I’ve been thinking about revisiting some discographies lately, mainly the ones of bands I used to listen to obsessively back in my youth. One of the inspirations for this was the reissue of REM’s Chronic Town EP a few weeks ago, their first release on the IRS label.
I’ve always been an early-era fan of the band up to and including 1988’s Green, and it’s been ages since I’ve listened to those first albums other than hearing the occasional single on the radio (usually “The One I Love” or “It’s the End of the World As We Know It”, but occasionally I’ll hear “Superman” as well). Me and my high school friends were big fans of the band and taped each other’s copies of their albums into our own collections. But I haven’t listened to Lifes Rich Pageant in ages, and I used to play that one a ton in my college years.
So how is this different from any other time I obsess over 80s alternative rock? Well, instead of slinking back into the memory banks to relive those times or attempting to work on the Walk in Silence book, this is just…for fun, just like before.
I think part of it is tied into what I was talking about in the previous post, in which I find myself so constantly wrapped up in New Releases every week that few songs are actually sticking in my head. Which leads to the question: how is it that these REM songs (and Smiths songs, and Love and Rockets songs, and so on) stick like Gorilla Glue where the new songs don’t?
I think it’s partly because I’m not allowing those new songs to anchor themselves in the first place. It’s like I’ve forgotten how to do that somehow. The focus has gone from the music to the procurement of it. Which of course feeds into my obsessive tendencies, but doesn’t really move me emotionally, does it?
I’ve been trying to figure out how to change that these last few months. How do I let these songs into my psyche when I’ve forgotten how to do that? What do they have to anchor to? Moments in time, memories in the making? So many of those songs are fleeting, great to listen to but never quite moving me emotionally. Produced too clean, given airplay to a station that smothers us with its constant repetition. Caught in a race with millions of other songs, all trying to enter my subconscious at the same time.
It’s time to revisit how I made them stick in the first place. Allowing the song to percolate and simmer for a while in my mind, to allow it to latch onto a moment in my life. Keeping myself from getting constantly distracted by yet another song that sneaks up behind it. Allow the song to become a part of my own personal and private world rather than chasing after several songs at once as they go by.
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.
Spring is awash with plenty of great new records worth checking out!
Hatchie, Giving the World Away, released 22 April. The long awaited follow up to 2019’s amazing Keepsake expands on the band’s perky dreampop, creating even more lush soundscapes and memorable tunes.
Yo La Tengo, I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One [25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition], released 22 April. YLT had always been an indie favorite but a curiosity that never got its due until this eighth album that dropped in early 1997, and this one’s considered their best of their 90s era. It even spawned a minor radio hit with “Autumn Sweater”.
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, Omnium Gatherum, released 22 April. This band took me a few releases to appreciate…and of course thanks to KEXP for sharing their best songs and simulcasting a live show! They’ve always been a bit of a weirdo psych-prog band and this record is no different, but they manage to avoid the musical navelgazing and druggy weirdness to achieve a perfect level of enjoyable quirkiness.
Bowling for Soup, Pop Drunk Snot Bread, released 22 April. BfS continues their run of goofball punk with hilarious lyrics and catchy pop-punk melodies, including a hilarious single about wanting to be a gorgeous film star.
Fontaines DC, Skinty Fia, released 22 April. This Irish band continues to fascinate with their moody post-punk, this time inserting a lot more local color and culture. It’s not as dark as their previous album A Hero’s Death but it’s certainly a lot more dense.
Skylar Grey, Skylar Grey, released 28 April. Known more as a backup singer and songwriter with others such as Rihanna, Diddy, Macklemore, Alicia Keys and others, Grey has occasionally dropped a solo record that slides somewhere outside the pop norm and embraces her darker moods.
Toro y Moi, MAHAL, releaseed 29 April. Chaz Bundick has been putting out excellent chillwave albums for over a decade now, and this one continues his string of great records that are simultaneously relaxing and groovy.
