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

Buy Blood Sugar Sex Magik by Red Hot Chili Peppers

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

Buy Nevermind by Nirvana

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.

~

1991 Images

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

 

Out of Time by R.E.M.

Out of Time by REMFollowing the success of R.E.M.‘s 1988 album Green and the extensive supporting tour which followed, the band took nearly a year to recuperate before reconvening to produce their next album. That album would come in 1991 and be titled Out of Time, and would serve to further expose this once niche alternative band to mainstream commercial audiences. The seventh studio album by the band, Out Of Time was by far the most richly produced to date, with more relatable compositions, an expansion of the instrumentation used, cameos from contemporary artists, and much more attention paid to sonic detail of the finished product.

The album combines the elements which were carried over from Green – pop and folk – with the addition of country, funk, and classical elements. The band’s chief lyricist, singer Michael Stipe, moved away from the overtly political themes they had used frequently in the 1980s, towards more personally-relatable and accessible songs, a direction they would continue through the 1990s.

Fueled by the blockbuster hit “Losing My Religion”, which became the band’s biggest, Out of Time would top the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, despite the fact that R.E.M. did not tour to support the album. The single and album won a combined three Grammy Awards in 1992 and to date has sold over 18 million copies worldwide.

 


Out of Time by R.E.M.
Released: March 12, 1991 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Scott Litt & R.E.M.
Recorded: Bearsville Studios, Woodstock, NY, Sep-Oct 1990
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Radio Song
Losing My Religion
Low
Near Wild Heaven
Endgame
Shiny Happy People
Belong
Half a World Away
Texarkana
Country Feedback
Me in Honey
Michael Stipe – Lead Vocals, Melodica
Peter Buck – Guitars, Mandolin
Mike Mills – Bass, Keyboards, Vocals
Bill Berry – Drums, Keyboards, Vocals
 
Out of Time by R.E.M.

 

The album commences with “Radio Song”, a lighthearted funk that was completely unique to anything the band had done to that point. The song features vocals by KRS-One, leader of Boogie Down Productions, and also shows off the talents of the band’s drummer Bill Berry. Another popular song from the album to include a guest vocalist was “Shiny Happy People”, featuring Kate Pierson of the B-52s. The song is introduced with a unique string arrangement before breaking into a typical, upbeat R.E.M. riff. It became the band’s fourth career Top 10 hit. The song’s title is based on a Southern phrase meaning “being at the end of one’s rope, however Stipe has also stated the lyrics are influenced by unrequited love.

Near Wild Heaven” was another single released from the album, co-written and sung by bassist Mike Mills. It was the first such song to be written and sung by Mills. Mills also provided vocals for “Texarkana”. While this was not released as an official “single”, did well on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. “Country Feedback” was written as a stream-of-conscious by Stipe who claims he sang it in one take as an experiment and it was not re-recorded. The recording features pedal steel guitar by John Keane.

With the success of Out of Time, R.E.M.’s status grew to a top-level, major act from their humble beginnings as a “cult band” on colleg radio. They would continue the momentum into the next year with 1992’s Automatic For the People.

~
R.A.

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1991 Images


 

Luck of the Draw by Bonnie Raitt

Luck Of the Draw by Bonnie Raitt It had taken nearly two decades for Bonnie Raitt to achieve the commercial success that critics had long felt she would achieve. That success came with Raitt’s 1989 album Nick of Time, her tenth album overall. She followed this up with the 1991 album Luck of the Draw, an even more popular release which has sold close to 8 million copies in the United States alone to date. The album spawned many radio-friendly hits and introduced Raitt to a general pop audience. This is a bit ironic in that Raitt’s claim to fame had long been as an outside-the-mainstream female blues performer who uniquely played signature bottleneck slide. Although some of this legacy cascaded into Luck of the Draw, it wasn’t quite the front and center element which made this album successful.

While in college in the late 1960s, Raitt became enthralled with the blues and eventually played alongside such established blues legends as Howlin’ Wolf, Sippie Wallace, and Mississippi Fred McDowell. In the Fall of 1970, a reporter from Newsweek caught her act at a nightclub in New York City and the subsequent article spawned much interest in Raitt from major recording labels. She recorded her debut album in 1971 and during the 1970s released a series of roots-influenced albums which incorporated elements of blues, rock, folk and country. By the mid 1980s however, her sales began to slump and it appeared that her run was over when she made this dramatic commercial comeback.


