For a year that was chock full of great and often influential albums, it kind of…ended with a thud. Granted, new and important albums were rarely ever released that late in Q4 (as I’ve mentioned many times), so it’s kind of expected. If I recall, the fall semester ended on perhaps not a high note but at least a better one than previous. I headed home for the Christmas break, not entirely happy that my grades still weren’t that great, and not being able to hang out with my high school gang all that much — everyone was home with family and we’d only be able to meet up maybe once or twice in the weeks we were in the same place. Instead of doing any New Year’s Eve partying, I chose to stick at home listening to the end of year countdown on WMDK. I didn’t even have a year-end mixtape this time out.
What was my mood then? I seem to remember being irritable. In retrospect, I’m sure it was set off by multiple things: being stuck at home in the small town again, out of touch with both my college friends and the Misfits gang, hardly any money in my pocket, and quite possibly some rocky moments going on with my relationship with T. There was definitely a sense of I don’t know what I want, but I know I don’t want THIS that I had no answer for.
Well, at least it was a new year coming up.
The Neighborhoods, Hoodwinked, released 1 December 1990. A classic local band known for being sort of like Boston’s answer to The Replacements, their boozy guitar driven rockers were always favorites with the locals. The title song got significant airplay on pretty much all the Boston rock stations.
Echo & the Bunnymen, Reverberation, released 1 December 1990. After longtime vocalist Ian McCulloch left the band to start a solo career, the rest of the band soldiered on with a new singer. Alas, the new sound fell flat with the loyal fanbase and the bored critics. That’s not to say it’s a bad album per se…they just updated their sound to fit the groovy Britpop sound a bit and there’s some great singles here worth listening to.
Danielle Dax, Blast the Human Flower, released 8 December 1990. Dax’s last album to date also came and went, her longtime fans being frustrated by its glossy sheen and insertion of dance beats on some of its songs. It just wasn’t…weird enough, I guess? Although her cover of The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” (perhaps riding Candy Flip’s coattails) is worth the price. She’d pretty much disappear from the music scene after this record.
Soho, Goddess, released 8 December 1990. Known for that song that samples “How Soon Is Now” (with the blessing of Johnny Marr at that), this British dance-soul duo may not have translated well on American shores, but “Hippychick” certainly got stuck in everyone’s head for a few months there.
Enigma, MCMXC AD, released 10 December 1990. You could possibly pinpoint the start of the 90s’ emergence of new-agey world-music-as-pop with this one album. The big single “Sadeness” mixes Gregorian chants with dance beats and soothing synths, kicking off so many other bands, produces and DJ collectives putting out similar grooves.
Think Tree, eight/thirteen, released 30 December 1990. After nearly a year after dropping the weird yet exciting “Hire a Bird” single, this strange Boston quintet dropped a mini-album of some of their best songs they’d honed live. It sold incredibly well locally, even despite the long wait. Alas it would take them considerably longer to record and release a follow-up and by that time, their local fame had passed.
Looking back at 1990, that year, like most beginnings of decades, was one of transition. I remember my history teacher, Reverend Coffee, telling us that important changes in history usually don’t take place at its start but actually a few years in. I thought this was kind of an interesting way to look at it: after all, calendar time is just an arbitrary number to keep things somewhat in order, right? So maybe it wasn’t 1990 that was going to be a huge change, but maybe in the next year or so. Maybe we’d get past this sense of ‘waiting for things to be over with’ and start something new.
At least that’s what I was hoping for when I returned back to college in January. Fingers crossed.
It’s coming up to the end of the year and the end of the semester, and I think it’s safe to say that I was probably in a reasonably good mood at this point. I say ‘reasonably’ because I knew I’d started wondering if I’d made the right decision in going to the college I did. I was still struggling with homework — I wouldn’t realize until much, much later that I had undiagnosed focus issues since probably 7th grade — and I was just wishing I could finish up this whole education game already. I’d already made some terrible 8mm film experiments that showed that I had interesting ideas and absolutely zero experience. At the same time, however, I started thinking that maybe those interesting ideas was where my creative strengths lie. I also took some radio classes that gave me some interesting ideas as well.
In the meantime, there was still a magnificent wave of great music coming out and I was certainly spending all my money on it.
The House of Love, A Spy in the House of Love, released 1 November 1990. Yet another album with the band’s name in the title (both named after the Anais Nin novel), this time collecting several b-sides and rarities. ‘Marble’, an obscure b-side, ended up getting significant airplay and an official promo video.
Pass the Avocados, Please (Being a Compilation of Manchester, Hip Hop and Other Atrocities) mixtape, created by C Tatro, November 1990. After foisting several mixtapes on my high school friend who was now in his junior year at UMass, he sent me this one in return. It’s a curious mix of tunes that we both loved, heavy on the Madchester with a dash of deep cuts. By the summer of 1991, I’d be responding with my own ‘Avocado’ mix.
The Trashcan Sinatras, Cake, released 5 November 1990. This Scottish band came and went in the US rather quickly, but while they were here, this particular album was a favorite of both music journalists and fans. Light and jangly and full of humor, this album is a joyful listen and I really need to play it more often!
The Beautiful South, Choke, released 13 November 1990. When the Housemartins broke up in 1988, two of its members went on to form this band and have a strong and vibrant career playing lighthearted, cheeky music with a string of British hits to their name.
Lush, Gala, released 13 November 1990. The first official ‘album’ by Lush is actually a compilation of their EPs and singles to date. “De-Luxe” was rereleased to promote it, and this album became a favorite for both critics and fans alike.
Madonna, The Immaculate Collection, released 13 November 1990. It took Madonna a surprisingly long time to release a greatest hits mix, and as was typical of her career, it wasn’t just a collection of her hit singles. Several of the songs were mixed into QSound, an attempt at giving the songs an aural 3-D quality. Two new songs were also added, including the trip-hop inspired “Justify My Love”.
The Sisters of Mercy, Vision Thing, released 13 November 1990. The last new Sisters of Mercy album to date (Andrew Eldritch still tours at this time), This one feels rather glossy compared to the gloomy First and Last and Always or the damp and echoey Floodland, but it fit the changing moods of industrial and goth. It’s definitely of its time.
The Cure, Mixed Up, released 20 November 1990. While us fans were all waiting for a new Cure album (it wouldn’t come for another two years), the band followed up the mega-selling Disintegration with a…remix album? Sure, why not? It’s a wild ride, partly a collection of already-released 12-inch extended remixes and partly an experiment with handing the tapes to producers to turn into something new. And somehow it works!
Buffalo Tom, Birdbrain, released 20 November 1990. This was such a huge hit in the Boston area that you heard it everywhere: on WFNX, WBCN, college stations…I think even hard-rock station WAAF played them for a while! It’s a great album, full of punky, folky songs written by fantastic songwriters.
