Get Close by The Pretenders

Get Close by The Pretenders

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Get Close by The PretendersThe fourth overall album by The Pretenders, the 1986 release Get Close, shows a radical musical transition by the group firmly controlled by composer and lead vocalist Chrissie Hynde. In fact, by the end of recording sessions for this album Hynde would be the only original member of the group remaining, as original drummer Martin Chambers was released from the band early in the recording process.

The Pretenders’ original guitarist and bassist, James Honeyman-Scott and Pete Farndon, each died from substance abuse in 1982 and 1983 respectively. Hynde and Chambers decided to continue with the band and eventually added guitarist Robbie McIntosh and bassist Malcolm Foster for the 1984 album Learning to Crawl, a critical and commercial success. The band built on this success with a performance at Live Aid in 1985.

Produced by Steve Lillywhite, the first recording sessions for Get Close resulted in the album’s final track, a slick pop cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Room Full of Mirrors”. It was here that Hynde decided that Chambers’ playing had deteriorated and fired him from the band, which sparked a discouraged Foster to quit shortly after. Hynde and McIntosh recorded the rest of the album with producers Bob Clearmountain and Jimmy Iovine in multiple studios and with multiple session musicians. Two of these players, bassist T.M. Stevens and drummer Blair Cunningham, were eventually hired as The Pretenders’ new rhythm section.

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Get Close by The Pretenders
Released: October 20, 1986 (Sire)
Produced by: Bob Clearmountain & Jimmy Iovine
Recorded: Air Studios, London; Power Station and Right Track Recording, New York City; Bearsville Studio, Bearsville N.Y.; Polar Studios, Stockholm
Side One Side Two
My Baby
When I Change My Life
Light of the Moon
Dance!
Tradition of Love
Don’t Get Me Wrong
I Remember You
How Much Did You Get for Your Soul?
Chill Factor
Hymn to Her
Room Full of Mirrors
Primary Musicians
Chrissie Hynde – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Robbie McIntosh – Guitars
T.M. Stevens – Bass
Blair Cunningham – Drums, Percussion

The bright and jangly chords of “My Baby” enter to a steady beat in this moderate love song filled with suspended fourth chords, strategic double-track vocals and some crowd sound effects later on. Released as a single, this album opener spent two weeks at #1 on the Mainstream Rock charts. “When I Change My Life” is another mellow track with strummed acoustic, persistent lead guitar notes and a waltz-like beat by the bass and drums. This moody and well-produced track also features some layered synths strategically placed later in the track.

After these initial fine tracks, the album devolves a bit starting with the slicker rock arrangement of the cover, “Light of the Moon” and followed by the rhythm and beat oriented “Dance!”. While this latter track does contain some fine droning guitar and Hammond organ leads, the dry vocals and mind-numbing repetition make this extended track a chore to listen to. The album returns to form with the moderate ballad “Tradition of Love”, featuring a fine musical arrangement, melodic vocals and the ever slightest twist of psychedelic through its guitar and voice-effect fused outro.

Chrissie Hynde

The most indelible song on the album is the happy-go-lucky rock jaunt “Don’t Get Me Wrong”, driven by the Stevens’ thumping bass line and McIntosh’s choppy guitar chords. This song’s slight rotating bridge is the only deviation from the original verse pattern and is followed by a lead that is very slight and mimicks Hynde’s main vocal melody. “I Remember You” features a reggae arrangement, driven by various keys and methodical rhythms, followed by “How Much Did You Get for Your Soul?”, full-fledged devolution into eighties synth pop which is a bit embarrassing for the talents of Hynde and the group. “Chill Factor” is better as a Motown flavored, soulful ballad with a steady, slow beat and rich backing vocals. Written by Meg Keene, “Hymn to Her” starts with minimal synth through the intro vocals before breaking into steady, AOR smooth rock feel, which eventually builds to a harder rocking arrangement.

For the tour supporting Get Close, The Pretenders expanded to a quintet with the addition of keyboardist Bernie Worrell, signaling a future commitment to evolve further. However, this lineup did not last and, when McIntosh quit in 1987, The Pretenders were effectively finished as a working band.

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

 

Trial by Fire by Journey

Trial By Fire by Journey

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Trial by Fire by JourneyFor Journey‘s most avid fans, the 1996 album Trial By Fire may be best described as one last guilty dip into the group’s heyday of the previous decade. With that in mind, it’s really a shame that the music here nods back to the group’s post-fame eighties rather than the far superior pre-fame late seventies sound. In any case, this was the first time in a dozen years that the five-piece lineup which brought Journey its greatest success got together to make a record.

