Driving on high-octane Korn

Review: The band's latest album, `Issues,' is real dance music if your idea of a ballroom is a mosh pit.

November 17, 1999|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

For any other band, the phrase "Let's get this party started!" would be an invitation to cut loose, have fun and enjoy. It may not be an invitation to Dionysian ecstasy, exactly, but it's usually an indication that a good time will be had by all.

Korn, however, puts rather a different spin on the phrase in "Let's Get This Party Started," one of 16 songs included on the quintet's new album, "Issues" (Epic/Immortal 63710). That twist says a lot about why the group has become the most popular and influential band in hard rock today.

For Korn, "Let's Get This Party Started" entails a different sort of release, one in which the shackles of normality are temporarily thrown off, so that the true, inner self can run free. This isn't an act of joy, however. When singer Jonathan Davis shrieks the chorus -- "Let's get this party started/I'm sick of being you/You make me feel insane " -- what we feel isn't relief so much as frustration boiling over, as if Davis' protagonist were a pressure cooker ready to blow.

It certainly isn't party music, at least not in the K.C. & the Sunshine Band sense, anyway. Even so, the song does invite an almost immediate physical response. As soon as the band moves from the itchy, ominous groove of the verse (in which Davis' vocal seems almost on the verge of tears) to the bass-and-drum-driven throb of the chorus, a strange power whispers through the music, urging the listener to slam into something -- to bounce off the walls, if necessary.

This, in other words, is quintessential mosh pit music. No surprise, really, given the way Korn and its compatriots -- Limp Bizkit, Staind, Orgy and others -- have redefined the whole heavy rock aesthetic. Where once mosh pit denizens expected to be pummeled by the music, pushed around by the relentless thrust of speed metal and thrash, now the rhythms have taken enough from hip-hop and funk to seem more enticing, inviting a response instead of demanding one.

That's certainly the case with Korn. On "Issues," the music offers an astonishingly broad range of energy levels and textures, from the electro-tinged crunch of "Beg for Me" to the dub reggae effects sprinkled through the anxiously ticking pulse of "Make Me Bad" to the steamroller riffage of "Wake Up."

And Korn isn't above bringing in sounds not normally heard in the mosh pit, be it the bagpipes adorning the solemn disquiet of "Dead" or the dark, buzzing didgeridoo-like drones that rumble through "Dirty."

Taken as a whole, the band's aural ambition is fairly startling, even given the expanded musical horizons of Korn's last album, "Follow the Leader." Yet as broad as the band's sonic palette may be, the album's emotional landscape is distressingly narrow, as Korn seems almost entirely confined to the Valley of Maladjusted Personalities.

"I don't know why it hurts," sings Davis of the self-loathing that drives his protagonist to sexual excess in "Trash," and even though the specific problems vary from song to song, the essential mind-set remains depressingly unvaried. Uplifting, it isn't.

And yet, the album is hardly without hope. Korn's songs may be about being messed up, but the music seldom glories in its own dysfunction. Instead, the protagonists in these songs are invariably struggling to climb out of the hole they're trapped in, trying to deal with the pain and frustration that comes with knowing they're not quite right.

It's not exactly light listening, but Korn's "Issues" are definitely worth confronting.

Korn

Issues

Epic/Immortal 63710

***

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.