We’re looking over to the States again for a dose of 80s and 90s rock, in a selection spanning 17 years. Some well-liked bands here, some of which I’ve never heard before. Let’s see what’s in the bag…
Incubus, ‘Make Yourself’
The most recent album this week, released in 1999: amazing to think this was nearly 20 years ago. ‘A Certain Shade of Green’, from the band’s ‘S.C.I.E.N.C.E.’ album, is a shoo-in if I ever make a nu-metal playlist, but on ‘Make Yourself’, the band start to make the move towards the kind of Pearl Jam-style music that moved them into the mainstream. The commercial rock parts of the album feel the stalest, at least to my ears, while the freshest-sounding elements are actually the nu-metal trappings (the scratching, the samples) which I thought would sound like museum pieces. Still, I’m sure they’re not too concerned about my take when ‘Pardon Me’ is a familiar song from rock clubs and they went on to have even bigger hits with 2001’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ (and the album ‘Morning View’).
Meat Puppets, ‘II’
The Puppets’ second album is also their most famous due to their subsequent association with Nirvana, who performed three of the band’s songs on ‘Unplugged’ alongside the band’s Cris and Curt Kirkwood. While their previous album was hardcore (apparently, I haven’t heard it), here they buy acoustic guitars and weird 60s pedals and record an album which might be a suburbanite in Arkansas approaching the end of their tether. Pretty listenable, and a breeze at 29 minutes.
Minutemen, ‘Double Nickels on the Dime’
A double album crammed with as many songs as they had, this crams 42 tracks into 70 minutes, including the ‘Jackass’ theme tune. Their trade is scratchy, jazzy meanderings, perhaps an American Gang of Four who’ve listened to Ornette Coleman. However, there’s time for all sorts on here: shambling live recordings, a polka, Henry Rollins contributions and a song scored for a trio of cars. Sadly, the Spotify version omits their version of Van Halen’s ‘Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love’, but 42 tracks is too many to be listening to this band as it is.
Pavement, ‘Slanted and Enchanted’
I know I got into it 15 years after everyone else but ‘Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain’ is one of the best albums I’ve heard on this project. ‘Slanted and Enchanted’ was one album earlier, two fewer band members (they added the second guitarist and Bob, and changed drummer) and contains fewer familiar hits. This is a very popular album among Pavement fans but I’m not as keen: it’s more dissonant, less melodic, and perhaps still containing some leftover punk trappings from Malkmus’s previous band. Maybe more listens will make it easier to love. Either way, this is our last visit to Pavement.
The third and final appearance of the Pixies on the list, this one does digress from the template established on ‘Doolittle‘ but rather than bossa nova, they try out surf and space rock. It features the faint Talking Heads sound of ‘Dig For Fire’ and the rock song ‘Velouria’, and is probably their most cohesively sequenced and arranged album. However, I think the songwriting on ‘Doolittle’ trumps anything here. The band went on to do ‘Trompe le Monde’ and lately returned for some Kim-free comeback albums, none of which make the list.
Screaming Trees, ‘Dust’
Accomplished but boring, this final album from Mark Lanegan and the band is a fairly late grunge album, released in 1996. It piles on the guitars and vocal harmonies, and sounds very professional in a way that sands off any possible edge that it might have had. Sometimes (like on ‘Make My Mind’) it sounds like U2, sometimes (as on ‘Look At You’) it sounds like Robbie Williams album fodder. The sort of music your big brother would like while he sneered at you for liking Le Tigre.
Violent Femmes, ‘Violent Femmes’
The first and biggest selling Femmes record opens with ‘Blister in the Sun’, their most famous song and the only one I’d heard of theirs. The remainder of the album follows along similar lines: like the Meat Puppets, it’s a punkish set-up recorded mostly on acoustic guitars, giving it something of a country feel. There’s also something vaguely Only Ones about Gordon Gano’s unenunciated drawl, and a stop for a xylophone solo on the back end of the album. Pretty good, and suggests the band’s back catalogue deserves exploring beyond the one hit.
Next week: It’s gonna be another week of editors’ choice as we get into the back end of the project.
Status update: 882 listened to (88%), 119 albums remain.