New Miserable Experience by Gin Blossoms

New Miserable Experience by Gin Blossoms

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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1992 Images

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

Southern Harmony & Musical Companion by The Black Crowes

The Southern Harmony & Musical Companion
by The Black Crowes

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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1992 Images

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

Amused To Death by Roger Waters

Amused to Death by Roger Waters

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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1992 Images

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

Automatic For the People by REM

Automatic For the People by R.E.M.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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1992 Images

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

Little Earthquakes by Tori Amos

Little Earthquakes by Tori Amos

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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1992 Images

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

Core by Stone Temple Pilots

Core by Stone Temple Pilots

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Core by Stone Temple PilotsAround 1990, a hard rock band from San Diego, CA called Mighty Joe Young recorded a demo featuring some unorthodox musical styles, such as funk and yodeling and soon began to attract a fan-base in Southern California. After the group was signed to Atlantic Records and began work on their first professional studio album, they received a call from their lawyer who informed them that there was a blues-man who had already claimed the name Mighty Joe Young.  So the group hastily chose the name Stone Temple Pilots, after the STP motor oil stickers that adorned their rehearsal space, and continued on to record what would become their debut album Core.

The “core” of this group is Singer Scott Weland and bassist Robert DeLeo, who first met in 1986 and had performed together in various bands since. DeLeo later recruited his older brother Dean DeLeo as the band’s guitarist with drummer Eric Kretz rounding out the quartet. Although all four contributed to the songs on the album, Robert DeLeo wrote the bulk of the compositions with Weiland applying much lyrical content, forging a distinctly flavored version of grunge metal.

The album was released in September of 1992 but original received mixed to very negative reviews, with some critics blasting the more popular songs as “rip-offs” of more established grunge bands and the lesser know material as “pedestrian”. While there is no denying that the band incorporates several signature elements of contemporary bands Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam, and Nirvana, the very fact that so many of the songs on Core have held up over the past two decades is testament to the quality of this material.


Core by Stone Temple Pilots
Released: September 29, 1992 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Brendan O’Brien
Recorded: 1991-1992
Track Listing Band Musicians
Dead and Bloated
Sex Type Thing
Wicked Garden
No Memory
Sin
Naked Sunday
Creep
Piece of Pie
Plush
Wet My Bed
Crackerman
Where the River Goes
Scott Weiland – Lead Vocals
Dean DeLeo – Guitars
Robert DeLeo – Bass
Eric Kretz– Drums
 
Core by Stone Temple Pilots

 

A distant rap commences the album and its initial track, “Dead & Bloated”, which breaks into a slow and methodical riff and beat, During live renditions of this track, Weiland often hands a bullhorn to a fan to perform the intro. “Sex Type Thing” was the debut single from the album and the most controversial on the album due to its first person telling of perpetrating a rape (although Weiland contends its purpose was anti-rape). Musically, the song is much more upbeat, with DeLeo crediting “In the Light” by Led Zeppelin as a primary influence on the main riff.

“Wicked Garden” is one of the signature songs on the album, with a series of distinct sections, each lead by pristine vocal motifs fueled by melody. Weiland revealed that the song about people allowing all their innocence and purity to be lost from their lives. Following the calm, picked guitar instrumental by Dean DeLeo called “No Memory”, “Sin” commences with a splash but is overall a weaker attempt at another anthem song like “Wicked Garden”. The only refreshing part is an acoustic section later in the song, but it breaks away too early for a sub-par guitar lead.

Robert DeLeo wrote the calm, melodic, melancholy, acoustic ballad “Creep”, which he says was influenced by Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold”. This radio hit never really deviates too much from its dark temperament, with Weiland doing his best Kurt Cobain vocal impression for the melodramatic lyrics.

What would become one of the band’s biggest all-time hits, “Plush” is built on a unique chord structure which was inspired by Robert DeLeo’s love of ragtime music. Lyrically, the song was loosely based on a newspaper article Weiland had read about a girl who had been found dead in an area outside of San Diego. The song won a Grammy award for “Best Hard Rock Performance” in 1994 and the award-winning video won an MTV Video Music Award for Best New Artist that same year.

But aside from “Plush”, much of the later part of the album is sub-par at best. “Piece of Pie” sounds worn out with the same old drum beat driving once again while “Wet My Bed” is an ill-advised, superfluous filler. Although “Crackerman” received a fair amount of radio airplay, it has been accurately critiqued as “a bad Alice in Chains parody”, and the closer “Where the River Goes” is a leftover from the Mighty Joe Young demo which probably should have been left off the album. In the case of these tracks, less would have been more in forging a consistent and rewarding album.

Stone Temple Pilots, built on the success of Core with a couple more residual albums through the mid nineties, before substance abuse brought them back to Earth. Today, several of this album’s songs remain rock radio staples and the band’s position in the pantheon of heavy grunge is secure.

