The Colour and the Shape by Foo Fighters

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The Colour and the Shape by Foo FightersOne could argue that Foo Fighters are a better overall group than Nirvana and that their sound is an evolution of the sound that was started earlier in the decade by Dave Grohl‘s former band. As for this new band, 1997’s The Colour and the Shape was the first Foo Fighters group album, as the 1995 self-titled debut carried the band name but was mainly a solo effort by Grohl. This album also contains tunes which are a bit more introspective than the material on the debut.

After the success of that debut album, Grohl assembled a proper band which included guitarist Pat Smear formally of The Germs, bassist Nate Mendel from Sunny Day Real Estate, and drummer William Goldsmith, who let Grohl move out from behind the drums during the live performances.

After over a year of extensive touring, Foo Fighters and producer Gil Norton set out to create a full rock record in classic style. The earliest sessions were at a studio in Washington state with Goldsmith as part of the group but these recordings were unsatisfactory and mainly discarded. Soon Goldsmith left the group, which made it a necessity for Grohl to return to his traditional role as drummer in addition to his primary role as lyricist and vocalist during the initial recording phase in California.


The Colour and the Shape by Foo Fighters
Released: May 20, 1997 (Columbia)
Produced by: Gil Norton
Recorded: Bear Creek Studios, Woodinville, WA, WGNS Studios, Washington, DC, & Grandmaster Recorders, Hollywood, November 1996–February 1997
Track Listing Group Musicians
Doll
Monkey Wrench
Hey, Johnny Park!
My Poor Brain
Wind Up
Up in Arms
My Hero
See You
Enough Space
February Stars
Everlong
Walking After You
New Way Home
Dave Grohl – Lead Vocals, Drums, Guitars
Pat Smear – Guitars
Nate Mendel – Bass

 
The Colour and the Shape by Foo Fighters

 

The short track “Doll” starts things off with a very low-fi, demo-style intro leading to the full-fledged pop/rocker “Monkey Wrench” with a sharp and unambiguous approach through the verses and a tad more ambient noise in the choruses. On “Hey, Johnny Park!” we get the initial dose of Grohl really exercising his vocal chops while Norton still uses some creative production techniques during the fully arranged choruses, but not to the detriment of the overall tune. This song got its title from Grohl’s childhood friend.

“My Poor Brain” features some really really creative contrast between the smooth, bouncy verses and the raging, unhinged choruses and this is especially true in the contrasting vocal styles. “Wind Up” is a heavy alternative rock track about the music press, while “Up in Arms” is textural and mellow with fine bass playing by Mendel. The anthemic “My Hero” starts with a rich, mechanical drum pattern with bass, rhythm and lead guitars layering before the first verse. The great vocal hook and chorus riff makes for one of the most indelible phrases of the late nineties while Grohl has stated that this majestic theme is really about ordinary people he has known through his life.

Foo Fighters 1997
The fun and sonically pleasant “See You” is a fun, bouncy folk-rock acoustic track and is followed by “Enough Space” with heavy distorted bass, screeching guitars and thumping drums during its potent intro. The melancholy “February Stars” is a sort of a drug out power ballad, very emo but with not much reward overall.

Perhaps the overall highlight of the album, “Everlong” features a sound which is at once smooth and hard and features a good melody and a heavy romantic lyric. Grohl stated, “That song’s about a girl that I’d fallen in love with and it was basically about being connected to someone so much, that not only do you love them physically and spiritually, but when you sing along with them you harmonize perfectly.” Overall, this song is celebratory but with just enough edge to make it a rock classic. “Walking After You” has an acoustic, calm, almost country approach with the slightest bit of laid back percussion and sonic effects. “New Way Home” closes the record as a pleasant, upbeat rocker which summarizes everything from the journey of this album.

The Colour and the Shape was a hit around the world, reaching the the Top 10 in seven countries including the USA and achieving double platinum in sales. Its arrival in 1997 came at the moment when the grunge era began to give way to the heavy pop rock of the late 1990s, which made this timely and important as well.

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1997 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1997 albums.

 

Little Queen by Heart

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Little Queen by HeartIt wasn’t easy for Heart to follow-up their brilliant 1976 debut Dreamboat Annie. They started and stopped an album for Mushroom Records, which was later patched together as the release Magazine, but this was hardly an apt follow-up. Finally, in the Spring of 1977, the six-piece group recorded and released the eclectic, classic folk-rock Little Queen on Portrait Records. The album was well received critically and it sold well commercially, ultimately reaching triple platinum status.