Happy Mondays, Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches, released 27 November 1990. While the Mondays’ previous albums could be scattershot and a mix between a coked-out jam session and an aural car crash, this album saw them break through internationally with tight grooves, smart lyrics, sort-of-on-key singing, and an album chock full of excellent songs. The big hit “Step On” — another Kongos cover they’d kept for themselves — put them on the indie rock map and remains their most popular track.
Coming towards the end of the year, I started thinking about the various things that had changed in my life to date. I’d remembered entering 1990 thinking how wild it was to be entering the last decade of the last century of the last millennium, but I ended the year thinking maybe a little more close to home: writing new songs and getting better on my bass (and borrowing Jon A’s guitar now and again); approaching my creative writing in different ways; learning to rein in my rampant emotions and thoughts into something a bit more coherent and controllable; and maybe even thinking about who I thought I was versus who I actually wanted to be. It was around this time that I’d finally decided that maybe being the overly moody bastard wasn’t going to work for me for that much longer.
Whew! This one’s gonna be a long one. Something was in the air on both sides of the Atlantic come 1990, that’s for sure. The 80s MTV pop scene was dying a slow death (or at least its rock-influenced version, at any rate), and that left the playing field wide open for all sorts of rock genres to come sliding into people’s consciousness. This could be considered the golden age for alt-rock radio, especially now that stations like WFNX were leading the way in metro Boston and other cities were joining in.
And against all expectations, I actually had somewhat of a social life! It wasn’t all that active to be sure, but I’d met some cool people on my floor that I could spend time with instead of wallowing in self-pity in my dorm room, heh. We’d hang out in our rooms, go to all-ages shows on Landsdowne Street, watch Twin Peaks and compare notes afterwards, make goofy art videos, and so on. And I met this budding actor named Jon who lived just across the hall — not to be confused with the John who lived next door — who’d pretty much be my frenemy for the next four years. [More about which below.]
Buffalo Tom, “Birdbrain” single, released 1 October 1990. This Boston band had an extremely loyal local following and played the long game to certain success in the mid-90s. This single broke them locally with is chunky riffs and memorable lyrics. [And we Bostonians had a good laugh when we watched this video and recognized the shirtless guy in the back of the truck was shot in the Sumner Tunnel!]
Alien Sex Fiend, Curse, released 1 October 1990. Goth industrial weirdness rarely ever made it past its specialty shows and dance nights at Central Square in Cambridge, but somehow ASF’s “Now I’m Feeling Zombified” single made it to multiple playlists, partly because it was just so damn bizarre.
The Sisters of Mercy, “More” single, released 1 October 1990. After waiting multiple years for Andrew Eldritch’s next move, he surprised everyone by not only working once again with Jim Steinman for the single “More”, he also hired Sigue Sigue Sputnik/Generation X bassist Tony James to join the band. It might not be as epic-goth as “This Corrosion”, but it’s still a great song.
Miles Dethmuffen, Nine-Volt Grape, released 1 October 1990. This too was a Boston band and yet it was my friend Chris who introduced me to them from his seeing them at UMass Amherst. Somewhat similar to the jangly Athens GA sound, they didn’t stick around long, but this album did get some airplay here and there on college radio.
The La’s, The La’s, released 1 October 1990. …and here it is, one of my top favorite albums of all time, and I’m sure it’s on many others’ lists as well. Why is it so beloved? It could be the beautiful simplicity of its folky songwriting, its lost-in-time retro feel, its quintessentially British references, its occasional forays into light psychedelia and garage rock. It could also be that “There She Goes” was such a tremendous hit that you still hear it on several stations to this day. And yes, I still highly recommend having it in your collection.
Information Society, Hack, released 5 October 1990. InSoc’s sophomore album may not have reached the heights of their debut, and it may be slightly too long, but it’s such a fun listen that I love it anyway! It’s my favorite of their early records, and there are several great deep cuts worth checking out. This got some serious Walkman play for a number of years.
Hindu Love Gods, Hindu Love Gods, released 5 October 1990. A side project between Bill Berry, Mike Mills and Peter Buck of REM with singer Warren Zevon, this album sounds more like rough jam demos than anything else, but it’s a super fun record that shows just how much the foursome love playing. Their Prince cover ended up getting some significant airplay as well.
Goo Goo Dolls, Hold Me Up, released 5 October 1990. Well before “Name” and “Iris” shot them into the stratosphere, this trio’s sound was more fun and punky, and this album was a favorite on college radio. It’s interesting to hear these early songs just to see how much they’d evolved.
The Charlatans UK, Some Friendly, released 8 October 1990. A Britpop staple that doesn’t quite fit most others in its genre, the Charlatans were more about the laid back grooviness of it all. This album sounds less like something you’d hear at the Hacienda and more something you’d hear on the boombox in your bedsit. Not that that’s a bad thing — this album is a mood that lets you relax and bliss out a bit.
Nine Inch Nails, “Sin” single, released 10 October 1990. The final single from 1989’s Pretty Hate Machine, the main track is one of the most tense and intrusive of Trent Reznor’s, hinting at what NIN’s future sounds would be. The true gem, however, is a wild and distorted cover of Queen’s “Get Down Make Love”, a b-side that ended up getting its own bit of airplay.
Ride, Nowhere, released 15 October 1990. The shoegaze band from Oxford dropped its debut album on both sides of the Atlantic to critical acclaim, and it’s one of the first albums that really helped the US experience what that “shoegaze” sound was. I remember this one being a big hit with a few of my friends that I worked with at the Media Center.
Blur, “She’s So High” single, released 15 October 1990. It all started here for this London quartet, kicking off a long and successful run of albums and singles that are still radio favorites. They were my favorite of the Britpop bands at the time, as they’d chosen to lean heavily on their creativity, their lyrical cheekiness and the fact that they wrote damn fine songs.
Lush, “Sweetness and Light” single, released 15 October 1990. There’s something about a high-octane one-chord song that resonates with me, and this is one of my top favorite songs of this particular year. This song also inspired me to play around a bit more with my songwriting, trying new chord progressions and musical directions.
The Pogues, Hell’s Ditch, released 19 October 1990. The last Pogues album to feature the increasingly intoxicated Shane MacGowan, this felt like a change of course for the band, where they began moving away from their Irish-folk sound and trying out more rock-oriented songs. It’s a bit of a mess but it’s also full of really great tracks as well.
Various Artists, Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye: A Tribute to Roky Erickson, released 19 October 1990. Another tribute album, this one shows just how odd yet still accessible Erickson’s work could be. This one’s filled with numerous indie musicians like REM, John Wesley Harding, Primal Scream, Butthole Surfers, and more.
