THE WOOF 200 FOR 1993
So the 170’s turned into a pretty mixed grab bag of styles, sort of like the countdown as a whole really, but for whatever reason more apparent here than in previous installments. In other news I have nothing really interesting to say as means of an intro, so let’s just get to the songs.
Although a lot of them had been hanging around for years on the college rock scene, 1993 proved to be a very vital year for bands with female vocalists, at least in terms of my ears. I tended to avoid WFNX, our local “alternative radio” station, but in ’93 I was inundated by the likes of Mazzy Star, Juliana Hatfield, The Breeders, etc., thanks to my time at Tower. The Cranberries’ debut found its way into regular in-store play and caused them to become the first band of that ilk that really captured my attention and forced me to start digging more. They seemed to capture a vibe that reminded me of Toad The Wet Sprocket, although of course with Delores O’Riordan’s atmospheric vocals in place of Glen Phillips’ rich baritone. She’s really the key to it, as she manages to keep it from getting too airy (like Mazzy Star) or too, I dunno, out there, like Bjork. This song is so simple in its delivery and yet never sounds dumb or underwritten.
Hair metal was pretty much on death’s doorstep by the time ’93 rolled around, but apparently they didn’t get the memo over in England, as Skin unleashed a pretty rockin’ debut that year with a sound that was utterly devoid of any modern influence, unless you count fellow UK pub rockers Thunder as “modern” (their own debut appearing in ’91). This one builds with a cool bass-dominated intro before busting into guitar drenched goodness and raspy vocals. Oh yeah, and a ripping guitar solo, because that’s the way things were done in the good ol’ days. (See also: “House Of Love”, for another example of their shameless devotion to riff rock.)
So it turns out I was about two years early on the Blues Traveler band wagon, as they didn’t break big until “Run-Around” made them radio darlings in 94-95. Meanwhile I was convinced that their ’93 album Save His Soul was the one that was going to hit big. They managed to craft a sound that was popular among the jam band set, but to me they added a very classic rock feel that was destined to be more than just another Grateful Dead. John Popper’s harmonica also brought them a new dimension that is just never exploited enough to my taste (listen to his killer work on this track). I love the looping little guitar/bass combo bit that runs under this song. (Honorable Mention for “Love & Greed”; man, 200 songs just isn’t enough)
The Welsh alt-rock band Manic Street Preachers have sort of a weird history, mostly thanks to the odd disappearance of rhythm guitarist (and main lyricist) Richey Edwards in 1995 (he was later declared legally dead in 2008 despite no body ever being found). The band eventually continued on, finding some success in the UK despite never cracking much in the US. Their sound is very mid-90’s, playing around in the same fields as Oasis while keeping one foot in the ragged punk of say, The Clash or Iggy Pop, although they were known to switch up their sound somewhat drastically from album-to-album. God Against The Soul, from which this track comes, is probably the closest to traditional rock they ever got, which explains why I dig it.
I worked with a guy at Tower who pushed the hell out of BoDeans to anybody within earshot, so I got very familiar with their Hooters-styled roots rock during those years. “Closer To Free” represents their biggest “hit”, such as it were, thanks in part to its use a few later as the theme to the TV show Party Of Five (unwatched by me). You can kinda tell why, as it has a similar beat and delivery to that incessant theme to Friends that The Rembrandts put out around the same time. What the hell, catchy is catchy, m’right?
Chris Rea is one of those UK guys that managed to carve out a long, successful career across the pond while barely making a dent stateside. If you’re a fan of Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits, you should really give him a listen, as his guitar work and vocal delivery is very similar. I stumbled upon him in ’94 when an American version of his album Espresso Logic was given a tiny push by Warner Bros. Records. Actually a hybrid of his last two UK albums, the US version included the title tracks to both, this and the equally fun track “God’s Great Banana Skin”, both of which find a nice, easy going pocket and just live in it. I love the calypso rhythms of “Espresso Logic” in particular, which is why it makes the countdown and Banana Skin gets an honorable mention nod. Oh, and Darlene, here’s another one for your collection of songs about coffee.
I only really have two things to say about this band. One, they really, really, REALLY liked Nirvana and were hoping to ride that particular gravy train all the way to the bank. This song is a pretty decent way to go about it too, but alas, it was never meant to be. Sometimes you gotta carve out a little bit of your own identity if you want to score credibility with the kids. Which brings me to my second thing: if you want to be a successful rock band, maybe don’t name yourselves after a slang term for diarrhea. Just a tip, kids.
I have a massive soft spot for the high-end divas that tend to drive vocal purists mad because they like to belt too much. Mariah Carey, Celine, Adele, I can find time for any of them when the mood really strikes me. I particularly liked some of Celine’s early work because the songs themselves were so completely over-the-top epic that they appealed to my theatrical side. Or that’s the excuse I’ve been using for 20 years now. Let’s face it, I’ve always been partial to pretty ballads that have some power, regardless of what genre they fall into.
I owned this album as a pre-release cassette for years without ever really listening to it (I mean come on, who uses a cassette player anymore?). I’m sure had I done so back in ’93 I would have dismissed it anyway, so I’m not sure it matters. But I’ve expanded my tastes quite a bit in the years since then, particularly when it comes to the British shoegazer movement of the mid-90’s. I mean, I still can’t name more than maybe three bands, but at least I don’t throw my nose up in disgust anymore. Anyway, this album scored huge points with me upon revisitation and this haunting ode to Jodie Foster by way of John Hinkley is the first of a couple of tracks off of their lone release to make the countdown. [Note: the sound cuts out on this version without about 30 second to go. Screw you, YouTube.]
So imagine if you will a band that wrote like the guys from Primus but with an actual normal band structure behind them. Because that’s pretty much what I hear when I give these guys a spin: this sort of herky-jerky delivery that somehow manages to be catchy in spite of itself. The guitars are pretty meaty for something of this style and the overall production really gives their sound heft. I can totally see why they never went anywhere (they have no Wikipedia entry, a sure sign their career amounted to nothing of note) despite being on a major label (Arista Records, for the… record). Although if the comment section on this video link are any indication, they’ve got a decent following in France. (If this tickled your particular musical fancy then check out the equally quirky “Pushing Up The Daisies”.)
As I said at the top I don’t have much to say about these songs as a collective, plus it’s a Saturday and I’m kinda tired anyway, so yeah. See ya next time.