the chorus and its inclusive, rallying cry point of view leading into that “the blood between me and you” tag line. That doesn’t have a Benetar vibe to it?

  12. No: what is it with your Benetar hang-up? I’m beginning to think that contemporary women artists intimidate you a bit, so you find a way to compare them to someone who, by consensus, sucks.

  13. BigSteve

    What do these women have against the bass guitar?

  14. I guess the question part that you began with was rhetorical. I’m not intimidated by “contemporary women artists” (should we make that a new section in record stores?). I am sharing an observation based on what I hear. If you disagree, by all means, fine, but why try to tag me with shit like that? If it were guys singing this same mostly fine song the only difference would be I might get an ’80s rock guy vibe instead of Benetar. I fucking hate a certain period of the ’80s. I’ve been very clear and consistent about my view on the music world at that time and where I was as a person. I was a complete dipshit in the mid-’80s, so I’m happy to “own” my beefs with that period of culture and let the record show that I was as much an idiot as anything. Meanwhile, I’ve also been clear that I like Sleater-Kinney, bass-free contemporary women artists that they were and all. I’ve also tried to be real clear that I generally dig this Wild Flag song AND that I may be a complete dipshit to this day for hearing a Pat Benetar vibe. Give it to me as I may deserve it, but trust me that I’m not intimidated by contemporary women artists, OK? I’m as intimidated by as anyone by all sorts of things, but I’d say so if that were the motivation behind this thread. Shit, if anything I’m still intimidated by my life in the early ’80s and by Benetar and her pixie nose in the spandex with tights and headband. That was a terrifying assault on my tender teenage sexuality. The Wild Flag women, on the other hand, strike me as very approachable, even if they ever happened upon my silly comparison to their chorus reminding me of the music of Pat Benetar.

  15. misterioso

    dr. john, you missed an opportunity to use the phrase “female fronted.” Please try harder next time.

  16. “If it were guys singing this same mostly fine song the only difference would be I might get an ’80s rock guy vibe instead of Benetar”

    But Wild Flag clearly do have many “rock guy” influences (I trust you’re not arging that WF can only have “rock girl” influences).

    So why, do you think the song sounds like Benetar? What are you hearing that I’m not?

  17. “Female fronted” would apply to a group such as Blondie.

  18. dr john asked:

    So why, do you think the song sounds like Benetar? What are you hearing that I’m not?

    Again, let’s get one thing straight: THE CHORUS gives me a Benetar vibe, not the whole song. The rest of the song sounds a lot like Sleater-Kinney and the post-punk stuff they were influenced by. I like the verses a lot. I don’t dislike the chorus, but to my ears a few things creep in that bug me:

    1) A first it sounds like it’s going to be a Go-Gos-style chorus, which I would have dug, but the chorus loses the sense of play that the verses established.
    2) Then that guitar part mimics the melody and brings it into Buzzcocks’ territory, which I’m also a sucker for, so nothing bugs me there.
    3) Then, I am not proficient enough of a musicologist to provide clear terms, but as the chorus develops it gets stuck in what I call a “Rock rut,” a posturing, in-your-face bastardization of the pentatonic scale that would become prevalent in late-70s semi-hard rock, from Foreigner to faceless stuff like Rainbow and Loverboy. And Pat Benetar. (Steve Diggle’s Buzzcocks songs, by the way, sometimes fall into this rut for me, making them – to my ears – usually not quite as good as Pete Shelley’s songs, which tend to retain a playfulness in their choruses. I guess I prefer playfulness in a chorus to what I perceive as rock posturing.) To my ears that style of chorus gets into too much “tough guy (or girl)” posturing for my tastes. Few could pull it off, maybe only the originators of that melodic style, like Steve Marriott.
    4) Finally, the lyrics of Wild Flag’s CHORUS make me think of Benetar. I’m not even close to sure what they’re singing about but it’s from a very heavy “we” perspective. I sounds like they want me to unite over or rally around something, and then that something seems to be a very dramatic notion of love or romance. Man, I’m more reserved and simple in my feelings about matters of love. FOR ME (ie, in terms of aesthetics and experience), love’s not a battlefield. It’s not whatever March on the Mall I sense Wild Flag want to make it in their song. The only “we” involved is the person I love – and maybe a few other people. So it may be totally inaccurate and unfair, but lyrically, the few times I’ve heard Wild Flag’s “Romance,” the chorus gives me the sense that I’m being dragged into some drama that I’m not buying, that doesn’t concern me.

