Thirty Years On: 1991, Part II

This one’s a long one, kids, even if it is just two months’ worth of music! We’re rolling off right to the end of my sophomore year and already things are changing. I think around this time I’d finally trunked my Infamous War Novel (for the time being, anyway) and started playing around with different story ideas. I’d written a short fun script for a film class, I’d shot the first of a few 8mm films (all of them terrible, btw) and a bizarre home video with a few of my dorm friends (probably my best work at the time, btw), and I’d gotten so much better at guitar and bass playing. And somewhere between all this, I had this crazy little idea about writing a Gen-X novel entitled Two Thousand. Things were indeed changing. Maybe for the better…?

Lenny Kravitz, Mama Said, released 2 April 1991. I remember buying this cassette at Planet Records in Kenmore Square on spec — I’d heard maybe two songs off it — and I was absolutely blown away by how brilliant it was. While his debut Let Love Rule leaned more on the funk and hippie rock, he decided to go full-out Flower Child on this second record. The funk was still there, but the psychedelia was a lot more up front. It’s still my favorite of all his records.

Massive Attack, Blue Lines, released 8 April 1991. When “Unfinished Sympathy” hit the alternative airwaves early that summer, the resounding response was whoa, what is this?? Most people I knew equated techno and electronica with clubs and hi-NRG dance beats, but they’d never heard this kind: moody and atmospheric with much darker tones and lyrics…yet still irresistibly danceable. The Bristol UK trip-hop scene had arrived. [Also, this video was indeed the one that inspired one for the Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony”.]

The Crash Test Dummies, The Ghosts That Haunt Me, released 9 April 1991. A few years before their unexpected hit with “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm”, these Canadians dropped a curiously odd yet heartfelt album of sad folk and clever humor, and had a minor hit with “Superman’s Song”. It’s a lovely record that often gets forgotten.

School of Fish, School of Fish, released 9 April 1991. “3 Strange Days” ended up being the theme song of my first summer away from my hometown. The semester was over, the summer months had begun, and I knew almost no one in town. My college friends had all gone home, and considering this was pre-internet, it wasn’t as if I could chat with anyone else without incurring a ridiculously high phone bill. Strange days indeed, but it also gave me a lot of time to get my shit together. This album, of course, was one of my soundtracks for it.

Fishbone, The Reality of My Surroundings, released 23 April 1991. If I was going to go it alone, I was gonna need some music that I could crank the f*** up when things got tense, and “Sunless Saturday” was the heaviest song on my playlist. The whole album is a wonder of senseless fun, inner city turmoil, pain and injustice, and everything in between. It was Fishbone’s heaviest album to date (both sound and message) and it still blows me away.

Inspiral Carpets, The Beast Inside, 7 May 1991. The Carpets’ second album dispenses with the sixties-influenced pop and leans a lot heavier on the chunky grooves and jams. This is by far one of my favorite Britpop records because of it, by proving they weren’t just a scene or a passing fad with a grindy Farfisa organ.

This Mortal Coil, Blood, released 13 May 1991. The third and final TMC record doesn’t quite capture the reverb-heavy cathedral-like mood of their previous records — the 4AD label had already started expanding past its original signature style — but it still contains some absolutely lovely and tender covers and originals, including Kim Deal and Tanya Donelly’s take on Chris Bell’s “You and Your Sister”.

Curve, Frozen EP, released 13 May 1991. Not that long before the brilliant single “Fait Accompli” and debut album Doppelganger, Curve dropped three solid EPs (later to be collected on 1992’s Pubic Fruit) and the single “Coast Is Clear” that introduced many Americans to their strange yet alluring mix of sultry vocals, rumbling percussion and imposing walls of guitar.

EMF, Schubert Dip, released 14 May 1991. Like Jesus Jones, their hit single (in this case, “Unbelievable”) eclipsed everything else from the record it came from, but this truly is a fun, irresistible and addictive record. It was also the album of the summer, with several singles hitting the WFNX playlist and getting several repeated plays during a weekend trip to Maine with a few high school friends.

The Wonder Stuff, Never Loved Elvis, released 27 May 1991. This third album brought the band in a new direction, toning down the nutty humor of Eight Legged Grove Machine and the too-serious pop of Hup and letting them return to their more folksy roots. This record almost sounds like a Waterboys record, and that’s not a bad thing at all.

Electronic, Electronic, released 28 May 1991. The idea of Bernard Sumner and Johnny Marr recording together sounded like a brilliant plan: two Mancunians with a deep love for guitars and dance music. It takes the best of each musician — Sumner’s gift for melody and Marr’s ability to write amazing riffs — and turns out a bright and powerful summer record.

The Smashing Pumpkins, Gish, released 28 May 1991. Long before their forays into White Album-like excess, weird goth chic, multi-album navel-gazing themes and several drug-related dramas, this band put out a supremely mind-blowing album of grunge-meets-psychedelia.

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Stay tuned for the summer!

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