In March we posted an article on early 90’s CD’s covering the years 1990-1993, we thought it would be a great idea to continue the series, this time covering the mid 90’s. As we said before big chain stores are getting out of the CD game but for us, the days of buying a new CD and listening to the whole thing were pretty damn cool. So let’s open up that jewel case and discuss some of our favorite CD’s that we are relistening to.
The same gist as our first post, my CD’s have been long ago packed away and just now going through and rediscovering them. I have to admit, it definitely brought back memories of those days and also that there is some music I am missing out on.
Insomniac – Green Day (1995)
When I was looking through my CD’s to figure out what I was going to take “out of the box” I had Green Day’s Dookie in my hands and the plan was to go with that. Then I saw Insomniac and off the top of my head outside of “Brain Stew” couldn’t remember another song by name. So I decided to relisten to this one. Green Day came onto the scene in 1994 with the single “Longview” I was completely awed by it and bought the CD immediately. I loved Dookie and ran out and bought their two independent label albums as well. I didn’t have to wait long for their second major release as Insomniac was released in 1995. I loved it but didn’t think at the time it was as strong as Dookie. I never bought another Green Day CD again. I liked a song here and there, “J.A.R.”, “Minority” but could not stand the schmaltzy graduation song “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” and “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”. They obvious got older and tried to write with more maturity. So popping in Insomniac I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it again. It’s solid all the way through. It starts strong with the pulsating “Armatage Shanks” and pounds the chords all the way to “Walking Contradiction” both songs are on my current playlist, along with the single “Geek Stink Breath”. Honestly, I like Insomniac better than Dookie. They are very similar not much growth between the two but its hits are better and same for the album tracks. “Stuart and the Avenue” with it’s F-bomb laden chorus has a great energy. The combination of “Brain Stew” and “Jaded” is pure punk. On “Panic Song” singing doesn’t kick in until 2 minutes of a 3 and half minute song and it works. It’s a riveting energetic 33 minutes of music.
Bonus: “Babs Uvula Who?” is a strange title for a song but it comes from an SNL sketch in the 70’s featuring Gilda Radner and Chevy Chase.
MG: I’m pretty sure I bought Insomniac when it came out, but either way I no longer have it on disc, which is unfortunate. There are some great tracks on here – have always loved “Minority” and “Walking Contradiction”. I’d have to give it another listen, but I may agree with you that it’s better than Dookie.
Sixteen Stone – Bush (1994)
Bush is for some reason a band that often gets dissed, similar to Nickelback. In the middle of grunge and college alt-rock, Bush put out a couple strong rock albums. I admit I haven’t listened to their debut Sixteen Stone in many years. I would have guessed it was still probably pretty good and it is. It still rocks. For an English band, it does have an element of Grunge to it. It had five huge singles, “Everything Zen”, “Little Things”, “Comedown”, “Glycerine” and “Machinehead”. “Comedown” was a huge song for me personally and came at a time when something was unraveling but I wasn’t quite ready to come off of that cloud so to speak. “Machinehead” is still blistering and shows up at many sporting events and on many television programs with its heavy opening guitar riff. It’s still one of my favorites tunes to use to get pumped up for something, you know like mowing the lawn. The nonsingle tracks are great too. The over deliberate lyrics to “Swim” is aggressive. My favorite track on the disc is “Alien”, it’s quieter and more plaintive than the rest. The end chorus “I’m an Alien, I’m an Alien, it’s beautiful rain, beautiful rain…” is majestic. The musicianship on this song is their best. Bush never followed this promise of greatness up. Razorblade Suitcase is a good album as well with a couple of great songs, “Greedy Fly” and “Swallowed”. After that, I really only know “The Chemicals Between Us” so maybe it’s me and perhaps I need to check out their other work. Nothing will touch their debut though, every song makes sense and I didn’t want to skip any of the tracks.
Bonus: Bush actually just put out a new album last year, called Black and White Rainbows which signifies they are not done making music.
