Generation (e)X(tremely lame): 90s Hell

 

Well, if you're in the same general age group as me, you remember a lot of bad music from the 90s. Of course, there's even more bad music today, but that's life.

review index:

Bush: Sixteen Stone / Deconstructed
Everclear: Sparkle & Fade / So Much for the Afterglow
Matthew Good Band: Beautiful Midnight
Loreena McKennitt: The Book of Secrets
Our Lady Peace: Clumsy
Pearl Jam: Ten
Spacehog: Resident Alien


Bush, Sixteen Stone - 1994

Rating: **1/2
Best songs: why even beat around the bush? the hits, obviously.
Worst songs: pretty much all the other songs

 

Bush were one of those groups that really shouldn't have been popular but were anyway. I mean, what did they have going for them, except for the luscious teen heartthrob/lead singer Gavin Rossdale? Their lyrics were terrible, their songs were half-assed, and their playing was...mediocre. But somehow they caught the public ear. "Somehow"? Actually, it's obvious that the reason these guys were popular was the unabashed cuteness of Gavin. Too bad they've thrown that away -- he just looks kinda creepy nowadays, and he's hooked up with... Gwen "Pink Hair Is Punk, Yo!" Stefani?! (Or did they break up? I can never remember these things.)

Regardless of questionable relationship decisions, Bush did manage to come up with a handful of decent songs for their first album. The hits, obviously, are the best of the lot -- "Glycerine" is one of those songs that are so obviously cheesy, but somehow succeed in being affecting. And I like it when a song on the radio doesn't have any percussion at all. On the other hand, with the exception of the pleasant ballad "Alien", the songs that weren't slathered all over TRL with Carson "Asshole" Daley tend to, uh, suck. Badly. Seriously, there's like, nothing interesting at all going on in any of these other songs, with the possible exception of the vaguely neat guitar intro to "Monkey". "Testosterone" has the worst lyrics ever written by anyone in the history of man, and that includes the guy who wrote "MacArthur Park". And the rest...blah. No thanks, Gavin.


Bush, Deconstructed - 1997

Rating: 1/2
Best songs: uh...NONE?
Worst songs: uh...ALL?

 

Okay, can someone please explain to me who was HIGH ON CRACK when they thought up this idea? Let's see, second-rate grunge band... Let's get techno artists to remix their songs! I mean... just... what... it's...

I can't even comprehend how anyone could have come up with this, let alone made it happen. Of course, I don't know good techno from a hole in the ground, but I do know when my time is being wasted. When you hear the first song, you think, "okay, this is kind of amusing, with the random acid-ey TB-303 basslines and metallic synth pads put against Gavin's crooning", but when every song does pretty much the same thing (taking the vocal track from the original song and putting it to a fairly generic techno backing), you start to wonder if it would be possible for God to exist in a world where we have Tricky and Dub Pistols remixes of Bush songs.

I'd give this a zero, but I have to admit it took balls to ask these people to remix these songs, so it gets 1/2 star for that.


Everclear, Sparkle & Fade - 1995

Rating: *
Best songs: Santa Monica
Worst songs: Heartspark Dollarsign, My Sexual Life, You Make Me Feel Like a Whore, Nehalem

 

Art Alexakis isn't exactly the most creative songwriter. Mostly what he does is write some confessional/socially-conscious lyrics, then write a braindead guitar riff and turn on the distortion pedal. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Of course, when it does work, it guarantees him another new Fender Stratocaster and house in Beverly Hills or wherever the hell he lives.

Anyway, this album is still stuck in grungeville -- before he wised up and moved to more, uh, 'eclectic' waters. Like sampling. And writing songs about 70s pop culture. Oh yeah, that's entertainment, all right.

Okay, okay, I'll talk about the recording. It starts off unassumingly enough with a muddy, vaguely-catchy alt-rock song called "Electra Made Me Blind" (the record label?), then starts off with the first of several irritating punky songs, this one about a girl who died of a heroin overdose, aptly titled "Heroin Girl". Oh, I get it, heroin, heroine... Right? Whatever. "You Make Me Feel Like a Whore" and "Santa Monica" use pretty much the same riff. The latter is much better. In fact, it is the song I generally credit for my entrance into the world of popular music. Yeah, really -- I lived a sheltered life, and my parents listened to crap. "YMMFLaW" is irritating because, well, it uses the word 'whore' about 20 times. Who wants to listen to that? Blah blah, some more songs ("Summerland" has some decent guitaring) and side one ends with "Heartspark Dollarsign", which is really annoying. Art sings about having a black girlfriend. Wow. Y'know, I'm sure there are plenty of racist ass-backwards families who still think that white people and black people shouldn't, er, mingle, but was that really that big a problem in 1995? If Art had sung about having a boyfriend, then maybe I'd be more interested, but as it stands, no thanks.

