This is a column called Major Keys written by Phil Witmer, the only actual musician employed by Noisey. It's about timbres, theory, chords (lots of 'em), and how these nerdy qualities make us feel things.
If the last two songs on your ten-track debut album are named “Punk Ass Bitch” and “Wannabe Gangstar,” odds are you’re not in this for the long run. Maybe it was because the millennium had changed and everyone was filled with both optimism and dread for the future, but Wheatus was the brave band who decided to give those specific songs those specific names in the year 2000. As we all know, neither of these fine pieces of music ended up as the band’s big hit, as “Teenage Dirtbag” charted in the top 10 of pretty much every country except Wheatus’ home of America. Is it kind of a Weezer rip? Totally. Is it a really good Weezer rip? You bet, and that’s why it still endures as a nostalgic time capsule of the American Pie era of horny smart-aleck power pop, transcending such beautifully late 90s aesthetics such as the record scratches, the suspended guitar chords, and singer Brendan B. Brown’s overall fashion sense in the video. “Teenage Dirtbag” is forever, it’s just a shame about that snare drum.
“What snare drum?” I hear you ask. Well, what snare drum do you think I’m talking about? Just hit play on the damn song and you’ll hear what I mean. Wait about ten seconds:
You hear it, right? That ridiculous, ringing “ PARNG” sound on the 2 and the 4 of the beat? The man making that sound is named Peter Brown and he had absolutely no right to tune his snare that tightly. A snare for a song like this should be flat and atonal, as in "Teenage Dirtbag"'s close sonic cousin "My Own Worst Enemy." It should, depending on how tight the skin is, go anywhere from " PAH" to " PEH." “ PARNG” is not acceptable. “ PARNG” will not do. Yet, “ PARNG” is the driving force of “Teenage Dirtbag.” It skewers through the entire mix like an alt-rock kebab, the gun-toting asshole boyfriends and beloved metal bands described in the song’s lyrics cowering in its presence. It's obnoxious because the snare has a distinct melodic tone, unlike most drum parts, meaning that it competes for space with every other tonal instrument in the arrangement. In fact, a more accurate transcription of the opening lines would look something like this if you account for how prominent the snare is:
Her name isPARNGNoel PARNG
I have a PARNG dream aPARNGbout her
It’s not viable. The thing is that everyone did this, though. An alarming amount of rock bands at the turn of the millennium had their snares tuned ultra-tight.
N.E.R.D. when they tried to be Rage Against the Machine
And of course, 311 a.k.a. Tight Snares the Band
Three different albums, three different kinds of annoying snare tones.
Maybe the Biz and 311 aren’t the most esteemed musicians, but you get the point. The reason for the high-pitched snare sound (typically the result of using a drum called a piccolo or soprano snare) becoming trendy at this point isn’t clear. It’s likely that it came from emulating reggae or rap, both of which were genres being played/mangled by largely interchangeable soul-patched white dudes from 1996 to 2003 and thus assimilated into rock’s sonic vocabulary. Though the piccolo snare is instantly dated, it’s pretty funny to think about how nu metal—which was based on sounding as tough as possible—relied on such a non-beefy snare sound in comparison to other metal subgenres. Rather than the sample-enhanced " PAT" of extreme metal , the "PARNG" reigned supreme, which may be why Lars Ulrich famously decided to turn off his snare when recording Metallica’s St. Anger to achieve that objectively terrible and hilarious "BONG" sound, which is the only snare worse than " PARNG."
So, perhaps the “Teenage Dirtbag” snare is a victim of the times; a tiny choice made to appeal to the youth that ended up resonating in a bad way (literally) nearly twenty years later. But why would Wheatus, in particular, want to sound like nu metal and/or hacky sack-ready reggae-rock? Who made the call to keep that snare? We’ll never know who they are. What is known is this: you will never listen to “Teenage Dirtbag” the same way ever again. I’m incredibly sorry if I’ve ruined this song for you. That, or you’re as strange as I am and you’ll now laugh uncontrollably upon hearing "PARNG" rudely and repeatedly interrupt Brown’s wheedling vocals. I guess you can see this snare as either the worthless dirtbag or as the high school crush, gliding across the dance floor on prom night to give you those Iron Maiden tickets.
Phil will spend his entire life doing close listenings of alt-rock one hit wonders. He's on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on Noisey CA.