MG: I never got why Bush got the “Nickleback”- style reputation either. They had a good run of hits – some of which were overplayed so much I still haven’t recovered. But it’s not their fault everyone loved their singles and the airwaves responded. I was temped to say I miss “pop rock”, but more accurately, I miss when true rock was popular and a regular part of the top 40.
If I Were a Carpenter – Various Artists (1994)
The 90’s seem to have had an explosion of compilation albums that were not just movie based, there was No Alternative, Sweet Relief, Saturday Morning Cartoons, Schoolhouse Rock Rocks!, and many more. I either bought or heard just about all of them. This one was a tribute to The Carpenters, who had a ton of soft rock hits in the 70’s. This disc has a slew of 90’s artists who were itching to break out. Some had already, the Cranberries and Sheryl Crow for instance. I bought this solely based on Sonic Youth’s amazing take on “Superstar”. As I mentioned before sometimes I bought CD’s based off one song. At least with this album, I knew the rest of the songs as a kid. Relistening to it after all these years, I remembered how good it is. The Carpenters were labeled soft rock, it wasn’t really cool to like them. I wasn’t a fan. Karen Carpenter had a great voice but the songs were very soft. Very few compilation albums including soundtracks are solid all the way through but this one is. Hats off to producers Matt Wallace and Dave Knojoyan for being able to take soft pop hits and making them rock. The other big element is the songs, well-written songs despite the medium are still well-written songs. Most of these songs were not written by Richard Carpenter but legends like Carole King, Paul Williams, and Leon Russell. I only had “Superstar” and “Let Me Be the One” by Matthew Sweet on my iPod rotation. Listening to it after all these years I realized how great these songs are. “It’s Going to Take Some Time” by Dishwalla is electric. The Carpenter’s version of Klaatu’s “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft” reimagined by Babes In Toyland is just weird fun. The other real standout is Cracker’s “Rainy Days and Mondays” which is even slower than the original. David Lowery belts out a mellow passionate beautiful song. A highly recommended album that may be fading into obscurity.
Bonus: Richard Carpenter hated Sonic Youth’s “Superstar”, you be the judge:
MG: You kind of lost me on this one. I have never been a Carpenters fan either, although their Christmas tunes are fine, and have only a vague recollection of “Superstar”. It seemed like there were a ton of tribute albums in the 90’s though – the Elton John/Bernie Taupin (Two Rooms), Cole Porter (Red, Hot and Blue) and Led Zeppelin (Encomium) albums come to mind.
The mid-90’s were the high times for “alternative rock”, which was such a blend of sub-genres and various influences to rock – grunge, punk, metal, pop, etc. I was buying CD’s like crazy – even going to places like Newbury Comics at midnight for CD release events. I miss the frequent trips to Boston to peruse the many record stores, both new and used, for rarities, imports, CD-singles, and whatnot. I better stop there before getting too far down nostalgia lane. Here are some mid-90’s discs I’ve rediscovered in my collection in recent years.
Pearl Jam – Vitalogy (1994)
One of our loyal blog readers is a huge Pearl Jam fan, so I’m happy to finally get around to writing about the band. I played the crap out of Ten and Vs. in the early 90’s, perhaps to a point where I may have started to suffer burnout. I was still excited for the release of Vitalogy, and I believe it was the subject of one of those midnight release event purchases, but for whatever reason, it didn’t catch on with me as much as the first two albums. Part of the problem too, was that I was so smitten with Soundgarden’s Superunknown, released the same year, that Pearl Jam got a bit pushed aside. So when I went back and gave this album another listen, I was a bit surprised at how good it was. Maybe I associated it too much with the overplayed “Better Man”, because I was jolted by how rocking the record is. The intro, “Last Exit”, gets things started off with some great guitar-work, leading into the first single – the intense, hard-driving “Spin the Black Circle”. “Not For You” was Vedder’s kiss-off to the music industry and what he saw as exploitation of the fans by Ticketmaster and the other entities that he saw as ripping off young people buying his music. “Nothingman” is the first time the album slows down a bit, but then kicks back into high gear with “Whipping” – a great tune to let out some pent-up emotions. I don’t want to go song-by-song, but want to add that “Corduroy” is one of my favorite Vedder vocals. Yes, this is followed by the rather odd “Bugs”, and there are a few other weird/experimental bits, but overall this is a solid album that I realize now is right up there with their first two.
