Tag Archives: 90’s Albums that Refuse to Age

90’s Albums that Refuse to Age: Part 13

220px-DMB_-_Before_These_Crowded_Streets

Album: Before These Crowded Streets

Artist: The Dave Matthews Band

Release Year: 1998

 

 

The Dave Matthews Band was one of the artists that came out of the mid-90’s singer/songwriter comeback. Along with bands like Counting Crows, Hootie and the Blowfish, and Sheryl Crow the Dave Matthews Band brought back an emphasis on the songwriting and musicianship that was the antithesis of the grunge movement that ruled the early half of the decade. While a number of the bands memorable hits came from their album Crash in which the title track is a staple of any mid-90’s playlist, Before These Crowded Streets highlights the diversity and musical prowess of the band.

DMB was a band that I initially liked and then found boring when I listened past their radio hits. It wasn’t until a few years later that I gained a newfound appreciation of the music and the feel that the band puts out. Any metalhead can tell you that you cant be “That” guy all the time and sometimes you just need something to chill out too that is not loud and abrasive. Sometimes you need to expand your musical horizons to something that some may find odd or outside your understanding. 

DMB manages to fit a strange yet needed niche in the musical landscape. They provide a soundtrack that can be upbeat, sorrowful, swooning, and floating. Composed of an odd mix of musicians including the standard guitar, bass, drums center and add the dynamics of an electric violinist and a horn player. The Dave Matthews Band set itself apart not only in the tonality produced by the combination of instruments but also the level of musicianship which they brought to the fore. Dave Matthews himself is a great guitarist and songwriter whose guitar parts make your fingers rebel when trying to learn. 

The albums tracks cover a broad spectrum of moods and tones. From the upbeat yet floating opener “Pantala Naga Pampa” to the moody slow closer “Spoon” the musical canvas is filed with subtle imagery and varying dynamics. There were a few singles released from this album but they didn’t manage the mainstream success of the tracks from The aforementioned Crash album. That is not to say that the songs were not strong musically or lyrically but it does highlight the shift in focus of popular music from the strange stew of the mid-90’s to the more pop dominated latter years of the decade. 

While the pop starlets, boy bands, and Nu Metal were the powerful force in the late 90’s, The Dave Matthews Band managed to maintain a large loyal fanbase and continue to produce albums of good quality today. Before These Crowded Streets is one of the strange offshoots of popular music that was present but ultimately got lost in the shuffle of the musical landscape in 1998 but the album still holds up today. 

Standouts on the album include the upbeat “Rapunzel” which has excellent drum work from Carter Beauford working sonically interesting fills into the bits of the song not filled with double stops. Frontman Dave Matthews manages to write playful love songs with different feels throughout the album. 

“The Last Stop” puts a middle eastern feel to good use with both the music and vocals following a flowing open motif that brings images of sandy deserts and blowing winds to mind. The lyrical and musical melodies intertwine throughout a good portion of the song but stray enough to not feel like the entire song is made up of a single theme.

“Stay (Wasting Time)” is another playful song that spins a wonderful narrative of affection over an upbeat poppy musical grounding that highlights the horn section. This song shows the ability for the band to produce radio friendly songs while maintaining their unique style. Another song that makes good work of the airy string/brass combo in the pre-chorus helps to sell the imagery of a hot day of hanging out with your significant other outside on the stoop.

“Crush” is quite possibly my favorite song on the entire album. This song brings elements of jazz and showcases Dave Matthews playing an electric guitar which is a rare stay from his solid acoustic guitar work. This song always gets me in the ‘feels’ with its spinning chorus vocal line and laid back groove track that shows the strength and timing of the rhythm section. The lyrics speak of longing and love that is often felt in the intense beginnings of a relationship. 

“The Dreaming Tree” is a slower song with a serious message. Harkening back to the jam band roots and environmentally conscious minds of the band, the song narrates an early warning of global warming as well as the effects of industrialization on the resources of the earth. The song was a strong warning about the often overlooked impact of human interaction that causes such drastic change. The narrative shows how, lyrically, Dave Matthews is both a man of his time as well as a man ahead of his time in regard to a social conscious that needs to be heard.

Before These Crowded Streets stands up musically 20 years later as the themes of love and loss are always current. Often albums from the 90’s get dated purely by their lyrical content and themes but this album manages to remain fresh and prescient in the face of a changing world that manages to still deal with the same struggles that it did two decades ago.

Musically the album also continues to remain fresh. Great songwriting hardly ever ages when it defies the genres and popular trends of the time when it was originally released. While a majority of the acts of the time that shared a similar vein of music have passed to the ‘nostalgia act’ circuit, DMB manages to continue to draw huge crowds and demand as their music transcends the constraints of the musical times they shared with other acts.

This album is great when you need something to fill in the background while concentrating on a project. It is great when you need something to relax to. It is great when you want something to listen to but are tired of the usual fair in your playlist rotation. It’s just a great album for all environments and moods. This is why Before These Crowded Streets is a 90’s album that refuses to age. 

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90’s Albums That Refuse to Age: Part 12

Faith_no_more_angel_dustAlbum: Angel Dust

Artist: Faith No More

Release Year: 1992

I know this is my second post about Faith No More in a week, however; their influence on me cannot be understated. A lot of bands can be called “Genre Defining”, however; only a few can be categorized as “Genre Defying”. I was only nine when Faith No More’s The Real Thing came out, but it took until the turn of the decade before the band was on the radar of America with their second single “Epic” and from there they stuck around for what seemed a short time and then disappeared. Any real fan of the band knows that their activity didn’t cease because the mainstream stopped paying attention.

Faith No More had been bending genre’s for longer than people had been paying attention when The Real Thing was released. In fact, prior to their most commercial album, they had already released two albums with original singer Chuck Mosley. Unfortunately, both albums had not sold well and, outside fo the title tracks, had failed to make much of a dent. With all respect to Chuck Mosley (RIP), up until The Real Thing the only part of the band that was not dynamic was the front man.

