Contrary to popular belief, rock isn’t dead. Unfortunately, however, it has become rather zombified of late. I’m of the somber opinion that the 90’s grunge/post-grunge period was the last great hurrah for the format, with everything after– rap-rock, the monstrosity that was nu-metal, pop-punk, emo, screamo, what-have-you– being so much sonic dreck. There are a few bands that soldier on and manage to remain fresh and relevant– Foo Fighters come to mind, but sadly I can’t think of any others off the top of my head– but for the most part there hasn’t been anything new under the sun for many moons. X Ambassadors would like to change that opinion, but their new single “Jungle”, featuring vocals by British singer/songwriter Jamie N Commons, feels both derivative and reductive of a lot of earlier (dare I say, better) songs from hard rock’s 70’s/80’s heyday.
X Ambassadors, from Ithaca, New York, have put out a couple of EPs and toured extensively with Imagine Dragons (a band I happen to like, so I guess I can put them in the “rock’s not dead” bin too). Jamie N Commons is a classically trained blues artist (what a combination!) and co-wrote “Jungle” with the band, and his earthy, scratchy vocals are the track’s main selling point. The song utilizes an overly familiar rhythm line, the sharply staccato stomp-clap you’ve heard in everything from Queen’s “We Will Rock You” to Billy Squier’s “The Stroke” to Katy Perry’s “ET”. It sounds like the musical equivalent of putting a fresh coat of paint on a Pontiac: it might appear new, but you know it’s not because the brand no longer exists. I desperately want some rock band to come along and prove me wrong– c’mon, Champ, wake up!– but from what I can tell from this single, X Ambassadors is not going to be that band. If anything, this single makes me sadder for the future of the genre than I was before. If this is what rock is now– stale retreads without a sense of irony, homage or any kind of originality– I’m afraid rock is trying to get in and eat our brains instead of engaging them. The SeriouslyFluffy Final Grade: D