Tuesday, October 31, 2017
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
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
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
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."
Another impressive team effort.
Thursday, October 26, 2017
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Monday, October 16, 2017
The public hungry for more Neervanna got an odds 'n' ends compilation of tracks recorded between 1988 and 1991. So, so thankful my parents didn't scrutinize my musical purchases.
"Dive"--My favorite Nirvana song. The rest of Incesticide is lucky I even got around to it. Imagine the sweat dripping off a nihilistic EMT mid-CPR. I'd send streams down both legs if I ever ran into "Dive" in a well-lit alleyway with nothing in its hands.
Features Chad Channing (one of four drummers who appear throughout) and a wonderful mondegreen: "heavy long-lost signal" is better than the actual lyric, y'ask me.
"Sliver"--B-side won again. Compared to "Dive," "Sliver" has all the heft and texture of the chicken noodle soup that brightened up many a crap childhood. "Dive" is the grilled cheese by the bowl.
"Stain"--A selection from 1989's Blew EP. Something about the mixdown on that record open-hand smacks me on the sternum, then uses my attention to wink and remark, "Nirvana are a band."
Chad Channing couldn't hold Dave Grohl's electric razor, but he's still better than I'll ever be, Krist Novoselic is a tower of reasons why using a pick is cooler than Jim Nabors and why yes that is the best guitar solo in a Nirvana song.
"Been A Son"--A re-recording of another song off Blew, and an early showcase for Cobain's feminism. (His like we have not seen since, sadly.) The differences are slight yet significant--the version here is swifter, slicker. Blew's take is scuzzier, with a more prominent ass. Both of them can show up empty-handed at any party I throw.
"Turnaround"--A Devo cover from the Hormoaning EP (released in Japan and Australia only, to coincide with tours) and what an intriguing choice. "Turnaround" was the b-side to "Whip It," not even appearing on the Freedom Of Choice album. Nirvana don't do much to the material, or with it for that matter, meaning Kurt's uncanny Mark Mothersbaugh impression is the undisputed highlight.
Beats what Soundgarden did to "Girl U Want," though.
"Molly's Lips"--The first of two Vaselines covers, originally featured on Hormoaning. I was far from alone when I muttered, "Who in the illegitimate hell are the Vaselines?" Spin magazine, I recall, hipped me: a twee pop duo from Scotland that sold 77 records, the Shaggs plus heart. Their guileless tunes are pretty much the opposite of Nirvana, yet Kurt worshipped them. The range of his tastes boggled near as much as his ability to fit so snugly into a borrowed coat.
"Son of a Gun"--The better of the Vaseline covers, although I prefer the original in both cases. "Molly's Lips" is a nice time out, while "Son of a Gun" is a nicer time in. Nirvana in the midst of deep-kiss bliss is just weirdly awesome.
"(New Wave) Polly"--Stripped of the feeling that made the Nevermind version so stirring, I'm left with an appreciation for how crazy good Dave Grohl is. He can drive a car and kick the back of the drivers seat simultaneously.
"Beeswax"--A musty compilation track that reminds me to mind mine. Dale Crover cleans house by beating on every surface.
"Downer"--Tacked onto the '92 CD reissue of Bleach, a faux-outraged political song that is…um…well, it's short, relatively. Cobain was far more believable when excoriating himself or immediate family.
"Mexican Seafood"--Taken from a late 80s compilation called Teriyaki Asthma. I am hungry. No, wait, just remembered the lyrics. There goes the appetite.
Kidding--my tolerance for gross-out wordplay is high. My only bitch is that the song is scarcely long enough for me to finish my second fish taco.
"Hairspray Queen"--Worst Nirvana song? Perhaps! How dare Kurt and Krist drag my birthday buddy into this morass of pig ass and cottage cheese. If Cobain ever cut a more irritating vocal take in his life, I'd be shocked. Dude sounds like the one demented aunt who never sends you a birthday present but knows exactly where you're going wrong in your life. The guitars sound like infected pisstakes. I get it was one of their earliest recordings, but that's a shoddy excuse.
Nightfall feels like a hose-blast of frigid water after exiting a sauna. Doesn't. Justify. Shit.
"Aero Zeppelin"--Dale's drumming and the "'Sweet Emotion' slipping on someone's day-old vomit" part is all I can recommend.
"Big Long Now"--Left off of Bleach for sounding too much like the dullest parts of that album, "BLN" is a dopesick fuckboy who yells himself hoarse trying to put together a table.
"Aneurysm"--Peanut butter and tuna fish…AHHHH HAAAA.
Tobi Vail musta had some top-notch good-good. "Aneurysm" combines the playfulness of "Drain You" with the bearded brutality of "Dive." Crank it, and take someone's temperature with your tongue.
Nirvana could have released 45 minutes of belches and Gordon Lightfoot covers and gone platinum. Incesticide surpasses that admittedly low bar. In addition to containing the greatest song they ever recorded, ti's also home to the last truly great set of liner notes, wherein Kurt Cobain avers to the incantatory allure of the Raincoats and Shonen Knife and defends his wife against scurrilous media before lashing out at the chicken-fried chucklefuck segment of Nirvana's fandom. Cobain straight up tells any racists, sexists and homophobes that listen to Nirvana that they need to stop listening to Nirvana. It's not a post on some social media feed that can be edited and deleted later on, he never issued an apology, it's all right there, in print, black and white, part and parcel of the Incesticide experience.
