Ritual de lo Habitual by Jane’s Addiction

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Ritual de lo Habitual by Jane's AddictionReleased in the summer of 1990, Ritual de lo Habitual was the third overall album and second studio release by Jane’s Addiction. This critically acclaimed album was at once on the razor’s edge of the emerging alternative movement and the last release by the group before their initial breakup in 1991. Stylistically, Ritual de lo Habitual is loosely divided into two halves with a group of frenzied rockers early and some extended and theatrical tracks later on the record.

Jane’s Addiction was formed in Los Angeles in 1985 by lead vocalist Perry Farrell and bassist Eric Avery. Soon drummer Stephen Perkins and guitarist Dave Navarro joined the group to the round out the quartet. The group was wildly successful on the LA club scene and, after releasing their self-titled 1987 live album on an independent record label, they entertained offers from many major labels before signing with Warner Bros. Records. In 1988, the group recorded and released Nothing’s Shocking.

Producer Dave Jerden worked with the group on Nothing’s Shocking and stayed on for Ritual de lo Habitual. While the sessions produced quality music, they were marred by internal conflicts over drug use and royalty splits. Upon release of Ritual de lo Habitual, there was controversy over its album cover and so two packaging versions were created with one having a “clean” cover.


Ritual de lo Habitual by Jane’s Addiction
Released: August 21, 1990 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: Dave Jerden & Perry Farrell
Recorded: Track Record, North Hollywood, CA, 1989-1990
Track Listing Group Musicians
Stop!
No One’s Leaving
Ain’t No Right
Obvious
Been Caught Stealing
Three Days
Then She Did …
Of Course
Classic Girl
Perry Farrell – Lead Vocals, Guitar, Piano
Dave Navarro – Guitars
Eric Avery – Bass
Stephen Perkins – DrumsRitual de lo Habitual by Jane's Addiction

In a bit of irony, the song that starts things off is entitled “Stop!” and, after a spoken word intro by guest Cindy Lair, the tune comes in with pure energy and it doesn’t relent until the moderately timed mid section before it comes back with equal fury during Navarro’s frenzied guitar lead. “No One’s Leaving” is more rhythmically based than the opener but with equal energy, especially during a blistering guitar lead. “Ain’t No Right” is a short track built on Avery’s solo bass to accompany Farrell’s amoral lyrics.

The next track, “Obvious”, features a rich, psychedelic like beginning over a steady rhythm by Perkins. This song has different approach and vibe than anything previous on album and it features guest Geoff Stradling on piano. “Been Caught Stealing” is the most indelible tune on the album with plenty of inventive production, from the opening dog barks to the wild riffs and simultaneous counter-riffs to the funky dance rhythms to direct, storytelling confessional lyrics.

Jane's Addiction, 1990

Next comes a series of extended tracks that make up the richly produced second half of the album. The best of these is “Three Days”, a nearly eleven minute track which constantly builds in intensity. It begins with a haunting and deliberative first section before it gets rhythmic with the intense drumming of Perkins at about three and a half minutes in. Navarro adds an ethereal guitar lead over this before the piece migrates to its intense final section. The next two extended tracks are not quite as interesting. The eight minute long “Then She Did…” starts fine as a moody ballad with interesting riffs and charms but the rest of the song doesn’t do much beyond adding some additional musical arranging. The seven minute, Eastern flavored “Of Course” is dominated by the violin of Charlie Bisharat. The album concludes with the traditional rock ballad, “Classic Girl”, featuring great guitar textures throughout that help close the album out.

Ritual de lo Habitual has been certified 2× Platinum in the US and the band embarked on a lengthy tour to support the album from late 1990 well into 1991, which included headlining the first Lollapalooza festival, which Farrell co-created. Later in the year Avery and Navarro left the group and Jane’s Addiction disbanded for the initial time.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1990 albums.

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Goo by Sonic Youth

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Goo by Sonic YouthSonic Youth‘s 1990 album Goo was a critical success and reached the highest album charting position of the group’s career. Their sixth overall release, this was the first after signing their initial major-label recording deal with Geffen Records, which included complete creative control by the band. Goo resulted in an expansion of the group’s 1980s sound of combining punk with experimental alt-rock, but with more deliberate references to pop culture and contemporary topics.

