Harvest Moon by Neil Young

Buy Harvest Moon

1992 Album Of the Year
Harvest Moon by Neil Young It may be a bit controversial to name a decidedly “retro” album as the album of the year for any particular year. Many rock fans who reflect back on the era of the early nineties, and the year 1992 in particular, will rightfully think of the alternative or “grunge” craze which had then fully materialized. But Classic Rock Review is all about timelessness in rock, and Harvest Moon by Neil Young may have sounded like something that should have been made 20 years earlier, but 20 years later it holds up as well as anything from 1992. So we chose this restrained, Nashville-produced, Americana classic over anything that came out of Seattle that year.

Much speculation has been made about the relationship of this album to Young’s 1972 album Harvest, with many labeling Harvest Moon as a “sequel” to that album two decades earlier. There certainly is a case to be made due to the similarities in title, the fact that both albums were recorded in Nashville with some of the same players (dubbed the “Stray Gators” by Young), Ben Keith on pedal Steel, Tim Drummand on bass, and Kenny Buttrey on drums. Then, of course, there is the plain fact that the albums are very similar in sound and arrangement. However, Young denied that there was a strong connection between the two albums in an interview;

…people see the correlation between the two, and it’s kind of a plus to be able to refer back 20 years and see the same people and do that. But the thrust of the albums is different, even though the subject matter is similar, so I tend to shy away more from comparisons between them…”

Young spent much of the 1980s experimenting with vastly different styles from electronic to rockabilly to hard-edged electric rock. Previous to Harvest Moon he explored the outer limits of guitar noise with the 1990 album Ragged Glory, recorded along with his sometime backing band, Crazy Horse. In this light, Young’s return to his predominant style of the 1970s, was just another radical turn in style. While most longtime fans and critics appreciated this move, some found his return the antipathy of spontaneity and therefore less ambitious.

 


Harvest Moon by Neil Young
Released: October 27, 1992 (Columbia)
Produced by: Neil Young & Ben Keith
Recorded: Redwood Digital, Woodside, Sep 1991-Feb 1992
Track Listing Band Musicians
Unknown Legend
From Hank to Hendrix
You and Me
Harvest Moon
War of Man
One of These Days
Such a Woman
Old King
God Smack
Dreamin’ Man
Natural Beauty
Neil Young – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano, Banjo
Ben Keith – Pedal Steel, Marimba
Spooner Oldham – Piano, Keyboards
Tim Drummand – Bass
Kenny Buttrey– Drums
 
Harvest Moon by Neil Young

 

The opening track on Harvest Moon is “Unknown Legend”, a song of romance and imagination which tells of an adventurous woman who has settled into the relative obscurity of domestic life and middle age. The sound is intentionally retro and haunting with the deep reverb and a sparse, acoustic arrangement beneath the strong melody which is harmonized by Linda Rondstadt. The song’s lyrics are bittersweet and poetic;

..the chrome and steel she rides colliding with the very air she breathes…”

“From Hank to Hendrix” is a self-reflective county-rock song which speaks of Young’s own diverse influences and is led by a strong harmonica riff musically while it lyrically sounds like it may have been influenced by younger contemporaries like Tom Petty. “You and Me” is the most direct link back to Harvest, with strong elements of “Old Man” and “Needle and the Damage Done” evident implicitly and explicitly. It is a personal and introspective ballad with a very sparse arrangement of just acoustic guitar and vocals by Young and Nicolette Larsen who does some fine harmonizing.

What truly makes the album a masterpiece is the absolute masterpiece of a title song, “Harvest Moon”. The song celebrates longevity in relationships and love affairs with a flawless melody backed by a perfect music arrangement. From the upfront acoustic riffing to the picked steel guitar, subtleties of ethereal sounds, soft brush strokes on the drums, and beautiful background vocals, this song captures the essence of beauty and romance as well any song ever.

 
The middle of the album contains a couple more Neil Young classics. “War of Man” is dark folk with an Americana aura throughout, where Young comments on the destructive tendencies of mankind. It contains a haunting acoustic arrangement with some interesting presence by Drummand on bass, who breaks into an almost-rock rhythm towards the end. In comparison to the cynical “War of Man”, the next song “One Of These Days” could not be more different in tone, although similar in overall quality as a song. It is a song of gratitude and appreciation of friends and acquaintances, set to a moderate Nashville beat with more great melodies and harmonies.

Neil Young 1992

The album next thins a bit with the all-to-soft piano and orchestral ballad “Such a Woman” and the frivolous “Old King”, which is only finds salvation with the fine banjo picking by Young. However, the album does end strong with the return to the solid, Nashville-influenced accessibility in “Dreamin’ Man” and the ten minute, live acoustic closer “Natural Beauty”. This last song is a gentle, minor-key folk song which uses nature as an allegory for love.

Harvest Moon was Young’s 21st overall album and, although it was highly reflective, it was far from his last. In fact, just this month (June 2012) Young released his 34th overall album, a collection of traditional standards called Americana, which he recorded along with Crazy Horse. It may seem absurd to suggest that Young may still be around making music in yet another 20 years, when he’ll be age 86. But we wouldn’t bet against it.

~

1992 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1992 albums.

 

Dirt by Alice In Chains

Buy Dirt

Dirt by Alice In ChainsThe band which practically invented the genre of dark alternative metal, Alice In Chains bridged the gap between the “traditional” heavy metal and the new, alternative inspired “fusion” metals which began to proliferate in the 1990s. With their second album, Dirt the band really came of age. The album was very well received by music critics and sold well commercially, having been certified platinum four times over. Like their 1990 debut album Facelift, this album was produced by Dave Jerden, with songs primarily written on the road prior to entering the studio. Guitarist Jerry Cantrell has stated that Dirt was the band’s best work.