What happened to that version of the rock star? Where are the guys with the honey-roasted nuts to stick up for the less-privileged? Come on, dudes. The worst you can end up is dead. Which is gonna happen whether you speak up or not.
Friday, October 13, 2017
We get annual updates on the whereabouts of the Nevermind cover baby, but whoever wonders about the chick on Dirt?
Dirt is not the most metal of grunge albums, but it is the most grunge of metal albums. It's also one of the most aggressively depressing things I've ever heard. Layne Staley was firmly in the grip of Seattle's second-most popular drug and it took every ounce of remaining strength to write and record a masterpiece of such depravity.
"Them Bones"--Song one tells listeners no lies. The fight against pain and loss is a solitary struggle, and proof that the desperate pugilist doesn't always cut an admirable figure. "Them Bones" sounds like "If You're Happy and You Know It" compared to what follows.
"Dam That River"--The song most redolent of Facelift, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the one closest to being deemed skippable. Yeah it's so tight it resists a dime, but I could say that about every other track on here.
"Rain When I Die"--Gives me the shivers. Oh to be 15 and afraid of 30! Your dreams don't have to regularly feature a bloody knife wielded by a severed arm in order to appreciate "Rain When I Die," though it helps.
"Sickman"--Ah, the drug buddy. The ultimate in mistrust and disloyalty. Hold hands, but don't squeeze, and if he offers to catch you, run.
"Sickman" is a vortex made out of razorblades and misremembered hallucinations. Without Layne's incredible range, it would verge on intolerable.
"Rooster"--Every multi-platinum album has at least one overplayed hit. With all due respect to Pops Cantrell and his sacrifice, the chorus is hokey as Hee-Haw and shouldn't work whatsoever. It only does thanks again to Layne Staley, who imbues the tale of the unkillable soldier with tremendous shit-eating swagger.
"Junkhead"--Cracks my ass how Staley's all "YEEEEAAAAHHH" when the song is just big negation. The confluence of sounds here is unscrupulous.
One could be forgiven for assuming the members of Alice In Chains were scuzz-buckets with holes in their bottoms (and along the sides).
"Dirt"--The art of the metaphor. When Layne explains he's using drugs to escape the hellish miasma of his life, look deeper. Decode the symbolic language being used to determine the truth behind his words. To wit: he's using drugs to escape the hellish miasma of his life.
Holy God this song makes me want to eat drywall. I mean I like it, a lot, but fucking Christ someone text me a GIF of a Boston terrier tripping an obnoxious child.
"God Smack"--Godsmack sucks? Of course they fucking do. All right, goddamnit, listen up and listen well. The members of AIC cannot be blamed for the music of Godsmack, only their name. You don't blame the car manufacturer for a drunk driver's BAC, do you?
"Stick your arm for some real fun"? Wow, dude. Why does Layne sing like a horse on the verses? Is he being cute or what?
"Iron Gland"--An interlude with Slayer's Tom Araya yelling diabolical hoo-ha over distorted devil foodstuffs.
"Hate To Feel"--First impressions endure. Touching a snake disproved my belief in their sliminess, yet the phobia remains. Heroin, so I've heard tell, makes a monstrous first impression. Even if you upchuck the contents of your guts (a fairly common occurrence) the bliss lingers longer than humiliation. And, apparently, common sense.
This is Dirt's sleeper, the shadow of a one-armed man with a hook for a hand cast against the bedroom wall.
"Angry Chair"--Tap-dancing on graves for pennies. Blame the infection, sentient and capable of communicating in the host's language.
"I don't mind, yeah/I don't mind." More negation woefully disguised as affirmation. The music's power is undeniable. The musician's weakness is unbearable.
"Down In A Hole"--Incredibly not about hard drugs, but hard hearts. Pretension saved by precision. It's not hard to figure why women fall for men like Jerry Cantrell, or why their relationships will collapse quicker than a house of cards in a tornado. The artist hoards their emotions, feeling them as each situation demands. Soon he or she becomes adept at manipulating them for personal and professional benefit. A partner with self-esteem will grow weary of the games, and the sociopath artist will have the gall to feel mistreated.
"Would?"--Darker than a night of Himmler's soul. (But much, much less fascistic.) A series of howls from the wolf reduced to guarding an ungrateful cub. The vocals are awe-inspiring, without peer in the rock genre at that time.
My parents hadn't a clue about what I listened to as a teen. Or watched, or read, or thought. I only left the bedroom to attend school, use the bathroom, or retrieve food. They had me late in life, having already endured six kids, which provided me with a leeway that I knew even at the time I was abusing. What would they, two Christian children of the soil, have thought of Dirt? I'm glad I never found out.
Heroin ain't shit. Layne Staley, Kurt Cobain and Chris Cornell all used at various times in their lives, and all three created indelible art. Brad Nowell from Sublime shot up with the express hope to be like his idols and made several laughably derivative albums before his premature death from an overdose. So if you still need to be told that the substance of an artist is not entirely down to the substances inside the artist, well, you got told. Narcotics will only make a person more of what they essentially are, or less of what they essentially are.
