I think one of the scariest thoughts is you won’t matter. That the universe won’t right itself like a cat in a free fall, always landing on its feet. That crushing defeats and anonymity are neither deserved nor spared. That chance may play a bigger role in our lives than we care to recognize.
And that the difference between the scourge and the crown might be a circumstance. A singular chance — decision or indecision — that either passed us by or enveloped us in retrospective destiny of good fortune.
That’s it. That’s the scariest thing. That this is it. Because there really aren’t any should-have-beens. I’ve spent way too much of my time considering this. Too much time, but yet here’s another 1,000 words on those parallel universes that exist in some cosmic distance away.
I wonder about bands that should-have-been. The should-be hits. Sometime it sounds like this: “If only (blank) number of events had occurred, this marginally good song would have been a hit.” I’ve taken it further, debating on the outcome if two bands traded albums somehow. This is even deeper in its intangible probabilities, less theoretically measurable and requires a flux capacitor.
Say two bands, one giant (like Coldplay) and one relatively obscure (like House of Heroes) trade albums and we ignore, for the moment, the disparity between their two genres. Say these collections of songs are completely written and developed for the originating band, and only at the last minute, after note-for-note dictation, do they swap without any other alterations than the players. Does the House of Heroes album, now channeled through the Coldplay machine, become a legitimate arena firestarter? Does House of Heroes releasing an album of critical Target hits translate to some equal level of hit-dom?
Obviously not right away, as House of Heroes don’t have the public’s ear nor the backing of The Machine, but do the songs — truly the songs themselves — ascend the slow climb into hit status and greater mainstream consciousness on their merit alone?
Or what if a universally agreed upon washed-up, love-to-be-sneered-at band got into the mix? Take Guns ’n’ Roses. No matter what they release, it will never be revered or even held close to their first hits. Doesn’t the burden of expectation — even the strong desire to watch an egotistical titan fall after tinkering for a decade — factor into the overall reception?
The strongest contender for a should-have-been hit on House of Heroes’ debut release, What You Want is Now, is “Mercedes Baby.” It even occupies the “single” position as the third track. It’s also one of the shorter tracks on the album at just over four minutes. For the most part, House of Heroes keeps it interesting with a bubbly, accessible, post-punk record. Fusing youthful energy and melodies with often impressive and occasionally meandering instrumental passages, House of Heroes show their pop-punk roots (they used to be in a punk band called No Tagbacks) with an obvious attempt to distance themselves from their forced maturation by highlight their musicianship. The result is a mixed bag that lacks focus, with ambition at the expense of digestibility.
Don’t get me wrong, a lot of the songs are earworms, but most parts that qualify are buried or obscured by the songs’ marathon lengths. (How do you become post-punk? Stretch out your song lengths with lengthy intros and outros).
It may seem disingenuous to criticize a band for being too ambitious — or, at the very least, a time-tested critical trick of complimenting through back-handed means — but the band really does evolve effectively, the proof their sophomore album. The band learned to pare down songs into lean pop-rock with bigger stand-out hooks. They also included two tracks from their debut (“Mercedes Baby” and “Kamikaze Baby”) each taking a 30-second haircut. I’ve seen this occasionally to some degree; for House of Heroes, they were great songs that needed a second chance with a new label. (The band left Vanishing Point, the short lived label from Plankeye and Fanmail’s Scott Silletta, after just the first album).
House of Heroes has a healthy following and a great body of work. Their songs don’t need to be stacked against other, catchy tunes that have reached a mainstream crossover threshold, only against the pantheon of resonate songwriting. Because that would be the real tragedy here: “It could have been a good song.” Or could have been talking about it 10 years on.
I really love that we’ve been to Antarctica. I love that it doesn’t seem to offer anything. At least, I don’t imagine the first explorers there to set foot with the hopes of striking oil or gold mines or diamonds or some oasis vacation destination or a shortcut to the Bahamas. Notoriety, maybe. It was unexplored because it’s largely inhospitable. But the human spirit deals with the lack of a welcoming climate and a desolate landscape to be pioneers. “To boldly go…” as they say. And even as late as the 18th Century it was believed that Australia was the southernmost continent.
But we had to check it out. Stake our flag. Get to the South Pole because that’s as far as you can go. After a doomed expedition, a memorial cross was erected with the immortal words from Tennyson’s Ulysses: “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
So let’s not be famous.