Tuesday, November 21, 2017

MERCEDES, "Rear End" (1999)

Perhaps Pen 'n' Pixel's most-ogled cover.

For body connoisseurs, there's Mercedes bent over the hood of her namesake vehicle. For car aficionados, there's a Mercedes. Finally, for those who appreciate women attempting visual dichotomy, there's another shot of Mercedes, chillin' in bitch-boss mode.

"It's Your Thing"--Mercedes, like Mo B. Dick, is a singer who occasionally raps. Also like Mr. Dick, her talents in either arena are humble.

"Pussy"--The Ghetto Committee dudes drop by to spit pure misogyny over an Isley Brothers-on-ketamine track. Pussy does keep us all spinning, and there's worse ways for a man to deal with that irreversible reality than insisting on super-aggressive consensual sex. Mercedes remains a defiantly proud possessor of the pussy.

"Talk 2 Me"--Ugh, phone sex and Master P. No no no no. My vagina's practically coughing.

"I Can Tell"--A back-forth boxing match with No Limit rapper Mac. No great romance, this; he has a boo back at the hive, and his idea of seduction is "rippin' the pussy walls."

"Hit 'Em"--Time for the lady to rap. Her internal rhymes are so good, I can't help but wonder as to the identity of her ghostwriter. Add in A-Lexxus and Mia X, we have "3 Tha Hard Way" for sex-crazed ass-beating bitches.

"Kiss Da Cat"--Cunnilingus-balkers have a special spot in Hell.

"Do You Wanna Ride"--"In the back of the Caddy, chop it up with Do or Die."

No, wait…this is "Mercedes Boy" by Pebbles. Oh that's clever, she wrote, without a scintilla of sarcasm. Add some Miami heat, you got a rail ready to ride. I fuck with this pretty tough, being an 80s baby.

"N's Ain't Shit"--Master P as a producer makes me yearn for Master P as a rapper. His drums have stage fright, even though the only audience member is a dog.

"Bonnie & Clyde"--A duet with Magic, one of the few No Limit soldiers I ever looked forward to hearing. He was Mack-10 with personality, and he singlehandedly made this tired concept do a few extra push-ups before bed. Yeah, most Clydes'll die for their Bonnie, kill for their Bonnie…Magic's Clyde beats his Bonnie.

"Pony Ride"--If you've ever wondered what a Christopher Cross/James Ingram duet would sound like, you're really really fucking weird.

"Candle Light & Champagne"--Get drunk and burn the house down? Let us go.

"Camouflage"--Not a material I'd call sexy, but I don't fetishize war. And these are the No Limit soldiers. The logo's a fucking tank.

"Stop Playing In My Phone"--Oh wow it's a skit, color me stunned sienna.

"Hush"--Mystikal yelling over a ring-ting backdrop is mildly amusing.

"What You Need"--I fux with faux-Timbaland beats almost as much as I do real Timbo beats. Leave it to Silkk the Shocker to screw up a one-car funeral procession.

"Crazy Bout Ya"--Ridiculous balladry.

"My Love"--A missed opportunity. The music is a night out at the local club for a devoted young couple, circa 1985. They lyrics are a night in for a bitter single person.

"Free Game"--Apt title; you can't reasonably expect anyone to pay for this.

"Chillin'"--Cubin'. Freezin'. Makin' music for no reason.

"I'm Down"--Rear End is full of titles already used by much better songs.

"I Need a Thug"--Featuring Popeye? Aw man, you steppin' out on Olive Oyl?

Unusually well-mixed, a nice confluence of vocals and instrumentation, and guess what? I'm horny as a violin. Master P's raps are so childish, they made my tubes tie themselves.

"You're the Only One"--Look harder.

"Talk Dirty To the DJ"--90 seconds of Mercedes speakin' nastily to record spinners. "Pour my body with some ice cream"? You know what's sexy, Mercedes? Reading.



I wonder what Mercedes does now. Works at a church, I bet.

Monday, November 20, 2017

MR. BIGG TIME, "Ridah 4 Life" (1999)



Is this the same guy who did "Trial Time"? "Get'cha twelve white folks and take that shit to trial, bitch!" No? Boo.

I consider Ridah 4 Life an overlooked crappy cover. There's the ostensible MC's name in gold-trimmed diamond letters; skeletons riding in the drop-top with our host, one holding a 40 bottle, the other clenching a cigar between his teeth. (Death cannot stop the need for status symbols.)

The cops are on their tail, but Mr. Bigg Time isn't concerned. Is there a law against driving with two malt liquor-guzzling skeletons in your car? Nope, not even in Georgia.

The fact that this is J. J. Abrams's favorite album cover--I mean, probably--is good enough for me.

"Change"--More rushed than Geddy Lee speed-dating.

"World Is So Real"--Mr. Bigg Time's voice spills over with gravel and smoke. The Mannie Fresh-esque drums try to keep my interest, but there is truly something important to be said for keeping samples in hip-hop. Yeah, money is saved, but unless the producer is musically-minded (not just a button-pusher) the beats will get stale swiftly.

"Mama"--The second verse, breaking down his entry into the crime life, is fairly compelling. (Like I'm gonna call a "mama song" boring.)

"Let That Trigga Fly"--Triggers fly? Must be blue jays, then. Blue jays are the officious, entitled pricks of the bird world. That's not baseless prejudice--the collected data is overwhelming.

"Ride-Out"--There are features all over R4L, indication number one that Mr. Bigg Time has no confidence in his ability to carry a record. Ke-Ke is a female MC with the mic presence of a catatonic. A little faster, a little more brooding, than what's come before--yet somehow sounds just like what's come before.

"Crunk All Nite"--An extravaganza of ass, explaining everyone's over-eagerness. Sammy Sam wins best name, and a lap dance.

"Alize"--Neither celebratory nor desultory. Bonnie Tyler meets Pastor Troy. The first song I didn't struggle to sit through, for whatever that says.

"Better Days"--A schizophrenic lifestyle doesn't leave much time to be a quality father. Or finish a beat.

"Ridah 4 Life"--This is like Scarface: bearable and terrible.

"It's My Money"--Miss Bigg Time shows up to sing a hoodrat variation on "It's My Party." Hoes just love Mr. BT and all his rentals: car, jewels, apartment.

"Used To Be My Friend"--Tupac ruined the word "enemy" forever.

"Do Or Die"--Or, wind up hungover in the back of a cop car.

"No Friends"--No taste, either. It's amazing listening to rappers brag about their riches when they obviously paid an average of $35 per beat.



Funnier than the cover of Ridah 4 Life is the fact it was released on Tighter Than Tight Records. Damn thing's looser than the skin of my upper arms.

Friday, November 17, 2017

LIFESTYL, "Deep In the Game" (1997)

Deep In the Game is the first of three LPs from the Galveston-based duo Lifestyl. Cousins Tommy G. and Pancho Villa, along with producer Jay Da Sinista, bring thirteen tracks of raw Latino gangster grape. That I was able to write about nine of them is a minor miracle.

The cover of Deep In the Game is a contrast between wild riches and wild poverty. The rapper's faces--well, half of each rapper's face--are pushed to the sides, allowing us to view a busy overpass and a body of water which is either composed of large $100 bills, or in which large $100 bills are floating. I would have loved to have seen some diving gear, maybe a boat, something to suggest the entrepreneurial spirit of these two young men.

Lifestyl broke up after the cousins were sent to prison on drug trafficking charges. (As far as I know, both men are now free--in fact, one is currently the CEO of Salty Water Records, the label that released Lifestyl's music.) So you can't tell me they weren't about that submergence life.

"Cutthroat Island"--'Cause they sure as fuck weren't about that art life. I don't know which rapper is which--not racist, although Latinos saying the n-word might be--but the first guy at least plays with his flow a bit, and I appreciate that. Otherwise, it's sinister keys and empty threats.

Tommy and Pancho trade lines for verse three. Styles and Jada, they ain't. Kid and Play, they ain't.

"Tragedies"--Starkly animalistic. Shrouded in paranoia. Boring as hell.

"The Feeling"--Lifestyl made an album just to make an album. Their aesthetic is more in tune with the West Coast than any Southern style of hip-hop, and their mimicry is subpar.

"O Baby"--Take the missing letter from the group's name and the missing letter from this song, and you have my opinion.

"Confianza"--I'd rather eat the cardboard box this album was recorded inside than keep listening.

"Killas & $ Billas"--The 379th song (at the time) to sample "Shook Ones, Pt. 2)." Lifestyl probably fancied themselves the Latin Mobb Deep, and I wish someone had recorded those smoky in-studio pep talks.

"Deep In the Game"--Never be afraid to be great.

"Haters"--Fantasy Land gonna hate on Chutes N Ladders.

"So Many Ways To Die"--Add "waiting for this album to get good" to that list. Those drums make Swizz Beatz sound like J Dilla.



Four more songs follow: "Smoked Out," "Fast Eddie," "Roll 'Em Up," and "Pop Pop Pop." I hate to tap out, but I hate uninspiring music even more. Nothing about Lifestyl wants me to keep listening. No personality, no cleverness, no insight into their shared situation.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

PAPA REU, "Xcuse Me!" (2000)


Allow me to explain.

Xcuse Me! is minimalist compared to most Pen 'n' Pixel offerings. The off-white framing makes it look almost incomplete. Then there's Papa, looking unashamed at his resemblance to Ja Rule, posing in front of (not) his car and some pillars holding up nothing. Worse, while many of these covers are emblazoned with the names of other rappers featured on the records, Xcuse Me! boasts a list of other rappers whose records Papa Reu has been featured on--but none of whom reciprocated.

I feel bamboozled. I feel insulted that someone who put this out into the world with the sincere expectation that a non-blood relation would actually buy a copy.

"Intro"--Papa Reu is Houston-based, but born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago. Thus, he makes hip-hop with a reggae tinge. Which sounds as appealing as a can of Coke with a strychnine tinge.