Luck Of the Draw by Bonnie Raitt
Released: June 25, 1991 (Capitol)
Produced by: Don Was & Bonnie Rait
Recorded: Ocean Way Recordings & Capitol Studios, Los Angeles, Spring 1991
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Something to Talk About
Good Man, Good Woman
I Can’t Make You Love Me
Tangled and Dark
Come to Me
No Business
One Part Be My Lover
Not the Only One
Papa Come Quick (Jody and Chico)
Slow Ride
Luck Of the Draw
All At Once
Bonnie Raitt – Guitars, Piano, Vocals
Turner Stephen Bruton – Guitars
Bruce Hornsby – Piano, Keyboards
James “Hutch” Hutchinson – Bass
Curt Bisquera – Drums

Buy Luck Of the Draw by Bonnie Raitt

With Raitt taking writing credit for only four songs on Luck of the Draw, and none of these “hits”, this album was created mainly around her talent as a performer and collaborator. The down side of this method is that while it has her face and voice throughout, it is not a personal look into the artist.

“Something to Talk About” was written by Canadian songwriter Shirley Eikhard, who has written for Ann Murray, Emmylou Harris and Cher. The song was actually rejected by Ann Murray’s producers her own album Something to Talk About. Raitt’s guitar work on this pleasant, bouncy pop song makes it an interesting listen and a way to kickoff the album out with some sass .

The duo, “Good Man, Good Woman” with Delbert McClinton is a predictable pop song with a steady back beat accented by McClinton’s harmonica. This is followed by “I Can’t Make you Love Me”, perhaps Raitt’s biggest hit on this record. Her voice is understated while she hits all the right notes. It is the bare simplicity and honesty of her voice against the soft piano played by Bruce Hornsby that give this song it’s universal appeal. How much more honest can lyrics be, “I can’t make you love me if you don’t” – a simple truth to which almost any listener can relate. The remainder of the album’s “hits” – “Slow Ride” and “Not the Only One” – are also pop songs that may have been hits performed by other artists, but find a happy home in this collection.

The songs that Raitt wrote herself include “Tangled and Dark”, a jazzy song with a cool sax interlude and “Come to Me”, which is drenched in Caribbean rhythms and gutsy lyrics like “I ain’t looking for a man Baby can’t stand a little shaky ground/He’ll give me fire and tenderness/And got the guts to stick around. The most insightful and heartfelt performance is the album’s closer, “All At Once”, which offers a glimpse into the difficulties of a family going through a divorce. The anger and confusion of trying to come to terms with damaged relationships penned in lyrics such as “Looks to me there’s lots more broken than anyone can really see/Why the angels turn their backs on some is just a mystery to me.”

Record companies had been trying to make a superstar out of Bonnie Raitt for years. They did not achieve success until they started capitalizing on her assets – her expressive vocals and her guitar skills while using collaborators in pursuit of commercial success. The resulting album drops Bonnie Raitt the folksy blues singer guitar player into a pillow of pop perfection.

~
Karyn Albano

1991 Images

Pocket Full of Kryptonite by Spin Doctors

Pocket Full of Kryptonite by Spin Doctors As the Grateful Dead’s long career began to wind down in the early nineties, there were many pseudo-hippie, jam-oriented bands that emerged to fill the void for the “dead heads”. Although many would ultimately have long and successful careers (i.e. Phish, Widespread Panic), none would achieve greater concentrated commercial success than the Spin Doctors. The band’s debut album, Pocket Full of Kryptonite, released in 1991, became a huge (albeit belated) commercial success through 1993 and 1994. This was fueled by some catchy and concise pop songs, starting with “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” followed by “Two Princes” and “Jimmy Olson Blues”.

Pocket Full of Kryptonite languished for nearly a year as the band embarked on nearly non-stop touring of small and medium clubs in the Northeast. Then some of the songs were finally picked up by radio, and once in the rotation, these songs stuck around for a long time. The catchy, repetitive, three or four chord riffs and funky rhythm were perfectly suited for radio in the early nineties and Spin Doctors soon became a sensation, selling millions of albums around the world. Ultimately, the multi-platinum album sold millions world-wide and Spin Doctors looked poised to launch a long and successful career. But this was not to be, the band’s fame seemed to decline nearly as rapidly as it rose, by 1996 they were no longer a major label act.