Thursday, October 12, 2017
My favorite MTV Unplugged memories…Macca in '91, James Smith's armpits, Nirvana's amazing take on "Lake of Fire."
Despite a bravura turn by their singer, I never thought AIC's 1996 appearance was much special. The appeal of Unplugged came from hearing hard rocking acts scaling back. By the time of their performance, Alice In Chains had already released two largely acoustic EPs, so fans were well familiar with their softer side.
Per band lore, following up their platinum debut with a friggin' extended player was a happy accident: they convened in studio to record demos for #2 and wound up with Sap.
"Brother"--Jerry Cantrell's acid-blessed olive branch to his blood brother features spirit sister Ann Wilson on co-vocals. Yes, that Ann Wilson. (She and sis Nancy provided early support for many bands in the local scene.) Even the mirage of reconciliation is beautiful, yeah?
"Got Me Wrong"--Alice try the soft/loud thing with excellent results. This thoughtful* look at the state of give-take in a relationship is powered along by a bouncy bass line and those gorgeous vocal harmonies which gave the band the majority of their charm.
"Right Turn"--The only song credited to "Alice Mudgarden," "Right Turn" features Chris Cornell of Soundgarden and Mark Arm from Mudhoney. Grungegasm, fer sure, and I dig the general unsteadiness.
"Am I Inside"--Mr. Webster is of no assistance. Just wait for the last of the dust to fly off the sun and commence with leaving prints.
"Love Song"--Oh good, some drunk American kids decided to remake "You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)"! This is goofier than punctuating a marriage proposal with a purple nurple.
*Jerry wrote the lyrics for "Got Me Wrong," and while I don't regard them as particularly insightful, they at least aren't hateful. For that, refer to this quote from Layne Staley in the 2/8/96 issue of Rolling Stone:
"Women are so chemically different from men, and that makes it hard to sustain a relationship. They have their periods, they go through horrible, awful emotional swings and trying to be logical with a person that's got a whole different logic running around in her brain is just impossible."
Wednesday, October 11, 2017
Soundgarden were weird, in the sense that they found a drummer and stuck with him. When the drummer is Matt Cameron, though, you can chalk it up more to luck than quirk. Bassists aren't traditionally as interchangeable, so of course Hiro Yamamoto left after Louder Than Love, citing extreme creative dissatisfaction. Ben Shepherd's arrival coincided with a sorely-needed growth spurt.
"Rusty Cage"--What, young Jenn wondered, am I listening to?
This is a precision attack. It's a recently-freed man hurtling through unadulterated fields, only I'm unsure how excited to feel--he might deserve to be imprisoned.
This is a hail storm during an earthquake. Five meteorologists found Jesus after his dad had lost him at the mall.
What, old Jenn wondered, am I listening to?
"Outshined"--The rakish video earned the guys some good-natured ribbing, what with Cornell all flowing locks and twitchy pecs. Looks aren't everything, so even the smirkers had to admit a good drag through the tar pit when they heard one.
"Slaves and Bulldozers"--Possibly the most grunge song ever recorded. This shit is a millstone wearing a millstone. Seven minutes of pre-life dedicated to tarring and feathering the self-involved judges of a lawless land.
"Jesus Christ Pose"--One fallen angel upbraiding his deluded peers. Savagery. "Slaves and Bulldozers" after six months of cardio and a light weight routine. An unblinking pummel-fest befits the blatant metaphor.
"Face Pollution"--Sure, treat your ADD with sizzurp, I can't imagine any unfortunate ramifications.
"Somewhere"--A friendly reminder to never drink light beer unless there's anything else drinkable in the fridge/cooler/ice-filled tub.
"Searching With My Good Eye Closed"--Another sloggin' slugger, this is a true group showcase. A bayonet to the windpipe is a hell of a motivational tool.
"Room A Thousand Miles Wide"--Per writer Kim Thayil, this song concerns "experience in general." And a tackle box full of prescription meds.
"Mind Riot"--After a time, alarms cease to feel alarming. Soundgarden maintain the deliberate ferocity of a coyote pack circling an active BBQ pit.
"Drawing Flies"--Nothing is good for us; everything is us, for good.
"Holy Water"--Luxuriates in lava dreams. We're none of us bone dry.
"New Damage"--"A new world order," Jesus, what a '90z lyric.
Chris Cornell vs. Guitar, fite! Oh shit, I won! You as well, so let's touch the trophy together on the count of three and suddenly find ourselves transported to a graveyard shrouded in blue-green fog where our only company is a fat guy and the wicked slug baby he's cradling.
In like a woolly mammoth, out like a chickadee, that's Badmotorfinger.
Tuesday, October 10, 2017
Well well, check who got their dirty little butts scooped up by the corporate ogre. Stuffed into the very same armpit as their beloved Sonic Youth, no less, surrounded by the smell of 200,000 units sold and great health insurance.
The Nirvana of Nevermind were drastically different from the Nirvana of Bleach. No longer burdened with concerns such as reaping the prevailing sound of their record label, Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic entered the studio with drummer Dave Grohl (who'd impressed them behind the kit for the DC punk band Scream) and producer Butch Vig. Prior to Nirvana, Vig had overseen records by the likes of Killdozer, Die Kruezen, and Laughing Hyenas. Dirty, raw stuff. Yet the final product came out virtually reflective.
