Although Days of Future Passed is the second official album by The Moody Blues, it was the first to lay out the prog-rock template which would define the band’s sound for the next decade. It was also the first album to feature singer/songwriter Justin Hayward and guitarist/bassist John Lodge, two central figures who shaped the band’s direction during their heyday. Originating in Birmingham, England, the band began as an R&B based pop band during the first “British invasion” of 1964, scoring two hits that year with “Steal Your Heart Away” and “Go Now”, which gave their 1965 debut album its title. By 1966, the band wanted to change direction and, after some personnel changes, began working out the material that would ultimately end up on Days of Future Passed.
However, the result of this album was not how it was originally planned. The band’s label, Decca Records wanted to to showcase its enhanced stereo-sound technology which they called “Deramic Sound”. The label commissioned a hybrid orchestral/rock version of Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” with the Moody Blues chosen as the “rock” band because A&R manager Hugh Mendl was a huge fan. But when producer Tony Clarke had heard the new original material that the band had been working on, he took it upon himself to replace the Dvorek material and instead had the London Festival Orchestra, led by conductor/arranger Peter Knight, adapt sections from the Moody Blues’ originals.
The result was a totally unique release (even for 1967), which the record company nearly rejected because they didn’t know how to market it. Audience response was quite favorable and the album became both one of the most influential psychedelic rock albums ever and a vessel for some of the Moody Blues’ most timeless radio hits. The album was also one of the first true “concept” albums (predating The Who’s Tommy by two years) with the concept being the “day” being an allegory for phases of life itself. In fact, the concept was so important to the essence of this album, that the song order was one of the very few to be preserved on 8-track tape versions.
Days of Future Passedby The Moody Blues
Released: November 11, 1967 (Decca/Deram) Produced by: Tony Clarke Recorded: Decca Studios, London, October – November 1967
The Day Begins / Morning Glory
Dawn Is a Feeling
Lunch Break / Peak Hour
Forever Afternoon (Tuesday Afternoon)
(Evening) Time to Get Away
The Sunset / Twilight Time
Nights In White Satin / Late Lament
Justin Hayward – Guitars, Lead Vocals John Lodge – Bass, Guitars, Vocals Mike Pinder – Keys, Piano, Vocals Ray Thomas – Flute, Horns, Keys Graeme Edge – Drums, Vocals Peter Knight – Orchestral Conductor
Days of Future Passed is a bit “bottom heavy” with the finest material late on the first and throughout the original second side. “The Day Begins” fittingly starts the album with a dramatic, movie-like swell which quickly morphs into a long orchestral overture. About four minutes in, the song features a poem written by drummer Graeme Edge, but recited by keyboardist Mike Pinder, something that would be reprised with another poem towards the end of the album. Pinder’s “Dawn Is a Feeling” is the first proper “song” on the album. It is a moderate piano ballad with some musical theatrics before dissolving into into a long orchestral ending, something common to most songs on the album.
Multi-instrumentalist Ray Thomas wrote “Another Morning”, a European-style dance song, led by Thomas’ flute riff. It has a much edgy-er sixties pop arrangement than any of the previous songs with a complex vocals during the choruses. The final track on the first side is called “Lunch Break”, with an orchestral intro that suddenly bursts into the full rock arrangement of Lodge’s “Peak Hour”, which seems to derive much of its influence from The Who.
The heart of the album begins with a classic composition, entitled “Forever Afternoon (Tuesday?)” on the album, but later released as a single titled simply “Tuesday Afternoon”. It is the best overall track on the album, with a perfect combination of folk and sixties psychedelia. The then “cutting edge” instrument of the mellotron, played by Pinder, mixes perfectly with the acoustic and bass guitars and the absolutely brilliant vocals and melody by Hayward, show his earliest potential as a top-notch composer.
Lodge’s “(Evening) Time to Get Away” is a bit darker and more melodramatic but still one of the greats on the album as it builds towards more upbeat sections without ever losing its overall feel. The evening theme continues with Pinder’s “The Sunset”, a cool mix of orchestral effects with a rock based melody and lead vocal and some middle-eastern rhythms. Thomas’ “Twilight Time” follows with a full piano rocking background and some overdone effects and distant vocals as well as some abrupt orchestral dissolve and a quick ending. This is likely due to the remixing of the album which took place in 1978 after it was discovered that the original master tapes had begun to deteriorate. For this reason, the original 1967 stereo mix has never seen a CD release with all modern versions of the album derived from the later remix.
The album reaches a dramatic climax with “Nights in White Satin”, another timeless composition by Hayward. As the first single from this album, the song was a huge international hit despite its long-running length. After the chart success of other long songs such as “Hey Jude” and “Layla”, “Knights In White Satin” was re-released in 1972 and it charted even higher, reaching #2 on Billboard chart and #1 on several other charts, with even a Spanish-language version, “Noches de Seda”, topping charts in some countries. The song was written by Hayward at age 19 and dissolves into the Edge’s spoken-word poem “Late Lament” to finish the album.
