Admit it. You’d all but forgotten about this filthy, dilapidated, and long-buried time capsule of a song, hadn’t you? It’s okay. So had I. 1997 was a heady time to be 14.
And it didn’t only feel that way because high school was right around the corner; irresponsibly Wayne’s World-like rides in hand-me-down cars lacking critical safety features with older siblings were becoming more and more commonplace, and access to menthol cigarettes (and something called “stacking,” wherein you’d take as many back-to-back drags off the horrendous things as possible while lying flat on your back to “maximize the buzz” before handing them over to the next scrawny participant in line) was still exhilaratingly intermittent.
It also just-plain felt weird, like, culturally. Just what did “our music” sound like, anyway? The almighty Cobain (who was himself more of a hand-me-down from those older siblings in those ill-equipped cars) already felt long gone to my friends and me, and try as he might — via the hypnotic power of the checkered flannel patterns and shellacked hair — Gavin Rossdale was most decidedly not him. (“Sure, his hair looks all stringy and straight,” I thought, “but it’s an act! You can tell it’s really just PUFFY and CURLY underneath! Poseur, poseur, poseur!”)
So-the-hell-what if he and his bandmates had literally hired In Utero engineer Steve Albini to record their own “darker” (read: much less well thought-out and far more uneven) sophomore album Razorblade Suitcase? I mean, even “Swallowed,” the single everyone actually does remember from that record, sounded suspiciously sugary to my ears. Yeah, it was cool to sing along to with the cool girls we knew riding home from the cool Friday-night high school football games, but his words were a little TOO easy to remember… that chorus melody just had a few TOO many right notes in it… and the overall sentiment of the track was — in the words of any blissfully misogynistic 14 year old — a little TOO girly (“Chick song, chick song, chick song!”).
Enter the 1997 release of “Greedy Fly,” the second single from the album, and, from what I could tell, a much more interesting roll of the “we’re Bush and can probably have another hit no matter what song we release” dice.
And indeed, it was so. The song still charted at #3 in the US. Compared to “Swallowed,” though, “Greedy Fly” sounded — and still sounds — like the introverted younger child. The last-minute wedding date. The black sheep. The shoulder shrug. The improvised plan B. The jerky way it starts and stops, the curiously off-kilter relationship between the pre-choruses and the choruses they dump into, the willfully BAD poetry of the self-loathing lyrics (Matt Diehl, in his Rolling Stone review of the album from November of 1996, was pretty quick to highlight the “nonsensical couplets like, ‘Do you feel the way you hate?/ Do you hate the way you feel?’” that populate the song, failing to recognize that this sort of shit is pure gold to the mind of a budding teenager who tears at the cuffs of his new jeans on purpose) all conspired to push the song somehow into more credible and grunge-pop territory.
“Now THIS is more like it!” I remember thinking when I first heard all those discordant power-chord progressions, unedited guitar-string scrape noises, and semi-flams when the band tries and sorta fails to come back in on count 1 together after a pause. Especially in retrospect, “Greedy Fly” is like Grunge’s fucking death rattle; the last song to really attempt to assimilate Cobain’s oddball devotion to The Beatles’ sense of taut song structures with Beefheart-style primitivism and mall-stylized, sensitive-dude vitriol aimed at some ill-defined set of current circumstances.
And that’s what makes it so fascinating to revisit and connect with some 18 years later. With all those warts and noises, it was as damned decent a death rattle as you could ask for before the trappings of grunge — that a whole generation of kids just like me valued — got cruelly vacuumed up by the pop-metal scene a year or so later. And in that sense, it really is a pretty good time capsule; maybe even better than most Nirvana tunes you could cite. Because of its shortcomings, “Greedy Fly” didn’t just have texture. It had acne. Acne that felt just like mine did. It had “terrain,” the difficulty-level of which was in perfect accord with the map that I was trying to navigate just being alive and 14 in a middle-class, white-ish Chicago suburb in 1997. That is to say: uneven, but ultimately simple enough to resolve; formulaic but still awkward.
Oh, and it had one more thing that you also may have forgotten. An EPIC, SEVEN-MINUTE MUSIC VIDEO (after all, it was 1997).