Pocket Full of Krypotonite by Spin Doctors
Released: August 20, 1991 (Epic)
Produced by: Frank Aversa, Peter Deneberg, Frankie La Rocka, Spin Doctors
Recorded: Power Station & RPM Studios, New York, August-December 1990
Track Listing Band Musicians
Jimmy Olsen’s Blues
What Time Is It?
Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong
Forty or Fifty
Refrigerator Car
More Than She Knows
Two Princes
Off My Line
How Could You Want Him
Shinbone Alley/Hard to Exist
Chris Barron – Vocals
Eric Schenkman – Guitars, Piano, Vocals
Mark White – Bass
Aaron Comess – Drums, Vocals
Buy Pocket Full of Kryptonite by Spin Doctors

There is something really cool about the tie-in of the album’s title with the opener “Jimmy Olsen Blues”. This catchy song tells the story of an alternate universe where young Jimmy Olsen plots the destruction of the ultimate superhero to win the affection of Lois Lane. Like most of the hits, the song is fueled by the riffs of guitarist Eric Schenkman which cut through the moderate and measured vocals of Chris Barron.

“Two Princes” would ultimately become the band’s biggest ever hit, not just through radio and commercial channels, but also in pop culture. It was used as song of celebration by the 1993 National League Champion Philadelphia Phillies, as a theme on several television shows including the children’s show Sesame Street and an Israeli TV comedy, and has been featured in several movies as well as covered by many bands.

While most of the tracks on Pocket Full of Krytonite are short, pop-ready hits, the band does takes some different approaches. The nearly pure funk “What Time Is It?”, is led by the slap-bass of Mark White while their “jam band” core seeps through in songs such as the ten minute closer “Shinbone Alley/Hard To Exist”.

Although, Spin Doctors would go on to record and release five more studio albums through 2005, none of these would achieve any critical recognition or commercial success of note.

~
RA

1991 Images

Mama Said by Lenny Kravitz

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Mama Said by Lenny Kravitz Lenny Kravitz followed up his brilliant 1989 debut, Let Love Rule with Mama Said two years later. Although many critics thought this sophomore effort paled in comparison, Mama Said was Kravitz’s commercial breakthrough. The album was a stylistic evolution from his debut reflecting the changes in Kravitz’s life. His recent breakup with wife Lisa Bonet made Mama Said an album filled with emotions of loss and sadness as well as the denial of such. Some have referred to this as Kravitz’s “divorce album”.

As the sole producer of the album and performer of most of its music, Kravitz was innovative and inspired, fusing elements of jazz, soul, rock, and dance music. He was also free to enlist musicians of his choosing to help out. Former high school classmate and current Guns n’ Roses guitarist Slash helped out on a few songs. Kravitz even co-wrote a song with Sean Ono Lennon, the 15-year-old son of his musical idol John Lennon. The song was “All I Ever Wanted”, on which Lennon also played piano. For the most part, however, Kravitz was pretty much a one man band on this album with engineer Henry Hirsch filling in on a variety of instruments where needed.

Some listeners have also noted that Kravitz moved forward a couple years in parallel from the late sixties influence fixations of Let Love Rule to the early seventies sound of Mama Said, which sounds like it could have been produced during that era.


Mama Said by Lenny Kravitz
Released: April 2, 1991 (Virgin)
Produced by: Lenny Kravitz
Recorded: 1990-1991
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Fields Of Joy
Always On the Run
Stand By My Woman
It Ain’t Over ’til It’s Over
More Than Anything In This World
What Goes Around Comes Around
The Difference Is Why
Stop Draggin’ Around
Flowers For Zoe
Fields Of Joy (Reprise)
All I Ever Wanted
When the Morning Turns to Night
What the Fuck Are We Saying?
Butterfly
Lenny Kravitz – Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Drums
Henry Hirsh – Bass, Keyboards, String Arrangements
Karl Denson – Saxophone
David Domanich – Drums

Buy Mama Said by Lenny Kravitz

Slash joined in for the first two songs, the emotive “Fields of Joy” and the intense “Always On the Run”. This latter song was a dedication to Kravitz’s mother, actress Roxie Roker, and the default title song of the album. It was also co-written by Slash and combines some very funky Sly Stone-esque grooves and horns with some Hendrix-like heavy rock guitars.