Royksopp, Profound Mysteries, released 29 April. This one’s my favorite of the month — they’ve always been a bit of a laid back electronic band, incorporating meandering melodies that feel more like Air than Daft Punk, and this one’s full of them. It’s a lovely-sounding record and has already gotten significant play during my writing sessions!
Let’s Eat Grandma, Two Ribbons, released 29 April. This band has been around for a bit but I’d never gotten around to checking them out, and now I’m wondering what took me so long! I’m always a big fan of the recent waves of synth-pop, especially albums that fit my writing moods, and this band fits perfectly.
A lot of new releases popped out last month, enough where’ I’m gonna need to split it into two parts! And not only are there a number of new bands I’m really digging, there are a few classic ones that I didn’t expect!
EMF, Go Go Sapiens, released 1 April. I’ll be honest, I did not see this one coming! They may not be as funky and sample-rific as they once were (and to be honest, they’d already shed that by the time Stigma came out in 1992), but this is a pleasant surprise and and really enjoyable album.
The Clockworks, The Clockworks EP, released 1 April. It may only be a four-song EP, but I’ll take anything from one of my favorite finds of last year. They’ve definitely got that Interpol-esque post-punk sound down perfectly and I can’t wait to hear more!
Red Hot Chili Peppers, Unlimited Love, released 1 April. These guys have been around since the early 80s and it was only a matter of time before they moved a bit away from their patented punk-funk sound. It’s long, it’s a bit meandering, and a lot of it sounds quite mellow, but it’s still quite enjoyable.
Orville Peck, Bronco, released 8 April. The masked singer of unknown origins (although the prevailing rumor is that it’s drummer Daniel Pitout of the band Nü Sensae) releases his second album of spot-on old-school country crooning and it’s absolutely fantastic.
Son Lux, Everything Everywhere All at Once soundtrack, released 8 April. This quirky band was the perfect choice to do the score for the bonkers-yet-brilliant Michelle Yeoh/Ke Huy Quan movie that everyone’s talking about. And yes, the movie really is that brilliant.
Jack White, Fear of the Dawn, released 8 April. White’s solo releases have never failed to capture my attention and impress me with its catchy tunes. I’m really digging this one.
Oceanator, Nothing’s Ever Fine, released 8 April. Super fun boppy guitar punk that kind of reminds me of the bouncier side of Throwing Muses and Breeders. Go check out her stuff on Bandcamp, it’s worth a listen!
Wet Leg, Wet Leg, released 8 April. Slightly weird and a bit off, but full of super catchy melodies and humor. Definitely worth checking out.
Sault, Air, released 15 April. Not only did this mysterious collective drop an album with almost zero pre-release promotion — other than an “oh hey, check it out” tweet — but they dropped a…symphonic album? It’s definitely not the soul/rap/r&b hybrid their fans were used to. But it’s still amazing.
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.
July came and went and the most I remember is that it was a hot one, with a few storms here and there. Most of the time I’d be drinking tons of water and burning through AA batteries listening to my Walkman. Buying those weird Hawaiian Punch knock-off drinks. Listening to stupid jokes and hiding in the shade of trees. Falling off the back of the truck once when it pulled away from under me. Making mixtapes and mowing the back yard on my day off. Writing poems and lyrics and making future plans.
Not much else going on that summer, other than letting my brain clear itself of frustrations.
Gene Loves Jezebel, Kiss of Life, released 1 July 1990. In the 80s, this was a band you’d hear on John Hughes soundtracks (“Desire (Come and Get It)” is on the She’s Having a Baby soundtrack) but rarely would you get any crossover into the pop charts. Not so with “Jealous” which was a surprise hit for them. I tend to think of that song as one of the many from this year that helped break down that wall of commercial pop to let alternative rock in.
Mixtape, Listen in Silence IV: The Singles, created 1 July 1990. This one’s a mix of favorites from freshman year with a few 120 Minutes tracks and recent album deep cuts mixed in. Note that Faith No More’s “Epic” is on this one, a full year after its album The Real Thing came out, another breakthrough hit thanks to MTV giving it heavy airplay.