Following the phenomenal success of 1981’s Escape and Frontiers along with the subsequent major tours, Journey took some extended time off. Lead vocalist Steve Perry released his debut solo album while guitarist Neal Schon participated in the short-lived “super group” HSAS, fronted by Sammy Hagar. Turmoil ensued during the recording of their next album, Raised On Radio in 1986, as bassist Ross Valory and drummer Steve Smith were dismissed from the band due to “musical and professional differences”. Although that album was a commercial success, Perry went on an indefinite hiatus, leaving the group in limbo for several years.

In the early 1990s, keyboardist Jonathan Cain joined Schon, Valory and Smith for a series of tribute concerts. This indirectly led to the early 80s lineup of Perry, Schon, Cain, Valory and Smith reuniting in 1995 and recording this new album with producer Kevin Shirley in 1996, making it the first new Journey album in 10 years.

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Trial by Fire by Journey
Released: October 22, 1996 (Columbia)
Produced by: Kevin Shirley
Recorded: Ocean Way Recording Studios, Hollywood, CA, The Site and Wildhorse Studios, Marin County, CA, Summer 1996
Track Listing Group Musicians
Message of Love
One More
When You Love a Woman
If He Should Break Your Heart
Forever In Blue
Castles Burning
Don’t Be Down on Me Baby
Still She Cries
Colors of the Spirit
When I Think of You
Easy to Fall
Can’t Tame the Lion
It’s Just the Rain
Trial by Fire
Baby I’m a Leavin’ You
Steve Perry – Lead Vocals
Neal Schon – Guitars, Vocals
Jonathan Cain – Keyboards, Guitars, Vocals
Ross Valory – Bass, Vocals
Steve Smith – Drums, Percussion

Trial by Fire by Journey

The group’s core members of Perry, Schon and Cain wrote the bulk of the songs on Trial by Fire. One of the few exceptions is the opening “Message Of Love”, which was co-written by lyricist John Bettis. The song swells in with some backwards-masked voices before strong beat-driven, perfectly fine, albeit ultra-ordinary pop song. This is an interesting slight nod back to the 1983 hit “Separate Ways” just prior to Schon’s lead guitar. “One More” starts with a movie-like string arrangement by David Campbell before breaking into Valory’s bass-driven rhythm to accompany Perry’s interesting and slightly dark vocal melody. “When You Love A Woman” is a classic Journey ballad with rocking piano, strategic guitar overtones and soulful/romantic vocals. The song reached the top of the Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary chart as well as becoming a Top 10 hit on the American pop charts, the group’s last such hit to date.

“If He Should Break Your Heart” continues the parade of slick, love-oriented songs and, while the theme is unoriginal, this one takes on a pleasant mellow rock vibe musically. On “Forever In Blue”, the verse music is driven by a spunkier, choppy guitar riff with some fine snare clicks by Smith, For his part, Perry does get a bit soulfully strained as the song goes on, which works to add a bit of authenticity to the sound. Schon provides a wah-wah fused blues guitar between each verse line of “Castles Burning”, along with a later simple but exciting, squeaky rotating riff over the bridge to bring the song to a higher sonic level. This sparks the best sequence on the album with “Don’t Be Down On Me Baby” laid out like a classic Soul ballad with a simple, rotating piano phrase accompanied by Perry’s soaring lead vocals and “Still She Cries” featuring nicely picked guitar motifs in intro sets before the mood settles with steady rhythms throughout this ballad.

Journey in 1996

Unfortunately, there are many superfluous songs beyond this point. “Colors of the Spirit” does employ world-music inspired sounds through its long, jungle-like intro before unfortunately reverting back to standard fonts for the song proper. “When I Think of You” is, perhaps, the nadir of album as an uninspired ballad, while “Easy to Fall” only works later on with some fine, bluesy/jazz guitar work by Schon. “Can’t Tame the Lion” is a pure rock song that remain upbeat and rocking throughout before the mood is once again brought down with the ballad “It’s Just the Rain”. The title track, “Trial By Fire”, provides welcome relieve by this point of the Goliath-length album as Smith provides some odd beats accompanying Valory’s cool bass and Schon’s jazzy guitar for an overall fine vibe, while the “hidden” “Baby I’m a Leavin’ You” features a heavy Caribbean-influence with musical flourishes and a nice, light way to complete the album.

Trial By Fire reached #3 on the album charts and Journey appeared to be back in top commercial form as they prepared for a subsequent tour> However, Perry injured himself during a hiking, rendering him unable to perform for over a year. By 1998, both Perry and Smith were out of the group and Journey continued as a patchwork band into the new century.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1996 albums.

