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.
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.
I finished off my freshman year slightly bruised and battered but not entirely out of the game just yet. Let’s just say that I was just glad that it was over and done and I could move on. Thinking over what had gone on that year — dealing with a long-distance relationship, me and my roommate figuring out our boundaries (and a third roommate who’d come in during second semester that had pretty much been the one to keep us separate), and carving out new friendships with people not from my hometown for the first time…it wasn’t all bad, but it did leave its mark.
Billy Idol, Charmed Life, released 1 May 1990. Idol had shifted from meathead UK punk to greasy pinup to peroxided crooner (and a major motorcycle accident, if I recall) in the span of one decade, that by 1990 he’d embraced that tightly-polished sound everyone else had by then. But this album has quite a few really great radio-friendly tracks such as the ballad “Prodigal Son” and a wild cover of The Doors’ “LA Woman”.
Wire, Manscape, released 1 May 1990. The last album to feature the original quartet before drummer Robert Grey left (he wouldn’t return until their 2000 reunion tour), this one comes across as a little stilted and overproduced — it’s a little too glossy and takes away from their trademark quirkiness — but it’s got some really great and memorable deep cuts such as the fan favorite “Torch It!”, AOR radio track “Morning Bell” and the amazing ten-minute album closer “You Hung Your Lights in the Trees/A Craftsman’s Touch”.
Fuzzbox, “Your Loss, My Gain” single, released 1 May 1990. One last single from the original Fuzzbox lineup before splitting, it’s a poppy track that’s not quite as club-oriented as those on 1989’s Big Bang but just as infectious.
O-Positive, toyboatToyBoAtTOYBOAT, released 2 May 1990. This Boston band was a huge favorite of both WFNX and WBCN, and did manage to get some airplay on numerous other AOR stations as well with their minor hit “Imagine That”. This is a really fun album that’s worth checking out. They were part of a run of Beantown bands signed to major labels (mostly Epic/Sony, and many produced by Ed Stasium) that didn’t last there long, but shone brightly while they were there.
Something Happens, Stuck Together with God’s Glue, released 14 May 1990. A one-hit wonder with the oddly titled “Hello Hello Hello Hello Hello (Petrol)”, they fit in easily with the Adult Alternative sounds such as Toad the Wet Sprocket, but it was such a fun song that it got major airplay during the summer on WFNX. The whole album is just as catchy and enjoyable.
The Charlatans UK, “The Only One I Know” single, released 14 May 1990. Everyone’s favorite Britpop band not from Manchester (they’re from the West Midlands) dropped this single with a groovy beat, swirly Farfisa organ, and dreamy vocals and kickstarted an incredible career that lasts to this day. (Lead singer Tim Burgess also currently runs “listening party” events with other bands on his Twitter account that you should definitely check out.)
Katydids, Katydids, released 18 May 1990. Another alternative subgenre of the early 90s that often got passed over or ignored was the alternafolky AOR sounds of bands like Katydids. They weren’t out to prove anything other than to write lovely and relaxing melodies.
Revenge, One True Passion, released 25 May 1990. Peter Hook’s side project away from New Order may not have ventured all that far away from NO’s then-recent techno dance sound, but he was able to retain his own rock-dance hybrid on his own terms, creating an album that’s less about the sequencers and more about the melodies.
The Breeders, Pod, released 28 May 1990. Initially a side project with Pixies’ Kim Deal and Throwing Muses’ Tanya Donelly, this first album set the course for Deal’s solo career (along with her twin sister Kelley) for years to come with its weird blend of deconstructiive tension and tender melody. This record isn’t nearly as cohesive as their next, the multi-selling Last Splash, but it’s just as intriguing.
Concrete Blonde, Bloodletting, released 29 May 1990. Their third album brought them a vastly wider audience with the single “Joey” (a track that’s half Social Distortion drunken ballad and half late-80s-era Heart pop song), but the album as a whole is one of the best of their entire career. The gothy “Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)” rocks and the lovely “Caroline” delivers the heartbreak, and it closes with a chillingly gorgeous cover of Andy Prieboy’s “Tomorrow, Wendy”. Highly recommended.
