In Utero by Nirvana

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In Utero by NirvanaEven though it was a phenomenal commercial success, all three members of Nirvana had expressed dissatisfaction with the polished production of their 1991 album, Nevermind. With this in mind, the production of In Utero was intentionally stripped down with little to no overdubs and recorded in two weeks flat. Produced by Steve Albini, the oft-abrasive sounding album was nearly rejected by the group’s label DGC and ultimately the band hired a secondary producer to make minor changes to the album’s two radio singles. Still, the album shot instantly to the top of the album charts upon its release and has since been certified five times platinum.

The band had originally wanted to record during the summer of 1992, but domestic situations made that impossible. In October 1992, they recorded several instrumentals during a Seattle demo session with Jack Endino, who had produced the group’s 1989 debut album Bleach. In January 1993, the group recorded another set of demos while on tour in Brazil, one of became the “hidden” track “Gallons of Rubbing Alcohol Flow Through the Strip”. Using these groups of demos along with other material composed as early as 1990, Albini and the band members decided on a self-imposed two-week deadline for recording and paid for the sessions with their own money to limit label interference.

Albini felt the sound of Nevermind was “sort of a standard hack recording that has been turned into a very, very controlled, compressed radio-friendly mix. After the recording sessions were completed, Nirvana sent unmastered tapes of the album to several individuals, including the president of DGC’s parent company Geffen Records Ed Rosenblatt. When asked about the feedback he received, the group’s leader Kurt Cobain said “the grown-ups don’t like it.”
 


In Utero by Nirvana
Released: September 13, 1993 (DGC)
Produced by: Steve Albini
Recorded: Pachyderm Studio, Cannon Falls, Minnesota, February 13–26, 1993
Track Listing Band Musicians
Serve the Servants
Scentless Apprentice
Heart-Shaped Box
Rape Me
Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle
Dumb
Very Ape
Milk It
Pennyroyal Tea
Radio Friendly Unit Shifter
tourette’s
All Apologies
Kurt Cobain – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Krist Novoselic – Bass
Dave Grohl – Drums
 
In Utero by Nirvana

 
An almost “new wave” approach makes for a surprising start to the album with “Serve the Servants”. The song is strong, upbeat, and melodic (with the exception of what seems to be intentional de-tuning of some notes). “Scentless Apprentice” is the only track on the album not written solely by Cobain, as bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl add their compositional skills. However, the production of this second song is a bit unfocused with an attempt at junk metal, which comes off as less-than-authentic with noisy guitars and muddled drum sounds.

“Heart-Shaped Box” is the first track on the album that sounds similar to the material on Nevermind. Although it never really leaves the same three chords, the song was melodic enough to be released as the album’s first single after some additional “treatment” mixing was done by engineer Scott Litt. The song reached number one on Billboard‘s Modern Rock Tracks chart and reached number five on the UK pop chart.
 

 
The controversial “Rape Me” had been performed live by the band since 1991. The song addresses Cobain’s distain of the media in light of their sudden success and is the first on the album to contain decent sounding bass by Novoselic. “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle” was inspired by the 1978 biography Shadowland, which Cobain had read in high school. Sonically, the song is all about dynamics but is not very well put together compositionally and the droning vocal screams tend to wear thin by this point in the album. The album hits a bit of a lull through the middle. “Dumb” is a very apt title and is uninspired with its subject of the struggles with complacency. “Very Ape” is fast and surprisingly crisp for this album’s production, punk influenced with some actual overdubbed guitars. “Milk It” contains some slightly interesting stop/start action musically, but this is counterbalanced with some frivolous lyrics.

“Pennyroyal Tea” starts as an almost REM-like song before breaking into a strong punk/metal section during the chorus with an (almost) standard guitar lead. The song was due to be released as the third single from the album but plans were halted after Cobain’s suicide in April 1994. “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter” is one of the most unique and rewarding songs on the album. Grohl’s steady drumming holds together this wild piece with flavored feedback effects and a cool anti-hero chorus hook. The experimental “Tourette’s” contains a heavy “noise machine” type sound with a three chord punk screed which ultimately does little more than set up the fine closer.

The finest track on the album is saved for last with “All Apologies”, a melodic, deep, and excellent closer. The song had been around since 1990 and Nirvana first recorded the song in Seattle on January 1, 1991. The In Utero track features Kera Schaley on cello, the only extra session player on the album. It was also remixed by Litt when Cobain asserted that the original vocals and bass sounded muddy. Lyrically, the song was inspired by Cobain’s wife and newborn daughter. The song received heavy airplay and was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1995. More importantly, the song was an excellent closer for the band’s final album.

