Badmotofinger by Soundgarden

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Badmotofinger by SoundgardenLaying the sonic foundation for their most successful run as a band, Soundgarden delivered their first of a trio of critically acclaimed albums with 1991’s Badmotofinger. The third studio release by this Seattle-based hard rock band, the album features a variety of guitar textures, rhythms with unique time signature combinations and soaring vocal patterns above droning tonalities, making it an art rock centerpiece and a mainstream metal work.

Deriving from a band called The Shemps in Seattle in the early 1980s, the group’s original member was vocalist and (former) drummer Chris Cornell. Guitarist Kim Thayil was originally enlisted as a bassist but moved to guitar when the original Soundgarden took form as a trio in 1984. The band released a pair of EPs in 1987, followed by their independent debut album, Ultramega OK, the following year. After a successful tour supporting that album, Soundgarden signed with A&M Records and released the 1989 mainstream metal album, Louder Than Love.

After working with several bassists, the group hired Ben Shepherd in 1990, just prior to the Badmotorfinger recording sessions. The album was recorded at several west coast studios in the spring of 1991 with producer Terry Date, with who they had previously works. In between the album’s recording and October 1991 release, Cornell and drummer Matt Cameron recorded the album Temple of the Dog by the supergroup of the same name.


Badmotorfinger by Soundgarden
Released: October 8, 1991 (A&M)
Produced by: Terry Date & Soundgarden
Recorded: A&M Studios, Los Angeles; Studio D, Sausalito, CA; Bear Creek Studios, Woodinville, WA; March-April 1991
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Rusty Cage
Outshined
Slaves & Bulldozers
Jesus Christ Pose
Face Pollution
Somewhere
Searching with My Good Eye Closed
Room a Thousand Years Wide
Mind Riot
Drawing Flies
Holy Water
New Damage
Chris Cornell – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Kim Thayil – Guitars
Ben Shepherd – Bass
Matt Cameron – Drums

Badmotofinger by Soundgarden

The album commences with “Rusty Cage” and the intro call and response guitar licks which precede the thumping drive of the song proper. The core of this tune features a mesmerizing, de-tuned guitar riff by Thayil which used a wah wah in the low position used as a filter for added effect. This song was later recorded by Johnny Cash for his 1996 album Unchained. “Outshined” features Cornell’s animated vocals over a quasi-doomy riff and rhythms through the verses. In an interesting juxtaposition, the song’s choruses are more melodic and accessible with some fine harmonies. Co-written by Shepherd, “Slaves and Bulldozers” is built on a strong bass riff through the nearly seven-minute drill-em-to-death approach, which is fine for a certain kind of listener mood.

The most controversial song on Badmotofinger was the lead single “Jesus Christ Pose”, a group composition with wild rhythms and screeching guitar chords which seem to be ready-made for an action sequence in a movie. Cornell’s vocals are at the top of his register, adding to the overall feeling of nervousness with the oft-misunderstood lyrics speaking of the exploitation of religion for personal benefit. “Face Pollution” is the first of two solo compositions by Shepherd, with this one being a heavily punk influenced track with a punk-like length of just over two minutes. “Somewhere” follows as a more of a standard rock song with heavy use of rhyming and emphasis on melody. “Searching with My Good Eye Closed” features Cameron playing interesting beats and just enough fills during the droning song proper, with Thayil playing well-effected long-noted guitar patterns to give it all a late sixties psychedelic effect.

Soundgarden in1991

While having some sonic highlights, the latter half of the album loses a bit of steam. Besides having a really cool name, there is really nothing special about “Room a Thousand Years Wide” as an audio song. “Drawing Flies” is another fast, drilling song by Cameron but fades out too fast making it sound like filler, while “Holy Water” is a sloshy, grunge rocker and the closer “New Damage” is one final, dramatic guitar and vocal-centered screed which leaves the album with an ominous message for the listener. The best of this set of songs is “Mind Riot”, which combines a good bass riff intro with guitars entering in turn with a fine effect, and when drums finally enter with an odd tempo, it all resolves with a really cool vibe going that is kind of bluesy and somewhat Eastern influenced.

Badmotorfinger was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance in 1992 and the album has been certified two times platinum, selling over a million and a half copies in the United States. The album’s success led to an extended North American tour and built the foundation for much greater success later in the decade.

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1991 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1991 albums.

No More Tears by Ozzy Osbourne

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No More Tears by Ozzy OsbourneOzzy Osbourne entered the second act of his successful solo career with 1991’s No More Tears. This sixth studio album would go on to become his second best-selling in North America, behind 1980’s Blizzard of Ozz and has gone on to be certified quadruple platinum. This is quite an accomplishment considering so many acts that found success in the 1980s were greeted less enthusiastically during the heart of the 1990s grunge and alternative wave.

Prior to this album, Osbourne had struggled to find his musical footing following the untimely death of guitarist Randy Rhoads in 1982. Osbourne first invited blues guitarist Gary Moore but to no avail and several temporary guitarists were used during early eighties tours. Jake E. Lee joined Osbourne’s band to record Bark at the Moon and The Ultimate Sin, but he departed the group by 1987. In 1986 drummer Randy Castillo joined Osbourne’s group with guitarist Zakk Wylde coming on board the following year to form a new quartet along with long time bassist Bob Daisey.

For No More Tears, Osbourne initiated the practice of bringing in outside composers to co-write songs. Motorhead bassist and front man Lemmy Kilmister co-wrote four tracks on the album, with producer John Purdell co-composing another track.


