The Top Ten Pansy White Boy Bands

By Steven Lloyd Wilson & Dustin Rowles | Music | May 29, 2009 | Comments ()

By Steven Lloyd Wilson & Dustin Rowles | Music | May 29, 2009 |


Here goes: The Ten Best Pansy White Boy Bands.

Toad the Wet Sprocket

Aside from an awful band name (a Monty Python reference that even the band hated), I think Toad the Wet Sprocket is an unfairly maligned band. Spin, I believe, even placed them among the worst 100 bands of all time. Many have written that they were R.E.M. knock-offs, which Toad's lead singer, Glen Phillips, never took issue with. It's a fair criticism, but in the 90s, you could do a lot worse than knocking off R.E.M.

Most probably only know Toad the Wet Sprocket because of their major hits from Fear, "Walk on the Ocean" and "All I Want," in addition to a minor hit on their follow-up, "Fall Down," from the fantastic album, Dulcinea, which also featured one of my favorite Toad songs of all time, the Don Quixote inspired "Windmills." You may also recognize them from a few of their choice soundtrack numbers, "Little Heaven," from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie, "Brother," from So I Married an Axe Murderer, or "Crazy Life," from Empire Records.

And though I may be embarrassed to admit my fondness for a few of the bands on this list, Toad is one of those bands I haven't been able to let go of since the 90s, and I still find myself listening to Dulcinea once a month. More surprising is that the lead singer, Glen Phillips, formed a solo career after the band's break-up in 1998, and his solo stuff is far more remarkable, both from an objective and subjective stand-point. He even made an album with Nickel Creek several years ago. His solo music is harder to find, but it's worth the effort if you like pansy white boy acoustic rock. And if you listen to adult alternative radio, which is my genre of choice, they still slip Toad the Wet Sprocket in occasionally among the Wilco, Ryan Adams, and Patty Griffin numbers. Dustin Rowles


Barenaked Ladies

They once guest starred and performed on "Two Guys and a Girl." It's rumored that "I'll Be That Girl" is an ode to Ryan Reynolds' abs. They've always written quirky songs that tend to tell stories, particularly off-the-wall ones. Kind of a low calorie version of They Might Be Giants, with odes to alcohol ("Alcohol"), the narration of a bank robbery gone awry ("Bank Job"), breaking into an ex's apartment ("The Old Apartment") and they even released their own holiday album (Barenaked for the Holidays).

A joy underlies even their saddest songs, grinning through tears. Their songs become utterly sublime when you get a loud stereo, a metric booze-ton of beer, and 30 people who know all the lyrics screaming the words together into the night. Plus they're Canadian, eh. Steven Lloyd Wilson

Crowded House

Crowded House is a fairly obscure band in the United States, but one of the more popular bands in Europe during the late 80s and 90s, and still one of the most popular pansy white boy bands in Australia. Formed after Neil Finn and Paul Hester left the influential Split Enz, Crowded House was something of a one-hit wonder in the States. "Don't Dream It's Over," won Crowded House MTV's best new band in 1987, and then they disappeared commercially. But after that decent debut album, they added Neil Finn's older brother and founding member of Split Enz, Tim Finn, and put out some of the best unheard music of the 90s: Temple of Low Men, Woodface, and the Maori influenced, Together Alone. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more Beatlesesque band than Crowded House -- they are full-on melody after soothing melody, many of which can break your fucking heart.

After breaking up in 1996, the band reformed in 2006 after their drummer, Paul Hester, killed himself. They've put out another album since, 2007's Time on Earth. In the interim, Neil Finn and his brother, Tim, put out a few phenomenal albums under the band name Finn (they had a song featured prominently on "Sports Night.") One of my more painful memories, in fact, came while Finn was touring, and I didn't realize they were playing in Boston until I coincidentally drove by the venue during the concert (the old Paradise Club) and noticed their names on the marquee. I learned the next day that Eddie Vedder had joined them onstage. Bitter. DR


The Wallflowers

Jakob Dylan's project was dedicated to proving that not all offspring of 60s music gods were born bereft of musical talent. They hit the mainstream with Bringing Down the Horse, particularly the first track "One Headlight." Later efforts were not as commercially successful, but their sound has continued to mature, and Jakob Dylan took a break to release a solo album last year.

Both the Wallflowers and solo Dylan have a schizophrenia to their songs, jumping back and forth between incredibly somber and thoughtful to almost terrifyingly cheery. Dylan's solo album has perhaps the starkest example with "Something Good this Way Comes" coming a few tracks after "Evil is Alive" and "Well." I'm still not sure if Dylan's weaving a prodigious level of irony into the happy stuff or if he flips a coin every hour to decide between cutting himself and playing with cartoon animals. -- SLW

Travis

If Toad the Wet Sprocket were known as an R.E.M. copycat band, Travis is probably best known as one of the more popular Radiohead copycats. They're basically a lesser talented Radiohead without the sonic sound, and (sorry) they were influential in paving the way for this generation's pansy white boy bands, Coldplay, Keane (ack! too white) and Snow Patrol. Before anyone had ever heard of them stateside (they are from Glasgow), I caught them opening for Ben Folds in 1996, supporting their upbeat, Good Feeling, and they blew me away (this was before they became considerably more maudlin).

