This is a love letter about a love song. The glam metal explosion yielded more than its fair share of sappy power ballads, but one reigns above them all. The Achilles heel of the power ballad is its maddening tendency to mire in cliché — but, paradoxically, “I Remember You” manages to subvert kitsch and bludgeon cliché through its absolute screaming dedication to its own cliché. Cliché is one of the worst mistakes an artist can commit. To create something that is merely a retread of tired paths, challenging nothing, too bland even to be hated is the ultimate artistic failure. Even “bad” art can have its unique appeal — take the hubbub surrounding “The Room”, for example. Fatally clichéd art, though, is eminently forgettable.
But the funny thing about clichés is that they’re clichés for a reason. Most clichés, when you peel them down, say something about the human experience that is so universal that it loses profundity through repetition and becomes trite. The cliché of teenage love is ingrained across the cultural psyche from Romeo and Juliet to Dion and the Belmonts to Katy Perry because it’s a feeling nearly all of us have felt. Describe it, and the clichés come crawling out: butterflies in the stomach, head over heels, broken hearts, walking on air, they’re “the one”.
This is Skid Row’s cliché of choice: the bright shining sunburst of teenage love, tenderly recalled and codified into a five minute power ballad. The beauty of “I Remember You” is its ability to subvert that cliché by transporting the listener back to the days of teenage romance through its absolute commitment to both the power ballad cliché and the teenage love cliché. The song is relentlessly bombastic and hits all the glam metal power ballad tropes: an acoustic intro, a pretty boy crooning, a wheedly guitar solo, thunderous drums heralding power chords galore. But what separates “I Remember You” from the rest is the way they stretch the cliché to the extreme and thus break it. Skid Row could have cut this song at the 3:30 mark, after the acoustic guitar kicks back in and appears to signal a ready-made outro to the song.
Skid Row could’ve checked “Write a power ballad” off the record executive’s checklist then and there and finished the album with a decent ballad no one would remember in twenty years. But instead the drums crash right back in, and Sebastian Bach screams “I loooove youuuu!” with all his might. From that point on, Bach’s heart-rending screams slough all cliché off “I Remember You”. Bach was only 21 when Skid Row was released, and the palpable heartbreak of teenage love he channels makes his performance visceral and real. The surest sign you’re in love is when the clichés suddenly make sense; and Bach’s incredible performance, paired with towering power chords beating out a heartthrob at just the right pace and a volume knob turned all the way up, smash through centuries of tropes trodden into rubble to reveal the power of the emotion buried at the heart of that cliché. It’s easy to dismiss the power of a first love, but songs like “I Remember You” make us remember how amazing, how wonderfully revolutionary it felt when those butterflies first fluttered in our lovestruck stomachs. And so Sebastian Bach and I will scream along to the song’s closing movement, and remember that undying memory of someone, preserved in a halcyon time long past and a place irrevocably changed — I remember you…