THE WOOF 200 FOR 1993
We’ve finally turned the first quarter pole, the countdown as a whole taking a little longer to unveil than I had hoped thanks to life stuff. In this next batch we get a couple of debut entries from albums which found themselves securely within my top 20 at year-end, which means the repeat artist percentage should be picking up as we go forward, even as I slip in the occasional out-of-the-blue entry (such as #145).
In 1993 I was, at best, a mild Jackson Browne fan. I enjoyed all of the stuff of his that I heard on classic rock radio, and I became obsessed at one point trying to track down the live version of “Load Out/Stay”, but that was about it. His 90’s renaissance changed all that for me, beginning with this album. I’m not sure what caused it, but I assume it was probably due to music being in such a tumultuous place and Browne being such a steady, comforting sound. Whatever the reason, I’m Alive currently sits at #4 of my favorite albums of that year. This song, a classic JB mood piece, is the first of multiple entries on this countdown. Musically it’s a beautifully constructed song, with delicate acoustic underpinnings and haunting backing vocals. I contemplated so many songs from this album to put on the list, but in the end this was one I found I couldn’t leave off.
This is a prime example of what the grunge explosion of ’92 did to music. Once known as The Front, a name change to Bakers Pink occurred when Epic Records decided the band still had a relevant sound but was afraid nobody would give them a chance since they had been (loosely) associated with the late 80’s rock scene. Which is ludicrous, because they never sounded like a hair metal act, instead falling into the same bin as The Cult and (previously reviewed) Gene Loves Jezebel. Not that it mattered in the long run, as Bakers Pink was one-and-done on the album front anyway. Anyway, I’m a big fan of the guitar work in this track, guitarist Mike Greene going for a cleaner sound than most at the time, providing a solid bed for vocalist Michael Anthony Franco to lay down his scratchy-Jim Morrison tribute act on top of (plus a killer solo). The song never quite gets into second gear, but that was the style of the time, and I really feel like this one nestles in nicely among the bigger hits, making me wish the band had been given a chance to grow into their sound just a little bit longer.
This song lives on in perpetuity here in the Boston area for those who dare to listen to sports talk radio thanks to its opening riff being used as a bumper during the Felger & Mazz show. It’s probably that reason alone that it makes this countdown, as it was never a huge hit at the time and never jumped out at me when I first listened to the Vs. album. But that’s music for you, as 20 years after the fact it found a forever home in my listening bank thanks to being inundated with a single riff every day at 5 o’clock. Plus its 90’s era Pearl Jam, so it’s not like it’s a BAD choice.
“Your love is better than ice cream, better than anything else that I’ve tried”.
The fact that this song made the countdown will no doubt make my friend Mark very happy. The fact that is sits at 146 probably will not (especially given some of the stuff that sits ahead of it). Alas this list is mine, not his, so 146 is where it will be. For perspective, it was ranked #83 on VH1’s Greatest Songs of the 90’s, so Mark probably has a legit beef. Anyway, the looping bassline is of course the first thing that you notice about this tune, followed next by the little bending guitar bit, and finally the Nirvana-esque burst of guitar come “chorus” time (like that even applies here). It took me a while to get into this tune at the time of its release, in large part because Kim Deal’s singing style was hard to get my head around, as I was used to a more showy style of vocal. Good tunes are good tunes though, and eventually it won me over. Looking back on it now, it amazes me the number of artists I dismissed out of hand thanks to a perception of what they sounded like without ever hearing them. Makes me wonder what my musical tastes would be if I had grown up with different friends.
One of those frustratingly catchy country songs that I would up loving despite my better judgement thanks mostly to the sentiment of the song. Let’s face it, Sammy Kershaw is not the silkiest sounding guy in the world (his nasally pitch tiptoes right up to the border of annoying for me), and the musicality of the song is pretty basic. But in 1993 I could stop singing along whenever it came on my radio, so I have to give it props for that. It’s not always high art, kids.
Def Leppard’s collection of unfinished outtakes and obscure rarities, Retro-Active, was to my mind a superior album to its predecessor Adrenalize even given its Frankentseinian nature, and it wasn’t even close. This leftover from the Hysteria sessions smokes anything off of Adrenalize and shows that when Mutt Lange wasn’t trying to force them into pop stardom they could still write moody hard rock punctuated by soaring guitar work. Steve Clark’s death really left a big void in the band, as evidenced by his work on this track. Yeah, this probably never would have been a radio hit, which is why it never made the album, but not every great rock song is supposed to be for the masses. Every now and then the Leps sneak back to a sound like this (the Slang album hints at it throughout), but they always seem afraid to fully commit to it. Pity. (For another great Hysteria idea gone unused see “Fractured Love”.)
The Devlins’ Drift is one of those albums that comes into my life, consumes me completely, but somehow manages to walk away without me wanting to explore the artist’s catalogue any further (John Mayer’s Continuum did the same thing). It’s a weird phenomenon, as I like every track on it and struggled mightily to narrow down which ones to include on this countdown, yet I don’t think I’ve ever heard another Devlins album in my life (not that there are tons). They have such a great guitar tone on this album, with this track being a standout. Lots of really cool shading and teases of something heavier (that baby riff that comes at 2:45 is delicious) threaded throughout. (See also “I Knew That”, as I couldn’t let the tasty guitar work in this one go unrecognized.)
Enuff Z’Nuff, despite their stupid name, is rock candy royalty to me, taking that sugary power pop sound that Cheap Trick did so well back in the 70’s and tweaking for the late 80’s hair metal movement. They were always far more talented in the song-writing department than a lot of the bands they got lumped in with (a fact that Howard Stern used to crow about constantly, being the band’s most high profile fan). Their ’93 album Animals With Human Intelligence is possibly the last great pure pop metal album of the era, with everybody (including the boys themselves) mixing things up in one form or another on subsequent releases. Meanwhile this tune just comes strutting out onto the runway with its best strip club groove, augmented with some dirty brass as was the rage at the time. Donnie Vie’s mangled Elvis Costello vocals are an acquired taste, but if you come to appreciate them (like me), then you’ll find a true undervalued gem with this band. (Also check out “One Step Closer To You” because more is better than less.)
I never got into Camper Von Beethoven, yet I jumped on the Cracker bandwagon with their 1990 self-titled debut (thanks mostly to the brilliant “Teen Angst (What The Worlds Needs Now)”, which just goes to show my musical whims are sometimes really, really unexplainable. Anyway, most people know Cracker from their big ’93 hit “Low” (which will appear later on), but the Kerosene Hat album was no one-hit wonder as it was full of great tunes ( “Euro Trash Girl”, “Take Me Down To The Infirmary”, and the title track to name three more). This jumpy little number was my second favorite song off the album, capturing as it did the same vibe as the aforementioned “Teen Angst”. Never saw the video until today, but it too is a pretty cool snapshot of what the early 90’s was offering up, being equal parts artsy/irreverent/political.