Nirvana embarked on a world tour to promote the In Utero. On the European leg of the tour in March 1994, Cobain suffered a drug overdose in Rome and agreed to enter drug rehabilitation, but he soon went missing. On April 8, 1994 he was found dead in his Seattle home as the result of self-inflicted shotgun blast, ending his life at age 27, and sealing Nirvana in the tomb of rock history.

~

1993 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1993 albums.

 

Vs. by Pearl Jam

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Vs. by Pearl Jam Pearl Jam tried to strike a balance between embracing their phenomenal success brought on by their debut Ten (our 1991 Album of the Year) and trying to maintain their rigorous standards of integrity in the face of that massive commercial success. The band set out on an intentionally obscure path which mirrored the “secret society” movement of Led Zeppelin at the height of that band’s popularity with their untitled fourth album in 1971. Like that classic album, the title Vs. does not appear anywhere on the cover, no singles were released from the album until several years later, and Pearl Jam also refused to produce any music videos from the album.

The album was originally slated for the title “Five Against One”, which represented the band’s perspective on their struggles trying to make this sophomore record. However, the title was changed shortly before its release to Vs. as a mocking tribute to all the media stories that would compare Pearl Jam against another Seattle-based band, primarily Nirvana. Lead singer Eddie Vedder took personal exception to this adversarial tone because most of the Seattle bands worked together in promoting their scene. The title was changed so late in the process that some of the first cassette pressings of the album were labeled Five Against One.

Vs. was co-produced by Brendan O’Brien and contains a rawer and more aggressive sound compared with the band’s previous release. In fact, some members of the band have since lamented that they wished the debut had more of a vintage sound like Vs.. O’Brien used an unusual linear approach of recording and mixing each song in turn so the band can focus singularly on each track, with most of the music developed through jam sessions. The lyrical content, written primarily by Vedder, is at times simplistic and self-righteous but this is offset by a passionate delivery with an intense and live-sounding performance.
 


Vs. by Pearl Jam
Released: October 19, 1993 (Epic)
Produced by: Brendan O’Brien & Pearl Jam
Recorded: Nicasio, CA and Seattle, WA, March–May 1993
Track Listing Band Musicians
Go
Animal
Daughter
Glorified G
Dissident
W.M.A.
Blood
Rearviewmirror
Rats
Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town
Leash
Indifference
Eddie Vedder – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Mike McCready – Guitars
Stone Gossard – Guitars
Jeff Ament – Bass
Dave Abbruzzese – Drums
 
Vs by Pearl Jam

 
Dave Abbruzzese joined Pearl Jam on drums in mid 1991, making this his first album recorded with the band. He composed the music for the album’s frantic opening rocker “Go”, a song relentless throughout and building right until its crashing end. It was the first single from the album on international releases. “Animal” was composed by guitarist Stone Gossard but is somewhat less appealing than the opener, yet adequate due to its short but great lead. The album’s original title Five Against One was taken from a lyric from “Animal”.

Daughter by Pearl Jam“Daughter” is a storytelling song in the same vein as “Jeremy” from debut album. It is a surreal acoustic tune by Gossard, with an otherwise standard arrangement until it dissolves into an odd, faded ending. Lyrically, Vedder wrote about a girl with a learning difficulty which is misinterpreted as outright defiance by her parents. This rather odd song became the most popular radio hit from the album. Although never officially released as a single in the U.S., “Daughter” song topped Billboard‘s Mainstream Rock charts for eight consecutive weeks and became the band’s first Top 40 single on the Pop charts.

“Glorified G” is a light, almost poppy song with chorus hook complete with backing vocals. Musically, the song features a twangy, Country-esque guitar by Mike McCready and an upright bass by Jeff Ament. Lyrically, the song was inspired by an incident after Abbruzzese told the band he had just bought two guns and Vedder was outraged, sparking a conversation about guns within the band. Overall the song straddles the line between country and funk before it later breaks into a strong rock section in the outro. “Dissident” is a political statement by Vedder with great vocal melodies and music collaborated by Gossard, McCready, and Ament, built from a live jam. The good, melodic guitars lead this slow but strong storytelling song, again not released in the United States, but charted as a single in several other countries.

