Like a good single, a terrible one reveals itself with airplay and forbearance. I don’t want to hate songs; to do so would shake ever-sensitive follicles, and styling gel is expensive. I promise my readers that my list will when possible eschew obvious selections. Songs beloved by colleagues and songs to which I’m supposed to genuflect will get my full hurricane-force winds, but it doesn’t mean that I won’t take shots at a jukebox hero overplayed when I was at a college bar drinking a cranberry vodka in a plastic thimble-sized cup.
Sixpence None The Richer – “Kiss Me”
PEAK CHART POSITION: #2 in March 1999
No matter how many Latin pop or teenage dreams took over the charts in early ’99, adult contemporary ruled the Hot 100 roost. And the Cranberries sound from earlier in the decade — a little jangle in its step — could afford to crow a little. This Nashville Christian rock band claimed C.S. Lewis as inspiration but couldn’t do a damn thing with the barmier parts of The Chronicles of Narnia — now Sixpence was the band to whom we looked for a modern update to, say, The Silver Chair. They liked the same shit I did (more on this later) but didn’t spend much time in the touring salt mines before guitarist Matt Slocum’s “Kiss Me” caught the attention of radio programmers in 1998. It did middling chart business until shrewd soundtrack programmers thought it did wonderful business soundtracking teenage misery: first on Dawson’s Creek, then on the Freddie Prinze, Jr-Rachael Leigh Cook high school comedy-drama She’s All That in early ’99. That did it. Polevaulting into the top ten within four weeks of its re-release in 1999, it clung to #2 that spring but put its feet up in the top ten for sixteen weeks, not counting its extended recurrent play for the next three years. Like so many late nineties hits, it refused to die.
It should’ve: listening to “Kiss Me” is a soul death. Those beautiful chords kill grass. Sparrows fall from palm fronds. Old Cubans join paramilitary ops. The jangle of the Cranberries’ “Linger,” itself a pop dilution of what the Sundays had done during the Poppy Bush Interzone, had been reified into an all-purpose margarine smeared over the toast of a Clinton-era lust. I can’t blame Leigh Nash for sounding like a perky hotel concierge employee; the melodies and lyrics are at that level of inoffensiveness. As each predictable rhyme falls into place, Nash fails to inhabit or inflect the syllables. Not even the most strikingly purple, garrulous line (“Strike up the band, and make the fireflies dance silvermoon’s sparkling”) generates suspense; she could be ordering a taxi she knows will arrive on time. Meanwhile the band’s jingle jangle morning keeps going.
In the year of the Clinton impeachment trials and Prinze’s beautifully vacant, vaguely Latin face, perhaps “Kiss Me” was the anthem that teens needed. Having watched She’s All That months before I was prepared to admit what looks like Prinze’s could do to me, I look at Prinze’s expression now and wonder what he could’ve done besides get top billing in the Scooby-Doo movie. The eternal fascination of blandness. Film could generate that fascination. In pop music it registers as complacency. Never forget Sixpence’s cover of The La’s “There She Goes” a few months later