No More Tears by Ozzy Osbourne
Released: September 17, 1991 (Epic)
Produced by: Duane Baron & John Purdell
Recorded: A&M Studios and Devonshire Studios, Los Angeles, 1991
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Mr. Tinkertrain
I Don’t Want to Change the World
Mama, I’m Coming Home
Desire
No More Tears
S.I.N.
Hellraiser
Time After Time
Zombie Stomp
A.V.H.
Road to Nowhere
Ozzy Osbourne – Lead Vocals
Zakk Wylde – Guitars
Bob Daisley – Bass
Randy Castillo – Drums
No More Tears by Ozzy Osbourne

The album starts with sounds of children playing with accompanying xylophone effects before inevitably “Mr. Tinkertrain” kicks in fully with a hard rock arrangement in this odd anthem about a a pedophile. “I Don’t Want to Change the World” is the first song co-written by Kilmister and has a fire-one type approach with heavy guitar riffs taking turns with the verse vocals. Lemmy also co-rote the hit “Mama, I’m Coming Home”, which starts with finely picked acoustic folk guitar by Wylde and a great sense of melody by Osbourne. The song craftily makes its way through several sections before getting to the main hook and inventive lead section, never lingering unnecessarily and making it a rare Top 40 hit for Osbourne.

After the driving rock track “Desire”, the album reaches its climatic title track. “No More Tears” is built on a cool bass line composed by future bassist Mike Inez, although Daisley actually plays the bass on the song). Adding to the rich arrangement is keyboardist John Sinclair, who provides deep-string synths at the top and builds to an orchestral crescendo and piano pattern in the bridge. Osbourne later stated that the song’s lyrics are about a serial killer.

Ozzy Osbourne band-1991

While not as popular as the earlier tracks, the second half of the album contains a set of interesting rockers. “S.I.N.” features flange-drenched guitars and a surreal vibe, as “Hellraiser” provides the final entry by Kilmister and would also be recorded by Motörhead for their 1992 March ör Die album. The chiming guitar and bass intro of “Time After Time” sets the mood for this moderate pop/rocker with radio-friendly dynamics in a track where Wylde is set free and given enough room to soar free with his ethereal guitar chops. “Zombie Stomp” is built on thumping bass, scratched guitar and some percussive effects by Castillo in a rhythmic intro that builds much tension for over two minutes before the song proper kicks in. “A.V.H.” (“Aston Villa Highway”) has a cool acoustic blues intro before exploding into a metal-fused rocker with high-pitched wails by Osbourne alternating with the melodic chanting of the fine choruses. Wylde finishes this tour de force of an album with the multi-textured guitar ballad “Road to Nowhere”, where Osbourne examines mistakes from his past. It was meant to be a final farewell as he seriously contemplated retirement following this record.

In fact, following the release of No More Tears Osbourne proclaimed the subsequent concerts the “No More Tours” show as he publicly proclaimed his retirement from music. This was to be a short-lived vow as Osbourne returned with Ozzmosis in 1995, another very successful album.

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1991 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1991 albums.

Union by Yes

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Union by YesThe 1991 album, Union, is unique not only among the vast collection of Yes albums, but is a unique release among all mainstream rock albums. At the time they were recorded, the fourteen tracks were recorded by two distinct groups which later merged into a single, eight man group, with all members having a prior history in Yes. In fact, members from all of the previous incarnations of the group are present on this album save for the group’s original guitarist Peter Banks and short-time vocalist Trevor Horn.

Horn had replaced Jon Anderson for the 1980 album Drama, but Anderson returned for the commercially successful 90125 in 1983. Along with Anderson, the lineup of that album included guitarist Trevor Rabin, bassist Chris Squire, keyboardist Tony Kaye and drummer Alan White. This same line-up remained for the studio album, Big Generator, which also had notable commercial success. However in September 1988, Anderson split from this variation of Yes and formed Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe (ABWH) with former Yes members guitarist Steve Howe, keyboardist Rick Wakeman and drummer Bill Bruford, as well as former King Crimson bassist Tony Levin. This new branch of the classic band released an eponymous album in 1989, which went gold in the United States.

However, when ABWH produced material for a second album in 1990, Arista Records owner Clive Davis initially refused to release the record because he felt the initial mixes were insufficient. Anderson approached Rabin, who had been planning a new album and incarnation of Yes with ex-Supertramp vocalist Roger Hodgson. When Hodgson dropped out, it was agreed that Anderson would record lead vocals on the Rabin-led material and both projects would be merged as a “reunited” Yes project. Union features nine primary musicians (although there is no track where they all play together) and four producers with material recorded in no less than seven studios throughout Europe and the United States.


Union by Yes
Released: April 30, 1991 (Arista)
Produced by: Jonathan Elias, Steve Howe, Trevor Rabin, Mark Mancina & Eddie Offord
Recorded: Various Studios in Correns, Paris, Devon, London, Los Angeles, New York City, 1989-1990
Track Listing Group Musicians
I Would Have Waited Forever
Shock to the System
Masquerade
Lift Me Up
Without Hope
Saving My Heart
Miracle of Life
Silent Talking
The More We Live – Let Go
Angkor Wat
Dangerous (Look in the Light of What You’re Searching For)
Holding On
Evensong
Take the Water to the Mountain
Jon Anderson – Lead Vocals
Steve Howe – Guitars, Vocals
Trevor Rabin – Guitars, Vocals
Tony Kaye – Keyboards, Vocals
Rick Wakeman – Keyboards
Chris Squire – Bass, Vocals
Tony Levin – Bass
Alan White – Drums, Vocals
Bill Bruford – Drums

Union by Yes

As for the material itself, it is a bit scattered and incohesive in the album’s final form, with specific, individual parts being greater in total than the whole. The first two tracks may be the strongest original ABWH songs. “I Would Have Waited Forever” was co-written by producer Jonathan Elias and alternates between driving rock sections and complex, vocal-driven parts. “Shock to the System” is a strong edged rocker, featuring Howe’s strong riffs and a steady drum beat by Bruford.

The finger-picked acoustic instrumental “Masquerade” is a real highlight of the early album as a very folky yet technically proficient piece which shows what a fantastic instrumentalist Howe is. This track earned a Grammy Award nomination for Best Rock Instrumental Performance in 1992. “Lift Me Up” is the first and best track from the Rabin/Squire faction and features decent progressions throughout and may be the most cohesive track on the album. The first single released from the album, “Lift Me Up” reached the top of the Album Rock Tracks chart. Shortly after, another Rabin track, “Saving My Heart”, was also released as a single as a percussion driven track with some reggae elements.