    A fairly recent modern song I like that – to my ears – just skirts what goes a little wrong for me (admittedly, I’m a really picky old twit) in “Romance” is the Kaiser Chiefs’ song “I Predict a Riot.”

    Every time it gets a little too cliched in the chorus (especially the punchlines of the choruses) they get back on track and don’t lose me with tough-guy stuff.

    Here’s an early ’90s song that’s super rock and loaded with tough-guy posturing that, I think, does a better job of letting the chorus really kick out in a Buzzcocks/Generation X way. All I wish is that “Romance” could have kept its chorus on that plane and not gotten bogged down with its “love is a battlefield” heaviosity. WARNING: On a number of levels I should hate this song:

  19. Let me itemize my points:
    1. Shakespeare also thought love was a battlefield in Henry IV, part 1. The idea has been around for some time, but, of course, the idea fares poorly in the hands of Benetar’s cliche-heavy approach. But that’s not to say that Wild Flag couldn’t do something cool with it (if that’s what they’re singing about), right?
    2. Bingo on the “rock rut”: I’m not a huge fan of it either …
    3. But…then you go on to say that the Kaiser Chiefs do okay with it.
    4. So, are there any female artists who use it well: Runaways, PJ Harvey, Bikini Kill?
    5. My larger point that this song raises for me (which I’ve kind of taken the long route to, because I couldn’t resist ribbing you a bit): do you think men who sing “softer” (like Mick Jagger on “Angie”) tend to get more of a break than women who sing in a “tougher” style? Is there a double standard here, and, if so, why?

  20. PS – I do think we’re reaching some understanding, dr john – and sorry for being so cranky today. It’s not really you; it’s mostly the fact that I’ve had Pat Benetar’s “Love Is a Battlefield” ringing in my head for the last 2 days. It’s as much the “rock guy” influences that are rubbing me the wrong way on the choruses.

    PPS – Townsfolk, I have set my personal e-mail filters to weed out phrases in any messages you might send me containing phrases like, “You tell ’em!” and “I hate to admit it, but you have a point.” Thank you in advance for trying to get these messages through to me privately. I will not be embarrassed by displays of public empathy.

  21. bostonhistorian

    The guitar line in the chorus sounds like Wire to me, mixed with Nirvana’s unplugged version of “The Man Who Sold the World” . Not hearing the Pat Benatar at all, but the Icicle Works sure, because of the words.

  22. misterioso

    Funny, it really reminds me of Spooky Tooth.

  23. As for #2 and #3, fair question: I expect a lot less of Kaiser Chiefs. Sleater-Kinney could be really good, not just “poppy good,” if that makes sense. The chorus of “Romance” loses a certain level of originality or freshness that’s established in the verses. Kaiser Chiefs probably produced the song of their collective life with “…Riot.”

    PJ Harvey can do fantastic things with that tough, blues-rock approach. I like her first two albums a lot, but I think her music has gotten a bit boring since then. It’s still not bad, just a little less likely to feature an integrated rock band sound that interests me. Nowhere near as “rock rut” in approach but sometimes bloozy nevertheless, I like when the Fiery Furnaces get a bit bluesy. They have a song called “I’m Going Away” (a title track, no less) that’s little more than her doing scat-blues over busy drumming and wacky piano. Her voice makes it work for me. I’m not distracted by the elements of blues-rock that often turn me off.

    I think the Runaways kind of suck, not because they’re “females”:) but because they’ve got nothing going for them other than the gimmicky tough-chick thing. I don’t really know Bikini Kill. They sound like they were named after a Russ Meyer movie, and that’s usually a sign that a band is all about the gimmicks. Are they more than that?