Days of Future Passed was a hodge-podge of orchestral and rock arrangements of compositions by several young musicians, along with some spoken word poetry and newer electronic effects (such as the inclusion of the mellotron during key parts of key songs). Somehow it all works without conflict and this bold and ambitious original effort set the Moody Blues up to produce several more original classics in subsequent years.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1967 albums.
I have been a fan of The Doors music since I was about 12 or 13 and have constantly gone back and forth over which is their absolute best album. This has been an impossible task because, as one who discovered their music a full decade after the death of vocalist Jim Morrison, all six of their original studio albums have been equally timeless in my opinion. As a music critic, however, I must take a fresh listen to a lot of the music I’ve “known” all my life and give an honest, sober, critical opinion using my more mature listening skills. From this perspective, I have concluded that the Doors first two albums are even BETTER than I remember. So it is today that I have the daunting yet rewarding labor of love that is reviewing The Doors and Strange Days together.
Of course, in this process I’ve tried to discern which is the greater work and these two albums have, at different times nudged ahead of each other. The albums are very similar with each having a handful of radio-friendly “pop” songs, perhaps one romantic ballad, and an extended tour-de-force to cap off the album. The establishment rock press has long given The Doors the edge due to its innovative breakthrough, and there is some merit to that, However, I could not see choosing one over the other for my own “desert island” list. One one hand, Strange Days has a slight edge in that it is solid throughout and there are no weak filler songs (of which there are a few on The Doors). Also, “Days” has a slightly better climactic ending with “When the Music’s Over” as compared to its “parent” song “The End” (that’s right, I actually said that!) But on the other hand, Strange Days has nothing comparable to “Light My Fire”, a unique song in the history of rock, nor does it contain any brilliant cover interpretations like “Alabama Song” or “Back Door Man”.
The heart of any discussion about The Doors revolves around Morrison, the genius poet who lived in his life on the edge until his death at age 27. And Morrison made a remarkable evolution during that year of 1967. He came into the year as a shy, unseasoned performer who was unsure of his voice and would turn away from the crowd when onstage. By year’s end, as the Doors fame was at its absolute peak, Morrison had morphed into the rash, master of improvisation who taunted police officers while onstage in New Haven, CT to the point where the show was halted and Morrison was arrested and dragged off stage. But what really struck me when revisiting the music this week, is how musically advanced each of these album are sonically.
Much of the credit for the overall sound has to go to producer Paul Rothchild, who spent about four times as long mixing and mastering as the band did with the actual recording. However, the musicians themselves – guitarist <strong, keyboardist Ray Manzarek, and drummer John Densmore – brought an excellent and eclectic mix of diverse styles and influences. They stepped forward and shined to make excellent music, but also showed remarkable restraint when necessary and faded into the background to offer the perfect canvas for Morrison to forge his poetic nuggets.
Released: January 4, 1967 (Elektra) Produced by: Paul A. Rothchild Recorded: Sunset Sound Recorders, Hollywood, August 1966
Break On Through
The Crystal Ship
Twentieth Century Fox
Light My Fire
Back Door Man
I Looked At You
End Of the Night
Take It As It Comes
Released: September 25, 1967 (Elektra) Produced by: Paul A. Rothchild Recorded: Sunset Sound Recorders, Hollywood, March-May 1967
You’re Lost, Little Girl
Love Me Two Times
People Are Strange
My Eyes Have Seen You
I Can’t See Your Face In My Mind
When the Music’s Over
Band Musicians (Both Albums)
Jim Morrison – Lead Vocals Robbie Krieger – Guitars Ray Manzarek – Keyboards, Piano, Bass John Densmore – Drums
The Doors album was released during the very first week of 1967. It was on the cutting edge of modern music during a historic year for rock n roll on many fronts. However, the actual recording procedures were quite antiquated. Recorded at Sunset Sound in Hollywood over six days, Rothchild and engineer Bruce Botnick used a 4-track tape machine for all recording and overdubbing (to put this in perspective, by the early 1970s top albums were recorded on 24 tracks). What Rothchild and Botnick lacked in modern technology, they made up for in proficiency and genius.
Ironically for such a breakthrough album, both the opening and closing songs had parts which were censored. In a section of the closer “The End”, Morrison repeats “fuck” repeatedly, but this was buried so far in the mix to be unintelligible. The opening song, “Break on Through (To the Other Side)” originally contained the lyrics; “She gets high, she gets high”, which was truncated to simply “She gets…, she gets…” Aside from this unfortunate omission, the song is the absolute perfect opener for the album and the band itself. The band’s unofficial motto was “Where you see a wall, we see a door” and “Break on Through” is the perfect musical articulation of this. The piece also showcases the talents of each member, beginning with an infectious groove led by Densmore’s jazz-flavored drums and Manarek’s Fender Rhodes keyboard bass groove. Kreiger plays an adaptation of a Paul Butterfield blues riff, while Morrison provides some shredding vocals to make the mission and message completely unambiguous.