There is no doubt that the material on this album has a very dark feel throughout. Themes such as depression, war, death, nihilism, and especially drug abuse are explored thoroughly in the morbid lyrics and suitably complemented by the slow, methodical, bleak and doomy music and melody. Lead singer Layne Staley was in the middle of his constant struggle with substance abuse (which he would ultimately lose at the age of 34) and he had recently quit a stunt in rehab. The other band members were also struggling with various chemical dependency and depression ailments and were not shy about laying their soul bare on this album. As Cantrell recently stated;

I was going through a tough time, everyone was, but that’s what made the album stronger and more intense, I look back on that period of time as the longest four years of sex, drugs and alcohol we all went through…”

The band’s roots date back to 1987 in Seattle when Staley first met Cantrell in 1987. In between the band’s debut in 1990 and Dirt in 1992, Seattle suddenly became an international “scene” with the phenomenal success of bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam. As a result, Alice In Chains were suddenly marketed as an “alternative” band, instead of their traditional heavy metal billing in order to help build anticipation for the new album. This strategy worked because the band was hard enough for metal fans, yet dark and punk-influenced enough to join the ranks of the grunge bands.

 


Dirt by Alice In Chains
Released: September 29, 1992 (Columbia)
Produced by: Dave Jerden & Alice in Chains
Recorded: Various Locations, March-May 1992
Track Listing Band Musicians
Them Bones
Dam That River
Rain When I Die
Down In a Hole
Sickman
Rooster
Junkhead
Dirt
God Smack
Intro (Dream Sequence)/Iron Gland
Hate To Feel
Angry Chair
Would?
Layne Staley – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Jerry Cantrell – Guitars, Vocals
Mike Starr – Bass
Sean Kinney– Drums
 
Dirt by Alice In Chains

 

Dirt balances heavy rock sounds with textured acoustic numbers and the album spawned five singles; “Them Bones”, “Down in a Hole”, “Rooster”, “Angry Chair”, and “Would?”, the album’s closer which was actually the lead single. Starting with an excellent bass by Mike Starr (who left the band after the album’s release) “Would?” works its way through fine verses and choruses before it ends abruptly following a climatic bridge. The song was written in memory of Andrew Wood, the lead singer of Seattle band Mother Love Bone who died of a heroin overdose in 1990.

On the opposite end of the album, it begins with “Them Bones”, in an instant, explosive beginning. The song builds tension through the verse with its layered guitars of differing sonic distances and odd 7/8 beat signature. Cantrell bluntly said of the song;

I was just thinking about mortality, that one of these days we’ll end up a pile of bones…

“Down in a Hole” contains some eighties-style guitars (unique on the album) and maintains a very slow drum beat by Sean Kinney, leaving all of the movement to the guitars and bass. Cantrell was at first hesitant to present the song to the band, feeling that it may be too “soft”, but surprisingly got a positive response and they recorded it. “Angry Chair”, written by Staley, is more riff and accent oriented.

“Rooster” is the most purely alternative, and perhaps the strongest overall song on the album. It is slow and moody with deeply chorus-saturated, strummed guitars which later give way to piercing, distorted, heavy guitars. Lyrically, the song paints a masterful picture of Cantrell’s father and his Vietnam experience. Jerry Cantrell Sr. went by the nickname “Rooster” since childhood, which coincidentally was also a common reference to men carrying the M60 machine gun due to the the muzzle flash from which makes an outline or pattern reminiscent of a rooster’s tail. The constant alternating between the dreamy verses, and surging, explosive choruses masterfully captures the fits and starts of combat, especially the first person experience in Vietnam.

 

“Dam That River” is steady and riff driven, with harmonized vocals during the verses and Staley alone during “choruses”. It contains a decent lead after second verse before reaching an abrupt ending. “Rain When I Die” has a bass beginning, odd rhythm, doomy guitars during long intro before breaks into a repetitive guitar riff but with some of the best sounding guitars on the album (with the exception for maybe “Rooster”). “Sickman” features a mechanical drum beat and falls into that grove initially before deprecating into a slow, waltz-like break, It repeats this pattern and expands on the slow part during the bridge with some great Brian May-like guitars. It is really like two songs in one constantly alternating like the Beatles’ “I Want You/She’s So Heavy”

Dirt is commonly seen by fans as Alice in Chains’ album dedicated to the experience of heroin use. Honestly, the whole junky thing does get old when beaten to death and it feels at times like going into the darkness is just a game to the composers. From the listener’s point-of-view it may get to the point of like watching a stale old movie plot, reused over again. This is especially true during a sequence of songs later in the album starting with the Black Sabbath-esque “Junkhead”, followed by the suicidal “Dirt”, and “God Smack”, which does redeem itself partially by actually celebrating the joys of heroin abuse and stepping away from the doom-and-gloom for one song. “Hate to Feel” almost sounds like it belongs in some kind of rock opera, and briefly rips off “Dazed and Confused” during middle. It is this bit of repetitiveness that holds the album back a step from full-fledged classic status.

All that being said, the album was a critical success and is often considered to be one of the best rock records of the 1990s. Although the band’s status and artistic output continued through the better part of the decade, the underlining issues never really went away. The band ceased touring soon after the release of Dirt, Staley later also disappeared from recording and the group never did quite fulfill their potential.

~

1992 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1992 albums.


 

Grave Dancers Union by Soul Asylum

Grave Dancers Union by Soul AsylumOne of the hardest working bands of the late 1980s, Soul Asylum finally broke though in 1992 with Grave Dancers Union. Made up of well-composed three and four minute songs, the album contains an amazing amount of genre diversity as well as tidbits of experimentation without every elongating any one section or theme unnecessarily. Each song stands out in its own way, with no two sounding completely alike. There are very few weak, filler-level tracks, while the standouts are very strong. While the album is brilliant musically throughout, it does fluctuate lyrically between deep, poetic lyrics and some which are cheap and trite. But that being said, this is one of the best albums of 1992 and it nicely straddles the line between the predominant genre of the day, alternative, and many other sub-genres of rock n’ roll.