"Shine"--Guest rapper TC sounds like BG on Robitussin. Papa Reu sounds like bootleg Shabba Ranks. Great. Awesome. Tell me more, sir, of the wealth you enjoy.

"Bluka Bluka"--This shit is a hate crime. Fake BG is back, joined by fake Wyclef on guitar.

"Holla"--Not content to jock the look, Papa Reu also lifts from Ja Rule's one good song. (Kinda, anyway.) The chorus isn't the title to infinity, yet I still long for the comforting embrace of stomach flu.

"Na Mean"--"Na na na na!"

And we're back. A fairly intense beat that Papa Reu dribbles all over.

"Diamonds & Pearls"--Holly holy, Li'l Keke is on this? Guys, he's a rapper. Real true and actual. Original member of the Screwed Up Click. Over two dozen albums to his name. When Keke talks over a beat, folk tend to listen, and to believe.

Papa Reu, not so much. He never actually pronounces the "s" in "pearls," so I'm assuming his lady only gets the one.

"Be Bout Ya Issue"--Following up his ode to the good life, here's a gangster missive. Marinate, haters. The cat that produced this is probably dead now, so I'll go easy.

"Bubble"--It's a Papa Reu song, it ain't supposed to bubble.

"Now Everybody Wanna Be Down"--Those people who said Reu would never "make it" were wrong! Never mind that I used to read The Source, XXL, Rolling Stone and Spin religiously and never once saw mention made of this meffer.

"How We Ball"--The music has the Atari-esque bop of a solid Cash Money song.

"Skit"--Eat me, loser.

"Black Queen"--Positivity performed with all the zeal of a stepped-on snail.

"X-Cuse Me"--Ras Intelligence is a basic gangster rapper bringing basic gangster raps.

"Looking Good"--Sounding bad.

"Grimy Niggas"--Featuring Ali. Not the one regarded as the most lyrical member of the St Lunatics (meaning, he threw in a three-syllable word once every sixteen bars). In the style of cheap 90s Southern rap, lazy percussion and lazier synth patterns rule the day.

"Outro"--Three and a half minutes? Not acceptable, let alone excusable.



Fucking Steve Martin and Eek-a-Mouse would have made a better album.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

MO B. DICK, "Gangsta Harmony" (1999)




Master P's cousin shot to relative fame as a founding member of production squad Beats By the Pound. So it makes sense that Mo B. Dick handled most of the production on his debut record. Gangsta Harmony isn't just another NLR burger; Mo B. produces, occasionally raps, but mostly vocalizes in, uh, gangsta harmony. Was it a shame that his time to shine solo came as the label's own star was dimming?

"Picture U and Me"--Slow-burning pre-coital skit. Making love to SWV and Star Trek, oh baby.

"Station Identification"--Really? Picture you screaming while being attacked with a flaming crowbar by me.

"Intercourse"--Puerile and amateurish. The woman sounds as though she's being forced to choose between taking a pipe up her ass or a broomstick up her vagina.

"U Got That Fire"--I'd much rather listen to "I Got That Fire" by Juvenile. Or "U Understand," also by Juvenile.

"Got 2 Git Mine"--For a guy so fond of singing, Mo B. Dick can't sing very well.

"Mo B.'s Theme"--His rapping is a bit better. The snares still wish he'd cramp it up that "Tramp" sample.

"Part 3"--Of what?

C-Murder, Magic and Mia X stop by to liven up proceedings. Magic's great; he'll beat the shit out of you, then beat it right back into you.

"Twerk'm"--A bounce track sultrier than the title suggests. Yeah, twerking's been around forever. (Cavemen twerked! Jesus twerked!) I might could melt into this velvet overhead, down some shots, and make the middle of my arms smack the middle of my legs.

"U Fell In Love With a Gangster"--Like falling asleep with your head against the side of a fish tank, and all the fishes have stopped to gape at you.

"What's On Your Mind"--Silkk the Shocker? Buddy, you do not want to know what's on my mind. Did you mix this song too, asshole?

"Shoot'm Up Movies"--A touching (read: awkwardly hilarious) story about falling in love at the cinema.

"She smiled at me with big brown eyes." Wow, most people use their mouths. She's a keeper, Mo B.

"Smoke My Life Away"--Dedicated to "the children of the corn." The Stephen King short story or the short-lived rap group featuring Cam'Ron and Big L? Redman coulda rode this beat, no saddle.

"It's Alright"--The main musical hook is the intro to the Isley Brothers' cover of "Summer Breeze" played on a mini-Casio. C-Murder wooing a chick isn't as funny as I'd hoped.

"Want/Need"--Those horns got the fiber farts. My wants and needs are the same--for this album to end.

"I'd Be A Fool"--Laments over a trifling ho. Genuinely well-crafted and performed.

"As the Ghetto Turns"--When you hear this song, will you cry? 'Cause you know you're an idiot, if you cry.

"Could It B?"--A duet as sexy as pit bull puppies fighting over a box of decomposing kittens.

"Leave Her Alone"--Gangsta Harmony finally comes to a conclusion with an overly-long, utterly commendable anti-domestic abuse message. It quickly grows syrupy, but it's refreshing to hear a man on a hip-hop record urging women to reject abusive relationships.



Albums come much better than Gangsta Harmony. However, they also come much worse. Same with the cover. I'm more offended by the lack of flash. I get that No Limit had less money to throw at the P 'n' P guys as the 21st century approached, but they still should have made every key on that piano a different gem. Brilliant and durable. And how dare they defy Album Cover Rule #12: Never Place A Hot Bitch In the Distance.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

TRU, "Tru 2 Da Game" (1997)


Percy Miller grew up in New Orleans' notorious Calliope Projects. After dropping his dream of a pro basketball career, Percy moved to California, where he studied business at a junior college in Oakland. Two deaths would change his life.

First was his grandfather, who passed as a result of medical malpractice. His wife received $10,000 from the hospital, and she bequeathed the money to her grandson. He would use this to open a record store, called No Limit Records, in 1988.

Then in 1990, his brother Kevin Miller was killed during a robbery. Percy turned No Limit into a record label, releasing his debut album (as Master P) in 1992. No Limit would go on to sell millions, make millions, and spend millions.

Tru 2 Da Game is not the most successful album in label history, but it's up there. Likewise, while it's not the ugliest NLR album cover, it is way the hell up there. Arguably, it's more useless than unpleasant. Why do the rapper names appear over each masked-up face? Those aren't even actual people, those are radioactive jack o' lanterns. That are on the verge of robbing Heaven, apparently.

"Intro"--Eavesdropping on ghetto homework with Master P and son Li'l Romeo. Over descending piano and gunshots on the four, the "ice cream man" teaches his child how to detect and deflect hoe-ass ways.

"No Limit Soldier"--Master P, calling himself the Colonel, provides a roster rundown. No questioning the man's accomplishments as a mogul; as a rapper? He's at least better than his brother Vyshonne, who commits vocal misdemeanors under the sobriquet Silkk the Shocker. He rhymes, more or less, but he couldn't keep on beat with Gorilla Glue. (He's also absolutely the type of MC who'd reference a quarterback with an 0-4 Super Bowl record.)

Guest Mia X ("first lady" of No Limit) is better than both men, easily.

"I Always Feel Like…."--Mia rejoins the guys to kick paranoia over a hi-hat-heavy instrumental. Mo B. Dick croons the Rockwell-inspired chorus. Silkk's frequently-clowned verse features the following:

"And I be seein' shit that ain't there/It ain't there, but I be seein' shit."

Which is fine if uttered in a psychiatrists office. In a vocal booth?

"There Dey Go"--Begins with P namedropping half of America, emitting a constipated battle call and wasting this time of mine. Silkk pops up to tell some buster that he's "more cheese than some cheddar."

"I Got Candy"--Starting a song with Silkk the Shocker is like starting a sentence with "I'm not a racist, but…." This Cameo interpolation veers way left right quick, thanks to an tuneless bass line and Sega Genesis sound effects.

"Ghetto Thang"--Big Ed is the guest speaker for this ode to self-preservation. The beat is smooth and Master P forgets to OD on ad-libs.

"FEDz"--C-Murder is the best rapper of the Miller Bros., which sounds like a backhanded compliment. Mia X provides the hook (why wasn't she the fourth member of TRU?) and Silkk is his standard shit self, reminding us he's "twisted like a Twizzler" with "mo' stakeouts than a Sizzler."

"What They Call Us?"--Master Percy laments advice unheeded. (Jay-Z's most recent album is his attempt to succeed where P failed.)

The drums are knuckles rapping on an exposed sternum while the keyboard attempts to mimic dramatic movie music.

"Smoking Green"--Get high, get through more than one minute.

"Gangstas Make the World"--Unsurprisingly features a wealth of gangster namedrops, including "Machine Gun" Kelly, a man who in reality never committed one murder, much less murder one. Most of the instrumentals on No Limit albums were cooked up by Beats By the Pound, a production team who treated music like McDonalds cooks treat burger patties.

"Swamp Nigga"--A Master P solo track. Ad-libs and accidental sounds add to the goofiness inherent in a song titled "Swamp Nigga."

"Ghetto Cheeze"--Silkk's flow, his syllable emphasis, his accent choices. You're a killer? Good. Kill me.

"Heaven 4 a Gangsta"--West Coast whine. On to disc 2.

"Tru 2 Da Game"--Remember beepers? Guest Mr. Serv-On injects some humanity into the project. Leave it to Silkk the Shocker to reference the greatest QB to never win a Super Bowl.

"Freak Hoes"--With Mia X on riposte duty, so the song's not misogynist! My fave, for sure. How can you freak to a beat made with a spoon and frozen aluminum foil? I look forward to finding out.

"Tru ?'s"--C-Murder in storytelling mode.

"1nce Upon a Time"--Everything about the track--low-riding synth, slasher strings, incidental thumps--tries much too hard.

"Pop Goes My 9"--Watery as British baked beans.

"It's My Time"--Mia X could beat up Adrian Peterson, and probably she should.