A more moderate groove follows with “Soul Kitchen”. Kreiger plays a funk/soul riff that he says was trying to emulate the horn section of a typical James Brown song. Manzarek’s key bass is “doubled up” in unison with session bassist Larry Knechtel to further highlight the “soul” aspect of the song. The song is a tribute to a restaurant in Venice Beach which often let Morrison sleep overnight while he was homeless in 1965. “The Crystal Ship” may be one of the few traditional “love songs” in the band’s catalog. Morrison croons like early Frank Sinatra while Manzarek shows that he is also an impressive pianist.
“Twentieth Century Fox” is the first boilerplate “pop song” on the album, using the cleaver double-entendre hook in a piece meant for nothing more than dancing. However the next track, “Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)” couldn’t be further from a traditional pop/rock track. Written in 1927 by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, the song was used in various operas as “Whisky Bar” or “Moon over Alabama”. The song was presented to the band by Manzarek and adapted with updated lyrics, becoming an entertaining part of their live sets.
Although composition credit for all songs on The Doors went to the band as a whole, the album’s primary writers were actually Morrison and Krieger. One day, the guitarist presented a mellow folk song to the band called “Light My Fire”. Impressed by the interesting chord changes, the rest of the band kicked in and built upon the simple song with Densmore providing a Latin beat, Morrison adding some lyrics and Manzarek coming up with the famous, signature keyboard run. Further, the band added a long “jam” section in the middle of the song as a showcase for their musical talents, inflating the song’s duration to over seven minutes. The song would go on to become the band’s first number one hit and probably their most famous ever. José Feliciano’s cover version won a Grammy a few years later and the song was used in television commercials (something Morrison was vehemently opposed to). It was also the subject of controversy on the Ed Sullivan Show, when the band was told they couldn’t use the “girl, we couldn’t get much higher”, but Morrison sang the original lyric anyway.
The second side of the debut album starts with “Back Door Man”, a blues song written by Willie Dixon and recorded by Howlin’ Wolf in 1961. The Doors version includes some wild howling and screaming by Morrison above an intense, pulsating beat by the band members, making the whole recording very sexual in nature. This is something Robert Plant and Led Zeppelin would replicate in their earliest recordings a few years later.
The middle part of the second side contains three short song. haunting “End of the Night” was one of the earliest Doors songs, written in 1965. Musically, Kreiger shines brightest here, with Morrison borrowing the title and key lyric from William Blake’s poem “Auguries of Innocence”. This song is sandwiched between two more upbeat numbers. “I Looked at You” is a pure California sixties pop song, with an almost surfer-like vibe, while “Take It As It Comes” plays on the “time for everything” theme, no doubt inspired by The Byrds’ “Turn, Turn Turn”.
This all leads to “The End”, the aptly named climax of The Doors debut album. Originally written by Morrison as a “breakup song”, the track morphed into a dark 12-minute opus which employed the outer boundaries of musical forms by the band members. During a spoken-word section midway through the song, Morrison added a nod to the Oedipus complex;
Father…Yes son? I want to kill you / Mother, I want to …”
Reportedly, the first time this song was performed with that part, it simultaneously got the band fired from their gig at the Whiskey-a-Go-Go and signed with Elektra Records. The track that ended up on the album was recorded live in the studio with no overdubs whatsoever and captures a masterful moment in time where a quiet and soft ballad erupts into a crazy and dynamic seance. The song is esteemed both musically and and culturally and it made The Doors an instant classic in 1967.
Although the debut had far from reached its peak, the band returned to the studio in March to record the follow-up which would become Strange Days. Many of the songs for this new album had been written alongside the ones that appeared on The Doors, and some may contend that the best of them had already been used on the debut album. But, if this is true (and I’m not really sure that it is), then what the doors lacked in originality they more than made up for in musical prowess. The result is the hardest rocking album the band would ever produce and a real unsung influence on artists for decades to come.
“Strange Days” is the lead off title song, a frenzied barrage of music which uses some wild telephonic sound effects on the guitars and vocals. Although the first album had its moments of intensity, there was nothing like the throbbing rhythms of pure majesty which fill this song from beginning to end. Much of the credit here has to go to session bassist Douglass Lubahn, who really added quality low-end to the studio tracks which were hard to replicate during the quartet’s live performances (as impressive as they were). Lyrically, the song is totally about debauchery and sin, and the ultimate comeuppance;
Bodies confused, memories misused / As we run from the day to a strange night of stone…”
Lubahn also shines on the much more restrained following track, “You’re Lost, Little Girl”. This song is so well-crafted musically, blending subtly textured instrumentation that it is hardly noticeable how minimalist and repetitive the lyrics are.