The particular issue was resolved with the addition of then Mr. Bungle singer Mike Patton. It is impossible to know what The Real Thing would have turned out to be or if we would even be talking about the band at this point if it had not been for Patton joining the band. To a certain point he managed to change the dynamic and musical direction of the band, but in most ways it was for the better.

After the wide success of  The Real Thing it was hard to imagine that Faith No More would become more than a one hit wonder, however; the 1992 album Angel Dust proved to be miles ahead of its predecessor. While the band failed to chart as high in the US and their exposure diminished with the release of the album, these two circumstances speak nothing of the quality of the album, only that the Grunge and Rap movements of the early 1990’s garnered more attention at the time.

Angel Dust is an album that refuses to age after 25 years. It is a masterpiece of heavy, funky, avant garde rock and roll. While the music of the band itself did not stray too much from their signature sound, there is one stark difference between The Real Thing and Angel Dust, that of Mike Patton’s vocals. While most of the songs on the previous album had been nasal and purposely annoying (I remember reading that Patton had sang that way in an attempt to get fired), the vocals on Angel Dust showed a full range of vocals from one of the best lead singers in rock.

The album has many songs that highlight the ability of the band as a whole including “Caffeine”, “Midlife Crisis”, “Smaller and Smaller”, “Everything’s Ruined”, and “Kindergarten”. The sound ranges from hard rock (‘Land of Sunshine’, ‘Caffeine’) to Country Western (‘RV’) to strange and avant garde (‘Be Aggressive’, ‘Crack Hitler’, ‘Jizzlobber’) and finally to symphonic with the album’s closing track the theme from ‘Midnight Cowboy’. The band even recorded a cover of the Commodore’s “Easy” as a B-side for the album that was later released as a single.

Three of the standouts from this album are “Midlife Crisis”, “Kindergarten”, and “A Small Victory”.

“Midlife Crisis” starts percussion heavy and then brings in a thumping steady bass line with atmospheric keyboards. However; the pre-chorus is a standout ‘You’re perfect. Yes it’s true, but without me there’s only you.” Again, this song is a standout due to the vocals and it shows Patton’s ability to layer vocal harmonies and themes on top of a solid foundation of music.

“Kindergarten” is another favorite of mine from the album. Guitar heavy and recorded with enough atmospheric space to sound very ‘wide’ and cinematic. The song is simply structured and somewhat symphonic due to the keyboards. There is a funky bass line that punctuates the bridge of the song which Patton spews mostly incomprehensible words followed by one of the few every bass solos in recorded history. The lyrics conjure images from youthful times such as play grounds, drinking fountains and movie theaters.

Another great showcase for Patton’s vocals (as well as his sampling skills) is “A Small Victory”. The band manages to produce a hard driving song with a catchy hook provided by the keyboards. The chorus is simplistic “It shouldn’t bother me, no” but Patton’s layering of vocal parts as well as the use of inventive uses of his voice make the song interesting and kind of “pop-y” in its own way.

While the change in musical direction (from the greater influence of Patton on the songwriting) may have caused the eventual departure of original guitarist Jim Martin, it also produced some of the strongest songwriting that the group had produced up to that time and what I consider one of the band’s strongest efforts. The results of later albums actually benefited somewhat from Martin’s departure as the strength of songs continued to increase up until FNM disbanded in 1998.

One of the common things about all the albums that refuse to age is that the lyrics are often abstract and non-specific to a particular time and place. While I have no earthly clue what Mike Patton is singing about in almost every song, the content is not dated. Great music often remains fresh because it is not part of a fad; and Faith No More were never part of any particular movement of the time.

This album has remained a constant on any music player I’ve had since I first heard it. In my cd case, on my computer/mp3 player, on my phone, it has never been absent from the music I have carried with me. There is still enough funk, metal, rock, and other weirdness on the album to keep it fresh. While it may not run well with a lot of the new popular music, it remains fresh for that exact reason. It was not part of the populist musical experience when it was released so it was never fully on the radar of people.

The fact that Faith No More was always a kind of ‘fringe’ band with a great following by those who took the time to experience the music helps to keep them fresh to the ear. They were never overplayed after The Real Thing which may have put them in the “One Hit Wonder” category for a lot of people, but to those who took the time to listen learned to love the band for everything that made them the anti-mainstream.

Very few things are eternal and most do not age well. Great art doesn’t age. Great music is vino for the ears, it gets better by fermenting over time and keeps you young by returning to it. Great, timeless music is the well in which you must drink to remain forever young.

Until next time. Keep Listening!

90’s Albums that Refuse To Age: Part 11

Bat_out_of_Hell_II

Album: Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell

Artist: Meatloaf

Release Year: 1993

There were a few acts that found a resurection of careers in the 90’s, The Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and The Eagles just to name a few, but with the exception of The Eagles none of them had a greater second wind than the name on this album. Meatloaf had a wildly successful album in 1977 with part one of the Bat Out of Hell series and “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” was a staple on classic rock radio but a series of subsequent albums had failed to reach the audience that the original Bat garnered.

Meatloaf had not released an album in the six years prior to this album’s release and the insanity of it’s popularity in the early to mid-90’s could have gone a very different way depending on the audience at the time. The year prior to Bat II’s release Meatloaf had a small cameo in the Wayne’s World movie which put him back on the radar of popular culture and was a happy moment for us that had known of Meatloaf prior to that time.

The album introduced itself with the Beauty and the Beast inspired video for the lead single and first song on the album “I Would Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That). The single version was just under five and a half minutes (the album version is just over 12 minutes). Even at the cut down track time this was a risky move to release the song as a lead single due to most radio stations only wanting to play 3.5 minute singles, however; the gamble that the label and the artist took paid off and the album became a hit built on the single alone.