The idea of music sounding "too good for its own good" is pretty funny to me, but I guess I grasp the essential beef. Bottom line, Kurt sealed Nevermind's fate not with the hiring of Vig, but of Grohl. His power and precision turned Nirvana into a motional band.
"Smells Like Teen Spirit"--Yes, Virginia's daughter remembers where she was when she first heard (and saw) "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Bedroom lit only by the TV. Cliched guitar riff, murderous drums. Sepia tones, slurs giving way to screams. Over the years, my estimation of the track has oscillated. At first it was the most awesome thing I'd ever heard, then it became the most overhyped thing I'd ever heard. I've settled on viewing Nirvana's biggest hit as a microcosm for their brief career.
A scintillating surface concealing a deceptive depth, the sound is familiar yet fresh. Galvanizing or enervating--depending. The only element that's dated poorly is the lack of a cohesive message. Hate is horrible; apathy is worse. And if "Teen Spirit" is to be identified as an anthem, then it is one of meh, feh and snuh. See, for most of the decade, America had a decent president. (By presidential standards, anyway.) Rebellion was a game, with contradiction and confusion two of the more prominent play-pieces. His wordplay proves that Cobain didn't treat lyrics with outright disregard, no matter his protestations, but the overall attitude would still depress me even if the man were alive today. "Teen Spirit" reeks of a smart, sensitive young man who can't change it all, so he decided to change nothing.
"In Bloom"--Considering how Kurt stressed what he played over what he said, a song calling out lazy listeners is…bemusing. Also I think I can hear Dave Grohl killing Mothra here.
"Come As You Are"--The follow-up to "Teen Spirit" didn't scale the same heights commercially, but damned if it's not a better song. The cause of, and cure for, hypothermia.
"Breed"--Is this a brutal picketing of middle-class brat factories? 'Cause it just sounds so damn happy. And it makes me happy. Is that odd? I mean, you can absolutely kick a hole through a church door with a skin-cracking grin on your face.
"Lithium"--Single number three is, fittingly, the moodiest of the bunch. Probably the second-most infamous use of the soft/loud trick that they popularized, and still causes phantom pain in my back and shoulders. Love leads to loss leads to drugs leads to God leads to "YEEEEEEEAAAAHHHHH!"
"Polly"--Of the several versions available, the most-heard is the best. (It does work out that way on occasion.) A wretched situation described with such delicacy is a more disturbing listen than barely-articulated rambling over distortion.
"Territorial Pissings"--After Krist's bug-eyed homage to late Sixties feel-good activism, the filth begins funneling down. Do people who say Bleach is better get off on being measurably wrong?
(Side note: Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge by Mudhoney in July, Ten in August, Nevermind in September and finally, Soundgarden's Badmotorfinger in October? Seattle was not fucking around in the 9-1.)
"Drain You"--Oh "Drain You," you're the one. Remember when you left the rubber ducky on the stairs, and I tripped, and you broke my fall? Remember, do you, how green were my bruises?
Elucidation is overrated. Allow words to melt.
(One member of Bikini Kill inspired the most famous track, another member inspired the best track. Eh, I still like Bratmobile better.)
"Lounge Act"--Regularly relegated to the rear when people deign to rank the songs on Nevermind. What a McDuckian load of hooey. "Lounge Act" applies the soft/loud blueprint to the vocals. Is that why it underwhelms in the minds of many? Does the bass make the insecure little boys out there shrivel up?
Who can say. I'm content to sit back with an Old Fashioned and a tank top, waiting for the world to narrow.
"Stay Away"--No, I'm not letting this go. This "first is always best" philosophy is such crap. Case in point, me. I'm the youngest of seven children, and guess who just sold their first short story this week?
Bitching about Nevermind failing to sound sufficiently "punk" is as useful as bitching that Jaws didn't use a real shark. Guess who wanted to be a rich rock star? Kurt fucking Cobain. You think he wanted to keep living hand-to-mouth, playing shows in front of 100-200 mouthbreathers, calling up Sub Pop HQ to complain about distribution, all while trying to resuscitate his dealer?
You want me to talk more about the actual song? Oh I bet you do. Check this: the drummer steals the show, yet considering that two security guards watched the whole heist without moving a muscle, does it truly count as theft? Oooh, thinker emoji is thinkin'.
"On A Plain"--A boy and his blocks: emotional, social, creative and of course, that big one resting on his shoulders. Kurt's eagerness harmonizes with his shame, and I can't complain either.
"Something In the Way"/"Endless, Nameless"--Confession time: I have listened to "Something In the Way" in its entirety a total of three times. Just too sparse for my taste. Forgive me, disciples of the wheat-haired Jesus.
The hidden track, though, boy howdy. Who are you (not really) talking to right now? Youth-ful trip back up the birth canal, hell yes and more please and thank you.
Seattle trio blow record industry to smithereens. Mumble-mouthed wise-ass named generational spokesperson. Thirty million people worldwide sure as sheep shit can be wrong, but in the case of Nevermind, they weren't.