Pet Shop Boys, Behaviour, released 22 October 1990. Their first new album in two years, it shows that PSB had evolved perfectly from mid-80s synthpop to 90s dancefloor techno, staking a claim on the scene for years to come.
Various Artists, Happy Daze, Volume 1, released 22 October 1990. Considered one of the first major compilation releases to focus on the growing Madchester scene, it’s a heady mix of indie pop that may not all be from the northern city, but would certainly have been played on the radio and at the clubs. It’s full of important singles by Happy Mondays, The Soup Dragons, The Wonder Stuff, Carter USM, and more. [I’m still not sure why Pixies’ “Velouria” is on it as it feels like a placeholder, but it doesn’t exactly ruin the mood, either.]
Morrissey, Bona Drag, released 22 October 1990. Not so much an album as a collection of his solo singles and most b-sides to date, this encapsulates most of his time with producer Stephen Street, and in my opinion probably some of his best work. This was one of the cassettes that got heavy Walkman play during my weekend train rides back home. It was kind of like living a bit of the past and remembering the time I spent with the Vanishing Misfits crowd, but without the self-induced gloom.
Every now and again in one’s life, you meet that one person who sets you off in a different direction, makes you rethink your life, inspires your creativity, and maybe even gets you in a bit of trouble. Jon A was that guy for me. I called him my frenemy early in this post because that’s what he was: He could be a really good sounding board and a caring person and get me to think deeper about my creative career, but he was also someone who didn’t quite understand what kind of person I already was. That can be good, if you’re looking for someone to inspire you to be better…but it can also be bad, when you have little self-trust and self-confidence. I had the latter, and whether he knew it or not, he saw how easily I could be influenced and leaned on that. He also had no idea what “I have absolutely no money and I’m broke most of the time” meant.
Anyway — he’ll pop up multiple times in this series until about 1995. Last time I saw him was probably a month or so after I moved back home that autumn, and I’ve no idea where he’s been since.
I returned to Emerson for my sophomore year in a much better frame of mind than the previous year, that’s for sure. I was rooming with a guy I’d met freshman year that came to be a good friend (and one I still occasionally speak with online — in fact, he and his wife helped on a bit of reference work for my Diwa & Kaffi project), and I was soon to meet several others I got to know and hung around with.
Jesus Jones, “Right Here Right Now” single, released 1 September 1990. The band’s most famous single dropped right about the same time the new college year started, and it was being played everywhere, and was on extremely heavy rotation on WFNX. Corny as the song may be, it really did capture the moment in time when a lot of extremely important world-changing events were taking place within an extremely short time period. Us Gen-Xers might be a bit embarrassed to admit it, but it’s definitely one of our theme songs.
Mixtape: Walk in Silence IV: The Singles, created 1 September 1990. The first mixtape made of the sophomore year was essentially a collection of nearly all current WFNX staples (Living Colour, Jane’s Addiction, Soup Dragons, that DNA/Suzanne Vega mix, etc) with a few deep cuts thrown in. It’s one I listened to quite a bit at the time, but I don’t think I listened to it all that much after the start of the new year.
The La’s, “Timeless Melody” single, released 3 September 1990. I didn’t hear this track on the radio until maybe a few more months in when their album dropped and WFNX picked it up, but I think it’s one of my favorite tracks from the record.
Queensryche, Empire, released 4 September 1990. I’d never been much of a metalhead or a prog fan (with a few exceptions) but I loved “Silent Lucidity”. It’s a lovely song that nails the ballad style that most metal bands could never quite hit.
The Rembrandts, The Rembrandts, released 4 September 1990. A few years before their ubiquitous Friends theme song, they slipped into the charts with “Just the Way It Is, Baby” and got some impressive play on Adult Alternative radio.
The Darling Buds, Crawdaddy, released 7 September 1990. The second album from this South Wales band expanded on their jangle-pop C86 sound and injected a bit of swirly Britpop to it, and it worked surprisingly well. This one’s probably my favorite of their three albums, as it’s full of fun and perky tracks.
Prefab Sprout, Jordan: The Comeback, released 7 September 1990. This band from northern England had always had a small but extremely loyal following of fans and critics. This particular album might not have been their biggest, but it was certainly their longest and most experimental.
George Michael, Listen Without Prejudice Vol 1, released 11 September 1990. A much-awaited follow up to Faith, it may not have been as hugely successful (or had nearly all its tracks as singles or radio hits for that matter) but it’s definitely his most personal and immersive. I’d always loved “Praying for Time” with its nod to George Harrison’s “Isn’t It a PIty”, but “Freedom ’90” was the huge hit that still gets played to this day.
Too Much Joy, Son of Sam I Am, released 12 September 1990. My friend Chris turned me onto this band of nerdy goofballs who leaned heavy on the dorky (and often clever) humor and the poppy punk. This album had actually been released on a minor label in 1988, but was rereleased to critical acclaim (even Robert Christgau liked it!) two years later. Singer Tim Quirk is quite active on Twitter, and the band released a new album just last year!
The Cure, “Never Enough” single, released 13 September 1990. Coming off of their long tour supporting 1989’s Disintegration, the band lay low for a bit, working on a few small projects (see below) and recording a few new songs — and remixing and/or rerecording several old ones — for an upcoming remix album.
An Emotional Fish, An Emotional Fish, released 14 September 1990. This Irish band had a minor US hit with the driving track “Celebrate”, a personal favorite and a bit of a theme song for myself to keep my moods lifted. I listened to this album quite a bit as it kept my spirits lifted when I really needed it at the time. Their discography might be small — just a few albums and singles — but they’re still around and still touring.
Redd Kross, Third Eye, released 14 September 1990. Jeff and Steve McDonald’s SoCal band had been around for years in one form or another, their sound always evolving (and their image staying a weird 60s-hippie-meets-80s-androgyny hybrid thing), but they’d always been a critical favorite. Third Eye was probably their most popular at the time, with the catchy “Annie’s Gone” getting significant airplay.
Cocteau Twins, Heaven or Las Vegas, released 17 September 1990. This band already had a significant following and an impressive discography by the time this record came out, so it was highly anticipated by both critics and fans alike. There’s a brightness to this record that’s different from their previous releases, though…perhaps some of the songs feel more uplifting and less meandering (not that that was ever a problem), and that Elizabeth Fraser’s lyrics had become more understandable and less oblique. Either way, it’s another wonderful record by one of my favorite bands.
The Waterboys, Room to Roam, released 17 September 1990. The follow-up to their critical success of Fisherman’s Blues, this too feels like a much more joyous record than their previous work. A lot of the songs sound like they’re having loads of fun playing, everyone’s in a great mood. “A Life of Sundays” is definitely one of my favorite tracks of the year.
