Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Albums of the Year by Decade-Part Three (1994-1995)

1994: Kids like Punk! Sid Vicious Spins in Grave!
Grammy Winner: MTV Unplugged: Tony Bennett
Grammy Deserver: Smash- Offspring

Damn you Grammys… Damn you to HELL! For so many years you have picked the old, tired, ‘lifetime achievement’ style picks over the music that was really fueling the hearts and minds of the nation. Because of this, I couldn’t be LESS surprised at the pick of Tony Bennett’s unplugged over say, Nirvana’s unplugged effort (which would have been a suitable ‘the artist is dead’ pick) or even some Tupac… It’s not my bag, but throw the kids a bone will you! No, instead you not only make the safe choice, but in doing so, you ruined Tony Bennett for me… I never saw Bennett on the same level as any of the Rat Pack, but at least before your decision to inflate his ego, he was a charming side act… From the spring of 1995 to about the end of 1996, throw a stick and you’d hit Tony Bennett… The guy was EVERYWHERE… That’s on you Grammys… Sadly, I know you won’t learn from your mistake… By the way, if you’re thinking to yourself, well, the Grammys has a series of rock categories, I’m SURE they made up for this travesty there, throwing some much deserved hardware to the younger set, well, you’d be wrong… Sure, Green Day got props for Dookie in relatively new ‘Alternative’ category, and Soundgarden got props for best ‘Hard Rock’ and ‘Metal’ songs with ‘Black Hole Sun’ and ‘Spoonman’ (which is decidedly NOT metal) respectively, but the other rock awards went to the likes of Melissa Etheridge, Bruce Springsteen, Aerosmith, The Allman Brothers (YES, in 1994), and The Rolling Stones… Anyway, on to things that matter…

Yup, I'm Old

If you listen very quietly, you can hear the last ragged breaths of Grunge Rock just after the plug was pulled… Two things killed Grunge Rock. The first and most obvious was Kurt Cobain’s suicide at the begging of April 1994, but almost as important was Pearl Jam’s release of Vitalogy in December of the same year complete with coast to coast media blitz, simultaneous full-album on air radio broadcasts, and a release timed perfectly for Christmas shoppers. The obvious studio marketing machine was such the antithesis to everything Grunge was it was hard not to label Eddie and the boys sell outs. Personally, that doesn’t bother me in the least. Talented artists deserve to get showered with fame and fortune, provided they put out a good product, and Vitalogy was not a good product.

No worries though, the California neo-punk wave had finally crested over the rest of the nation with hit albums from Green Day, Offspring, NOFX, and Blink 182. Was punk the new Grunge, or was industrial? Nine Inch Nails released The Downward Spiral to massive audiences, prompting MTV to dig deep in their vaults and dust off the Head Like a Hole video from their first release Pretty Hate Machine (Which was technically released in 1989, so I didn’t miss it in the 1990 run down…), giving it far more airplay that it had received at the time of release 5 years previous. Other hard edged club bands also hit the scene as NIN vaulted to commercial respectability with first timers Marilyn Manson and The Prodigy giving the teen angst set a whole new set of music with which to piss off their parents.

That's one pissed off duck...

Punk and Industrial were not the only flavors of rock in ’94. Women were still rocking with Tori releasing her second album Under The Pink, Liz Phair also giving a go at a second record with Whip-Smart, Veruca Salt putting out a very good album American Thighs, and Portishead scoring an underground hit with Dummy. The most obvious trend in rock music across 1994 was a harder edge. While many of 1993’s hit albums were more introspective and lyric driven, the best way to sell an album in 1994 was by finding anything that would make loud noises, and committing it to tape.

This brings us to the 1994 Grammy deserver, a band that scores extra points in MY book because they represent my homeland, Orange County, California. Prior to the release of Smash, not too many people outside of the Huntington Beach club scene had ever heard of The Offspring. They had put out a national release the prior year, but did not see much in the way of sales. Luckily, when their 1994 release rolled around, MTV took pity on them and threw some videos on the air. If the music industry from 1980 through 1995 taught us anything, it’s that MTV dictates what sells, and The Offspring finally received the support their work deserved. Hard rocking power chords, simple lyric sets, plenty of anger driven rock anthems, and just enough political edge to keep them from sounding trite, Offspring (who dropped the ‘The’ sometime between this album and the next) were a cornerstone of the new punk rock scene. A quick note on Green Day’s hugely successful release Dookie. This was also a big, big album in the formation of the new punk movement, and Green Day were certainly the poster boys of this trend in music. Personally however, I feel this is only their 3rd or 4th best release, and honestly, so much of it was crammed down my throat for so long I just can’t listen to most of the releases off the record anymore without being angry that pop radio ruined the tunes for me by overplaying them. It’s a petty and weak excuse, but I never claimed to be strong willed…