Monday, October 9, 2017
Born from the ashes of two beloved Seattle bands (Green River and Mother Love Bone), behold Pearl Jam. Relocated surfer boy Eddie Vedder on vocals, Stone Gossard and Mike McCready handling the guitars, Jeff Ament with the bass and goofy hats, and Dave Krusen forever the answer to a trivia question. The group played their first concert on 10/22/1990--ooh, so close!
"Once"--Vedder wrote a trilogy about a victim of incest-turned-serial killer. Interestingly, the second part is the one we hear first. Unspectacular, save for the singer's soon-ubiquitous yarling.
"Even Flow"--Melancholic as all hell. Imagine having the flu something horrible (no, even more horrible than that) and walking gingerly over to your bedroom window, pulling up the shades, and BAM--the taunting finger of the sun, right in your face.
Laudable as the rare song that tackles homelessness without coming off cloying or sanctimonious.
"Alive"--The first of the "Daddy left me Mommy screwed me so I kill people now" trilogy is frequently embraced as an inspirational song, which is only natural until you listen to the damned thing. In truth, the narrator finds his continued existence quite burdensome, every two heartbeats sounding out a hearty "fuck you." That's two straight songs played contrarily, you bastards.
Anyone who relates to "Alive" is hopefully referring to the chorus. Stone Gossard's one-take solo is justly venerated. Has he yet to apologize?
"Why Go"--What's more punk rock than talking about mental illness? In the moment, of the moment, until it becomes the moment. If the present is a gift you give yourself, the future is a gift you give everyone else.
"Black"--I'd prefer to dismiss "Black" as an empty power ballad. In truth, it's one of Pearl Jam's best tracks, in addition to one of their most beloved.
So why do I (currently) hate it?
"Black" has this bleak seven-note piano melody that never fails to tickle the chin of my darkest, stoutest demon. Those fingernails are too long for me to tolerate, lately. The prickles agitate my fragile frame, until I have no choice but to submit to my rages just to avoid collapsing under the weight of my sorrows.
Lost love, eh? All I hear is a lost life. Or shall I be less dramatic and say, misplaced.
Epic Records pushed hard for "Black" to be released as an official single, but the band adamantly refused, feeling some songs were too personal, too precious, to tarnish with a friggin' promo video. Nothing stopped radio, though, and "Black" remains the Pearl Jam mega-hit that never was.
"Jeremy"--Has all the nuance missing from "Alive," while vibrating with the same desire to be heard that plagued its anti-hero.
"Oceans"--If I had to pick one instrument to place in my living room…timpani drum.
Refer to "Oceans" for meditative exercises designed to make inhalations and exhalations indistinguishable from one another.
"Porch"--I have a theory: the phrase "I love you" is valid only when uttered outdoors, stone-faced and dry-eyed. Perish those cynical thoughts; in this world, we will cross paths with thousands of people, and look directly at maybe 15-20% of them. We are creatures ruled by our habits, and love does not change that. Love is serious business, and like most businesses, it will take several years to see profit. (And that's assuming you don't set the building on fire to collect insurance money.) The harder lovers work, the sweeter their play.
Thus, my theory. If you want the three largest little words in the English language to hold the weight their curves demand, test it out.
"Garden"--Earnest Ed, source of so much adoration and annihilation: "I don't question our existence/I just question our modern needs."
"Deep"--Basic icing, covered with hundreds and thousands. Tasty.
"Release"--Huge chorus. A blanket for my shivering shoulders that is every bit as comfy as it is warm.
Note the release date. Far from being coattail-clutchers, Pearl Jam actually beat Nirvana's second album to record stores by a full month. Ten had to grow on folk, however, so much so that while Nevermind is widely regarded as the best and most influential album from the grunge era, Ten is the highest-selling--thirteen million copies in America alone, as compared to a mere ten million for Nevermind.
For any album to go diamond is impressive. To do so while boasting a cover that makes the band members look like a melanin-deprived version of the "Fun Bunch" beggars belief.
Saturday, October 7, 2017
So Alice In Chains might be a bad band name, but Alice N' Chains is a worse one. Still, even that was big step up from Sleze, the original handle of Layne Staley's first band.
Jerry Cantrell was a homeless musician when he met Staley at a party in Seattle. Soon the pair were sharing space at the warehouse/rehearsal studio Music Bank. When the original AIC broke up, Jerry and Layne began playing together. With the additions of bassist Mike Starr and drummer Sean Kinney, the rebooted Alice In Chains recorded a demo that caught the attention of Soundgarden managers Susan Silver and Kelly Curtis, who passed it along to the Columbia Records A&R department.
Of the Big 4, AIC are the outlier, not just in sound but in look. They worshipped at the altar of Sabbath and Zeppelin, but the band members also drew inspiration from the resolutely uncool likes of Guns 'N Roses and Queensryche. Nobody in Alice was digging on the Raincoats, yearning to emulate the Sonic Youth model, or having their lives changed by Fugazi. They are, like Soundgarden, more of a metal band than an alternative one. They are, unlike Soundgarden, awful damn proud of that fact.
The release of Facelift cause grumblings within the local scene, chiefly from those who remembered AIC as a glam act piggybacking on the hot new sound. Opinions are opinions, and facts are facts, and the fact is: Facelift was the first grunge album to earn platinum certification in the U.S., boasted considerably by massive MTV presence.