"Torcher Chamber"--Nice play on words (I'm assuming). Everything else is like I'm hanging out with Dirk from the Rutles.

"They Can't Stop Us!"--Percy, I never once doubted your business acumen, please stop yelling at me.

"The Lord Is Testin' Me"--C-Murder deals with the effects that criminal life has on his loved ones. Silkk the Shocker's flow is, within this context, God.

"Final Ride"--No Limit Records really is an inspiring rags to riches story.



Just don't feel you have to listen to the music for the tale to be considered complete.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Why Pray For Me When You Can Fix Me A Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich--Intro

The only musical genres I've zero time for: reggae and ska. Reggae is a dull, repetitive style of sound best enjoyed--arguably only enjoyed--by the well-stoned. Ska is the white version of reggae, which should say it all.

Anything else, I've at least a few minutes to spare: rock, pop, metal, classical, bluegrass, country recorded before 1986, hip-hop. The idea of reviewing my top 10 hip-hop albums tempted me. I figured it would be a nice change of pace and face for the blog.

The idea of not being so goddamn predictable held even stronger allure.

I still wanted to talk hip-hop…but not a top 10 faves, or a discography review of an MC or group. One evening, I found myself on a "crappy rap album covers" kick. There is no shortage of putrid selections, or websites willing to compile lists. I was amused to note how many of them came courtesy of one company.

Pen 'n' Pixel is a graphics design firm based in Houston, TX. Started by brothers Aaron and Shawn Brock, P 'n' P were responsible for some of the gaudiest images to ever (dis)grace a CD case. They provided scenes of faux-opulence and hyper-violence for rappers both struggling and thriving, eventually becoming the in-house designers for Master P's legendary No Limit Records.

Much like the music they helped promote, the works of Pen 'n' Pixel gave hip-hop purists the heebie-jeebies, what with its abundance of bitches, booze, blunts, bling and blickies. I'm intrigued by the intent of such ludicrous lavishness. How many of the rappers were laughing along? If not done in the spirit of parody or satire, were the three-dimensional embraces of materialism meant as a "fuck you too!" or a "you can do it, too!"?

Over eleven years, Pen 'n' Pixel produced in excess of 19,000 covers. Contrast that with the 18,000-plus comic strips Charles Schulz drew up in fifty years. Unlike Peanuts, I haven't laid eyes upon every single thing out of the P 'n' P camp. I have seen hundreds of their works, though, which I feel qualifies me to select ten standouts. Not just subpar, not just absurd, but intriguingly so. Further, I resolved to actually review each of the ten records, track by track.

(I like grape jelly best.)

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Some Stay Buried

Between 1999 and 2013, each of the Big 4 bands released multi-disc compilations. In this post, I will take a fairly quick look at each of them.

MUSIC BANK
10/26/99

Alice In Chains had the actual gall to include already-released album tracks in this box set full of demos, b-sides and three never-released tunes.

The '88 demos are a glance at their glam roots, including a phenomenally great "Sea of Sorrow." The spidery, sinewy "What the Hell Have I" (taken from the soundtrack of the unfairly maligned Last Action Hero) appears in "remix" form--although I'll be damned if I can hear a difference. Still nasty as maggots on coconut cream pie. The people who hear "Barracuda" and "Straight On" and just go, "nah son," well, those trash taste-havin' motherfuckers can revel in the alt-mix of "Brother." The trio of New! songs are unremarkable, save for "Get Born Again," a tilt-a-whirl on homemade milk.

LOST DOGS
11/11/2003

Pearl Jam's dogs want to live free, damnit, I say let them live free! A shit-ton of b-sides, fan club singles, compilation tracks and album outtakes (mostly from Binaural) over two discs. Highlights include "All Night," "Sad," and "Black, Red, Yellow," all fine examples of what a lifetime of gritted teeth and knotted hands can do to a person. Oddities include "Whale Song" (best use of animal sounds in a song since "Midwest Swing"), "Sweet Lew" (the "singing" debut of bassist Jeff Ament, since he couldn't trust anyone else to convey the profound disenchantment of meeting a basketball hero) and the hidden track, "4/20/02," a bitter tribute to Layne Staley that calls out the corpse-pecking phonies whose guilt may be assuaged by his death.

Lost Dogs is also home to two of the biggest hits in their history: "Yellow Ledbetter," which is still a rock radio staple, and a cover of Wayne Cochran's "Last Kiss" that is the biggest-ever hit by a grunge band, peaking at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the summer of 1999.

WITH THE LIGHTS OUT
11/23/2004

The Nirvana box was all set for 2001. Then, Courtney Love stepped in, arms crossed and scowl etched. Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl planned to include "You Know You're Right," a song from the band's final recording session. The widow Cobain insisted that the track had such hit potential that placing it on a box set, to make it one of dozens, would be a waste. Hence, Nirvana, a single-disc greatest hits compilation released in 2002.

The long-awaited box set finally hit stores two years later: a 3 CD/1 DVD mammoth packed with radio sessions, live performances, home demos, b-sides and rehearsals, including material dating as far back as 1986. At best, a fascinating look into the creative process. "Anorexorcist" is one of the earliest tracks and that bitch rips like a cactus on a motor scooter  "Even In His Youth" shows what a brilliant instrument Cobain's voice could be (and, with polish, could've knocked "Scoff" off Bleach). "Sappy" is basically the Beatles with fibromyalgia.

Makeup-free versions of "Polly" and "About A Girl" prove the old adage that practice makes perfect. "Dive" is still bad-ass with busy drums and trauma-free yelling. "Drain You"--with Dale Crover!--sounds great despite being recorded in the world's largest washtub while a neighbor sidearms fish bobbers at them.

Unless you're a Nirvana freak, you don't need to hear most of the tracks here more than once.



ECHO OF MILES
11/24/2014

Three CDs, and still nowhere near a complete collection. The scatting leg-sweep "Sub Pop Rock City" kicks it off, followed by the serial killer lullaby "Toy Box." "HIV Baby" and "Cold Bitch" are stupider than I'd suspected (the latter's too pretentious to be offensive). The bleak clamor of "Birth Ritual" is a welcome antidote to the likes of "Black Rain" (a pointlessly cryptic hodgepodge of hackneyed imagery and half-decent U-turns of phrase) and especially "Exit Stonehenge," which conspired with "Spoonman" to comprise the stupidest single in grunge history.

The covers are mostly successful--including two Beatles songs--but their interpretation of Devo's "Girl U Want" is befuddling. Don't believe me, ask Gerald Casale.

Although I haven't heard anything concrete, the possibility of a more thorough Soundgarden box set within the next five years must be pretty high. At least, higher than it was before the shocking death of Chris Cornell on May 18, 2017, mere hours after Soundgarden's gig at Detroit's Fox Theatre.



Meaning, Eddie Vedder is the only singer of a Big 4 band still alive.

The legacy of each of these bands should not be tragic ones. The music they gave to the world should (and I suspect, will) endure beyond the extraneous. Soundgarden will be remembered as the virtuosos, the caterpillars of the community; Nirvana, the most revered, the door-smashers; Alice In Chains as proof that metal can make a valuable ingredient in the right hands; and Pearl Jam, hailed for their endurance and integrity.

I thank them all for their individual roles in shaping my life.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Them Again

LIGHTNING BOLT
10/15/2013

10 albums over 22 years, eh? So close!

"Are Pearl Jam a salient band in this day and age?" is a dumb question. "What is 'salience' in this day and age?" is my response. (Only a slightly less-dumb question.)

"Getaway"--Inoffensive lifer-rock. Pleased to exist. Pearl Jam remain a band for the people--just, less people now. "It's okay." If you insist.

"Mind Your Manners"--Sweet beats. The ol' 1-2, in less than three. Whatever loosens the tongue and gets the finger to jabbing is fine by I.

"My Father's Son"--Least-dumb query yet: Is Eddie Vedder restrained by choice? The answer is unimportant, so long as the kid's caustic.

"Sirens"--Are shitty alarm clocks.

A rolling Stone, though? Straight cash, homey.

"Lightning Bolt"--I know the "she" in this'un. She was in the audience at the 9:30 Club, waiting patiently to be Bored, enduring the percussive pus-y maelstrom. She was the only audience member who didn't take a step back when the pounds and squeals began filling the finite space. She was a credit to her gender. She would be deaf if not for excess ear wax.

"Infallible"--Haha, that cat's named Spots! That fat guy's nickname is "Stringbean"! Best to just lean.

"Pendulum"--A Backspacer leftover. A one-car crash beneath the underpass. Fading gray is really faded green.

"Swallowed Whole"--Drifts from fluttering wings to winking stars.

"Let the Records Play"--Hand claps! Struts about like an SOB with PCP wishes and SOS dreams.

"Sleeping By Myself"--A re-do of a track that appeared on Vedder's Ukulele Songs. I wouldn't kick it out of bed for eating crackers. I wouldn't let it in my bed to begin with.

"Yellow Moon"--A reminder that the best we can hope for is to embrace the formless, and wait to feel the pulsation.

"Future Days"--An acceptable acoustic ditty.



The marvelous return to form will probably never materialize. Does Pearl Jam still matter? To the world at large, I suppose not. I'd argue, however, that art is supposed to make you think about the world, not vice versa.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Hurry Up and Die

THE DEVIL PUT DINOSAURS HERE
5/28/2013

The "big return" went gold--in fucking 2009, meaning technically it went platinum--so here's Layne-less Alice for a second go-round, reeking of Omega 3.

"Hollow"--Even though it finishes 120 seconds past the limit, I'm impressed by how "Hollow" scarred up its own nut-sack.

(Some fabrics shouldn't be cymbal-washed, though.)

"Pretty Done"--Cackling over bone dust.

"Stone"--Not-Layne possesses the presence and potency of an emphysemic parrot. Shame, since Layne could have coaxed up a spook from that puddle.

"Voices"--Hemorrhages lameness. Shouts the pathetic truths of middle-school journal keepers.