In the first two months on the strength of this single alone the album had went double platinum (selling 2 million units). This was in a time prior to mp3’s and online streaming so the total is based on people actually buying a physical copy of the album. The album produced four more singles over the next year, but none of them had the meteoric impact of the lead single.

Written in signature Jim Steinman style, the symphonic rock songs blended storytelling with various styles of music. The pairing of Jim Steinman and Meatloaf is what made Part One of “Hell” a magical hit back in the 1970’s and the style and delivery had the same effect on the listener almost 20 years later.

After the lead off single the album follows with “Life is a Lemon and I want My Money Back”. A solid rocker and critique of the culture of the early 1990’s. The third track “Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through” is anthemic and inspirational. Other great tracks from the album include “Out of the Frying Pan (And Into the Fire)“, “Objects in the Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are”, the spoken word track “Wasted Youth”, and “Good Girls Go to Heaven (Bad Girls Go Everywhere”. Lengthy song titles aside the album consists of 11 tracks and runs 76 minutes.

This album has always been a great travel album for me. Not only do I get caught up in the imagery of the words and the pace of the music, but the majority of the album I have to sing along with. Anybody who I know well enough and have rode in a car with me know that I sing the entire time I’m driving. If I remember correctly the last few times that I’ve visited one of my best friends I have been listening to this album during the drive. She and I are kindred spirits in things Meatloaf and other music and I am always in the right mind space for a visit with her after belting this album out for the hour plus drive to her house.

One of the distinguishing characteristics about an album that refuses to age is that the songs remain relevant and escape being “dated” to a sound of the time. The blending of styles on this album and symphonic feel of the tunes makes it impossible to sound dated. Like a good musical (Rent comes to mind) this is an album that can be revisited like your favorite movie. One of the greatest things about Steinman’s lyrics is that they are always interpreted as something new as you and the album age. I think of the content now entirely different than when I was when the album came out. While songs like “Objects…” comment on the benefits of age looking back, this album continues to provide amazing life lessons with repeated listens at different ages. Some 24 years later I still find every song on the album relevant and timeless.

Meatloaf and Steinman would be considered the antithesis of what the mainstream would consider “Pop star” material. In fact, they really are an odd couple just looking at them. Meatloaf is overweight and somewhat average looking, but he is proof that talent can break through the barriers of the establishment and create lasting music that connects with a great audience. Along with being a phenomenal singer he has also acted in a number of movies other than Wayne’s World, including a surprising and interesting part in David Fincher’s Fight Club. He is also known as a cult figure for his brief but impactful performance in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

meat and jim
Sexiest Rocker Alive they are not.

Jim Steinman has long hair, wears leather jackets and leather gloves (often both when performing at the piano). Steinman has had hits outside of his collaborations with Meatloaf as well. In fact, he wrote a couple of the most enduring and popular songs of the 1980’s having penned “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and “Making Love out of Nothing at All”. Meatloaf once said that Steinman’s songs are all written for an unfinished musical based on Peter Pan and listening to the lyrical content of most of the songs he’s written and produced it is easy (for me at least) to see how these pieces would fit together as a narative.

My advice is to check out this album if you haven’t ever heard of it and to revisit it if you have. Some albums we stay with because we are forced to remember the time that they were released and it makes us feel good about those days. Great albums are the time machines of the memory and whether the time you visit is rose colored or not they will always take you to where and when you want to go. Albums that refuse to age are the ones that get embedded into our DNA. They become more of a part of us with each listen.

That’s it for this installment. Have a comment? Post something! As always, Keep listening!!

90’s Albums that Refuse To Age: Part 10

Welcome back returning readers! Sorry for the long delay in new material but the last month had a lot of insanity wrapped in it. Anyway, Since this is the 10th article in this series I figured I would finally get the most obvious choice for this category out of the way.

Album: NevermindNirvanaNevermindalbumcover

Artist: Nirvana

Release Year: 1991

There are only a handful of albums from the 1990’s that can truly be described as earth shattering and this is one of the big boys of that category. What can be said that hasn’t already about this particular album? Not much. Nirvana’s major label debut was the catalyst for what, I consider, the last great musical revolution in America. Every 10-20 years or so there is a great shift of musical output and styles that revolutionizes the music industry and changes the direction for the remainder of that decade or so.

In the 1950’s Rock & Roll revolutionized the soundscape with acts like Elvis, Buddy Holly, and Bill Hailey. In some ways Rock & Roll was a catalyst for the civil rights movement in the 60’s. In the late 1960’s the “hippy” movement helped to bring women’s rights to the forefront and helped to end the Vietnam War. In the late 1970’s Punk managed to break the music industry out of it’s ‘Corporate Rock’ phase and following punk, Post-punk, New Wave, and Heavy Metal became the staples of music both inside and outside of the Pop dominated mainstream.

While the roots of grunge extend back to the 1980’s post punk and underground alternative movements. The genre, which lived and died in only a few short years, left a gigantic crater on the landscape of the music world. Much like the astroid that wiped out the dinosaurs Nirvana’s Nevermind manage to do the same to music styles that had gotten too bloated and drugged out over time. Lets face it, Nirvana can be directly linked to the retirement of a lot of hair metal musicians.

This album hit hard and changed everything. Sonically it is still a masterpiece of barely contained rage and catching hooks. The sequencing was perfect and even the slow songs don’t get skipped over. When you kick off an album and a movement with a song like “Smells Like Teen Spirit” you can either continue to build or to fall flat, luckily this album did the former and blended so many great songs about god knows what onto an album that still sounds fresh.

The second song “In Bloom” is probably one of my favorites. There is an amazing quality of a song that has very understated verses and overpowering choruses. The song really showcases the tightness of the rhythm section and the strength of the production. The bass is fat and the drums are crisp and everything is perfectly balanced. One of the great things I remember about this song was the video. I thought that Cobain was awesome to use the medium to tip his hat to the Beatles with the Ed Sullivan Show format of the music video.

