This morning, I hauled up Slipknot's Iowa, an album I haven't listened to since it came out in 2001, right around the time I wrote a lengthy cover story on them for Alternative Press. (I know these days AP's editors like to shit on the issues they put out back during nü-metal's reign, but I did a lot of work for them between 1999-2002, and I'm still proud of most of it. A lot prouder than I'd be if I had my byline on a profile of Paramore or Tegan and Sara.)
Anyway, Iowa. Slipknot's self-titled album ate my skull in '99; I remember seeing them at the bottom of an all-Roadrunner bill at Roseland (Coal Chamber, The Burning Red-era Machine Head, Amen and Slipknot, and maybe one other band), before anybody really knew who they were, and they tore the place down. They were a whirling ball of energy, flying all over the stage beating the living shit out of everything within arm's reach, from guitars to turntables to percussion sets to each other, and I said to myself, this band is gonna own the world in a year. When I heard the first five tracks (the noisy intro through "Surfacing") on the disc, it was literally breathtaking. They were so fast, so grimy, so chaotic, they were on you before you could blink. Killer, killer stuff.
Iowa isn't a bloated second album or anything; it's not their Wu-Tang Forever. In fact, it's a pretty decent sequel. The lyrics aren't quite as offhandedly brilliant as they were on the debut; there's no line as good as "I'm hearing voices but all they do is complain." The best line on Iowa is "My life was always shit and I don't think I need this anymore," from "I Am Hated." And the difference between those two is the difference between the two albums, and why Slipknot kinda fell apart. The first album was funny, in a hysterical, laugh-to-stop-screaming kind of way. There was rage and pain all over it, but there was also a complex sense of irony and absurdity. When they made Iowa, they'd come so far so fast that they seemed to feel like it had to be uglier, noisier, meaner, and above all less fun. They fell prey to the grunge hangover, the curse of rock since the '90s, the mindset that says if you're selling big numbers, you're doing something wrong and you better wipe that smile off your face, mister, and scare away all the poseurs with your next album. Make it "real," for the "real" kidz. It's a bunch of bullshit, and it leads to the writing of songs like "Heretic Anthem" and "People = Shit."
Still, there are lots of good riffs on Iowa, and a bunch of the songs really bloomed on tour (which is why I say the only Slipknot anyone really needs is the debut and the live album). But ultimately, it feels more clichéd than the debut. It was the sound of them living up to what they thought people wanted from them.