"The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here"--Nostalgic atmospherics for a timely tackle of God's most desperate children. Why is it six and a half minutes?

Christians oftentimes make proclamations so child-like that they should be imprisoned for criminal misuse of oxygen. They deserve pummelings no shorter than 60 seconds, and no longer than 180 seconds.

"Lab Monkey"--No thanks, I'd rather listen my neighbors talk at length about summertime lawn care.

"Low Ceiling"--Low standards, as well.

"Breath On a Window"--Finger me out a good one, then. Wait, that sounded wrong. Come on, you've never blown on a window and written your name? Once more for my people in the back…this song is too long.

"Scalpel"--To the neck? Sounds dangerous. Proceed.

"Phantom Limb"--Seven minutes and…one of the few good songs on here. Good, mind; it's not sneezing into its hands and eating it or anything.

There's an 80s metal box vibe to that riff, one containing ninety pounds of dynamite powder. This is the kind of fever that deserves to be fed, so that it may grow ever more vehement.

"Hung On a Hook"--Mashed potatoes--hey! Sweet potatoes!

What a tornado of sow slop and Scrabble squares.

"Choke"--Like Nickelback playing in a room reeking of lemon Pledge.



Dismal. Most of the tracks here have the agility of Jabba the Hut and the focus of a starving chimp.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Lazy Lions


KING ANIMAL
11/13/2012

Unlike Alice In Chains, Soundgarden had actually called it a day--then a night, for good measure.

Chris Cornell solidified himself as one of the greatest male voices of his generation. He released four solo albums (some more adventurous than others), took over Zach de la Rocha's spot in a renamed Rage Against the Machine, and performed a Bond theme. Matt Cameron joined Pearl Jam. Ben Shepherd lost a fiancee, gained a pain pill jones, and continued playing music. Kim Thayil stayed in the ring as well, perhaps most prominently as a member of the reactionary punk group No WTO Combo (alongside Jello Biafra and Krist Novoselic).

Thirteen years after watching the jersey ascend, the members of Soundgarden reconvened to ascend the rafters and rip that bitch back down. Another two years passed by before they re-took the field.

"Been Away Too Long"--So on the nose that it begins burrowing into the motherfucker. High-octane rock-demigod maneuvers on display. Has it truly felt so empty without them?

"Non-State Actor"--Masterful meerkat boogie, featuring those oddball time signatures I've always loved them for. (Soundgarden, not the meerkats.)

"By Crooked Steps"--The abominable snowman walks with a limp and talks with a lisp. Thus, he doesn't do much of either. He envies the likes of Chris Cornell. He'll never open his mouth and hear doves soar. He thinks being "addicted to feeling" is a positive.

"A Thousand Days Before"--A defanged coppermouth is a coppermouth, regardless. Defiance in isolation is awesome since it impresses the exact number of people it needs to impress.

"Blood On the Valley Floor"--The sun's having its period, then. Or perhaps it was stabbed. How much blood, I wonder, and how thick. If I want to smear some on my face and run screaming into a bank with a bouquet of fallen tree branches, will my demands be met or will I be laughed out of the lobby?

"Bones of Birds"--Look, this is the 21st century. Don't pull the thang out unless you plan to bang.

"Taree"--Written in the 90s, recorded in the 00s. Therein the problem splays. Disheartening modern rock pablum with an anemic chorus.

"Attrition"--Tire-tester working a double shift. All's on the level.

"Black Saturday"--"Kill me right away if I start to get slow and don't remember how to separate worms from the apple."

People are here on this planet to be bothered by one another. Don't forget that.

"Halfway There"--Various questions. I've answers for several. Most people are born to a life of mediocrity, talents and efforts be damned. Makes as much sense as flavoring a cup of coffee with a splash of apple juice. Yet, that's what I'm hearing here.

"Worse Dreams"--Wandering room to room, wiping hands (and worse) on doilies and spooking old women.

"Eyelid's Mouth"
--Christ, that is such a Soundgarden song title. And such a Badmotorfinger b-side.

"Rowing"--Onward. Ever so. Don't stop till you get too much.

I'm glad the final song on a Soundgarden's final studio album is super-sparse and ruminative. Honors them well.

"Rowing is living/And living is hard/But living beats losing all that we are."




I'd advise strongly against castigating a man for changing his mind.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Vulgar Display Of Hubris

BLACK GIVES WAY TO BLUE
9/29/2009

After album three, Alice In Chains went on a hiatus. Jerry Cantrell released a solo album in 1998 that was essentially an AIC record without Layne Staley. That same year, the sincerely struggling vocalist managed to record two songs with the band. Earmarked for Cantrell's second solo, they wound up instead on 1999's Music Bank box set. A live album and greatest hits collection followed, with no discernible signs of a new studio record.

Cantrell's sophomore effort came out June 2002. In an interview given March of that year, Jerry expressed hopes that the band who made it possible for anyone to give shit one about a Jerry Cantrell record would get it together.

A month later--April 20th--Layne Staley's partially decomposed body was found in his Seattle condo. He'd fallen victim to a deadly speedball, self-administered two weeks before.

In 2005, AIC's surviving members reunited in Seattle for a benefit concert. Various vocalists filled in for the late Staley, including longtime supporter and friend Ann Wilson. Next, a VH-1 concert honoring Heart. Among the fill-ins was Comes With the Fall singer William DuVall, who so impressed the guys, they asked him to stay on the mic for the series of reunion concerts they'd planned for 2006.

Interviews expressed ambivalence towards the idea of recording new music under the Alice In Chains name. Whether their decision to keep the name showed admirable bravery or alarming indecency is up for debate. The band, for their part, acknowledged reluctance among the fanbase while reminding people that no one outside of Layne's family was harder hit by his death than they were, and no two people grieve the same, etc.

Accusations of avarice were inevitable and funny, considering that anyone in this century who releases music with the expectation of earning a living deserves every dollar they don't get. For my part…I expected very little from this reboot.

"All Secrets Known"--Right off: William DuVall's voice is okay, but his projection is sorely lacking. Mad Julian Lennon vibes. (Better than Tim Owens vibes, confessedly.)

Rest of the band whip up a nice swirling red spot. "No going back," hell, they said it.

"Check My Brain"--This big rock radio hit is also far and away the brothel's Employee of the Year. The main riff is an armor-crushing monstrosity, a hearkening back to the best of alt-rock at its commercial peak. The chorus looks and feels like Alice In Chains.

"Last Of My Kind"--Still stuck in the decade prior, and still, I've no beef to cook. The new guy, yeesh. His flourish game leaves much to be desired. Dude makes Aaron Lewis sound like Nick Drake.

"Your Decision"--A lazy massage through a nylon tee. The band, taken as a whole, sound great. Which didn't stun me, it's not as if Layne Staley's death meant Sean Kinney's hand-foot coordination would suddenly go missing. Soul is lost quicker than technique…and impossible to relearn.

"A Looking In View"--This seven-minute stomach drop was the first single. Those patented vocal blends are still here, with a distinct difference: Jerry Cantrell dominates DuVall in the mix. True, the new guy isn't a powerhouse, but he should still get his fair share of the air.

"When the Sun Rises Again"--Mostly acoustic. I need to watch The Seventh Seal and cheer up.

"Acid Bubble"--Another seven minutes? Those picked notes don't pull wool. Ain't no fudge brownie in my hand; just a muddy boot on my foot.

"Lesson Learned"--Was it, Jerry? Was it really?

Mr. Cantrell's relocation to L.A. gave him one great song and a bunch of decent riffs. Introspection without a decent razor leads to sunken eyes and unsightly bumps.

"Take Her Out"--A girl? A dog? A coke mirror?

"Private Hell"--Purgatory defies passionate analysis, explaining why it's mislabeled here.

"Black Gives Way To Blue"--Elton John on the piano.

Elton fucking John.

On the fucking piano.

Elton fucking John on the fucking piano.

When Jerry found out that his band and Elton were recording in the same studio, he was struck by an idea: wouldn't it be amazing if one of the world's most popular piano men could play on the song Jerry wrote in honor of his departed friend? Layne Staley's first-ever concert was Elton John! Jerry sends a tape of the song and a brief note. A week goes by. No word. Then, one of Jerry's "people" informs him that Elton would be interested in a meeting. Turns out, he's a longtime fan of AIC and would love to contribute.

This homage to their evaporated soul could have understandably stretched out. We've already had a number of songs in excess of 300 seconds on the album. "BGWTB" takes only three minutes, though, and is better for it.

The more I listen, the more the circumstances of Staley's death piss me off. Not the cause (how many rock star OD's have been truly unexpected?) but the fact it took two weeks for him to be found. It took a call from to a former manager from his current accountants before anyone thought to check up on a suffering man.

In other words, it took money for someone to give a damn.



I'm not the type who considers the continued existence of Alice Of Chains to be problematic. Word of a new album didn't fill me with such anger that I had to step outside and crush a leaf with my bare tongue. I believe in giving fair shakes. And in all quaking fairness, Black Gives Way To Blue is (barring one exceptional track) a dispiriting slog.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Broken Lead

BACKSPACER
9/20/2009

Only three years.

"Gonna See My Friend"--'Bout a drug. The drug of…love of…sweet sweet tuneage. Brothers and sisters, a fishing trip awaits. BYOB. All sharp, no squirm.

"Got Some"--Wait, this might be the drug ode. "Let's go, yeah!" Don't expect to disappear into the background.

"The Fixer"--The rib-sticker, the back-of-neck pricker. Ironic chorus in the manner of "Alive," which seems a hundred years old now. Zips along like a chihuahua in a cornfield. The most vital word in music has not changed since the mania first hit.

"Johnny Guitar"--Great concept: guy falls in a sort of love with a chick on an album cover. A guy who's the diametric opposite of Johnny Guitar, sensitivity to spare. He remembers most important dates, has a good relationship with his mother and most crucially, does not have to be pointed towards the clitoris.

"Just Breathe"--"I'm a lucky man." Wow, and Backspacer came out before the Cubbies won!