This is officially the sixth studio album by the Minneapolis quintet, preceded by three independent releases in 1986 and two more on the A&M label – Clam Dip & Other Delights in 1989, And the Horse They Rode In On in 1990. The band also toured relentlessly during these years while forging their sound from its early punk roots to the modern alternative with many other elements thrown in. However they a hard time breaking beyond a regional act and, due to weak sales from these latter two albums, the band was dropped from the A&M label. In the early 1990s, the band re-formed as an unplugged, acoustic act, which caught the attention of Columbia Records and led to this initial album for that label.

The album marks the emergence of vocalist/guitarist Dave Pirner as the true “front man” for the group, a role he was hesitant to embrace in the past but a key role in the chemistry of the band’s sound and image. The sessions for this album did not go without controversy as producer Michael Beinhorn grew dissatisfied with the performance of drummer Grant Young midway through the sessions. He brought in Sterling Campbell, who had vast experience with acts such as David Bowie and Duran Duran. Campbell recorded the latter sessions for the album and eventually replaced Young as Soul Asylum’s permanent drummer in the mid 1990s.


Grave Dancers Union by Soul Asylum
Released: October 6, 1992 (Columbia)
Produced by: Michael Beinhorn
Recorded: The Powerstation and River Sound, New York City, May 1992
Track Listing Band Musicians
Somebody To Shove
Black Gold
Runaway Train
Keep It Up
Homesick
Get On Out
New World
April Fool
Without a Trace
Growing Into You
99%
The Sun Maid
Dave Pirner – Guitars, Horn Arrangements, Vocals
Dan Murphy – Guitar, Vocals
Karl Mueller – Bass
Grant Young– Drums
 
Grave Dancers Union by Soul Asylum

 

The album starts fast and strong with “Somebody to Shove”, an upbeat and catchy rocker with many elements of alternative or “grunge” rock. The tense verse builds to a release on the chorus which flows smoothly to the punk-like hook title of the song, which tells the classic story of the fool in suspended anticipation. “Black Gold” follows with a good acoustic intro and interesting changes, but is a little convoluted and weak lyrically. Written by Pirner, this was one of five singles spawned from Grave Dancers Union.

Runaway Train singleBy far the most popular of these singles was “Runaway Train”, the band’s biggest hit ever. The song brought the band to international status and won the Grammy for the best rock song in 1994. Some believe the title derived from a 1980s review of the band, which described their sound as “an unholy mix of Kiss and Hank Williams tossed under a runaway train”. However, the popular video for the song focused on the “runaway” aspect, displaying several photos of teenage runaways who were still missing at the time. Musically, the song is acoustic throughout, even during the guitar lead by Dan Murphy with some Hammond organ added by sessionist Booker T. Jones III. The song also contains some of the most profound lyrics on the album;

And everything seems cut and dry, day and night, earth and sky, somehow I just don’t believe it…”

The middle part of the album sees the band exploring many sub-genres. “Keep It Up” can either be described as a nod back to 80s-style power pop or a precursor to the soon-to-arrive Collective Soul sound. In either case, it contains a heavy bass presence by Karl Mueller along with subdued vocals by Pirner. “Homesick” is a Stonesy slow country-rock revival love song, which is melancholy yet a very pleasant listen with some philosophical lyrics to boot. “New World” has an odd timed beat and a fantastic, melancholy vibe, while arranged masterfully by its constant return to the fine main acoustic riff. “April Fool” kicks off with a heavy metal riff and beat before the fits and stops of an Alice Cooper-like breaks in the verse, all topped off by multi-layered guitar parts.
 

 
“Without a Trace” is the default title song of the album, containing the lyric which gave Grave Dancers Union its title. In recent years, Pirner has dedicated the song to the memory of Mueller, who died cancer seven years ago today on June 17, 2005.

The album completes with a couple of average songs – the upbeat “Growing Into You” and the effects-laden “99%” –before the climatic concluding track “The Sun Maid”. This pleasant acoustic ballad with nice, Beatlesque strings from the Meridian String Quartet, shows the full promise of the band’s songwriting talent and ends the album on a strong note.

Within a year of its release, Grave Dancers Union was certified triple-platinum and has been, by far the top selling album by Soul Asylum. They have slowly released albums fairly consistently since then, with a new album every third-to-half decade or so, each with moderate acclaim and sales. The band plans to release a new studio album called Delayed Reaction in July 2012, their first release since 2006.

~
R.A.
 


1992 Images

 

Blind Melon

Blind MelonBlind Melon is the 1992 debut album by the rock band of the same name. The album was an international seller due primarily to the breakthrough hit “No Rain” along with a few other minor hits. With producer Rick Parashar, the band approached production of the album to be intentionally devoid of any digital effects or any 1990’s production techniques in an attempt to make a “classic” sounding record. This extended to the use of out-of-date amplifiers and instrumentation.  The results were mixed with some tracks enhanced by the “vintage” sound and others just sounding muddled and under-developed.

Although often mis-labeled as a “Seattle” band, the album was merely recorded in Seattle.  The band itself was formed in Los Angeles and made up of personnel from the South and Midwest. Blind Melon came together in 1990 when vocalist Shannon Hoon, an Indiana native met guitarist Rogers Stevens and bassist Brad Smith, both from Mississippi. Stevens and Smith eventually persuaded fellow-Mississippi drummer Glen Graham to come to L.A. and a second guitarist, Christopher Thorn rounded out the quintet. Although the band’s rise in L.A. was rather rapid, they were signed to Capitol Records in 1991, they eventually decided that they did not “fit in” with that scene and relocated to Chapel Hill, North Carolina where they were able to rent a house big enough for them and their equipment and work on new material for their first album.

The iconic cover art is based on a 1975 photograph of Graham’s younger sister in an awkward bee costume and was carried through for the band’s videos which used a modern day actor who resembled the younger Graham.

