8.04.2009

Seven Mary Three - "Cumbersome"

Hell has frozen over! I've written a new blog post. I apologize for not updating this blog regularly and can't make any promises about the future, but I will try my best to make this a consistent thing. I've gotten requests to do this band since the beginning, so hope you all enjoy.

The Basics:
Seven Mary Three (aka 7M3--their decal ready abbreviation) were a mid-90s grunge band who released the single "Cumbersome," which his #1 on the Mainstream Rock charts, #7 on the Modern Rock Charts and #39 on the Hot 100. At the time, the band was heavily criticized for being Pearl Jam imitators. If the accusation is indeed true (spoiler: it is) then 7M3 were some sort of pioneer--one of the first in a long line of PJ imitators that would come to include Nixons, 3 Doors Down, Creed, Nickleback, and yes, even my beloved Stone Temple Pilots. The band cried all the way to the bank as their first album, 1995's American Standard sold millions.

Tell Me More: 7M3 originated in Williamsburg, VA. The songwriting duo of Jason Ross and Jason Pollock met while attending the College of William & Mary and began an acoustic duo--Ross sang, Pollock played guitar and they split the song-writing duties. Soon, the duo were joined by drummer Giti Khalsa and bassist Casey Daniel, and the band (named from a bit of dialogue from CHiPs) toured bars and clubs throughout the Southeast. In 1994 they released their independently produced debut, Churn. The album caught the attention of several entities including the label Mammoth Records and was given airtime by rock-radio DJs in Orlando, FL. Spurred by the attention their single "Cumbersome" received, the band moved to the crap-music mecca Orlando re-recorded Churn, added two new songs and slapped a new title on it: American Tradition. "Cumbersome" became a mega-hit, and soon the band was offered a contract with Atlantic Records. After seven months of bad reviews and hundreds of hours of airplay, the album went platinum.

The First Single: "Cumbersome" is an extremely hateable song. If one was so inclined, it would be quite easy to trace a path that led from this song to the entire post-grunge movement. Nickleback, Puddle of Mudd, Creed, Staind, even Daughtry--this song is the cornerstone for that sound in the same way glam rock was kicked off by Marc Bolan's "Ride a White Swan," or how "6 in the Mornin'" by Ice-T started gangsta rap. It's arguable, but when you hear it, you just know. This is the birth of the sound that has ruled rock radio for nigh on fifteen years.

Now, am I blaming Seven Mary Three? Not at all. They were just doing what was popular at the time. The sound was still somewhat vital then--at least in parts of the country outside Seattle. They were there for the last gasp--the death rattle--of grunge.
They didn't know that sound would rape radio listeners' ears for over a decade--pouring sludgy riffs, hoarse vocals and unnecessarily angsty and laughable lyrics into the heads of teens (though 7M3's careers would be in much better shape right now had they had that kind of foresight). They were just college guys in a bar band mimicking the music they loved, like tons of bar bands imitate the Stones or Stevie Ray Vaughn or Dave Matthews. I can't hate them for that--but I don't have to like the music either.

It's not that it's a bad song, really. It rocks pretty hard and has a decent hook and it does a fine approximation of the Seattle sound (if a bit more straight forward and wholly without much in the way of nuance or dynamics), but it's hard to hear it with fresh ears after being subjected to the bands that sprung fully formed from 7M3's crusty afterbirth. Granted, if forced to choose between 7M3 and the bands they influenced, I'd take them any day of the week. But at the end of the day, why listen to the east coast facsimile of the Sub Pop sound at all? Why not just throw on Ten instead? Or one of the less-successful but far superior Washington-area bands like the Screaming Trees or Mudhoney?

As noted in the first part, the song was a huge hit on radio and MTV and gave way to another single that did surprisingly well.