Following the success of their debut album, Heart wanted to get back to the studio quickly and soon recorded some tracks with producer Mike Flicker in Vancouver. Meanwhile, Mushroom ran a suggestive full-page advertisement featuring lead vocalist Ann Wilson and her sister, guitarist Nancy Wilson. This infuriated the band members and led to their defection from that label and the subsequent legal battles over Heart’s next album. Mushroom compiled five unfinished tracks along with two live recordings and a previously released B-side to forge the Magazine album in early 1977.

Meanwhile, the band started over,  recording for Little Queen with Flicker in Seattle and delivered ten fresh tracks of differing rock and folk styles in just about three weeks. Eventually, the court allowed Heart to release the album with the caveat that they deliver a proper second album to Mushroom by re-recording and remixing Magazine for a 1978 release.


Little Queen by Heart
Released: May 14, 1977 (Portrait)
Produced by: Mike Flicker
Recorded: Kaye Smith Studios, Seattle, February–April 1977
Side One Side Two
Barracuda
Love Alive
Sylvan Song
Dream of the Archer
Kick It Out
Little Queen
Treat Me Well
Say Hello
Cry to Me
Go On Cry
Group Musicians
Ann Wilson – Lead Vocals, Flute
Nancy Wilson – Guitars, Mandolin, Piano, Vocals
Roger Fisher – Guitars, Mandolin
Howard Leese – Guitars, Piano, Keyboards
Steve Fossen – Bass
Michael DeRosier – Drums, Percussion

 

The album launches with its most recognizable and indelible track, “Barracuda”. The inception of this track began with Ann Wilson’s anger towards Mushroom’s attempted publicity stunt involving her and her sister Nancy. Musically, this is an apt attempt at Zeppelin-style heavy metal with Wilson’s vocals nicely cutting into the dry deadened rock rhythms by guitarist Roger Fisher and bassist Steve Fossen for an overall masterful effect.

“Love Alive” makes a big change in sonic direction with a slow, harmonized acoustic and electric guitar medley during the long intro and an overall fine folk/rock track that breaks out slightly into standard rock later in the song. On the instrumental “Sylvan Song”, Fisher and Nancy Wilson provide acoustic guitar and mandolin respectively with plenty of forest atmosphere, acting as intro to “Dream of the Archer”, which seems to pay homage to Led Zeppelin’s “Battle of Evermore”. “Kick It Out” completes the first side by rotating back to pure rock, electric riff-driven with a good, strong hook, animated bass and choppy piano by Howard Leese.

Heart in 1977

On the title track “Little Queen”, a long guitar textural intro gives way to a funk/rock song proper, making for a potent and enjoyable musical combination. “Treat Me Well” features Nancy Wilson on lead vocals for her acoustic jazz composition with plenty of melancholy moodiness throughout, accented by slight harmonica and later orchestral strings arranged by Leese. The album’s diversity expands with the Caribbean feel of “Say Hello” with Fossen and drummer Michael DeRosier providing the distinct rhythms. The album loses a bit of steam through its closing mini-suite, the acoustic ballad “Cry to Me” and the long, repetitive sequences of “Go On Cry”, which feels mainly like filler to end this otherwise fine album.

Little Queen reached the Top Ten in the US and Canada and charted well in several other countries. Heart’s momentum continued through the late 1970s and well into the 1980s.

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1977 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1977 albums.

 

No Code by Pearl Jam

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No Code by Pearl JamIn 1996, Pearl Jam created a stoner rock classic with their fourth studio album, No Code. Here, the alternative grunge pioneers branched out with diverse music tracks which incorporated elements of blues, country, psychedelia and world music. The resulting record is not quite as forward and accessible as previous efforts by the band but does feature subtle, droning riffs, layered percussion, and philosophical lyrics all mixed with Pearl Jam’s established signature, hard rock sound.