Information Society, “Think” single, released 19 September 1990. InSoc’s first album was on heavy rotation on my cassette players, so I was looking forward to hearing what they’d follow up with. “Think” was actually a big hit for them, showing up not only with the alt-rock kids but on the dance floor as well!
Phish, Lawn Boy, released 20 September 1990. These Vermonters had been around for a few years by the time this first major-label record came out, so it was only a matter of time before their success grew even more. A lot of people saw them as the Gen-X answer to the Grateful Dead with their incessant jamming and epic live shows, but Phish always prided themselves on just being four nerdy music-loving guys that wrote surprisingly catchy jam-band tunes. I knew several people in my dorm who owned this.
Indigo Girls, Nomads Indians Saints, released 21 September 1990. The follow-up to their highly popular ’89 self-titled record sounds much more polished yet somehow less coffeehouse-folk, but they never lose their amazing songwriting chops. I loved this album as well, and “Watershed” is one of my favorites.
Various Artists, Rubáiyát: Elektra’s 40th Anniversary, released 24 September 1990. This is a bit of a weird compilation, as while it might celebrate four decades of a great rock label, it’s a tribute to past Elektra artists its current ones. Some songs work wonderfully, like The Sugarcubes covering Sailcat’s hippie-dippie “Motorcycle Mama” or Metallica doing Queen’s badass “Stone Cold Crazy”, but there’s also the weirdness of The Cure doing the Doors’ “Hello I Love You” and the unexpected loveliness of the Gipsy Kings covering the Eagles’ “Hotel California” (yes, that song from The Big Lebowski originated here). It’s not for everyone, but there are some really great gems here.
The Replacements, All Shook Down, released 25 September 1990. The last album from the Mats in their original run is unique in that it’s their most polished and professional yet also maintains their classic alcohol-infused style. Both Paul Westerberg and Chris Mars would return in a year or so with solo albums that became critical favorites.
Various Artists, Red Hot + Blue: A Tribute to Cole Porter, released 25 September 1990. This compilation/tribute created as a benefit to AIDS research, was a smashing success due to the stellar lineup (U2, Aztec Camera, Erasure, Neneh Cherry, The Pogues, kd lang, and more) as well as the genius songwriting of Porter himself. I highly recommend giving this one a listen.
Hex, Vast Halos, released 25 September 1990. The side project of The Church’s Steve Kilbey and Game Theory’s Donnette Thayer was more of a curiosity than anything else, but it also features some really great songwriting that blends both their bands’ styles.
INXS, X, released 25 September 1990. Following up from their mega-selling Kick might have been a bit tough, and this album didn’t quite hit the same peaks, but that wasn’t on their agenda in the first place. This record is a bit more rough in places (like the jangly single “Suicide Blonde” and glossy in others (the lovely single “Disappear”) but it shows a band not afraid to continue evolving.
Things seemed to be going so much better, now that I was back in Boston and focusing on what I needed to focus on: my (hopefully) burgeoning film and writing career, better grades, and a healthier lifestyle. The latter would of course venture a bit off course when one of my new buddies helped kickstart a smoking habit, but other than that I’d like to think that I did my best given the situations.
Mind you, I’d still fall into that moody-bastard hole of depression now and again, and sometimes I’d stay there for days, but I think — I’d hoped — that this would be the year that I’d finally figure myself out and start to live a little.
Next Up: in which I meet a great friend/worst enemy.
Summer was winding down, and I’d come to the conclusion that maybe my problem was that I was trying to hold onto something — or maybe several somethings — that were no longer there. It wasn’t just my social life, either. I had to grow up and be more serious about my school work. I had to be consistent with my creative endeavors. And maybe that connection I had with my home town needed to be — well, maybe not severed, but at least loosened considerably. It was time to wrap things up and move on. Chris would host his second ‘fiasco’ party at his grandfather’s cabin on Packard Pond, this time with several of his college friends. I’d meet up with T once or twice more. And then it was time to go.
Jellyfish, Bellybutton, released 7 August 1990. Bay Area drummer/songwriter Andy Sturmer and keyboardist Roger Manning conceived a band that leaned heavily on 70s classic rock and XTC power-pop and added guitarist Jason Falkner and Roger’s brother Chris on drums to create one of the year’s most enjoyable and bubblegummiest albums. It’s a wonderful record from start to finish and highly recommended. [Music trivia: Roger Manning would end up working with Beck, Falkner became a respected solo artist, and Sturmer wrote pop gems for Puffy AmiYumi among others!]
The Heart Throbs, Cleopatra Grip, released 7 August 1990. Shoegaze meets dreampop in this echoey, meandering record that may not have contained huge hits, but it was certainly a lovely album to listen to on a warm weekend afternoon in late summer.
Extreme, Extreme II Pornograffitti, released 7 August 1990. A Boston band that did actually make it into the big time, this straight-ahead commercial rock band wore its heart on its sleeve for its ballads (such as the classic “More Than Words” from this album), rocked their audiences with party anthems like “Get the Funk Out” and even snagged me with a great acoustic sing-along with the single and album closer “Hole Hearted”. This ended up being their only hit album, but they’re still around and still going strong.
Deee-Lite, World Clique, released 7 August 1990. I totally wasn’t into the club scene at the time, but you could not escape the de-lovely fun of “Groove Is In the Heart” which got itself plastered all over creation, from alternative rock stations to pop stations to Top 40 stations and beyond. The entire album is a goofy and fun trip.
Pump Up the Volume soundtrack, released 8 August 1990. The Christian Slater film may not have been the biggest summer hit — it’s your classic “the adults don’t understand the kids” rebellion film on par with the ’79 cult hit Over the Edge, complete with amazing soundtrack — but it certainly lit a fire under me at the time with its themes of nonconformity, refusal to give in, and yes, even alternative radio. This was my go-to soundtrack for many months afterwards, and also got me to start investigating the discography of Leonard Cohen, whose songs play a significant part.
9 Ways to Sunday, 9 Ways to Sunday, released 13 August 1990. This obscure band, like Katydids, only got some minor airplay on Adult Alternative stations before vanishing completely, but there’s some really great deep cuts on this one. I’ve always loved the single “Come Tell Me Now”, which ended up on a few of my mixtapes.
Pixies, Bossanova, released 13 August 1990. I remember being at the DPW reading the Boston Herald when news dropped that this album was coming, and I bought it the week it came out. This is my favorite early-era Pixies record, and most of my favorite tracks of theirs are from this one. It’s their most accessible and cohesive album.
Living Colour, Time’s Up, released 20 August 1990. LC had to work hard to top their initial debut, 1988’s incredible Vivid, but instead of being bigger and better, they took a side-step and got funkier and jazzier. The blasting hard rock is still there — the jammy single “Type” and the bluesy single “Love Rears Its Ugly Head” for starters — are just as strong as the first album.