Billy Breathes by Phish

Billy Breathes by Phish

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Billy Breathes by PhishAs their sixth official studio album, Billy Breathes is an early indication of Phish moving towards more mainstream rock music. Here, the four-piece group combined folk, rock and psychedelic into standard-length, accessible numbers with a good sense of melody and song craft. As a result, this 1996 release remains one of the most popular albums by a band better known for its jam-band fused live performances and moderately sized by avidly dedicated fan base.

After the release of their first two official studio album, Junta in 1989 and Lawn Boy in 1990, Phish began to design intricate and highly interactive concerts. Guitarist and front man Trey Anastasio led the band in giving musical cues for the audience to react in certain ways and band members would often switch instruments to make their live shows truly original. As a result of the band’s growing popularity,they were signed to Elektra Records with 1992’s A Picture of Nectar being Phish’s first release on that label. This was followed by the studio albums Rift and Hoist in 1993 and 1994 respectively and the live album, A Live One, which became the group’s first gold-selling album in 1995.

After rehearsing at their independent recording studio in Vermont, the group migrated to Bearsville Studios in the Catskill mountains of nearby New York state to record in early 1996. Produced by Steve Lillywhite, the album features an almost equal split of compositions co-written by Anastasio and lyricist Tom Marshall and songs credited to all members of the band.

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Billy Breathes by Phish
Released: October 15, 1996 (Elektra)
Produced by: Steve Lillywhite
Recorded: Bearsville Studios, Bearsville, NY, February–June 1996
Track Listing Group Musicians
Free
Character Zero
Waste
Taste
Cars Trucks Buses
Talk
Theme from the Bottom
Train Song
Bliss
Billy Breathes
Swept Away
Steep
Prince Caspian
Trey Anastasio – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Page McConnell – Keyboards, Vocals
Mike Gordon – Bass, Vocals
Jon Fishman – Drums, Vocals
Billy Breathes by Phish

The only song that can be considered a “hit’ from Billy Breathes is the opening track “Free”, which reached #11 on the Mainstream Rock charts. Starting with a straight and direct droning rock background, this inventive song crams a lot of differing musical phrases into its less-than-four-minute duration. The start of “Character Zero” is a sparse blues arrangement before breaking in with heavy rock elements, including a driving drum beat by Jon Fishman and a bouncy bass by Mike Gordan. “Waste” is mainly quiet acoustic ballad, with a kind of “slacker love story” theme. As the song progresses, there is a subtle building in arrangement and a good sense of melody by Anastasio. The bridge is the first real place where the song fully realizes its dynamics and is followed by an exquisite piano lead by Page McConnell.

Almost like a musical exercise in maintaining odd timing and rudiments, “Taste” gives the impression that all band members seem to be playing contrasting parts but somehow this all works at a certain tension-filled level. In contrast, McConnell’s short instrumental, “Cars Trucks Buses”, falls into a nice groove throughout and gives much space for his organ and piano leads. The same dreaming, descending acoustic riff is repeated through the entirety of “Talk”, with differing musical accompaniment along with a sing-songy vocal melody. At just under six and a half minutes, “Theme from the Bottom” is the longest track on the album. It starts with a simple, dark and dissonant piano which is soon joined by upbeat rhythmic groove for a nice counter-effect. The second half of the song comes a mainly instrumental blistering rock section. The urban-folk sounding “Train Song” was co-written by guest Joe Linitz and Gordon, who provides whimsical lead vocals for the track.

Phish

The latter part of the album features the products of many improvisations during the album’s pre-production. “Bliss” features slow acoustic textures which gradually fade into an atmospheric instrumental. The title track, “Billy Breathes” hearkens back to seventies soft folk with modest, understated vocals along with rich harmonies in the chorus. Then comes the excellent and unique bridge section with banjo joined by slight and sharp brass songs before Anatasio’s top level guitar lead ushers the song with interesting chord pattern behind to make it a high point on the album. The final three tsongs complement each other and sound like they could’ve been a single, cohesive suite. “Swept Away” is quiet and reserved acoustic folk in a very short moment of mood, like it could have been an intro to some television or theatrical performance. “Steep” is pure psychedelic driven by keyboard and pedal effects before a rich vocal section dominates the second half of short track. “Prince Caspian” meanders in before an electric riff acts as bedding for the song’s main hook. The song proper of this closer is quite repetitive to get its lyrical point across before it again slowly dissolves into a fade with one final “shock” rock riff reprise to end the song and album.