The Second Single: "Water's Edge" A surprisingly lame song considering it was rumored to be based on the badass '80s Keanu Reeves movie River's Edge. Like the film, the song is about a young narrator finding a dead body by the river. Just like with their hit, 7M3 kept things dreary and gray on the second single. The one thing you can say for this song is that it may be the entire basis for (ultimate-crap rockers) 3 Doors Down's entire sound. Honestly, I'm getting more and more fired up about trying some sort of voodoo thing where we cut off the collective head of 7M3 with the idea that their minions--3DD, Daughtry, Hoobastank, etc.--will turn to ash.

The video featured a young boy walking in the woods and spotting a strange man and discovering a tent and...you know what? This video is pretty fucking boring. I apologize, but I can't be bothered to finish it. I read the description of the rest of it on Wikipedia and there's some shit about puppets cavorting in a tent and harassing a woman or something. Sounds like I should have kept watching but c'mon--there's a full minute of an old man walking before the song even starts, what do you want from me? If you can make it through, kudos, tell me if I'm missing something great.

"Water's Edge" reached #7 on Mainstream charts, #37 on Modern Rock charts and failed to chart on the Billboard Hot 100.

Where are they now? Seven Mary Three's day in the sun didn't last long. Their follow-up album, RockCrown, veered away from the hard-rock angst towards a more folky-acoustic angst, but it didn't matter--they were seen as grunge and grunge was dying (or hibernating). Reviews were no good (Rolling Stone gave it two out of five stars), sales were poor, and the rock radio DJs who had previously championed the band had turned their backs on 7M3 in favor of the pop-punk, rap rock and nu metal that would soon slither their way into the tape decks of every rock radio station in the country. RockCrown reached #75 on the Billboard charts. If we've learned nothing from this site, it's that more often than not, the public can smell a one hit wonder before even the record label. Atlantic gave them another album.

Orange Ave. arrived in 1998 to poor sales, although it spawned a minor hit with "Over Your Shoulder." The single reached #7 on the Mainstream Rock charts, a position they would reach once more in 2001 with "Wait" from The Economy of Sound, their first album after the departure of founding member Jason Pollock. The album also featured a return to Mammoth Records (no longer affiliated with Atlantic). The song (which also appeared on the soundtrack to the Kirsten Dunst vehicle Crazy/Beautiful) featured a decidedly lighter 7M3; far more classic rock oriented than their previous output--they no longer sound like they're auditioning to be the background band in Cameron Crowe's Singles. It's actually not half bad as far as turn of the century rock radio goes--but that could just be the scantily clad Dunst from the video hynotizing me with her dance moves.



Two more albums have followed with minimal fanfare and terrible titles--2004's Dis/Location and 2008's day&nightdriving. 2008 also saw a re-release of their independent debut, Churn. The new songs feature a band that has moved far closer to folk and roots-rock oriented sound. In other words, they sound like a band from Virginia, instead of a band from Virginia trying to sound like they crawled out of a rain-drenched Seattle suburb. Can't say I blame them, and actually give them props for it. Not sure I'd ever buy their albums, but by making a point to move away from "the song that launched a thousand shitty bands" towards something more enjoyable, I gain a new found respect.

7M3 can still be found touring the country, and in fact are coming to my neck of the woods this October. If there's any interest, I may trek out to the club to see them and write up a review. "The Second Single -- ON THE SCENE" how does that sound? Or is this one of those ideas that sounds better on paper?

Download: Seven Mary Three - Cumbersome
Download: Seven Mary Three - Water's Edge

2 comments:

lixue said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


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George said...

And just for a different opinion;). I have always loved 7m3. I feel like I can be somewhat more objective since I tend to live under a rock and only peek out once in a while. When I first heard Cumbersome I thought to myself, "These guys really get it.". I like to say that Cumbesome is the best song Pearl Jam never wrote. I did not like Pearl Jam (or a lot of the others) but loved Nirvana and these guys. In fact, I don't think there was a track on that first album I did not like.
And when 7M3 sorof fell off the face of the earth I thought, oh well, too good to be tru. Kindof of like Firefly.