The following two songs, seem to indicate non-acceptance of his faltering marriage, the Lennon-esque “Stand By My Woman” and the swirling Philly soul sound of “It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over”. Both are very entertaining and melodic hits, with the latter featuring a pulsating bass line, a sitar riff, many strings, and the singer’s flawless, high pitched vocals. The video for this song is nearly an exact replica of the Doors 1968 performance on The Smothers Brothers show, complete with Kravitz dressed nearly exactly the way Jim Morrison did for that performance.

It Ain't Over Til It's Over Video by Lenny Kravitz, 1991     Touch Me Video by The Doors, 1968

Other standouts on Mama Said are the quiet ballad “Flowers For Zoe,” written for Kravitz’s daughter , the anti-song anthem “When The Morning Turns To Light”, and a psychedelic song with a vulgar name, “What The Fuck Are We Saying?”. Kravitz returns to the high falsetto on the brilliant, jazz influenced “What Goes Around Comes Around”, which gradually builds with guitars, horns, strings, and saxophone, while remaining cool and refrained throughout.

With the commercial success of Mama Said, Lenny Kravitz was poised to deliver a string of successful albums through the rest of the nineties, although the edge that he possessed on his first two releases would never quite return.

~

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

1991 Images

 

Gish by The Smashing Pumpkins

Gish by Smashing PumkinsGish is the debut album by alternative rock band Smashing Pumpkins, released independently in 1991. The album was co-produced by Butch Vig and recorded in his studio in Madison, Wisconsin. The other co-producer was the band’s lead vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter Billy Corgan who worked tirelessly on getting the right sound, spending hours each on everything from harmonies to guitar tones to drum tunings. This was highly unusual for indy recordings at the time, which were usually recorded “nearly live” in a few days due to shoe-string budgets. This album had about 30 days of working sessions and was very intense and stressful for the four band members.

The result is a technically proficient album with strong performances by all members, starting with the beautifully executed syncopation by drummer Jimmy Chamberlain, who was described as a jazz/hard-rock drum freak let loose on alt-rock radio. Along with Corgan, the rich and layered guitars were performed by James Iha, who has a knack for playing catchy melodies. Rounding out the lineup is bassist D’arcy Wretzky, whose low, cutting bass lines have been compared to that of Black Sabbath’s Geezer Butler.

The album itself has two distinctive influences – a hard-edged, alternative metal and a softer, psychedelic, dreamy influence. On Gish, these distinctions are often pulled apart, making it slightly unballanced overall, top-heavy with the songs with the most punch up front. Corgan was the son of a professional jazz guitarist and started his musical career in the early 1980’s forming the the Smashing Pumpkins in 1988 in Chicago.
 


Gish by Smashing Pumpkins
Released: May 28, 1991 (Caroline)
Produced by: Butch Vig & Billy Corgan
Recorded: Smart Studios, Madison, WI, December 1990–March 1991
Track Listing Band Musicians
I Am One
Siva
Rhinoceros
Bury Me
Crush
Suffer
Snail
Tristessa
Window Paine
Daydream
Billy Corgan – Lead Vocals, Guitars
James Iha – Guitars, Vocals
D’arcy Wretzky – Bass, Vocals
Jimmy Chamberlin – Drums

Gish by Smashing Pumkins

 
Four songs on the album were previously recorded as demos in 1989. “I Am One” starts the album and was Smashing Pumpkin’s first single. A frenetic and explosive rocker led by Chamberlin’s opening groove and the many layers of guitars by Corgan and Iha. The closer “Daydream” is also in this group, although it varies widely as a folky number featuring D’Arcy on lead vocals and including a “hidden track” at the very end.

The psychedelic “Rhinoceros” contains a cool and unique tremolo guitar and almost whispered vocals, giving an effect that is at once fascinating and nerve wracking. At over 6 minutes, it is the longest song on the album and provides a glimpse into the type of material that the band would develop in later years. It is one of the few early songs that would be performed live consistently throughout the band’s career.
 

 
A couple more of the heavier songs on the album are “Siva”, with flowing feedback and crunchy guitars and the catchy “Bury Me”, which is held together by D’Arcy’s bassline and features co-lead vocals by Iha.

