THE WOOF 200 FOR 1993
No less than three mother Canuckers show up over the next ten entries, so let’s just get to it, eh?
This is barely a song, it’s a story that just so happens to have some music playing under it. Peter Nelson was a folk-singer who apparently put out a couple of albums in the late 90’s full of stuff like this, a true storyteller masquerading as a musician. This recording came from the same compilation that I drew on for song #200 (as well as at least one more to come). It tells a deeply personal story that on the one hand I can’t at all relate to but on the other I can completely feel the emotion of as if it had happened to me, such is the power of its words and his delivery. You can hear his voice quiver at times and it feels genuine, as if the re-telling of his tale brings forth a flood of emotions that he needs to keep in check in order to get through it. In a way I’m glad that this is the only song that I know of from this artist, because it allows it to stand alone as a singular powerful tale as opposed to another song from a catalogue of them. It keeps its emotional punch with me because of that, I think.
When I set out to do this project I made sure to throw a listen towards any album that I had completely missed back in the day that *might* have been of interest to me had I been aware of it. A few of them (Big Sugar, Catherine Wheel, Grant Lee Buffalo) grabbed me in a way that demanded a lot of repeat listens, but none so more than this surprising British act’s sixth album Heavenly Bodies. They have this almost hypnotic way of combining melody with atmosphere that really piqued my interest. This tune, with its stuttering chorus is the first of two to make the countdown despite me never even knowing of it until about 6 months ago. I really like their guitar sound even though it’s far more stripped back than my usual fare. (Check out “American Dreamer” and “Wild Horse” for another couple of standout tracks.)
Our first repeat artist of the countdown comes from the group that brought us the offbeat “Where Is Harrison Ford(?)” back at #188. This time they start off sounding very much like Simple Minds, a trait which carries throughout thanks to the vocals, but branches off into different terrain thanks to the slicing guitar riff. Once again these guys toy with structure a bit, mixing up the rhythms as they go, before unleashing a scorcher of an extended guitar solo and then back-shifting into a more atmospheric outro. I seriously miss-judged this album back in the day.
I love the way that Rush has evolved over the years. The fact that they’ve allowed themselves to grow within their own particular sound is something I’ve always admired, even when parts of their fanbase have cried out for a return to the glory years. Life is too short to just rehash past success when it comes to music, unless you want to wind up like AC/DC just pumping out the same variations on a riff (which works, up to a point). 90’s Rush toned back on some of the gloss of their 80’s work, de-emphasizing the synths for a grittier approach to the musicianship, while the songwriting continued to move forward rather than circling back to their prog stuff from the 70’s. As always Neil Peart’s exotic drum work stands out, as the man is never content to simply bash away, and Geddy Lee’s rolling bassline here just sends this whole track barreling ahead, but to me it’s Alex Lifeson’s guitar work that really stepped up on this album (and this tune in particular). His economy in rhythm playing often gets overlooked because flash gets more attention, but he really knows how to serve a song without the need to dominate. Then of course he rips off a killer solo just to remind you that the man has amazing chops when the needs arises. I get why certain people never liked Rush (Geddy’s vocals DO take some getting used to), but I feel bad for those people, because these guys are brilliant.
Depeche Mode is one of those bands who I never understood, their appeal being pretty nil to me back in the 80’s when I was more into sleazy guitars and sing-along anthems than angst-ridden emo-synth from weird looking Brits. Not a ton has changed since then, although I’m starting to come around on some of their older stuff when I occasionally hear it. Over the years there’s only been two tunes of theirs I was ever able to get into, this and “Personal Jesus”. For some weird reason I pegged this one as potential cross-over hit, as the guitar was brought up front and the whole thing just had so much more power than I was used to from them. Of course it didn’t really do much to propel their career (not that they were doing badly) in the way I had thought, but it stuck with me long enough to find its way onto this countdown. That counts for something, right?
I first discovered D’N’C’ back in 1991 when for some strange reason they started getting MTV airplay for their album/song “Fly Me Courageous” despite years of being ignored by the station. I guess it was their subtle shift from a more blues-jammy vibe into a heaver, AC/DC-inspired territory that did it, even though the shift wasn’t nearly as dramatic as that makes it sound. When they returned with their 1993 album Smoke, they seemed to be primed for stardom, since the general music scene seemed to have shifted more to where they were initially coming from. That didn’t happen of course (the label pushing them with the VERY AC/DC-ish “Turn It Up Or Turn It Off” single didn’t help). “Patron Lady Beautiful” however is an almost perfect mix of their ragged blues and heavy folk sound, being at times both slow & beautiful and dirty & powerful, the kind of song that’d never find a home on radio but is a true gem for anybody willing to wade deep into an album to find what really makes a band tick.
When the Smashing Pumpkins released the Siamese Dream album in July of 1993, most of the people I worked with at Tower went nuts, the band having built an apparently large following thanks to the release of their debut Gish a couple of years earlier. This was going to make the band a household name, so I was pretty intrigued. Oddly, I didn’t get it, even while the rest of the world was, the album doing just as my co-workers predicted it would by putting the band firmly on the musical map. I could never quite get past Billy Corgan’s odd vocals, so it was never necessary to save me space on the bandwagon. That being said, I really came to like the dynamic of this tune, the church bell alone being enough of a change-up to grab my attention, and over the years I’ve found myself being drawn to the odd tune from them (“Cherub Rock” also just missing the countdown cut).
Our second repeater, as I introduced you to Gene Loves Jezebel earlier on this same block at #159. This one reminds me of early Cult for some reason, or more to the point, what I imagine early Cult to sound like since I’ve listened to very little of it. This is one of those songs I really enjoy but as I sit here I find I have a hard time articulating just why. Outside of the cool intro, it doesn’t offer anything in particular for me to offer up as noteworthy, clipping along as it does at such a medium pace without any drastic surges or scorching guitar breaks. *shrug* I dunno, I just like it. Carry on.
These guys, on the other hand, I have no problem talking about. I Mother Earth came down from Canada with a killer debut album in Dig and a sonic assault that was unlike anything I’d heard until that point. Some Chili Peppers inspired bass fwapping mixed with tribal drumming and some trippy guitar playing that was all delivered with an almost punk-like intensity. The whole album really just smokes with energy and creativity, so check out “Not Quite Sonic” and “So Gently We Go” (dig the blatant Doors vibe) for a deeper taste. They’ll also be back on the countdown later on.
Another Canadian act, although with a much different sound, Harem Scarem are for my money the best entry from north of the border into the melodic rock/hair metal scene. Sadly the record label never got behind them much in the states, so it took until the early 2000’s and the glories of the internet for me to ever hear of them. Vocalist Harry Hess has one of those great voices that is powerful and raspy and good for only one kind of music: balls out rock, and I love the way he kickstarts this song. Meanwhile guitarist Pete Lesperance reminds me of Extreme’s Nuno Bettencourt at times, which is never a bad thing to my ears. 1993 wasn’t the best year to be releasing this kind of straight up hard rock, but thankfully they did will enough in Canada (where this tune hit #59) and Japan (where melodic rock is forever king) to keep banging out albums, despite a brief name change to Rubber and an equally brief break-up. Check out another killer tune, “Jealousy” that *juuuuust* missed making the countdown.