Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Quarterly JT Part 2 - 1992


1992 – What a crazy year. Grunge was still in full swing, alternative music was officially mainstream, hair metal was barely hanging on by its glitter painted fingernails, new school R&B was flooding the charts and country music had established itself as the most popular genre in the, er, country.

In my world, a field day was being had by artists who had spent the previous decade teetering on the brink between obscure poverty and rock star glory, as gawky, awkward “freaks” were now on big time magazine covers, mentioned on the news and even brought up by my parents (my dad, “You like this Stipe character?”). Meanwhile, I was having my own personal identity crisis over it, because the music that had been “mine” (shared of course with a few “knowing” others) was now out there for everyone to fondle, abuse and then throw back onto the rubbish pile.

I still haven’t quite recovered.

Also, this was a big year for me because I graduated high school, moved from Florida to Nashville/started college and never looked back. Twenty years later I’m back from Nashville, I’ve lived a lifetime of ups and downs, and tons of the music I took with me at the time has stayed with me, including many albums that I’m not naming here because JT and I agreed to only five. But look up a list of albums of 1992 and you’ll see the best of the best, the biggest of the best and the best of the biggest. Something like that…

Here are JT's thoughts on the year that was 1992...

Disclaimer- 1991/92 were the years when I first REALLY started listening to music. I had always been a fan and went through many phases (New Edition or Hair Metal, anyone?), but if I had to lock down one period when I came into my own musically, this would be the time...so having said that, my initial list of from 1992 was nearly twenty albums long, so what I decided to do was list the albums that I still listen to on a regular basis...no disrespect to so many albums that meant so much to me (and still do), but we set this up as a list of five albums and I’m sticking with that theme...so here goes nothing....

~THE LIST~

Lemonheads- It’s A Shame About Ray
As previously stated, I am a fan of pop music and this album is one of the, if not the, best pop albums ever recorded. Coming in under 30 minutes, there isn’t a wasted second anywhere to be found as Evan Dando and company tear through 12 songs (13 if you were unlucky enough to have a copy that included their boring cover of Mrs. Robinson) of frantic, beautiful and perfect pop songs.

Morrissey- Your Arsenal
Thanks to the brilliance of some of Morrissey’s wittiest lyrics and the fantastic Alain Whyte composed music, what sounds like a complete trainwreck (Morrissey + Rockabilly Band) turned out to be one of the finest moments of Morrissey’s post-Smiths career.   

Dr. Dre- The Chronic
Even the brilliance of Dre’s work with NWA couldn’t have prepared anyone for the onslaught that was The Chronic. This album changed the direction of rap music from the likes of Kris Kross & Vanilla Ice and helped pave the way for gangsta rap to break into the mainstream. Mother-effer, he’s Dre...and after this album no one would forget it. 

The Judybats- Down in the Shacks Where the Satellite Dishes Grow
Southern boys doing British inspired pop music...what’s not to love? (See previous blog post on the Judybats entire catalog for more information: http://guesswhatimlisteningto.blogspot.com/2011/05/judybatin-with-jt.html)

Tori Amos- Little Earthquakes
In 1992 I was listening to a lot of punk music...the Sex Pistols, Minor Threat, Buzzcocks, The Ramones...and while on the surface a ‘pretty’ piano based album seems super far removed from that, Little Earthquakes is lyrically one of the best punk albums to come out in the 1990s. Tori was pissed and wasn’t afraid to tell us all about it. Opening with the beautiful “Crucify,” Tori tells us, ”Every finger in the room is pointing at me I wanna spit in their faces,” and doesn’t let up until she’s ‘laughing in the faces of kings...never afraid to burn” on the album closer “Little Earthquakes.” How’s that for punk? 

And now for my five picks, again, so many to choose from, but there can only be five in the end...

Ride – Going Blank Again: While Nowhere may be their “greatest” album and the “second greatest” of the shoegaze genre, for me Going Blank Again is the money. It’s meatier, edgier and rougher than Nowhere, ultimately completely different, replacing fragile beauty with a brash, open-faced swagger that still manages to evoke an exact tenderness, especially on tunes like Time Machine and the sweeping Cool Your Boots. And then there are the rockers, virtually every other song, that kick and punch with an angsty exuberance, though not with intent of violence or mayhem, simply calling attention to a thought or a situation, which gives the fragmented, sometimes misplaced sounding lyrics more weight. This makes Going Blank Again an immediate and fun listen, an excellent background sing-a-long and toe-tapper, and has been a road companion of mine for over fifteen years. This album was largely overlooked in the States, and I didn’t chance upon it until about 3 or 4 years later, but catching up on lost time has been well worth the (non) effort.