Then there are the dreamy/pop sixties-influenced numbers. “Suffer” is a steady jam with soft, chiming riffs and beats by all band members. It includes several soun effects, like a distored sitar approximation and a strange flute solo. Corgan has described “Snail” as his favorite from this album primarily because it is so unapparent as anything of quality upon first listen, but slowly creeps into a better place. “Tristessa” took its title from Jack Kerouac’s 1960 novella of the same name. The word is Spanish for “sadness” and the song was originally pressed as a 7″ single prior to the release of this album.

Released prior to the more heralded 1991 albums by Pearl Jam and Nirvana, Gish nonetheless paved the way for Smashing Pumpkins to become one of the most important alt-rock bands of the 1990s. Although the album had no chart success and many mainstream critics didn’t look at this album untll the years when the band’s popularity was exploding, Gish eas the highest selling independent album for three years following its release.

~
R.A.
 

Use Your Illusion (I & II) by Guns n’ Roses

Use Your Illusion I & II by Guns n RosesIt had been four years since Guns n’ Roses had put out their last full studio album, which also happened to be their first studio album and the biggest selling debut of all time, Appetite For Destruction. With fans and critics alike eager for new material, the band unloaded a great volume of music on September 17, 1991, the day they released the equivalent of two double albums, Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II.

With these albums, especially Use Your Illusion I, the band demonstrated much growth and expansion of style, including elements of country, blues, and progressive rock, while maintaining the hard rock edge which made Guns n’ Roses famous in the first place. Much like Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti, these albums included older recordings which were not previously used interspersed with new material that was written for the project(s). The band also included a well-known cover on each album and each also has at least one track sung by band members other than lead singer Axl Rose.

These two albums, released in 1991, would be the final studio albums with this classic lineup in tact and Guns n’ Roses would not release another studio album for 17 years until Chinese Democracy in 2008. Also, the band put out no less than ten videos from these two albums, a final gorge for the heyday of MTV and music videos, which would go into rapid decline through the nineties.


Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II by Guns n’ Roses
Released: September 17, 1991 (Geffen)
Produced by: Mike Clink & Guns n’ Roses
Recorded: A&M Studios, Record Plant, Studio 56, Conway Studios, Metalworks, Los Angeles, 1990-1991
Use Your Illusion I Use Your Illusion II
Right Next Door to Hell
Dust n’ Bones
Live and Let Die
Don’t Cry (Original)
Perfect Crime
So Cruel
Bad Obsession
Back Off Bitch
Double Talkin’ Jive
November Rain
The Garden
Garden of Eden
Don’t Damn Me
Bad Apples
Dead Horse
Coma
Civil War
14 Years
Yesterdays
Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door
Get the Ring
Shotgun Blues
Breakdown
Pretty Tied Up
Locomotive
So Fine
Estranged
You Could Be Mine
Don’t Cry (Alternate)
My World
Band Musicians (Both Albums)
Axl Rose – Lead Vocals, Keyboards, Guitar, Percussion
Slash – Acoustic & Electric Guitars, Dobro, Six String Bass
Izzy Stradlin – Guitars, Vocals    Dizzy Reed – Keyboards, Vocals
Duff McKagan – Bass, Vocals    Matt Sorum – Drums, Vocals

Use Your Illusion I starts off with a song intentionally aimed at Rose’s neighbor in Hollywood who had recently sued him, called “Next Door To Hell”. It also contains “Back Off Bitch” and “Bad Obsession”, which were originally written for Appetite for Destruction “Bad Obsession” later features Michael Monroe, of Hanoi Rocks and a big influence on the band, playing the harmonica and tenor saxophone.

“Don’t Cry” is a calm and steady song, which became a big radio hit. The serene guitar is cut by Rose’s sharp vocals which climax with a ridiculously long, 25 second, ad hoc vocal to end the song. Another version of this song, with alternate lyrics was included on Use Your Illusion II. “Live and Let Die” is a cover that would’ve been better left alone, as it does not add anything to the intensity of the original Paul McCartney version. “The Garden” has a bluesy beginning with a moderate acoustic accented by a long slide electric. It then kicks in more intensely for the heavier and doomier chorus sections which feature Alice Cooper on vocals. This is interesting because much of the theatrical feel of these albums are reminiscent of early Alice Cooper Band, especially the 10-minute-plus closer of Use Your Illusion I called “Coma”.

