THE WOOF 200 FOR 1993
PART SIX: 190-181
Back in the DeLorean for another trip to the year that Clinton took over the White House and mainstream music lost its ever loving mind. This next batch features a number of songs and albums that I completely dropped the ball on upon first release (even though I owned a bunch of them) and have totally turned around on here in the new millennium. That’s probably been the biggest benefit of doing this project, as forcing myself to really give these albums an honest listen has led me to reassessing many of them to pleasing results. Of course it’s also frustrating as shit because there’s too much new music coming out as it is and now I find myself wanting to wallow in the 90’s like some kind of musical archeologist. There’s just never enough time, kids.
Concrete Blonde’s 1990 hit “Joey” is legit one of my favorite songs ever. It’s also all I’ve ever really known from them, which is a little troubling when you consider I’ve had two of their albums in my collection for 20 years. 1993’s Mexican Moon got lost in the shuffle with so much other stuff and it wasn’t until I unearthed it for some serious listens to do this countdown that it really hit me. This title track has a vibe that is very reminiscent of the theme song from season one of True Detective, which most likely explains my new found affinity for it. Great slow burn groove here that settles into a pocket that feels like trotting along on a horse through some southwest prairie. (see also “Heal It Up”; love what singer Johnette Napolitano does with her voice on the chorus)
We played the hell out of this album upon its release in 1993 but for whatever reason nothing from it ever imprinted on me at the time. So how did this laconic blues duet with the legendary John Lee Hooker suddenly find its way onto the countdown? For that we can thank the mighty Tito Juarez, who used this as the background to a scene from a show I did back in 2010. It played while a montage of photos from my unspectacular childhood scrolled on a projection screen as part of a faux-reality show my character was taking part in. As a result the song has become retroactively nostalgic for me, because it not only takes me back to doing that show, but it also makes me think instantly of that montage and reliving those memories every night from offstage. In essence, it makes me nostalgic for a moment of nostalgia. Deep, man.
Another album of many in this part of the countdown that I owned but didn’t listen to much 20 years ago but now truly regret because it’s far more interesting to me now than I have ever given it credit for. Altered State are a weird group, delivering an almost punk-inspired form of prog rock – two things which have never gone together as far as I can tell. This song is the greatest example of that, as it has a very schizophrenic sound, changing times constantly and displaying incredible musicianship (hallmarks of prog rock) while at the same time doing so with a kind of snotty, almost anarchistic attitude. All of this while delivering an offhand homage to the sci-fi cult classic Blade Runner. Not all of their stuff is this out there, but then that’s part of the reason I dig this track so much.
I liked Steve Vai when he was in David Lee Roth’s band, hated what he brought to Whitesnake for his one album stint with them, and was sort of up-n-down depending on the album with his instrumental solo stuff. When he tried to form his own band around a then unknown singer named Devin Townshend (now slightly famous in metal circles for a number of offbeat projects like Strapping Young Lad), I wanted to like it. The album never quite worked for me as a whole because there was a little too much Frank Zappa influence for my tastes (Zappa was the guy who “discovered” Vai), which meant things got a little too loopy and experimental. This track was the most overtly commercial of the bunch, hence my appreciation. Townshend is a hell of a vocalist when he wants to be and this melodic song brings out the best in him while reigning in Vai’s over-the-topness.
Chris Isaak’s Roy Orbison routine took a while to really take with me after I was exposed to him courtesy of the near porn-level video for “Wicked Game”, but his 1995 album Forever Blue really made me a big fan. Problem is there was an album in between those two that I never really paid much attention to, from which this song is the title track. The bassline here is so simplistically great, providing a nice bed for Isaak to croon all over. And croon he does, with a voice so smooth (and a look to match) it’s a wonder the dude had time to write and record music given how frequently he must have been getting laid. I mean, that’s why all musicians do it in the first place, don’t they?