As Pearl jam gained fame in the early 1990s, they grew increasingly uncomfortable with their success and began to rebel against the industry by refusing make music videos, issuing CDs in non-standard jackets and boycotting the Ticketmaster agency, which resulted in limiting the venues where the band was able to play and eventually led to the cancellation of their 1994 summer tour. There was also some internal strife within the band. After Pearl Jam finished the recording their third album, Vitalogy, drummer Dave Abbruzzese was fired for “political differences” when he disagreed with the Ticketmaster boycott. Abbruzzese was replaced by former Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Jack Irons, who joined the band in backing Neil Young on his 1995 album Mirror Ball, which in turn spawned two songs which landed on Pearl Jam’s 1995 EP, Merkin Ball.

On No Code, the group worked with producer Brendan O’Brien, with whom they had worked on 1993’s Vs. as well as Vitalogy. Work on the album began in Chicago during the summer of 1995 with other recording sessions taking place in New Orleans and their home studio in Seattle.


No Code by Pearl Jam
Released: August 27, 1996 (Epic)
Produced by: Brendan O’Brien & Pearl Jam
Recorded: Chicago Recording Company, Chicago, July 1995 – May 1996
Track Listing Group Musicians
Sometimes
Hail, Hail
Who You Are
In My Tree
Smile
Off He Goes
Habit
Red Mosquito
Lukin
Present Tense
Mankind
I’m Open
Around the Bend
Eddie Vedder – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Sitar, Harmonica
Stone Gossard – Guitars, Piano, Vocals
Mike McCready – Guitars
Jeff Ament – Bass, Chapman, Vocals
Jack Irons – Drums

No Code by Pearl Jam

Written by vocalist Eddie Vedder, the opening track “Sometimes” is subtle and quiet, almost jazzy, as it feels like it is on the verge of exploding any moment but never does. In contrast, “Hail, Hail” is a strong rocker with a sound like the Pearl Jam of old in their full glory. Released as a single, this track reached the Top 10 on both the Mainstream Rock and Modern Rock charts. An odd but cool percussive intro by Irons ushers in “Who You Are” before Vedder’s vocals and a guitar riff by Stone Gossard cut through in a simple song structure, which gradually progresses and builds as it goes along. This track has a very Eastern feel in its vibe and lyrical message.

“In My Tree” works as another rhythm-driven track with more animated and soulful vocals than anything presented thus far. While most of this song feels distant and slightly under baked, near the very end it builds into a driving and droning hard rocker. Bassist Jeff Ament wrote the music for “Smile”, a Neil Young inspired driving rocker, complete with harmonica and a consistent, solid beat. “Off He Goes” is a pleasant acoustic ballad with reserved lead vocals and a fine mixture of lead guitars by Gossard and Mike McCready on top. This song unfolds in a very methodical way, making it a nice reliever of the tensions of some of the more potent, shorter tunes on the album. Speaking of tension, “Habit” is tight knit rocker where some heavy blues meets strong alternative vibes, while “Red Mosquito” was inspired by Vedder’s bought of food poisoning and features a buzzy lead guitar played by McCready using a Zippo lighter.

Pearl Jam

“Lukin” is a very short, two verse, one chorus punk rocker where Vedder strains his voice to the point of nearly being unrecognizable, followed by “Present Tense”, a slow and moody, almost dark track featuring differing guitar textures by McCready. The most unique song on the album is “Mankind”, written and sung by Gossard, with a sound approximating seventies glam rock. The artsy “I’m Open” has spoken vocal narration with wild guitar effects, synths and some piano for a New Age atmosphere, while “Around the Bend” wraps the album as an acoustic, almost country arrangement, save for the unique, tom-fused drum beat by Irons.

No Code debuted at number one in the US and topped the charts in several countries. In spite of this, much of the band’s fan base were dissatisfied with the change in musical direction and this album ultimately became the first Pearl Jam album to not reach multi-platinum status.

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1996 music celebration image

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1996 albums.

Badmotofinger by Soundgarden

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

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

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


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

Badmotofinger by Soundgarden

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

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

Soundgarden in1991

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

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

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1991 Images

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

Down On the Upside by Soundgarden

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Down On the Upside by SoundgardenThe climax of the group’s original success, Down On the Upside was a super-sized album by Soundgarden, one which would have been a double album in decades earlier than this 1996 release. The fifth studio album by the band, the music here is more experimental than on previous releases as it features expanded instrumentation, more complex harmonies, layered guitar textures and ambitious song structures.

In early 1994, Soundgarden released their breakthrough, Superunknown, which topped the pop album charts and remains the group’s most commercially successful album. During the subsequent touring, Cornell severely strained his vocal cords, which forced the group to take a break and ultimately slow the pace of touring.

