Wednesday, February 1, 2012

One Hit Wonder Or One Hit Blunder

Today's Subject: "Better Days (and the Bottom Drops Out)" by Citizen King

There are certain radio singles that the moment you hear them, you instantly know that they will be relegated to a compilation for the particular decade they were huge in. This usually comes from the single sounding mostly like everything else on the radio at that present moment. Citizen King's Top 40 hit, "Better Days (and the Bottom Drops Out)" is the perfect example of such a song as the line between this single and the rest of the late 90's College meets Adult Contemporary rock is extremely thin.

Released in the summer of 1999, "Better Days (and the Bottom Drops Out)" quickly shot to #25 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #10 on the Billboard Adult Top 40 charts while occasionally finding placement in TV shows (Malcolm in the Middle) and films (Gone in 60 Seconds). On the surface, it is easy to see why. It has a catchy and memorable hook sung by bassist/vocalist Matt Sims and keyboardist/vocalist Dave Cooley (and through a modified telephone no less). That hook even had me enjoying the song that summer after seeing the video on 120 Minutes. At that point, I could have listened to this everyday. Actually, I believe I did hear it everyday on MTV, VH1, MTV again, Q101 and, at some point, I am pretty certain that I saw it on ESPN 8 "The Ocho".   

Musically, it is a bit bland and does little to separate it from any of the hits by Third Eye Blind or Smash Mouth receiving airplay at that time. What is that? You say they had a DJ and the song has a hip hop influence. So does all of Limp Bizkit's singles and they had hits too and was also big at the your point is? Anyway, if one were to eliminate the DJ from the mix, it would be the poppiest song Third Eye Blind  
never wrote. Given the rapping verses and singing choruses, it is the most commercial song Limp Bizkit never wrote. This is one of the problems I have with the song at the moment. It literally sounds like the bulk of late 90's/early 00's commercial rock which I may have enjoyed in college, definitely does not hold up quite as well today (despite owning three of their albums, this is the reason I am scared to listen to Lit now). 

The single achieved gold status during the rise of Napster and before iTunes. That meant that at least 500,000 people went out a bought a single (CD or cassingle as both were on their last legs in America) of this song to satisfy the lack of hearing it beyond five or more times a day. Perhaps, people enjoyed the song and really did not care to hear the rest of Mobile Estates. Either way, the fact that the single went gold and did not receive even the smallest award nomination is a bit odd. Granted, the band had a two independent releases before this album but the Grammy committee did not see this band fit for best new artist or the track, itself, for best pop/rock song. Song success aside, that should be a musical red flag as even "Mambo No.5" was Grammy nominated, however, the list of impressive one hit wonders that were never nominated give it the pro and con that places the song in the middle. 

#25 on Billboard Hot 100.
#10 on Billboard Adult Top 40.
Single went gold during the decline of the CD single.
A summer anthem not made by Smash Mouth.
Decent hook in the chorus.
Hip hop influenced without being rap-metal.
Popular enough to be a hit but not popular enough to get them a Best New Artist nomination.

Sounds like every other pop-rock song of the late 90's.
A bit safe sounding.
Popular enough to be a hit but not popular enough to get them a Grammy nomination.
Relegated to re-runs of the pilot and series finale of Malcolm in the Middle and 90's compilations.
Rarely if ever receives airplay now.
Does anybody outside of Citizen King fans and the members remember the lyrics outside of the chorus?
According to Wikipedia, was often attributed to Sublime on peer-to-peer sharing network despite Sublime disbanding a few years earlier.
Hip hop influenced without being Beck.

Citizen King's entry into the land of one hit wonder status leans closer to a blunder than a wonder. "Better Days (and the Bottom Drops Out)"  is not a bad song, just a bit of a bland song. The chorus provides a decent enough hook yet also makes you forget everything else about the song. It is the middle ground between Beck's inspired, bizarre hip hop/alt-rock hybrid and Limp Bizkit's everything turned up to 10, detuned rap-metal which makes very safe and consumable for college kids, radio airplay and adults wanting to get into hip hop. Hell, I even liked it at the time but now, it is more of a song that I seem to only hear on the latest Monster Jams compilation squeezed between "I Alone" by Live and "Cumbersome" by Seven Mary Three. For a song of the late 90's that placed as high as #25 on the Billboard Hot 100, that might not be a bad thing for its legacy.

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