“Love Me Two Times” shows yet another dimension of the band, combining a cool rockabilly riff with a more modern melody and intense rock changes. It’s radio-friendly overtones tend to mask the strong underlying sexual message, making it at once a light and bouncy pop tune and an adult-oriented blues piece.
Although the Doors are often labeled as a “psychedelic” band, the truth is the only really dabbled in this form and it was never really a centerpiece of their central sound. That being said, Strange Days does enter a bit of a psychedelic phase near the end of the first side. “Unhappy Girl” explores some odd patterns and piano effects by Manzarek and backwards tape masking, resulting in a haunting undertone to the all-too-cheery vocals by Morrison. “Horse Latitudes” is a short poem that Morrison wrote as a teen, based on a painting he had seen. On the album, the band does some odd noise making to try and enhance this poem, but it is Morrison’s deliverance that really carries the track.
Proving that the band can leap from poetry to pop without violating some mysterious sense of form, “Moonlight Drive” follows to close the first side of Strange Days. This was the Doors’ earliest original composition, the first song Morrison sang to Manzarek when first discussing the idea of forming a band. A long staple of their early set list, the studio version adapted Krieger’s new slide guitar technique, giving an added dimension to the funky jounce of Manzarek’s piano. Morrison provides romantic yet philosophical lyrics throughout as the song continues to gain momentum and intensity. The Doors were always more about personal power than “flower power” and Morrison in particular advocated personal freedom through testing every limit. “Moonlight Drive” illustrates this view perfectly in a very entertaining fashion.
The second side of Strange Days starts with “People Are Strange”, the first single released from the album (while “Light My Fire” was still high on the charts) in the autumn of 1967. The song has a European cabaret quality and is a very short and catchy number. Written primarily by Krieger, the song morphs from a simple guitar ballad to a light and bouncy piano/keyboard dominated number with a simple, two-note bass line and lyrics which seem to be influenced by LSD. “My Eyes Have Seen You” is a pure rock song, which fits well with some of the poppier stuff from the first album, complete with Morrison returning to the shredding, screaming vocals. “I Can’t See Your Face in My Mind” seems to have been influenced by Brian Jones and his mid-sixties work with the Rolling Stones, especially with its use of the marimba.
Just as the album begins in a rock frenzy, it completes with the 11-minute rock epic “When the Music’s Over”. Structurally, it is built similar to the end, with opening and closing verse hooks wrapped around a long poetic interlude by Morrison. But this journey is much less dark and much more like a religious journey examining the soul. Morrison assumes the role shaman, while the musicians reach for the unexplored using their remarkable capacity for musical theatrics. Kreiger plays an acid-hot guitar intermixed with a theremin, while Manzarek bounces along with melodic keys and heartbeat bass line and Densmore performs some impressive, double-jointed drumming. Lyrically, Morrison coins some of his most famous phrases;
The face in the mirror won’t stop, the girl in the window won’t drop / A feast of friends, ‘Alive!’ she cried, waiting for me outside…”
Without a doubt, part of the band’s success was their “When The Music’s Over” became a vehicle for the quartet to quite literally propel themselves into the heady and rarefied space that true improvisation will construct for both performer and audience alike.
Strange Days is more surreal than psychedelic and it showed the world that the debut album was no fluke. Rothchild had high hopes for this second album, even later admitting that he thought it might “be bigger than anything The Beatles had done”. It was not, faring not quite as well as the debut critically or commercially (even though it did reach #3 and spawned two Top 40 hits). It’s lack of larger success may have been due to it curiously being released in September ’67, the same month when its predecessor The Doors was peaking at #2 on the album charts.
The Doors put out four more solid studio albums plus a double-live album over the next four years and had much further success and added to their brief but potent legacy. However, the band never did quite regain the tremendous momentum that they had in 1967.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1967 albums.
It may be a bit controversial to name a decidedly “retro” album as the album of the year for any particular year. Many rock fans who reflect back on the era of the early nineties, and the year 1992 in particular, will rightfully think of the alternative or “grunge” craze which had then fully materialized. But Classic Rock Review is all about timelessness in rock, and Harvest Moon by Neil Young may have sounded like something that should have been made 20 years earlier, but 20 years later it holds up as well as anything from 1992. So we chose this restrained, Nashville-produced, Americana classic over anything that came out of Seattle that year.