Judybats – Down in the Shacks Where the Satellite Dishes Grow: Well, JT and I both covered this album awhile back, but I again can’t express enough the importance of this band and album on my late teen life, from connecting with fellow J-Bat fans-becoming-friends to the fantastic music itself. Here the JBs toned down the overt British leanings of Native Son, leaving just enough to give their more fully embraced Americana jangle a little extra slink and groove. The melodies are infectious, the performances are exciting and the lyrics flat out brilliant – tender, sarcastic and sometimes so clever they’re borderline stand up comedy. Certainly the highpoint of their catalog, I still can’t help but wonder if this was the best that the Judybats could offer or, if label circumstances hadn’t pushed them into an adult contemporary quandary, merely the hint at something better yet to come. I like to think the latter, even if that frustrates and depresses me, and yet Down in the Shacks remains a stellar release from an underrated band coming from unlikely and overlooked source…the heart of Tennessee.

Sonic Youth – Dirty: Though not their “big time” debut, Dirty is a deserved breakthrough record. Since EVOL or so they had already been cultivating their scattered noise into something more pop melodic, if not straightforward accessible, and this is the payoff – a blend of feedback, song craft and “proper studio” clarity that brings all the best things about SY to the fore. We get menace (Swimsuit Issue), demented fun (100%) and eerie beauty (Wish Fulfillment) all in the first half of the record, and those ideas repeat throughout, making Dirty a very cohesive and focused listen. While not as maligned as Goo (which is ridiculous, because there are loads of classics to be found on that one), Dirty still has its set of detractors, but I maintain that if you listen to just about anything else that came out in 1992, you’ll be hard pressed to find anything at all like Dirty, and those albums that do (I’m not naming names) were already reading from the Sonic Youth notebook. Raucously-slick, chaotically-controlled, punky-pop, all these polar reactions mesh well together and give Sonic Youth a real classic, one that I prefer over any and every other SY album, which is probably 25% nostalgia, but the rest is good, wholesome rock, the way Uncle Thurston and Mama Kim (and cousins Lee and Steve) intended it.

Morrissey – Your Arsenal: This album (along with Sonic Youth’s Dirty and Shudder to Think’s Get Your Goat) defines the summer of 1992, my summer between high school and college, spending every second I could with friends before heading off to TN. We listened to this album daily. Constantly. The irony? While I was a rabid Smiths fan, I detested Morrissey solo. And there’s a whole saga in there between myself and JT, but now is not the time to delve into that. At any rate, the fact that this album was able to rise above my disdain and be “the one I like” when I would listen to no other, I guess shows a bit of merit. And truly, this is a fantastic set of songs, some of Moz’s best melodies and lyrics, tackling all the social, political and relationship topics that he was known and adored for with both wit and wisdom – even if some of it was over our US-oriented heads (National Front Disco). This is Morrissey’s first album with longtime writing partner Alain Whyte, and the first to have a truly “modern” sound in the sense that all the telling 80s production was fully stripped away by producer Mick Ronson, whose barebones rock’n’roll approach incorporates folkly balladry, glam stomp and a bit of rockabilly flare; something not completely unheard of in his Smiths days, but lacking in his initial solo output. But while the music provides a certain urgency, Morrissey is extremely comfortable, leading the rampage with relaxed finesse, spewing his venom with grace and style and not an ounce of spittle, letting the melodies and words and his excellent voice do the work in a smooth, effortless flow that, when pulsing through the speakers, is positively breathtaking.


10,000 Maniacs – Our Time in Eden: Once upon a time I loved a girl named Natalie… I think I’ve said here before that I’m over Natalie Merchant, which is partly a personal “grudge” and partly I’m just not digging her vibe these days. However, a good album is a good album, and when that album is Our Time in Eden, that means a great and nearly flawless album. All the potential that was evident on releases like In My Tribe and Blind Man’s Zoo, and songs like Eat for Two and Like the Weather, came to fruition here. This album was produced and primed to break 10KM into the heavens, and it pretty much did…if only the lower reaches. Honestly, it should have shot them into the stratosphere alongside Automatic for the People, Achtung Baby and other huge alt-albums of that time, because note for note and lyric for lyric, this is a fantastic set of moody, vibrant, heartfelt songs, delivered as only Natalie Merchant could (note, not can), with mumbled elegance, with modest grace and with a purposed aloofness that, surrounded in the swirling, dancing blur that was her stage persona, was the ultimate in early 90s alternative chic. And even if the radio-ready production is a bit glossy, and some of the arrangements a bit predictable and stiff (the Unplugged version of Jezebel blows the album’s verse-rock-verse set up out of the water), the songs themselves not only shine in spite, but as a result of this production, and track after track of undeniable winners make some of the more “telling” aspects of the times, plus a couple of weaker numbers (oh Circle Dream, why do you exist?), as forgivable as they are forgettable. Our Time in Eden was a perfect launching pad for Merchant’s solo career, and easily the high point of the band, which would have been likely even had she stayed on as lead vocalist, because lightning rarely strikes twice with this kind of precision. If you only purchase one 10,000 Maniacs album, make it Our Time in Eden; and if you purchase two, make the other the Campfire Songs compilation to get an idea of what brought them to their fullest potential.

These are simply our thoughts and opinions, so if you've got some faves or 92, shout 'em out! 




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