Here and gone in less than nine months, the New Radicals was really one guy, Gregg Alexander. The talented singer-songwriter had two unsuccessful solo albums to his credit before landing upon the concept of a revolving-door band (with him as its only constant). Signed to MCA in 1998, the New Radicals issued its debut, Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too, on October 20 of that year.
Seeing signs of trouble here in the good ol’ U.S.A., Alexander stood upon a polished pop/rock platform (Mick Jagger-like vocals to these ears) to share his social commentary. Sure sounds like the method of a “new radical” to me. The band’s single claim to fame, “You Get What You Give,” includes lines like “Health insurance rip-off lying / FDA big bankers buying.” But because such lyrical sentiments are soon followed by a threat to kick the asses of Beck, Hanson, Courtney Love, and Marilyn Manson (a roster that reeks of its time), guess what received all the attention?
In an VH1 interview, Alexander stated the song was a writer’s experiment to see what the media would focus on. “There’s this whole hysteria and curiosity over peripheral stupidity instead of focusing on real issues,” he said. “And a lot of people I talked to asked me about those real things, while a lot of rock media tried to turn it into a cat fight.”
Such “real issues” are also the lyrical focus of the title track, “Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too,” or what’s printed in the centerfold of the album’s booklet, anyway. This unrecorded version is an anti-corporate screed in which Alexander rails against chemically-altered food, credit card interest rates, and third-world genocide. There’s no way to hear this alternate take; we can only read what may have been. Perhaps to emphasize that very point, Alexander closes with this salvo: “So cynical, so hip, so full of shit / They told us to shut the fuck up and write another hit.”
Still, somehow MCA signed off on the social-revolution-in-a-mall concept for the “You Get What You Give” video:
Part of the machine while raging against it, Alexander soon realized such a dynamic wasn’t for him. He hung up his bucket hat, disbanding the New Radicals not long after “You Get What You Give” hit big. A second, just-as-good single, “Someday We’ll Know” suffered from the subsequent lack of promotion.
During the New Radicals’ abbreviated run, Alexander had unwittingly created a new sub-genre—prescient pop. Nearly ten years later, his once-radical notions are issues that plague us today (still without solution, so maybe we really do get only what we give). To his credit though, Alexander saw to wrap such troubles in a hopeful, positive package: “Don’t let go, you’ve got the music in you / Once dance left, the world is gonna pull through.”
Since breaking up his band in July 1999, Alexander did as he said he would, writing and producing for other artists. He crafted a monster hit for Santana & Michelle Branch (“The Game of Love,” originally recorded with Tina Turner), plus songs for Enrique Iglesias, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, and Ronan Keating (among other UK pop stars). In 2002, he teamed with former fellow New Radicals-alum Danielle Brisebois for Carly Hennessy’s debut, Ultimate High. The album famously bombed, but tune into American Idol tonight to see the since-married singer get a second shot at stardom as Carly Smithson (that status, shared by other contestants this season, is generating some controversy).
And proving that life does indeed come full circle, Alexander even made peace with the band of brothers he famously dissed, collaborating with Hanson on their 2004 track, “Lost Without Each Other.”