"We Die Young"--Out of the gates, into the gutter. "Scary's on the wall/Scary's on his way" would be terminally corny if Staley didn't sound so, well, scary.
"Man in the Box"--The breakthrough, remembered for the talkbox and holy shit what happened to that guy's eyes? The rancorous riffage left me ill-prepared for AIC's trademark: the unconventional harmonizing of Layne and Jerry. "MITB" is hardly the finest representation of this quality, what with Layne sounding like an old man's clammy hand feels for most of the song. Both 120 Minutes and Headbanger's Ball played the burning syphilitic piss out of the video, by the way.
"Sea Of Sorrow"--A bit of a swing, if that's your thing. White boys bruise easier, or at least it looks that way. My favorite single from Facelift.
"Bleed the Freak"--Here we go, godless harmonies in full bloom. Too often, people associate AIC with chemicals when really chemistry was much more key. Arrows bisecting the air, gutted boar oppressors roaring, the word "thine," come on guys let's stop taking rawk mzk so so srs.
"I Can't Remember"--For the best, really, that we forget most of what we dream. We'd have even less productive days and nights, caught in the snare of recollection and dissection.
First glimpse of brooding Layne Staley. His complaints are hoary, but heartfelt. It's not as if someone's troubles are only worthwhile if packaged in an unorthodox container.
"Love, Hate, Love"--Six murky, meandering minutes that feel even longer to my older ears. This is the sequel to "Jet City Woman," probably. (I wonder how many hours Jerry Cantrell spent "studying" Operation: Mindcrime.)
"It Ain't Like That"--I won't hear word one of slander against this semi-masterpiece of chromatic death. Fried veins cure fried brains. Pass it on.
"Feel as though/A tooth were rotten."
"Sunshine"--The chorus is excessively pretty, despite a horribly forced rhyme. Well-constructed and (almost) embarrassingly effective.
"Put You Down"--The brevity of the verses sticks out. That's pretty much all.
"Confusion"--Ever been so drunk at the bar you nod off and wake up when the tip of your nose hits the rim of whatever's containing your beverage of choice? 'Cause I haven't.
That's Mike Starr looming in the chorus, he has a Kerry King thing happening. Layne's blood is poisoned and poised. He's not yet a pro at replenishment, but he's a fast learner. And the way he sings "crawl" is indecent.
"I Know Somethin' ('Bout You)"--Fake funk filler.
"Real Thing"--Tries to kick shit and flubs worse than Romo. Does salvage itself somewhat with a reference to the greatest comedy film ever at the end.
Facelift was the first of all the albums in this series to make a serious impact on me. I was nearing adolescence, listening to it, Goo and Rust In Peace over and over, thinking about everyone I despised at my middle school (which meant everyone at my middle school). Time has treated the record fairly, with all the kindness and meanness it deserves. The last third of the album has always plodded, just as the first two-thirds still inspire fantasies of bashing that Christine bitch upside the head with a lunch tray in the cafeteria.
Friday, October 6, 2017
At last, the two EPs. Sub Pop did me a solid by re-releasing them on a single disc. (Seriously, you thought I'd start a discography review with two EPs?)
"Hunted Down"--Come for the threats from an unspecified predator (the dogs don't count, since they may be metaphorical), stay for the noise solo.
"Entering"--Woo. They just kicked the metaphorical dog out of the house. Ol' "you're living in the yard full-time now"-ass song.
"Tears To Forget"--Balls-deep blitz with a Halfordian performance from Cornell. Forget the boys; beware the bubbles.
"Nothing To Say"--Not entirely true. Value is relative.
"Little Joe"--LJ will drink of the world, or it will eat him. Early Soundgarden weren't wary in the face of forceful funk, and Cornell's fervent quest to attain his final form rivets.
"Hand of God"--Y'all familiar with Hell Without Hell, AKA My Favorite Album Cover? If you aren't, click this link. If you are, click this link.
And so ends Screaming Life. (Which I'll be using for my epitaph, so don't bother.)
"Kingdom of Come"--You may not be hip to Kingdom Come, the most shameless Led Zeppelin rip-off non-artists to slide down the pipe. They operated under false pretenses foam 1987 to 2016, releasing thirteen albums, the first of which actually achieved platinum status, such was the public's appetite for an LZ reunion. They are a top ten worst thing foisted on the world by Germany, and that, motherfuckers, is a statement.
This song is disgusting as well, but in a much different way. Kim Thayil's solo makes me wanna go pyro on some H2O in the O-H-I-O.
"Swallow My Pride"--The first of two covers that wrap up the proceedings is an unremarkable take on a great Green River song. Several missing elements, most crucially Mark Arm's snotty delivery.
Grunge guys may have been good guys, but even good guys want blow jobs.
"Fopp"--The Ohio Players original is a salacious glory. Those horns! Goes without saying, Soundgarden's cover lacks the brass and thus, the balls. Why even bother? May as well eat room temperature peach pie. Might as well drop by In-N-Out and order a hamburger with lettuce. Might as well ask me to write a review where I don't mention food.