DJ: I can’t fully buy into this one. The experimental stuff, “Pry, To” and “Bugs” for instance make it a tough listen all the way through. I do still like “Better Man” that I would have bet was on Vs. It’s not a terrible album, and I had forgotten about “Corduroy” and “Nothingman”. “Whipping” is in my top 10 go to songs when I want to smash something.
Better Than Ezra – Deluxe (1995)
Better Than Ezra feels like a band that is on the verge of being forgotten – copies of their CD’s getting passed over even in the $1 bin at the flea market. For some reason, I feel like the rock purists out there dismiss/ed this band, for whatever reason, but Deluxe, their debut album, features a number of well-crafted modern pop-rock tunes that are worth a listen. Those that remember this band probably recall their major hit “Good”, which reached #1 on the “Modern Rock Tracks” chart, and #17 on the Mainstream Top 40. However, despite two additional singles that charted, most people now think of this band as a “one hit wonder”, which is unfortunate. What struck me about listening to this full album again was how complete it was. I kept expecting to have to skip a track, but triple-threat writer, vocalist, and guitarist Kevin Griffin crafted a full album of songs worth listening to. Musically, it’s competent if not interesting, although I did like the use of the strings on “The Killer Inside” – sort of a ballad despite the menacing title. A few songs have heavier themes (such as “Rosealia” about domestic abuse) but even those tracks avoid delving into the “dark angst” that was prevalent in some 90’s music. The tone is upbeat and it’s an album I can listen to in almost any mood or setting. Their follow-up album “Friction Baby” is not quite as solid all the way through, but has some great tracks as well.
DJ: Talk about an underrated album. I still love this disc and listen to it often. I like every single song except maybe the untitled track. It’s really a beautiful album and about as close to country rock I will get. I thought about writing about this but I still listen to it. I wish they would have fulfilled the promise of this disc.
MG: I never thought of it as being close to country rock, but now that you mention it, I know what you are saying. I’d characterize it more as “southern rock” influences, but perhaps that is the same thing.
Soundgarden – Down on The Upside (1996)
I still find it tough to think about Chris Cornell taking his own life. It’s so hard to understand why, but I suppose that’s the frustrating mystery of mental illness. As I mentioned earlier, Superunknown was far-and-away my favorite album of the 90’s, and that’s saying something considering how much great music came out in that decade. Thus it was almost impossible for the follow-up album to measure up, and indeed, while I initially liked four or five of the songs on Down On The Upside, I eventually stopped reaching for it when I wanted to listen to Soundgarden (choosing either Badmotorfinger or Superunknown). I’ve realized going back and listening to albums that sometimes the greatness of a certain album(s) can make you not spend enough time with the rest of their catalog. While I still feel that Down on the Upside has a weaker second half, I found more great tracks on here than I thought there were. Listings 1-7 make a really solid album on their own – starting with the one-two punch of the first single “Pretty Noose” and my album-favorite “Rhinosaur”. Songs 6 and 7 – “Burden In My Hand” and “Blow Up The Outside World” – were overplayed on alternative radio, and it was good to get some distance from that time so I could re-appreciate them. Like I said, after these two tracks the album gets spotty, but I enjoy Cornell’s vocals throughout and guitarist Kim Thayil always keeps it interesting musically. I only wish I could have caught them in concert.
DJ: I am not sure I listened to this completely when I bought it. It definitely feels like their most commercial album. “Rhinosaur” is pretty good and all the singles are listen friendly. As I get older I think I appreciate their earlier albums more. I will say “Blow Up the Outside World” is one of my favorite overall songs and the go-to for driving home from work in a rage.