Alice in Chains, We Die Young EP, released 1 July 1990. This Seattle band’s debut EP laid out the groundwork for their swampy take on the emerging Grunge sound. I knew a lot of people who preferred them over Soundgarden, as they were less abrasive and more metal-meets-Led Zeppelin.
The Stone Roses, “One Love” single, released 2 July 1990. Following up from their funky single hit “Fools Gold” was another extended dance trip that may not have been as catchy or popular (at least not in the US) but reminded fans of their garage-psych influences.
Iggy Pop, Brick By Brick, released 9 July 1990. The Godfather of Punk broke through with this album, which featured radio favorite “Candy”, a duet with the B-52’s Kate Pierson. He’s still rocking (and acting!) to this day, but he never quite hit as high as he did here.
The Cavedogs, Joyrides for Shut-Ins, released 16 July 1990. Yet another Boston band signed to a major label! And just like the others, they had a huge local following that unfortunately did not reach much further. They were critical and radio faves, though, so you’d hear songs like “Bed of Nails” on Adult Alternative stations a lot then.
Pixies, “Velouria” single, released 16 July 1990. The Boston band that did make it, and make it BIG at that, dropped a preview single for their next album, Bossanova, that would drop in August. This song definitely signaled a slight change in their sound; gone was the noisy abrasiveness of Surfer Rosa and the quirky weirdness of Doolittle, with more melodic tracks than before.
The Soup Dragons, Lovegod, released 19 July 1990. This Scottish band was a somewhat obscure indie favorite on Sire Records with a small following, playing groovy 60s-influenced rock, until they too were bitten by the Madchester bug and created a wonderfully trippy Britpop album full of great songs. The Rolling Stones cover “I’m Free” became their signature hit.
Jane’s Addiction, “Stop” single, released 25 July 1990. After almost two years after dropping their biggest album to date, 1988’s Nothing’s Shocking, Perry Farrell and the band returned with a twitchy funk-punk single that would preface their upcoming album. These new songs held a new tension so fierce that people wondered what was going in the band. [It would, in fact, implode after Farrell’s brainchild, the first Lollapalooza tour, finished.]
As was typical for years, music releases were usually kind of thin on the ground in terms of big names. Summer was made for the single — which was still a decent selling if somewhat flailing format at this time — and for the radio hit. But things would pick up again in August, once the kids started preparing for their return back to school or college. And in this new era of chart pop that would soon (and finally) embrace alternative rock as a significant source.
To be honest, I didn’t really mind working for the DPW for another summer. It was going to be just like the year before: riding in the back of one of the trucks around town, mowing the several town-owned cemeteries, cleaning the sides of the roads…eating brunch at the local diners, stopping at the packies for sodas in the afternoon, shooting the shit, listening to my Walkman, coming up with new song lyrics, and generally spending the entire summer outside and actually doing physical work. On rainy days we’d hang out at the main garage, or maybe the old shed if we were stuck at one of the cemeteries, playing poker. It wasn’t the best paid job, but it helped me get in shape a bit.
Even though I was trying hard as hell to escape my hometown, I didn’t really mind being there for a quick couple of months, to be honest. I got to watch 120 Minutes episodes again, I made money I could spend at record shops and save for college, and I could hang out with T when we both had a free moment. In retrospect I think what I was doing was working on leaving town at my own pace, as I wanted to do it, making peace with it all. I was growing out of it but I didn’t hate it.
As for writing, I’m sure I was trying to revive the Infamous War Novel once again, but I believe I was working on other story ideas as well. My main focus, however, was writing new songs for the slightly altered Flying Bohemians. Nate was off doing his own personal things, and Chris and I would share the occasional new song here and there. By the time we had an official jam session in August, we’d have a handful of new songs that sounded much different from our previous ones, songs that we’d be proud of.