 


Blind Melon by Blind Melon
Released: September 14, 1992 (Capitol)
Produced by: Rick Parashar & Blind Melon
Recorded: London Bridge Studios, Seattle, February-June 1992
Track Listing Band Musicians
Soak the Sin
Tones Of Home
I Wonder
Paper Scratcher
Dear Ol’ Dad
Change
No Rain
Deserted
Sleepyhouse
Holyman
Seed To a Tree
DriveTime
Shannon Hoon – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Rogers Stevens – Lead Guitars
Christopher Thorn – Guitar, Mandolin
Brad Smith – Bass, Flute, Vocals
Glenn Graham – Drums, Percussion
 
BlindMelon

 

Blind Melon opens up with a multi-part jam song called “Soak the Sin”, which is slightly reminiscent of what Pearl Jam was doing on their debut, but with a looser structure. This is followed up by the funk-driven “Tones of Home”, a better structured single with a nice rhythm by Smith and Graham. However, the lyrics here are a bit trite and immature –

I thought that this would be the land of milk and honey, but I’ve come to find out that it’s all hate and money”

“I Wonder” adds a lot of diverse parts, starting with an acoustic intro and winding through several riff-driven sections. There is a sense of hesitation and under-development as the players appear to follow Hoon through the various changes. This begins a section of the album where Blind Melon seems to be on the brink of making strong and interesting rock music but had not allow the time for the songs to properly ripen. “Paper Scratcher” and “Dear Ol Dad” illustrate this perfectly, with the only real highlight being the acoustic lead by Stevens.

The heart of the album is two back-to-back songs in the middle. “Change” is the first of these, a nice acoustic ballad with brilliant harmonica and mandolin overtones by Thorn. It is a coming-of-age song with poetic lyrics and fine performances by everyone, showing that this band definitly had potential to develop into a top-notch act.

 
The other great song on the album is, of course, “No Rain”, by far the most popular song by the band. Although its popularity was fueled by the brilliant MTV video that depicts a bee girl trying to find her niche in the world, the musical credentials of the song itself make it an entertaining and timeless classic decades later. It contains a most unusual arrangement where Stevens’ lead and Thorn’s acoustic are given’ prime attention with just sparse rhythm intervening mostly for effect. This all adds as a perfect canvas for Hoon’s fantastic vocals, unmistakably clear and present and a bright signpost along the highway that is 1990’s music.

Unfortunately, the album really falls off and these highlights, with the final six tracks not adding much in terms of originality or entertainment that is not already present earlier on the album. Of these, only the closer “Time’ offers much in way of ambition, as the band attempts to summarize the themes of the previous twelve tracks to end the album.

Like many rock band’s Blind Melon‘s turn at fame was meteoric and cut short tragically. Shortly after releasing the band’s follow-up album Soup in 1995, lead singer Shannon Hoon died of a drug overdose, abruptly ending the band’s rise.

~
R.A.
 

 

 
1992 Images
 

 

Images and Words by Dream Theatre

Images And Words by Dream Theater Images and Words is the second studio album by Dream Theater, released in the summer of 1992. It is the first to feature vocalist James LaBrie and is considered one of the most influential albums ever for the genre of progressive metal, although it may be short-sighted to try and place this material into a well-defined box of any musical genre. On this album the music, vocals, and lyrics are in a constant exploration that appears to respect no boundaries of musical style. The result is a very diverse and complex masterpiece made up of a multitude of elements which, for the dedicated music fan, becomes more vivid with each subsequent listen.

Dream Theater’s seeds were planted in the mid 1980s when guitarist John Petrucci, bassist John Myung, and drummer Mike Portnoy, all attended the Berklee Schhol of Music in Boston. They formed a band called Majesty, along with keyboardist Kevin Moore and vocalist Chris Collins, who was later replaced by Charlie Dominici. After a name change due to a conflict, Dream Theater recorded their first album When Dream And Day Unite, released in 1989. During the subsequent tour however, the band became unsatisfied with Dominici’s vocals and his creative vision and he was released from the band. It would take two solid years until they found a satisfactory replacement, auditioning nearly 200 vocalists before LaBrie, formally of the Canadian band Winter Rose, sent the band an audition tape in 1991. With LaBrie on board, the band made anew audition tape and was soon signed to a seven album contract with Atco Records.

Beyond the band’s dedicated fans, Images and Words remains highly acclaimed by music critics and musicians alike. In a review of the album, critic Jonathan Scott stated;

The five musical prodigies of Dream Theater show here that they are not afraid to stand out from the crowd and shout, with unnaturally-sized drum kits and keyboardists equipped with mutant spider-fingers, that music, the art, cannot be condensed down to simple hooks and choruses…”

Providing historical context to the album, musician Jay Santos said;

Although stemming from the late 80’s, their progressive style and superior and solid execution captured the attention of serious musicians hence giving them a safe place, protected from the grunge movement…”

Santos also pointed to the fact that the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs have long used portions of “Metropolis” as incidental music during their games, proving that while the band will never receive mainstream pop coverage, they still have still crossed over to mainstream culture.


Images and Words by Dream Theater
Released: July 7, 1992 (Atco)
Produced by: David Prater
Recorded: Bear Tracks Studios, New York, September-December 1991
Track Listing Band Musicians
Pull Me Under
Another Day
Take the Time
Surrounded
Metropolis, Pt. 1: Miracle and Sleeper
Under a Glass Moon
Wait for Sleep
Learning to Live
James LaBrie – Lead Vocals
John Petrucci – Guitars, Vocals
Kevin Moore – Keyboards
John Myung – Bass
Mike Portnoy– Drums, VocalsImages and Words by Dream Theater

 

The album contains four extended pieces which clock in over 8 minutes apiece, each complex but with their own distinct signature. “Take the Time” begins very rudiment heavy before breaking into a funk section by Myung, who excels at bass throughout the track. While the song navigates through a multitude of sections reminiscent of early Genesis or Yes, it returns frequently to the main vocal hook and Petrucci’s signature lead riff. “Metropolis, Pt. 1: The Miracle and the Sleeper” is sprinkled with sonic candy with more great rudiments under the verse and plenty of space for virtuosity in its multiple parts. This piece never relents and keeps your ears perked at maximum attention as each band member shines brightly throughout, most especially Moore with a killer synth lead.

