September 1991 was when I moved in with L to a loft apartment on Beacon Street, just up the way from the Emerson campus. It was a surprisingly roomy place with a high ceiling so the loft itself wasn’t a stuffy narrow crawlspace. I really loved living there, even if L was the next-worst roomie in terms of cleanliness (that would be M, my good friend and sophomore year roomie, and he’d be the first to admit that). It was on the third floor and faced south, so we didn’t get the noisy street sounds but did get a view of the Prudential and Hancock towers. I still used the school cafeteria so I didn’t have to worry too much about food, though I was still barely scraping by moneywise, between the rent and other things. And despite having to deal with some of my worst personal and emotional problems around then, I also had some absolutely fantastic times there as well. Oh, and we shared a pet ball python that we named Kipling!
Onto September, which was absolutely bloating with great new releases! Which, y’know, fourth quarter and the kids coming back to school and all, just waiting to be an epic release month. No wonder I was always broke!
Slowdive, Just for a Day, released 2 September 1991. A favorite of many shoegaze fans, Slowdive’s debut record introduced many to the quieter and dreamier side of the genre, clearly inspired from similar mid-80s post-punk atmospherics like Cocteau Twins.
Trip Shakespeare, Lulu, released 3 September 1991. Years before Dan Wilson introduced us to his wonderful songcraft with Semisonic and the near-ubiquitous “Closing Time”, his previous band was a critic and cult favorite with their special brand of super fun pop and folk.
Tribe, Abort, released 10 September 1991. Tribe was the Boston band everyone loved. They wrote amazing songs you danced and sang along to, their shows were extremely popular and exciting, and Janet LaValley was voted best local singer of the year in the Boston Phoenix multiple times. I originally had this one on tape and I don’t think I’ve ever stopped listening to it since.
The Ocean Blue, Cerulean, released 10 September 1991. They may not have had nearly as much popularity as most alternative rock bands, but they wrote such sweet and lovely songs that they were hard to forget. “Ballerina Out of Control” still gets airplay now and again!
Billy Bragg, Don’t Try This at Home, released 17 September 1991. This isn’t Bragg’s first record with a full band, but it was one that broke him onto the commercial alt-rock scene and featured a who’s-who of famous musicians like Kirsty MacColl, Peter Buck, Michael Stipe and Johnny Marr. “Sexuality” was a bold song to release back then, but I distinctly remember many of my LGBT+ friends loving the song because it was so positive.
The Golden Palominos, Drunk with Passion, released 17 September 1991. This was a band I’d always wanted to get into but could never find until this record. Its cover by 23 Envelope’s Vaughan Oliver hinted at its dreamlike 4AD-esque sound (which sadly had gone straight over the heads of many critics who were bored by the record), and it’s one that demands constant attention. It’s a record you happily get lost inside. I’d gotten a copy of this from a friend and ended up buying the cassette, which nearly wore out from so many plays. It’s still one of my top favorite records of that year.
Guns ‘n Roses, Use Your Illusion I and II, released 17 September 1991. Sure, you could easily make fun of GnR and their ridiculously over the top epic videos that felt like they were three hours long and cost millions. You could say they’d fallen deep into their own navels (and lost a few original members along the way) by releasing what is essentially a way-overlong double album, but in truth, there’s a lot of great stuff here too. They certainly proved they weren’t just a cheesy late 80s hair metal band on this twin release.
Primal Scream, Screamadelica, released 23 September 1991. This is such a brilliant record because it has so many different styles and parts to it that fit so seamlessly as a whole. It’s got the mood and feel of cheerful mid-60s British pop, the weirdness of psychedelia, the blissful grooves of 90s house, and it was the perfect soundtrack for the GenX club scene thanks to the brilliant production of Andrew Weatherall. It’s so relentlessly uplifting it became my go-to whenever I needed to listen to something positive.
Pixies, Trompe Le Monde, released 23 September 1991. Their (then) last album seemed to be a mix of Doolittle‘s angular weirdness and Bossanova‘s catchiness but with a gloss they could finally afford, and even if they did have somewhat of a bitter breakup at the time, it was a hell of a great way to go. I of course had a particular love for “UMass”, dedicated to a college just a short distance away from my hometown.
Red Hot Chili Peppers, Blood Sugar Sex Magik, released 24 September 1991. I tend to prefer their previous album Mother’s Milk, which had been their almost-breakthrough record, but this one shot them into the stratosphere. I have a particular love for “Breaking the Girl”, which had a video but alas never really got all that much airplay.
Blur, Leisure (US version), released 24 September 1991. One of the bands that would become the face of Britpop, they were such a wonderful, fun and strange band from the start and wrote so many memorable songs and melodies. Just out of college, these four boys brought such a refreshing and distinctively British blend to alternative rock. Still one of my top favorite 90s bands.
Nirvana, Nevermind, released 24 September 1991. I’ll admit I’ve never been the biggest Nirvana fan (I had a grudge against them for for stealing the riff of “Come As You Are” from Killing Joke, for a start), but I’ll admit “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is indeed one of the best GenX anthems out there. It was one of the first songs that hit so many of us square in the gut and had us responding with “yeah, that’s us.”
MC 900 Ft Jesus, Welcome to My Dream, released 24 September 1991. Who knew an army brat from Kentucky would become one of the strangest obscure hip-hop musicians of the 90s? And more to the point, who knew his biggest hit would be a super catchy (and creepy) rhyme about a serial arsonist? “The City Sleeps” is one of those songs you don’t hear all that often but when you do, you’re blown away by just how groovy and spooky it really is.
Swervedriver, Raise, released 30 September 1991. On the other end of the shoegaze spectrum was the visceral noise attack from walls of effects-laden guitars and soaring drones, with often-dreamlike lyrics on top. Swervedriver came from the My Bloody Valentine mold, never quite hitting any heights in the US but getting some decent alt-rock station airplay with the excellent “Rave Down”.
Just a few more months to go! Stay tuned!