Mixtape, Untitled II, created 20 August 1990. This remains one of my favorite mixtapes I’ve made. It was made on the week off between leaving the town public works job and heading back to Boston (a choice I made on purpose as a mental buffer) and was played frequently while relaxing in my room, playing Solitaire and just letting the days go by. Most of the songs were from recent used record store purchases, WMDK’s playlist, and deep cuts of older albums and singles I’d gotten into. (There’s also a Flying Bohemians track on there that I’m extremely proud of.) It’s one of my best in terms of flow and mood.
Bob Mould, Black Sheets of Rain, released 21 August 1990. Mould’s second solo album saw him return to the harder, angrier sound he’d been known for, and though that may have turned off a few new fans, it’s a solid album that’s worth checking out.
Alice in Chains, Facelift, released 21 August 1990. AIC’s debut was a bona fide hit across the board and paved the way for even more bands from the Pacific Northwest to introduce the grunge sound to the world.
Anthrax, Persistence of Time, released 21 August 1990. This thrash-metal band had its own fan base for years, but in 1990 they took a quirky post-punk-meets-jazz track by Joe Jackson (yes, the “Steppin’ Out” guy) and turned it into a badass headbanger that gained them an even bigger following. Even Jackson himself began playing the song live at Anthrax speed because of it.
Jane’s Addiction, Ritual De Lo Habitual, released 21 August 1990. This record had both its fans and detractors, as it’s not as post-punk moody and gritty as Nothing’s Shocking; it’s a lot more experimental and maybe a little unhinged in places, and isn’t quite as cohesive. Still, it’s got some of their best tracks as well, including their goofy hit single “Been Caught Stealing”.
Cocteau Twins, “Iceblink Luck” single, released 28 August 1990. This band had long been known for their slow, dreamlike, reverb-drenched sound, but a new decade brought them a much brighter and perkier sound, starting with this surprise hit single.
Angelo Badalamenti, Soundtrack from Twin Peaks, released 31 August 1990. The soundtrack to David Lynch’s weird-yet-intriguing television show dropped just weeks before its second season started (and we still didn’t know who’d killed Laura Palmer yet), and its dreamy spookiness is some of Badalamenti’s best and most memorable work.
I’d return to Boston at the start of September with the plan of taking life a bit more seriously than I did the previous year. I had a new roommate I knew I’d get along with, new friends to hang out with, and a healthier outlook on my personal and creative life. I’d finally be taking film production classes (after several history and theory prerequisites), and seeing if I could create visually what I was seeing in my head with my writing. It may or may not work, but I’d finally have the chance to find out.
In retrospect, I think this was about the time that I probably should have ended things with T to spare us both the heartache and the long-distance frustrations (and the budget-busting phone bills). The both of us knew we had to move on one way or another, and I think we were both starting to move in separate directions. I can definitely see in a lot of my poetry and lyrics of the time that while I was mentally and emotionally in a healthier place, I wasn’t yet out of the woods, and that was primarily due to my refusal to let go of those last few threads keeping me connected to my hometown and my past. It is what it is, though…we’d soon have our mini-breakups, our missed chances and reconciliations for a few years more. And we’re still friends to this day, so at least we can both cherish that.
I think by this time I’d kind of gotten my head around college life — at least the Emersonian version of it, at any rate. It wasn’t exactly what I’d been hoping for, but that was because I was attending a private college that focused on mass communications instead of a sprawling university like a lot of my Vanishing Misfit friends. But I loved the fact that I was living in a (sort of) Big City for the first time, having (sort of) escaped from the small town I’d known my entire life. I still had a long way to go, but I was going in the right direction.
In retrospect, I know that what I’d needed to do was make a hard disconnect from that small town of mine to truly figure out who I was, what I wanted to be, and and what I needed to do to get there. My best intentions were to follow my creative plans and dreams, but I couldn’t quite do that when I was splitting myself into two: one, the small town kid with a small town girlfriend and a penchant for being stuck in the past, and two, the wide-eyed and naive kid looking into the future as a writer and a musician. I had a long way to go and I felt so constantly and woefully behind everyone else’s progress.
That Petrol Emotion, Chemicrazy, released 1 April 1990. I’d seen this band at UMass with a few friends (I’d bought a tee-shirt at that show, which I’d totally worn out) and really liked their stuff. Their fourth album definitely has that early-90s production sheen (very clean and crisp and sounds great on CD) but it still contains their quirky groovy beats.
My Bloody Valentine, Glider EP, released 1 April 1990. A good year and a half before their groundbreaking (and budget-breaking) album Loveless, they squeaked out this EP that features what would become their most popular style: heady drone mixed with a danceable beat and a warped wall of sound. Shoegaze meets rave. The track “Soon” is one of their biggest successes.
The Sundays, Reading, Writing and Arithmetic, released 4 April 1990. This album with its straight-ahead jangly alterapop could have easily fit into any college radio show circa 1988, so when it dropped it sounded a bit retro, but nonetheless it became a huge hit on modern rock radio stations like WFNX. It’s a lovely springtime record to relax to.
Trip Shakespeare, Across the Universe, released 6 April 1990. A few years before Semisonic made it big (and well before Dan Wilson became the hit songwriter he is today), there was this band — just as poppy and earwormy as any of Wilson’s other projects, with a small but incredibly loyal following.
Suzanne Vega, Days of Open Hand, released 6 April 1990. Three years after her success with Solitude Standing, Vega returned with a spectacular record full of wonderful folk-rock gems with a moodier edge. This remains my favorite Vega album as it features so many of my favorite songs of hers!
Jill Sobule, Things Here Are Different, released 17 April 1990. Five years before her surprise hit with “I Kissed a Girl”, Sobule rode the alternafolk circuit with intelligent and well-crafted songs and gained herself a considerable collegiate following. There are quite a few great songs on this record that are worth checking out.
Inspiral Carpets, Life, released 23 April 1990. These Mancunians crashed through the gate with a stellar and strong debut album that achieved considerable success in the UK and even had a small fanbase here in the States. “Commercial Rain”, found only on the US version of the album, became a radio hit on modern rock radio.
Morrissey, “November Spawned a Monster” single, 23 April 1990. Probably the darkest and weirdest of his spate of non-album singles, it’s not my favorite song of his, but the b-side “He Knows I’d Love to See Him” is one of my favorites of the era.
World Party, Goodbye Jumbo, released 24 April 1990. Karl Wallinger’s second album after the success of 1987’s Private Revolution had high expectations, but he certainly surpassed them with ease, continuing to write his own brand of not-quite-Beatlesque rockers with clever lyrics and hummable melodies.