A couple of other interesting tracks from the first album are the punk-influenced, fast and furious “Garden of Eden”, and the slow country/waltz with a heavy slide guitar presence, reminiscent of cuts from the Stones Sticky Fingers called “You Ain’t the First”. “Dead Horse” which starts with intentionally flat and apathetic vocals over an opening acoustic part but later kicks into a better jam. But, without a doubt the best song on either album, and perhaps the best song ever by Guns n’ Rose, is “November Rain” on Use Your Illusion I.

"November Rain" SingleIt is amazing how, from several different perspectives, “November Rain” represents the exact end of an era, the eighties hair-band era with the obligatory power ballad and high budget music video. For this song, the tab was about $1.5 million for an eight minute video which itself depicts the good times ending; as a joyous wedding celebration through most of the song morphs into a surreal funeral during the coda. The irony here is that Guns n’ Roses themselves help bring an end to this hair band era with the cutting-edge Appetite for Destruction, which cut against the grain of many rock conventions and helped open up the industry to the deluge of grunge which was rapidly approaching. But the song itself is purely great – a piano ballad led by Rose, a theatrical, orchestral backdrop, and some of the finest guitar work by Slash which helped secure his spot as a rock legend. “November Rain” may well be one of the best songs of the entire decade of the nineties.

I suppose the danger of releasing so much music at one time is simply overkill. And if one is to listen to both of these extra-long albums, back-to-back they may become numb to the band’s edge (especially the vocals) and it all eventually becomes repetitive. What was exciting and innovative on the first album, feels like over-indulgence on the second, and this is part of the problem with Use Your Illusion II. The other part is that it is simply not as good as its twin brother. In this light, the opening “Civil War” comes off as preachy and melodramatic and Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”, which had long been a staple of the band in concert, just doesn’t to have the effect it had a few years before (and this may be the most tolerable of all their covers, due to an excellent lead by Slash).

Released a few months ahead of the albums and featured in the film Terminator II: Judgment Day, “You Could Be Mine” was the first big hit from either album and actually propelled sales of Use Your Illusion II slightly ahead of those by Use Your Illusion I. In reality, this is an average song at best, which benefited greatly from the cross-marketing, including a special video featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger in character.

Being just about as long as UYI I, this second album does include a few interesting highlights. Izzy Stradlin, who wrote several songs on both albums, sang solo lead on “14 Years”, a song dedicated to Axl Rose, whom he had known since 1977 (14 years earlier) when the high school classmates started their first band together in their hometown of Lafayette, Indiana. “Yesterdays” is a highly reflective song, which sounds like it should be reserved for the end of one’s career. Bassist Duff McKagan provided lead vocals on “So Fine”, while the provocative “Get In the Ring” gets very personal during a profanity-laced middle section where Rose calls out several members of the music press by name. The second album concludes with the weird and distorted rap “My World”, which feels like a throwaway filler so that they could reach the 30 song mark between the two albums.

Seven years later, with fans already in a frenzy for new material from Guns n’ Roses (which would not arrive for another decade), the band released a compilation simply entitled Use Your Illusion, which featured six of the more popular cuts from each album, a sort of “trial pack” for the casual fan.

~
R.A.

1991 Images

Graceland by Paul Simon

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Graceland by Paul SimonIn some of our previous reviews from the year 1986, you’ve probably already heard us mention several times our distaste for the slick sound that was predominant throughout releases issued that year. We’ve also lamented the fact that even established acts like Genesis and Journey seemed to fall into the “group think” of replicating this uninspired, artificial, “modern” sound to some extent or another. In the midst of all this, comes a breath of fresh air in Paul Simon’s Graceland, a true original.

The album contains a wide array of styles and sounds from vast corners of the globe, often intermingled together in ingenious ways by Simon, who was also the album’s producer. He enlisted over 50 musicians and singers to perform on this album, with a vast amount coming from South Africa and receiving their first exposure to a western audience. But African music is just one element on this diverse album which also includes a healthy mix of country, Tex-Mex, and reggae influence throughout, while also maintaining some of the signature Paul Simon styles that he had developed throughout his long career.

But simply throwing together all these elements is not, in of itself, enough to make a great album. It takes a bit of musical genius as well as the courage to take chances and go against the musical mainstream. Simon surely does this on Graceland. He uses the bass guitar as a lead instrument throughout, he adds the world elements strategically and in judicious doses perfectly straddling the line between the deep, philosophical artist and jocular clown to reach a notch of originality which is truly his and his alone.
 