Side two? You're soaking in it. Thank God, he's turned the distortion pedal down for once. Too bad the song isn't that great. Why is it these people feel the need to put 14 songs on an album? I'm really getting sick of Art's voice. SHUT UP ALREADY! We know your life sucked, but now that you're making a lot of money, it can't be that bad. Of course, this can't end well. The last song? Features the line "she wants a man who can take his time / she wants someone who can make her come". So what? That doesn't make him Jesus.

AHHHHH HAHAHAHA!!!! You weren't EXPECTING a Tori Amos reference, were you, MISTER?!

Oh, sometimes I even amuse myself.


Everclear, So Much for the Afterglow - 1997

Rating: ***1/2
Best songs: Everything to Everyone, One Hit Wonder, Sunflowers, I Will Buy You a New Life
Worst songs: Father of Mine

 

First, allow me to apologize for the bit of silliness that ended the previous album review. For some reason I find the subject of Tori Amos to be a particularly amusing one.

Anyway, thank God something changed between that one and this one. Maybe it was Andy Wallace's expert mixing, maybe Art realized how dreadfully dull his songs were when bathed in crappy grunge production, or maybe it was just luck, but this one's a whole lot better. Sure, the songs may still be impossibly simplistic, but with nice production, we can just ignore that little fact. Right?

This time there were a lot more singles: the backwards-"Teen Spirit"-riff "Everything to Everyone", crappy "Father of Mine", the not-really-a-hit-but-they-did-make-a-video-for-it "One Hit Wonder" (now now, Art, don't tempt fate), and then... Oh. "I Will Buy You a New Life", featuring the most brilliant couplet ever written by Mr. Alexakis:

i will buy you a new car
perfect shiny and new

To quote Rich Bunnell, "YOU ALREADY SAID NEW!!!"

It's still a pretty good song, though. I mean, it's got a Hammond organ.

But the interesting thing is that the non-hits are actually pretty good too. "Sunflowers" actually comes up with a couple decent guitar riffs, "Why I Don't Believe in God" actually uses some banjos (!), and uh.. "El Distorto De Melodica" is an instrumental. With distorted bass. Hooray.

Well, what do you expect from me? There isn't a whole lot to say about this album. It's got nice production. The songs are dumb but catchy. Art's lyrics are still the same. I can't find a way to end this with a Tori Amos joke, so I'll just end it by saying that people shouldn't bitch about Everclear when there are much worse bands with hit singles. Though I don't think the E-guys are making much of a popular impression anymore... Not after that shitty "AM Radio" song, anyway.


Matthew Good Band, Beautiful Midnight - 1999

Rating: ***
Best songs: Hello Time Bomb, Born to Kill
Worst songs: The Future is X-Rated

 

First, let me note that I have no idea what the popularity status of the Matthew Good Band is in their native Canada (where the elk roam free, and nobody ever gets sick, thanks to socialized health care) -- for all I know they could be as popular as Celine Dion or William Shatner. But here they had a minor bit of success with the song "Hello Time Bomb" back in late 1999 or thereabouts, so I'm going to assume/pretend that they were one-hit wonders. Since all synthesizers were banished to Detroit and Europe in 1991, it's no surprise that this band is a guitar-based rock quartet. Leader Matthew Good has a pleasant if overly-dramatic singing style, and the rest of the band are professional, unexceptional players. Don't be expecting any orgasmic guitar solos or anything.

And of course, there's the matter of the album being 65 minutes long. Can you guess what I'm about to say?

Yes, albums shouldn't be this long, especially when they're this un-diverse! They pretty much limit the flowery production to the hit single "Hello Time Bomb", a catchy rock tune which uses "Radio Shack" and "sugar smacks" in the same verse, and "Born to Kill", which is one of those orchestral-backed buildup things. You know, one of those things. Vagarities aside, the rest of the album is pretty consistent, if not always exciting. They get points for using the title "Strange Days", despite it not being the Doors tune, and "The Future is X-Rated" is incredibly stupid, but that's about it. That's. About. It.


Loreena McKennitt, The Book of Secrets - 1997

Rating: ****1/2
Best songs: Skellig, Dante's Prayer, The Mummer's Dance, Night Ride Across the Caucasus
Worst songs: Marco Polo

 

Another Canadian. How about that? Ms. McKennitt breaks away from the pack by being Canadian and not having an awful singing voice (like, say, Neil Young, or William Shatner -- I'm so going for search engine hits from Trekkies on this page); it's quite the opposite, actually. To put it simply: She sings purty! Also, she writes all the music herself and plays the keyboards and everything, like her Celtic kinswoman Enya (except she's not nearly as creepy-looking).

