Let’s take a trip back to music in 1999. Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears had the biggest albums of the year. Most teenagers up to twenty-somethings were told what was popular Monday through Friday from Carson Daly’s mouth on TRL. Now twenty years later many people view this time with cheesy nostalgia. The Phantom Menace isn’t “that bad”. Backstreet is back and alright on tour. Yet there is a powerful and overlooked era of rock music here. Arguably the most overlooked is this masterpiece of an album from Korn.
Korn first showed up in 1994 with a raw new sound and two good size hits in “Blind” and “Shoots and Ladders”. Five years later their fourth album took all of what made the first album so powerful and put production money behind it. “Issues” is polished anger. Coming out towards the end of 1999, and just past the infamous Woodstock concert. This record took all the questions of a generation. Korn didn’t provide answers. But they did create a home.
Jonathan Davis and the rest of the band have never shied away from the content in these early albums. Abuse, neglect, violence, drugs; all of it is displayed like open wounds. By the third or fourth time in the studio, most artists are putting out songs about being rich and famous. More sex and partying. Maybe a ballad in there to crossover into other genres. Not Korn though. If anything, their success allowed them to be more honest than ever before. Elsewhere in the decade voices like Kurt Cobain and Trent Reznor told their audience, ‘I also feel pain’. Davis comes in and says ‘hold my therapist’.
Nowhere is this stronger than in “Falling Away from Me”. Long before social media, and even before the internet had made the world small. This song, and the accompanying video shined a light through the closed curtains of child abuse. Davis stands up there. At the moment the biggest rock band on the planet. Money, fame, all of it. Yet still hurt by his past. His willingness to put his weaknesses on display to the world made others stronger. The stage lights were no longer there to illuminate the band. They became the literal lights at the end of the tunnel. The hope that no matter what any listener is going through, something better is possible.
These thoughts, these issues, carry through the entire record. Not only the other big singles like “Make Me Bad” or “Somebody Someone”. “Trash” hurts but sounds so good the listener is conflicted. “Wake Up”, “Wish You Could Be Me”, I could name every track. This is the type of album to bring fresh ears to once a year to see which song resonates in a new way after your own personal events of the previous year.
All of this only happens thanks to a band that is as tight as ever. Before people left the band, infighting, recovery. Before all of it. This 16 track moment is five individuals playing with one mind. Through their own pains and struggles, they forged a bond with a united sound. A bond that comes through the speakers to link with fans.
Parents hated the album. Some kids shunned not only the sound but the peers who attached themselves to the music. But for those wearing a Korn shirt, or singing along with their Walkmans, this was a way to find each other. Korn gave a voice and support which many lost children found solace within. Then this allowed them to find comfort in each other. What starts as a bond over music grows to become a trusted ear, a shoulder to cry on, strength in the shadows.
Issues are a burden to carry, but for a moment we all felt the load was shared.