Sonic Youth was formed in New York City 1981 by guitarist Thurston Moore and bassist Kim Gordon (who were later married), and they derived their name from MC5’s Fred “Sonic” Smith and reggae artist Big Youth. Within a year, guitarist Lee Ranaldo was part of the group. They went through several drummers through their early years and initial recordings before Steve Shelley joined Sonic Youth in 1985. The group’s 1988 double album Daydream Nation was a huge critical success, included songs that received significant airplay and has since been chosen by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry. With this, the band began looking for a major label deal, eventually landing with Geffen.

A group of about eight demos were recorded by the group in late 1989 before they secured a full recording budget to enter Sorcerer Sound in early 1990 with producer Nick Sansano. The team employed experimental and abstract techniques to achieve unique sound collages and other sonic qualities for this album.


Goo by Sonic Youth
Released: June 26, 1990 (DGC)
Produced by: Nick Sansano, Ron Saint Germain, & Sonic Youth
Recorded: Sorcerer Sound Recording & Greene St. Recording Studios, New York City, March–April 1990
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Dirty Boots
Tunic (Karen’s Song)
Mary Christ
Kool Thing
Mote
Disappearer
My Friend Goo
Mildred Pierce
Cinderella”s Big Score
Scooter & Jinx
Titanium Expose
Thurston Moore – Guitars, Vocals
Lee Ranaldo – Guitars, Vocals
Kim Gordon – Bass, Vocals
Steve Shelley – Drums, Percussion
Goo by Sonic Youth

 

The album opener “Dirty Boots” meanders in with two distinct riffs and the eventual full rhythm arrangement before first verse. The music is intense and biting but Moore’s vocals seem half-hearted until the song reaches a “sonic crescendo” with inventive feedback before breaking down and methodically working its way through the instrumental outro. “Tunic (Song for Karen)” was composed by Gordon as a loose tribute to Karen Carpenter. She delivers the lyrics in a mainly spoken word manner under rapid ethereal riffing, offering a very haunting look into inner destructive thoughts. “Mary-Christ” doesn’t quite work nearly as well as the opening two tracks as a proto-punk, badly improvised screed.

The album’s most famous track, “Kool Thing”, features interesting, upbeat rock intro with great drumming by Shelley throughout. The mid section breaks down into a bass-backed spoken word bridge featuring Gordon and and guest Chuck D. The song’s title was inspired by an interview that Gordon conducted with LL Cool J and the lyrics make reference to several of the rapper’s works. “Mote” is the sole composition by Ranaldo on Goo as well as his only lead vocals. The seven and a half minute track moves from an overloaded feedback intro to basic rock chording to a pure psychedelic and atmospheric trip which persists without form. “Disappearer” follows, featuring a thick upper range and steady rhythm under Moore’s melodic vocals and multiple key jumps through the progression into several sonic tunnels.

Sonic Youth in 1990

The album does lose momentum over its second half where the group seems to be treading over much of the same ground from earlier on this album. Starting with the quasi-title low-light, “My Friend Goo”, and into “Mildred Pierce”, which starts with a basic upbeat rhythm before devolving into a feedback overloaded, unintelligible screed. “Cinderella’s Big Score” is slightly catchy, but lacks much substance or definition, while “Scooter & Jinx” is a noise collage of more filler. The closer “Titanium Exposé” is a bit interesting with a nearly two minute intro before the melodic verse proper comes in, followed by a slightly interesting bridge jam before a more upbeat, drum-driven jam leads to one last feedback collage to end the album.

Commercially, Goo fared a bit better in the UK than their native US and the album’s controversial content helped bring a further buzz beyond that which the group normally received. Through the 1990s and into the new millennium, Sonic Youth’s influence continued.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1990 albums.

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Shake Your Money Maker
by The Black Crowes

Album of the Year, 1990

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Shake Your Money Maker by Black CrowesThe Black Crowes’ impressive debut brought old-school, blues-flavored rock to the forefront in 1990. A quarter century after its release, Shake Your Money Maker is still the group’s best-selling album and its timeless qualities and genuine song-craft have helped it to maintain its sonic potency. With a blend of classic British blues and American Southern music elements, The Black Crowes released an authentic and original record, which Classic Rock Review has chosen as our Album of the Year for 1990.

In the mid-eighties, vocalist Chris Robinson and guitarist Rich Robinson formed the original incarnation of the group called Mr. Crowe’s Garden. Based in
Marietta, Georgia the group played pop and classic southern rock before eventually turning towards 1970s-era blues rock. Through the late eighties, the brothers Robinson remained at the core of the band which had several revolving supporting members, including rhythm guitarist Jeff Cease.