Much speculation has been made about the relationship of this album to Young’s 1972 album Harvest, with many labeling Harvest Moon as a “sequel” to that album two decades earlier. There certainly is a case to be made due to the similarities in title, the fact that both albums were recorded in Nashville with some of the same players (dubbed the “Stray Gators” by Young), Ben Keith on pedal Steel, Tim Drummand on bass, and Kenny Buttrey on drums. Then, of course, there is the plain fact that the albums are very similar in sound and arrangement. However, Young denied that there was a strong connection between the two albums in an interview;
“people see the correlation between the two, and it’s kind of a plus to be able to refer back 20 years and see the same people and do that. But the thrust of the albums is different, even though the subject matter is similar, so I tend to shy away more from comparisons between them…”
Young spent much of the 1980s experimenting with vastly different styles from electronic to rockabilly to hard-edged electric rock. Previous to Harvest Moon he explored the outer limits of guitar noise with the 1990 album Ragged Glory, recorded along with his sometime backing band, Crazy Horse. In this light, Young’s return to his predominant style of the 1970s, was just another radical turn in style. While most longtime fans and critics appreciated this move, some found his return the antipathy of spontaneity and therefore less ambitious.
Harvest Moonby Neil Young
Released: October 27, 1992 (Columbia) Produced by: Neil Young & Ben Keith Recorded: Redwood Digital, Woodside, Sep 1991-Feb 1992
From Hank to Hendrix
You and Me
War of Man
One of These Days
Such a Woman
Neil Young – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano, Banjo Ben Keith – Pedal Steel, Marimba Spooner Oldham – Piano, Keyboards Tim Drummand – Bass Kenny Buttrey– Drums
The opening track on Harvest Moon is “Unknown Legend”, a song of romance and imagination which tells of an adventurous woman who has settled into the relative obscurity of domestic life and middle age. The sound is intentionally retro and haunting with the deep reverb and a sparse, acoustic arrangement beneath the strong melody which is harmonized by Linda Rondstadt. The song’s lyrics are bittersweet and poetic;
“the chrome and steel she rides colliding with the very air she breathes…”
“From Hank to Hendrix” is a self-reflective county-rock song which speaks of Young’s own diverse influences and is led by a strong harmonica riff musically while it lyrically sounds like it may have been influenced by younger contemporaries like Tom Petty. “You and Me” is the most direct link back to Harvest, with strong elements of “Old Man” and “Needle and the Damage Done” evident implicitly and explicitly. It is a personal and introspective ballad with a very sparse arrangement of just acoustic guitar and vocals by Young and Nicolette Larsen who does some fine harmonizing.
What truly makes the album a masterpiece is the absolute masterpiece of a title song, “Harvest Moon”. The song celebrates longevity in relationships and love affairs with a flawless melody backed by a perfect music arrangement. From the upfront acoustic riffing to the picked steel guitar, subtleties of ethereal sounds, soft brush strokes on the drums, and beautiful background vocals, this song captures the essence of beauty and romance as well any song ever.
The middle of the album contains a couple more Neil Young classics. “War of Man” is dark folk with an Americana aura throughout, where Young comments on the destructive tendencies of mankind. It contains a haunting acoustic arrangement with some interesting presence by Drummand on bass, who breaks into an almost-rock rhythm towards the end. In comparison to the cynical “War of Man”, the next song “One Of These Days” could not be more different in tone, although similar in overall quality as a song. It is a song of gratitude and appreciation of friends and acquaintances, set to a moderate Nashville beat with more great melodies and harmonies.
The album next thins a bit with the all-to-soft piano and orchestral ballad “Such a Woman” and the frivolous “Old King”, which is only finds salvation with the fine banjo picking by Young. However, the album does end strong with the return to the solid, Nashville-influenced accessibility in “Dreamin’ Man” and the ten minute, live acoustic closer “Natural Beauty”. This last song is a gentle, minor-key folk song which uses nature as an allegory for love.
Harvest Moon was Young’s 21st overall album and, although it was highly reflective, it was far from his last. In fact, just this month (June 2012) Young released his 34th overall album, a collection of traditional standards called Americana, which he recorded along with Crazy Horse. It may seem absurd to suggest that Young may still be around making music in yet another 20 years, when he’ll be age 86. But we wouldn’t bet against it.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1992 albums.
The 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.
Dirtby Alice In Chains
Released: September 29, 1992 (Columbia) Produced by: Dave Jerden & Alice in Chains Recorded: Various Locations, March-May 1992
Dam That River
Rain When I Die
Down In a Hole
Intro (Dream Sequence)/Iron Gland
Hate To Feel
Layne Staley – Lead Vocals, Guitars Jerry Cantrell – Guitars, Vocals Mike Starr – Bass Sean Kinney– Drums
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.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1992 albums.
One of the hardest working bands of the late 1980s, Soul Asylum finally broke though in 1992 with Grave Dancers Union. Made up of well-composed three and four minute songs, the album contains an amazing amount of genre diversity as well as tidbits of experimentation without every elongating any one section or theme unnecessarily. Each song stands out in its own way, with no two sounding completely alike. There are very few weak, filler-level tracks, while the standouts are very strong. While the album is brilliant musically throughout, it does fluctuate lyrically between deep, poetic lyrics and some which are cheap and trite. But that being said, this is one of the best albums of 1992 and it nicely straddles the line between the predominant genre of the day, alternative, and many other sub-genres of rock n’ roll.