    As for #5, I can’t stand “Angie.” I know what you’re ribbing me and probably others about. It’s always tough: rock ‘n roll has been a male-dominated form. Do we only accept women in rock when they’re playing “feminine” parts? Do we judge their music the same way we judge music made by dudes? Are we cool with them “rocking out?”

    For me, I definitely have my preferences, but after all these years they’re mostly based on what I’m hearing and what I feel best fits the artist. Yes, I typically prefer the high-pitched, softer Debbie Harry of “Dreaming” and “Heart of Glass” to her tough-chick voice on songs like “One Way or Another” (now THERE’S a rock rut song that manages to get by my filters and work for me no matter how much I don’t want to like it!), but for the band’s music I’d feel the same way if they were “male fronted” and I had to choose between the soft and hard voices of a singer. as if I was choosing between ethereal and gritty Marvin Gaye leading Blondie. In the case of Blondie, I tend to like the lilting, more feminine songs better. In the case of PJ Harvey, on the other hand, I tend to like it best when Polly Jean sings like she’s got the *illusion* of a dick. (That rude comment was for HVB’s benefit – sorry.)

  24. misterioso

    And for Pete’s sake, Mod & dr. john: it’s Benatar, not Benetar. Show some respect. You wouldn’t misspell her name if she were a man, dammit.

  25. I have failed you, Rock Town Hall. Thanks for correcting us, misterioso.

  26. misterioso

    Mod, I wasn’t thinking so much about how badly you had failed RTH as how badly you had failed Pat. That’s what hurt. If you watch that Love Is A Battlefield video you’ll understand.

  27. BigSteve

    I think I sort of hear the Pat Benatar thing. Or at least an 80s rockish new wavish thing. What it really reminds me of is Pylon, though Pylon’s sound was sparser. And they had a fricking bass player. I guess I can only hear female-fronted (though male-backed) influences.

  28. Right. I agree with you. The debate should be about the choices singers/songwriters make. Yeah, perhaps, the song shows us how good and bad choices (that go beyond gender distinctions) can co-exist.

    Yet, here’s the thing. When I heard the song, I thought it sounds like Carrie Brownstein’s vocals (she does have a distinct voice) in a new-wave context. But I never perceived the band as sounding like another female-fronted group (and I know the riot-grrl backstory, but I don’t think it’s directly relevant in this case), much less Benatar.

    So, then, why read gender (as a category of identity) into it, when I don’t think it’s immediately apparent (in the songwriting and playing)? That’s what I find curious.

    Maybe I’m the only one: I’ll admit–getting ready to teach psychoanalytic criticism in my intro to critical thinking class has me thinking about these issues in general.

  29. cliff sovinsanity

    The only Benatar song that the chorus reminds me of is Shadows Of The Night

    What Mr Mod is hearing/confusing are the different accents between the chorus and the verses. The verses are punchy and angular in a post punk way as pointed out by Dr. John, and the chorus is bouncy in new wavish way as pointed out once again by Dr. John. I can deal with it.

    I suspect Mr Mod doesn’t like it when the gravy from his mashed potatoes runs into his corn.

  30. saturnismine

    First of all, are these girls angling for sitcom work or what?

    This reminds me the time when the Mod thought that Gnarles Barkley’s “Crazy” was copped from the Eagles “I Can’t Tell You Why,” or when he thought that PB&J song was a rip off of Greg Kihn’s “Breakup Song.”

    Most of us don’t hear the connection.

    It’s a catchy pop chorus written in the classic new wave mode. I can’t think of a specific song it cops, but that doesn’t mean there ain’t one out there. It IS very reminiscent of new wave.

    The chords descend while the melody over them remains the same. It’s a somewhat common device in New Wave songs.

    It has a flow and sound like “And I ran” by Flock of Seagulls, but the chords aren’t the same.

    And the breakdown sounds very much like “We Got the Beat,” so much so, in fact, that I thought for sure that was the song I’d see tagged after the jump.

  31. saturnismine

    The more I listen to the chorus the more I think it’s a Cure song, but I don’t have the time (or the headspace) to put my finger on it.