In 1989, The Black Crowes successfully auditioned with Def American records and began recording their debut with producer George Drakoulias. The group recorded original compositions which the Robinsons’ had written during the previous half decade, including a few tracks that were omitted from the album, such as “Don’t Wake Me”. Drakoulias brought in veteran musician Chuck Leavell, formally of the Allman Brothers Band, to add session piano and keyboards to the album.


Lawn Boy by Phish
Released: January 24, 1990 (Def American)
Produced by: George Drakoulias
Recorded: Soundscape Studios, Atlanta & several studios in Los Angeles, 1989
Track Listing Group Musicians
Twice As Hard
Jealous Again
Sister Luck
Could I’ve Been So Blind
Seeing Things
Hard to Handle
Thick n’ Thin
She Talks to Angels
Struttin’ Blues
Stare It Cold
Live Too Fast Blues
Chris Robinson
Lead Vocals
Rich Robinson
Guitars
Jeff Cease
Guitars
Johnny Colt
Bass
Steve Gorman
Drums

Rich Robinson’s big guitar riff sets the album’s tone from the top with “Twice As Hard”. The slow, bluesy riffs are complemented by a slight touch of slide guitar by Cease through this excellent and entertaining pure rocker. “Jealous Again” is a more pop-oriented, in the Rolling Stones-vein, and presents a more dominant presence for vocalist Chris Robinson. Critics of the time tended to typecast The Black Crowes, were immediately typecast as descendants of the Stones and other British rockers, such as the Faces.

That critique was certainly merited as “Sister Luck” returns to the Stones’ vibe, this time as a ballad. In fact, this track comes dangerously close in title and temperament to the Stones’ classic “Sister Morphine” from Sticky Fingers. in contrast, “Could I’ve Been So Blind” is definitely a more modern, straight-forward rock track with good rhythmic rudiments by bassist Johnny Colt and drummer Steve Gorman. This particular song dates all the way back to the Mr. Crowe’s Garden era. “Seeing Things” is an impossibly slow Southern blues ballad, with a strong piano and keyboard presence by Leavell to complement the core rock elements. Chris Robinson vocals are exceptional on this track and he is joined by a background Gospel chorus, forecasting arrangements of future Black Crowes’ albums.

 
While the cover song “Hard to Handle” is driven by the rock drumming of Gorman, this song’s underlying structure is classic funk. Although originally recorded by of Otis Redding, its inclusion is an implicit shout out to Grateful Dead fans, as that group made the track a live mainstay a couple of decades earlier. In any case, The Black Crowe’s version is masterful and was a hit, reaching number 26 on the Billboard pop charts. “Thick n’ Thin” follows as a frenzied, upbeat blues rocker with heavy guitar chorus riffs and a very entertaining mid-section pushed along by the groovy bass of Colt. Written by Rich Robinson when he was a teenager, the solo intro to “She Talks to Angels” is an intricate acoustic guitar part. Chris Robinson wrote the lyrics about a “goth girl” in Atlanta who was “into heroin” and it contains some profoundly sad lines;

She keeps a lock of hair in her pocket, she wears a cross around her neck, the hair is from the little boy and the cross is someone she has not met, not yet…”

After this dramatic high point, the album does lose some momentum down the stretch. “Struttin’ Blues” seems to bring the album back up too quickly and feels really frivolous in comparison to the previous track. “Stare It Cold” is in much the same Stones-vein as “Jealous Again” but with plenty of room for short guitar licks in between the verses. It all concludes in the tradition of hidden tracks on nineties albums, with a distant rehearsal-like bluesy track with slight arrangement that fades in and out quickly in less than a minute and a half.

Shake Your Money Maker peaked at number 4 on the Billboard 200 and has sold more than 5 million copies. It launched The Black Crowes into top-tier status with national tours and further successful albums throughout the 1990s.

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

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Lawn Boy by Phish

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Lawn Boy by PhishContinuing to forge their unique fusion rock sound, Phish‘s sophomore effort, Lawn Boy, is chock full of diverse diddys and extended jams. Predating the group’s major label signing, the album was originally released on vinyl and independent, using different independent labels for each medium. Led by guitarist and vocalist Trey Anastasio, the resulting work is laid back, and light throughout, but not without moments of real musical prowess and intensity, especially during the instrumental jams.

Following the self-release of the group’s 1989 debut double LP, Junta, Phish was rapidly becoming a favorite live act in New England. They had developed a unique rapport with their dedicate audience, which would come to be known as “Phans”. These antics included secret cues and special jams initiated by the four “granola rockers”.