That brings us to “Come as You Are”. When I started getting interested in not just listening to music but wanting to play it, this was one of the two songs that every kid starting guitar at the time had to have down. The aspiring early ’90’s guitar player cut his teeth learning scales and modes but also by learning the riffs to “Come as You Are” and “Enter Sandman”. One thing about Kurt’s lyrics is that you had no idea what he was actually writing about, but he put his words across in such a way that they were catchy and memorable. It’s only years later that you really appreciate the word play that he used.

“Breed” is an example of how the band, while sparking the Grunge revolution, really transcended the genre. “Breed”, in my opinion, is the most punk song that Nirvana put on the album. The bass is fuzzy and blends with the guitar so much that the two are almost inseparable until the guitar solo.

The next two songs on the album “Lithium” and “Polly” are slower paced but no less powerful in their presentation. “Lithium” can be considered the auditory representation of how one feels on anti-depressants. The song has a feeling of detachment but also a sense of overthought. Another song with a good understated verse and strong chorus, which may or may not have been influenced by the dynamics of the Pixies, was heavy but still had enough “Pop” sensibility to be catchy and cross over.

“Polly” is a haunting song that is so stripped down that the majority of the song is just Kurt and an acoustic guitar. The chorus is a great example of how well Kurt doubled his vocals as well as showcases the vocal ability of Dave Grohl many years before he became the voice of the Foo Fighters.

The midpoint of the album, or if I remember correctly the first song on side two of the cassette, “Territorial Pissings” is a great hardcore punk song. So much so that sometimes I feel that it really borders on thrash. This is a line I think Nirvana tip toed across a few times in their songs. Another example of this can be found on the track “Stay Away” which appears later on the album.

“Drain You” is another great example of how Nirvana managed to write really great heavy ‘pop’ songs. Oddly enough the song has a kind of creepy interlude mid-song that breaks up the second and third chorus. The song shows that while the band could write a great straightforward song, they were not afraid to experiment with the space they were given.

In my opinion, Krist Novoselic is probably one of the most underrated bassists of his era. “Lounge Act” proves this. The bass line not only opens the song but carries it for the majority of the song. The tone and separation in the mix shows that each member of the band habited their own section of the track but also were competent musicians and managed to fill more space as a three piece than a lot of four and five piece bands could not.

“On a Plain” is interesting for a couple of reasons. First is the defending guitar riff that makes up the verse. Most songs will move from low to high in their notes for verses with the defending part happening within the chorus. The second thing I find interesting is the bridge that has, for some reason, always hit me in a special way. It reminds me of something from my early childhood that I can never fully put my finger on. Sometimes it is just the little melodies or bits of a song that will remind you of something long forgotten, but in this case when I hear the bridge I never fully recover the memory it’s almost as if there’s…. Something in the way.

The final track on the album is a very haunting song that is often misinterpreted as being about Cobain actually living under a bridge. In an interview with Butch Big (the albums producer as well as drummer for late grunge/alternative band Garbage) he talked about how he recorded the guitar part with Kurt lying on a couch and trying to be as quiet as possible so that he could get the track down. This song also included a cello which would have been considered a very taboo instrument to have on a grunge album but the tonal quality of the instrument adds to the haunting feeling of the album closer.

Whatever your feelings towards Nirvana’s music may be, there is no denying the cultural  and lasting impact that Nevermind has in the history of music. As of March the album has been on the Billboard album charts for 350 weeks (nonconsecutively) which is the 8th most of all time. Unfortunately, the weight of it all eventually ended Cobain’s life. As with many great artists he was plagued by his own inner thoughts and could not resolve them to get to where he could continue to live. It is sad that in my lifetime I’ve seen these great bands in grunge, who had amazing debut albums end tragically.

mount-grungemoreOn the Mount Rushmore of Grunge there is a saddening lack of ‘living legends’ left. Cobain’s face was the first to be chiseled, followed by Layne Staley, Scott Wieland, and most recently Chris Cornell. In my mind the only two left to carry the torch and remind us of the very special moment in time that the Grunge era was are Eddie Vedder and Billy Corgan. While people have a dislike for Eddie or Billy for either their voices or their writing the fact is that they are what remains. If you loved Grunge it is important to go see these few living remnants of an era that is close to being 30 years in the past.

Sadly, Grunge was our last great musical revolution that was coupled with a social revolution. Some may say that the “Nu-Metal” movement was, but in my opinion that was a natural progression that resulted from the reduction of barriers between musical genres.

Grunge helped to showcase the anger of the disenfranchised teen and helped put a soundtrack to the gay rights movement of the early 1990’s.

Music is the loudspeaker of social unrest, the musical revolutions that take place in the same time as the social revolutions are heavily associated with it. This makes me question if the lack of a new musical revolution is the sign of a more complacent social spectrum, or am I just being too impatient waiting for it to come. Did I miss (and possibly dismiss it) due to my age? Whatever the case may be, the right kind of musical revolution is badly needed today and I hope it is just over the horizon.

Until next time, keep listening.

90’s Albums that Refuse to Age: Part 9

90’s Albums that Refuse to Age: Part 9

Album: Stranger than Fiction

Artist: Bad Religion

Release year: 1994

BadReligionStrangerThanFictionBad Religion are probably my favorite Punk band. There, I said it. Punk had gone out of fashion and had mostly dwindled to a handful of bands by the turn of the 1990’s. By the time the great change came in 1991 with the release of Nirvana’s Nevermind, punk had lay dormant on the landscape of American pop culture. The true underground artists and fans were still going to shows and buying demos and bootlegs of the great bands that survived the 1980’s but with Kurt Cobain’s punk roots came a new interest in the genre.