  32. saturnismine

    yeah, that “we are we are…” bit in the Icicle Works song that HVB posted here a few weeks came to my mind, too.

    But it’s not just because of the words that they seem similar, it’s because of rapid fire repetition of the words.

  33. Thank you for pointing out my remarkable ability to make connections of this sort, although I thought I simply pegged Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” as yet another example of an artist trying to make the long-awaited third Fine Young Cannibals’ album. If I compared it to that Eagles song I may be truly whacked!

  34. misterioso

    Good stuff. I’m a little sorry, now, about all those bad things I said about you. A little sorry.

    A different topic, and one I don’t have the time to delve into, is why it is that while there is much to like about this song and nothing to really dislike, nonetheless it mostly leaves me cold. I don’t think it has anything to do with Pat Benatar, but, at the end of the day, how can one be sure?

  35. saturnismine

    I think you heard something in the tone of the guitar in both songs and their sameness of pitch and figured that Gnarles had sampled the Eagles. You might be right about that.

    The FYC thing is plausible too.

    I was just givin ya a hard time.

  36. saturnismine

    yeah…it leaves me cold, too.

    a lot of the music from this bunch (before Wild Flag and in Wild Flag) left me cold…especially Helium, but also Sleater Kinney.

    But hey…be careful with that sacred cow there fella (a close friend of mine made no bones about referring to them as Shitter Kinney whenever in mixed company, just to get the raised eyebrows, because he thought they were pure bullshit; it always amused me to see just how indignant it could make some people).

    Their music always struck me as a sort of indie-rock-by-numbers thing.

    I mean, you go to enough indie rock shows in your lifetime and this stuff doesn’t sound all that special, does it?

  37. hrrundivbakshi

    Sorry to be the turd in the punchbowl here, but the whole thing just sounded like same-old, same-old to me. MY big modern rock problem is that the genre keeps regurgitating itself — and I got my fill of the dish the first time it was set before me.

    What’s more, I find myself seething with grey-haired rage when I realize the only differentiator between stuff like this and sound-similar stuff from 20/30/40 years ago is “production.” Yes, I KNOW it sounds different. It’s the HOW it sounds different that bugs me. Won’t get fooled again!

    For the record, my favorite part of the song is the chorus. And for me, the riff in the “verses” sounds suspiciously like something else I know well. But what?

  38. tonyola

    I had people look at me funny when I once said that Marilyn Manson’s “The Dope Show” sounded like Slider-era T. Rex.

  39. cliff sovinsanity

    I’m curious to know when you think Modern Rock become a genre. Are you talking anything after 1977, is it 80’s college, or post 1991 alternative. The point I’m making is that the members of this Sleater Kinney,Minders side project have been around since the alternative boom. I don’t really expect them to stray to far from that sound. There’s nothing wrong with a hooky little rocking tune.
    Is there any new music that you like that doesn’t suffer from the modern rock problem you speak of.

  40. machinery

    I got yer back hrrund-m-c.

    I wanted to like it more but I just got bored midway through. I had like 5 Slater Kinney CDs at one time … deleted 3 of them.

  41. machinery

    This reminds me of an earlier post I posited a bit back (last year?)

    I think we give girl groups a bit of a pass. Like hey, it’s not bad (for gals.) But if four dudes came out with a little number like this … well we would shit all over it.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’ve professed my love for girl groups before. I TOTALLY love the Breeders. I really down with Le Tigre. And I went through a serious 3 month stretch where all it seemed I listened to were gal-fronted bands ala Metric, Plumbtree, etc.

    I think we still make some allowances though.

    Yeah yeah, there are the Pretenders and the Heartbreakers of the world. I’m talking about gal music made in the last 15 years. Even the Donnas are pretty lame.

    Where, for instance is the female Sloan?

    Can I get a (non sexist) Amen?

  42. machinery

    Yeah, yeah … I meant Runaways …

  43. cliff sovinsanity

    The Like, Camera Obscura, Detroit Cobras, Gore Gore Girls, and Imelda May rock sufficiently , but oddly enough they are all throwbacks.