The closer “Learning to Live” starts off with more virtuoso instrumentation but is far more steady and subtle compared to other extended pieces. It is quite different than anything else on the album, with a more surreal quality which may take a few times to appreciate.

Pull Me Under singleThe opening song “Pull Me Under” has a long, building intro, before settling into a heavy metal riff by Petrucci and a double-kicked beat by Portnoy. Written by Moore, the lyrics are philosophical about life and death and contain a direct quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Despite being over eight minutes in length, the song was released as a single and peaked at #10 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart.

The album nicely counterbalances the extended tracks with more lighter, more conventional, and shorter tracks. “Another Day”, written by John Petrucci for his father, has been described as “prog metal meets Kenny G”. With its gently rocking piano and a couple saxophone leads by Jay Beckenstein, who rarely stepped away from playing “smooth jazz” before this session. “Surrounded” starts and ends as a ballad with a rotating key riff, accented by two piano chords but nicely morphs into a choppy, odd-timed rocker through the heart of the song.

The album’s diversity os once again displayed later on when the pure heavy metal “Under a Glass Moon”, frantic throughout and with all players at full throttle is followed by “Wait for Sleep”, a short and calm ballad containing mostly just piano and vocals. This latter track acts as the default title song for the album, containing its title in the lyric and describing the scene of the album’s cover.

Images and Words would become the first of a string of highly regarded albums that continues to this day, 20 years later, and is the most successful album to date commercially (although albums in recent years have fared better with chart positions). The band has gone through several personnel changes over the past two decades, with the most recent being the departure of founding drummer Mike Portnoy in 2010, who is now a member of Flying Colors (also reviewed today on our affiliate site Modern Rock Review). Still, Dream Theater keeps going strong with an album released in 2011 and another planned for later in 2012.

~
R.A.
 


1992 Images

 

New Miserable Experience by Gin Blossoms

New Miserable Experience by Gin BlossomsReleased during the heyday of the grunge music movement, New Miserable Experience was the peak of Gin Blossoms‘s short-lived fame in the early 1990s. It consists of lean and jangly pop music that hearkened back to some of the college radio alternative pop of the 1980s such as The Replacements or R.E.M. The album was the band’s major-label debut after they had spent years building their popularity at the local level around Phoenix. However, the making of this album came with inner turmoil as chief songwriter and lead guitarist Doug Hopkins became an impediment by drinking heavily and growing stubborn and disillusioned with the recording process, which ultimately led to his termination from the band at the label’s insistence.

Hopkins’ writing credits included all four of the popular “hits” from the album, with his penchant for somber lyrics and notable melodies. He founded the Gin Blossoms in the mid 1980s and helped them develop into one of the most popular local bands in Tempe, AZ and facilitated independent record releases. Hopkins, who suffered from mental illness and alcoholism, was staunchly against the band signing with a major label, and this led to his downward spiral in the studio and eventual firing. Hopkins became increasingly despondent as the band rose to fame performing the songs he had written. Shortly after receiving a gold record for the song “Hey Jealousy”, he tore it off the wall and destroyed it. Ten days later, Hopkins committed suicide. As lead singer Robin Wilson later acknowledged; “Without Doug and his songwriting, we never could have signed a record deal.” Quite ironic.

 


New Miserable Experience by Gin Blossoms
Released: August 4, 1992 (A&M)
Produced by: John Hampton & Gin Blossoms
Recorded: Ardent Studios, Memphis, TN, 1992
Track Listing Band Musicians
Lost Horizons
Hey Jealousy
Mrs. Rita
Until I Fall Away
Hold Me Down
Cajun Song
Hands Are Tied
Found Out About You
Allison Road
29
Pieces Of the Night
Cheatin’
Robin Wilson – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Doug Hopkins – Guitars
Jesse Valenzuela – Guitars, Mandolin, Vocals
Bill Leen – Bass
Phillip Rhodes– Drums, Percussion
 
New Miserable Experience by Gin Blossoms

The bulk of the hit songs on New Miserable Experience, were actually recorded three years earlier, in 1989, for the Gin Blossoms independent album Dusted. These included “Lost Horizons”, “Hey Jealousy”, “Cajun Song”, and “Found Out About You”. The opener “Lost Horizons” establishes the basic vibe of the album (which does not vary much throughout) with driving, bright guitars, subdued vocals and a steady, methodical rhythm. Lyrically, Hopkins addresses his own alcoholism and personal demons;

“I’ll drink enough of anything to make this world look new again, drunk, drunk, drunk in the gardens and graves…”

“Hey Jealousy” has a jangly power pop motif with more darkly confessional lyrics by Hopkins with a bit of emotional complexity. On Jesse Valenzuela‘s “Cajun Song”, the band displays more versatility with strong harmonies and country elements, something that is more fully explored later on the album’s closer “Cheatin'”. “Found Out About You” became the band’s only #1 hit, topping the Modern Rock Tracks, and the best pure pop song on the album, with a catchy hook and a melodic mix of guitar parts.

 

A few more of the more popular radio tracks include the melodic and restrained “Until I Fall Away” and “Allison Road”, which Has a Buddy Holly influenced beginning, and more pleasant and melodies and harmonies. Throughout the album, the rhythm section of bassist Bill Leen and drummer Phillip Rhodes, provide the steady and driving tempo which allows for movement on top end. This especially true on the album’s heavier tracks, “Mrs. Rita”, “Hold Me Down” and “Hands Are Tied”.

Many wondered if Gin Blossoms could replicate the success of New Miserable Experience without Hopkins songwriting. They did reach a level of success with their 1996 follow-up album and a few more hit singles, but by 1997 the band was finished and this album proved to be their apex.

~
R.A.
 