By the end of April, I figured I was going to need to figure out what I was going to do that summer. I certainly hadn’t planned to stay in the city as I hadn’t saved any money and didn’t know anyone who was looking for a roommate, so it was back to the small town for me. It wasn’t what I wanted (even though it meant spending much more time with the hometown girlfriend), but it was something, at least. I started making plans by contacting the town public works again — another summer season with the DPW — and looked forward to my sophomore year, which I’d hoped would be a hell of a lot more positive and productive and with a new roommate that I knew I’d get along with.
All I needed to do was finish this one last month of freshman year.
After a somewhat disastrous first semester at Emerson, I came back from Christmas break with a clearer mind and a better idea of what I needed to do to avoid repeating the same mistakes. I reconnected with the new friends I’d made near the end of the first semester and started hanging out with them more, realizing I had a hell of a lot more in common with them than I did with my roommate, who I pretty much avoided and ignored from there on in. I may have been a bit let down that I didn’t connect with them on a musical and intellectual level like I had with the Vanishing Misfits gang, but really — who was I fooling, anyway? Try as I might to hide it, I was a blue-collar dweeb that had no further plans to attempt nonconformist hipness. Better to be myself than try to fit in, yeah? [To date, I am still in contact with two of those friends from then, and the only two from my college years that I still speak with. As for everyone else I’d meet those five years I was there…? For a college that focuses on mass media, I’ve somehow found it ironically impossible to locate any of them on today’s social media.]
I was still broke most of the time and could barely pay our phone bill whenever I wanted to talk with my long-distance girlfriend, yet somehow I did manage to find the pocket change to buy the occasional cassette at Tower Records up the street (or used at Nuggets in Kenmore!) as well as stock up on blanks to record tunes off the radio. I may have still been in a bit of a grumpy mood, but things were looking up. During this second semester I’d finally get my radio show: the 12AM to 3AM shift on WECB AM, and who the hell knew if anyone actually listened, but it was experience!
Peter Murphy, Deep, released 1 January 1990. Murphy’s third album dusts off a lot of the post-punk of his first album and the darkness of his second, leaving an extremely bright sheen. But it was also his breakthrough, with single “Cut You Up” hitting all the major radio stations and even getting airplay on daytime MTV. In my opinion it’s his most commercial, but also his most cohesive record, and it’s a joyful listen.
Inspiral Carpets, Cool As **** EP, released 1 January 1990. Another Mancunian band shuffles out of the club scene and onto American alternative radio, this one leaning heavily on a sixties garage band vibe complete with Farfisa organ. Not as sleek and groovy as The Charlatans UK, but just as danceable and fun.
The Telescopes, To Kill a Slow Girl Walking EP, released 1 January 1990. This British band took the burgeoning noise-rock sound that was gaining a following in the UK and went in all sorts of weird places with it, becoming one of the most loved yet least heard bands of the decade. Each release went in unexpected directions, so one never knew if they’d have a blissed-out groovy dance song, a J&MC-like wall of feedback or some spaced out jam.
John Wesley Harding, Here Comes the Groom, released 5 January 1990. Wesley Stace, under his JWH stage name, burst onto the scene in late 1989 with a few singles and an EP (which featured a quirky acoustic rendition of Madonna’s “Like a Prayer”, which got some airplay). His early songwriting was smart, funny, and intelligent and damn catchy, gaining a considerable fanbase in Boston. I’d see him play live twice, both times for free, while I lived in the city. He still records now and again, and is currently an author of four books. His 2014 novel Wonderkid was an inspiration for my own novel Meet the Lidwells.
Big Audio Dynamite, “Free” single, 5 January 1990. As the original BAD lineup began to splinter, Mick Jones recorded and released a final single for the soundtrack of the Keifer Sutherland/Dennis Hopper film Flashback. The movie itself got mixed reviews, but the song did get airplay on WFNX at the time.
They Might Be Giants, Flood, released 5 January 1990. TMBG’s third album literally bursts onto the scene with a bright and sunshiney opening theme (“Theme from Flood”, natch) before haphazardly switching to yet another fantastic earworm they’re known for, “Birdhouse in Your Soul”. Like 1988’s Lincoln, this album does feel a bit overlong and straining in places, but it also contains some of their absolute classics, including the ridiculous “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)”, the goofy “Particle Man” and more.
Various Artists, Super Hits of the 70’s: Have a Nice Day, Volumes 1 – 5, released 5 January 1990. And just like that, listening to cheesy AM classic radio is hip again. This series, which would stretch to a staggering twenty-five volumes, made it hip to hear those same songs you thought were corny and cringey just a few years previous. A few years later, Quentin Tarantino would take a page from this and insert 70s hits into his breakthrough movie Reservoir Dogs.
The The, “Jealous of Youth” single, released 19 January 1990. Before it showed up on the Solitude mini-LP in 1994, this outtake from the Mind Bomb album sessions had a standalone single release that couldn’t have come at a better time. Matt Johnson’s desperation to recapture a youth that’s not so much out of his grasp but perhaps already tainted by the pain of adulthood is stark, painful, and an absolute stunner. A perfect song for a Gen-Xer entering the last decade of the century.
The Black Crowes, Shake Your Money Maker, released 24 January 1990. The Crowes were always bluesy and gospely and they wore their influences for everyone to see. They did sound a bit 80s in their production but that didn’t stop them from becoming wildly popular for nearly the entire decade, always churning out great songs.
Next up: The year moves on, Britpop starts encroaching on US alternative radio, and something about the coolness of a certain deity.
After some time avoiding my roommate and getting to know other people in my dorm who were more chill and less hipster — and occasionally heading home on the Fitchburg line train to get my head together and maybe meet up with T for an afternoon — I think I finally figured out where I was going. Or at least found a goal to aim for, at any rate. I may not have gotten the radio station position I wanted (that would come next semester) but I did find a work-study day job at the school that would bring many fond memories and calm moments.
The Emerson College library at the time was at 150 Beacon, a half-block up from our ‘campus’ center and the parking spot for the school shuttle. It was five floors and a basement squeezed into a former mansion — the only stairway that reached all six floors was the servant’s, where the old-school iron-gate elevator was — and it was the perfect place to hide if you wanted to study without being bothered by anyone. And down in the drafty and often chilly basement was the Media Center, which held a few classrooms, the music library, and a few a/v suites shoehorned in as well. That was my job for all four years plus two summers: hanging down there at its front desk, taking classroom reservations, setting up videos and 16mm films for the film teachers, and recording the daily newscasts for the TV teachers. It became my haven and my hiding place and one of my favorite places to be. To this day I still have occasional dreams about it, even though the building’s long been sold off and divided into condos.
Happy Mondays, Hallelujah EP, released 1 November 1989. This, I think, was my official introduction to what would soon become known as Britpop. I remember hearing this on WMDK one evening when I’d gone home for a weekend break, and the DJ was super excited about the ‘new sound’ coming out of England that was steeped in club grooves but still maintained its rock swagger. I instantly fell in love with its psychedelic grooviness and that it was just so out there, totally different from the moody post-punk college rock I’d been mainlining for the last few years yet not flippant and lightweight like most dance pop was at the time. While most alt-rock stations were looking westward towards Seattle, I was once again looking eastward towards London.