  44. saturnismine

    “Sorry to be the turd in the punchbowl here…”

    Oh come on…you LOVE being the turd in the punchbowl. That’s your role here when I or EPG aren’t being said turd.

    In this case, though, I don’t think anybody’s posting raves over the tune. In fact, even my post right above yours calls it “Indie-rock-by numbers” — and i usually fly the indie rock flag pretty high.

    We all pretty much agree.

    I know turds in punchbowls. You sir, are no turd.

  45. saturnismine

    Dressy Bessy…(throwback), Palomar (not-so-throwback)…

  46. saturnismine

    Those people were either in denial about MM’s lack of originality or had no idea what “Slider era T-Rex” meant.

  47. Good stuff, dr john. Yes, I was surprised how many times the vocals hinted at the S-K woman who must have been the real reason the band broke up, but I didn’t think I was reading gender into the comparison, not directly. I was getting a “Benatar vibe.” I’m sure the fact that she also has a woman’s voice and tone and pitch helped, but if I’d gotten a Journey vibe I would have said that. Either way, living through the spectre of Benatar today was hell. I’m glad we found some common ground in our discussion.

  48. misterioso

    Not a sacred cow with me. My experience with Sleater-Kinney is that they are best enjoyed in principle than in actuality. I.e., “if I were willing to take an interest in this stuff I might well think was pretty good.” Yes, sorry: a card-carrying member of the Bad Attitude Club, I guess.

  49. trigmogigmo

    I totally get what you mean about the “we” aspect of this (or any) song. A writer has to be careful about that, because it can seem like a too-calculated attempt to be anthemic if the “we” is more than “you (singular) and me”. The Pat Benatar song you reference in this main article title is a case in point — “We are young, heartache to heartache we stand” … I never knew more of the lyrics until looking them up online just now, but I always thought the “we” was meant to be the young generation, and it sounded a little too artificial in its super solidarity, ’80s headbanded choreography on MTV-ness.

    And… songwriters of “Love Is a Battlefield”: Mike Chapman, Holly Knight. A work for hire can never have the same “we” anthemic impact anyway.

  50. saturnismine

    Well duh…I mean it was clear to me that they’re not a sacred cow to YOU, mis.

    I was railing against their treatment as such by most legions of indie-rock faithful (the good attitude club…it’s full of dogma, stepfords, and true believers, if you will).

    we both belong to that bad attitude club.

  51. 2000 Man

    I don’t think anyone’s ever accused me of having a good attitude toward indie Rock in general, but I think Sleater – Kinney kicks ass. But then again I like The Runaways and Suzi Quatro and think Polly Jean sucks. At least Carrie Brownstein knows where the volume knob on her guitar is, and she knows which way to turn it for louder. Sleater – Kinney never did anything as dull as a Bon Iver album, that’s for sure.

  52. saturnismine

    so…people who don’t like Sleater Kinney automatically like Bon Iver?


  53. jeangray

    Marni Stern would kick all ya’lls asses!

    And no, I’m not hearing the Benatar either. Methinks Mr. Mod has some unresolved feelings regarding Ms. Benatar, and perhaps female-centric Rawk Stars in general. Didja know that she was originally an opera singer???

  54. Yes, yet another rock star who was “classically trained.” That could be a Last Man Standing thread in itself: Classically Trained Rockers – or the short version: Classically Trained Rockers Who Didn’t Suck.

  55. Thanks for posting this. I like the song — and the video is kind of funny. I hope the rest of the album is good and they gals can keep it together to do a nice little victory lap across the country together.

    Another Sleater-Kinney alum was even more a copycat earlier this year — check out the Patti Smith homage in the Corin Tucker Band’s Riley —

    and various riffs to numerous to count here in Doubt.

  56. I’m way late to this thread (I can’t often listen at the laptop – long story) but that chorus is a dead rip of STP’s “Sex Type Thing”
    Not Benatar but plenty annoying. I like the tune otherwise and I think the term “rock rut” has promise.

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