Let's move on to the actual record. If you're used to rock and roll music, you might be disappointed, because there's about 5 seconds of audible electric guitar in here: in place, Lor fills the space with various ethnic stringed and percussion instruments, violins, cellos, keyboards, and et cetera. Also, 37.5% of the album consists of instrumentals (or at least songs that don't feature any actual lyrics) -- again, sort of like Enya, except Lor actually decided to put some sophisticated melodies in there. (Doesn't help "Marco Polo", though, which is a rather drab bit of middle eastern-tinged whatever.)

As for the remaining 62.5%, Lor's one hit is present: "The Mummer's Dance". If you only heard the radio version, curse this treacherous world we live in, because the album version doesn't suck. There aren't any trendy synthesizers or whatever in the proper version. The rest are either absurdly beautiful pieces of songwriting or, in the case of "The Highwayman", an adaptation of some poem that's about 10 minutes long, but it's not as bad as that makes it sound. It's just a little long. Though still kinda creepy, in a good way, not an Enya way.

In conclusion, I wish to state for the record that this page really sucks. Sort of like the others, except worse. Wouldn't it be nice to have an original idea that wasn't crap for once?


Our Lady Peace, Clumsy - 1997

Rating: ****
Best songs: Superman's Dead, Car Crash, 4am, Clumsy
Worst songs: Carnival

 

Continuing with the Canadian theme, here we have Our Lady Peace, who are actually still together. Isn't that amazing? Led by Raine Maida, who sounds like a cross between Tom Petty and Billy Corgan (yeesh, now there's a frightening image), they reached success pretty much just with this album, featuring the hits "Superman's Dead" and "Song With the Same Name as the Album".

There's not much to report, really -- it's your standard above-average alternative rock (i.e.: guitars are mostly electric, occasionally acoustic, and keyboards make a brief appearance on "Automatic Flowers" and the titular track). Suitable for framing on MTV, with the occasional burst of creativity (such as the surprisingly heartfelt "4am" and rather doom-laden "Car Crash") thrown in for good measure. The only time the band incurs the wrath of this Khan is on the annoying bit of whatever "Carnival"; otherwise I can't really think of anything bad to say about this album. So I won't.

I know, it's a surprise to me too.


Pearl Jam, Ten - 1991

Rating: **
Best songs: Once, Jeremy
Worst songs: Oceans, Deep, Why Go, Porch

 

Now here's a band that doesn't know when to quit. Eddie Vedder's corporate rock bonanza, more popularly known as Pearl Jam, are still going (strong? nah...) a dozen years after this thing got released and various songs from it got pinned to the radio. But let us take a trip back to 1991, to those simpler times: before the radio turned to the absolute pile of crap (when it was just mostly crap), before Eddie's whining about music videos, before the release of 6.02 x 10^23 live albums. And best of all, before the band decided that they shouldn't bother making decent songs. (Okay, okay, I'll admit -- Yield is okay, but the rest? Ugh.)

I know the album title isn't supposed to mean that there's ten songs on the album, but couldn't they have just made the effort and dropped one of them? I mean, if you don't know the little reference, it just looks stupid. Sort of like titling an album 20 Greatest Hits then including 21 songs. You probably also know that Pearl Jam are from Seattle. Where's that near? Yep -- CANADA! I'm starting to suspect a large conspiracy. Of course, why should we distrust our boring neighbors to the north? After all, everyone here in America is either a righteous, government-supporting patriot or an evil godless liberal commie bastard. But I guess that's a subject for another time. Thanks for reading.

Wait, was I supposed to review something?


Spacehog, Resident Alien - 1995

Rating: ***1/2
Best songs: In the Meantime, Cruel to be Kind, Ship Wrecked, Starside
Worst songs: Space is the Place, Never Coming Down, Only a Few

 

It's probably not easy to be original when your music collection only consists of old David Bowie and Slade records. I'm not sure if this is actually the case with Spacehog (who, thankfully, are not Canadian), but judging by the music on this album, it seems a reasonable assumption. Plainly put, these guys like the glam-rock. Which, after a half-dozen so-called "alternative" albums, is something of a nice change of pace, especially when they eschew the distortion-pedal-on-10 guitars and screaming for some subtle production tricks and like, keyboards and stuff. And they do bother to write some good tunes: the mega-hit was "In the Meantime", lately used in some car ads, but it's still worth hearing, with that fiddly bassline and everything. There's also the rollicking piano number "Cruel to be Kind" and some pleasant slow things like "Ship Wrecked" and "Zeroes". And it ends with a brief acoustic tune, "To be a Millionaire", featuring Regis Philbin on the spoons. The main problem with the album is a swath of lame tunes stuck in the middle, notably the pointlessly punk "Space is the Place" and dullacious two parts of "Never Coming Down". But that's a small price to pay, when you've got so much other fun stuff on here.


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