1992 Images

 

The Southern Harmony & Musical Companion
by The Black Crowes

Southern Harmony & Musical Companion by The Black Crowes With the follow-up to their blockbuster 1990 debut, The Black Crowes took a more rootsy and soulful approach with The Southern Harmony & Musical Companion. That debut, Shake Your Money Maker, sold over 5 million copies in its first two years and sent the band on a near-constant tour playing over 350 shows in a year and a half. The new record by the band featured Marc Ford on lead guitar, who replaced Jeff Cease after his departure the year before. This, along with the addition of a full-time keyboardist in Eddie Harsch and a strong presence of female backing vocals gave the Black Crowes room to explore, improvise, and jam with the new material.

The album borrowed its title from a popular book of hymns from the nineteenth century and was suggested by lead singer Chris Robinson. First published by William Walker in 1835, the original The Southern Harmony & Musical Companion was often the sole source of musical literacy for many rural Americans.

The core of the Black Crowes is their rhythm section, lead by Chris’s brother Rich Robinson on guitar who forges the cool, fresh-sounding grooves that anchor the band’s sound. Johnny Colt lays down the solid bass while Steve Gorman provides a very effective, assertive, and melodic form of drumming. The album was produced by George Drakoulia, who gave every instrument a sharp and clear voice, while embracing the looseness of the compositions.

 


Southern Harmony & Musical Companion by The Black Crowes
Released: May 12, 1992 (Def American)
Produced by: George Drakoulias
Recorded: Various Locations, 1991
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Sting Me
Remedy
Thorn In My Pride
Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye
Sometimes Salvation
Hotel Illness
Black Moon Creeping
No Speak No Slave
My Morning Song
Time Will Tell
Chris Robinson – Lead Vocals
Rich Robinson – Guitars
Marc Ford – Guitars
Eddie Harsch – Keyboards
Johnny Colt – Bass
Steve Gorman– Drums
Southern Musical & Harmony Companion by The Black Crowes

 

The album contains nine new songs written by the Robinson brothers, along with a Bob Marley cover “Time Will Tell”, which closes the album. Just as the band made a signature song out of the Otis Redding cover “Hard To Handle” on the previous album, they make the Marley song their own by rearranging the reggae into a more New Orleans sound. Unfortunately it does not work nearly as well as the previous cover.

The essence of the Black Crowes’ sound is their revival of the solid roots rock of the 1970s along with just enough chord changes, tempo shifts, and the decor of feedback and other effects including catchy lyrics. This is evident early in the album, starting with “Sting Me”. This album opener became a hit for the group, reaching number one on the Billboard Album Rock Tracks chart, while the next track “Remedy” had even greater success. This second track has a good hook in the beginning and evolves as the song goes on, never getting stuck in the same rut as some of the other songs.

“Thorn in My Pride” is one of the finest songs on the album and also sets the template for the type of approach the band took on many tracks here – a laid back, slow, and melodic build which introduces the instruments seperately above the picked out acoustic notes gradually building into an extended, 6-minute hymn which showcases all that the band is capable of doing. “Hotel Illness” is another strong track with a Stones-like riff and bluesy elements throughout.

While Southern Harmony contains a strong collection of songs, which bridge the metamorphasis between the concise pop/rock of Shake Your Money Maker and the more jam-oriented tracks of their future records, the album at times seems too even, with not enough peaks and valleys to make it an interesting adventure for the listener. This is true for the album as a whole as well as for many individual tracks. It would have been a respectable debut had it come first, but it really didn’t raise the bar for musical excellence.

~
Karyn Albano
 


1992 Images

 

Amused to Death by Roger Waters

Amused To Death by Roger WatersFor what turned out to be his final solo studio album (to date, 20 years and counting), Roger Waters composed a complex (and often confused) concept album called Amused to Death. The title came from a book by author Neil Postman, which explored the history of the media and the concept (although cloudy) is of aliens arriving after the extinction of humans and finding all our skeletons sitting around television sets and trying to work out why it was that our end came before its time.  They come to the conclusion that we “amused ourselves to death”. While the album follows the same calm, storytelling, musically rich template of Waters’ two previous solo efforts, this album seems to be the most directly influenced by that material of Waters’ former band, Pink Floyd. In fact, there appears to be some direct sampling from Pink Floyd songs “Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk”, “Echoes” and “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”.

Lyrically, the album is brimming with hate on a variety of subjects from capitalism to America to religion to war to television to Stanley Kubrick to Andrew Lloyd Weber. Waters makes a few good points on these varied subjects, with the better use of sarcasm in these instances. However, the logic of the vast rants on Amused to Death is convoluted, such as when Waters somehow ties Chiang Kai-shek and the Chinese Nationalists (deposed in 1949) to the slaughter at Tienanmen Square 40 years later by the very Communists that deposed them. He also applies moral relativism to the “Germans killing the Jews” and the “Jews killing the Arabs”. But the greatest offense may just be the mere fact that so much of the lyrical material seems dated and irrelevant, unlike past efforts which seem timeless and relevant to any era. Just take the example of Waters harping on television habits from his perspective at the dawn of the Internet age. A futurist, Mr. Waters is not.

Conversely, the album is superb musically. Waters’ enlisted legendary guitarist Jeff Beck to play lead guitar and a whole host of talent to provide additional music and vocal support. Amused to Death is mixed in QSound, a virtual surround sound, which enhances the spatial feel of the audio along with the various sound effects sprinkled throughout the album. The quality of production by Waters, Nick Griffiths, and Patrick Leonard is simply superb and makes this album worthwhile for any audiophile even if you like nothing else.