Ultra Vivid Scene, Joy: 1967-1990, released 29 May 1990. Kurt Ralske’s second album was more about the poppier side of UVS, toning down the spacey drone and turning up the jangly melodies. “Special One” is a duet with Kim Deal that got him significant airplay on alternative radio. (There’s also a b-side deep cut from that single, “Kind of a Drag“, that heavily samples Led Zeppelin and is one of my favorite UVS tracks.)
I moved back home at the end of the month, settling in for another summer at the DPW. It wasn’t what I wanted exactly, but it was my only option at the time. Besides, I’d already decided this was going to be the last time I’d do so. My plan for next summer was to save up enough money to find a place to live in the city, where I’d be happier and have more options open to me. And more to the point, make it a point that I’d stay in Boston, even after I graduated.
In the meantime, I would let this one last hurrah in my small hometown slide by with minimal fuss. Save up some money, see my girlfriend more often, think about new writing projects to work on, practice the bass and guitar more, and hang out with the Vanishing Misfit gang when they came back to town at the end of the season. Time to take it a bit easy for a few months before heading back into the fray.
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.
This is about when I really started being consistently broke. Money I’d made from the media center job that went into my checking account went right back out again whenever I went record shopping. The problem was that there were at least six record stores within walking distance of my dorm that I could visit: Nuggets and Planet in Kenmore Square, Tower Records, Looney Tunes on Boylston, and Newbury Comics and Mystery Train on Newbury.
A dangerous thing, indeed.
If I wasn’t going to get along with my roommate or any of the cooler-than-thou indie hipsters here — and there were a lot of them — I suppose I’d better just embrace my own level of alternativeness. I didn’t quite fit in on either end…not hip enough for the hipster crowd, and not normal enough for the normals. So it was like senior year in high school all over again, really. Become the friendly oddball to everyone. Just be myself and let them deal with the inconsistencies, yeah? And it worked out reasonably well.
Yo La Tengo and Daniel Johnston, “Speeding Motorcycle” single, released 1 March 1990. Johnston was a delightful oddball musician with a childlike voice, and a favorite of the indie crowd in the 80s with his wonderfully naive yet flawless DIY ethic of recording music on cassette at home and handing them out to friends and fans. During an in-studio performance on WFMU by indie band Yo La Tengo, Johnston joined in for a live-via-phone rendition of his song “Speeding Motorcycle.” It somehow caught on, got released as a single, and got played on college radio all over the place, reaching Boston and getting played heavily on MIT’s WMBR that spring.
Jesus Jones, “Real Real Real” single, released 1 March 1990. Just before the band dropped what would become their longest-lasting and biggest hit, Jesus Jones dropped this poppy single that would become their sound for their second album Doubt. The rough edges found on Liquidizer might have been smoothed over a bit, but they never lost their bite.
The Chills, Submarine Bells, released 1 March 1990. Nothing like a super catchy song about writing super catchy songs to guarantee radio play, yes? Martin Phillips’ lyrics always had that keen sense of comedic irony, and this album puts it front and center. It’s also a slight change of sound, the band now given a sleek production that makes their songs shine.
Inspiral Carpets, “This Is How It Feels” single, released 1 March 1990. The Carpets’ single — a song about the ennui of living on the back end of Thatcher’s frequently jobless England and the inability to do much about it — became a huge UK hit and paved the way for their debut album Life, which would drop in a few months’ time.
Robyn Hitchcock, Eye, released 12 March 1990. After the success of 1989’s Queen Elvis with his band the Egyptians, Hitchcock returned with a solo acoustic record full of lovely balladry and quiet introspection, temporarily putting his off-kilter humor on the backburner for the time being.
Renegade Soundwave, Soundclash, released 12 March 1990. “Biting My Nails” is one of those songs you have to play LOUD AF, which is of course what I did whenever it came on the radio. RS was one of those indie-dance hybrid bands from the UK that never quite hit the charts here in the States, but this track remains a favorite of the era, and one of mine as well.