Phish won the studio time used to record this album when they finished first-place in a “Rock Rumble” contest in Burlington, VT. Subsequently, the songs were recorded and mixed at Archer Studios in Winooski, VT on 2″ analog tape, with the group performing mostly of the takes live with few overdubs or extra effects. Lawn Boy was the first of many Phish albums to enlist Tom Marshall, a childhood friend of Anastasio’s, as lyrical composer. Marshall would go on to co-write nearly 100 Phish original compositions.


Lawn Boy by Phish
Released: September 21, 1990 (Rough Trade)
Produced by: Phish
Recorded: Archer Studios, Winooski, VT, May–December 1989
Track Listing Group Musicians
The Squirming Coil
Reba
My Sweet One
Split Open and Melt
The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony
Bathtub Gin
Run Like an Antelope
Lawn Boy
Bouncing Around the Room
Trey Anastasio
Lead Vocals, Guitars
Page McConnell
Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Mike Gordon
Bass, Vocals
Jon Fishman
Drums, Vocals

“The Squirming Coil” begins the album, initially as piano/vocal ballad. After the brief intro, the song has a classic Genesis feel and approach with odd, quiet, but excellent musical interludes. The track ends with solo piano by Page McConnell, which lasts for about a minute. “Reba” is side one’s extended track, starting as a rather frivolous sing-songy tune with the repeated catch line; “bag it, tag it, sell iot to the butcher in the store…” The extended, jazz inspired jam in the mid-section is really quite impressive, including an extended guitar lead by Anastasio which is a highlight of the earlier part of the album. The song’s main theme returns in a creative way as a faded-in, Patriot-like march with drum rolls and whistles that lead to the final outro.

Drummer Jon Fishman compose “My Sweet One”, with a unique Bluegrass melody built on his rapid drumming. Between the verses there is some variety in phrasing and style, also returning to the good, down home harmonies which drive this track. “Split Open and Melt” is built on the funky bass riff of Mike Gordon while Fishman maintains a complex beat. The song employs the group :Giant Country Horns”, which are a bit off key (apparently intentional) to give the song a wild ambiance and assure that it probably couldn’t be played the same way twice.

The album’s original second side begins with “The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony”, Anastasio’s Country/jazz fusion instrumental with odd, added ambient party noise in the background. “Bathtub Gin” was co-written by Suzannah Goodman and is infectious an groovy in its musical approach. Here, chord changes are used for maximum effect while the beats are steady and consistent and the main melody is fine and enjoyable. “Run Like an Antelope” is the second side’s extended track and is built on a long intro that features deadened guitar notes, bouncy bass and an entertaining piano lead by McConnell, Next, a subtle but fantastic guitar lead by Anastasio drives the heart of this near-instrumental as the vocals do not arrive until way late in the song after the intense and extremely frenzied jam session.

“Lawn Boy” is a lounge-type song which remains true to its style throughout the two and a half minute duration. This title track was later re-mastered and remained a fan favorite throughout their career. The album ends with its strongest track. “Bouncing Around the Room” has great rhythms and harmonies, all built on Gordon’s crisp bass line and Fishman’s clicking percussion. This backdrop works well to showcase the fine vocals and, after two short verses, the song enters its extended climax as it subtly builds both complex vocals and musical intensity to end the album superbly.

Lawn Boy was re-released on Electra Records in 1992 and was eventually certified gold in 2004. This followed their 1991 major label debut of A Picture of Nectar and the group’s rapid national and international rise in popularity.

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

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Crazy World by Scorpions

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Crazy World by ScorpionsDriven by the popularity of a historically significant song, Crazy World was a commercial success in 1990 for Scorpions. The eleventh overall studio release by this rock band from Germany, the album charted high in the US and is the group’s highest selling album all time in the UK. Formed a quarter century earlier, this record also ushered in a fourth decade of production for Scorpions and showed that they still had plenty of creativity and rock originality in contemporary times.

Following the tremendous success of 1984’s Love at First Sting, the band toured the world and spawned the popular live album, World Wide Live in 1985. Now at the height of their popularity, the group decided to take some time off before recording another studio album. Four years in the making, Savage Amusement was released in 1988 sporting a more polished and mature sound that was met with some disappointment by long time fans.