Of the bands that were still around Bad Religion was a workhorse. They released five albums between 1988 and 1993 including such classics as Suffer and Generator. The band has released a number of albums since and have become one of the “Godfather’s” of the modern Punk movement that reached it’s height in the early 2000’s.

No matter the year of release, punk always seems to be relevant. The lyrical content, so long as it does not specifically name someone, can always be applied to the current struggle of the underclasses, high school outcasts and other non-conformist or confused individuals. There is always some form of struggle that is being fought, whether it be within ourselves or within society and this struggle needs a soundtrack.

The odd thing about punk music is that it’s creators have always been labeled as unintelligent neanderthals who just want to rage against society. This may have been true of some acts in the early part of the first era of punk in the 70’s, even then the majority of acts were thoughtful and social activists. The Ramones had the pop sensibilities of the Beach Boys, The Clash brought a new focus on activism much to the chagrin to the critics who just wanted to label these bands as consisting of noise.

Bad Religion always set themselves apart from the less musical acts in the punk vein. Vocal melody and harmonies are abound in their music. The music is aggressive and frantic but always melodic and thought out and the lyrical content can only be described as a “thinking man’s” punk. Greg Graffin manages to put a lot of lyrical content in a two minute song and writes intelligently and thoughtfully on many subjects. Greg Hetson and Brett Gurewitz managed to put guitar solos in punk music. The hooks were all over their music and the lyrics were catchy and memorable.

I first learned of Stranger than Fiction long after it’s release. I first heard it around 2001 and changed my musical life. I had subconsciously heard Bad Religion during the many hours of playing Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 and hearing it’s soundtrack over and over. Stranger than Fiction was the first real expansive listen I had given the band. Since listening to the entire album, I have bought every album that have released and worn a couple out enough to have to repurchase them on CD. The music is great and remains relevant for all of the reasons conveyed above.

Stranger than Fiction has so many great songs that it is impossible to really find a bad song. From “Incomplete” to the title track to “Better Off Dead” and more the album is packed with hooks and thoughtful lyrics. “Incomplete” explores the dynamic of children being raised by absent parents.

“Tiny Voices” speaks of the subconscious and “Television” talks about the effect of the ‘idiot box’ on societies thinking and activity patterns. “21st Century (Digital Boy)” foreshadowed the change in society in regard to a rise of smart devices and dumb people and “Hooray for Me” calls attention to individualism and the anti-establishment ideals that have long been a large part of the Punk Rock ethos. While the lyrical content does move around a bit it covers the spectrum of social and species related challenges that have not gone away in the last 23 years. The more that technology and society evolves together the more the songs become more and more relevant to me.

When it comes to complete albums Stranger than Fiction is just that. There are straight ahead punk songs, melodic punk (much akin to the ‘pop punk’ of Green Day and The Offspring), and slower songs like “Slumber” and “Infected”. The rhythm section is tight and the guitars are fast. The lyrics don’t fight the music for melodic space and are thoughtful but not too high brow for the casual listener. Bad Religion manages to strike the perfect balance of aggression and melody on this album and keeps the focus on social issues while offering enough tongue-in-cheek humor to keep the serious subjects light.

There is always a song or album that ignites the interest and devotion to a band and for me Stranger than Fiction will always endear me to Bad Religion and their music. Some things you become a diehard fan of because it strikes you as different and almost written for you. I like to think of myself as well read, socially aware and I have a love of punk rock music with melody so it is almost like this album was written for me. With that in mind I whole heartedly suggest that you all give this album a listen. If you like the videos included in this post you can always purchase the album through the links below.

Until next time… Keep listening.

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90’s Albums that Refuse to Age: Part 8

Fizzy_Fuzzy_Big_&_BuzzyAlbum: Fizzy Fuzzy Big & Buzzy

Artist: The Refreshments

Release year: 1996

The Refreshments (the one from Arizona, not to be confused with the one from Sweden) were kind of a blip on the radar in the 90’s. Lumped into the Post Grunge-Alternative movement, the band kind of got lost in the shuffle of the “flavor of the week” bands that released albums between 1994-1998, but anybody who is more than a casual listener of The Refreshments hit single “Banditos” knows that they were severely out of place in the strange pool of artists that released albums around that time.

I first heard “Banditos” on the the alternative station in Boise “Pirate Radio” in 1996. I remember clearly being on my paper route in the afternoon listening to the station on my cassette/radio player and instantly loving the song. It came on right after a Smashing Pumpkins song and I was about a quarter of the way through my route. From that moment on I was a fan.

The tongue in cheek nature of The Refreshments was evident in that first single. The album Fizzy Fuzzy Big & Buzzy is now 21 years old and I never tire of listening to it. There is enough emotion (humor, despair, community, and wayward love) mixed into the songs to always be relevant. From the first song (Blue Collar Suicide) to the last (Nada) the writing style of lead singer and rhythm guitarist Roger Clyne shows a man who was still finding his writing style, while building on his signature sound.

The Refreshments were always out of place with the rest of the groups that they were lumped in with in the Alternative movement. It is easy to see that the band had more in common with Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen than their contemporaries. These songs are stories. Stories told from the view of a man who likes to drink and party. Songs of love, escapism, friendship, and solitude give the album enough gravitas to be taken seriously, but the humor in each song is enough to keep the tone upbeat.

I think instead of just talking about the humor of the songs, including a few lyrics here will help illustrate my point: “I can’t sleep ‘cause she snores like a chainsaw” (Blue Collar Suicide), “I’m gonna go to the sporting goods store and buy you a really heavy baseball bat, girly knock these thoughts out of my head” (Girly), “Got off in the wrong direction, found some hookers and lost my erection” (Mexico).