Chickasaw Mudd Puppies, White Dirt, released 12 March 1990. This Athens GA duo was a critic favorite but a relative obscurity (even despite cheers by REM’s Michael Stipe). Their lowdown cowpunk noise could fit in easily with similar bands like Meat Puppets.
The Lightning Seeds, Cloudcuckooland, released 16 March 1990. Ian Broudie, more known at the time as a producer and songwriter favored by many musicians, brought his irresistible sunshine pop into the forefront with the super cheerful “Pure”, which would be his calling card for years to come.
Lloyd Cole, Lloyd Cole, released 16 March 1990. After the breakup of the Commotions in 1989, Cole released his self-titled debut which became a critic favorite. The quirky and clever lyricism of his previous band might have left to be replaced by maturity and moodiness, but it only proved that he could write a damn fine song. The single “Downtown” got a feature in the otherwise forgettable Rob Lowe-James Spader movie Bad Influence.
Depeche Mode, Violator, released 19 March 1990. DM’s crowning achievement was an instant success with both fans and critics and is still considered their best album of all. Martin Gore is on top of his songwriting game here. The industrial samples aren’t center stage this time, but instead cleverly layered and integrated into the songs to make them even more complex. The band could only go higher from here on in.
Sinéad O’Connor, I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, released 20 March 1990. O’Connor’s long-awaited second album can sometimes be a tough listen — there’s a lot more heartbreak and heartache here than on her previous album — but it’s her most accomplished. It also contains her biggest hit, the Prince-penned “Nothing Compares 2 U”.
Urban Dance Squad, Mental Floss for the Globe, released 23 March 1990. Laid back sun-drenched grooves and hard-crunch punk-funk hit you broadside on this debut album by UDS, featuring far too many catchy vibes that’ll keep you moving the entire time. It’s a super fun album that you should definitely have in your collection.
Social Distortion, Social Distortion, released 27 March 1990. This LA punk band that owes a lifelong debt to Johnny Cash was never the biggest draw in their hometown, and the few previous albums and singles they had came out on several different labels, until major label Epic signed them. The sad ‘I’m a fuck-up and I’m sorry’ punk balladry of “Ball and Chain” was so quintessentially Cash that it caught on with the indie crowds immediately, and became a radio hit, starting a long and successful career for them. [I knew they’d hit the big time when, a month or so later, I heard five or six kids down the hall from me singing along to it. Heh.]
I know somewhere along the line here, I started seeing shows in and around town. I saw The The at the Orpheum for their Mind Bomb tour. I also went to a few all-ages shows on Landsdowne Street just outside Fenway Park, which back then was the main college nightclub scene with multiple stages. (Many had a number of names, depending on the era: Spit, Axis, Avalon, and Citi, for starters. I’ve forgotten which ones were which at this point.) I got to see a number of big names cheap and just before Nirvana came and blew alt-rock out of the water and brought the genre to larger stages. I didn’t go often (again, due to being broke most of the time), but when I did it was a super fun time.
Coming Up Next: Sliding towards spring and thinking of summer plans!
When most people think of music in the early 90s, usually they either mention the slow rise and dominance of the Grunge scene, or they think of the popularity of Britpop with the UK and American anglophiles. What’s often forgotten is that there was a brief time where straight-ahead alternative rock — the kind one often links with radio friendly bands like Collective Soul and so on — started making its presence known as well. It wasn’t as harsh or as emotional as Grunge and not as freewheeling as Britpop, but it was still full of strong melody and musicianship. [These bands, sadly, would be the first to feel the pain of losing label support and the goalposts of success shifting quickly out of their reach.] Still, it amazes me how positive most of this stuff sounded at the time. Perhaps it was the hope of a new decade, or the influence of uplifting pop, but either way, it brought about many new and exciting sounds.
Tribe, Here at the Home EP, released 1 February 1990. Tribe is one of my all-time favorite Boston bands, because they were such amazing songwriters. They embraced that autumnal post-punk sound — a collegiate pop, in a way — and always put on a great show. This EP was a local release that got the attention of Warner/Slash Records, who released two further albums from them before their breakup.