Yes Union lineup, 1991

Co-written by producer Mark Mancina, “Miracle of Life” has a whole lot of eccentric instrumentation, such as banjo, playing on the same riff and rudiments through a long intro. After two full minutes, the verses begin with alternating lead vocals by Anderson and Rabin and featuring some pulling rhythms of Squire’s bass, which all work to make it a pleasant listen. We return to the ABWH material with Howe’s “Silent Talking”, which features a Rush-like, extended riff pattern and extensive keyboards by Elias and, although relatively short at 4 minutes, this is probably the most genuine progressive rock track on the album.

Union descends to a nadir through the latter tracks, which include the lazy soundscapes of “The More We Live – Let Go”, the Eastern soundscapes and recited Cambodian poetry of “Angkor Wat”, and the pure eighties pop/rock approach of “Dangerous (Look in the Light of What You’re Searching For)”. However, the album does end on a high note with a medley starting with Levin and Bruford’s rhythmic instrumental “Evensong” and moving to Anderson’s haunting but inspired “Take the Water to the Mountain”, builds to a bright climax.

Following the album’s release, Yes supported Union with a massive arena tour which helped the album sell over 1.5 million copies worldwide. Many group members have expressed dissatisfaction, especially the former members of ABWH (save Anderson), as that group dissolved following this album and Anderson re-joined the 1980s version of Yes moving forward.

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1991 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1991 albums.

Ordinary Average Guy
by Joe Walsh

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Ordinary Average Guy by Joe WalshJoe Walsh‘s long solo career was beginning to wind down by the early nineties, in part due to a decades long “party” which was starting to take its toll on him personally and professionally. His ninth solo studio album, Ordinary Average Guy, is hardly his most heralded or successful. However, this was an important record in the sense that it takes a nostalgic look to the past as well as a sobering assessment of the present. Also notable here is Walsh’s inclusion of several fine ballads, a musical area which he had rarely explored to that point in his long career.

After The Eagles broke up in 1980, Walsh dove into his solo career which he began with Barnstorm in 1974 and continued in between Eagles albums with releases such as 1978’s But Seriously, Folks. In 1981, Walsh released the commercially successful There Goes the Neighborhood, which spawned the single, “A Life of Illusion”, a song originally intended for Walsh’s first solo album. Later in the decade, Walsh released You Bought It – You Name It and The Confessor, the latter of which included heavy input by Stevie Nicks. 1987’s Got Any Gum? would be Walsh’s final release of the decade and a commercial disappointment.

In 1990, Walsh reunited with former Barnstorm drummer Joe Vitale to co-produce Ordinary Average Guy. This album also features vocal and composition contributions by former Survivor lead vocalist Jimi Jamison as well as backing vocals by the legendary Ringo Starr.


Ordinary Average Guy by Joe Walsh
Released: April 23, 1991 (Epic)
Produced by: Joe Walsh & Joe Vitale
Recorded: August 1990
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Two Sides to Every Story
Ordinary Average Guy
The Gamma Goochee
All of a Sudden
Alphabetical Order
Look at Us Now
I’m Actin’ Different
Up All Night
You Might Need Somebody
Where I Grew up (Prelude to School Days)
School Days
Joe Walsh – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Waddy Wachtel – Guitars
Joe Vitale – Drums, Percussion, Keyboards, Bass

Ordinary Average Guy by Joe Walsh

The album begins  with “Two Sides to Every Story”, co-written by bassist Rick Rosas. It starts with a harmonica lead, accompanied by a basic rock drum beat and chanting vocals and is fun and entertaining overall, albeit lyrically a bit clichéd. The title track, “Ordinary Average Guy”, is a fun bag of sonic candy which acts as a near modern adaptation of the famous “Life’s Been Good”, complete with rock/reggae elements and textures and the spoof-like lyrics. “The Gamma Goochee” cover song sounds like a great party tune with thumping bass and subtle synths to complement the vocal chanting and call and response crowd effects.

“All of a Sudden” is the first song on the album to depart from the established “party mode”, with somber and introspective lyrics on growing older. Co-written by Jamison, this track showcases fantastic music to match the vibe and mood.  With slide electric guitar interludes over some steady synths, bass and drums and a saxophone lead by Larry Otis,  this is the high point of Ordinary Average Guy. Unfortunately, this is immediately followed by the album’s low point, “Alphabetical Order”, a complete throwaway song, which seems like it is a mockery of rap but even misses the mark on that front.

Joe Walsh

On the second half of the album, the material is more evened out with accessible pop/rock. “Look at Us Now” has a rollin’ drum intro with slowly developing, harmonized slide guitar. The song proper maintains the beat while adding riff rudiments to accent the vocals, in an approach reminiscent of material on John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band more than two decades earlier. “I’m Actin’ Different” has an acoustic backing throughout with steady but strong rhythms and a slight Soul vibe as the song goes along. “Up All Night” features some over-the-top synths along with Latin-flavored percussive effects, while the cover “You Might Need Somebody” features a unique mix of 1980s Adult contemporary with Walsh’s persistent talk box guitars leading a built-up layer of fine guitar textures. The album concludes with a suite of two songs which nod back towards adolescent years. On “Where I Grew up (Prelude to School Days)” a synth arpeggio accompanies the solo Walsh vocals with little additional arrangement, while Vitale’s “School Days” wraps things up with the drummer taking lead vocals in a quasi doo-wop rock with eighties-style production overtones.

While a couple of songs were Mainstream Rock hits, Ordinary Average Guy failed to break the Top 100 on the Album charts. Similarly, its follow up Songs for a Dying Planet in 1992 was equally non-commercial and critically panned, and Walsh would not release another solo album for two solid decades.