Work on Down On the Upside began in Seattle in the summer of 1995. Compositions were more individually written with front man Chris Cornell writing most of the lyrics. Some tensions reportedly arose between Cornell guitarist Kim Thayil during these recording sessions, which would be the last for the group for over a decade and a half.


Down on the Upside by Soundgarden
Released: May 21, 1996 (Interscope)
Produced by: Adam Kasper & Soundgarden
Recorded: Studio Litho and Bad Animals Studio, Seattle, November 1995–February 1996
Album Tracks Primary Musicians
Pretty Noose
Rhinosaur
Zero Chance
Dusty
Ty Cobb
Blow Up the Outside World
Burden in My Hand
Never Named
Applebite
Never the Machine Forever
Tighter and Tighter
No Attention
Switch Opens
Overfloater
An Unkind
Boot Camp
Chris Cornell – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Mandolin
Kim Thayil – Lead Guitar
Ben Shepherd – Bass, Mandolin
Matt Cameron – Drums, Percussion, Synths

Down On the Upside by Soundgarden

Starting things off, “Pretty Noose” is a choppy rocker with distinct, layered guitar riffs. It was the lead single from the album and reached number two on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart. “Rhinosaur” was co-written by drummer Matt Cameron and features some odd-timed rhythms during the verses with the choruses featuring uplifting vocals by Cornell, A frantic guitar lead over the bridge quickly dissolves back to the relatively slower main theme to end the track. “Zero Chance” is the first of several tracks by bassist Ben Shepherd as a traditional grunge depressant, while his track “Dusty” employs much heavier rock with a lyric that gives the album its title.

The unique track “Ty Cobb” starts with a relaxed intro with both Cornell and Sheppard playing a mandolin and mandola respectively, before the band launches into a full punk screed. On “Blow Up the Outside World”, Soundgarden uses an A-B attack strategy. First there is the calm acoustic section, sung gently and melodically, accompanied by a nice tremolo second guitar and heavy bluesy third guitar as tension builds through the early verses. Then the arrangement explodes into a full metal assault during the chorus. Together these sections make for a bonafide classic, further solidified by the fantastic, calm guitar lead by Thayil in the middle.

Cornell’s voice above pure, folk, open-C strumming makes for a unique and potent blend of sonic bliss during “Burden in My Hand”. This song does get heavier in the choruses, but never over the top for this track which topped the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks charts for five weeks. When full rhythmic arrangement joins for the later verses, song and album reaches its musical heights.

Soundgarden in 1996
 
There is no doubt that Down On the Upside is top-heavy in terms of quality, as the latter part of this long album contains several tracks which could be considered filler material. Shepherd’s “Never Named” is a short speed rock jam, while Cameron’s “Applebite” is mainly an instrumental with some distorted, mechanical vocals. Cornell’s “Tighter and Tighter” is a moderately paced track bluesy rock jam in contrast to the frantic, quasi-punk “No Attention”. The best of this later group includes Thayil’s “Never the Machine Forever” with rapid riff, screeching guitars, Shepherd’s potent jam “An Unkind”, and the unidirectional closing track,
“Boot Camp”.

A worldwide success, Down On the Upside topped the charts in several countries, topping out at number two in the group’s native United States. The group again went on a massive tour to support this album but tensions within the band ultimately led to their disbandment early in 1997. Soundgarden would not reunite for a studio album until the production of King Animal in 2012, with a follow-up to that album currently in the works as of mid 2016.

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1996 music celebration image

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1996 albums.

 

Temple of the Dog
25th Anniversary

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

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

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


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

Temple Of the Dog

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

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

Temple of the Dog

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

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

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1991 Images

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

Alice In Chains

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Alice In Chains 1995 albumAlice in Chains took a whole bunch of personal turmoil and spun it into a fine album with their 1995 self-titled release. Informally referred to as “The Dog Record”, this third release saw the band building on their established atonal style as well as branching out with some accessible pop/rock tracks that helped the album sell over three million copies and reach double platinum status. This album is also notable as the group’s final studio release with original vocalist Layne Staley, as they would not complete another studio album before his death in 2002.