If your ideal sexual encounter involves a brick wall and a perfect stranger with cheap beer breath, you'll probably like this a lot.
"Fopp (Dub)"--No one requested the presence of this.
Sub Pop, please return to sender within fourteen business days.
Thursday, October 5, 2017
La'ies and gen'lmen, A&M Records presents, the first grunge record on a major label! Herb Alpert, you magnificent bus stop! Sometimes I forget Terry Date produced records with good music on them!
"Ugly Truth"--Dion for Zappa, this. (What's that mean?) Unlikely opener. Hypnotic, regards be damned.
"Hands All Over"--AKA, "Full On Everyone's Mom." The first Soundgarden tune I ever heard is a plea to respect the Earth. Chris Cornell's voice is fit to prop up trees and mend ozone holes. To say nothing of Godzilla cheering him on. The bottom line is the same now as then: the planet is fucked.
"Gun"--Ideal if you're counting your daily steps. Oh yeah, guns were a problem then too. Man's primal urge to kill things with fake dicks will only die when man does.
"Power Trip"--Expose the frauds, then? Possesses little power, doesn't travel very far.
"Get On the Snake"--Not a sex metaphor. Phew.
Soundgarden played with time signatures more frequently than I played with my Snoopy Sno-Cone Maker. Unusually, the lyrics here are memorable: "cola-colored sky," "road-worthy, hungry and mean." Well, fragments of the lyrics are memorable. Ode to the road, snakes upon snakes, diet of eggs/hot dogs/root beer, sleeping with one eye open to save a buck. Eh, gimme the bus schedule.
"Full On Kevin's Mom"--Based on a true story! Here be the speediest Gonzalez, and beyond that--oh, and the merciless vapidity of the lyrics--I can't shake the sensation that Chris got it backwards. He should've sung the chorus in the style he sang the verse, and vice versa. Would that have improved "FOKM" any more than slightly? No, but slight improvements are still improvements.
"Loud Love"--Bully pulled from the pit and locked in the club basement. Cases of beer surround him…and all of them warm.
The siren…she calls me…she's a dude, with long hair and a swimmers build…I told her I preferred to text.
"I Awake"--Lyrics based on a letter to Hiro Yamamoto from his girlfriend, so of course they're gas-splashed trash. Still, kudos for enduring all those time signature shifts like a champ.
"No Way No Right"--Whoa, vortex. Jesus, lemme put a bra on first, won't'cha. I don't trust of the signs I see. Yield--to what? Stop--for who? One way--how you figure?
"Uncovered"--A call from a misplaced spirit. The difference between being sucked in and suckered in is in the quality of the questions asked.
"Big Dumb Sex"--Even the riffs are in on the joke. Hilariously sleazed-out (insistence makes a funny thing more so, almost always). Poison, Motley Crue, open up and swallow those cow hearts.
(Stone Temple Pilots would try a similar trick a few years later, only to fuck it up by shooting a video that undercut the ambiguity of the lyrics.)
Still, "Big Dumb Sex" got shit catapulted at it from all sides because of the title and blunder-headed chorus. I've never loved it, but compared to the likes of "Full On Kevin's Mom," this is downright Cohen-esque.
"Full On Kevin's Mom (Reprise)"--No one asked for this! Well, besides Kevin's mom.
What you say is not clearly not as vital as what you play; that's the Soundgarden way.
Wednesday, October 4, 2017
Soundgarden's first two EPs (which we'll be getting to, settle) were released on Sub Pop Records, a Seattle-based indie label that would proceed to put out records by the legendary likes of Green River, Mudhoney, and Cat Butt before lucking onto the latest racket-gang to call themselves Nirvana.
Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic started the band not in Seattle, but their hometown of Aberdeen, a logging town located two hours to the southwest. After two years of super-loud gigs and mega-rough demos, Nirvana (supplemented with drummer Chad Channing) entered the studio with producer/musician/local legend Jack Endino to cut their $600 debut. Set on giving Sub Pop more of the sonic aesthetic the label was known for, Nirvana delivered an album short on hooks and long on negative vibes.
"Blew"--Catchy bits exist on Bleach; "Blew" is perhaps the finest of them. Repetitive, since depression tends towards repetition. (It's dangerous to go alone! But no one else'll put up with me!) The chorus is the cry of the perpetual rear-bringer-upper. Why is second place so undesirable? Second still gets a medal.
"Floyd the Barber"--Chad Channing doesn't hold the sticks for all of the album. "Floyd" is one of three cuts featuring the gargantuan talents of Melvins drummer Dale Crover.
I mean, all good fucks are twisted one way or another, but goddamn. One thing's 100%, Ron Howard will not direct the Nirvana biopic.
"About A Girl"--Legend states that Kurt Cobain wrote the bulk of Bleach's lyrics on the eve of recording. Which means turning moon-faced 1950s entertainment into debauched fanfic. Which means turning an emotionally distant romance into one of the best songs he'd ever write. "About A Girl" is the earliest evidence of Cobain's melodic gifts, gorgeously unwrapped.
"School"--To hear Kurt tell it, Aberdeen was a swirling pool of antifreeze and light beer, so had this music thing not happened, he likely would have died there. Anyone who's ever lived in abject fear of breathing their last in the same place they breathed their first will feel his anguish in their bones.
