Summer 1991 was a change season for me. Here I was, on the top floor of a Fisher College dorm overlooking the Charles River. I set up my typewriter at one of the desks, borrowed a friend’s acoustic guitar, and set my TV on top of one of the bureaus. I worked full-time at Emerson’s Media Center in the always-cool basement of the library up the street. [This, of course, was back when the school’s campus still centered around the intersection of Berkeley and Beacon Streets. They’d sell all those properties by decade’s end.] I was dead broke and hungry most of the time, but I somehow managed. I spent most of my free time listening to music, watching the evening news, writing new songs, and watching the free movies and concerts at the Hatch Shell. I did a lot of deep thinking, chased away some old demons and let myself embrace a few things I’d been avoiding. I was still far from perfect emotionally or mentally, but I was getting there.
ANYWAY. On with the music! There’s a LOT of it, all within the span of three months!
Siouxsie & the Banshees, Superstition, released 10 June 1991. I was a huge fan of 1988’s Peepshow and this was a great follow-up; they’d grown out of their post-punk sound and had fully embraced more radio-friendly alt-rock by this point.
Seal, Seal, released 11 June 1991. I absolutely love “Crazy”. It’s an amazing song, up in the top five of my favorite songs of all time. His first record focuses a bit more on the British dance scene than the soul he’d lean towards just a few years later, partly due to it being helmed by Trevor Horn (whose production albums often end up being “a TH record featuring the band”), but it was a fantastic debut for a long and incredible career.
Big Audio Dynamite II, The Globe, released 16 June 1991. BAD has always been kind of an odd band with a revolving membership, and its second iteration featured none other than an ex-Sigue Sigue Sputnik drummer! (This isn’t as odd as it sounds; Mick Jones is a close friend of SSS mastermind Tony James.) “Rush” and “The Globe” get most of the airplay nowadays, but nearly every song on this album is great.
Raindogs, Border Drive-In Theatre, released 25 June 1991. This Boston band never quite got the push it needed even though they were known to put on a blistering live show with a raucous Celtic feel to it. “Dance of the Freaks” got some significant airplay on WFNX at the time and I’ve always liked it.
Chapterhouse, Whirlpool, released 25 June 1991. This is probably the album where I really started leaning heavily on Britpop, and one I equate most with the signature sound. A dreamlike groove that mixes both the indie 4AD reverb echo and the beats of Madchester. Their sound was less about partying at the Hacienda and more about kicking back and letting your mind wander.
Sarah McLachlan, Solace, released 29 June 1991. Before she hit the big time with “Possession” and Fumbling Towards Ecstasy (and a lot bigger a few years later with “Angel” and Surfacing), Sarah came out with a strange yet alluring second album that went all sorts of interesting places.
Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, God Fodder, released 2 July 1991. Two bassists in the band? Sure, why not? Ned’s was your classic weirdo British band that refused to fit into any set format. They weren’t grunge, but they weren’t Britpop either. They were just noisy and jumpy as hell and a hell of a lot of fun. Definitely worth checking out their other albums!
Crowded House, Woodface, released 2 July 1991. Originally created to be a record featuring Neil and Tim Finn, it ended up being their third record and broke them into the mainstream. Because of this there’s definitely a shade of wackiness and quirkiness that their previous band Split Enz was known for. It also contains some of CH’s beset songs as well, including the lovely “Weather with You”.
The Psychedelic Furs, World Outside, released 30 July 1991. The (then) last Psychedelic Furs record of their original run, This one tended to be forgotten due to its lack of promotion but I think contains some of their most mature songs. “There’s a World” remains one of my favorite songs of theirs.
The Orb, The Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld, released 1 August 1991. I remember hearing “Little Fluffy Clouds” on the techno show on WFNX well before it achieve renewed fame in a 1998 VW Beetle commercial (and also referenced in a scene in the comic The Invisibles) and this record was always spoken of with glowing reviews and late night plays.
The Wolfgang Press, Queer, released 5 August 1991 (UK). I actually didn’t pick this up until some months later when it was released in the US with a slightly changed track listing, but it remains one of my favorite records of the early 90s. TWP was known as a kind of weird band even by 4AD standards (one of its members was actually in Rema-Rema, one of the first signed to the label back in 1980) but by the latter half of their career they became more melodic and introspective. Queer does retain a bit of their weirdness, but it’s also catchy as hell. Highly recommended.
PM Dawn, Of the Heart, of the Soul, and of the Cross: The Utopian Experience, released 6 August 1991. This record was totally not in the same kind of genre I was listening to at the time, but “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss” was inescapable (even WFNX played it!) and I grew to love it.
Toad the Wet Sprocket, Fear, released 27 August 1991. This record got a lot of play on my Walkman at the time, as I really loved “Walk on the Ocean” at the time. I’ve always been a fan of the band since the Bread and Circus days and this breakthrough album is extremely enjoyable.
Pearl Jam, Ten, released 27 August 1991. I’ll admit I preferred Pearl Jam over Nirvana (who I thought were good but derivative), Alice in Chains (who felt like metal-lite) and Soundgarden (who were great but impenetrable at times). [Note: I grew to love each one of those bands anyway as the decade wore on.] PJ had that perfect blend of great melody and smart songcraft and weren’t showing off or trying to prove a point. They felt like the Beatles of grunge to me — doing their own thing and being freakishly brilliant at it. They still remain an “I will buy every album they put out” band on my list, and last year’s Gigaton proves they still have it, so many years later.
Daaang. That was one hell of an amazing summer of music. But wait! There’s more to come!