I'd like to believe my dad thought these lyrics, more or less, in his head. Where they stayed, since he lacked the confidence to set them free.

"Amongst the Waves"--Jellyfish are like coconut flakes, ruining whatever they touch.

"Unthought Known"--Clever. Title stole a few seconds, won't lie. Song itself is a perpetually clogged kitchen sink.

"Supersonic"--At last, an ode to those triplet towers of rhyme, JJ Fad. Just jammin' fresh and def! They had a rapper named JB! A sama lama lama lama!

If only. This "Supersonic" is five peanut-heads realizing they need to make weight and fast.

"Speed of Sound"--Loper. It can afford such leisure. Some chick in Evanston got her first finger-bang to this.

"Force Of Nature"--"He" and "she." Christ, at least Bon Jovi gave 'em names.

One door opens, revealing another door, another, another, each smaller than the last till the last, the knob of which is no bigger than an ant's butt. I had the power to stop opening doors at any time. I did not exercise that power.

"The End"--An alternative to the bad stuff. Here, there and everywhere. Deadlier than a gambling debt, uglier than a meth whore.



Put that on a shirt.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

I Found Something Avocado Can't Improve

PEARL JAM
5/2/2006

Four years. Four years to reflect on what they did.

Ballyhooed as a "back to basics" record, huh. Let's re-open the case.

"Life Wasted"--Indeed. I appreciate the tumult, sirs.

If you waste, say, 75% of your life, does that automatically make your entire life wasted?

"World Wide Suicide"--A 2005 USA Today poll named Pearl Jam the greatest American rock band…ever. Although I'll never agree with any part of the preceding sentence, songs like this here piece of pure delectation showed the jar had some life inside.

"Comatose"--Gives me the Master P face, only not in the "just heard a Mia X verse" way, more the "just heard a Silkk the Shocker verse" way.

"Severed Hand"--Of a mere mortal, sadly.

"Marker in the Sand"--Body of a sandpiper! Appetite of a vulture! I rather enjoy religious assaults that recognize the overarching tragedy.

"Parachutes"--Mike swore he'd fill it in later, damn him.

"Unemployable"--Pretty good for a 21st-century R.E.M. tune.

"Big Wave"--Keep it off mine, pal.

"Going"--A single destined to die alone.

"Wasted Reprise"--Hey Pearl Jam…you have five fathers! All your noodles are elbow macaroni!

"Army Reserve"--Infamous for lyrics co-written by Damien Echols (the most prominent of the West Memphis Three). The true crime buff in me could go on about that particular case, but no, music is paramount here. The title fits. This is a post-battle track, when the overhead reports are still rattling soldier skulls.

"Come Back"--Nope. Eddie, buddy, here's why people dog on your racket-gang or more often just sic themselves on you alone. It's not simply that you're the member of the band that anyone knows--his voice has a Q rating higher than most politicians--it's the complacency. I'm not saying the songs have to be re-writes of your favorite SST bands while you yell like a man with abdominal distension. I'm just saying that begin a diligent referee is no longer enough.

"Inside Job"--Pearl Jam isn't worse than Riot Act. Nor is it as bad. "Inside Job" ensures.

The interior is a hospital waiting room. The job is to deliver the bad news in the flattest tone of voice possible. No doctor or nurse should take seven minutes to do so, but for a band that's acceptable. Tremendous solo at the end.



Had this been as creatively inert as its predecessor, I would have been sharing "Make Pearl Jam Call It Quits" petitions on Internet forums.

Monday, October 30, 2017

And No One Showed Up

RIOT ACT
11/12/2002

Let's just do this.

"Can't Keep"--First song transports me back to that stupid bedroom, those soul-deadening beige walls. How in hell did I get through my adolescence without opening an artery.

"Save You"--Eddie's not interested. Interest scares off syllables. Snottiness can be dealt with by han, anyway.

"Love Boat Captain"--A dedication to nine friends never met. Rest well to each and every one of them. They deserved better than that. Also, they deserved better than this. Dreadfully aimless and references the worst-ever Beatles song.

"Cropduster"--Great, a party where every attendee is feigning inebriation.

"Ghost"--"The TV, she talks to me." We're assigning genders to machines that aren't cars, now? Go head-butt a beehive. I remember when PJ songs weren't bogged down by their guitar solos. When the electric guitar sounded, gasp, electrifying.

Welcome to the 1919 World Series. Matt Cameron will be playing the role of Shoeless Joe.

"I Am Fine"--Waltzfoot Killah.

"Thumbing My Way"--Real men use their pinky.

"You Are"--Pearl Jam are now a Soundgarden tribute band who fuel up with Schlitz and egg sandwiches.

"Get Right"--Or get your slime-covered ass left.

"Green Disease"--Speak of the Hulk. Old Hat? Nah. New wave naked, save for the grass-colored flag. For the first time on Riot Act, the band are intercommunicating.

"Help Help"--Drowning man, everybody out of the water! Riot Act is now a Soundgarden album written entirely by Ben and Matt.

"Bush Leaguer"--A slovenly attempt at a protest song. Time's been pretty kind to the Bushes, I'd argue. Don't misunderstand, both Daddy and Sonny were vile. Still, I'd rather the country be run by the uncle I only ever see at Thanksgiving who talks with bone-chilling calm about how America needs to return to mid-20th century values than the one who's going to pull out a knife and gut me before the pumpkin pie's even been served.

"1-2-Full"--Gin Blossoms show. At a state fair. Toadies opening. Next to the pig pen, next to the Juggalo couple sharing fried ice cream.

"Arc"--Oh I get it, this is one of them civilized riots.

"All Or None"--Nice try, Stone, but that solo is too little too late. Instead of listening to this redo of "The Rainbow Connection," check out instead the Muppet version of "Smells Like Teen Spirit." I mean it ain't great, but it ain't this.



With Riot Act, Pearl Jam went from feeling ill-at-ease with fame to feeling ill-at-ease with existence. Time's passage has only made the songs more austere and sterile. I will weld my right arm to my left thigh before I listen to this album again.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Ear Ye

BINAURAL
5/16/2000

I'm a "bad news first" type gal, so: Mike McCready had to re-enter rehab. Shit, no. The good news: Matt Cameron is their new drummer. Shit, yes. Matt's one of those musicians who's much too talented to go without a high profile gig for over a year.

"Breakerfall"--Hate's less taxing than love--at first. Rage beats a body up, while veggies help us play. So go ahead and devour a big ol' steak whilst ranting about how diversity is ruining your life; if you took the time and made the effort, you might one day come to love Brussel sprouts almost as much as you love democracy.

"God's Dice"--Wasting time is even less forgivable than wasting food. Unless you can show me a store that sells fresh time. (And don't be a smart-ass and say "watch shop.")

Words follow one another with picnic baskets. The blankets are pre-laid and monochrome.

"Evacuation"--Straight on…for you. Wilson Lessons are well-learned in Seattle.

"Light Years"--Eddie's impression of Chris Cornell's impression of Neil Young in the morning. Not bad. Holds peak appeal to folks whose relationship milestones all somehow involve Wal-Mart.

"Nothing As It Seems"--Stare at recovered ship wreckage long enough, you're bound to get drowsy. Fascinating at old currency and cracked bowls can be, sleep is the cousin of death. So, catch the mood. Beach first, then shipwreck museum. Otherwise you'll be splayed out on the Maryland flag beach towel, snoring as the seagulls pick at your feet, forgetting to reapply lotion, and waking up feeling even worse than you look. Which, for the record, is like an embarrassed tomato.

"Thin Air"--A love song for people who love songs.

"Insignificance"--Lowlife on the high seas. Location matters. The crew gifted their captain a bitchin' map.

"Of The Girl"--Speaking of Heart, their 80s output is pretty shaky, I won't deny. "There's the Girl" is pretty stellar for synth trash, though.

Speaking of Eddie Vedder, he's still dedicated to representing the gender he ain't. Weak men and the weaker women they attack against all odds. The music, like the arguments, is behind the walls.

"Grievance"--Rich man poor man, every man's got a grievance. Technology is the devil, which isn't good enough reason to shred your throat.

"Rival"--Gives me the leapy nerves. I don't want the leapy nerves.

"Sleight of Hand"--Dynamism is so early 90s.

"Soon Forget"--Ukulele?! The most execrable of all the stringed instruments?!

The women in Pearl Jam songs are lovelorn and indecisive. The men are addled and miserable. They trust no bitch, but are fool enough to trust a man or two.

"Parting Ways"--A string section provides instant transparent pathos.

A woman and a man, together. Are they egg rolls or pancakes? Considering the source--pancakes.



Gee, thanks for the sonic equivalent of sipping faucet water, guys.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Eve Of Reduction

YIELD
2/3/98

Musically speaking, the last three years of the 1990s sucked. Mainstream radio was clogged up with sexless R&B, uncalled-for country crossover tunes, fast-food hip hop and baby-butt Europop. Alternative acts were truly so again. The industry no longer looked to it for tips and tricks, for cues and cures, for shits and giggles.

Into such a decimated forest, Pearl Jam released what would turn out to be their last platinum-seller.

"Brain Of J"--The Jet City's take on the classic Scottish breakfast of grey milk and sterilized noodles. (Nothing beats Charm City's booster pack: scrambled eggs with crab meat and Tabasco sauce.) Each bite is a back slap, each swallow a promise to leave the house and stay gone awhile.

"Faithful"--More to the point, thoughtful. As in, full of thoughts. Maybe Pearl Jam couldn't save their fans from Michael Bay, but they could at least save them from Diane Warren.

"No Way"--Don't get sicker than you normally are, superstar. The cables are about to snap. Fortunately, the rescue team is bright-eyed and dry.

"Given To Fly"--A top 30 hit on the big ol' Billboard, and I'll be thrice damned to an eternity in Florida if I can remember hearing it all that much on rock radio. Irony is a song titled "Given To Fly" remaining stuck on the launchpad.