This is officially the sixth studio album by the Minneapolis quintet, preceded by three independent releases in 1986 and two more on the A&M label – Clam Dip & Other Delights in 1989, And the Horse They Rode In On in 1990. The band also toured relentlessly during these years while forging their sound from its early punk roots to the modern alternative with many other elements thrown in. However they a hard time breaking beyond a regional act and, due to weak sales from these latter two albums, the band was dropped from the A&M label. In the early 1990s, the band re-formed as an unplugged, acoustic act, which caught the attention of Columbia Records and led to this initial album for that label.
The album marks the emergence of vocalist/guitarist Dave Pirner as the true “front man” for the group, a role he was hesitant to embrace in the past but a key role in the chemistry of the band’s sound and image. The sessions for this album did not go without controversy as producer Michael Beinhorn grew dissatisfied with the performance of drummer Grant Young midway through the sessions. He brought in Sterling Campbell, who had vast experience with acts such as David Bowie and Duran Duran. Campbell recorded the latter sessions for the album and eventually replaced Young as Soul Asylum’s permanent drummer in the mid 1990s.
Grave Dancers Unionby Soul Asylum
Released: October 6, 1992 (Columbia) Produced by: Michael Beinhorn Recorded: The Powerstation and River Sound, New York City, May 1992
Somebody To Shove
Keep It Up
Get On Out
Without a Trace
Growing Into You
The Sun Maid
Dave Pirner – Guitars, Horn Arrangements, Vocals Dan Murphy – Guitar, Vocals Karl Mueller – Bass Grant Young– Drums
The album starts fast and strong with “Somebody to Shove”, an upbeat and catchy rocker with many elements of alternative or “grunge” rock. The tense verse builds to a release on the chorus which flows smoothly to the punk-like hook title of the song, which tells the classic story of the fool in suspended anticipation. “Black Gold” follows with a good acoustic intro and interesting changes, but is a little convoluted and weak lyrically. Written by Pirner, this was one of five singles spawned from Grave Dancers Union.
By far the most popular of these singles was “Runaway Train”, the band’s biggest hit ever. The song brought the band to international status and won the Grammy for the best rock song in 1994. Some believe the title derived from a 1980s review of the band, which described their sound as “an unholy mix of Kiss and Hank Williams tossed under a runaway train”. However, the popular video for the song focused on the “runaway” aspect, displaying several photos of teenage runaways who were still missing at the time. Musically, the song is acoustic throughout, even during the guitar lead by Dan Murphy with some Hammond organ added by sessionist Booker T. Jones III. The song also contains some of the most profound lyrics on the album;
“And everything seems cut and dry, day and night, earth and sky, somehow I just don’t believe it…”
The middle part of the album sees the band exploring many sub-genres. “Keep It Up” can either be described as a nod back to 80s-style power pop or a precursor to the soon-to-arrive Collective Soul sound. In either case, it contains a heavy bass presence by Karl Mueller along with subdued vocals by Pirner. “Homesick” is a Stonesy slow country-rock revival love song, which is melancholy yet a very pleasant listen with some philosophical lyrics to boot. “New World” has an odd timed beat and a fantastic, melancholy vibe, while arranged masterfully by its constant return to the fine main acoustic riff. “April Fool” kicks off with a heavy metal riff and beat before the fits and stops of an Alice Cooper-like breaks in the verse, all topped off by multi-layered guitar parts.
“Without a Trace” is the default title song of the album, containing the lyric which gave Grave Dancers Union its title. In recent years, Pirner has dedicated the song to the memory of Mueller, who died cancer seven years ago today on June 17, 2005.
The album completes with a couple of average songs – the upbeat “Growing Into You” and the effects-laden “99%” –before the climatic concluding track “The Sun Maid”. This pleasant acoustic ballad with nice, Beatlesque strings from the Meridian String Quartet, shows the full promise of the band’s songwriting talent and ends the album on a strong note.
Within a year of its release, Grave Dancers Union was certified triple-platinum and has been, by far the top selling album by Soul Asylum. They have slowly released albums fairly consistently since then, with a new album every third-to-half decade or so, each with moderate acclaim and sales. The band plans to release a new studio album called Delayed Reaction in July 2012, their first release since 2006.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1992 albums.
Blind Melon is the 1992 debut album by the rock band of the same name. The album was an international seller due primarily to the breakthrough hit “No Rain” along with a few other minor hits. With producer Rick Parashar, the band approached production of the album to be intentionally devoid of any digital effects or any 1990’s production techniques in an attempt to make a “classic” sounding record. This extended to the use of out-of-date amplifiers and instrumentation. The results were mixed with some tracks enhanced by the “vintage” sound and others just sounding muddled and under-developed.
