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"We're back again to fondle you while slitting your throat." Whether you love, hate or couldn't possibly care less about Cradle of Filth, congratulate the veteran English metal band for recognizing the entertainment value in top-shelf wordsmithing. They're so metal (or at least such showmen) they weave scary thrills right into sentences. And speaking of entertainment, Filth's show Friday at Harpo's is followed a few days later by the Rock Star: Supernova extravaganza at the Fox Theatre. Like the tour that traditionally follows each season of American Idol, this puts bus wheels on the reality show you might vaguely remember from mid-2006. It includes Lukas Rossi, the goblin-like Toronto resident whom aging metal heavies Tommy Lee, Gilby Clarke and Jason Newstead (well, his road replacement, the much cooler Johnny Colt) picked to lead their weird, not-quite-real band; you also get a warm-up set from Rock Star runner-up Dilana, and an appearance by show host and full-time rock 'n' roll clown Dave Navarro.
But Navarro's not the only clown here. There's Lee's, uh, outsized celebrity, as well as the ongoing debate (among heshers, anyway) over Cradle of Filth's validity. Are they black-metal heroes with a flair for theatrics and gothic tendencies, or jackass poseurs in stage makeup who dream up sex fantasies involving Kira from The Dark Crystal? Metro Times features editor Brian Smith and I tackle the nature of both groups in this edition of Critic vs. Critic. Johnny Loftus
Johnny Loftus: Here's how CBS.com recapped the finale of Rock Star: Supernova:
"With four fabulous rockers to choose from, it was anyone's gig. In the end, it came down to the two 'edgy ones,' Dilana and Lukas. Both fan favorites from the beginning, Supernova had a tough decision to make, but felt Lukas, the 29-year-old, goth-looking rocker from Toronto, Canada, was the right man for the job."
There's no definition in any of Supernova's key words. I'm a fan of the phrases "fabulous rockers" and "goth-looking" and how the decision over finalists amounted to who was edgiest. And "air quotes" are the cheapest way to make that point, as if someone's making quote marks with their fingers. They should call the show Stupornova.
And if Tommy Lee, Gilby Clarke and Jason Newstead are happy to have picked a vocalist who simply looks enough like he should be in a band, they should really be holding a reality contest called America's Got a Bunch of Idiots Who Look Like Rock Stars But Actually Spend Their Unemployment Checks at Mario Tricoci Salon.
Brian Smith: I'm down with despising anything having to do with a canned TV selection of a "rock" singer. But the show wasn't even rooted in a rock 'n' roll mind-set, so it doesn't deserve commentary on that level.
I look at it like this: Rock 'n' roll singers are born, not made. Look to Sam Cooke, Alice Cooper, David Johansen, Johnny Rotten, Jim Morrison, Chris Robinson, Jim Carroll, Steve Marriott, Ian Lloyd and so on. They all have that look in their eye, and that weird fragile confidence and swagger that's born of inner fear, turmoil and fucked-up lives. It's a look that says there wasn't anything else in life for them but to sing for a rock 'n' roll band. And that's what made them somewhat "pure," or at least great, because they meant it. Now anybody can be a singer, but it's all posturing. These fuckers are just tourists. Any singer worth his salt would've told that celebrity jizz-tosser David Navarro and Supernova to fuck off the minute any of 'em opened their mouths. I mean, the hopefuls on the show get rated on their pitch! When did Joe Strummer or Mick Jagger ever sing a note on key live? So, of course, the Rock Star: Supernova victor is a void, a goofy, up-to-the-moment haircut with a voice box and calculated persona. This dude just reeks of puppy-dog desperation.
The only heart at all in that band belongs to Gilby Clarke.
Loftus: Yeah, Rock Star is a cartoon from the way it talks to the way it sings to the way it loves articulated stage wear. It's probably storyboarded in some dark corner of the Mark Burnett Productions R&D bunker.
Would you say the same thing about Cradle of Filth? They smear on corpse paint, write elaborate black and goth metal songs that could be considered hilarious, and often quote famous dead princes and purveyors of the dark arts. Burnett and the other brains behind Rock Star dream of reality-show fodder this hot. But there's both shlock and substance in Filth, and that could be what makes the band genuine, unless of course it isn't. But in the meantime, Dani Filth and his revolving cast of musicians have figured out how to skewer black metal, goth rockers, and every other glowering genre of the would-be lost and wicked, while still writing some pretty great metal on their own. "Doberman Pharaoh" from 2004's Damnation and a Day? Total insanity. Cauldrons of boiling oil, the bones of bards and palace fools crunching underfoot, blast beats, sitars, black violins, and vocals that sound like Doctor Claw from Inspector Gadget.
Smith: Cradle of Filth? Shit. Is that irony? I could never tell. It always looked to me like they were jumping the early-Alice Cooper theatrics train, accenting the obvious graveyard signposts but missing the the Coop's wink-wink subtexts of cultural commentary and self-mockery. I mean, "Gilded Cunt" off of the suberbly titled Nymphetamine the only Filth record I've ever owned is what? Sounds like a pretty apt rape soundtrack to me. Hats off if you can find something redeeming in that. The din is so misleading.
Loftus: Gilded Cunts? I thought you said Gilby Clarke.
Smith: No, Gilby Clarke is the real deal. He's a rock star, in the truest sense. He really is; was born that way. Here's my disclaimer: I know him well. I even wrote his bio, and I never do those. I met him years ago, he produced my band's records, etc. Tracing the Clarke line all the way back to the underrated mid-'80s power-pop band Candy is rather fascinating. He's a classic Midwestern guy from Cleveland who loved Johnny Thunders and Rick Derringer and moved to LA to be a rock star and it worked.
Loftus: In other words, by being alive, Clarke justifies the star power fever dreams of people who participate in reality shows.
Smith: Yeah, I guess. But he's still honest, hardworking, and a great songwriter. On the Rock Star: Supernova album, the best songs are, by far, his.
Tommy Lee, on the other hand, is a nightmare. He should be taken out back and shot. Don't we just love his women-hating titty-cams that were so prevalent on his Crüe and solo tours? What a buffoon. What is he, 50?
Cradle of Filth, Feb. 2 at Harpo's, 14238 Harper St., Detroit; 313-824-1700. With the 69 Eyes. Rock Star Supernova, Feb. 5 at the Fox Theatre, 2211 Woodward Ave., Detroit; with Panic Channel and more.
For more hot air with Loftus and Smith visit Smoke Break, in the Music Blahg.