The Refreshments developed a very distinct sound that included plenty of references from their southwest roots. The group were one of a few to emerge from the Tempe, Arizona area at the time (others included the Gin Blossoms and Dead Hot Workshop [who are referenced in “Down Together”]) and while the group never charted in the top 10 (Banditos peaked at 14) they managed to cultivate a large following that still attend the shows of Roger Clyne’s post Refreshments band Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers.

The band managed to release one more album (1997’s The Bottle & Fresh Horses) before being dropped by their label and disbanding, however; the lasting impact of the group’s music has left on me is still pretty big. There really isn’t many days when I don’t listen to at least one song from Fizzy.

I have friends that I’ve turned on to the group that are still diehard fans and they go to the shows and support them every time they show up in town. Refreshments songs are a large part of the RCPM show and last year they did a 20th anniversary tour in which they played the entire album from front to back. Even if you don’t like all of the songs on the album, you cannot beat the experience of the show. This is one of the few concerts where you just feel strange not singing along with a beer in your hand for every song. That is what a good experience should be.

If you like the songs on the album I want to let you know that the songwriting craft only has gotten better from Roger Clyne in the years since so check out the “Peacemakers” catalog, there is plenty of humor as well as songs of banditos, pirates, and outlaws to be enjoyed. I’m also going to be attending the RCPM album release party for their new album Native Heart here in a few weeks and plan to post a review of the album and the show shortly after.

Until next time folks, keep listening.

90’s Albums that Refuse to Age: Part 7

CountingCrowsAugustandEverythingAfter

 

Album: August and Everything After

Artist: Counting Crows

Release Year: 1993

 

 

Some of you might question this album being considered for this list, others will not. The Counting Crows came about the mainstream consciousness around the time of the early to mid 90’s singer/songwriter movement which included other notable bands such as the Barenaked Ladies and the Dave Matthews Band. The ‘Crows’ debut August and Everything After could not be classified in either the Alternative or Pop genre’s exclusively, or even that of the singer/songwriter because it manages to claim habitation in all three realms simultaneously.

The album, which was released in 1993, came out at a time when kids of my generation were newly teens. Going through the strange transition period of life where nothing makes sense and you are trying to find your place among your friends as well as developing your tastes in all media which will stick with you for a lifetime. The themes of relationships, every day life and the portraits of towns in the Midwest and East Coast depicted on the album still manage to be relevant today. August came out in the midst of the Grunge revolution which turned rock music on its head, but it still managed to go 7 times platinum within three years of its release.

So you might question its appeal to such a wide audience. This is a question asked by people who either have never listened to the album or who didn’t listen to it fully because they thought it was too “depressing”. While the album as a whole has the feel of melancholy, there are more up-tempo songs that keep the pacing from being bogged down by the existential questions that singer Adam Duritz poses.

Duritz, as a lyricist, paints amazing imagery within just the first few lines of his songs. He also keeps his words vague enough to be universal while managing to exercise his own demons in the process. Take for example the first line of the opening track and the second single release from the album “Round Here” which I’ve always considered to be about being stuck in a small town. “Step out the front door like a ghost into a fog, where no one notices the contrast of white on white.” When you’re a teenager those words sum up the invisibility you feel in society. This is especially true if you don’t fit in with a particular group at school.

Whenever I listen to the second song “Omaha” my thoughts are attached to a specific memory from being 21. Blonde girl, hot body, Stars and Stripes bikini. I went to a strip club when I lived in Las Vegas and there was a dancer that got nude to this song. While it may speak of something completely different, it always reminds me that sometimes the things we want in life are limited to a ‘You can look, but don’t touch” scenario. “Sit on your hands, now squeeze. That is the only ass you’re going to grabbing tonight.” Who knew strippers could be so witty?

The album’s third track, and the first single that was released by the band, “Mr. Jones” was played pretty regularly for a few years after it first came out. Oddly (now that I think about it) it is one of the more uptempo songs on the album. I’m not sure what mental imagery I attached to this song back in the 90’s but as I’ve aged this song speaks of your good friends and the plans you made back before life was filled with responsibilities like bills and children. A lot of big ideas about what you were going to be or do in life were pushed to the side by the need to hold a normal job and survive. I think the last line sums it up nicely “Mr. Jones and me, we’re gonna be big stars.”

One thing that I notice about this album is that it seems to age with you. While the songs made sense in an immediate social context of high school and the slightly larger context of living in a small town in my teens, the songs meanings themselves have changed for me over the years.

A line from the movie “High Fidelity” comes to mind to best illustrate how the album represented my 20’s. “We were frightened of being left alone for the rest of our lives. Only people of a certain disposition are frightened of being alone for the rest of their lives at the age of 26, and we were of that disposition.” For me this was basically how I felt from 23-26. At that time I had just been in a very serious relationship and committed to becoming a father to four children that weren’t mine (but I continue to be a father to this day) and had it all end.

The sorrow in some of the albums tracks managed to convey the feeling of hopelessness and depression that I suffered in my mid-twenties. Songs like the mid album tracks “Perfect Blue Buildings”, “Anna Begins”, “Time and Time Again”, and “Sullivan Street” spoke in words and music how I was feeling inside. Lines like “It’s 4:30 AM on a Tuesday, It doesn’t get much worse than this” spoke to my sleeplessness and longing for that which was lost.

I have to take a second here and mention the sequencing of songs on this album. As I stated earlier, a lot of people tend to think that this album is depressing, however, this is where the placement of songs is important in the context of the album as a whole. The album clustered three or four of the slower tempo songs together, but just when you think you might want to turn the album off, a more uptempo song comes on. “Mr. Jones” and “Rain King” bookend three of the mid-album slow songs. The same is true on the latter half of the album as “Rain King” and “A Murder of One” bookend “Sullivan Street”, “Ghost Train”, and “Raining in Baltimore”.