RearViewMirror by Pearl Jam“W.M.A.” is driven by Abbruzzese’s rolling drums and Ament’s repetitive bass lines never really deviates making the song kind of mundane after the first three minutes, despite the fast and funky guitars and U2-like quality of the way it builds over a simple phrase. “Blood” alternates between thrash metal and funk, which is interesting at first but soon sounds like nothing more than an unorganized jam used for album filler. “Rearviewmirror” is a song of great motion that contains a syncopated riff and bass line and an E-bow effect by McCready, blending new wave type music with Vedder’s distinctive grunge vocals on top. “Rats” is a rather typical (by this point in the album) funk/rock song, upbeat and entertaining, but not quite original.

“Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town” may be the climatic point of the album. It is an acoustic waltz by Vedder that acts as a nice break late in the album with a definitive chorus hook. An overall melancholy tune about nostalgia and long lost love told through the eyes of an elder woman who never left her small hometown, rather typical pop song fare but not typical of Pearl Jam. While the album is pretty uniformly strong throughout, it is kind of weak at the end. “Leash” is heavy, shouting, with bad transitions and rather uninteresting. The final track “Indifference” is a mundane song which completely falls in line with its title, save for just a light tinge of cabaret blues by Gossard which may be the song’s redemption. Still, the deep connection which the song is trying to accomplish never quite materializes and Vs. does not finish as strongly as it should have.

Still, the album was nothing short of phenomenal commercially. Upon its release, Vs. set the record for most copies of an album sold in its first week – well over a million – a record it held for five years. It occupied the number one spot on the Billboard album charts for five weeks and has been certified seven times platinum by the RIAA in the United States. It was also nominated for “Best Rock Album” at the 1995 Grammy Awards, giving Pearl Jam the mainstream acceptance that they claimed they loathed.

~

1993 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1993 albums.

 

Candlebox by Candlebox

Candlebox 1993 albumCandlebox was one of the last riders of the huge Seattle grunge wave of the early 1990s. Consequently, they were at the vanguard of the post-grunge wave, where this newly labeled “alternative” music was becoming less and less alternative. Their debut album Candlebox came in mid 1993, a couple of years after many of their Seattle contemporaries made an international splash with this fresh new sound. Further, the commercial success of the album took a while to materialize, as the album did not enter the Billboard 200 until over a year following its release, although it did remain on that chart for two subsequent years.

The four-piece band was formed in late 1991 and took their name from a line in a Midnight Oil song. Their rise to fame was quite rapid as a demo tape found its way to Madonna’s Maverick label and the group landed a record deal in 1992. In their early career, Candlebox was occasionally looked down upon by members of the grunge movement who criticized their style which leaned more towards classic rock then the punk and indie sound of other bands in the genre. Nevertheless, the band worked and played hard until they got their big break.

We start our look at 1993 with this album because it is an example of where 1993 was on the rock timeline – in a phrase, it was when alternative rock stopped being alternative. Candlebox is the perfect representation as they had one of the greatest songs of the decade but it was the only truly complete song on the album, as the rest just seem to be reaching for the gold ring but falling just a bit frustratingly short.
 


Candlebox by Candlebox
Released: July 20, 1993 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Kelly Gray & Candlebox
Recorded: London Bridge Studios, Seattle, March–April 1993
Track Listing Band Musicians
Don’t You
Change
You
No Sense
Far Behind
Blossom
Arrow
Rain
Mother’s Dream
Cover Me
He Calls Home
Kevin Martin – Lead Vocals
Peter Klett – Guitars
Bardi Martin – Bass
Scott Mercado – Drums

Candlebox 1993 album

 
A little nervous laughter (intentional or not) starts the album before the song “Don’t You” breaks in with a Pearl Jam–like-jam, riff-driven hard rock with simple and steady drumming and some boilerplate vocal effects. “Change” is a distant and moody song with picked out, reverb-drenched guitar notes by Peter Klett, before it breaks into a strong part during the choruses. Like many of the alternative albums of the day, this song employs a tactic in use since “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” on Led Zeppelin I in 1969, of letting the dynamics be extra-dynamic by sheer use of contrast.

