Fine China – You Make Me Hate Music

Fine China
You Make Me Hate Music

The pop song is a very tricky thing to fool around with. These days, it’s nearly impossible to sound original with the ready-made structures and banal chord progressions that has defined and redefined pop music over and over – not to mention all the lyrics that have been subject to repetition. But the fun part for the listener is hearing the bands try to imbue its music with at least a remote sense of originality. And if you’ve read my reviews (or know me personally), you know how anal I am about originality.
Append Fine China to the list of bands trying to tackle this pop albatross. The Phoenix, Ariz.-based band is a foursome, consisting of singer/songwriter/guitarist Rob Withem, bassist Greg Markov, keyboardist Joshua Block, and drummer Thom Walsh. They create melodic, guitar-based pop songs, chock full of melancholy lyrics and heart-wrenching chords set to a mid-tempo drumbeat – nothing really to get a boner about.
You Make Me Hate Music is the group’s sophomore album, following their 2000 debut, When the World Sings. Ditching the “electro vibe” of their debut, the band honed their guitar sound, a sound that dominates the entire 10 tracks. Ranging from soft acoustic strumming to thick walls of guitars, the music has a very full, fleshed-out sound. The music is highly dependent on Withim’s light, emotive vocals that draw from an array of past vocalists.
But now we come back to the pop formula. The album title, You Make Me Hate Music, is a reflection of the band’s misanthropic view of the current state of pop music. Obviously frustrated with the derivative nature of the “artists” in the music machine, Fine China is here to transcend the monotonous pop industry. Condemning current pop as mindless, chorus-driven songs, the quartet wish to hark back to the early 90s when they believed the “songwriting style they did was really based on the song.” In short, the band believes that there is nothing worse than a bad song, and I couldn’t agree more.
But the thing is, Fine China seems to be looking in the wrong place for good pop songs. So many good bands/artists are out there, it just takes a little more searching than turning on the radio or flipping on MTV. Either the band judges a successful pop song by air-time or video-play, or they simply lack the exposure to subjectively “good” music. Rob Withim even references the Backstreet Boys, using the power-pop boy band as a comparison to early 90s rock. But the comparison is as dross as comparing a pencil to an arcade machine (yay for Mortal Kombat II!). Reportedly, Withim grew up on Top 40 music until bands such as the Smashing Pumpkins and Dinosaur Jr. caught his attention. So really, it seems the band is targeting the money-making artists rather than the truly responsible deviants, the major label recording industry.
These theories are essential when considering Fine China’s music. In the already transcendent underground rock world, Fine China’s music comes off very tame and hackneyed. In fact, the music sounds much like 80s pop, albeit more refined with a sparkling production quality. But relative to Top 40 music, Fine China’s songwriting definitely does what the group has set out to do, which is to bring back the art of the transcendent rock song. For fans of bands like the Cure, Travis, and Coldplay, this music is right up your alley. But for the rest of us, the Cure, Travis, and Coldplay alone may be good enough.