(Home, further, to one of my favorite Nirvana mondegreens: "You're an asshole again.")
"Love Buzz"--The decision to release "Love Buzz" as a single is surpassed in weirdness only by the decision to cover it in the first place. Krist is hooded and knife-wielding, so I don't mind that I can't understand what Kurt's talking about down there by his elbow.
"Paper Cuts"--My birthday buddy is back! (I really need to make a Weird Al/Dale Crover playlist.) Think fat guy who is utterly clueless as to his sheer volume whilst doing anything and everything.
"Negative Creep"--I thought weed was supposed to cheer y'up?
Self-Portrait of the Artist As An Average Guy Who Isn't Really. Every second tells us to piss off or get pissed on.
"Scoff"--So what, wart on yer finger. Is it gangrenous? No? Then shut it or suck it.
If only things were that easy. Kids gonna kid, parents gonna parent. I have more fingers on my hands than conversations with my father.
"Swap Meet"--When the cat's away, the mice will take over the litter box. The ways in which we de-prioritize one another and hasten the end, sounding far more upbeat than they've any right to sound.
"Mr. Moustache"--A frenetic disavowal of macho macho men. Admirable as Nirvana's sociopolitical sensitivities were, this is pretty forgettable.
"Sifting"--Thick-fingered offering with a bit of the old wordplay on the side. No recess, but yes rehash.
So ends Nirvana's first album (unless you're listening to the CD reissue, which tacked on "Big Cheese" and "Downer," and I do mean tacked on). The first four songs are fan-damn, arguably the best four-hit combo of Nirvana's short career. I maintain, however, that claims of Bleach's superiority to its immediate successor are utter sophistry. I can accept that it's still overlooked, somehow, in that people acknowledge it as important while not giving the actual songs due praise.
Still Sub Pop's biggest-selling record, incidentally.
Tuesday, October 3, 2017
The first of the so-called Big 4 to offer sound in exchange for currency were also the first to record a full-length LP, and that is where we start.
1988 was a decent year for the legendary SST records, putting out certifiably great records by Saint Vitus and Dinosaur Jr. in addition to Soundgarden's debut. Each deserved Grammy attention, but only the guys from Seattle got one…for Best Metal Performance, at that. Ultramega OK is undeniably a black lung, and also a damp armpit, a scarred belly. Meaning while the metal influence is clear, so are the sways of hard rock and punk.
"Flower"--The only single is the story of a vain girl, "eyes a purple green," alluring in all the ways a woman can learn. (And also unlearn, but where's the fun in that?) Solid start, even if the structure is nothing special, and guitarist Kim Thayil's got some bad-ass breath.
"All Your Lies"--Ah, the smell of gasoline and black smoke in the mid-morning. Moods, pitches, those are a snap to switch. Bending sunbeams, straightening out highway routes, smoothing snake skin, good luck getting that done in a day.
"665"--Dark, evil, literal shit. Parody? Yeah, get a pair o' these.
"Beyond the Wheel"--Blue-collar till they're red in the hands. Turn it up and twist it. Fathers and sons and mothers and sons, meanwhile the daughters gain wisdom, confidence, and one day, power.
"667"--Guys, space these out. Or just don't include them.
"Mood For Trouble"--Soundgarden's most potent weapon was Chris Cornell's voice. I shock no one with that sentence. Its poignancy would accrue from repeated use; on Ultramega, Cornell is grit and grind, more russet than amber. Rob Halford with a leather allergy, some parts.
"Circle of Power"--A throwaway to some, a bell-ringer for me. Bassist Hiro Yamamoto (who co-wrote) takes over the mic to prove himself the drunken master of no trades. Few things are more profoundly metal than subjugation anthems: torches burn, goblets clink, wrenches shrill, and blades swing.
Now is as good a time as any to salute drummer Matt Cameron. He's really great at what he does, despite what the production is trying to tell us.
"He Didn't"--Tear me down, buttercup. Oxymorons are for geniuses. See, he did nothing to a ridiculous degree. Or, he failed to do anything perfectly at a level unmatched.
"Smokestack Lightning"--The best blues music touches shoe soles and mountaintops. One of several covers Soundgarden recorded in their halcyon days, "Smokestack Lightning" is a sludge casserole--break dish and bury shards after serving.
(Also catch the excerpt of Sonic Youth's "Death Valley '69" near the end, inspired by the Youth's own sampling of the Stooges on their Bad Moon Rising album. There was a "Flower" on that record, too. Huh.)
"Nazi Driver"--Hiro provided the bowl and broth for this ugly stew, but wisely lets Chris Cornell do Chris Cornell things. Morals fly outta the nearest hole in the house when it comes to menacing a menace. "The only color is red."
"Head Injury"--A punk track that still needs to wake up early most days of the week.
"Incessant Noise"--Ugh, this one makes me wanna floss. Cornell just can't detach himself from the words.
"One Minute Of Silence"--A cover, kinda, of John and Yoko's "Two Minutes Of Silence." What's a debut album without self-indulgence?
Despite the subpar ending, Ultramega OK is a strong record. It flows like I do every once in awhile, and the band's diverse influences keep their technical proficiency from coming off as sterile.