Thursday, May 20, 2010

May 20: Filter, "Hey Man, Nice Shot"

Artist: Filter
Song: "Hey Man, Nice Shot"
Album: Short Bus
Year: 1995

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Across every genre and every era of music, there is perhaps no more difficult a line to walk than that between "heavy" and cliché.  The history of music is scattered with countless bands who attempted to deliver heavy or hardcore style music, but only ended up coming off as silly due to either sounding too much like a band that came earlier, or simply falling into one of the many traps that made them come off as "trying too hard."  Obviously though, within this haystack of bands that missed the point, there are a handful of needles that kept the genres moving forward.  From early influences like Black Sabbath to the hardcore innovations of Fugazi and Black Flag, the more aggressive styles of music kept branching off into different areas, and as the 1980's began to wind down, a new sound was emerging.  The so-called "industrial" sound took this aggressive, in-your-face approach, and made it far darker, giving it a rhythm and mood like nothing else.  Though a majority of the successful acts of this style relied heavily on computer-based sounds, in the mid-1990's, a band arrived that was able to take this uniquely aggressive sound and merge it in an uncanny way with the sounds of hardcore.  Rising from the depressed, downtrodden, and deteriorating city of Cleveland, OH, the bands' first single almost instantly catapulted Filter to the top of the mainstream charts.  Bringing an amazingly dark, yet mesmerizing sound, with enough power to hook even the most hardcore listener, Filter's 1995 debut single, "Hey Man, Nice Shot" remains one of the most impressive and memorable songs of the entire decade.

Like so many songs in music history, the true meaning behind "Hey Man, Nice Shot" is largely unknown to a majority of listeners, and while lacking this knowledge does not really detract from the overall impact of the song, understanding the true meaning behind it can make "Hey Man, Nice Shot" an even more intense musical experience.  In truth, the song speaks to a very specific event: the public suicide of Pennsylvania State Treasurer Budd Dwyer on January 22, 1987.  Having been convicted of taking bribes, the day before his sentencing, Dwyer called a press conference where he re-stated his innocence before taking out a gun and killing himself, an episode that was captured and aired by countless television stations.  Filter's song, "Hey Man, Nice Shot" perfectly captures this dark, almost helpless mood, and one can easily "feel" the connection to this tragic event.  Taking a note from Nine Inch Nails, the programmed and live drums are the brainchild of the core of the group, Richard Patrick and Brian Liesegang.  At times the drums bounce, giving the song a great amount of depth, while at other times the drums his rapid-fire, almost sounding like a machine gun.  In nearly every aspect, "Hey Man, Nice Shot" plays on both sides, with the deep, gloomy verses standing in stunning contrast to the unrestrained choral sections.  The other notable aspect of the music is the fact that the core guitar riff is exactly the same as one will find on Stabbing Westward's song, "Ungod."  This is due to the fact that guitarist Stuart Zechman played with both bands, and the fact that the riff can exist in such different ways on these two songs makes it unlike any other piece ever written.

Pushing the overall mood of the song to the limit, Richard Patrick proves to be one of the most unique vocalists of his generation.  Again, the similarity to Nine Inch Nails emerges again, as the strange distortion that come with his vocals bear a striking resemblance.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, as even though they share a sound, there is never a question of copying, as the vocals on "Hey Man, Nice Shot" are clearly in a class all their own.  Patrick further distances himself from other vocalists on the choruses of the song, as he is able to pull off screaming vocals without overdoing them or sounding cliché.  In many ways, this is the most difficult aspect in all of hardcore music, yet Patrick seems very much at home within this sound and vocal approach.  The contrast between the calmer verses and the almost unhinged chorus sections in many ways reflect the tragic incident itself, as Dwyer was strangely calm during the statement that led up to his suicide.  Though the lyrics can easily stand on their own, once one takes into consideration the truth behind their inspiration, they become far more powerful and eerie.  It is largely the songs' second verse that becomes more powerful, as the lines of, "Now that the smoke's gone, and the air is all clear...those who were right there, had a new kind of fear..." are suddenly far more vivid and suggestive.  It is well documented that many of the people in attendance during the tragedy, as well as the viewers who saw the unedited video suffered mental disturbances, and such a blatant, traumatic event has rarely been captured by news cameras.

It is a very rare occasion when any sort of art form can capture the true intensity of a real life situation, yet somehow the band Filter was able to do so with their 1995 song, "Hey Man, Nice Shot."  Perfectly reflecting the docile, almost reflective nature that was shown during the final speech of Budd Dwyer, before the press conference spiraled into chaos as he took his own life, the contrast between the tone on the verses and chorus is equally sharp.  Taking the dark, yet menacing sound that defined the "industrial" style of music, Filter was able to fuse it together with the "classic" sound of hardcore music, and the two styles have rarely been blended in such brilliant fashion.  The imposing bass and guitar lines that run throughout the song keep it firmly rooted in a shadowy, almost haunting space, and the distorted vocals make it a song like no other.  The fact that the song became a hit during a time when more upbeat, carefree songs were dominating the airwaves serves as further testament to what an amazing song lives within "Hey Man, Nice Shot," and the fact that it remains in regular radio rotation solidifies its long term greatness.  The lasting impact of the song was also proven when, following the tragic events of "9/11," the song was one of many that was placed on a national radio "do not play" list, though in recent years, the song has re-emerged.  Perfectly merging together the sounds of hardcore and industrial music in a way that has never been done before or since, there is simply no other song that can compare to the amazing power of Filter's 1995 single, "Hey Man, Nice Shot."

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