When recording was wrapping for Billy Breathes, the band made a snap decision to use a a closeup shot of Mike Gordon’s face as the album’s cover, something Anastasio later said he regretted. Nonetheless, the album sold very well and remains, along with 2000’s Farmhouse, as one of the commercial peaks of Phish’s long career.

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1996 music celebration image

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1996 albums.

Badmotofinger by Soundgarden

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.

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

Yourself or Someone Like You by Matchbox Twenty

Yourself or Someone Like You
by Matchbox 20

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Yourself or Someone Like You by Matchbox TwentyA blockbuster debut for Florida-based rock band Matchbox 20, the 1996 album Yourself or Someone Like You hit the post-grunge sweet spot with popular music fans as it became a big hit worldwide. This success was especially true in the group’s native United States, where the album reached Diamond status by selling in excess of 12 million copies. Further, the formula employed on this record was strongly influential in the wake of its release.

Originally called “Tabitha’s Secret”, the band was formed in Orlando, Florida by composer and vocalist Rob Thomas, bassist Brian Yale and drummer Paul Doucette. Eventually, session man Adam Gaynor and classically trained Kyle Cook were recruited as the band’s guitarists to complete the quintet as Matchbox 20 earned a recording contract with Atlantic Records.

Yourself or Someone Like You was recorded in Atlanta in Spring 1996 with producer Matt Serletic, a former member of Collective Soul. Nearly a decade after its release, the subject on the front cover sued the band, claiming the photo was taken as he was walking down the street after being asked to pose.

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Yourself or Someone Like You by Matchbox 20
Released: October 1, 1996 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Matt Serletic
Recorded: Atlanta, GA, June 1996
Track Listing Group Musicians
Real World
Long Day
3 A.M.
Push
Girl Like That
Back 2 Good
Damn
Argue
Kody
Busted
Shame
Hang
Rob Thomas – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Kyle Cook – Guitars, Vocals
Adam Gaynor – Guitars, Vocals
Brian Yale – Bass
Paul Doucette – Drums

 
1996_matchboxtwenty-yourselforsomeonelikeyou_150

All the songs on Yourself or Someone Like You were written by or co-written by Thomas and the album is quite top-heavy in the sense that the first six tracks were all released as singles. The opener “Real World” starts with strong, twangy guitars in the intro, setting an upbeat pace for the album with choppy, vocal-driven, theatrical verses and a chiming guitar lead before third verse. “Long Day” makes a sudden, acoustic entry before suddenly smashing into a strong electric rock arrangement after two lines. This song builds much tension until it is dispelled by a twangy guitar lead before the acoustic bridge, which in turn leads to a strong song outro. “Long Day” was the first single from the album, released in late 1996, but was not as successful as future singles through 1997 and 1998. One of those successful songs, “3 A.M.”, was composed by several group members along with John Joseph Stanley back in the days of Tabitha’s Secret. This features a patient, in turn acoustic and electric intro, with a catchy leading riff preceding each line of the verses. Bittersweet to the core, the true genius of this song is that it can be interpreted in many different ways, making it the best overall song on the album.

“Push” is another one of of the band’s successful singles as a melodic ballad with enjoyably strummed electric guitar and ironic lyrics which are delivered through the ever-intensifying chorus sections. “Girl Like That” seems to hearken back to the pop music of the early eighties, with a new-wave fused pop/rock and plenty of accessible décor, including sharply stopped riffs and a slight backing vocal chorus. The longest track on this album full of succinct songs, “Back 2 Good” includes a rich arrangement of orchestral instruments to add to the overall melancholy mood. Technically, this 1998 single release would prove to be the biggest hit song from Yourself or Someone Like You, due to discrepancies in charts.

Matchbox 20

The album’s second half is much less effective as several tracks seem to cover well-tredded ground. “Damn” is a methodical rocker with a steady rock drum beat which persists throughout and “Argue” is another pleasant rocker musically. “Kody” is a moderate acoustic track with twangy electric overtones and somber lead vocals, while “Busted” and “Shame” feature differing levels of pop accessibility. The closing, somber acoustic ballad, “Hang”, features inverted roles as Thomas plays some acoustic guitar and Cook shares lead vocal duties.

Yourself or Someone Like You charted in countries around the world, reaching the top in Australia. It would be nearly a half decade before Matchbox 20 would release their second album, Mad Season, in 2000. Through the decade of the 2000s, the group would have steady but declining success, solidifying this debut album the commercial peak of their career.

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1996 music celebration image

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1996 albums.