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1991 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1991 albums.

Temple of the Dog
25th Anniversary

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Temple of the DogTemple of the Dog was sort of a reverse super group in the sense that the group members would go on to play in two of the more successful rock bands of the 1990s. However, at the time of this group’s short recording career in 1990, none of its members had yet achieved any great fame or recognition as they would in Soundgarden and Pearl Jam in subsequent years. In any case, the 1991 eponymous is an exceptional musical statement which far surpasses the trivial curiosity it was portrayed as throughout the early nineties.

In March 1990, Mother Love Bone front man Andrew Wood died of a heroin overdose. Wood’s former roommate and Soundgarden lead vocalist Chris Cornell approached two former members of Mother Love Bone, guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament about recording some material he had previously worked on with Wood. At the time, Gossard and Ament were in the early phases of the group who would become Pearl jam and they invited another group member, lead guitarist Mike McCready to join the Temple of the Dog. In turn, Cornell enlisted Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron to round out the quartet.

Temple of the Dog was recorded in Seattle in just 15 days with producer Rick Parashar, who also provided some keyboards on select tracks. With few expectations from the record label, the musicians were free to record as they saw fit and they accomplished great synergy over that short time period. The name of the group and album was taken from the Mother Love Bone song “Man of Golden Words”.


Temple of the Dog by Temple of the Dog
Released: November, 1991 (Situation Two)
Produced by: Stephen Street & John A. Rivers
Recorded: Black Barn Studios, Surrey, England, Summer 1991
Track Listing Band Musicians
Say Hello 2 Heaven
Reach Down
Hunger Strike
Pushin’ Forward Back
Call Me a Dog
Times of Trouble
Wooden Jesus
Your Saviour
Four Walled World
All Night Thing
Chris Cornell – Lead Vocals, Harmonica, Banjo
Mike McCready – Guitars
Stone Gossard – Guitars
Jeff Ament – Bass
Matt Cameron – Drums

Temple Of the Dog

Cornell wrote all the lyrics as well as most of the music on this album. Uniquely, the album begins with its two longest tracks, both of which were written in direct response to Wood’s death. “Say Hello 2 Heaven” starts with a solo, picked electric guitar before the strummed rhythms come in for the verses. This opener features a soulful and dynamic melody with fine backing harmonies during the chorus, which helped drive the song to the Top 5 of the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. “Reach Down” starts with a doomy and droning electric guitar riff above slow rhythms through the verse sections. Giving this eleven minute track much of its mass the extended duo guitar lead by McCready and Gossard, while the predominant lyrical theme is “reach down and lift up the audience”.

The most popular song on the album, “Hunger Strike”, may be its simplest. Three chords are built upon with stronger arrangement and vocals building the track’s intensity. Pearl Jam vocalist Eddie Vedder performs co-lead vocals with Cornell as Vedder stepped in when Cornell was having trouble with the vocals during a duo band rehearsal. The result was a worldwide hit in 1992. “Pushin Forward Back” is a bass driven riff track, written by Ament and Gossard as an odd-timed riff drone jam. Like many many tracks on this album, this acts as a canvas for Cornell’s fine vocals. Presented as a standard ballad, complete with minor-key piano by Parashar, “Call Me a Dog” is a vocal driven, sad ballad which manages to never become mushy or boring. “Times of Trouble” is another crooning ballad but with slightly more grunge rock elements including soaring vocal melodies through choruses and a later slight harmonica lead by Cornell.

Temple of the Dog

“Wooden Jesus” is built on a revolving drum beat by Cameron with some strategically added percussion for extra effect in the intro. Later comes an interesting little banjo during second verse and great wah-wah guitar lead during the bridge. “Your Savior” features funky beats and grooves throughout with more good drumming, leading to “Four Walled World”, a slow, cool jam based tune co-written by Gossard. The sparse guitar chords and fretless bass help to make this a fine track sonically as do the later dual slide guitars add the next logical element to the effect. The closer “All Night Thing” features a sparse arrangement with shuffling brush drums accompanied by Hammond organ with the lead vocals pretty much carrying the dynamics. Clever and accessible, this album closer sounds like it could have been a big hit.

Temple of the Dog sold poorly upon its initial release in April 1991, but it found new life a year later after Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger and Pearl Jam’s Ten found great success in late 1991. Eventually, the album sold was certified platinum and went on to become one of the more highly regarded releases of the decade.

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1991 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1991 albums.

Ten by Pearl Jam

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1991 Album of the Year Banner
Ten by Pearl JamPearl Jam‘s excellent debut is one of the most potent and indelible of debut albums ever released. The 1991 album, called Ten after the number of tracks included on the album, was released on August 27, 1991, at the vanguard of the Seattle grunge invasion, and has sold just over ten million copies to date. More importantly, the fusion of syles and songcraft worked to forge a sound which would have immediate ripples through the hard rock world and beyond.

The album and the band itself came together after situations that developed rapidly in the 18 months prior to Ten‘s release. Pearl Jam’s founding members, bassist Jeff Ament and guitarist Steve Gossard, played together in the band Mother Love Bone during the late 1980s. That band’s career was cut short when, shortly before the release of the group’s debut album, vocalist Andrew Wood died of a drug overdose in 1990. Devastated, Gossard and Ament did not play together for months until they began jamming with fellow Seattle guitarist Mike McCready. Soon they recorded a few instrumental demos, which came to be known as the “Stone Gossard Demos”. These tapes were circulated in the hopes of finding a singer and drummer to complete a rock band. San Diego vocalist Eddie Vedder acquired a copy of the demo and began to write lyrics for the instrumentals. Songs originally titled “Dollar Short”, “Agytian Crave”, and “E Ballad” were soon reworked as “Alive”, “Once”, and “Black”. Gossard and Ament heard the updated demo with Vedder’s vocals and lyrics, and sent him a ticket to fly to Seattle for an audition on October 13, 1990. There Vedder rehearsed with the band, which now included drummer Dave Krusen.

