Scrunged: Paw’s Dragline & Seven Mary Three’s American Standard
Scrunge (second-rate rip-off grunge) is a largely forgotten genre, and every few weeks I’m going to examine a scrunge act or two and see if they deserve a second chance. Today’s bands: Paw and Seven Mary Three.
Most grunge bands were from the greater Seattle area, with the occasional stray coming from Portland. But scrunge cast a far wider net. STP were from LA. The Toadies hailed from
Austin Ft. Worth/the greater Austin area. Sponge repped Detroit. Very different cities to be sure, and they all had their own unique musical histories that they were known the world over for. And it showed up in these bands’ music.
Sure, The Toadies obviously crib their sound from The Pixies, but they also sound like a band who grew up on the sounds of The Buthole Surfers and the indie Austin scene. STP were never as earnest or thoughtful as Pearl Jam or Nirvana, but their aura of LA sleaze gave them an attitude few grunge bands had. Even Sponge, who are as derivative as they come, carry a bit of the Motor City – you can hear a hint of Iggy Pop’s wildness in them.
But some bands weren’t as lucky as to come from a city with a strong alternative (or any) musical legacy. Paw, for example, was formed in Lawrence, Kansas. You know what famous musical acts are from Kansas?
Kansas. I mean, the band, Kansas, they’re from Kansas. That’s about it.
That’s more notable than Seven Mary Three’s hometown of Williamsburg, Virginia though. They got nothing. Actually, maybe I should check Wikipedia just to be sure.
Okay, I’ll give them GWAR, but that’s it.
Some may ask if that even matters, but I think it does to a certain extent. As I said, many of the scrunge bands from the bigger cities weren’t entirely derivative of the Seattle scene because they, consciously or sub-consciously, drew upon their local influences as well, even if it was just a smidge. But Paw and Seven Mary Three didn’t have that option. They had no local music legacy to draw upon, they only had the radio. And holy shit does it show.
Paw, the better of the two, although that’s barely even a contest, blatantly crib from Nirvana so much so that it’s embarrassing. I bet if one researched all the reviews of their 1993 debut Dragline they would find a variation of “sounds like Nirvana but overall not bad” in almost all of them. Paw is to Nirvana as Godsmack is to Alice In Chains.
And while I agree with that general sentiment, I think that calling Paw a Nirvana rip-off is actually giving them too much credit. That would imply that they drew influence and inspiration from the myriad of styles that Nirvana themselves showcased; remember Nirvana could rock a ballad “About A Girl” or abrasive noise-rock “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter” just as well as their punk-influenced grunge classics.
No, saying that Paw was influenced by Nirvana is going too far. I think they were influenced by Nirvana’s “Negative Creep” and not much else. Don’t take my word for it, compare for yourself.
Listen to “Negative Creep.”
Now check out “Jessie.”
And here’s “Pansy.”
And finally “Gasoline.”
Uncanny isn’t it?
Now granted, I wouldn’t say that every song on Dragline sounds like “Negative Creep,” but I do feel safe in saying that almost every good song on Dragline sound like “Negative Creep.” Heck, some of the bad songs, like the gross and misogynistic “Veronica,” do too.
But hey, give them credit; Paw could at least do one thing right. That’s more than can be said for Seven Mary Three.
I found Seven Mary Three to be abhorrently awful back in 1995, when the world was first subjected to them thanks to their major label debut American Standard, which was mostly just a re-recorded version of the indie debut Churn. In my opinion, time has not been kind to them.
Seven Mary Three are mostly known for two songs; their debut hit single “Cumbersome” and its moderately successful follow-up “Water’s Edge.”
If I had to pick a “highlight” from American Standard, it probably would be “Water’s Edge,” as it at least has a slight amount of intensity to it, and I like a good storytelling song as much as the next Springsteen fan. And the story of “Water’s Edge,” which tells how the protagonist bore witness to a brutal murder in the woods by the river, but can’t go the police because the killers have connections that would get him killed as well, is a haunting idea for a song, and it stands out as a unique subject matter for a rock track. Unless you’ve heard Warrant’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” which covers the exact same subject matter but with a level of emotion and musicianship that Seven Mary Three could only hope to achieve.
That’s right, Seven Mary Three are no Warrant. I said it.
“Water’s Edge” is the opening track on American Standard. “Cumbersome” is track two. While “Water’s Edge” was at least slightly unique for its time (there weren’t a lot of storytelling tracks in the mid-90s), “Cumbersome” was shit in 1995 and it’s doubly shit now, some 20 years later. It’s become cumbersome, if you will, to my ears. When people say they hate Pearl Jam, this is why. Because they begat crap like this; overly earnest, baritone vocalist bemoaning their lives and the world around them like we should somehow care. Hell, I love Pearl Jam and hearing toxic garbage like this makes me want grab Eddie Vedder by the back of the head and shove his face into a Seven Mary Three CD while shouting “look what you did” over and over again.
I listened to American Standard, and even Churn, multiple times in preparation for this post, and I still can’t name three songs off either record. Both albums are remarkable only for just how unremarkable they are. I literally have nothing to say about them. They don’t even stand out for being shit. They’re shit, don’t get me wrong, but they’re forgettable shit. I mean, say what you will about Creed, but at least they inspire emotions, even if those emotions include extreme nausea.
And I sadly have to give Seven Mary Three credit, American Standard is oddly prophetic in a lot of ways. It is boring and dirge-like in the precise manner that many mainstream rock albums in the second-half of the 90s and early 2000s would be. Mid-tempo rock tracks with minimal musicianship required? Check. Eddie Vedder inspired vocals with none of the range or emotion? Check. An overwhelming sense of blandess that resembles sonic wallpaper? Check and double check. Seven Mary Three can actually cite a somewhat popular band as being influenced by them too: Three Doors Down, one of the more atrocious acts of this millennium, actually have claimed to draw inspiration from Seven Mary Three. To be honest, that’s a bigger indictment as to the quality of either band than any pithy insult I could sling at them.
Think about it. “Influenced by Seven Mary Three” or “an influence to Three Downs Down?” Those are some pretty harsh burns.
When I wrote about Sponge’s Rotting Pinata I said that it was unoriginal. But since writing that I’ve found myself returning to that album more times than I thought I would. Sure, it lacks depth, but there’s something to be said for its energy. And they’re trying dammit. That’s what I find lacking in both the Paw and Seven Mary Three albums. No effort. Paw listened to “Negative Creep” and collectively said “let’s make that song over and over again.” And Seven Mary Three, hell, I don’t know what they were thinking (or continue to think, they’re still subjecting the world to their terribly terrible brand of terrible music), but they sure as hell weren’t trying.
In the pantheon of Scrunge acts, few deserve to be as forgotten as much as these two.
I found one that was even worse, but that’s for another time.