Friday, February 11, 2005

i eat my foot

A few days ago I heard Sage Francis -- intense, angry, disturbed rapper/spoken-word artist from Providence, RI -- on my local alternative rock station. I don't remember what made me buy Personal Journals back in 2002 (it was probably okayplayers), but my first thoughts on hearing that album was that this guy wasn't going to break because he was simply too good at communicating what he felt. For something to break big it has to be on the radio, and for a song to make it on the radio it must be editable, repeatable, and friendly enough to work across at least a limited demographic spread.

I could only listen to Personal Journals once every two weeks or so, and that was pushing it. The emotion was so exposed and bitter that it offered little in the way of catharthis. It just depressed me and pissed me off. In other words, it was a great album but I wouldn't expect to see Sage and Carson Daly in the same room.

I was wrong. This guy is getting serious play on college radio, with some mainstream exposure. And it's not from making his music more friendly. From what I've heard, A Healthy Distrust (released last Tuesday) is just as bitter, obsessive, and confrontational as the others.

My guess would be that Sage Francis's success is a product of the music industry's occasional genuine attempt to sell an outsider -- a product whose draw comes from the fact that most people won't like it. Then they try to build it into a new sub-genre. The reason I say "occasional" is because though it may seem like all popular hiphop/rock music kicks its way onto MTV, intact, from the social fringes, record companies are quite careful to make sure that no matter how "alternative" an artist sounds (or appears), their music will sell outside the immediate target demo. For example, Good Charlotte (and I promise that's the last time you'll see those two words in sequence on this weblog) was ostensibly marketed to 14-17-year-olds, but clearly sold well above and below that age range.

Sage Francis's music is not sexy, nor is his music catchy. I assume he's being marketed to the "angst rock" demographic, Linkin Park fans who don't dig on all the retro-new wave on the radio right now. I don't believe that he will sell, because I think his music is too demanding. But, obviously, don't quote me on that.

There'll be a review of A Healthy Distrust as soon as I can get my own copy.

Interested folks should absolutely track down the Non-Prophets album Hope, which is more rich and consistent than Personal Journals.

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