It is my opinion that this album speaks to the questioning that we do in life regardless of the stage of it we are in. ‘Where am I?’ ‘Is this where I want to be?’ ‘Where do I fit in?’ Most of us take the time every 10 years or so and take stock of our lives. We ask these questions at different times but often when we feel restless, trapped, or even if we are comfortable in our current place but feel like we can do better. In the ever constant changing society that we live in we are always looking for something better, something that could be life changing.

With the emphasis on the “Me” that we have moved to since we became an increasingly less tribe minded society we are always searching for what we can do or become that is better than what we are currently. We have went from a ‘Mid-life Crisis’ to a ‘Mid-decade Crisis’ society. This is where the closing track “A Murder of One” is so important in my mind.

Since my first ‘mid-decade crisis’ I have always listened to this song and taken a look at the life I am living at that moment. Is it as good as it will get? Should I be be happy with this or can I become or do something greater and greater for whom? Without the constant want or desire to be better, at your job, at being a parent, at being a human, we become stagnated in our lives and ultimately miserable.

“Open up your eyes, you can see the flames, of your wasted life, you should be ashamed”. While these lines may be considered negative at first reading, it really is a ‘glass half empty/half full’ statement. Depending on where you are in life it can be a condemnation of your actions or a rally cry to change. Consequently, that is the last word of the song repeated over and over, “Change”.

August and Everything After is a collection of songs that, for this writer, are ones that keep moving forward with me and are reinterpreted in the context of my life as I age. Some albums take you to a place in your younger days that you miss and like to remember, but the benefit of the past is that it can always been viewed with a rose colored filter. The best albums and songs, the ones that refuse to age, are the ones that age with you and bring new meaning with each new year and each new listen.

Until next time, keep listening…

90’s Albums That Refuse to Age: Part 6

90’s Albums That Refuse to Age Part 6

Albums: Ray of LightRay_of_Light_Madonna

Artist: Madonna

Release Year: 1998

This entry in the series will probably throw some people off since every one so far has been on a grunge or rock album, but when it comes to pop albums that stand the test of time this one is probably one of the best.

When it comes to dance and pop genre’s music, it is often linear and can become dated very quickly as the record companies saturate the market with the “Next version of [insert hit act here]”, but Madonna’s 1998 offering manages to not peg itself in any specific era because the combination of dance/techno/trip-hop/electronica sounds fits in with any of these genres today. While the “big thing” in this end of the spectrum these days is Dubstep and EDM, almost all dance and electronic music is still strong in the musical landscape and conscious.

Few people can tap into the next wave of music and end up being on the forefront of the movement like Madonna can. Ray of Light is the first record by Madonna that I consider a “real” album. The subject content is more serious than her previous efforts and long gone are her purely sexual driven songs and nasal-y vocals that predominated the 1980’s and early 1990’s material.

The combination of melody and tempo of this album is what makes it continually listenable. While there are upbeat and quick tempo’ed songs like the title track, a good portion of it is more chill. This is an album you can read a book and drink a beer to. The album starts off with a “intro” of sorts with “Drowned World/Substitute for Love” and brings the tempo up moderately with “Swim” and then kicks it up to the danceability of the title track.

I often skip “Candy Perfume Girl” because it is really the only track on this album that doesn’t do anything for me. Moving on “Skin” is a song that builds well from the subtle and hypnotic beginning words “Do I know you from somewhere..” to the quick tempo frenetic ending.

Next you have two mid-tempo ‘chill’ tracks “Nothing Really Matters” and “Sky Fits Heaven” that are good to space out to and absorb the beats. These two songs segue into “Shanti/Ashtangi” which is a somewhat out of place song on this album. The song is a rhythmic chant track that hints at Madonna’s changing religious beliefs at the time.

This is followed up by three of (in my opinion) the best songs of the album, “Frozen”, “The Power of Goodbye”, and “To Have and Not to Hold” which, on the surface, seem like songs of love and loss. However, upon further listen and study you find deeper meanings within the songs that extend beyond the bounds of romantic love. The final two songs “Little Star” and “Mer Girl” are more down tempo than the rest and speak parental love and childhood innocence.

While Ray of Light is not as highly praised as a lot of Madonna’s earlier work, I consider this the defining album of her career. Madonna has always had a great ear for pop sensibilities and an eye towards the future of music and this album combined both into a great album that doesn’t age. While some albums in the individual genre’s showcased on this album can be dated, the combination of all of their elements make this album timeless.

Don’t believe me? Give it a listen! Don’t agree with me? Comments (as always) are welcome.

Album Cover Attribution:

By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43344417

’90s Albums That Refuse to Age: Part 5

Deftones_-_Around_the_Fur

Album: Around the Fur

Artist: Deftones

Release Year: 1997

While this is a relatively late ’90’s album, the music still holds up today. Being just shy of 20 years old (it was released in October of 1997) I believe it still can be certified as “Fresh.” This, the second of the Defones’ albums, shows a band in transition from the early songwriting heard on the band’s debut Adrenaline to what would become a more expansive and signature sound that would begin on 2000’s White Pony.

Around the Fur still showcases the heavy guitar that was part of the early sound but has been sacrificed in the following albums in lieu of the more atmospheric approach that the band has become known for. While I don’t listen to all of their albums with the same level of enjoyment, I never get tired of listening to Around the Fur. The album has everything that a hard rock/metal head could want. Heaviness, melodic vocals, dynamics and groove.

This album was really the first album by the Deftones that I ever listened to (I went back and listened to the debut album after being introduced to the music by my brother) and it managed to create a strong connection to the music on the album. Much like our first love, some music we just never can let go or forget and this album circles through my playlists on a semi-regular basis. The experience of re-listening to the album after a short period of time is always a good one.