Deadened guitar notes introduce the rotating shuffle of “You”, a minor radio hit for the band. The song’s best moment is the sustained-notes guitar lead by Klett towards the end, preceded by an an almost rap-like lyrical rhythm and choppy drumming  by Scott Mercado. On the next track, “No Sense”, Mercado adds some Boss-Nova style drums accompanied by some interesting guitar and bass interplay before it unfortunately launches into typical grunge orgasm, which is quite a shame for this good beginning showed promise before it gets formulaic.

“Far Behind” is, quite simply one of the greatest songs of the decade of the 1990s, led by incredible vocal intensity by lead vocalist Kevin Martin. Everything comes together on this song, from the crisp opening riff and fantastic middle lead by by Klett to the incredible climax after in the final minute mark of this song. The song was actually recorded in April 1992, four months after the band’s formation, for their original demo tape and it peaked at #18 on the U.S. charts in 1994. The song is a tribute to the late Andrew Wood, lead vocalist of Mother Love Bone, the band which sparked much of the grunge movement.
 

 
“Blossom” is slow and methodical with good bass accents by Bardi Martin, again breaking into grunge formula, but strong enough to remain one of the better songs on the album. The next two songs are not quite there, just thrashing for the sake of thrash as the formula and becomes more of an unfocused distraction than a true sonic reward. Kevin Martin has an adequate voice, but not quite the soaring mystical kind necessary to pull off the heavier moody stuff which requires much range (see Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder). The most unfortunate production faux pas is “Rain”, cool and bluesy from the start with the band doing an adequate job pulling it off before the song abruptly stops about halfway through and breaks into a funk/grunge section which was totally unnecessary for this song.

The album does recover a bit with the final two, acoustic driven tracks. “Cover Me” is a refreshing slow ballad with great strumming and picking by Klett. “He Calls Home” concludes the album as a bit of melodramatic ballad about a homeless man, carried by mainly by the vocals of Kevin Martin.

Candlebox had success both critically and commercially and the band was eager to follow up on the success, But by the time the band released the follow-up record, Lucy in October 1995, the rock landscape was already changing again and they never quite surpassed the success of their debut.

~

1993 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1993 albums.

Are You Experienced?
by Jimi Hendrix Experience

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Classic Rock Review's 1967 Album of the Year
Are You Experienced? by The Jimi Hendrix ExperienceAn extraordinary debut by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Classic Rock Review has named Are You Experienced? as our Album of the Year for the phenomenal music year of 1967. On this album, the sound is harder and heavier than anything else from 1967, yet it is not in the slightest bit unfocused. Led by the extraordinary talent of Jimi Hendrix, the Experience was an unheralded act as a group, especially when it came to the wild and entertaining drumming of Mitch Mitchell. Along with bassist Noel Redding, this power trio released the most stunning debut in rock history and one of the greatest albums of all time.

The sound forged on the album synthesized elements of 1967 psychedelic rock with traditional rock, blues, and soul. This was all topped off by the proficient and original guitar work by Hendrix, who used cutting edge techniques and technology to create sounds never before heard. Hendrix also composed solid songs, rooted in heavy blues and roots rock. This, along with the frantic but solid rhythm by Redding and Mitchell, gave Hendrix the perfect canvas on which to paint his guitar masterpieces.

Producer Chas Chandler helped form the Jimi Hendrix Experience in England in 1966 and signed the group with Track Records, a label run by The Who’s managers Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp. The group started with three singles, recorded in-between tours of England in late ’66 and early ’67. All three (“Hey Joe”, “Purple Haze”, and “The Wind Cries Mary”) reached the top 10 on the UK charts. The original album was released in the UK in May, 1967 without the three singles (or B-sides), but the subsequent US version did include the singles in order to maximize the impact of the group in the States, where they were still relatively unknown. At the suggestion of Paul McCartney, the Experience debuted in America at the Monterrey Pop Festival on June 18, 1967.

Some of the tracks not included on the US version (but available on other versions) include the pure blues “Red House” with its wailing lead guitar and the Cream-influenced “Can You See Me”, with double-tracked vocals over a strong, riff-driven rocker. “Stone Free” is frenzied but with a good hook and “Highway Chile” has a more modern sound with a funky shuffle and R&B pattern.
 