King Missile, Mystical Shit, released 1 February 1990. John S Hall is that guy down the hall in your dorm that was quiet and unassuming yet a little bit…odd. His music was simple and often repetitive, but it was the lyrics you had to listen to, because they were often hilarious (and not safe at all for work). A few years before his unexpected radio hit with “Detachable Penis”, he came out with a wonderful ode to the Son of God that became a college radio favorite.
The House of Love, The House of Love, released 1 February 1990. Not to be confused with their 1988 album of the same name (different album altogether), this one helped bring them into the conscience of US modern rock radio with hits “I Don’t Know Why I Love You” and “The Beatles and the Stones”.
Depeche Mode, “Enjoy the Silence” single, released 5 February 1990. A follow-up to their preview single “Personal Jesus”, this became a worldwide hit and remains one of their most famous songs ever. Hearing this for the first time, I remember thinking that they’d not just written a song better than any one of the tracks on 1987’s Music for the Masses, they’d just dropped their best song ever. [I also remember that my hipster roommate hated this song because it was popular.]
Midnight OIl, Blue Sky Mining, released 9 February 1990. The Aussie band’s follow-up to the mega-popular Diesel & Dust didn’t quite hit the same heights, but that really was never their intention in the first place.
The Fall, Extricate, released 19 February 1990. The Fall’s studio follow-up to I Am Kurious Oranj took them in an unexpected direction: catchy, radio-friendly pop. Mark E Smith might still have been growling about the frustrations and crankiness of British life, but there was a groove to it now, and it made songs like the super catchy “Telephone Thing” memorable.
Primal Scream, Loaded EP, released 19 February 1990. A year before the phenomenal and universally beloved Screamadelica album, the band dropped an odd EP featuring a song that was really just a hazy dub remix by Andrew Weatherall of their single “I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have”. Tack a Peter Fonda movie sample at the beginning, and you have a ridiculously popular Britpop anthem that gets airplay to this day.
The Beloved, Happiness, released 20 February 1990. This electronic dance band had been around for quite some time in the UK, originally as a new-wave band, and you can still hear evidence of their origins on this relentlessly positive, groove-laden album. It’s one of my favorite albums of this period and you should definitely give it a listen.
Del Amitri, Waking Hours, released 20 February 1990. Quite a few years before their Beatlesque “Roll to Me” became their popular radio hit, this band was a favorite of AOR and Adult Alternative stations with their slightly-countrified-blues rock. “Kiss This Thing Goodbye” became their first big hit and got quite a lot of airplay in the early 90s.
The Church, Gold Afternoon Fix, released 22 February 1990. Even this band sounded rather chipper this time around, having dialed back the moodiness and heavy reverb a bit. This album definitely has that early 90s crisp production sound, which in fact worked in their favor, helping the single “Metropolis” get considerable airplay.
Lush, Mad Love EP, released 26 February 1990. This second EP brought out the band’s best qualities — the jangly guitars and off-center melodies — and made them shine even brighter, leading their label 4AD into a new chapter of dreamlike noise rock.
Listen in Silence III: The Singles mixtape, made 28 February 1990. My first mixtape of the 90s might look like it was basically WFNX’s playlist of the same era, and you’d be right. As much as I loved college radio, Boston College’s WZBC was just a bit too leftfield most of the time and my own college’s FM station a little too committed to ticking all the genre boxes. ‘FNX was my go-to station on my stereo, on my Walkman, and even on the radio at the library Media Center. There are a few quirks and deep cuts here, however, most of them either recent used record store purchases or favorite album tracks. Not one of my favorite mixtapes, but it did its job at the time.
So. Despite withering grades and annoying roommates and distant girlfriends, I was in a much better place by the time spring semester rolled around. I realized that the worst I could do is fall into yet another moody spiral. It was about this time that I’d started a new composition book for my lyrics and poetry, and being a bit less restrictive about it. A lot of the writing from this time came out in shards, sometimes a few lines and sometimes a full piece. The style had changed a bit from my gloomy Cure-influence phase into something just a little bit more worldly. I still felt terrible half the time, but I’d figured out a few workarounds by then.
Next Up: High weirdness and the birth of several alt-pop hits!