Although often mis-labeled as a “Seattle” band, the album was merely recorded in Seattle. The band itself was formed in Los Angeles and made up of personnel from the South and Midwest. Blind Melon came together in 1990 when vocalist Shannon Hoon, an Indiana native met guitarist Rogers Stevens and bassist Brad Smith, both from Mississippi. Stevens and Smith eventually persuaded fellow-Mississippi drummer Glen Graham to come to L.A. and a second guitarist, Christopher Thorn rounded out the quintet. Although the band’s rise in L.A. was rather rapid, they were signed to Capitol Records in 1991, they eventually decided that they did not “fit in” with that scene and relocated to Chapel Hill, North Carolina where they were able to rent a house big enough for them and their equipment and work on new material for their first album.
The iconic cover art is based on a 1975 photograph of Graham’s younger sister in an awkward bee costume and was carried through for the band’s videos which used a modern day actor who resembled the younger Graham.
Blind Melonby Blind Melon
Released: September 14, 1992 (Capitol) Produced by: Rick Parashar & Blind Melon Recorded: London Bridge Studios, Seattle, February-June 1992
Soak the Sin
Tones Of Home
Dear Ol’ Dad
Seed To a Tree
Shannon Hoon – Lead Vocals, Guitar Rogers Stevens – Lead Guitars Christopher Thorn – Guitar, Mandolin Brad Smith – Bass, Flute, Vocals Glenn Graham – Drums, Percussion
Blind Melon opens up with a multi-part jam song called “Soak the Sin”, which is slightly reminiscent of what Pearl Jam was doing on their debut, but with a looser structure. This is followed up by the funk-driven “Tones of Home”, a better structured single with a nice rhythm by Smith and Graham. However, the lyrics here are a bit trite and immature –
“I thought that this would be the land of milk and honey, but I’ve come to find out that it’s all hate and money…”
“I Wonder” adds a lot of diverse parts, starting with an acoustic intro and winding through several riff-driven sections. There is a sense of hesitation and under-development as the players appear to follow Hoon through the various changes. This begins a section of the album where Blind Melon seems to be on the brink of making strong and interesting rock music but had not allow the time for the songs to properly ripen. “Paper Scratcher” and “Dear Ol Dad” illustrate this perfectly, with the only real highlight being the acoustic lead by Stevens.
The heart of the album is two back-to-back songs in the middle. “Change” is the first of these, a nice acoustic ballad with brilliant harmonica and mandolin overtones by Thorn. It is a coming-of-age song with poetic lyrics and fine performances by everyone, showing that this band definitly had potential to develop into a top-notch act.
The other great song on the album is, of course, “No Rain”, by far the most popular song by the band. Although its popularity was fueled by the brilliant MTV video that depicts a bee girl trying to find her niche in the world, the musical credentials of the song itself make it an entertaining and timeless classic decades later. It contains a most unusual arrangement where Stevens’ lead and Thorn’s acoustic are given’ prime attention with just sparse rhythm intervening mostly for effect. This all adds as a perfect canvas for Hoon’s fantastic vocals, unmistakably clear and present and a bright signpost along the highway that is 1990’s music.
Unfortunately, the album really falls off and these highlights, with the final six tracks not adding much in terms of originality or entertainment that is not already present earlier on the album. Of these, only the closer “Time’ offers much in way of ambition, as the band attempts to summarize the themes of the previous twelve tracks to end the album.
Like many rock band’s Blind Melon‘s turn at fame was meteoric and cut short tragically. Shortly after releasing the band’s follow-up album Soup in 1995, lead singer Shannon Hoon died of a drug overdose, abruptly ending the band’s rise.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1992 albums.
Images and Words is the second studio album by Dream Theater, released in the summer of 1992. It is the first to feature vocalist James LaBrie and is considered one of the most influential albums ever for the genre of progressive metal, although it may be short-sighted to try and place this material into a well-defined box of any musical genre. On this album the music, vocals, and lyrics are in a constant exploration that appears to respect no boundaries of musical style. The result is a very diverse and complex masterpiece made up of a multitude of elements which, for the dedicated music fan, becomes more vivid with each subsequent listen.
Dream Theater’s seeds were planted in the mid 1980s when guitarist John Petrucci, bassist John Myung, and drummer Mike Portnoy, all attended the Berklee Schhol of Music in Boston. They formed a band called Majesty, along with keyboardist Kevin Moore and vocalist Chris Collins, who was later replaced by Charlie Dominici. After a name change due to a conflict, Dream Theater recorded their first album When Dream And Day Unite, released in 1989. During the subsequent tour however, the band became unsatisfied with Dominici’s vocals and his creative vision and he was released from the band. It would take two solid years until they found a satisfactory replacement, auditioning nearly 200 vocalists before LaBrie, formally of the Canadian band Winter Rose, sent the band an audition tape in 1991. With LaBrie on board, the band made anew audition tape and was soon signed to a seven album contract with Atco Records.