 


Amused to Death by Roger Waters
Released: September 7, 1992 (Columbia)
Produced by: Roger Waters, Nick Griffiths, & Patrick Leonard
Recorded: Various Locations, 1988-1992
Track Listing Primary Musicians
The Ballad of Bill Hubbard
What God Wants, Part I
Perfect Sense, Part I
Perfect Sense, Part II
The Bravery of Being Out of Range
Late Home Tonight, Part I
Late Home Tonight, Part II
Too Much Rope
What God Wants, Part II
What God Wants, Part III
Watching TV
Three Wishes
It’s a Miracle
Amused to Death
Roger Waters – Lead Vocals, Bass, Synthesizer, Guitars
Jeff Beck – Guitars
Andy Fairweather Low – Guitars
Patrick Leonard – Piano, Keyboards
Graham Broad– Drums, Percussion
 
Amused to Death by Roger Waters

 

“The Ballad of Bill Hubbard” starts the album off with a spoken word story of the desperation of trying to save a comrade in the battle lines during World War I, recited in the first person by Alf Razell after some introductory David Gilmour-like guitar motifs by Jeff Beck, who continues to add licks even after the recital commences. The song abruptly “changes channels” into the upbeat and funky “What God Wants, Part I”, the first single from the album, banned by the BBC due to controversial lyrics. Driven by the bass of future American Idol judge Randy Jackson, we hear Waters voice for the first time on this track and it is quite clear that his voice is very rough and shot.

 
“Perfect Sense, Part I” contains a beautiful moody piano and dual lead vocals by Waters and female soul singer PP Arnold, while “Perfect Sense, Part II” contains a sequence where sports commentator Marv Albert darkly simulates a nuclear missile attack as a sporting event. “The Bravery of Being Out of Range” is musically the best song on the album, with a strong rock arrangement and interesting chord progressions, but it again comes off preachy lyrically.

The album settles down again with “Late Home Tonight” with some interesting strings and acoustic guitars accompanying Waters speaking before the calmness is shattered by the sound of a huge explosion. “Too Much Rope” features guitarist Andy Fairweather Low, who performed on Waters’ previous studio album Radio K.A.O.S. as well as many live tours. “Watching TV” is arranged like a happy-go-lucky acoustic country folk song with the very dark lyrical subject of the Tienanmen Square massacre, as Waters sings of his “yellow rose and her blood stained clothes”. Don Henley later shares lead vocals on the song.

The album concludes with three extended pieces, which many consider the climax of the album. “It’s a Miracle” is very sarcastic in content, with a tight composition and catchy melody. It highlights Waters very sharp satire with lyrics such as;

“We’ve got a warehouse of butter, we’ve got oceans of wine / We’ve got famine when we need it, got a designer crime / We’ve got Mercedes, we’ve got Porsche, Ferrari and Rolls Royce, we’ve got a choice…”

“Three Wishes” is a more personal song, a quality evident in the earlier works by Waters, with quality music and sad lyrics. The closing title song, “Amused to Death”, is a nine minute package of cynicism and sarcasm, with a tinge of hope at the end. The theme comes full circle as Bill Hubbard is laid to rest and memorialized.

There was no tour in support of Amused to Death and selections from the album were performed sparingly on future tours by Waters. As this may be the final studio output by the musical genius, it is worth a careful listen or two, even if it falls short of Roger Waters’ lyrical capabilities.

~
R.A.
 


1992 Images

 

Automatic For the People by R.E.M.

Automatic For the People by REMAutomatic For the People is the eighth album by R.E.M., released in 1992 following their breakthrough Out of Time. Since the band did not tour to support that album, they were able to start writing and rehearsing for the next album shortly after its release in June 1991. The three musicians -guitarist Peter Buck, bassist Mike Mills, and drummer Bill Berry had informal rehearsals for months, often trading instruments and trying different musical arrangements. Lead vocalist and chief lyricist Michael Stipe was not present for these 1991 sessions and received finished demos at the start of 1992, when he started recording vocals.

The album is very much musically subdued and deals with mortality. This was not the original intent, as the band first strove to record a more “upbeat” album, but soon turned further away from the lighter, sweeter pop of previous albums. The finished product was co-produced by Scott Litt at Bearsville Studios in Woodstock, New York. String arrangements by former Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones were recorded in Atlanta.

Many critics regard Automatic For the People as the finest R.E.M. album due to its beautiful and moving sounds mixed with melancholy themes of hopelessness and anger. It contains a core set of folk songs with majestic overtones resonating from the exotic instrumentation. This is the group’s coming-of-age album as they pass the “alternative” flame to the slew of new bands which now populated the rock landscape.

 


Automatic For the People by R.E.M.
Released: October 7, 1992 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Scott Litt & R.E.M.
Recorded: Various Locations, 1991-1992
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Drive
Try Not to Breathe
The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite
Everybody Hurts
New Orleans Instrumental No. 1
Sweetness Follows
Monty Got a Raw Deal
Ignoreland
Star Me Kitten
Man On the Moon
Nightswimming
Find the River
Michael Stipe – Lead Vocals
Peter Buck – Guitars, Mandolin
Mike Mills – Bass, Keyboards, Vocals
Bill Berry– Drums, Keyboards, VocalsAutomatic For the People by R.E.M.

 

The pace of the album is immediately set with the opening track “Drive”. This doomy, acoustic-driven tune with heavily reverbed vocals and a touch of accordion has Neil Young quality along with a touch of some of the moodier material by the James Gang. “Try Not to Breathe” follows as another acoustic tune, but much lighter and brighter than opener, although the Stipe’s lyrics are every bit as dark as they narrate the plight of an elderly person who has chosen to end his life.

The radio hit “Everybody Hurts” contains high, sweet vocals and romantic chord progressions by Buck with topped off by themes of desperate hope. The lyrics are stripped of their usual crypto-poetic attributes to a pure, raw, and unambiguous message;

“…when you think you’ve had too much of this life, well hang on, don’t let yourself go, everybody cries, everybody hurts sometimes…”

“New Orleans Instrumental No.1” is an entertaining musical break with tremolo electric piano and a sustained-note guitar groove. “Sweetness Follows” contains more ethereal doominess and a comforting melancholy while “Monty Got a Raw Deal” is built like a traditional R.E.M. song with an acoustic folk beginning and the later addition of the accordion and mandolin. “Ignoreland” is the most rock-oriented song on the album, with strong fuzz guitars, distorted vocals by Stipe, and intense drumming by Berry while “Star Me Kitten” is a calm and moody, almost psychedelic tune with ethereal organ and synth effects and a melodic lead guitar.