It feels kind of like a letdown to have this song so low on the list given how many fucking times I must have listened to it back in the day, but in the end I just have to admit that I as much as I enjoy a good novelty tune – particularly one done this well – I can’t get over the fact that they’re just that – novelties. Leary sings better than I ever would have thought he might (comedian bias? I guess) and the backing band really delivers (simple as the song is). I remember the day we got the No Cure For Cancer album at Tower and somebody threw it on the CD player in the back office. After a half-hour of everybody up front slowly making their way to the back, leaving the sales floor virtually empty of actual employees, our boss had to roust the lot of us back to work. The irony of the bunch of us acting like lazy, shitty Americans in order to listen to a song and album that mocked lazy, shitty Americans was clearly lost on us.
I remember this album coming out. I remember the hipper guys at Tower liking it and pimping it. I just don’t remember ever hearing it. So it was a bit of a surprise to me when I gave it that cursory spin last summer to find how much I enjoyed it. I get sort of a Crowded House by way of America (the country, not the band) vibe off these guys. Very much indie rock of the day, kind of R.E.M. without being bogged down by artistic self-importance, even while managing to say something. I blew off so much of this stuff in those days because I was still clinging to my hard rock/metal roots and this stuff was always a bit thin sound-wise. Now that I’m older and less likely to need a headbanging fix on a regular basis, I’m finding I appreciate acts like this more. (Another honorable mention to “You Just Have To Be Crazy”, a pretty decent little ballad that has that hangover feel to it.)
Here we go again, another album slotted alongside Concrete Blonde and Altered State that I somehow acquired back in ’93, gave a scant few listens to, then banished to the “other” box of my CD collection to collect emotional dust for two-plus decades. Once I busted it out in 2015 I was stunned by how rockin’ and vital it sounded, kind of a bluesy Bangles for the 90’s thanks to lead vocalist Suzy DeMarchi. Much like The Indians (see #198) or Sheryl Crow, (or once again Concrete Blonde) DeMarchi has a delivery that’s just ragged enough to rock without resorting to strained belting but doesn’t try for overly pretty either. This album has got more listens from me in the last 8 months than it did in the 22 years previous. (Honorable mention here to “Buputa” which has an impossibly fun bounce to it. Almost made the Woof 200 all by itself. Cool but brief guitar solo.)
Tears For Fears were of course a staple of late 80’s Top 40, that is until the good looking dude pulled a George Michael and left the band, leaving everybody to forget they were even a thing. Which is a tragedy because their first album without him – 1993’s Elemental – proved that Roland Orzabal (aka – the other guy) was no Andrew Ridgely and was the truly talented one, even if his name is impossible to pronounce. The album got decent airplay at the time, but given its quality it wasn’t nearly enough for my liking. This tune has a laidback feel to it, although I wouldn’t really call it a ballad. They pick it quite a bit on a few other numbers that we’ll visit later, but Roland’s voice is really suited for this kind of thing. The guitar work is also quite tasty, reminding me of Mark Knopfler quite a bit (though not as dexterous). In a way it was just to see that not everything mellow in the 90’s had to be flat out depressing.
So here’s another one I remember the record company pushing a little harder than normal at the time of release which ended up meaning nothing when it ultimately tanked. Dramarama were essentially a Jersey bar band from the 80’s which had been lingering on the fringe long enough to gather up some credibility, a fact which I think led the label to think that they’d fit perfectly into the new “mainstream”. You can hear the trace of Dave Pirner in the vocals, which is probably what did it for the suits, as Soul Asylum was just then breaking through on radio after a decade of college rock obscurity. The Springsteen Jersey work ethic of this tune was probably the other factor, as you can really see why somebody thought this might be huge. The tune got decent airplay (#10 on the Billboard Modern Rock chart) and the album decent reviews, but the sucker didn’t sell and the band split up soon after. All that said, this song is a perfect example of the what the early 90’s sounded like to me.
As always, I’m curious what the people think. The feedback so far has been pretty interesting, especially because so much of this stuff *feels* obscure to me because I don’t remember hearing it on the radio even as it somehow made its way into my possession. Yet somebody always seems to pop up with a “I loved that tune/album”, so clearly it wasn’t as obscure as I had thought. See you in a few days (or a week, who the F knows) with part seven.