Listening room (CD reviews)
99 Years, 99 Years (99 Years, 2004)
Giving bad reviews to people with good intentions sucks. Just because you respect a group’s goals, though, doesn’t mean you can stomach their music.
But let’s back up. 99 Years, you see, was once a cover band. They played the typical WNC bar circuit, performing a set list of pop-and-rock favorites that most any listeners with a few Coors in them could scoot their boots to. The group’s name was a comment on their commitment to music in general, being the total number of years individual members had been working as musicians.
And then, just after a gig in 2002, guitarist David Sheek died of a heart attack. Maybe his four surviving band mates felt a touch of mortality that night, or maybe they decided being a reasonably good cover group wasn’t enough anymore. Regardless, soon after the tragedy, the remaining members of 99 Years decided to start living their dream of writing and playing original music.
It’s the kind of story that makes you want to like a band, sign their mailing list, buy their CD and their T-shirt, shake their hands and give every bit of encouragement you can.
But then, what if you don’t like their album?
Unfortunately, what’s most remarkable about 99 Years’ cliche-drenched debut of originals is a fundamental lack of originality. Starting with the first notes of “The Dream” — the album’s melodramatic, old-school-metal-style opener — the songs sound none-too-subtly lifted from any number of ’70s and ’80s rock outfits. In some cases, when they “borrowed” these songs, 99 Years didn’t even bother to file off the serial numbers!
On a purely intellectual level, it can be fascinating to hear the results of a Kansas-tune structure ramming head-on into an Aerosmith vocal sensibility, which is exactly what happens in “Creatures.” Other times it’s Metallica, Molly Hatchet, Great White or AC/DC colliding. Frequently, the result is a flat jumble of disjointed musical parts.
A glimmer of originality comes when 99 Years, like some self-aware Spinal Tap, agreeably satirizes the very genres that are their bread and butter. Take “Big Knockers,” for instance, a comedic, Guns-N’-Roses-esque tribute to the sexual wonders of plastic surgery. It might not go up for a Grammy any time soon, but the band’s rhymes are in the right place: “Everything’s grand, life is complete/ With lots of big knockers and lots of big meat.”
But the only real surprise arrives way too late, in the closing moments of the R&B-fueled closing track, “The More You Know (Trailer Home).” At the very end of the song, 99 Years manages to kick it loose, turning the tune into a ’70s-era British-punk homage, complete with an “Oi! Oi! Oi!” refrain.
Sure, it may not be high art, but at least it’s an unexpected laugh. Rating: 2 out of 5.