Zen Arcade and its "problems"


21 Mar 2007, 13:38

Hüsker Dü has been taking up most of my listening time the last couple of weeks. I'm especially intrigued by Zen Arcade. It's everything I expect and hope for in a hardcore album. Well, almost everything. This could easily have been my favorite album, but it doesn't reach it potential due to a couple of reasons:

- Inconsistent lyrics
Zen Arcade suffers extremely under the inconsistency of the lyrics. You can tell their writing ability are still in development. We're talking about cliche's, cheap rhymes, and shallow lines. For example; one of the few songs on Zen Arcade where it's all wrong: Turn on the News

"If there's one thing that I can't explain
Is why the world has to have so much pain
With all the ways of communicating
We can't get in touch with who we're hating

So turn on turn on turn on the news

I hear it every day on the radio
Somebody shoots a guy he don't even know
Airplanes falling out of the sky
A baby is born and another one dies
Highways fill with refugees
Doctors finding out about disease
With all this uptight pushing and shoving
That keeps us away from who we're loving"

Are you *** kidding me? Is this on the same album as Something I Learned Today and Pride? I got to do what? TURN ON THE NEWS? This is just the cliche story of how the news has so much bad news on it, turned into a wannabe anthem with sing-along-vocals screaming "So turn on turn on turn on the news".

From Beyond the Threshold
"Hey hey hey
Got no place to stay"

Come on. You can do better than that. It's like they're saying to eachother: yo, what rhymes with stay. Hmm I don't know, let's just put hey hey hey because my wife is asking me to put out the garbage.

Beside the occasional cheapness of the lyrics, we find the missed opportunity of the concept album. Everyone is saying it's an album about a kid running away from home. Some say it's just an afterthought after recording everything and seeing some connecting with all the tracks, some say it was intentional. I tell you this: If it was, they could do a lot better. The subsequent tracks are everything but telling a normal story. We're going from screaming that he'll never forget and forgive you (I'll Never Forget You), to telling that your bigshot status job is just a big lie (The Biggest Lie), and from fantasising about the perfect place (Somewhere), to his girlfriend seamingly taking an overdose (Pink Turns to Blue). And let's not forget (I'll keep coming back to this), the inclusion of an anthem to TURN ON THE NEWS?!?!

- It's not a coherent piece of work
It just doesn't seem to work. I think it will always stay just a collection of songs to me. Not only is it because the great potential of being a true concept album isn't working (see previous point), but the songs just doesn't seem to want to work with eachother. Maybe it are the transitions (or lack there of), but I think it's mostly due to the fact that they don't seem to be able to use different styles succesfully in the same album. I know Zen Arcade is mostly praised for it's diversity, but when we're having the pop-like Pink Turns to Blue and a bunch of piano interludes in between the the most powerful and sincere forms of hardcore; I can't help but raise an eyebrow. Don't get me wrong; I love the interludes, but only on their own. This just doesn't seem to work. I'm all for diversity, but I feel I loved Zen Arcade more if they were just sticking to the hardcore and the occasional experementation of Dreams Reocurring and Reoccuring Dreams (which DO work in context).

- First half overshadows second half (perhaps even the most disturbing problem)
Perhaps it's because of the length, but second half (From "What's Going On" and further) feels less sincere, less honest, less powerful, and overall less brilliant.

Do not mistake this "rant" with completely destroying Zen Arcade; It is and will be one of my favorite records. But because it can't reach it's full potential; I'll always look at it with mixed feelings.. unfortunately.

Brb, I got to turn on the news

BTW: What's Going On is terrible


  • brockginther

    I agree with a lot of these points. I find myself thinking that a lot of [i]Zen Arcade[/i] is, at times, pretty cheesy as far as the lyrics go. Though it may not be cohesive as a narrative, conceptual piece, I grew to embrace the variety of styles present on the album. Although it felt awkward at first, it's hard now to imagine the album any other way. I have a lot of respect for this journal entry. It's cool that you were able to dissect and pick apart one of your favorite albums. That's fucking noble, or something. I think I'm obliged to compare this album to [i]Double Nickels on the Dime[/i], right? If forced, I'd say, Double Nickels, any day

    23 Mar 2007, 0:31
  • notimportant2

    As I couldn't figure out what the hell Turn On The News had lyricly in common with all the other songs (and being immensly frustrated about it), I did some searching on the internet, and found out that it is supposedly (according to some people) a reaction on the alienation of all the previous tracks; It's better to tune in to the world than to tune out. Well, at least that makes the song a little less disturbing.

    25 Mar 2007, 20:59
  • drowsyhaze

    i think they are making a post-pop (hardcore) album? they were mostly comprised of queer postmodernists from minisohda

    27 May 2007, 10:47
  • notimportant2

    Hmm I'm not sure I completely understand you. If anything is post-pop, it doesn't mean it doesn't have to be cohesive/thoughtful I guess.

    15 Jun 2007, 12:08
  • blafblabla

    I agree with the lyrical part... but as for the things about 'pink turns to blue' and the piano interludes, for me they work great in the context of the album. I also think while it could be a more cohesive concept album, the fact that it's a punk quasi-concept album is pretty satisfactory in itself.

    12 Oct 2007, 23:19
  • notimportant2

    I agree, I've found to be it a lot more cohesive since I wrote this journal. Still, I don't care for What's Going On and Turn On The News, but oh well.

    13 Oct 2007, 11:33
  • BillSwansea

    The mix of styles and stuff makes sense when you think of it as sides of vinyl: Side one is sort of an overview of what's going to come - from the hardcore of "Broken Home, Broken Heart", alternative rock of "Chartered Trips" and the experimentalism of "Hare Krsna". Side two is pure hardcore and punk rock and stuff. Side three is alternative rock with the piano solos and things. Side four is kinda throwaway and jammy and experimental. Don't forget - almost every Hoosker Doo album had throwaways at the end to add length and not much else, "Turn on the News" is the most throwaway of the throwaway. "Reoccurring Dreams" is a great jam though.

    2 Ene 2010, 1:00
  • drthatguy

    I know this was posted eons ago but jesus christ just listen to it and enjoy what's there...every classic has its flaws and I think there are greater albums with more significant "problems" than zen arcade. if you spend your time looking for things to dislike about an album you're going to be constantly frustrated.

    24 Feb 2011, 11:05
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