Following the massive success of their 1992 album, Dirt, Alice In Chains worked through a grueling tour schedule. However, bassist Mike Starr longed for home and was replaced by Mike Inez in advance of their acoustic-based, chart-topping album, Jar of Flies, released in early 1994. Soon after its release, Staley entered rehab for heroin addiction, which caused the group to cease touring and be replaced during the Woodstock ’94 festival.

Through the Spring and Summer of 1995 the group recorded Alice in Chains in Seattle with producer Toby Wright. Few of the songs had been written before the recording sessions began and, as Staley continued to struggle with addiction, guitarist Jerry Cantrell stepped up as chief composer as well as lead vocalist on several of the earliest tracks. Cantrell was facing his own turmoil after the break-up of his long time girlfriend, but this lent to helping him create some of the album’s signature tunes.


Balance by Van Halen
Released: November 7, 1995 (Columbia)
Produced by: Toby Wright & Alice in Chains
Recorded: Bad Animals Studio, Seattle, April–August 1995
Album Tracks Group Musicians
Grind
Brush Away
Sludge Factory
Heaven Beside You
Head Creeps
Again
Shame In You
God Am
So Close
Nothin’ Song
Frogs
Over Now
Layne Staley – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Jerry Cantrell – Guitars, Vocals
Mike Inez – Bass
Sean Kinney – Drums

 
Alice In Chains 1995 album

The album’s opening track as well as lead single, “Grind” is both slow and doomy, yet infectiously catchy. Cantrell made heavy use of wah effect on his guitars and Staley provided good harmonies to Cantrell’s lead vocals during the chorus breaks. “Brush Away” is less effective than the opener but does contain a nice effect of dual guitars. “Sludge Factory” follows with a slow drudge through initial sections and cool overdubs during the ‘B’ section. The song drifts into a long middle section which includes some distant spoken words and impressive drum patterns by Sean Kinney.

Cantrell’s “Heaven Beside You” is the first really great song on the album. It has a classic rock approach while maintaining an alternative edge, built on the acoustic guitar throughout with some later overdubbed electric guitar riffs and slight lead sections, all adding to the overall majesty of the song. The track was released as a single and reached the Top 5 of the Mainstream Rock chart in 1996.

 
“Head Creeps” has a nice vibe with animated rhythms by Inez and Kinney and a wild effect on Staley’s vocals all through its theatrical passages. Another successful mainstream rock track, “Again” employs the most direct heavy metal approach with its deadened hard guitar texture, rolling drums, thumping bass, and chanting vocals. “Shame In You” features a steady but deliberate drum pattern by Kinney before it breaks in with a fuller arrangement, ultimately finishing.

This album does descend to a nadir during the next three tracks. After a feedback drenched intro works its way into a freaky, slow groove. “God Am” becomes rather dry and listless for the duration. “So Close” continues much of this same vibe, albeit in a more succinct fashion, while on “Nothin’ Song” the vocals follow guitar through the verses while the choruses change direction in tone and tempo.

Alice In Chains

Wrapping things up are a couple of stronger tracks. The eight minute acoustic epic “Frogs” is slow, dark, and theatrical with Inez’s slicing bass and potent musical interlude between providing the early highlights. Later, a long outro section is quite entertaining, even though it remains very slow and steady with no deviation. The closer “Over Now” may be the most pop-oriented track on the album, with its pleasant guitar textures complementing the simple but effective vocal melodies and lyrics. The slight bridge and outro section bring a little more sonic candy to this song which features Cantrell on lead vocals.

Tracks from Alice In Chains received Grammy nominations in 1996 and 1997 and the album was up for several other industry awards. Debuting at number one, the album stayed on the Billboard 200 chart for nearly a year. While no tour followed the album release, the group did perform a single show in April 1996, which was recorded for a live MTV Unplugged album later that year.

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1995 page images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1995 albums.

 

Foo Fighters

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Foo FightersWith the suicide of Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain abruptly ending what looked like a promising rise for the rock trio in 1994, the group’s drummer, Dave Grohl, decided to write and record independent material as a “cathartic experience”. The resulting work, Foo Fighters, an album and act which derived its name from a term World War II aircraft pilots would use to describe various UFOs. No one (even Grohl) at the time knew that this album would act as the commencement of a highly successful rock band for decades to come.

