Over the course of the last few months, I’ve been thinking of whether or not to follow up on this series. It’s hard to follow up on what I personally consider one of the best years for alternative rock in the 80s in terms of musicianship, quality, consistency and creativity. On a more personal note, it’s also hard to follow up having a positive and stellar year when nearly your entire circle of friends has left for greener college pastures. Regardless, I did my damnedest to remain as positive as I could; I still had the other friends in my year and younger.
In retrospect this makes me sound rather shallow, and I suppose it does in a way. My connection to the just-graduated gang had been a deep and close one that I hadn’t had previously, and I suppose their moving on affected me more than I’d expected. I suddenly found myself going from ‘part of the gang’ to flying solo (or almost solo), and it took me a long time to get used to that.
Regardless, I still had college radio and 120 Minutes to fall back on. Plus, I was on the final circuit towards the end of my high school career, and it was time for me to find myself and shine somehow.
The Darling Buds, Pop Said…, released January 1989. If there’s anything I noticed about 1989, is that it seemed to have a more pop sheen to it. Not in the ridiculous plastic way that permeated the mid-80s pop scene, but in a fun, free-for-all way. This was thanks to multiple scenes in the UK kicking off the party culture that soon became known as Britpop. The Buds, coming from South Wales, brought in a sparkly indie-pop sound that caught the ears of many a fan.
Love and Rockets, “Motorcycle”/”I Feel Speed” single, released 3 January 1989. Meanwhile, the trio once known for its dreamy psychedelic indie rock over the last four years suddenly changed pace and delivered a growling punch of raucous surf rock about singer Daniel Ash’s love of motorcycles. The b-side “I Feel Speed” is a gorgeous dreamlike interpretation of the song done almost entirely on David J’s bass.
Throwing Muses, Hunkpapa, released 23 January 1989. The last album featuring bassist Leslie Langston, this outing was much more pop-oriented than their previous records, providing a college radio favorite with “Dizzy”.
New Order, Technique, released 30 January 1989. While not as brilliant as Low Life or Brotherhood, it’s nonetheless a solid album featuring some of their best hybrid sound of synth and guitar. It’s also quite melodic compared to some of their earlier records.
Morrissey, “The Last of the Famous International Playboys” single, released 31 January 1989. An absurd yet catchy ode to the Reggie and Ronnie Kray, London’s most famous (and infamous) mobsters of current history. It was the first of numerous non-album songs Morrissey would drop over the course of the next decade. Also a song and video that surprised many: it features three other ex-Smiths (Andy Rourke on bass, Mike Joyce on drums, and tour guitarist Craig Gannon), briefly firing up rumors of a sort-of Smiths reunion.
The Replacements, Don’t Tell a Soul, released 7 February 1989. Paul Westerberg and Co followed up 1987’s fantastic Pleased to Meet Me with an album that sounds like maybe they sobered up a titch and started writing more solidly and melodically. They’re older and perhaps a bit wiser at this point.
Fine Young Cannibals, The Raw and the Cooked, released 20 February 1989. The trio’s second (and so far final) album was a big hit across the board, both on pop and modern rock charts, thanks to its lead-off single “She Drives Me Crazy”. It also had quite a memorable video (choreographed and directed by Phillippe Decouflé, whose only other music video was the equally memorable “True Faith” for New Order).
XTC, Oranges and Lemons, released 27 February 1989. Perhaps partly inspired by their side project The Dukes of Stratosphear, whose records were a straight-up 60s psychedelic rock pastiche, this record blended those psych tendencies with lovely pastoral sounds and catchy pop tunes.
Indigo Girls, Indigo Girls, released 28 February 1989. Their second album (and first for a major label) was a stellar folk-rock record that gained them a huge following, and major airplay on both college and commercial stations with their hit “Closer to Fine.” It’s an amazing album from start to finish and a must for anyone’s collection.
Robyn Hitchcock, Queen Elvis, released March 1989. His follow-up to the fan favorite Globe of Frogs — and named after one of his songs that would appear on 1990’s solo record Eye — is full of beautiful and introspective songs, yet still peppered with his trademark eclectic wit. It’s my personal favorite of his 80s output.
De La Soul, Three Feet High and Rising, released 3 March 1989. Goofy, fun, and relentlessly creative, it’s a blast to listen to with its positivity and humor. Thirty years later and they’re still going strong with new records and high-profile appearances, including Gorillaz’s ace track “Feel Good Inc.”
Depeche Mode, 101, released 11 March 1989. Their first live album is a two-record sprawl of their biggest recorded at the Pasadena Rose Bowl (the 101st and last show on a their Music for the Masses Tour with Erasure and Wire). While the songs may not be all that different from their studio versions, they deliver a great show nonetheless.
The Stone Roses, The Stone Roses, released 13 March 1989. Meanwhile, the long-simmering sound of Manchester — brought to the fore previously by The Smiths and New Order, among numerous others — finally exploded internationally with a guitar-heavy rock dance beat that blew everyone away and inspired and influenced so many others for years to come and laid the ground for the classic 90s Britpop sound.
Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Dress for Excess, released 31 March 1989 (US). Okay, so perhaps this record didn’t inspire or influence anyone at all, but it’s still a fun album. It’s not as blissfully chaotic as 1986’s Flaunt It, but in the process they sound so much more professional, perhaps a bit more serious as a band. Lead single “Success” was a deliberate plan in that direction, hiring hit UK producers Stock Aitken Waterman to make their sound as slick as possible. Bonus points for writing and recording an absolutely gorgeous album closer in the form of the dystopian ballad “Is This the Future?”, still one of my all-time favorite tracks of theirs.
More to come soon!