Nearly a decade after his death, many people had all but forgotten about comedian Andy Kaufman before R.E.M. figuratively brought him back to life with “Man On the Moon”, a song which both pays tribute to Kaufman while poking fun at the theorists who thought he staged his own death as an elaborate joke. Musically, the somber calmness seems to fit this theme perfectly and the effective two-part chorus puts the song over the top. The song’s title was later used to name the Hollywood biography of Kaufman, starring Jim Carey.

The nostalgic, piano driven “Nightswimming” is an ode to teenage freedom and discovery. The odd musical arrangement and mood makes this a unique and interesting listen. The album concludes with “Find the River” a nice acoustic ballad with piano, fiddle, backing vocals, and an overall good mixture, ending the album with a more traditional song than much of the other material.

Automatic For the People was yet another in a string of hit albums for R.E.M., reaching number two on the U.S. album charts and yielding six regular radio tracks. The album would perhaps be the high-water mark for this innovative band who were truly alternative long before alternative was cool.

~
R.A.
 


1992 Images

 

Little Earthquakes by Tori Amos

Little Earthquakes by Tori AmosLittle Earthquakes is the debut solo album of singer/songwriter Tori Amos. It followed the dissolution of her 1980s synth-pop band called “Y Kant Tori Read”, with a batch of a dozen compositions which set the stage for her solo career as well as forge a template for the more introspective music that flourished among female singer/songwriters during the 1990s. The songs are often stripped-down and raw, but consistently genuine throughout. The album shattered many long-held conventions in the popular music industry (especially for debuts) and launched a career for Amos where she would sell 12 million (and counting) albums worldwide and be nominated for 8 Grammy Awards.

The album was recorded in various phases between 1990 and 1991 in locations ranging from the renowned Capitol Records studios in Hollywood to the home studio of Amos’s then boyfriend. At the label’s urging, Amos then relocated to London (where it was thought there would be a more receptive audience for eccentric performers) where she spent the better part of a year performing in small bars and clubs, slowly getting the material exposed. Little Earthquakes was actually released in the UK in January 1992, a month ahead of its US release, to much critical acclaim.

Sonically, the album contains a balance of acoustic and electronic instrumentation and some very innovative use of vocals to build mood-inspiring crescendos throughout. The best example of all these elements is found in the closing title song, “Little Earthquakes”, which fluctuates between the introspective ballad with deep lyrics and the primal expression of vocal emotives over the consistent and haunting reverberation of a kick drum.

 


Little Earthquakes by Tori Amos
Released: February 25, 1992 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Tori Amos, Eric Rosse, Davitt Sigerson, Ian Stanley
Recorded: Capitol Records, Los Angeles, 1991-1992
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Crucify
Girl
Silent All These Years
Precious Things
Winter
Happy Phantom
China
Leather
Mother
Tear In Your Hand
Me and a Gun
Little Earthquakes
Tori Amos – Lead & Backing Vocals, Acoustic & Electric Piano
Steve Caton – Guitars, Bass
Eric Rosse– Synths, Percussion, Backing Vocals
 
Little Earthquakes by Tori Amos

 

All songs on Little Earthquakes written and composed by Tori Amos. The first single from the album was “Silent All These Years”, which did not make a huge splash on the airwaves but did connect with many listeners on an intimate level. A delicate song built on a chromatic piano figure with many subtle flourishes and more sudden and diverse voices from Amos, the song’s bridge is an intense release of pent-up fear and uncertainty into a new role of benevolence and confidence.

“Precious Things” and “Tear In Your Hand” 4:38 are more traditionally arranged with Will McGregor playing bass and Carlo Nuccio playing drums on each track, with “Precious Things” using more experimental sounds such as the intro breathy percussive effects. “Girl” is moody and hypnotic with a consistent drum beat and piano riff interwoven with a variety of orchestral and guitar effects and a building vocal ensemble during the bridge.

The opening “Crucify” is about guilt, self-doubt, and a bit of paranoia, using much Christian symbolism throughout. Lyrically, one may compare this to the type of self-examination Roger Waters used on The Wall. Despite the deep subject matter, the song is musically one of the brighter and more pop-oriented on the album, lead by a moody electric piano and accented by a vocal chorus.

The best composition on the album is “Winter”, one of  four singles released from the album. This is a deeply personal song where Amos incorporated her father, a Christian minister. Lyrically it uses the wonder and confusion of winter and transition of seasons in a reflective allegory for growing up –

“…when you gonna make up your mind, when you gonna love you as much as I do / because things are gonna change so fast

“China” is often cited as one of Amos’ most traditional-oriented songs, a soft lament to lost with more highly allegorical lyrics. But a few of the songs on the album are so raw and and exposed that they are hard to listen to. “Mother” contains just piano and vocal and may be a bit drug out at seven minutes in duration. “Me and a Gun” is the most haunting song on the album It consists of a single,  acapella vocal by Amos which lyrically recounts her thoughts during a violent rape that she suffered through years earlier following a late-night gig. As she explained the experience and the reason for the song:

“How am I alive to tell you this tale when he was ready to slice me up? In the song I say it was ‘Me and a Gun’ but it wasn’t a gun. It was a knife he had. And the idea was to take me to his friends and cut me up, and he kept telling me that, for hours. And if he hadn’t needed more drugs I would have been just one more news report, where you see the parents grieving for their daughter…

But then there are some lighter moments on to the album (at least musically). “Happy Phantom” is upbeat and jazzy musically, offering an light and entertaining break from the depth and moodiness of the rest of the album while still maintaining a rather dark lyrical motif. “Leather” is another good composition with excellent arrangement and production. The pleasant and melodic melody is complimented by poignant strings and subtle bits of heavy guitar by Steve Caton, along with entertaining sections of rag-time piano by Amos.

Following Little Earthquakes, Amos consistently released highly acclaimed albums throughout the 1990s and the first decade of the new millennium. Her most recent studio release is 2011’s Night of Hunters.

~
R.A.
 

1992 Images