Saturday, February 13, 2010

Lack of polish does not a bad vocalist make.

I was browsing through the archives at Country California the other day, and I came upon this:

Axl Rose is one of the most atrocious vocalists in popular music – his singing makes most GnR records unlistenable. Underwood and Britt (singing "Sweet Child O' Mine" -- ed.) are both far superior, and I’m by no means a huge Underwood fan.

I was reminded of it yesterday as Sabra and I were discussing singers and range. The subject of Ernest Tubb came up and she said she never understood why people thought Tubb was a bad singer, and of course I agreed with that. I've always thought Tubb worked very well with his limitations, so well in fact that I never once thought of him as a bad singer. (She wondered aloud if it was Mariah Carey's fault that a singer had to have a good range to be considered a good singer. I told her that was a good question.) And by that same token, it occurred to both of us that G'n'R's appeal doesn't lie in Axl Rose's prowess as a vocalist; it lies in the power of the band, of which the raw, unpolished power of Rose's vocals was an integral part. Underwood is pretty much the polar opposite of "raw and unpolished," and I didn't even need to make it through the first verse of her version of SCOM to see that she sang it just like she sings everything else -- that is to say, it came out sounding just as polished and too-perfect as everything else she sings, completely trashing the spirit of the original. I don't know why everyone equates range and smoothness with one's viability as a vocalist. For some genres of music, such as hard rock and heavy metal, that just doesn't work. For some subgenres of music it does, but then again Queensryche, Rush and Dream Theater weren't straight-up rock bands anyway. (I must admit James LaBrie and Dream Theater did quite well on "Master of Puppets," though, now that I think about it, even if it did lack some of the raw power of the Metallica original.) When one looks at it through the lens of range and smoothness, there are gonna be a LOT of rock bands' frontmen that suck, but I defy anyone to tell me that James Hetfield, Dave Mustaine, Axl Rose, Steven Tyler and Brian Johnson were not five of the greatest rock singers who ever picked up a microphone. They were that precisely because of the aforementioned raw power of their vocals. And I think it's safe to say that anyone who thinks that "Axl Rose is one of the most atrocious vocalists in popular music" just because he doesn't sound like Carrie Underwood honestly doesn't have any business commenting on rock music.