Beyond the band’s dedicated fans, Images and Words remains highly acclaimed by music critics and musicians alike. In a review of the album, critic Jonathan Scott stated;
The five musical prodigies of Dream Theater show here that they are not afraid to stand out from the crowd and shout, with unnaturally-sized drum kits and keyboardists equipped with mutant spider-fingers, that music, the art, cannot be condensed down to simple hooks and choruses…”
Providing historical context to the album, musician Jay Santos said;
“Although stemming from the late 80’s, their progressive style and superior and solid execution captured the attention of serious musicians hence giving them a safe place, protected from the grunge movement…”
Santos also pointed to the fact that the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs have long used portions of “Metropolis” as incidental music during their games, proving that while the band will never receive mainstream pop coverage, they still have still crossed over to mainstream culture.
Images and Wordsby Dream Theater
Released: July 7, 1992 (Atco) Produced by: David Prater Recorded: Bear Tracks Studios, New York, September-December 1991
Pull Me Under
Take the Time
Metropolis, Pt. 1: Miracle and Sleeper
Under a Glass Moon
Wait for Sleep
Learning to Live
James LaBrie – Lead Vocals John Petrucci – Guitars, Vocals Kevin Moore – Keyboards John Myung – Bass Mike Portnoy– Drums, Vocals
The album contains four extended pieces which clock in over 8 minutes apiece, each complex but with their own distinct signature. “Take the Time” begins very rudiment heavy before breaking into a funk section by Myung, who excels at bass throughout the track. While the song navigates through a multitude of sections reminiscent of early Genesis or Yes, it returns frequently to the main vocal hook and Petrucci’s signature lead riff. “Metropolis, Pt. 1: The Miracle and the Sleeper” is sprinkled with sonic candy with more great rudiments under the verse and plenty of space for virtuosity in its multiple parts. This piece never relents and keeps your ears perked at maximum attention as each band member shines brightly throughout, most especially Moore with a killer synth lead.
The closer “Learning to Live” starts off with more virtuoso instrumentation but is far more steady and subtle compared to other extended pieces. It is quite different than anything else on the album, with a more surreal quality which may take a few times to appreciate.
The opening song “Pull Me Under” has a long, building intro, before settling into a heavy metal riff by Petrucci and a double-kicked beat by Portnoy. Written by Moore, the lyrics are philosophical about life and death and contain a direct quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Despite being over eight minutes in length, the song was released as a single and peaked at #10 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart.
The album nicely counterbalances the extended tracks with more lighter, more conventional, and shorter tracks. “Another Day”, written by John Petrucci for his father, has been described as “prog metal meets Kenny G”. With its gently rocking piano and a couple saxophone leads by Jay Beckenstein, who rarely stepped away from playing “smooth jazz” before this session. “Surrounded” starts and ends as a ballad with a rotating key riff, accented by two piano chords but nicely morphs into a choppy, odd-timed rocker through the heart of the song.
The album’s diversity os once again displayed later on when the pure heavy metal “Under a Glass Moon”, frantic throughout and with all players at full throttle is followed by “Wait for Sleep”, a short and calm ballad containing mostly just piano and vocals. This latter track acts as the default title song for the album, containing its title in the lyric and describing the scene of the album’s cover.
Images and Words would become the first of a string of highly regarded albums that continues to this day, 20 years later, and is the most successful album to date commercially (although albums in recent years have fared better with chart positions). The band has gone through several personnel changes over the past two decades, with the most recent being the departure of founding drummer Mike Portnoy in 2010, who is now a member of Flying Colors (also reviewed today on our affiliate site Modern Rock Review). Still, Dream Theater keeps going strong with an album released in 2011 and another planned for later in 2012.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1992 albums.
Released 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 Experienceby Gin Blossoms
Released: August 4, 1992 (A&M) Produced by: John Hampton & Gin Blossoms Recorded: Ardent Studios, Memphis, TN, 1992
Until I Fall Away
Hold Me Down
Hands Are Tied
Found Out About You
Pieces Of the Night
Robin Wilson – Lead Vocals, Guitar Doug Hopkins – Guitars Jesse Valenzuela – Guitars, Mandolin, Vocals Bill Leen – Bass Phillip Rhodes– Drums, Percussion
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.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1992 albums.
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 Companionby The Black Crowes
Released: May 12, 1992 (Def American) Produced by: George Drakoulias Recorded: Various Locations, 1991
Thorn In My Pride
Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye
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
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.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1992 albums.
For 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 Deathby Roger Waters
Released: September 7, 1992 (Columbia) Produced by: Roger Waters, Nick Griffiths, & Patrick Leonard Recorded: Various Locations, 1988-1992
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
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
“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.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1992 albums.