The new band was initially named Mookie Blaylock after the New Jersey Nets basketball star, but because Blaylock had recently landed a deal with Nike, the band had to reconsider the name and settle on Pearl Jam, while Ten‘s title was taken from Blaylock’s jersey number. They soon landed a deal with Epic Records and entered Seattle’s London Bridge Studios in March 1991 with producer Rick Parashar. In little more than a month, the sessions were completed and soon after, in May 1991, Krusen left the band to enter rehab and was replaced by drummer Matt Chamberlain.


Ten by Pearl Jam
Released: August 27, 1991 (Epic)
Produced by: Rick Parashar & Pearl Jam
Recorded: London Bridge Studios, Seattle, March 27-April 26, 1991
Track Listing Band Musicians
Once
Even Flow
Alive
Why Go
Black
Jeremy
Oceans
Porch
Garden
Deep
Release / Master-Slave
Eddie Vedder – Vocals
Mike McCready – Lead Guitar
Steve Gossard – Guitar
Jeff Ament – Bass
Dave Krusan – Drums
 
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Vedder’s lyrics for the album are mainly negative and deal with subjects like depression, loneliness, and suicide. The song “Jeremy” was inspired, in part, by a true story in which a high school student shot himself in front of his classmates. This haunting but catchy tune includes an unconventional storytelling vocal melody during the verse and a soaring hook during the chorus. The music for the song was written on acoustic guitar by bassist Jeff Ament in February 1991, just before the band went into the studio.

Both the opener “Once” and the brilliant “Alive” were formed as part of a three song cycle by Vedder called “Mamasan” (with the third song, “Footsteps”, a B-side on the “Jeremy” single). “Alive” starts with a slow, methodical, majestic intro by Gossard, but is then dominated by Vedder with his distinct and odd vocals and melody. A simple but entertaining guitar riff in the calm bridge gives way to a contrasting coda/crescendo jam by McCready. While the song’s lyric deals with the shock of a son discovering that his real father is dead, many fans have come to interpret interpreted “Alive” as an uplifting and inspirational anthem.

Evenflow SingleAccording to the band members, “Evenflow” was an extremely difficult song to record, taking up to 75 to 100 attempts to capture effectively. The result, however, is another classic, vocally driven song with a great hook during chorus and a heavy funk riff by Gossard. The song nearly fades away during the lead bridge, before coming back with a vengeance in another outtro crescendo. Vedder’s lyrics describe his experience of being a homeless man and panhandler. The song was released as the second single from Ten and peaked at #3 on the Mainstream Rock charts.

The album also includes a couple of calm, surreal, melancholy efforts that act as an excellent counter-weight to the heavier songs on the album. “Black” is a melancholy song with obscure lyrics that appear to deal with a loss of some kind. It contains a signature, harmonic vocal motif which, combined with an accompanying lead guitar, forms a memorable sonic hook in the background of the song. The acoustic and melodic “Oceans” is nearly a love song with a few odd passages and percussive effects which make it a unique ballad. “Release” is a more droning and atmospheric piece.

Pearl Jam in 1991

Ten was not an immediate success, as it initially sold slowly upon its release. It took until the later part 1992 until it finally caught on in the mainstream, peaking at #2 on the Billboard album chart. Ironically, Pearl Jam was then accused by some of “jumping on the grunge bandwagon” in the wake of the immediate success by their crosstown contemporaries Nirvana, even though that band released their breakthrough album, Nevermind in September 1991, a month later than Pearl Jam’s debut. There has been much debate over the years over which of these two albums from 1991 was the superior effort. For us at Classic Rock Review there is no contest as Ten is deeper, better sounding, with better songs and much less filler material. That is why it is our Album of the Year for 1991.

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1991 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1991 albums.

 

Metallica (Black Album) by Metallica

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Metallica (Black Album)After four studio albums and ever-building popularity in the 1980s, heavy metal band Metallica felt they were poised for their artistic breakthrough. During the summer of 1990, the band got together to write some songs lead by primary songwriters James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich, but with input from the other members of the band; lead guitarist Kirk Hammett and bassist Jason Newsted.

The band then hired Bob Rock as mixing engineer, having been impressed by his past work with Mötley Crüe. However, after comparing the band’s previous studio albums to a recent live show, Rock was convinced that the band was not capturing their live energy in their self-produced recordings and convinced Metallica, to hire him on as full producer, to which they agreed. As Ulrich stated, “We felt that we still had our best record in us and Bob Rock could help us make it.” However, things did not go smoothly at first, as Rock was very frank and forthcoming with the band and they resented being told what to do. Eventually Rock reached an implicit compromise with the band members. He would not mess with their arrangements, just their tempo, and after about 8 months of marathon rehearsing, recording, and mixing sessions, they forged a new and tremendously successful sound for Metallica. It was a combination of the band’s traditional thrash metal grit with a slowed down tempo, diverse instrumentation, and more melodic vocals. Under Rock’s direction, the bass guitar was also brought up to a more equitable position in the mix, which also enhanced the breadth of the sound and added a new, doomier dimension.

The result was the band’s 1991 eponymous fifth album that would come to be known as “The Black Album”, due to its simple cover and packaging. The album would go on to tremendous commercial success, breaking the radio silence that many thought the band would never realistically break through.


