This is about when I really started being consistently broke. Money I’d made from the media center job that went into my checking account went right back out again whenever I went record shopping. The problem was that there were at least six record stores within walking distance of my dorm that I could visit: Nuggets and Planet in Kenmore Square, Tower Records, Looney Tunes on Boylston, and Newbury Comics and Mystery Train on Newbury.
A dangerous thing, indeed.
If I wasn’t going to get along with my roommate or any of the cooler-than-thou indie hipsters here — and there were a lot of them — I suppose I’d better just embrace my own level of alternativeness. I didn’t quite fit in on either end…not hip enough for the hipster crowd, and not normal enough for the normals. So it was like senior year in high school all over again, really. Become the friendly oddball to everyone. Just be myself and let them deal with the inconsistencies, yeah? And it worked out reasonably well.
Yo La Tengo and Daniel Johnston, “Speeding Motorcycle” single, released 1 March 1990. Johnston was a delightful oddball musician with a childlike voice, and a favorite of the indie crowd in the 80s with his wonderfully naive yet flawless DIY ethic of recording music on cassette at home and handing them out to friends and fans. During an in-studio performance on WFMU by indie band Yo La Tengo, Johnston joined in for a live-via-phone rendition of his song “Speeding Motorcycle.” It somehow caught on, got released as a single, and got played on college radio all over the place, reaching Boston and getting played heavily on MIT’s WMBR that spring.
Jesus Jones, “Real Real Real” single, released 1 March 1990. Just before the band dropped what would become their longest-lasting and biggest hit, Jesus Jones dropped this poppy single that would become their sound for their second album Doubt. The rough edges found on Liquidizer might have been smoothed over a bit, but they never lost their bite.
The Chills, Submarine Bells, released 1 March 1990. Nothing like a super catchy song about writing super catchy songs to guarantee radio play, yes? Martin Phillips’ lyrics always had that keen sense of comedic irony, and this album puts it front and center. It’s also a slight change of sound, the band now given a sleek production that makes their songs shine.
Inspiral Carpets, “This Is How It Feels” single, released 1 March 1990. The Carpets’ single — a song about the ennui of living on the back end of Thatcher’s frequently jobless England and the inability to do much about it — became a huge UK hit and paved the way for their debut album Life, which would drop in a few months’ time.
Robyn Hitchcock, Eye, released 12 March 1990. After the success of 1989’s Queen Elvis with his band the Egyptians, Hitchcock returned with a solo acoustic record full of lovely balladry and quiet introspection, temporarily putting his off-kilter humor on the backburner for the time being.
Renegade Soundwave, Soundclash, released 12 March 1990. “Biting My Nails” is one of those songs you have to play LOUD AF, which is of course what I did whenever it came on the radio. RS was one of those indie-dance hybrid bands from the UK that never quite hit the charts here in the States, but this track remains a favorite of the era, and one of mine as well.
Chickasaw Mudd Puppies, White Dirt, released 12 March 1990. This Athens GA duo was a critic favorite but a relative obscurity (even despite cheers by REM’s Michael Stipe). Their lowdown cowpunk noise could fit in easily with similar bands like Meat Puppets.
The Lightning Seeds, Cloudcuckooland, released 16 March 1990. Ian Broudie, more known at the time as a producer and songwriter favored by many musicians, brought his irresistible sunshine pop into the forefront with the super cheerful “Pure”, which would be his calling card for years to come.
Lloyd Cole, Lloyd Cole, released 16 March 1990. After the breakup of the Commotions in 1989, Cole released his self-titled debut which became a critic favorite. The quirky and clever lyricism of his previous band might have left to be replaced by maturity and moodiness, but it only proved that he could write a damn fine song. The single “Downtown” got a feature in the otherwise forgettable Rob Lowe-James Spader movie Bad Influence.
Depeche Mode, Violator, released 19 March 1990. DM’s crowning achievement was an instant success with both fans and critics and is still considered their best album of all. Martin Gore is on top of his songwriting game here. The industrial samples aren’t center stage this time, but instead cleverly layered and integrated into the songs to make them even more complex. The band could only go higher from here on in.
Sinéad O’Connor, I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, released 20 March 1990. O’Connor’s long-awaited second album can sometimes be a tough listen — there’s a lot more heartbreak and heartache here than on her previous album — but it’s her most accomplished. It also contains her biggest hit, the Prince-penned “Nothing Compares 2 U”.
Urban Dance Squad, Mental Floss for the Globe, released 23 March 1990. Laid back sun-drenched grooves and hard-crunch punk-funk hit you broadside on this debut album by UDS, featuring far too many catchy vibes that’ll keep you moving the entire time. It’s a super fun album that you should definitely have in your collection.
Social Distortion, Social Distortion, released 27 March 1990. This LA punk band that owes a lifelong debt to Johnny Cash was never the biggest draw in their hometown, and the few previous albums and singles they had came out on several different labels, until major label Epic signed them. The sad ‘I’m a fuck-up and I’m sorry’ punk balladry of “Ball and Chain” was so quintessentially Cash that it caught on with the indie crowds immediately, and became a radio hit, starting a long and successful career for them. [I knew they’d hit the big time when, a month or so later, I heard five or six kids down the hall from me singing along to it. Heh.]
I know somewhere along the line here, I started seeing shows in and around town. I saw The The at the Orpheum for their Mind Bomb tour. I also went to a few all-ages shows on Landsdowne Street just outside Fenway Park, which back then was the main college nightclub scene with multiple stages. (Many had a number of names, depending on the era: Spit, Axis, Avalon, and Citi, for starters. I’ve forgotten which ones were which at this point.) I got to see a number of big names cheap and just before Nirvana came and blew alt-rock out of the water and brought the genre to larger stages. I didn’t go often (again, due to being broke most of the time), but when I did it was a super fun time.
Coming Up Next: Sliding towards spring and thinking of summer plans!