Zack: It’s hard to argue that there’s anybody who has a better grasp of teen angst than Gordon Gano of the Violent Femmes. But Brian Molko of Placebo comes close. Growing up as a theater-obsessed, androgynous (and eventually bisexual) child in a family that rarely spent more than two years in a single location, I guarantee the only thing Molko dreaded more than having to interact with his dad, an international banker, was going to school. In an FHM interview, Molko claimed to have been forced to leave his school in Luxembourg due to excessive bullying, and given his nature and appearance, is it hard to doubt? And what does M83’s Anthony Gonzalez have to say about his life as an adolescent? “I loved being a teenager. That’s when I discovered music and started to take drugs and make parties [sic] with my friends. I really started to discover new things. Nowadays I would like to be a teenager again.” Wow. Someone get this poor guy a rag so he can wipe off all the angst.
Taylor: Molko had a rough adolescence, I grant you that, but while Gonzalez may have said he liked being a teenager, now that he’s in his 20s, he still acts like an angsty teen! In a recent interview, when asked about the departing of his M83 collaborator Nicolas Fromageau, Gonzalez said, “I like that feeling of loneliness — just me and my world.” Geez, was that copy-pasted from his LiveJournal? Oh, and I should also mention that Gonzalez has such bad stage fright that he didn’t even sing until the third M83 album, Before the Dawn Heals Us, which this appears on.
And just because Molko had plenty of teen angst does not mean he translated it to song better. The Placebo tune is upbeat! Sure, the lyrics are a little whiny, but he might as well be singing a love song. Except that even his love songs sound more depressing than this. How can anyone make a song about teen angst without any? M83’s “Teen Angst,” on the other hand, sounds like people are wailing and crying throughout the background of the entire song.
Zack: Personally, I’d describe the frantic guitars and jittery cymbals of Placebo’s “Teenage Angst” as anxious, like a nervous fourteen-year-old stuttering as he tries to spit out too many words at once. But I was hoping we’d get to talk about lyrics, because Placebo destroys M83 in this aspect. In an angst-ridden teen, there’s this bizarre sense of paranoia that everything in the universe is conspiring against you. Your parents, your teachers, your so-called friends, the weather, even the fucking traffic lights. The line “nothing ever, ever goes my way” captures this feeling perfectly. As far as M83 goes, the sixteen unique words* they use in their lyrics are no more profound than the bad teenage poetry in the image above (apologies to Megan, who was sporting enough to let us use it). Just because you say a song is about Teen Angst doesn’t make it so; I could just as easily slap a label that reads “Zombies!!!” onto a DVD of Wall-E, but that won’t magically cause John and Mary to start eating the brains of the other passengers on the Axiom.
Taylor: But, really, if a song is about teenage angst, then doesn’t the fact that it sounds like “bad teenage poetry” make them even more fitting? He’s not looking back on his teen angst years later and trying to draw “meaning” from what is, essentially, a bout of hormones and ego. He’s channeling that spirit of being mopey and sad and feeling like everything is going to shit. “How fast we burn / How fast we die / I hear the planet crying now.” This kid is so angsty he thinks he’s part of a worldwide wave of sadness.
* Seriously, count ’em. And I’m being generous, because I counted “cry” and “crying” as separate words.