Metallica by Metallica
Released: August 13, 1991 (Electra)
Produced by: Bob Rock, James Hetfield, & Lars Ulrich
Recorded: One On One Recording Studios, Los Angeles,
October 6, 1990-June 16, 1991
Track Listing Band Musicians
Enter Sandman
Sad But True
Holier Than Thou
The Unforgiven
Wherever I May Roam
Don’t Tread On Me
Through the Never
Nothing Else Matters
Of Wolf & Man
The God That Failed
My Friend of Misery
The Struggle Within
James Hetfield – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Kirk Hammett – Lead Guitar
Jason Newstead – Bass, Vocals
Lars Ulrich – Drums, Percussion

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The lynchpin that holds the entire look and feel of The Black Album together is the opener “Enter Sandman”. Built off a riff by Kirk Hammett, this doomy, futuristic sounding motif was the first written for the album and the last recorded, but the first mixed so Rock could use it as a sonic template for the final, mixed and mastered sound of the album. A rather simple song with a simple theme on dreams and nightmares, “Enter Sandman” would become a recognizable audio icon in many corners of pop culture. The song is followed by “Sad But True”, which could almost be considered “Enter Sandman, Pt II”, as it has a similar sound and theme about dreams. “Holier Than Thou” was originally slated as the first “emphasis single”, as it harkens back to the band’s traditional, thrash metal style, with the sound driven by Hetfield’s layered rhythm guitars and Ulrich’s front & center double-kick drums.

On a macro level, the album winds through a journey of differing sounds which fuse with the base, core sound of the band. “Wherever I May Roam” starts with an Eastern-influenced sitar riff before kicking into the typical, slow beat metal sound, occasionally reaching other gears as it works through some odd timing signatures while maintaining an overall cohesiveness. “Don’t Tread On Me” has a marching, almost patriotic feel in the intro before it nicely fuses into a steady beat with interesting chord changes during the verses, making it a unique listen on the album. “Nothing Else Matters” was a love song written by Hetfield, which he originally did not intend to use for Metallica but was eventually encouraged to do so by the other band members. The song includes a full orchestral score by Michael Kamen, most of which was not used for the album’s version of the song, but was remixed for an alternate “elevator version”, which the band found fascinating.

Metallica

Another personal song written by Hetfield is “The God That Failed”, which dealt with growing up in a family with Christian Science beliefs that forbid medical treatment from outside physicians. Hetfield’s mother eventually died from cancer, in part because of this practice. Newsted’s main songwriting contribution to the album is “My Friend of Misery”. The song, which begins with a doomy bass riff, was originally intended to be an instrumental (as all previous Metallica albums had contained one) but was adapted into a proper song that fits nicely with the overall feel of the album.

The best song on the album is “The Unforgiven”. Like much of their songs, it contains building and fluctuating sections held together by consistent drumming by Ulrich, but “The Unforgiven” offers a reverse method by returning to the calm and melodic during the chorus, not the verse. From the finger-picked, classical acoustic guitar in the intro, to the melancholy guitar lead, to Hetfield’s best vocal performance ranging from traditional grit in the verse to a softer, very melodic melody during the choruses, this song is a bonafide classic. Apparently the band concurred, writing two sequels – 1997’s “Unforgiven II” from ReLoad and 2008’s “Unforgiven III” from Death Magnetic. Ironically, the band lifted a horn sound from an old Clint Eastwood “spaghetti western” for the intro to this song, while Eastwood would return to westerns the following year with a film named Unforgiven.

Prior to this album, most critics dismissed Metallica as an over-hyped garage band, which would never catch on beyond the core of dedicated, cult-like fans. Metallica would prove them wrong and make many in the ever-changing industry reconsider the scope of genres which have mass appeal. The album would be a major influence for the post-grunge sound of the mid to late nineties and be the absolute pinnacle of Metallica’s long and successful career. As Hammett simply referred to it; “it is our Dark Side of the Moon”.

~

1991 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1991 albums.

 

Psychotic Supper by Tesla

Psychotic Supper by TeslaOut of the deluge of “hair bands” that populated the rock scene in the late 1980s, Tesla was, perhaps, the most talented and interesting. The band composed songs which were deeper and less formulaic and had slightly better dynamics then the clones of Poison or Mötley Crüe. By the time the band got around to its third studio album, Psychotic Supper in 1991, they seemed primed to move into the top level of popular rock bands. Their previous studio album, Great Radio Controversy in 1989, got their great radio play with a few charting hits as well as critical respected. This was followed by the live Five Man Acoustical Jam, which put the band on the cutting edge of the rising trend of performing stripped down versions of heavier songs in an intimate setting. With that setup, the band looked to knock it out of the park with this release.

But Psychotic Supper suffered greatly from its time and place in the rock and roll scene. It was released within 30 days of two of the most influential albums of the decade coming out of the Seattle grunge scene – Pearl Jam’s Ten and Nirvana’s Nevermind, both of which would become a phenomenon in the coming years. To compound this misfortune, Tesla’s album was also released within 30 days of long awaited albums by established artists – Metallica’s self-titled (black) album and Guns n Rose’s duo realease of Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II. All of this combined to “crowd out” the news of the release and effectively diffuse any momentum that Tesla had built.

The album contains a more stripped-down production method (than practiced in the eighties) and few overdubs to give it an air of legitimacy and live feel. It is the band’s bluesy, acoustic-tinged, approach at its height, with just a flourish of self-indulgence which may have further “dated” the sound in a year of radical change in rock n’ roll.
 


Psychotic Supper by Tesla
Released: August 30, 1991 (Island)
Produced by: Michael Barbiero
Recorded: 1991
Track Listing Band Musicians
Change In the Weather
Edison’s Medicine
Don’t De-Rock Me
Call It What You Want
Song and Emotion
Time
Government Personnel
Freedom Slaves
Had Enough
What You Give
Stir It Up
Can’t Stop
Toke About It
Jeff Keith – Lead Vocals
Frank Hannon – Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals
Tommy Skeoch – Guitar, Keyboards
Brian Wheat – Bass, Piano
Troy Luccketta – Drums & Percussion

Psychotic Supper by Tesla

 
“Call It What You Want” is one of the most striking songs with the moody and melodic intro morphing into an exciting, upbeat theme with dynamic vocals and sonically pleasing guitar accents. While the “Tesla sound” may be encompassed in “Call It What You Want”, their overall band theme could be “Edison’s Medicine”, which tells the story about the famous inventor Thomas Edison and his lesser known (but equally brilliant) rival Nikola Tesla, the band’s namesake.