And speaking of music, considering WAMH was now off the air for the summer and Athol was just outside of reach of WFNX, my source of modern rock mostly came from WMDK 92.1. They were an Adult Alternative station by this time, playing your more laid back stuff that would fit on 120 but not necessarily vice versa. There were moments where the radio in one of the DPW trucks could get ‘FNX in, but most of the guys on my team noped right out of that. Alternative was definitely not their thing.
The Stranglers, 10, released 4 June 1990. The last album featuring singer Hugh Cornwell, this band had evolved over the last several years and their former post-punk brutalism had softened considerably. This wasn’t a fan favorite, but it did get some airplay on Adult Alternative stations at the time.
Blues Traveler, Blues Traveler, released 5 June 1990. Well before their huge chartbusting album Four, John Popper and his harmonica stormed the jam band scene with the huge indie hit “But Anyway” and gained a serious fanbase that lasted for years.
Dead Can Dance, Aion, released 11 June 1990. DCD’s early 90s output felt less gothic and more global, and it did take some fans time to get used to that, but it was a direction that brought them far more listeners. I didn’t listen to this one all that much at the time but it’s grown on me over the years.
Heretix, Gods & Gangsters, released 15 June 1990. Another Boston band signed to a major (and produced by Ed Stasium, natch) that was a huge hit in the local area but sadly did not gain enough steam to follow through. This album remains a fan favorite, and “Heart Attack” one of their biggest local hits.
David J, Songs from Another Season, released 18 June 1990. The Bauhaus/Love & Rockets bassist finally broke through with this pleasant and folky album that just seemed so much perkier and positive for him. “I’ll Be Your Chauffeur” became a minor radio hit and its video was a staple on 120 Minutes that season.
Uncle Tupelo, No Depression, released 21 June 1990. Before their acrimonious split a few years later (with Jay Farrar starting Son Volt and Jeff Tweedy starting Wilco), this band made famous what is now pretty much known as the alt-country scene, but back then the style took its name from this landmark album.
Chapterhouse, Freefall EP, released 26 June 1990. This UK band from Reading was unique in that they took the ecstasy-fueled rave sound, melded it with the noise-pop of bands like the Telescopes, and inserted a infectiously groovy hippie vibe. The end result was yet another version of shoegaze, less about the wall of sound and more about a swirling mood you could get lost in. “Falling Down” was their first single and it’s one of their best.
Sonic Youth, Goo, released 26 June 1990. The always confrontational Sonic Youth signed to a major label (Geffen) and against all expectations, became one of the hugest alternative bands of the early 90s. “Kool Thing” may have been one of the few songs that could get significant airplay at the time, but it was a hell of a great song.
Candy Flip, “Strawberry Fields Forever” single, released 28 June 1990. Another quirk of the Britpop scene: everyone sampling James Brown’s “Funky Drummer”, thanks to numerous rappers using it in the late 80s. This Beatles cover could have easily tanked as being a bit too cheeky, but it worked perfectly for two reasons: the JB sample was slowed down considerably and the vocal delivery given in a hazy, dreamlike way, thereby updating the song’s already psychedelic feel to suit the Madchester crowd.
Aztec Camera, Stray, released 28 June 1990. Roddy Frame’s band had been around for most of the decade and his records had always been a critical if not a chart hit, but this particular album somehow hit every single chord with fans and critics alike. Several of its songs are absolute corkers, from his cheery duet with BAD’s Mick Jones, “Good Morning Britain” to the lovely jazz guitar influenced “Over My Head”. This is an album well worth having.
Could it be that I was in a much better mood at this time? Maybe…? I’m pretty sure I was still wallowing in a bit of self-inflicted moodiness and stress as well as not knowing entirely want I wanted to do with my film studies other than tell stories I wanted to tell. I think my problem was that I knew I was stuck between a past I wanted to escape and a future I wasn’t entirely sure I could attain. I’m also sure that I’d had second thoughts about the school I was attending too, but at the same time I refused to give in; I knew I wanted to tell stories and Emerson felt like a place where I could learn how to do that in my own way.
Meanwhile, I had a few more lazy months to pass by before I headed back for another round of higher education.