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1992 Images

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

Diamonds In the Coal by The Badlees

Diamonds In the Coal
by The Badlees

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Diamonds In the Coal by The Badlees At a time when many in the rock world were in the process of re-imaging from the slick 80’s hair band to the grungy 90s alternative, a young Pennsylvania band called The Badlees was forging their own path with a sound called “roots rock” with their first full length album, Diamonds In the Coal. The band, which had been steadily gaining popularity since the release of their initial EP It Ain’t For You in late 1990, had solidified their lineup with the addition of Paul Smith in 1991. With Smith’s addition, the Badlees had the core quintet in place that would drive them through their most productive years. The result is a well-crafted, entertaining, and thoughtful album with fine and exquisite details.

The album was co-produced by guitarist Bret Alexander and contains all original compositions which were mainly written by Alexander with about half being co-penned by band associate Mike Naydock. The songs are augmented by a structure of electric and acoustic guitars, solid rhythms, judicious use of ethic instruments, layered vocals, and thoughtful lyrics.

There are few things easier than to live badly and die well…”

This quote by Oscar Wilde was placed inner sleeve of Diamonds In the Coal, in an obvious play on the band’s name. Further, each song on the lyrics page contained its own special quote from philosophers and artists ranging from Aristotle to Andy Warhol, some of the extra attention to detail the band put into the atmosphere of the album. Topping it off were the authentic pictures that were used for the cover of early 20th century coal miners that drummer Ron Simasek found at a local Historical Society.

 


Diamonds In the Coal by The Badlees
Released: January 14, 1992 (Rite-Off)
Produced by: Bret Alexander & the Badlees
Recorded: Waterfront Recording, Hoboken, NJ / Susquehanna Sound, Northumberland, PA, 1991
Track Listing Band Musicians
Like a Rembrandt
Back Where We Came From
Just One Moment
The Real Thing
Heaven On Earth
Interlude / Badlee Rap
The Next Big Thing
Dirty Neon Times
Spending My Inheritance
Sister Shirley
Mystery Girl
Road to Paradise
Diamonds In the Coal
Pete Palladino – Lead Vocals
Bret Alexander – Guitars, Mandolin, Harmonica, Vocals
Jeff Feltenberger – Guitars, Vocals
Paul Smith – Bass, Vocals
Ron Simasek– Drums & Percussion
 

Diamonds In the Coal by The Badlees

 

Thematically, Diamonds In the Coal is nearly sliced in half by the light intermission of “Interlude/Badlee Rap”, with the rap itself performed by Loose Bruce above some slight guitar and harmonica. Songs previous to this on the album are mainly pop-oriented, with basic structure and strong hooks. This all starts with the opener “Like a Rembrandt”, of which Alexander sets the scene as “a bunch of young kids partying out by an old coal breaker and realizing full well that this may be the greatest summer of their lives”.

“Back Where We Came From” (commonly referred to as “The Na Na Song”) follows with a strong delivery by lead vocalist Pete Palladino. This acoustic-driven tune with electric overtones, was the first single from the album and the first to receive significant airplay. It also shows that the Badlees had perfected a song template that the much more heralded Hootie and the Blowfish would replicate years later. Despite the Bon Jovi-ish hook at the onset, “Heaven On Earth” is still a song with good instrumentation lead by a solid, strummed acoustic while the lighter sound of “The Real Thing” contains serene and solid guitar riffs by Alexander with just a touch of the instrument which would become more predominant in the band, the mandolin. “Just One Moment” is another pop-oriented track with a bouncy and choppy riff, good vocals, and strong back beat by Simasek.

The Badlees

The second “half” of the album contains songs that explore deeper subject matter and richer musical structure. Guitarist Jeff Feltenberger provides good vocal interplay with Palladino during “The Next Big Thing”, while upbeat power-pop anthem “Dirty Neon Times” provides more fantastic vocal harmonies by Feltenberger in a pleasant, acoustic driven song.

Alexander’s “Spending My Inheritance” is a well composed, sort of “people’s anthem” tune with some harmonica intertwined with fiddle by guest performer David Rose. “Sister Shirley” is perhaps the most unique song on the album. It includes a picturesque lyrical narrative by Naydock and some sweet, jazzy guitar by Alexander – a rewarding listen, which shows the band’s musical and compositional range. Feltenberger wrote “Road to Paradise”, in an odd time, with steady acoustic strumming against slightly spastic drums all topped by intricate, three-part vocal patterns.

The closing title song is the true masterpiece of Diamonds In the Coal. Here, the listener is brought into the dark, forgotten patch towns of Pennsylvania’s Anthracite Region. The imagery in this song’s lyric is so vivid that you can almost feel the coal dust flying, while the music sets the perfect scene with a methodic, marching rhythm below and some authentic, ethnic instrumentation up above. This song showed the true promise of the band in 1992 and would be the primer for their breakthrough album River Songs three years later.

Recently, Bret Alexander looked back with great fondness on the creation of this album, saying he had a tremendous amount of fun and creative fulfillment writing the songs and producing Diamonds In the Coal. Although he does lament that he doesn’t feel that the overall “sound” of the album has held up sonically through the years. There is a definite early-nineties, polished-up quality with the drum sound snare-centric, the rhythms contain little variation, and the well-compressed vocals always seeming to hang at eye-level. But still, after 20 years, a deeper listener will definitely appreciate the quality of the songs and recognize the watershed of creative music “springs” that began their flow with Diamonds.

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1992 Images

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