“Song and Emotion” is an almost bluesy rendition on picked electric lead by the soulful vocals of Keith. The song slowly works its way in before exploding into a heavier rhythm while still maintaining its original feel. “Government Personnel” is a pure acoustic, near-spoof that lasts barely a minute but is still very entertaining. The highly suggestive “Toke About It” uses Van Halen-like showmanship rock to present a party atmosphere to close out the album.
 

 
“What You Give” is the most memorable anthem from Psychotic Supper, due especially to the interplay between Frank Hannon on acoustic and Tommy Skeoch on electric guitars. The song itself is a philosophical examination of relationships that is intentionally slow developing to accent the vocal performance as well as its own fine arrangement.

Some of the heavier material on the album include the driving, accent-heavy, and aptly titled “Don’t De-Rock Me” and the more standard fare “Had Enough” with some bluesy-edged lead guitars.

Tesla never quite fit into any specific box as far as genre goes, and sadly this prevented the band from getting their due in retrospective critique. In the late eighties they were a step ahead of the (what was then considered) “heavy metal” scene and in the early nineties they weren’t melodramatic enough to benefit from the grunge or alternative waves that swept the rock world. Psychotic Supper was, in effect, the band’s “last hurrah”. After their next album, Bust a Nut in 1994, the band commenced a six year “hiatus” to close out the century which all but ended the productive portion of their run at fame.

~
RA


1991 Images

Blood Sugar Sex Magik by Red Hot Chili Peppers

Blood Sugar Sex Magik by Red Hot Chili PeppersJust as the Red Hot Chili peppers were starting to break out in the late 1980s, two of the band’s members were struggling mightily with drug abuse. One of them, lead singer Anthony Kiedis, decided to get clean and survived. Unfortunately the other, guitarist Hillel Slovak died of a heroin overdose in June 1988. The band’s then drummer Jack Irons subsequently quit due to the substance problems in the band and went on to help form Pearl Jam. So Kiedis and bassist Flea were left to search for a new guitarist and drummer.

Guitarist John Frusciante was an avid fan of the band and auditioned along with former P-Funk guitarist DeWayne “Blackbyrd” McKnight. Frusciante was ultimately chosen to fill Slovak’s place along with drummer Chad Smith, who joined just prior to production of the band’s 1989 album Mother’s Milk, which would be their last album with EMI. Courted by many labels, the band ultimately signed with Warner Brothers, at the urging of Kiedis and Rick Rubin was brought in to produce the Chili Peppers first album for the label.

At Rubin’s suggestion, the band recorded the album in an old mansion once owned by magician Harry Houdini. In early summer 1991, equipment was moved in and the band decided that they would remain inside the mansion for the duration of recording. Frusciante, Kiedis, and Flea each had their own separate rooms at each end of the house and Kiedis ended up recording all his vocals in his room, as it was large enough to accommodate the recording equipment. For over thirty days, the Chili Peppers worked inside the house on the album that would become Blood Sugar Sex Magic.


Blood Sugar Sex Magik by Red Hot Chili Peppers
Released: September 24, 1991 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Rick Rubin
Recorded: The Mansion, Los Angeles, May-June 1991
Track Listing Band Musicians
The Power of Equality
If You Have to Ask
Breaking the Girl
Funky Monks
Suck My Kiss
I Could Have Lied
Mellowship Slinky in B Major
he Righteous & the Wicked
Give It Away
Blood Sugar Sex Magik
Under the Bridge
Naked In the Rain
Apache Rose Peacock
The Greeting Song
My Lovely Man
Sir Psycho Sexy
They’re Red Hot
Anthony Kiedis – Lead Vocals
John Frusciante – Guitar, Vocals
Flea – Bass, Vocals, Trumpet, Keyboards
Chad Smith – Drums, Percussion

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The album would go on to be their blockbuster breakthrough, spawning several radio-friendly “hits” which were cherry-picked from a super-sized album loaded with funk/hip-hop fused, sexually-charged explicit material. The first of these hits was “Give It Away”, a very simple and catchy rap which first brought the album some mainstream attention in the Fall of 1991. This paved the way for the follow-up single which would put the band over the top for the first time in their career.

Under The Bridge single“Under the Bridge” was at first considered one of those songs that did “not fit the style” of the band. It was written by Kiedis as he reflected on his heroin and cocaine addictions about a moment that he came to believe was his lowest point. It started as a poem which Rubin stumbled upon and suggested Kiedis show it to the rest of the band. After some convincing, he sang the verse to Frusciante, they began structuring the song. After the song was recorded, Rubin felt the grand and epic outtro would benefit from a large group of singers. Frusciante invited his mother, Gail and her friends, all of whom sang in a choir, to perform the outtro.

Blood Sugar Sex Magik begins with a couple of rap songs with funk backing – “The Power OF Equality” and “If You Have to Ask”, each a bit trite and mundane compared to the album’s stronger material. The album then suddenly takes a sharp turn with “Breaking the Girl”, one of its more melodic tracks and a complete departure from the hip-hop/funk canvas. Acoustic and dreamy with pulsating bass, long strings and a tribalistic drum beat, the song shows that Kleidis can sing when he wants to.

Here the album starts to get much more interesting. Following “Breaking the Girl” is Flea’s slap-bass fueled “Funky Monks”, complete with high-pitched chorus vocals and a more interesting arrangement. This is followed by the heavier “Suck My Kiss”, an excellent song of pure energy that employs the higher tactic of innuendo in contrast to the more explicit songs. A softer, almost love song follows called “I Could Have Lied”. Driven by melodic bass, acoustic, steady drums, and a toned down, soft vocal, Kiedis supposedly wrote this about his brief relationship he had with Irish singer Sinéad O’Connor.