Other releases of note:
Under The Pink- Tori Amos; Jar of Flies- Alice in Chains; Too High to Die- Meat Puppets; Dookie- Green Day; Motorcade of Generosity- Cake; Cheshire Cat- Blink 182; Mellow Gold- Beck; The Downward Spiral- Nine Inch Nails; Superunknown- Soundgarden; Vauxhall and I- Morrissey; Naveed- Our Lady Peace; The Crow Soundtrack- Various Artists; The Division Bell- Pink Floyd; The Divine Comedy- Milla Jovovich; Smash- Offspring; Live Through This- Hole; Parklife- Blur; Throwing Copper- Live; Weezer (Blue Album)- Weezer; Ill Communication- The Beastie Boys; Purple (12 Gracious Melodies)- Stone Temple Pilots; Music for the Jilted Generation- The Prodigy; Portrait of an American Family- Marilyn Manson; Punk in Drublic- NOFX; Maybe You Should Drive- Bare Naked Ladies; Stranger Than Fiction- Bad Religion; Definitely Maybe- Oasis; Four- Blues Traveler; Whip-Smart- Liz Phair; Under The Table and Dreaming- Dave Mathews Band; Monster- REM; American Thighs- Veruca Salt; Pulp Fiction Soundtrack- Various Artists; Korn- Korn; No Quarter- Jimmy Page & Robert Plant; The Return of the Space Cowboy- Jamiroquai; Dummy- Portishead; MTV Unplugged: Nirvana- Nirvana; Sixteen Stone- Bush; Vitalogy- Pearl Jam

1995: Who Hijacked the Grammys? Am I going to have to delete this entire post series? They FINALLY made a good choice!!
Grammy Winner: Jagged Little Pill- Alanis Morrisette
Grammy Deserver: (No offense to Alanis) King- Belly

It’s feeling awfully warm and fuzzy in here… Congrats Grammys on giving me a reason not to hate you… Unfortunately I’m blessed with the benefit of knowing what NEXT years Album Of The Year will be, and here’s a spoiler… It’s NOT good… Alanis’ Jagged Little Pill deserves every bit of praise and adoration heaped upon it. I can’t say enough about how great this album is, but I won’t, because if I start agreeing with The Grammys, this is going to be a very short post, and if this website has taught you ANYTHING, it’s that I don’t like short posts…

For that reason, and the fact I hate to agree with people, I’ll go against Grammy wisdom, even in the one year where they got it right. For purely selfish reasons, and because I think the world would be a better place if everyone owned this album, I’m going to go with King by Belly as my Grammy deserver for 1995. Belly had previously released the album Star, which was actually a pretty big success. They scored radio hits with Slow Dog, Feed The Tree, and Gepetto, but then they made the fatal mistake of foregoing pop sensibilities, instead giving the people some substance in the place of catchy choruses. That being said, from front to back King is a highly listenable album, not just a lesson in making art. It’s more than the sum of it’s parts, yet each and every song holds up in it’s own right not just as fun music to groove to, but as individual artistic works unto themselves. The genius of Tanya Donelly shines through on each and every track. Unfortunately, critical acclaim aside, the album was a commercial failure, prompting the band to break up after it’s release. If you’re looking for a great piece of music that you probably haven’t heard before, you couldn’t do much better than this one. It’s recordings like this that the term ‘Under Rated’ was meant for.

1995 was certainly the Year of the Woman in rock music. The landscape was riddled with great female performances ranging from the harder edged punk/ska hybrid seen on No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom, to the more cerebral poetic vocals of Jewel on pieces of you. 1995 celebrated women in a way pop and rock music never had before, and it was well deserved. The volume of great albums in 1995 was not quite as high as in ’94 or ’93, but the substance or the recordings is unrivaled… Man… all this nostalgia is making me want to build a 90’s playlist… I’m sure it wouldn’t be any longer than six or seven thousand songs…


Other releases of note:
No Protection- Massive Attack; Pieces of You- Jewel; The Bends- Radiohead; Elastica- Elastica; Above- Mad Season; 100% Fun- Matthew Sweet; Brainbloodvolume- Ned’s Atomic Dustbin; Frogstomp- Silver Chair; Nihil- KMFDM; Astro Creep:2000- White Zombie; Short Bus- Filter; Sparkle and Fade- Everclear; Post- Bjork; Tigerlily- Natalie Merchant; Sleater-Kinney- Sleater-Kinney; Foo Fighters- Foo Fighters; Use Your Fingers- The Bloodhound Gang; Adios Amigos- The Ramones; 311-311; Garbage- Garbage; …And Out Come the Wolves- Rancid; One Hot Minute- Red Hot Chili Peppers; A Change of Seasons- Dream Theater; Outside- David Bowie; Tails- Lisa Loeb; Tragic Kingdom- No Doubt; Hello- Poe; Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness- Smashing Pumpkins; Saturday Morning (Cartoon’s Greatest Hits)- Various Artists

Next time, 1996 & 1997... See how this works? The years go in order, and I write things about them two at a time!

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