"Wishlist"--Wishlist in one hand, shitlist in the other, which is longer? Why are my success scenarios so preposterous and my revenge fantasies so rational?

These are the songs that re-establish focus. They function within an album context the same way a bathroom operates in the household context.

"Pilate"--Inspired by Mikhail Bulgakov's satirical novel The Master and Margarita, so the chorus sounding dumber than a Holocaust denier is lamentable. Verses are good, at least.

(Pilate's dog has a tag imprinted with a phone number and the words "Take me to the Pilate.")

"Do the Evolution"--Back to the bookshelf for more inspiration: Daniel Quinn's Ishmael, a novel about a philosophical, telepathic gorilla. Makes sense; Pearl Jam are doomed wanna-be world-improvers, acting out their predetermined roles in their predetermined story, protesting the pollution (thinking they're entitled to fresh air), wholly decent but holy shit, sometimes I wish I'd just never read a book or wrote a haiku. Just settled into that "18-5-300" life.

"Untitled"--AKA "The Color Red," "Red Dot," among others.

Guys like Vedder and Cobain meant the world to so many young people. Hip big brothers, smart, aware, clever and empathetic. They had the platform these kids craved/feared and they spent their elevation coins wisely. Adulation unchecked, though, leads to overexposure and a loss of agency. The progressive men retreat, to be replaced by the likes of Fred Durst.

"MFC"--I get a kick outta the guitar tone. My dream guitar tone is one that makes you disgusted and delighted at once. Like licking pussy juice off a gun barrel.

Maryland Fucking Crabfest. Mediocre Fried Chicken. Many Felicitous Curries. My Final Conclusion--a sauce-slathered, cotton-mouthed night at the local bar that is my basement.

"Low Light"--Sung with candied tongue. I miss the 90s. Or do I just miss being able to state with absolute certainty, "I'll never live through a worse president than Reagan."

"In Hiding"--My sophomore year of high school was almost my last year of high school. My grades were horrendous, and I missed over twenty days. The nadir had to be the day I spent hiding in the girls bathroom. After the first bell, I exited homeroom, walked into the nearest bathroom, entered a stall and just…sat there till the final bell rang. I was caught on my way out, and sentenced to detention.

Still a Top 3 most inexplicable thing I've done in life.

"Push Me, Pull Me"--Willy Wonka's bus ride, directed by Brett Ratner and starring Hugh Grant.

"All Those Yesterdays"--Tidy conclusion. Hah! "Tidy." Not normally a word I associate with days gone by. Accumulating all those yesterdays is a bad move; putting them under and slicing them open is the better course of action.

"There's still time."

Maybe.



Another impressive team effort.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Medium Heat


NO CODE
8/27/96

Fatigued, not defeated.

The disenchantment with the business of being in a band couldn't overpower the love for the music. That's corny, yet true. Neil Young recruited them for his Mirror Ball album, which in turn reinvigorated the group, which now featured former Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer/long-time pal Jack Irons.

"Sometimes"--"Selfin'" is risky. Just a toe in can be hazardous. The body and mind can't be kept separate, and neither guarantees prosperity. They can be made unequal though, and there's the trick. No one will ever buy a picture of my prominent gums, but they might buy a story about a gay Francophile who suffers inexplicable hallucinations.

Eddie Vedder's made it this far (I mean 2017, not 1996) on the selfin' wave. To which I say

"Hail, Hail"--The avuncular trait of caging one's emotions can function in place of a love declaration. Robust of voice and hearty of, uh, heart, Edward is pleased for "the lucky ones," but it's a bridled joy.

"Who You Are"--The more I eat, the more I want to eat. One of the least-sounding Pearl Jam songs in their catalogue, to general success.

"In My Tree"--Which, tradition dictates, must be high or low. I've never been inside a tree house. Why the walls? Branches and leaves are support plenty for anyone who bothers to climb that high.

"Smile"--Dance classes are for trophy hunters. Why pay someone to tell you what your body lets you know for free?

"Off He Goes"--Him and her, the usual. Hem and haw, the musical. At least it's not about heroin.

"Habit"--I never thaw chew rabbits, either.

Speaking as an 80s Baby…what a magnificent decade for music. Pearl Jam would have fit in fine, just sold much less.

"Red Mosquito"--Summer brings bugs, who bring bites. Wow would I love to meet a person who so coveted my skin.

"Lukin"--I've never had a stalker. Eddie Vedder did. Incensed at how powerless he felt, he did what he had to--go to the cops? Well, I meant write a song, but yeah. Alert authorities for sure. "Lukin" is thoroughly unsettling, never more so than at its peroration.

"Present Tense"--The present is a constant. Every single moment we live through is classifiable as the present moment. More unstable than tense, preferable to future shock.

"Mankind"--Stone Gossard steps up to show what J Mascis fronting a Devo cover band specializing in Mark's songs would sound like.

"I'm Open"--Spoken bookends…something about a Kafka-esque crisis. Gives way willingly to a near-life experience. The past, remembered fondly, has not been touched in years. The yellowed surface and bent corner speaks for itself.

"Around the Bend"--This ain't CCR. More like ZZZ Top.



Turmoil, murtoil. Pearl Jam's most introspective and self-contained album became its fourth #1--and their first to not achieve multi-platinum status. On some level, this had to relieve them.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

It's Only A Story When It Comes To An End


DOWN ON THE UPSIDE
5/21/96

With Nirvana gone, Pearl Jam held together with spit and scotch tape, and Alice In Chains at stage 4, Soundgarden swooped in to….

"Pretty Noose"--Obtuse kiss-offs better kick fucking ass if they want to last more than thirty seconds in my air. The anger here claws out from every crack in the Earth, and what a helluva sight.

Thanks, real life, for making my favorite song off this album unlistenable. (For now, anyway.)

"Rhinosaur"--The rear of good old hoary rawk pretensions. "With haste and reverie"? With swiftness and daydreams?

Oh, never mind what the man says, a methanol fire's raging! Toasting marshmallows is about to become a life-changing experience.

"Zero Chance"--Still better than half a chance.

"Dusty"--Scar tissue and pale bruises tell a story generous with the ellipses, yet thick with plot.

"Ty Cobb"--Mandolins? Pardon me while I throw rice.

This frenetic barrage of collapsing carnival rides was originally titled "Hot Rod Death Toll," till Ben Shepherd remarked that the lyrics put him in mind of Ty Cobb, the acerbic misanthrope who happens to be one of the greatest players in the history of Major League Baseball. Hey, whatever it takes to keep him away from the vocal booth.

"Blow Up the Outside World"--Four-car pile-up on Abbey Road sparks overdue reboot of the planet. Nothing causes my life-long roommates to flip and fold like Cornell in full-throated throttle mode.

"Nothing will do me in before I do myself."

"Burden In My Hand"--Whoever "she" is, well, she dead. Straight homicide, cousin.

Self-pity sans self-loathing is just sad. Luckily, the lunatic narrating the tale will probably lay down to await the exodus of what remains of his soul.

"Never Named"--Actually you did already--"Kickstand." It got loose and you puked.

"Applebite"--When you want to enter church, but you suspect your mere presence will set the structure ablaze.

(Wouldn't "Kumquatbite" have been an amazing title?)

"Never the Machine Forever"--Fuck, what a metal song title.

I take my Soundgarden songs like I take my sky, alcohol, and chocolate: dark.

"Tighter & Tighter"--Real good, despite the lack of confidence. Guys, no such thing as a "sword-resistant" rope exists.

"No Attention"--A barrel-breaking punk song that they turn into a cock rocker by adding two minutes of stretch and shift. Both songs will suffice in an ice storm.

"Switch Opens"--Change is all about numbers.

"Overfloater"--"I'm here and now I'm gone/I'm here and far beyond." Life ain't life without one hilariously unattainable dream. Like, um, sustained happiness.

"An Unkind"--Tempted to ask for the rest of the story, until I noticed the songwriting credits: Ben Shepherd. Say no more. Music's memorable, though. Call it "John the Baptist Pose."

"Boot Camp"--Wherein Pinocchio leads a jackass uprising. The future is with boys who smoke and gamble!



One year after Down On the Upside, the men of Soundgarden hung up the pedals and went their separate ways. And just look what happened.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Three The Hard Way

ALICE IN CHAINS
11/7/95

During his rehab stint, Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready met fellow musician John Baker Sanders. The pair returned to Seattle upon release, and began playing with Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin. McCready approached Layne Staley, himself freshly out of rehab, to sing for the group. Mad Season's debut album was knocked out in less than two weeks. It would spawn two mainstream rock radio hits on its way to gold certification.

AIC's third album followed eight months later. The creation of the so-called "Tripod Album" (or, "Aww, That Poor Doggie") was considerably more arduous, as Staley skipped numerous studio sessions to get high.

"Grind"--Song the first hums from lashing indignation. AIC were the redhead stepsons of grunge, eating mud pies and swearing they saw Grandma in the backseat despite the fact she'd been dead for years. They didn't cite cool influences, didn't run screaming from the spotlight, and had a dumb name. Atop it all, their days were certainly numbered what with their singer turning himself into a pincushion.

Persecution complex thus activated, "Grind" is the bleak buck-back. More a raging boar than bull, really.

"Brush Away"--Critics ain't shit. However, I wonder how easily Staley brushed away the jabs of peers (q.v., Mudhoney's "Into Yer Shtik").

"Sludge Factory"--Throughout the album, effects and layers are used more frequently than on past records in an effort to hide the havoc that years of abuse wreaked on Layne's voice. (Shoulda showed the drums a similar kindness.)

AIC never disowned their hair-metal roots, but even Motley Crue knew better than this.

"Heaven Beside You"--Clearly, one of the first six.

Jerry Cantrell's moaning over a break-up again, but it's so magnetic (ah those harmonies) I was almost convinced to root for him. Then I remembered: this is but one side of the story. So nowadays I just nod my head and murmur.