Graceland by Paul Simon
Released: August 12, 1986 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Paul Simon
Recorded: Johannesburg, London, & New York, February 1985 – June 1986
Side One Side Two
The Boy In the Bubble
Graceland
I Know What I Know
Gumboots
Diamonds On the Soles of Her Shoes
You Can Call Me Al
Under African Skies
Homeless
Crazy Love, Vol. II
That Was Your Mother
All Around the World
(or Myth of Fingerprints)
Primary Musicians
Paul Simon – Lead & Background Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Bass
Ray Phiri – Guitars
Adrian Belew – Guitars, Synths
Bakithi Kumalo – Bass
Ladysmith Black Mambazo – Vocal Ensemble
Isaac Mtshali – Drums
Ralph MacDonald – Percussion

 
Paul Simon’s previous album was 1983’s Heart’s and Bones, which has since been praised by critics (including this one), but was a bitter commercial disappointment at the time of its release. Simon felt that he had lost his popular momentum and that his commercial fortunes were unlikely to change. So for the album which would become Graceland, he decided to be highly experimental since he had nothing to lose. After hearing a cassette recording of a song called “Gumboots” by Boyoyo Boys, he traveled to South Africa to embrace the culture and find a suitable place to record the album. For this particular song, Simon wrote the lyrics and melody but pretty much left the rest of “Gumboots” in tact – a fast-paced accordian-driven song that sounds like a warped version of polka.

The popular South African choral group Ladysmith Black Mambazo play a big part in two songs – “Diamonds On the Soles of Her Shoes” and “Homeless” – the latter being completely a capella with much of the lyric in Zulu. The group was founded by the legendary Joseph Shabalala who co-wrote both of these songs with Simon. The final South African influence comes from the female vocal group The Gaza Singers who co-wrote and sang backup on the song “I Know What I Know”.

Paul Simon in 1986

The catchy and upbeat “You Can Call Me Al”, with lyrics describing a mid-life crisis, became the biggest hit from Graceland. Musically, the track features a penny whistle solo by Morris Goldberg and a palindromic bass run by Bakithi Kumalo. But the most memorable impression left by the song was the popular music video starring Simon and comedian Chevy Chase, in which the 6’9″ Chase lip-syncs the vocals while an annoyed-looking 5’3″ Simon mimics various instrumental sections, including the above-mention penny whistle and bass as well as percussion and horn parts. The video introduced the 45-year Simon to a whole new generation on MTV.
 

 
Graceland also contains several songs on which Simon collaborated with some of his American counterparts. He sings a beautiful duet with Linda Ronstadt in the calm and thoughtful “Under African Skies” and enlists Los Lobos as a backup band for the closer “All Around the World or The Myth of the Fingerprints”. But, by far, Simon’s most rewarding collaboration came in the album’s title song “Graceland”.

While still teenagers in the Bronx in the late fifties, a young Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel (who at the time called themselves “Tom & Jerry”) would spend hours trying to master the harmonies of Phil & Don Everly. For the song “Graceland”, these same Everly Brothers provided background harmonies for Simon nearly three decades later. The song at once contains an upbeat, almost country & western sound, while also providing ethereal and deliberate lyrics on top. Simon would later say that this was the best song he ever wrote. While that may be a stretch, we do agree it is a great song.

Warner Brothers almost didn’t release this album because they thought it was too far “out there” for a mainstream audience to accept. When they finally relented, they were surely glad that they did as Graceland went platinum five times over. In the end, Paul Simon provided yet another example of the wonderful things that can be created when a talented musician strips away all commercial concerns and just lets his talent and instinct take over.

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1986 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration anniversary of 1986 albums.

 

Raised On Radio by Journey

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Raised On Radio by JourneyFollowing the most commercially successful era for the band, lead singer Steve Perry firmly took control over Journey‘s musical direction. The ultimate result of this new direction was this 1986 album Raised On Radio, an album which would (at least initially) become just about as popular as their biggest earlier albums, but ultimately would symbolize the decline and fall of Journey’s successful run in through the late 1970s and early 1980s.

