Better not mess with it

The Von Bondies’ music has something missing.

Keri Carlson

A computer can now determine whether or not a song will be a hit. It sounds pretty absurd – how can a machine that merely processes data understand creativity and art?

It can’t. That’s not the point though. The company that makes the Hit Song Science claims that styles change but the same mathematical structures and patterns of music remain pleasing to the human ear.

Anyone can become a technically proficient musician; but as the dearly-departed Ray Charles would say, you cannot teach soul. So if soul cannot be taught, it probably cannot be comprehensible to a machine. A machine cannot measure the goose bump effect of howls from artists like Aretha Franklin or Iggy Pop, nor gauge the passionate rage of the Clash or NWA. The machine then, seems pretty worthless. But this is the age of five major labels and Clear Channel Communications, Inc., and absurdly enough, these companies embrace Hit Song Science.

If the Hit Song Science program heard the Von Bondies’ new album, “Pawn Shoppe Heart” (which it might have already), it would likely rank the songs highly on the hit meter. And if the computer could account for culture trends, the “what’s hot now” factor, the Von Bondies would score even higher.

The Von Bondies walk down the road to MTV2 paved by the Strokes and, especially, the White Stripes (Jack White recorded their earlier album). Lead singer Jason Stollsteimer cries such dispassionate, cigarette-dangling-from-mouth lines as, “Don’t

be mistaken for someone who cares” and complains, “No one takes you seriously when you’re 24.” Meanwhile the rest of the band responds with sugared “ahh-ahhs.” It’s the perfect meld of gritty, dangerous and youthful rock ‘n’ roll but with Camel Lights and Miller Light, or a vintage look found in a department store.

Their “hit” song “C’mon C’mon” perfectly sums up why Sire Records (owned by Warner Brothers, which is owned by AOL Time Warner) snatched them up. “C’mon C’mon” uses the formula perfected by thousands of previous pop songs. The chorus is a simple call to action, easy to remember and sing. It has jangley, danceable guitars and finishes in two minutes so no one becomes bored.

The Von Bondies are a good band. They can write enjoyable rock songs. Hit Song Science would like them, but to a listener flooded with rock-revival bands, the Von Bondies sound no more amazing. In fact, the band is not amazing. They sing with aloofness, like they can’t be bothered with caring – which is the point on songs like “Not That Social.” But the shtick backfires when the listener becomes just as bored as they sound.

The Von Bondies have the all they need to make it big. Yet, there’s something missing in their music. It’s not daring. There’s no passion. And though it cannot be explained exactly why, the Von Bondies are not soulful. But maybe that doesn’t matter anymore.