"Head Creeps"--That dog's mournful look compels. Doesn't look like the mopey sort, yeah? Sure some people act all creeped out when they see him, and that has to hurt his little doggie feelings, but ultimately, he can still walk, eat, accept belly rubs and administer genital baths.

Learn from the three-legged dog.

"Again"--Smells like unprotected teen sex in the deserted parking lot of a Checkers. Vague is always in vogue, so focus on the stutter-stepping cyclops with two heads, won't we?

"Shame In You"--A beautiful slosh. Who's "she"? Doesn't matter. If she forgot to buy flashlights in case of an electrical storm, then she deserves all the darkness she gets, and may her subsequent profuse sweating prove enervating.

"God Am"--The Jehovah's Witness of the album. It needs to get off my property before I smack some teeth loose.

"So Close"--Weary of the cycle, fatigued by the circle? Blur the lens.

"Nothin' Song"--Fidgety, yet relaxing. The perks of cat ownership in song form.

"Frogs"--Thoughts of death can uplift--it's all in the framing. Thoughts of survival can dishearten--think frogs in increasingly hot water.

"Over Now"--Bury the heirlooms! Burn the old wardrobe! Adieu adieu, my heavy lids.



I remember the disappointment the first time I heard this album. Time has not changed much of my mind. Layne Staley's careworn voice is even more noticeable, and Jerry Cantrell de-emphasizing killer riffs in favor of bubble and scrape is just silly. Still went double plat, though. Cuz 90z.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Fried On A Stick On A Waffle In A Burrito

VITALOGY
11/22/94

Pearl Jam's reluctance to embrace the role of rock music bellwether was either disingenuous or noble, depending on whoever was giving their opinion. Kurt Cobain's suicide only intensified these debates, revealing a surplus of insensitivity and naivete in the process.

I get both sides. Pearl Jam in '94 should have been acting like Shawn Kemp to the world's Alton Lister. Album number three should have dripped nut sweat. Instead, the vibes were thoroughly bogus, to the point that Stone Gossard seriously considered blowing the 'sicle stand and taking all the bomb pops. Quick, guess which member had to go to rehab? Least it wasn't for heroin.

"Last Exit"--Lithe guitar lines for the boy with the dirty chin to color outside.

"Spin the Black Circle"--Husker Du with vastly improved production. That's not anger…an intact vinyl record is incapable of provoking enmity. No, this is pure passion. The only thing greater than the fact that this hit the Billboard top 20 is the additional fact that it won a Grammy (an honor for which Mr. Vedder was exceedingly gracious).

"Not For You"--Now, this is pissed off. Pearl Jam refuses to let anyone else take ownership of their big jar.

To treat cat scratch influence, visit your nearest, unfriendliest alley, lift your shirt up and lie stomach down.

"Tremor Christ"--Good luck trying to overcome the Holy Ghost. It ain't heavy, it's just older and larger to boot…upside your head.

"Nothingman"--Existential dread meant something different in the '90s. You'd stare at a pair of jorts and disappear into an abyss where the only thing rarer than oxygen was hope.

"Nothingman" shimmers with gravitas befitting the subject matter: the value of reciprocated love. So no, not a nothing song.

"Whipping"--Up the bacteria-ridden forth of a komodo's mouth.

"Pry, To"--A 60-watter stuck in a fixture with a maximum limit of 40.

"Corduroy"--Rankled by fashion whores, the wind 'n' dust brothers accumulate righteous disgust and catapult it into the air, trusting it will land on a deserving target.

"Bugs"--Insects, insects everywhere. Probably since someone forgot to close the screen door properly. Damnit, y'all gotta remember to grab the knob and SLAM. Don't worry about the noise; I'll take heart palpitations over flies on the edge of my plate.

"Satan's Bed"--Devilish sleight of hand. Glass will break, nails will bend, and wood will rot. The band sounds like they spent the whole day thinking of ways to cheat at a piss test.

"Better Man"--Written by Vedder while still in high school. Kinda shows, kinda doesn't. Domestic violence is a topic that splits the world into have-hearts from the have-nots pretty quickly. Giving a damn has the potential to be disastrous. Not giving a damn will always be disastrous.

Would have been wonderful if the song had ended with the promise of a better woman. Wouldn't have been authentic, though.

"Aye Davanita"--Mantra for a flamingo.

Flamingos don't need mantras, motherfuckers!

"Immortality"--I distinctly remember dreading my tenth birthday. For some reason (or reasons) trampled underfoot by the relentless parade of time, I believed that no one younger than the age of ten ever died. Once a person reached double digits, they were no longer afforded the protection of this golden shield.

This song puts me back in the yard on West Side Avenue, running barefoot, lying on my back and reshaping the clouds. I was not yet ten and thus had no cause to fear the creatures that might be scurrying amid the blades of grass.

"Stupid Mop"--Distorted audio over distorted audio. As a Sonic Youth fan, my tolerance for musical experimentation is higher than normal. But my patience for palpable self-consciousness is thinner than graphene.



Pearl Jam threw it all in the pot and lamented the lack of a self-stirring spoon. This leads to moments of exceptional frustration and satisfaction. I'm not saying they didn't deserve any invective, but accusing Pearl Jam of dishonesty is just wrong.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Screw Attack

SUPERUNKNOWN
2/18/94

The artistic peak of grunge is subjective. (As is the case with every other musical genre. Except for reggae, which reached its apex prior to the late 1960s.) The commercial peak is easier to pinpoint: from September 1993 to February 1994, each of the Big 4 released records that reached number one on Billboard's Top 200 Albums chart, selling a combined 21 million copies in the U.S. alone.

And all four happened to be fuckin' fantastic.

"Let Me Drown"--Dedicated to all the sad burlap faces moaning about haircuts. Call it "Virgin Mary Puss," 'cause it's an immaculate opening. Chugging along on a pair of pulverized ankles, fresh off a vacation in a walk-in freezer, for what more could I ask? Throw in some religious refs and the ever-mysterious "she" and ding ding, somebody come up and claim this thing.

"My Wave"--Everyone deserves their own patch of planet, free of the hassle and harassment of the greedy and grody. Oh to live within walking distance of a beach, even if only for a fourth of the year. No worries over a spot to park (be it a car on the pavement or a butt on the sand) and shell collecting to beat the band. Who are beating back pretty hard.

"Fell On Black Days"--Loneliness leads to sadness. Wait. Scratch that. Reverse. And for God's sake, put the needle back on the record where it belongs.

At least Soundgarden's "fuck me I want to curl up and blow up ala Samus Aran" songs are cheerier than Alice In Chains's, thanks to the massive egos behind them.

"Mailman"--A postal worker injects himself with clonazepam to facilitate the duties of the day. Later, he'll crush up hydrocodone to palliate the torments. A solid week this goes on, fooling his blood into thinking it's a solid, filling his mind with thoughts of power and entitlement. Whether he chooses to compartmentalize his ensuing blow-ups is anyone's guess/hope.

"Superunknown"--Sneaky, those flourishes. The chorus is one large, "but wait, there's less!" One vocal track is for what is, the other for what might be.

"Head Down"--A pink zeppelin slices the sky. Surely drugs weren't involved!

Cementing their reps as the quirkiest of the Big 4, Soundgarden show us how to live inside sand castles. (Meanwhile I can't even build one.)

"Black Hole Sun"--Not everyone knows a Soundgarden song, but when they do, it's "Black Hole Sun." Trust me, this Carvel-certified slice of psych-pop owned rock radio in '94. Over twenty years gone by, it goes out as it came in, a litany for the sourly aging.

Good Mood Jenn prefers to think of "Black Hole Sun" as a fallen prince babbling over a chest of melted treasures. Bad Mood Jenn insists that the song is proof that oblivion is the only wish worthwhile, since it's impossible to screw up.

"Spoonman"--The fact they chose this as the first single makes me chuckle. It's an ode to an actual true and living Seattle street performer who plays the actual spoons. He even shows up for a barely-discernible cameo. "Save me!" From what, dude? You're a rich-ass rock star, and he plays the spoons.

"Limo Wreck"--I dig when the band exhibits their monstrous bulk. Those lead feet are gonna trigger a dreadful avalanche, I swear.

"The Day I Tried To Live"--Living life like a James M. Cain novel means: situations go grim and filthy sans fanfare. It means wearing spiked collars, incorrectly. It means grinning while uttering the most pessimistic sentence you can imagine.

"Kickstand"--Front dropkick, more like. Can't build a sand castle, can't ride a bike, what can I do?

"Fresh Tendrils"--An excuse for Chris Cornell to take his shirt off without taking it off. Superunknown is the greatest showcase for his powers as a singer, I don't give a damn for other thoughts.

"4th of July"--Where is everybody that started loving this sizzling piece of nihilistic pig when St. Vincent said she did? Come on, hands up.

Messrs. Cornell, Thayil, Shepherd and Cameron on doomsday. We are all of us dying. Punctuality is forgotten, since time has been forsaken. This is a top 10 Soundgarden song for me. Thank you to all the artists who dropped acid so I didn't have to.

"Half"--Say what you will about Hiro Yamamoto on the mic, least he didn't bore me. Least he didn't announce his painful self-doubt to the world by drowning his voice in effects

"Like Suicide"--For years I thought "Like Suicide" was another mildly lovely dirge for the never-named "she" featured in songs since the first rock rolled. Actually, it's about a bird that Chris Cornell had to mercy-kill after it smashed into a studio window. Since he never disclosed the breed of bird, I don't know how to feel. I mean, coulda been a blue jay. Can't expect me to be distraught over that.



End it at "4th of July," Superunknown is the best Soundgarden album. They didn't though, so…it's still the best Soundgarden album.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

When Going Soft Is Going Home

JAR OF FLIES
1/25/94

Band morale ran high at the start of the year, despite Layne Staley's continued deterioration and the departure of bassist Mike Starr (replaced by another Mike, Inez). Jar Of Flies is hubris on wax. Since following a platinum album with a mostly-acoustic EP went so well the first time, why not do it again?

"Rotten Apple"--When is two not superior to one? "Innocence is over." No shit, Cap'n Cookie Crisp. Uncle, uncle!