After the 1983 album Frontiers and the subsequent stadium tour, the band took a bit of a hiatus to pursue different projects. Guitarist Neal Schon made the second of his two “experimental” solo albums, which prompted Perry to pursue his own solo album. Street Talk, released in 1984, contained the pop-rock and ballads that seemed a little too close to Journey’s signature sound for the other band members, causing some tension within the band. The five members of Journey, including Jonathan Cain on keyboards, Ross Valory on bass, and Steve Smith on drums, did re-convene to record a couple of songs for movie soundtracks later in 1984, but took virtually all of 1985 off.

Finally, the band wanted to record a new album, but Perry was hesitant to do so because his mother was ailing. When she convinced him to do the album, Perry was more determined than ever to take the reigns on the musical direction, something that he had slowly been doing as early as 1980, when founding member Greg Rollie departed. Perry’s idea for Raised On Radio (a title which he insisted on over the band’s original title of “Freedom”) was to forge a new sound that was a hybrid of traditional Journey and his solo own work. When early session work did not go over well, Perry convinced Schon and Cain to back him in firing Valory and Smith and Journey continued on as a trio.
 


Raised On Radio by Journey
Released: May 27, 1986 (Columbia)
Produced by: Steve Perry
Recorded: Fantasy Studios, Berkeley, CA, Autumn-Winter 1985
Side One Side Two
Girl Can’t Help It
Positive Touch
Suzanne
Be Good to Yourself
Once You Love Somebody
Happy To Give
Raised On Radio
I’ll Be Alright Without You
It Could Have Been You
The Eyes Of a Woman
Why Can’t This Night Go On Forever
Primary Musicians
Steve Perry – Lead Vocals
Neal Schon – Guitars, Vocals
Jonathan Cain – Keyboards, Vocals
Randy Jackson – Bass
Larrie Londin – Drums & Percussion

 
Much of the album has a feel similar to Perry’s Street Talk. However, there is one element that makes this definitive Journey (and, in reality, saves the album from musical oblivion) and that element is Neal Schon’s guitar work. Mainly floating above the rhythm, Schon’s excellent guitars add the only truly interesting and uplifting sonic value to this album, with the exception of a few songs with great vocals such as on the opening classic “Girl Can’t Help It”.

Raised On Radio does get off to a very good start. “Girl Can’t Help It” is the best song on the album, with a direct and crisp sound with a just slight flange, a simple but memorable piano riff, and some counter-harmonic guitars to accent it all. The song morphs from the simple, melodic first section to a more intense second part with some excellent harmonies. “Positive Touch” follows with a definite 1986 sound that is still quite entertaining. Guest Dan Hull adds a great saxophone and the song also contains an entertaining outtro section, highlighted by Perry’s majestic high-pitched melodies. To this point Raised On Radio still feels like the natural progression of the Journey sound.
 

 
Unfortunately, the album then takes a serious downward turn. Although both were significant pop hits, “Suzanne” and “Be Good to Yourself” are sub-standard to most of the vast radio hits of Journey’s past. These are mostly disposable songs, with just small sprinklings of guitar excellence and vocal harmonies. The greatest disappoint here is Cain’s keyboard work, which has really fallen off from the bluesy piano ballads of Escape and Frontiers towards a cheap and cheesy synth sound on this album.

The rest of Raised On Radio is high-end mediocre at best. “Once You Love Somebody” contains a nice funky bass by future American Idol host Randy Jackson and the title song opens with a nice blues harp by Hull, but both of these are really average songs on the whole. “I’ll Be Alright Without You” is the best song on the second side, as a soft-rock adult contemporary ballad with harmonized vocals nicely complemented by Perry’s crooning and Schon’s slow walk-up to the signature guitar riff in the outro. “The Eyes of a Woman” is a little doomy with deep, long string synths and the closer “Why Can’t This Night Go On Forever” is an attempt to replicate past ballad smashes such as “Faithfully” that falls far short.

Following the release of Raised On Radio, Journey embarked on a tour which was initially very successful, but in early 1987 Perry suddenly and unexpectedly pulled the plug and the band was forced to cancel the rest of the tour and went on an indefinite hiatus. Neal Schon and Jonathan Cain teamed up with Cain’s ex-Babys’ band mates John Waite and Ricky Phillips to form Bad English in 1988 while Ross Valory teamed up with Gregg Rolie to form The Storm. They would not again reconvene as a band for nearly a decade, when the five members who made up Journey prior to Raised On Radio had a short-lived comeback. But the classic band was never again the same.

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1986 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration anniversary of 1986 albums.