Are You Experienced? by The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Released: May 12, 1967 (Track)
Produced by: Chas Chandler
Recorded: De Lane Lea & Olympic Studios, London, December 1966-April 1967
Side One Side Two
Purple Haze
Manic Depression
Hey Joe
Love Or Confusion
May This Be Love
I Don’t Live Today
The Wind Cries Mary
Fire
Third Stone From the Sun
Foxy Lady
Are You Experienced?
Tracks On Alternative Album Versions
Red House
Can You See Me
Remember
51st Anniversary
Highway Chile
Band Musicians
Jimi Hendrix – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano
Noel Redding – Bass, Vocals
Mitch Mitchell – Drums, Percussion

 
Are You Experienced? starts with a classic anthem from the late 1960s, “Purple Haze”. A rather simple rock song that takes on a much higher aura (especially the acid era), the song is Hendrix’s best known composition. It was adapted from a poem he wrote called “Purple Haze, Jesus Saves” and contains the classic lyric; “excuse me while I kiss the sky”. But the true signature of this song is the instantly recognizable classic guitar riff which instantly signals the tone and tenor of the album.

“Manic Depression” contains hypnotic and frantic drums by Mitchell, under a driving rock riff by Hendrix and Redding. This song set the stage for all the future heavy blues and heavy metal song textures of the coming decades. Lyrically was more an expression of romantic frustration than the clinical definition of manic depression. “Hey Joe” is a riff-driven version of a very popular folk song by Billy Roberts. As we pointed out last year in our review of Love’s debut album, “Hey Joe” seemed to be a mandatory in those days, as it was covered by The Surfaris, The Leaves, The Byrds, Tim Rose, Wilson Pickett, Cher, Deep Purple, The Mothers of Invention, and The Band of Joy. However, none of these versions are as popular as the version by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, which made the song their own through this memorable version.

Jimi Hendrix Experience 1967

The album’s first side concludes with three lesser known tracks. “Love Or Confusion” is a good and solid rock song, heavy throughout but yet somewhat psychedelic with overdubbed guitars and rotating bass and drum backing. “May This Be Love” contains soft, double-tracked vocals with Mitchell’s marching drums holding together the slow moving, tidal song with slow yet wild guitars with phasing effects. “I Don’t Live Today” has a call and response with riff and verse line, but is overall one of the weaker songs on the album.

The second side starts with the fantastic ballad “The Wind Cries Mary”. Written by Hendrix following an argument with his girlfriend, the lyrics use a hurricane as an allegory for a relationship;

A broom is drearily sweeping up the broken pieces of yesterday’s life / Somewhere a queen is weeping, somewhere a king has no wife…”

These lyrics are every bit as poetic as Bob Dylan while every bit as romantic as Otis Redding, but presented as a pure, bona fide rock ballad. Musically Hendrix’s laid back and bluesy guitar is backed by a steady, driving bass by Redding. The soft and somber playing and singing by Hendrix masks a moderately fast underlying rhythm, giving the song an edge unlike any other.

The album once again picks up with “Fire”, a frantic, highly charged pop/soul song complete with a backing chorus hooks by the band members. There is a nice key jump under the guitar lead, a great drum rhythm by Mitchell, and almost novelty lyrics. The song showcased the raw energy of this power trio and their ability to perform at breakneck speed. “Third Stone From the Sun” is a cool and interesting piece, multi-part, with an almost soundtrack like quality. It contains some strong jazz elements with extremely spacy guitars and an excellent drum improvisation coupled with a three note repeating bass line. This extended piece would be a pure instrumental were it not for a haunting, spoken vocals and wild vocal sound effects.

“Foxy Lady” is another popular rock song with a definite signature of psychedelia. Built around a howling guitar and inspired drumming, the sexually-charged song is full of passion and desire and would go on to become one of Hendrix’s most popular songs. The album concludes with the purely psychedelic title song. Drawing strong influence from Beatles songs like “Tomorrow Never Knows” and “Strawberry Fields Forever”, “Are You Experienced?” employs backwards-masked drums and other sonic and surreal sounds along with classically 1967 lyrics such as; “not necessarily stoned but beautiful”. Although unlike anything else of the album which shares its name, the song is a fitting conclusion to this totally original album, even as it fades into psychedelic oblivion at its conclusion.

With uncompromising energy yet delicate artistic flair, Are You Experienced was an immediate classic that has not faded one iota 45 years later. While later punk bands took on the pretentiousness of offering uncompromising rock, the truth is not a single one had anywhere near the talent of Hendrix and there may never be a true talent of his equal again.

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1967 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1967 albums.