Of all fruits, the apple is the most laden with symbolism. The Bible never specifies the fruit with which Eve tempted Adam. Some Christian scholar just said, "Hey, let's say it's an apple, since everyone likes apples." How different would life be if the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden bore kumquats?

"Nutshell"--Ooh, "Fixin' To Die At The Old Fishin' Hole Rag." There's always that one guy who can make a futile night on the water sound downright Euripidean.

"I Stay Away"--A great example of how behavior we might find frightening when exhibited by a person can be entrancing in a work of art. "I Stay Away" begins on a meadow, drops into a ditch, and emerges from a swamp. The strings are the surprise sniper ensconced in the lighthouse.

"No Excuses"--"Forever" is a measurement of time that cannot actually be measured. The heart is the only clock that matters. The heart of "No Excuses"--their best song, let's be clear--is a trusty and thunderous one. Layne Staley showed Jerry Cantrell compassion when the latter was a homeless guitar player, providing him with a place to say and offering encouragement. This is not some pretty, vacuous love song with an avaricious eye. This is a brilliant assertion of brotherly affection, a pledge, a wish, in one.

"Whale & Wasp"--Nothing about this relatively brief instrumental piece lumbers or stings. Regardless, it reminds me how short the earth comes up when compared to air and water (to say nothing of fire).

Don't Follow"--Take me hoooome…Seattle rooooaaads…to the plaaaace…I left my thoooongs.

(Listen up, wearing a thong gets you in touch with the essence of the self. Take the nasty plunge.)

"Swing On This"--Li'l blues, li'l wheat gold. Shit-smeared boots and jars of dank. People tell the boys "come home," without never showing 'em why they should.



The first EP to debut at #1 on the Billboard chart and home to two of the best rock singles of the decade. I guess there really was only the one direction to go.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Half Of It

VS
10/19/93

Six days after VS appeared on record store runways, an "action" shot of Eddie Vedder appeared on the cover of Time. "All The Rage," the text insisted. For a man unused to white-out lights manned by a person or persons he couldn't see with his own eyes, such an honor proved anything but. Pearl Jam valued shared ethics over professional success, a stance that while laudable on its face nonetheless provoked sneers and smirks both expected (mass media, Gene Simmons) and surprising (local media, Kurt Cobain).

The band rebelled by refusing to make any music videos for the singles off VS. For the best; no need to try and visually compete with "Rump Shaker." Audiences responded by snapping up 950,000 copies in the first week, a record that would stand for five years. 'Cause one thing about Pearl Jam fans--they ride and multiply for their guys.

"Go"--Leather gloves strike cement block. Enough screwing about. Time to bring shears to the tug of war.

Second album, second drummer. Dave Abbruzzese even contributed a guitar part! Nice one, dude. Shining on the smooth blue isn't quite as rapturous a journey as slipping on the slick pink, but who am I to nitpick? No one's in this for medals or ribbons.

"Animal"--From chipmunks to sharks, perros a los cocodrilos, animals rise and reign. The rambunctious grumblings of agitated humanoid allies is the best we can do.

"Daughter"--The last song ever heard by (at least) nine people.

Eddie Vedder had a non-creepy interest in writing from the female POV, certainly a check in his column. Any unease derives from the actual subject matter: parents whose refusal to respect their child's learning disability culminates in physical abuse. Consider the fact that the shades don't need to be lowered in some neighborhoods if you're still not bummed.

"Glorified G"--New Drummer hailed from Texas, a state where the priority chain goes: God-guns-get up 'n go. Gumption or dysfunction? Someone raised in a more "progressive" part of the country might look at a proud owner of a gun as, shall we say, short-sighted.

So imagine how Eddie took the news that New Drummer bought two firearms. Or don't, hell, he wrote a song about how he took the news. Real good one too. "Glorified G" is more jibe than screed, but fret not--that's coming.

"Dissident"--Dude shit. Aluminum cans and stick shifts. Anyone with the foresight and fortitude to resist is fine by me, mind.

"W.M.A."--I promised you an overwrought reaction to an understandably frustrating situation and I am woman who keeps promise.

Short for "White Male American," this song is to be credited for calling out white privilege in America years before strangers were suggesting check-ups to each other on the Internet. For all Vedder's corn-popping, the band (especially the 2 A's) are grooving in the pocket. It's like, I kinda wanna roll my eyes, but I definitely wanna roll my hips.

"Blood"--Why sing of it when you can drink of it? How much was drawn, I can only plead the fifth.

"Rearviewmirror"--Rescue squad's arrival ain't imminent. Plan your own escape route. Follow through.

Expand. Leave the past where it belongs. Show up to the beach with nothing but prescription drugs and sunglasses.

"Rats"--The point (that rats are preferable to people) falls apart under scrutiny. The song, thankfully, does not.

"Elderly Woman Behind the Counter In a Small Town"--After all those one-word titles, no less.

Ballad of a lingering lady. Small town life is life or Life, depending on how happy one is to serve the sentence. A small town is a place a person is born in, lives in, stuck in, struggles in, thrives in. It all depends on the individual's make-up. I find the success stories admirable and detestable. Feeling trapped in one place distorts the mind body and soul. Stay stuck long enough, you'll become an emotional Smith Island Cake.

"Leash"--Reliable stomp and spin. "We got the means to make amends."

"Indifference"--Five guys exited the studio to stare judgmentally at the sun before returning to record "Indifference." Poor Ed; hundreds of vocalists took his genuine sound* and ran with it, stumbling every third of a mile.


Pearl Jam show versatility and sensitivity throughout VS. It doesn't travel the rarefied path of Ten, but the dips don't ruin the tires.




*Not liking something doesn't make that thing fraudulent.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Baby Rock

IN UTERO
9/21/93

Almost two years to the day after their sophomore album shocked those parts of the world capable of being shocked by album sales, Nirvana released In Utero. Eager to distance themselves from Nevermind, the band insisted on a producer who could capture a sound closer to their punk rock spirit. Raw, abrasive, and free of suit-pleasing frills. Better, they wound up with an engineer, in the inimitable form of Steve Albini.

Albini gained notoriety as one of the American indie scene's most irascible figures as a member of Big Black, a band that reveled in sloppy scorching satire. Then he built on his reputation by helping other bands "record" their music--don't call him a producer--while refusing to impose his own tastes or go against his own ethics. Predictably, Nirvana's label were dismayed with what they heard, fearing radio would bristle and not push any of the singles. The band caved (somewhat) and Scott Litt was brought on to mix "Heart-Shaped Box" and "All Apologies." After some additional retouches (mainly in service of vocal volume), the label had an album that met their standards.

An album that debuted at #1 on its way to five million sold (half of its predecessor). An album that played over and over as I lay supine on the carpeted bedroom floor, surrounded by lifer stains and book stacks and the music that draped everything in a cloak of royal purple with hypothermic blue trim.

"Serve the Servants"--Take yer expectations and shove it up yers, his and hers. Rarely are fuck-offs so soothing.

"Scentless Apprentice"--The first of two songs inspired by books (Patrick Suskind's Perfume) went from Kurt humoring Dave to a pitiless stomp on a stubborn snake. Those wet-witch sounds confirm: this ain't Nevermind.

(In 2013, a new mix of the album, overseen by Albini, was released. Recommended if the drums on "Scentless Apprentice" scare you--or if the vocals don't scare you enough.)

"Heart Shaped Box"--Ideally, first singles shouldn't make listeners feel as though their skin is trying to stretch itself off the bone. The last line before the chorus shouldn't be a lament that you threw away your game of Hungry Hungry Cancer Cells. You know, ideally.

(Courtney Love claims "HSB" was written in honor of her sarlacc pit. Better this than "Mexican Seafood," s'pose.)

"Rape Me"--Feels Like Defanged Snake. Never cared much for this'un. Pin a medal on my chest, I guess, I just don't see circles as squares.

"Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle"--The biography of 1930s film actress (and Seattle's own) Frances Farmer, a woman who bucked the big studios and paid the price, so appealed to Kurt that he wrote this, which rewords the eternal question: Which emotion provides greater solace, anger or sorrow?

(Susan Faludi got a shout-out in the liners, how cool is that.)

"Dumb"--A pretty face can't make up for a boxy body, guys.

"Very Ape"--Plenty of backbone, still, I so wish it flew. Yes, mammals don't have wings, but they do have imaginations.

"Milk It"--Tainted with a substance that leaves the labellum numb, "Milk It" was a wearingly bullish track even prior to April 1994.

Somewhere in the Osage Plains of Missouri, a petulant man-child with chipped teeth and mouth sores suffered a headbangers stroke.

"Pennyroyal Tea"--The unofficial "last" single. Dude, if there really were a tea that induced abortions, I'd be writing this on a gold-plated silver toilet.

Dynamic shifts in music are easy; in lyrics, not as. "Pennyroyal Tea" hurts. Who calls themselves "anemic royalty" and long to spend eternity exhaling? Someone who hates life and wants to end it while also loving life and hoping it continues. Consistent contradictions that, when collected, comprise a warning.

"Radio Friendly Unit Shifter"--Finally, Kurt embraces his inner SY fanboy. Imagine my giddiness hearing this vigorous, vulgar thing. ("Second-rate third-degree burns" is probably my favorite lyric in a Nirvana song.) Forget the cast iron skillet, here's bacon grease for your face.

"Tourettes"--Fuck as punk. If only punks fucked.

"All Apologies"--The fetal imagery in which In Utero swims fascinated Cobain even before he became a father. "All Apologies" is the logical step forward into a dazzling world of domestic euphoria, where we return (however temporarily) to a pre-verbal state. People who focus on a single line miss the whole sentence: PEACE IS ATTAINABLE, RARELY SUSTAINABLE.



In Utero would be Nirvana's final studio album. On April 8, 1994, Kurt Cobain was found dead in his home, victim of a self-inflicted shotgun wound. The coroner's report estimated he had died three days prior to discovery.