What is the deal with Alternative? Does that term even have a meaning anymore? It is such a terrible catch-all and it’s not even accurate anymore. Most of the radio pop now is “Alternative.”
Modern Rock is another great term. Talking Heads who stopped putting out records umpteen years ago are classed as such. But the newest Aerosmith record won’t be.
If it were a stylistic question, I wouldn’t be concerned. But it’s not. There is no style “Alternative” that I am aware of. Here are some “Alternative” bands: Pixies, Third Eye Blind, Sugar Ray, Primus, Guided by Voices, the Jesus Lizard, Radiohead, Jimmy Eat World, Greenday, Beck, Tool, the Cure, Tori Amos, Lush, Concrete Blonde…
What is the light motif that binds them all? Hell if I know. I guess some sort of imaginary “anti-corporate” aesthetic, but can you imagine anything more corporate than No Doubt or Tonic? No. You can’t. I am sure that No Doubt was concocted in a lab somewhere.
So, basically I see it in three levels: the Fringe Terrors (Jesus Lizard, Tom Waits, the Residents, Black Flag, the Fall) that will never be commercially successful for a number of reasons (bad haircuts not being the least of those), the Anti-Corporate Rockers (Pavement, Fugazi, Nirvana, Dead Kennedys, the Smiths) who go against the grain in order to push ahead musically, and the Anti-Corporate Poseurs (Everclear, Third Eye Blind, Garbage, Blink 182, Orgy) who take all the pushing ahead made by the first two categories and put in a nice shiny radio-friendly package. So to Hell with poverty.
We need a way to distinguish the polished post-Butch Vig radio-ternative schlock from the genuinely unconventional, edgy, garagy bands that are actually the Alternative to what’s on the radio.