The Stone Roses, ‘Fools Gold’ single, released 13 November 1989. Soon after the Mondays came another Manchester band, one I was more familiar with from its debut album released just a few months earlier. (I didn’t initially lump them in with the Britpop sound as they felt more like a post-punk/garage band hybrid to me at the time.) I instantly fell in love with the nine-minute 12″ version of this song for its blissed-out groove jam as well as its janky drum loop. This one often reminds me of my years working at the college library, as WFNX would play it quite often.
Morrissey, ‘Ouija Board, Ouija Board’ single, released 13 November 1989. Out of all his between-album singles of the time, I probably liked this one the best because it was just a simple quirky oddity squeezed in between the political ‘Interesting Drug’ and the overindulgent ‘November Spawned a Monster’. It’s a throwaway, but it’s a fun throwaway.
The Primitives, Pure, released 14 November 1989. This band’s second album lightened up slightly on the sugary flower-pop sound and leaned a bit heavier on the rock that drove their initial hit “Crash”. There’s some really great deep cuts on this album and I don’t listen to it nearly enough as I should.
Ministry, The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste, released 14 November 1989. The album between the college radio favorite The Land of Rape and Honey and the breakthrough Psallm 69 gets overlooked a lot, and I think it’s partly because it’s a ‘more of the same’ record, but it’s got some great tracks on it that got some major radio play on WFNX at the time. I tended to listen to this one on my headphones whenever my roommate was pissing me off too much.
Duran Duran, Decade, released 15 November 1989. Their first official greatest hits record was absolutely perfect collection of their hit singles in chronological order that proves just how amazing this band was throughout the 80s. Even if you had every album and single they’d put out, you wanted this because it was such a great mix.
The Creatures, Boomerang, released 22 November 1989. Siouxsie and Budgie’s side project away from the Banshees always focused more on the musical styles that their main band couldn’t (or wouldn’t) quite pull off, and this one delves deep into a lot of different styles like jazz and even a bit of flamenco. I got to meet the two of them at Newbury Comics in Harvard Square when they did a signing!
Severed Heads, Rotund for Success, released 22 November 1989. This was one of my most favorite finds during my freshman year, picked up used at Nuggets in Kenmore Square. They were one of those bands I was familiar with (thanks to 120 Minutes) but never owned anything as I could never find their stuff. I bought this only on the strength of having heard the single “Greater Reward” at some point, and I completely fell in love with it. This became one of my Walkman go-tos when I was heading home on the train for the weekend. The band isn’t for everyone, but this record certainly is, and I highly recommend it.
More to come — when the end of the year brings hope for change, however desperate it may be.
One month into my college years and of course I was already thinking, what the fuck have I gotten myself into? It was a perfect storm of harsh truths and brutal realizations: I clearly was not programmed for academia, or at least never properly trained for it (or, as I would figure out much later in life, unaware that I could find mental and emotional workarounds that would help me make it all work). People similar to my closest friends in high school (aka the Vanishing Misfits) were nowhere to be found in this school full of budding actors, writers and filmmakers already imagining themselves the next maverick auteur. Any creativity I tried to bring to the table was met with side-eyes and wincingly seen as hardly original. [And see, this is precisely why I eye-roll like mad whenever I see the latest theoretical discourse and debate on Twitter. Because I’ve already witnessed enough of this kind of self-aggrandizing horseshit for one lifetime, thank you very much.]
I can definitely see what direction I was heading in with the poems and lyrics I was writing at the time…I’d gone past the Cure-like gothic doom and straight into the unfiltered fuck-you of punk at that point. My other mistake here was that I’d used my long-distance relationship as an anchor to keep me sane. I always treated T with love and kindness, but damn I am so surprised she never slapped me upside the head and told me to grow the fuck up.
ANYWAY. I had a lot of shit to contend with, a lot of life lessons to catch up on, and a spiral of self-triggered depression to slide into. I always did my best to keep my head above water and found whatever distractions I could to keep me from getting any worse. And thankfully, the music was there to help.
Jesus Jones, Liquidizer, released 1 October 1989. No one really knew what to make of this band’s wild mix of industrial, dance and hard rock at first, other than it was noisy and you could dance to it. Most everyone’s familiar with “Right Here Right Now” but there’s so much more to this band than what you expect. Their first album is much more twitchy and aggressive but also a really fun listen.
Galaxie 500, On Fire, released 1 October 1989. Well before Dean Wareham started Luna, he was one third of this proto-quietcore band out of the Boston area that became the favorite of all the local college radio stations. Their spin was that their music often took on a hazy, almost psychedelic feel.
The Jesus + Mary Chain, Automatic, released 9 October 1989. Their third album (fourth if you count the b’s-and-rarities Barbed Wire Kisses from 1988) took them in an altogether different direction, seriously toning down the feedback and ramping up the beats. They kept the volume, though, and it ended up making this album a huge hit.
Lush, Scar EP, released 9 October 1989. It all started here for this band, a six-track record that took the time-honored 4AD sound and vision (dreamy melodies, heavy on the reverb, 23 Envelope cover, natch) and ramped up the volume. This was a label changing from its chamber-pop high and into a new sonic landscape. I remember hearing “Scarlet” on WZBC (Boston College’s station) for the first time and being completely blown away by it…I headed to Tower Records the very next day and bought the cassette!
The Blue Nile, Hats, released 16 October 1989. I remember my first shift at WECB, Emerson’s AM station (with the reach of just our dorms at the time), “The Downtown Lights” was one of the tunes on the rotation I had to play, and I absolutely fell in love with it. The band are kind of a peculiar mix of 80s adult pop sheen, smooth jazz and new wavey synthpop, but they pull it off wonderfully.
Erasure, Wild!, released 16 October 1989. Their follow-up to The Innocents was far more club-oriented and while it may not have been as memorable as some of their previous albums, it’s certainly enjoyable. Early in 1990 I saw this band for the first time at the Orpheum in downtown Boston and they put on an absolutely ridiculous and super fun show that I still think about from time to time!
Kate Bush, The Sensual World, released 17 October 1989. I was late in getting into her music (I didn’t own anything of hers until her hits collection The Whole Story) but I did get this one soon after it was released. It kind of reminds me of U2’s Unforgettable Fire in that I feel a sort of self-contained warmth when I listen to it. It’s a mature and low-key record that’s got some fantastic songs on it.