The name originally served as a proxy, intentionally used by Grohl to preserve his anonymity after recordings were completed. Those recordings took place over just one week in October 1994 at Robert Lang Studios in Seattle, with Grohl frantically recording all instrumentation and vocals himself. Along with producer Barrett Jones, the duo spent long days recording up to four songs each day in the order that they would ultimately appear on the album. Having never been a front man, Grohl was initially insecure about his singing so he often double-tracked and applied added effects to his voice. Many of the compositions were initiated during Grohl’s time in Nirvana, as he would often bring a guitar along on tour. However, there were many parts composed on the fly during the short studio time.

Grohl originally pressed a limited number of LPs and cassettes to pass out among fellow musicians and friends. He had been offered a permanent gig as drummer for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and briefly considered taking it before Petty heard one of his tapes and encouraged Grohl to pursue “the solo thing”. Soon these tapes reached some major labels and Grohl signed with Capitol, who accepted the original recordings but had them remixed. Grohl then recruited a full band to forge a live show and fulfill Capitol’s request for a photo of a full band.


Foo Fighters by Foo Fighters
Released: July 4, 1995 (Capitol)
Produced by: Barrett Jones and Dave Grohl
Recorded: Robert Lang Studios, Seattle, October 1994
Album Tracks Primary Musician
“This Is a Call
I’ll Stick Around
Big Me
Alone + Easy Target
Good Grief
Floaty
Weenie Beenie
Oh, George
For All the Cows
X-Static
Wattershed
Exhausted
Dave Grohl – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Drums

Foo Fighters

The opener, “This Is a Call”, is actually one of the more recent songs written by Grohl and, right from the jump, his sense of melody and accessibility is evident along with his penchant for unabashed, hard-edged rock. the song starts with some double vocals above strummed electric for one line before the song explodes into a full and intense rock arrangement and it peaked at #2 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart. “I’ll Stick Around” is more like a traditional Nirvana song with rotating riffs and a quasi-punk feel. The song’s vocal vibe ranges from detached whine to emotional screed with the music following perfectly throughout. The third song, “Big Me”, displays a third distinct type of talented musical style by Grohl. As a calm and melodic pop song, the track displays a knack for effective use of repetition and arrangement in getting the songs message out in a quick and effective way.

“Alone + Easy Target” dates back to 1991 and is another good jam, albeit not quite as innovative as the first three songs. “Good Grief” is driven by steady, upbeat drums and drilling guitar textures and the choruses get a little punk intensive, while “Floaty” contrasts with a pleasant 12-string acoustic intro before launching into a flange-drenched steady rock sway during the verses. “Weenie Beenie” brings the effects to a nearly absurd level with its textures and heavily treated vocals. While this is all fun as a headbanger, there is not much in terms of musical substance. “Oh, George” returns to melodic hard rock and is a loose tribute to George Harrison, who he calls his “favorite Beatle”.

Dave Grohl

Coming down the stretch, Foo Fighters maintains its energy and vibrancy while offering more diverse selections. “For All the Cows” is another Nirvana-esque track, starting with calm, jazzy verses and exploding into heavy punk screeds during the choruses. “X-Static” is notable as the only track with an outside musician, as Greg Dulli of Afghan Whigs plays guitar. “Wattershed” is a punk jam with nearly screamed vocals that rail against mailmen, banks, record contracts, and other divergent subjects. “Exhausted” closes things out and works great with its title as the closing track to this rapidly recorded collection. The track is notable for an extremely long “feedback” section in the middle, before the main musical riff reprises to shepherd out the album.

Foo Fighters charted well throughout the world and was promoted through several tours domestically and internationally. These tours served to gel the members as a proper “group” and much success would follow, starting with the 1997 second album, The Colour and the Shape, and continuing well into the next century.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1995 albums.

 

Heart by Heart

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Heart 1985 albumIn 1985, Heart made a dramatic comeback, fueled by an equally dramatic alteration to their traditional sound. A successful hard rock band in the late 1970s, the group had nearly fallen off the face of popular music in the early 1980s before deciding to make a transition towards more mainstream pop/rock. The result was their self-titled record, Heart, which brought this American group its greatest commercial success, reaching quintuple platinum status and becoming their first and only chart topper.

