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10 Years, 100 Songs: #11. “Inside You’re Ugly, Ugly Like Me”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on December 12, 2009

Over the final months of our fine decade, Intensities in Ten Suburbs will be sending the Naughty Oughties out in style with a series of essays devoted to the top 100 songs of the decade–the ones we will most remember as we look back fondly on this period of pop music years down the road. The archives can be found here. If you want to argue about the order, you can’t, because we’re not totally sure what the qualifications are either. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy.

If you want to believe the history books, the Power Ballad probably died sometime around 1989, after the release of Warrant’s “Heaven” and Poison’s “Every Rose Has It’s Thorn.” For reasons I don’t quite understand, you never hear the term–about as worthwhile and useful a musical descriptor as any in pop nomenclature–applied to songs past that point in rock history. In all likelihood f I wanted to talk about the all-time great power ballads and threw songs like Temple of the Dog’s “Hunger Strike” or Oasis’s “Champagne Supernova” into the discussion, I’d get lots of rolled eyes and “well, yeah, but…” type comments. But in my opinion, if you have a striking guitar riff, a majestically chugging rhythm section, and/or especially a great chorus that makes fans want to shout along while waving lighters/cell phones in the air (the latter option arguably being the worst asepct of 21st-century technology), that to me is a power ballad, and every bit as worthy as the “Tuesday’s Gone”s and “Home Sweet Home”s of the world.

That said, I’ll get to my predictable point: StainD’s “Outside” is the best power ballad of the 00s, and one easily deserving to be ranked among the greatest of all-time. A somewhat worthwhile counter-argument to this statement would be the somewhat obvious point while that few would doubt the ballad credentials of “Outside,” the song’s power is much less immediately evident. It’s true, the song is relatively lacking in traditional firepower, especially in the (definitive) version posted above–lead singer Aaron Lewis wailing and playing the accoustic, accompanied only by the strains of freind and band-discoverer Fred Durst on the chorus (and occasionally baiting the audience in between verses, much to their and my irritation). No chugging rhythm section, no yearning and fret-burning solo, no big swell or string section or anything. But it’s my claim that not only does the song not need further adornment for its power, but that it’s the very rawness of it that turns it into one of the most unexpectedly anthemic songs of the Naughty Oughties.

The nu-metal genre probably doesn’t seem too rife for notable power ballad success, and the reason for this is possibly the reason that no one uses the term for post-80s rock music in general–that almost all of the songs are power-ballady to some extent. Back in the hair metal days, the bands would release an adreanlized first single off their album, usually about partying or drinking or getting laid (usually all three), and that would allow for a stark contrast with their second single, usually about emotions and whatnot. But after Nirvana broke, “emotions and whatnot” gradually ended up comprising 90% of the content of rock music played at any and all speeds, until you got to a band like Limp Bizkit, where even their most balls-out numbers were still all about insecurity and rejection and general life dissatisfaction. If you took all that and put it in a traditional ballad format, you’d be forgiven for assuming that the style would become miserably overbearing, and you’d start praying for DJ Lethal and Method Man to drop by to at least inject some life into the prceedings.

But in the case of “Outside,” cutting away all the trappings was what made it so compelling. In a song this bare, you actually cut to the core of the nu-metal genre, and find what really made it interesting and different from the decade or so of grunge and post-grunge before it: It was a genuinely hateful, miserable music. Sure, plenty of music had been driven by anger and frustration before, but the mainstream had never before been so dominated by a strain of rock that bled as black as this. This wasn’t music calling for social change, or rebelling against authority, or even crying out for acceptance–this was music so beaten down by the world that it only knew one remaining feeling, and was content to simply vent that bile to willing listeners. This is perhaps why I’ve grown so much more appreciative of the nu-metal phenomenon over the years–possibly because I’ve just become a more hateful person myself, but perhaps more likely because I’ve really come to realize and respect that for all the hemming and hawing that underground did about how much mainstream rock sucked at the time, this might’ve actually been closer to real outsider music than anything going on in the indie world back then.