The Smithereens, 11, released 18 October 1989. The Jersey band’s third record (its name and album cover hinting at Ocean’s Eleven) is just as powerful and energetic as their previous — and they’re still downtuning their guitars a half-step here — but so many of these songs are just begging to be cranked up. [And if the lyrics to “A Girl Like You” sound familiar, it’s because the song was originally written for the John Cusack movie Say Anything but not used as it pretty much gave the entire plot away!]
Nine Inch Nails, Pretty Hate Machine, released 20 October 1989. If there’s one album that bridges the gap between my life in the late 80s and what was to come in the early 90s, it’s this one. An album so full of spite, pain, depression and desperation that distilled what I was feeling at the time, all wrapped up in one record. And when they came to town in November to play on Landsdowne Street just outside Kenmore Square, I was there in the mosh pit, pissed off and needing to bleed it all out of my system. I would often return to this one album whenever I knew I was veering towards the darker side of my moods. And believe me, I returned to it a lot for a few years there.
Men Without Hats, The Adventures of Women & Men Without Hate in the 21st Century, released 30 October 1989. After the surprising popularity if 1987’s Pop Goes the World and its title track, the Hats followed up with another AOR-level popfest that might not exactly be chartworthy but goes in some really interesting and unexpected directions, including the pro-feminist anti-abuse single “Hey Men” and a fascinating cover of ABBA’s “SOS”.
The Psychedelic Furs, Book of Days, released 30 October 1989. The Furs closed out their stellar 80s run with a heavy, murky record full of tension and discomfort, but it features some of my favorite later-era songs of theirs as well, including the above. [TW: the video has a lot of strobe effects.]
I’ve been putting this off for years, and I think it’s high time: let’s take an extended look at the music that I listened to in my five years while living in Boston, from September 1989 to August 1995. That’s five years’ worth of music, so this one’s going to take quite a lot of time. Which is fine, because I’ve been wanting to revisit a lot of these!
Some of these albums will have good memories tied to them. Some of them won’t. Some of them will just be background soundtracks while others will have deep personal meaning. It was five rollercoaster years of good and bad, and I think it’s high time I made peace with them.
I started Emerson College in the fall of 1989, living on the third floor (room 306) of Charlesgate, the tall former hotel that sits on the corner of Beacon and Charlesgate East, just a few blocks east of Kenmore Square. This was back when the school’s campus — such as it was — was situated at the other end of Back Bay, at the intersection of Beacon and Berkeley. I’d take the school shuttle from one end to the other most days, but walking the length (just under a mile) wasn’t so bad either.
Mind you, I was going in with good intentions that may have been extremely rose-colored and innocently hopeful, and it didn’t quite turn out the way I’d expected. I was hoping for a cool roomie with excellent tastes in college rock and ended up with a somewhat rude hipster that merely tolerated me. I was trying to maintain a pre-internet long-distance relationship that I too often became overdependent on. My so-so grades remained so-so (most likely a mix of ADD-like distraction, depression and not really knowing how to study properly), and I was perpetually broke.
On the plus side? I’d brought my bass with me and practiced on that thing like no tomorrow. I used some of my spare time writing outtakes and comic strips. And I could easily head home for the weekend just by jumping on the train at North Station. That’s the one thing I remember the most during those years: those trips home to clear my brain and reset my mood, and coming back on Sunday evening refreshed for another round.
Love and Rockets, Love and Rockets, released 4 September 1989. Their fourth album was a distinct change from their previous three, veering away from the dreamlike acoustics and hippie psychedelia and heading straight for noisy post-punk of the Jesus & Mary Chain variety. While the teaser single “So Alive” — the first L&R single to hit the American charts and kickstarting an alternative renaissance just a few years before grunge took over — was a pure pop song, the rest of the album went from the anger of “**** (Jungle Law)” to the boisterous groove of “Motorcycle” and back. It’s an odd album, but it’s definitely a good one.
Camper Van Beethoven, Key Lime Pie, released 5 September 1989. This was kinda sorta CVB’s swan song for the 80s, as lead singer David Lowery headed off to form the very successful Cracker. (They didn’t really brake up so much as go on hiatus, sneaking out a few songs here and there on the interim.) This was also another good example of a well-loved indie band vanishing just as its popularity was rising and had joined a semi-major label (Virgin).
Soundgarden, Louder Than Love, released 5 September 1989. Well before Superunknown and even Badmotorfinger, these PNW guys were making their way through their original sludge-metal sound and heading from indie label SST to major A&M Records. It was definitely not in my wheelhouse at the time — I was still deeply immersed in the slightly less angry post-punk/college rock soundscape — but after giving it a few listens courtesy of my freshman year college roommate, it grew on me.
Big Audio Dynamite, Megatop Phoenix, released 5 September 1989. This can kind of be considered the last album of the first BAD phase, before the 1990 band member shuffling, and on its own it’s a stellar achievement. While it’s not as experimental as their previous records, every song is a banger and it remains one of my favorites.
Julee Cruise, Floating Into the Night, released 12 September 1989. It is fascinating how this project stemmed from David Lynch’s inability to snag the rights to This Mortal Coil’s “Song to the Siren” for his movie Blue Velvet. A few years and a theme song for a truly weird TV show later, Cruise debuted with this absolutely glorious album of extreme delicateness. And “Falling” really is a lovely song, even after all these years.
Lenny Kravitz, Let Love Rule, 19 September 1989. Lenny’s first album was a huge hit on WFNX, its title track getting immediate heavy rotation. I was drawn to this album because it refused to be pigeonholed into one specific genre — it could fit just as easily on alternative radio as it could on pop and R&B stations — and his songcraft was absolutely stellar from the first song.
The Sugarcubes, Here Today, Tomorrow Next Week!, released 20 September 1989. Their sophomore follow-up to the career-defining Life’s Too Good suffered a little by being overly long and containing a few filler tunes, but in retrospect it really is a good album despite that.
The Mighty Lemon Drops, Laughter, released 20 September 1989. The follow-up to the band’s fantastic World Without End sounds more polished and mature, and contains some absolutely lovely tracks, including their biggest hit “Where Do We Go from Heaven” which has been described as their take on The Church’s “Under the Milky Way”.
Tears for Fears, The Seeds of Love, released 25 September 1989. Their third album, coming four years after their smash Songs from the Big Chair, led them in some new directions: psychedelic pop, and soul. “Sowing the Seeds of Love” borrows heavily from The Beatles, while the moving “Woman in Chains” is a stunning single that became one of their most popular later hits.
That’s quite a month to start off my college years, yeah? I remember I bought most of these up the street in Kenmore Square, either at Nuggets (back when they were in a musty basement) or at Planet Records just up the block. Suffice it to say, I knew that living right down the street from a shopping district that would certainly take all my money and then some was going to be a dangerous thing. Did that stop me, though…? Heh.
Stay tuned, maybe we might even make it to the end of 1989…?