Led by sisters from Seattle, lead vocalist Ann Wilson and guitarist Ann Wilson, Heart found instant success with their 1976 debut album Dreamboat Annie and the follow up Little Queen the next year. However, some legal entanglements between early labels caused the group to lose some commercial momentum before bouncing back with the double-platinum selling Dog and Butterfly in late 1978. After a trio of less-than stellar releases in the early 1980s, along with a short foray by Nancy Wilson into motion pictures, the group moved to Capitol Records and decided to makeover their image and their music.

Heart was the second album to feature the rhythm section of bassist Mark Andes and drummer Denny Carmassi, following their respective debuts on 1983’s Passionworks. Produced by Ron Nevison, the album also used several outside musicians and songwriting teams to write and record a good portion of the material in a concerted effort to reach mainstream pop audiences. In doing so, the group all but abandoned the acoustic and folk sounds which were present in much of their early work.


Heart by Heart
Released: July 6, 1985 (Capitol)
Produced by: Ron Nevison
Recorded: The Record Plant, Sausalito, CA, January–April 1985
Side One Side Two
If Looks Could Kill
What About Love
Never
These Dreams
The Wolf
All Eyes
Nobody Home
Nothin’ at All
What He Don’t Know
Shell Shock
Group Musicians
Ann Wilson – Lead Vocals
Nancy Wilson – Guitars, Mandolin, Vocals
Howard Leese – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Mark Andes – Bass Guitar
Denny Carmassi – Drums

Right from the jump, Heart delves into a full, 1980s hair band aura with the opener, “If Looks Could Kill”. Driving rhythms and clichéd lyric hooks rule the day, and this is not the last time they cover this territory, but overall may be the finest of its type. The fine, “What About Love”, begins with a slow and dramatic synth entrance leads to a fine verse with Ann Wilson’s vocals nicely floating above these richly orchestrated (albeit fake) strings. While the song is steady in its approach, it still has strong teeth, especially during the guitar lead by Howard Leese and during the outro which features excited vocals by Ann Wilson and a driving bass by Andes. “What About Love”, which was originally recorded by the Canadian rock group Toronto, was a Top Ten hit for Heart.

An original composition by the group, “Never” was another Top Ten hit. With a good mixture of bright keyboards and crunchy, distorted guitar riffs, the song features simple vocal hook which is one of the best on the album. A fresh musical arrangement during the third verse also adds some nice variety to the track. Co-written by Martin Page and Bernie Taupin, “These Dreams” was the biggest hit of all, becoming Heart’s first single to hit number one on the Billboard charts in early 1986. This fine, upbeat ballad is the only track to feature Nancy Wilson on lead vocals, who had a bit of cold when she recorded the track resulting in the happy accident of distinct raspy vocals. The track also features fine drum accents by Carmassi and a bridge section which is uplifting even as song maintains its dreamy, romantic vibe.

Bookending the sides of the original album, “The Wolf” is a straight-forward, driving rocker where Ann Wilson’s vocals reach new heights and Leese provides some interesting, double-tracked guitar textures, while “All Eyes” has a sound that reverts back slightly to a bluesy, hard rock seventies sound, with Nancy Wilson’s guitar work leading the way. “Nobody Home” is the closest to a power ballad on the album. Driven by an electronic piano which leads the way under Ann Wilson’s melodic vocals, the song gives the album that added dimension as a sweet but sad song complete with a soaring lead guitar by guest Frankie Sullivan.

“Nothin’ at All” leads into the final section of the album and serves as Heart‘s final high-water mark. Another mid-eighties pop rocker, this popular tune has a more subtle rock rhythm held together by Leese, Andes, and Carmassi, in much the same vein as eighties-era Journey. Unfortunately, the album finishes with two of its weakest tunes. “What He Don’t Know” does offer some decent rock elements musically, with acoustic verses over a choppy rhythmic beat, but falters due to its totally trite lyrics. The closer, “Shell Shock”, seems to have even less substance as a formulaic rocker, which may strike a certain mood, but has little true musical substance.

Beyond topping the American charts, Heart also charted well in the UK (#19) and other national charts. Heart’s follow-up album, Bad Animals in 1987, continued in much the same musical direction and scored further commercial success for the group.

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1985 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1985 albums.

 

Empire by Queensrÿche

Buy Empire

Empire by QueensrycheThe progressive metal band Queensrÿche reached their commercial peak in 1990 with the release of their double-length LP, Empire. This fourth overall album by the quintet from Washington state, reached triple-platinum in sales, spawned several radio hits, and received a Grammy nomination. The group, which is known for sound re-invention and experimentation, may have taken their boldest step yet by stripping away much of their heavy metal elements in order to concentrate heavier on songcraft.