I didn’t necessarily mean to pun in that last sentence, but maybe that’s why “Outside”–the chorus, especially–is as powerful as it is. “I’m on the outside, and I’m looking in.” It’s a simple and not terribly subtle statement, but in a way it’s the line that all power balladry had been leading up to since Warrant and Poison put down their hairspray bottles for good. Twenty years earlier, or maybe even five years earlier, it might’ve sounded like a punk rock rallying cry, the point of view of a bratty kid who considered himself better than the fake, superficial establishment. But StainD lacked such moral superiority, such fighting spirit, and merely observed, “I can see through you, see your true colors / ‘Coz inside you’re ugly, ugly like me.” They didn’t want to show the world a better way, they were perfectly content to bring the rest of the world down to their level. They were fucked for life, and the best they could do about that was at least to take ownership of that fact. And I don’t know what it says about the state of America, or of youth culture, or just of rock music in the year 2001, but in its own sick way, that sentiment became just as anthemic in “Outside” as any three-chord, two-and-a-half minute flag-waver ever did.

And then, the music. Few songs make me wish I understood musical theory more than “Outside.” It’s just four chords, and there’s nothing about it that feels like it should sound anything other than a cliched sentimental ballad progression, but there’s just something about it–a minor key, a changed root note, I have no fucking clue–that makes it sound like the most chilling four-chord progression ever assembled.  Much as I love The Deftones and their heroin balladry, the significantly less-talented Aaron Lewis somehow blows nearly all of White Pony (and believe me, this is no small feat) out of the water on this song, his piercing warble never sounding more appropriately desolate. It might’ve just been a confluence of time and circumstance–its most famous version came of a spur-of-the-moment decision by Lewis to play the then-unfinished song on stage with Durst, and the rawness of the rendition just makes it all the more cutting, with the echo of the arena and the distant sound of the crowd adding untold layers of effect. But what Lewis stumbled across with “Outside” was something very rare and extremely special, probably the kind of thing that simply couldn’t have been cooked up in a studio.

Driving this point home would be the eventual studio release of “Outside,” found on the band’s breakthrough album, Break the Cycle. Now amplified, with an additional guitar part, drums, and a clear crescendo towards the end, it’s still a very good song, but that soul-wrenching quality, that absolutely haunting (I’m sorry to go there but it’s true it’s true it’s true) feeling of the original live version just isn’t there. The song feels so much larger that somewhat ironically, it becomes much less of an anthem and much more of just another sludgy post-grunge self-pity-fest. In a way, it proves just how accidental and unlikely the power of the original “Outside” was, because when given the time and space to perfect it in the way they best saw fit, StainD missed the point of their own finest moment entirely. (Strangely, this is the version that New York radio alt-rock / classic rock hybrid radio station 101.9 continues to play in semi-regular rotation, a point made all the weirder by the fact that as far as I can tell, it’s the only even vaguely nu-metal song currently on their playlist).

Finally, a personal note. I don’t really cry much in my personal life. Admittedly, I welled up a little at the end of Where the Wild Things Are recently, but that’s the only time in the last three or four years that I can remember consciously shedding tears. The only times I really ever cry these days are when I’m sleeping, and a song I’m hearing in real life–one that, for whatever reason, gets to me–seeps its way into my dream, and in my relatively-unguarded state, I tear up. This happened to me a couple of years ago with “Outside,” and I remember choking up on such a guttural level that it almost caused me physical pain. I woke up an emotional wreck, wondering “What the hell just happened to me??” That’s gotta count for something on this list. And it’s certainly not something I could ever say about “Every Rose Has Its Thorn.”

(Have any thoughts or remembrances of this song? Want to correct our lyrics or call us out for relying too much on Wikipedia? Please feel free to leave a comment here, or (gulp) Tweet us about it at twitter.com/intensities. Your input is lusted after and appreciated.)

The List So Far (Now With Links!):