Basically, if you like Coldplay but wish they were a little less bombastic and a lot less full of themselves, you'd probably dig Travis. Their biggest hit here, I believe, is "Why Does It Always Rain on Me," one of their many melodiously melancholy songs. Their first three albums -- Good Feeling, The Invisible Band and The Man Who -- were brilliant, if you're into white boy pansiness, although they're last few efforts have become more generic affairs. DR

Matchbox 20

Rob Thomas is so white that he made Santana mainstream enough to win a Grammy. But back in the 90s, who didn't own Yourself or Someone Like You? They even got to have a miniature contrived controversy when some feminist groups protested that "Push" glorified the physical abuse of women. It all was OK once Rob explained to the media that the song was about a woman abusing a man emotionally, which is really the foundation of most healthy relationships anyway.

Matchbox 20's songs hit that perfect medium of white boy pussy rock. They're angsty, but not so angsty that they're emo. They're angry, but not so angry that they're metal. Some call that perfect medium mediocrity, but I call it ... well OK, it might be mediocrity, but it's awesome mediocrity.

Rob Thomas has done some solo work the last few years, most notably his foray into acting playing a deranged mental patient version of himself in an episode of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia." SLW

Gin Blossoms

*Shame band* If you were a white boy coming of age in the early 90s and you weren't listening to New Miserable Experience, you're just fucking lying. First of all, it was the perfect teenage break-up album ("Until I Fall Away," "Cheatin") especially if you were dating a girl named Allison ("Allison Road"), and second of all, you didn't really have a choice in the matter. They played this album's singles anywhere you went -- they were omnipresent, on the radio, in elevators, at the grocery store, at your school dances, and on every jukebox in America. Hell, I'd be surprised if you could go to church in 1993 without the choir breaking out into "Hey Jealousy." "Found Out About You," would worm itself into your brain and not leave for days -- it was like a tapeworm. You had to physically pull it out of you.

Indeed, Gin Blossoms were the lightest rock band allowed under the law. They had absolutely no edge whatsoever, and yet they were almost impossible not to listen to. They followed New Miserable Experience up with the much less successful, Congratulations ... I'm Sorry. And if you bought that album, or their next album, Major Lodge Victory, then you are even whiter than I am. See also: Dishwalla, Third Eye Bland, and Goo Goo Dolls. DR


Counting Crows

Counting Crows' first couple of albums provided the soundtrack for just about anybody hitting late teens/early 20s during the 90s. We dreamed to "Mr. Jones," pined to "A Murder of One," plunged through our first heartbreaks to "A Long December." And Adam Duritz can whine with the best of them, no fooling.

They are especially notable for how much better they are live, and how open they are to the fan culture of bootlegging. The band encourages fans to record, copy and share bootlegs of their concerts, going so far as to hosting a website to coordinate trading of recordings amongst fans.

In fact, they had the sheer chutzpa to release a two-CD live album (Across the Wire) when they only had two studio albums, but that album still stands up as one of the great live albums, capturing the songs of the albums but injecting them with more urgency and raw emotion than the studio takes. SLW

Dave Matthews Band

The older kids had Grateful Dead, the cooler kids had Phish, and the rest of us got Dave Matthews Band. But fuck it: I dig the hell out of DMB. I saw them at a killer concert in a very small venue in Memphis in 1993 when they were touring on the Remember Two Things EP and saw them again several years at an outdoor stadium with 50,000 assholes. But it's not the band's fault that much of their following consists of douchebags, and it certainly not reflected in their mainstream accessible jam band songs. Under the Table and Dreaming was one of the best albums of the 90s, and if you could listen to "Ants Marching" or "What Would You Say," without doing that stand-still hammer dance that Dave does, then you just aren't alive. How good was "Dancing Nancies"? Damn good. Crash had quite a few great songs (though, the overplayed "Crash into Me" still wears on me), including the albums ass-kicking debut single, "So Much to Say."

Unfortunately, after Crash they released too many goddamn live albums, and while I tried to stay on top of them for a while, I eventually lost patience, though I still buy all their studio efforts. And I'm not ashamed to admit I'm looking forward to the next CD, out in early June. DR

Hootie & the Blowfish

And for the win, Hootie & the Blowfish is the best white boy rock band of all time. This band is so white that Darius Rucker makes Tiger Woods look like the unholy love child of Snoop Dogg and Shaft.

In order to have some modicum of musical credibility, I always tell people that the first CD I ever bought was Nirvana's Nevermind, but I can confess in this sanctuary that it was Cracked Rear View. Hootie & the Blowfish began as a cover band but erupted into the anti-grunge bestseller of 1995. The irony is that although people billed the success of Hootie as a backlash against the nihilism of grunge, Cracked Rear View is not a happy and insipid album. Oh sure, it had "Hold My Hand," "Only Wanna Be With You" and playing catch with Dan Marino, but it also featured "Let Her Cry" (the horror of dealing with an addict you love), "Drowning" (racism in the south), and "Not Even the Trees" (the death of his mother).

Darius Rucker went on to a successful solo country music career once Dan Marino filed a restraining order. If you happen to be in South Carolina this spring you may be able to catch the limited run of a ballet chronicling the early years of Hootie & the Blowfish, featuring the band itself playing its songs. Autobiographical ballet is now my barometer for musical success. SLW


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