The musical elements combine to help the album remain fresh to me even in the landscape of today’s heavy music. As mentioned earlier the guitars are still heavy on this album, but Abe Cunningham’s off-time drum patterns and Chi Cheng’s solid bass hold down the tracks while Chino Moreno’s enigmatic lyrics weave counter-melody to the mix. The quiet/loud dynamics of most of the songs is akin to the dynamics of songs by the Pixies and allows the band to establish their hooks and grooves and then hit with the memorable choruses in a way that keeps the momentum moving forward.

The vocals on this album were a step forward from the debut in that Moreno starts to expand and showcase his vocal ability. Many people prefer lyrics that are obvious and to the point, but no matter what Chino is signing about on this album, it is the delivery that matters more than the message. Often, great art is misunderstood and in the case of the lyrics of this album, it goes beyond the ability to be applicable to a number of different scenarios to the point of not being applicable to any scenario.

The dynamics on the album, in terms of track sequencing, is also an important factor to why this album remains new sounding and helps it age well. While the album starts hard with “My Own Summer (Shove it)” the second track “Lhabia” slows down the album dynamic with an almost ‘plodding’ pace. This moves to the groove heavy “Mascara” before bringing the pace back with the title track. The album manages to repeat this dynamic process without making itself boring.

Around the Fur managed not to date itself to the era of Rap/metal by following the tenets of the genre such as rapped vocals or hip hop beats. While the Deftones are considered one of the grandfathers of the “Nu Metal” genre, they have managed to distance themselves from the label almost entirely by continuing to progress to a sound that is signature to the band but never gets stagnant to the listener.

Some of the notable tracks on the album are the two singles, album opener “My Own Summer (Shove It)” and “Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)”. Both are still pretty timeless in their heaviness and groove. You can still rock out and head bob to these songs and not get the feeling that they belong to an era that has long since passed in music.

Some of my favorite tracks are “Mascara” with it’s slow groove and the title track (incidentally two songs that are sequenced one after the other). Other songs on the album that require a mention for their listenability are “Dai the Flu”, “Headup” and “MX.” Really that pretty much covers the entire album. There really isn’t one bad track and as I mentioned before, the sequencing is really key to this album’s greatness.

 

With Around the Fur the Deftones may not have been where the needed to be yet. They would get to that point on the White Pony album which followed ‘Fur by three years. Around the Fur stands as a testament to the band because it showcases the potential songwriting ability of the group that would later come to define their music. Regardless of the shifts in the soundscape that they have taken in the almost 20 years since its release this album serves as a milestone of a band coming out of its diapers and into the big boy world of songwriting.

Have an opinion or favorite song on the album too? Comments are always welcome!

 

 

90’s Albums That Refuse to Age: Part 4

I wrote this a few months back, but after hearing the news this morning of Chris Cornell’s passing I want to re-post in honor of his memory and to celebrate his gift. May he rest well among the stars.

Album: Temple of the Dogtempleofthedog

Artist: Temple of the Dog

Release Date: April 16, 1991

I went back and forth on which album to write about in the fourth installment of this series. There are so many good albums that could go on this list, but I wanted to write about one that isn’t quite as obvious as others. This train of thought brought me to the Temple of the Dog album because it was a monumental album, but it is often overshadowed by the members success in their later careers.

This one off album was recorded in Seattle in 1990 as a tribute to Mother Love Bone singer Andrew Wood who died of an overdose earlier in the year. Chris Cornell, the singer for the project, was Wood’s roommate and had written a collection of songs both before an after Woods’ death that were included on the album.

Temple of the Dog is a notable album not only because the musicians playing would later form two of Seattle’s biggest grunge acts (Soundgarden and Pearl Jam) but it is also the first appearance of Eddie Vedder who would later front Pearl Jam. I feel this album really set out a template for grunge songs in the early era, especially with the more the bands that were more rock orientated.

This, however, does not cause it to be dated to the era in which it was written and recorded. The album still sounds fresh in comparison with many bands today that inhabit the “Hard rock/Rock” section of the musical spectrum. Some people would question whether Chris Cornell’s voice is “timeless” or not, but I think because of his abilities he manages to transcend the grunge era because people still appreciate a wide vocal range and, more importantly, the very specific vocal style that is associated with him.

The album opens with two tracks that Cornell had written as tribute to Andrew Wood. “Say Hello 2 Heaven” talks of coming to terms with the death of a close friend while “Reach Down” was a tribute to Wood’s onstage abilities. The third song “Hunger Strike”, as mentioned earlier, showcases a duet with Cornell and Vedder and makes a political statement about wealth inequality that was a result of President Reagan’s “trickle down” economics which were still being felt in the slow economy of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.

While these three songs are probably the most well known from the collection, there are number of notable songs that were deeper cuts. “Pushing Forward Back” is a rocker that could have easily fit on any Soundgarden album in the pre-Superunknown era or even the first Pearl Jam album 10. “Call Me a Dog” is a solid slow bluesy number that reflects on the dynamics of friendships and relationships (such as an unrequited love). Another notable track is “Wooden Jesus”, the percussion led track pushes the song forward while Cornell sings about the questioning of salvation in a capitalist society that is obsessed with wealth and material belongings.
While these are my observations on the meanings of the songs they are written (as often songs are) to be applied to many different situations. One of the many things that makes this album relevant and fresh is the diversity of the tempo and topics of the songs. We like to believe that we have moved forward as a society in the past 25+ years, but listening to the topics and social observations within the lyrics of an album like Temple of the Dog it becomes pretty clear that a number of things are still the same as they were at the time the album was written.

Recently the album was released as a 25th anniversary deluxe edition where improved audio and extra tracks were included. As well as an edition containing concert footage from the original tour, occasional one off performances of the material, and two songs that were recorded live in 2015.

I recommend anybody who remembers this album to give it another listen. It is still very enjoyable and relevant to the times. Anybody who is unfamiliar with the album (possibly because you weren’t born yet) I highly urge you to seek out the album and listen to it, you will not be disappointed.

As always, comments are welcome.