100. Green Day – “Jesus of Suburbia
99. The Ying Yang Twins – “Wait (The Whisper Song)
98. Crazytown – “Butterfly
97. Taylor Swift – “Teardrops on My Guitar
96. The Fray – “Over My Head (Cable Car)
95. Fergie – “Fergalicious
94. Lidstrom – “I Feel Space
93. Chevelle – “Send the Pain Below
92. T-Pain f/ Yung Joc – “Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin’)
91. The Arctic Monkeys – “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor
90. Cassie – “Me & U
89. Nelly Furtado – “Maneater
88. Mike Jones f/ Slim Thug & Paul Wall – “Still Tippin’
87. Bat for Lashes – “Daniel
86. The Darkness – “I Believe in a Thing Called Love
85. Dynamite Hack – “Boyz n the Hood
84. DJ Khaled f/ T.I., Rick Ross, Fat Joe, Birdman, Lil’ Wayne & Akon – “We Takin’ Over
83. Matchbox20 – “Bent
82. The Game f/ 50 Cent – “Hate It or Love It
81. 311 – “Amber
80. 3 Doors Down – “Krptonite
79. Nas – “Made You Look
78. Royksopp – “Eple
77. The Pussycat Dolls – “Don’t Cha
76. DMX – “Party Up (Up in Here)
75. Junior Senior – “Move Your Feet
74. Twista f/ Kanye West & Jamie Foxx – “Slow Jamz
73. The Streets – “Weak Become Heroes
72. Jimmy Eat World – “The Middle
71. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Maps
70. Snoop Dogg f/ Pharrell – “Drop It Like It’s Hot
69. Alice DeeJay – “Better Off Alone
68. Xiu Xiu – “I Luv the Valley OH!
67. Incubus – “Stellar
66. Mariah Carey – “We Belong Together
65. Andrew W.K. – “Party Hard
64. Jurgen Paape – “So Weit Wie Noch Nie
63. Taking Back Sunday – “MakeDamnSure
62. Kid Cudi – “Day n Nite
61. Paramore – “That’s What You Get
60. System of a Down – “Toxicity
59. dNTEL f/ Ben Gibbard – “(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan
58. Three 6 Mafia f/ 8Ball & MJG – “Stay Fly
57. Good Charlotte – “The Anthem
56. The Lonely Island – “Lazy Sunday
55. Darude – “Sandstorm
54. Yellowcard – “Ocean Avenue
53. The Killers – “Mr. Brightside
52. Luomo – “Tessio
51. Blink-182 – “Stay Together For the Kids
50. My Chemical Romance – “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)
49. Freelance Hellraiser – “A Stroke of Genius
48. Daft Punk – “Digital Love
47. Snow Patrol – “Chasing Cars
46. Sean Paul – “Like Glue
45. Ludacris – “Stand Up
44. Britney Spears – “Toxic
43. Kings of Leon – “Sex on Fire
42. Jennifer Lopez f/ Ja Rule – “I’m Real (Remix)
41. Lifehouse – “Hanging By a Moment
40. Plain White T’s – “Hey There Delilah
39. MGMT – “Kids
38. Gym Class Heroes f/ Patrick Stump – “Cupid’s Chokehold
37. Franz Ferdinand – “Do You Want To
36. Kylie Minogue – “Can’t Get You Out of My Head
35. Vertical Horizon – “Everything You Want
34. The White Stripes – “Fell in Love With a Girl
33. Jay-Z – “Takeover
32. Maroon 5 – “This Love
31. Silversun Pickups – “Lazy Eye
30. M.I.A. – “Paper Planes
29. Timbaland f/ OneRepublic – “Apologize
28. Beyonce f/ Jay-Z – “Crazy in Love
27. Coldplay – “Yellow
26. Lil’ Wayne – “A Milli
25. Shaggy f/ Ricardo “RikRok” Ducent – “It Wasn’t Me
24. The Strokes  – “Last Night
23. Kelly Clarkson – “Since U Been Gone
22. Radiohead – “Idioteque
21. Fall Out Boy – “Sugar, We’re Going Down
20. The All-American Rejects – “Move Along
19. OutKast – “B.O.B. (Bombs Over Baghdad)
18. Interpol – “PDA
17. Justin Timberlake – “Rock Your Body
16. Vanessa Carlton – “A Thousand Miles
15. The Clipse – “Grindin‘”
14. Cam’Ron f/ Juelz Santana & Freekey Zeke – “Hey Ma
13. LCD Soundsystem – “Losing My Edge
12. Soulja Boy – “Crank Dat Soulja Boy
11. StainD f/ Fred Dusrt – “Outside”

3 Responses to “10 Years, 100 Songs: #11. “Inside You’re Ugly, Ugly Like Me””

  1. MBI said

    Yeah.

    Yeah.

    I really honestly feel like a shitheel to pop up after every entry to tell you what awful taste in music you have every time you pick a song I don’t like.

    So yeah.

  2. Garret said

    THIS IS THE REEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAALLLL MOTHAFUCKIN’ DEEEEAAALLLL YAAAAAAAAA’LLLLLL

  3. That bridge-ish chunk: Whoa. My hair just stood on end.

    I don’t recall hearing this at all this decade, and certainly not the last segment. But, yes, haunting works.

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