 

Dirt by Alice In Chains

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

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

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

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

 


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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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1992 Images

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


 

Dreamboat Annie by Heart

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Dreamboat Annie by HeartHeart, originally labeled the “female Led Zeppelin,” had an impressive debut with Dreamboat Annie. The album was appropriately released on Valentine’s Day in 1976. Produced by Mike Flicker, the album has a simple and direct sound that accentuates the rock dynamics within the instruments and vocals. The Seattle based band recorded the album in Vancouver and first released it in Canada only in 1975 on the Mushroom Records label, which at the time did not have a U.S. distribution system. But, due to heavy sales and radio play in Canada, Mushroom expanded to the U.S. solely to promote Heart, starting in Seattle and then working city by city through the United States, as the band’s popularity spread. The ultimate goal was to land a national distribution contract, but soon relations between the band and Mushroom deteriorated due to questionable ads. The result was Dreamboat Annie never quite reaching the heights that it legitimately deserved as a top-notch rock album with an original approach until the 1980s when Mushroom went out of business and Capitol Records picked up distribution of the early Heart material.

In the mid 1970s, there were very few women who performed and recorded the assertive, Zeppelin-esque rock that Heart had developed. Lead by singer Ann Wilson and her younger sister, guitarist and songwriter Nancy Wilson, the band developed something unapologetically strong and within the realm previously exclusive to male musicians and fans. These strong yet melodic rockers made for a potent combination which would be copied in future decades but was quite unique at the time Dreamboat Annie was released. But even within this new sub-genre, Heart added some variety with ballads and folk-influenced numbers, making this album an interesting listen.

 


Dreamboat Annie by Heart
Released: February 14, 1976 (Mushroom)
Produced by: Mike Flicker
Recorded: Can-Base Studios, Vancouver, July-August 1975
Side One Side Two
Magic Man
Dreamboat Annie (Fantasy Child)
Crazy On You
Soul Of the Sea
Dreamboat Annie
White Lightning and Wine
(Love Me Like Music) I’ll Be Your Song
Sing Child
How Deep It Goes
Dreamboat Annie (Reprise)
Group Musicians
Ann Wilson – Lead Vocals, Flute
Nancy Wilson – Guitar, Piano, Vocals
Roger Fisher – Guitars
Howard Leese – Keyboards
Steve Fossen – Bass

 

The album blasts out of the gate with the popular rocker “Magic Man” with a simple, rocking beat which provides the perfect backdrop for Ann Wilson’s voice. The song conatains a long mid-section with extended leads by guitarist Roger Fisher and keyboardist Howard Leese in turn, giving it a more “epic” feel beyond its melodic hook in the verse and chorus. This “epic” or “concept” structure is extended to the album itself with three different versions of the title song “Dreamboat Annie”. However, only the version which closes side one acts as true song, a fast picked folk song with layered harmonies and picked acoustic guitar and banjo. The other two kind of sound like alternate takes which were added as filler.

Probably the best song that Heart would ever record, “Crazy On You” is an absolute gem which employs all the elements that make a great rock song. It has a finger-picked acoustic intro which highlights the skills of Nancy Wilson, divergent instrumentation throughout as the acoustic makes a soft bed for the dynamic electric guitars to pierce through melodically, a good riff and hook, beautiful interludes, and a sense of mystique brought out by the chord arrangements. Once again, the dynamic and emotional vocals of Ann Wilson push the song over the top.

 

 

There is a lot to like about the album, especially when you explore some of the lesser known songs. “Soul Of The Sea” is a nice guitar ballad with layered strings which contrasts with “White Lightning and Wine”, a pure, bluesy rocker, driven by the rhythm of Steve Fossen and the sultry vocals of Wilson. “(Love Me Like Music) I’ll Be Your Song” features strummed acoustic by Nancy Wilson and some nice slide guitar by Leese, making the vibe almost country in ways, while another acoustic ballad “How Deep It Goes” features nice bass flourishes, fine synths, and good harmonies. “Sing Child” is the only group composition and really presents early Heart as a true band as it includes a guitar solo and jam in the middle along with some Ian Anderson-like flute by Ann Wilson.

Heart would go on to produce more popular albums, especially as they morphed towards being a more pop-oriented band. But Dreamboat Annie displays them at their most innovative and talented and is a most impressive debut.

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1976 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1976 albums.

 

Ten by Pearl Jam

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Pearl Jam in 1991

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

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1991 Images

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

 

Nevermind by Nirvana

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Review by J.D. Cook

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Nirvana

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

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

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1991 Images

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