Queensrÿche was founded in the late 1970s by guitarists Michael Wilton and Chris DeGarmo, who were later joined by bassist Eddie Jackson and drummer Scott Rockenfield in 1980. A year later, the group recorded a demo tape with the assistance of vocalist Geoff Tate, who was a member of a rival band in the Seattle area. After two years of circulating the demo tape, it was finally released as a self-titled EP in 1983, leading to the group’s signing with EMI shortly after. In 1984, the group travelled to London to record their first full-length album, The Warning, which was released in September of that year. Rage For Order followed in 1986, leading to Operation: Mindcrime, a narrative concept album that reaped much critical success upon its release in 1988. This, combined with relentless touring, set the band up for their breakthrough success.

For Empire, the group brought in producer Peter Collins, most famous for working with Rush on a couple of their mid-eighties albums. Together, the band and producer worked to split the difference between popular hard rock and progressive-flavored metal. Although only eleven tracks, nine of these are in excess of five minutes in duration, pushing the overall length to double-album length on vinyl.


Empire by Queensrÿche
Released: August 20, 1990 (EMI)
Produced by: Peter Collins
Recorded: Vancouver Studios, Vancouver, & Triad Studios, Redmond, WA, Spring 1990
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Best I Can
The Thin Line
Jet City Woman
Della Brown
Another Rainy Night (Without You)
Empire
Resistance
Silent Lucidity
Hand On Heart
One and Only
Anybody Listening?
Geoff Tate
Lead Vocals, Keyboards
Chris DeGarmo
Guitars, Keyboards
Michael Wilton
Guitars
Eddie Jackson
Bass, Vocals
Scott Rockenfield
Drums, Percussion

Written by DeGarmo, “Best I Can”, launches the album with a dramatic synth intro and spoken vocals until these give way to a choppy synth piano with choir-like vocals in the intro to the first verse. The lyrics examine overcoming odds while suffering a physical handicap. “The Thin Line” is a riff-driven rocker with heavy bass presence by Jackson during the verses, and impressive guitar leads later on. A driving track with accessible riffs and hooks, “Jet City Woman” talks about coming home to family after a long road trip. Written by Tate for his flight attendant wife, this straight-ahead hard rocker was released as a single and reached the Top 40 in the UK.

Empire‘s original second side is where the album starts to get interesting. “Della Brown” is built on the funky bass rudiments with choppy drum beats, reserved guitar motifs and a fine lead melody. While it never leaves its pace or temperament through its seven minute duration, it does employ many long lead and effects sections. This is followed by three tracks which showcase Wilton’s writing and playing. “Another Rainy Night (Without You)” starts with harmonized guitars and settles into a standard, steady rock track, which reached #7 on the Mainstream Rock charts. The title song starts with some answering machine effects and breaks into a groove which is heavier than the preceding tracks. “Empire” is about drug trafficking and the bridge section is complete with a telephone-like voice reading statistics of law enforcement spending versus other expenditures. “Resistance” is heavier yet, at least through the intro. Here, Tate provides high register vocals and the track is also a bit of a showcase for Rockenfield.

The album’s most popular track is also its finest. “Silent Lucidity” starts with DeGarmo’s picked acoustic accompanied by Tate’s fine, reserved vocals. Very mellow with rich production throughout, the song really takes off with the tension-building lead guitar, complete with spoken vocal effects, making the whole thing sad and beautiful at once. The biggest hit for the band, “Silent Lucidity” peaked at #9 on the Billboard singles chart and topped the Album Rock Tracks chart.

“Hand On Heart” features duo guitars and bass along with an interesting arrangement which surrounds the basic rock format, while “One and Only” is a choppy rocker that has a bit of a Journey-vibe to it. Rounding out the album is “Anybody Listening?”, a dark-tinged track that is slow and methodical for maximum dramatic effect. The arrangement weaves in and out of prog rock and metallic ballad modes and includes a slight, fretless bass, which adds a nice effect to close everything out.

Empire peaked at number 7 in the US and sparked a massive headline tour for Queensrÿche. While the group had continued success through the early nineties, they would not peak at this level again.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1990 albums.