“Mellowship Slinky in B Major” is a funk sandwich wrapped in the bread of pure rock riffs, while “The Righteous and the Wicked” is another enjoyable listen, being bass groove driven, with a funky guitar, melodic vocals, and a good hook. It is essential Red Hot Chili Peppers in its diversity and even contains a nice riff in the middle which has a definitive Led Zeppelin quality

Unfortunately, as the 17-song album goes along much of the later material tends to be repetitive and overdone. One exception may be the eight minute mini-suite, “Sir Psycho Sexy”, which has a bit of a Frank Zappa quality to it musically accompanying porno-level explicitly sexual lyrics.

Despite some of the shortcomings, the album is a must have for any serious rock collector, especially those interested in unique sound and fusion. With Blood Sugar Sex Magik, the Chili Peppers set out to make their best possible album, which would be long remembered, and they definitely accomplished that goal.

~
RA

1991 Images

Nevermind by Nirvana

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Review by J.D. Cook

Nevermind by NirvanaI was born on the same day in February 1991 that Kurt Cobain, the lead singer, guitarist, and principle songwriter for Nirvana, celebrated his twenty fifth birthday. Later that same year, Nirvana released their breakthrough album Nevermind, an album which many reviewers consider a classic and some even consider “all time” material. But, even though I’m virtually the same age as the naked baby on the album’s cover (although, I assure you, it is not me), I couldn’t disagree more with this “classic” and “all time” jibberish.

In all honesty, it was not until my freshmen year of college that I started to allow myself to like Nirvana. My pre-college hatred of the band was due entirely to their popularity, especially among a very fickle group of emo, “misunderstood” high school teens who seemed to love the band just because Kurt Cobain committed suicide. The way the man and the band is idolized because he was “brave” enough to kill himself really irks me to this day, especially when it seeps into the realm of mainstream music journalism. All of that said, when I went off to college I was able to accept the music without being confronted with teenage Goths sporting his face on their purses.

But I still contend that Nevermind is NOT a classic. It certainly has some good tracks, and maybe even one or two great ones, but as a true album it falls short of being anything beyond mediocre to OK. In the early nineties this album’s new grunge sound may have been cutting edge but that hasn’t stopped it from sounding dated and trashy today. Of course, it will always be a famous album for simply being a Nirvana album since they had such a short run before Cobain’s death. In a way this may be understandable, as the “shooting star” phenomenon has always been romanticized in rock n’ roll. But I will try to give this album as fair and honest review as any other.


Nevermind by Nirvana
Released: September 24, 1991 (Geffen)
Produced by: Butch Vig
Recorded: Sound City Studios, Hollywood, May-June 1991
Track Listing Group Musicians
Smells Like Teen Spirit
In Bloom
Come As You Are
Breed
Lithium
Polly
Territorial Pissings
Drain You
Lounge Act
Stay Away
On a Plain
Something In the Way
Kurt Cobain – Guitars, Lead Vocals
Krist Novoselic – Bass, Vocals
Dave Grohl – Drums, Vocals

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The album opens fairly strong with “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. In the past I had always viewed this song as an overplayed cliché tune, but it really is the best of that album. Further it is one of only two songs that wasn’t written completely by Kurt Cobain, as bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl share the credit (maybe that means something). Stranger still the song would be vastly improved if the lyrics weren’t completely nonsensical and hard to understand. That said Cobain provided awesome reverb sounds from his guitar, and the drums sound straight out of a garage which really works for this song. Combine those elements with the continuing changes in the songs melodies and you’ve got a hit.

The following two tracks, “In Bloom” and “Come As You Are”, contain more of the same – the guitar is crisp and fun on both, the lyrics stay nonsensical, but Cobain’s voice no longer hurts one’s ear. Novoselic’s opening bass rift of “Come As You Are” is of particular note, but it unfortunately stays mostly the same throughout the song. The guitar solo of this song is also quite fun. The song following these three solid opening tracks is Breed. There is little to nothing good about it. It is fast, it is furious, it is boring.

With “Lithium” the album returns to the sound most people define as Nirvana. The lyrics are actually discussing being on lithium pills and this lends the song a bit of lyrical meaning. Cobain’s vocals are both understandable and emotional throughout the songs various changes in pace. I especially appreciate the lyrics “I’m not gonna crack,” when placed with the various other lyrics like “I killed you”. You can really hear someone emotionally cracking and trying to pretend they aren’t. Unfortunately from Lithium the album pretty much drops into the gutter.

“Polly” and “Territorial Pissings” are both entirely forgettable. The only thing of value the songs lend to the album are an acoustic break from the fast pace in “Polly” and a bizarre intro featuring the lyrics from The Youngbloods “Get Together” on “Territorial Pissings”. The screaming on this latter song is particularly terrible.

By the time “Drain You” comes you are breathing a sigh of relief. Grohl’s drums in this song are admirable, and the crescendo within is fun, but it’s special. This is followed by the decently solid “Lounge Act”, a song with not much to it, but nothing terrible either. It is a good mid-album filler song with the exception of Cobain’s banshee vocals in the middle of the song which do nothing but make you want to skip to the next track.

Nirvana

After “Lounge Act” the album sticks to being mediocre – “Stay Away”, “On a Plain”, and “Something In the Way” are all fairly forgettable. “Stay Away” has a boring and simple drum into that leads into a decent song with an interesting dueling-voices dynamic, “On a Plain” is simply boring, and “Something In the Way” would have been a good ending had it not been so monotonous. But wait the album is not over! After waiting though ten minutes of silence there is a secret track called “Endless, Nameless”. I will simply say I was so enraged by its sheer horrid nature that it harmed my ears.

Nevermind was Nirvana’s breakthrough album and it certainly has been successful commercially. By the end of the decade, it was certified diamond (double platinum) and has continued to sell very well since. Unfortunately it just seems like Nirvana’s success is due to their folklore as much as their musical capabilities and philosophical lyrics. I guess sometimes your first impression of a band, that they were only popular because of Cobain’s suicide, is right. Nevermind isn’t a terrible album – there are some really good tracks – but much of the album is entirely forgettable.

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1991 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1991 albums.