We need to talk about Hoobastank. Yes, Hoobastank. As a big-time alt-rock (tentatively nü-metal?) band, they are an easy target. They had a marketing team who got people to spell their name as H-INFINITYSIGN-B-A-S-T-A-N-K, for crying out loud. Their brotherhood pact was (probably) sealed with matching, fatally Nickelbackian facial hair/gel-spike grooming statements. And boy, do those guys like to whine! They're multiplatinum millionaires and still have so many problems! Worst of all, that $ucce$$ is possible because an obscene number of people—mostly teenagers, plus these people who you are friends with on Facebook—really like them! It's maddening, but of course, in a shooting-fish-in-a-barrel sort of way. (Let's face it: at the end of the day, Hoobastank also rhymes with Boobastank.)
But let me ask you this. When was the last time you checked on just how much you hated Hoobastank—or why you hated them at all? When was the last time you listened to a whole Hoobastank album? On a scale of one to this, is Hoobastank really as bad as you remember?
As our torch-bearing emo-singer-blogger-hero Patrick Stump pointed out recently, it feels real good to just forget why you hate something and simply hate it with all of your friends. But we're better than that! So if we can just suspend our impatient loathing for a few hundred words and a couple YouTube videos, I propose that we revisit not their entire catalog (because there are new Justin Timberlakes to consider and stuff) but their five best songs—or their five least bad songs, if putting it that way makes you more comfortable.
5. "Let It Out" (The Reason, 2003)
Frankly, we should all be glad that this song exists, that songs like it exist at all in that aggro-middle-class-teen world where millions of CDs are still bought at Walmart every year, the world whose inhabitants need to be told feelings are okay more than any other subset in our society. The lines "I'm not afraid to let it out/I'm gonna show you how I feel/I'm not afraid to let it out, Who cares if you don't like it?" has probably done more for the average American 13-year-old than any "It Gets Better" viral video ever did. Also, the song is tolerable!
4. "Don't Tell Me" (Every Man for Himself, 2006)
Hoobastank found their niche early on, and as a comfortably label-contracted band, were never presented with an impetus to change that formula, which basically means that not many songs beyond 2001's Hoobastank and 2003's The Reason really stood out all that much (more on this theory later). Still, "Don't Tell Me" exhibits some outlier behavior, compositionally speaking, that feels refreshing (also, this is one of the few decent Hoobastank songs that exceeds three minutes — whether it was a major-label or independently creative decision to keep most songs at that length, it was a brilliant one).
3. "Out of Control" (The Reason, 2003)
"Out of Control" is one of Hoobastank's more endearing songs, both because there's a punkier element to the screamed chorus that almost makes up for their usual whiny lyrical tendencies, and because its video makes a strong case for the existence of singer Doug Robb's low-key lisp. There's something honestly likeable about a macho alt-metal dude with an itty-bitty speech impediment, even when it's framed by interesting facial grooming.
2. "Running Away" (Hoobastank, 2001)
Remember that time in high school, when you and your friends got surreptitiously drunk on Hpnotiq in your buddy Joey's mom's basement and thought it would be a really fun idea to go out and get friendship tattoos, and you convinced the tattoo dude that you were all 18 and you now have the Chinese character for "idiot" or some other stupid thing emblazoned on your body? It's the same kind of group-consensus mentality that gave us Beanie Baby collections, $70 Etnies, and maybe a petty misdemeanor or two.
It's also probably the mentality that made the Los Angeles Canoga Park scene (technically it's in the San Fernando Valley, but to the rest of the country that's L.A.) such a hotbed for what we'll call "punching bag" music: you had Hoobastank, Incubus, 311 — even an early-era Linkin Park — and a bunch of other aesthetically irritating L.A. bands finding each other in the same scene, experimenting with such un-mainstream-rock-like genres as funk and reggae and hip-hop, all playing shows and influencing each other and patting one another on the back until, at some point, some major-label A&R showed up and signed them all, one by one, spinning their emotional, sweaty shirtlessness into gold practically overnight. (Not a stretch to guess that all the critical hate for these bands has something to do with the Macho-With-Feels paradox, coupled with a disdain for the idea of anything actually worthwhile coming out of an L.A. music scene, let alone the Valley.)
Anyway, "Running Away" is one of the best songs on their major label debut because as a song about being mature about a break-up, it's one of the most grown-up tracks they ever wrote.
1. "The Reason" (The Reason, 2003)
When Hoobastank's eponymous major-label debut was released in late 2001, my little brother and I may have co-owned a copy. By 2002, we were more or less over it (bigger fish to fry, what with Avril Lavigne and Audioslave albums debuting that summer). When I first heard "The Reason" on some Muzak system, I remember thinking both "Wow, I guess people are still into Hoobastank" and "This is very mature." The album it named was the success-confirming follow-up to what could have been a one-note success; part of the reason it's their most successful single still to date is from constant radio play, sure, but the other part is that the song is a solidly written pop song. (Imagine Kelly Clarkson or Gaga singing it, for example.)
The real tragedy of Hoobastank, I think, is not fashion sense, or that every song sounds the same—the same emotionally urgent, major-to-minor power-chord modulation, the same panicked lyrics, the dabbling in multi-genre riffs—it's that each of their songs has such potential and then totally destroys it in a fit of if-it-ain't-broke, major-label-aught-rock fear of making a song that isn't watermarked with a goatee'd infinity symbol.
Here's a fun game: click and listen through the first 20 seconds of every song on The Reason. Without fail, there's an almost tangible moment every time, right between the intro and the first verse, where you think, "Hey! This is pretty interesting! Creative, even. You know, this song could just be good enough to save—wait, nope, no, still sounds like 'Crawling in the Dark.'" And then you sigh and move onto the next 20-second opener. Actually, the four minutes that result from those 12 songs' first 20 seconds could be a pretty good argument for why Hoobastank, when all is said and done, aren't even half as bad as you remember them; they're simply comfortable with their multi-genre formula, because the formula work$.
Still, I think we can all agree that however good the song is, the video for "The Reason" is still excruciating, and 55 million views twist the knife that is that dude wincing at a girl getting hit by a car all the more slowly. In fact, one view of that and a gal really needs a refreshing, GIF-filled fan video for "Escape" (let's call this our runner up) to alleviate her senses.
Devon Maloney prefers to receive her Internet hate mail via Twitter - @dynamofire
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