In an effort to distance themselves from the sound on that latter album, Scorpions decided not to us their long-time producer Dieter Dierks, who had worked with the band on every previous album dating back to the mid 1970s. The group brought in studio veteran Keith Olsen, who worked to bring back the band’s raw, classic sound. The band also enlisted the help of studio composer Jim Vallance, who contributed to several of the album’s tracks.


Crazy World by Scorpions
Released: November 6, 1990 (Mercury)
Produced by: Keith Olsen & Scorpions
Recorded: Goodnight LA Studios, Los Angeles & Wisseloord Studios, The Netherlands, Summer-Fall, 1990
Track Listing Group Musicians
Tease Me Please Me
Don’t Believe Her
To Be With You In Heaven
Wind of Change
Restless Nights
Lust or Love
Kicks After Six
Hit Between the Eyes
Money and Fame
Crazy World
Send Me an Angel
Klaus Meine
Lead Vocals
Matthias Jabs
Guitars, Vocals
Rudolf Schenker
Guitars, Vocals
Francis Buchholz
Bass, Vocals
Herman Rarebell
Drums, Vocals

Starting off the album, “Tease Me Please Me” is a pure eighties-style rocker with good, deep riffing and majestic vocals by lead singer Klaus Meine. The song’s chorus has a catchy hook with rudiment accents. The second track, “Don’t Believe Her”, follows in much the same vein as the opener. In fact, this song is so similar it could be the second part of a multi-part suite (which it is not), using the same composers and the same vibe. “To Be with You in Heaven” starts with simple drum beat by
Herman Rarebell along with swelling guitar feedback before the two instruments join forces in unison. Moderate and methodical throughout, the song contains same philosophical and romantic lyrics with the hook;

To be with you in heaven I would go through the darkest hell, In heaven there’s no cure for love that kills…”

“Wind of Change” was written solely by Meine and is the true classic from this album (not to mention one of the all-time rock classics). The signature whistling intro is accompanied by a perfect blend of one acoustic guitar and two electric guitars by Matthias Jabs and Rudolf Schenker. The group’s most genuine track, the lyrics come in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall and forecast a similar change in Russia (which actually happened the following year, just as the song was peaking). “Wind of Change” holds the record for the best-selling single by a German artist, topping the charts in seven nations across the globe (including Germany) and reached the Top 5 in both the US and UK.

 
Obviously following this high point, the album never gets any better. But there still are some interesting moments. “Restless Nights” contains a methodical blues crunch with interesting and melodic verses. Here bassist Francis Buchholz has a few moments to shine through and Meine gets to show off his vocal range. Crazy World was the last album to feature Buchholz, a veteran from the band’s classic lineup.

The album’s original second side starts with a couple of standard hard rock tracks. the rather mundane theme of “Lust or Love” is followed by “Kicks After Six”, which contains some sonically desirable riffs. “Hit Between the Eyes” follows with some nice fire-one style rudiments and a hyper arrangement throughout, including a cool duo guitar lead by Jabs and Schenker.

Coming down the stretch, we have the steady rocker “Money and Fame”, featuring a cool talk box effect by Jabs, who co-wrote the track with Rarebell. The title track, “Crazy World” has interesting chord progressions and a deep and smooth harmony during the chorus hook. However, at five minutes long, this track is stretched out a bit too long. Vallance plays some moody keyboards along with Schenker’s picked acoustic on “Send Me an Angel”, a ballad which is at once melancholy and hopeful. The true highlight of this closer is Meine’s vocal which shine through with another indelible hook to complete the album.

Just prior to the release of Crazy World, the group fittingly launched the all-star concert The Wall Live In Berlin, performing both versions of Pink Floyd’s “In the Flesh”. Following the album’s release, Scorpions launched their own world tour with further success.

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

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The Razor’s Edge by AC/DC

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The Razors Edge by AC-DCAC/DC showed the world that they were still an energetic and formidable band as they commenced the 1990s with the successful album, The Razor’s Edge. The music is upbeat and strong throughout this record and all tracks were compose by brother guitarists Malcolm Young and Angus Young. The album helped the group regain its former glory and sold approximately ten to twelve million copies worldwide, putting it well within the top echelon in AC/DC’s collection of albums.

Following the tremendous success of 1980’s Back In Black, AC/DC had mixed levels of success through the 1980s. The group’s original drummer, Phil Rudd, was fired following a physical altercation with Malcolm Young in 1983 and session drummers were used for that year’s album, Flick of the Switch. The group’s next album, Fly on the Wall in 1985, was universally panned as one of the group’s worst. However, 1988’s Blow Up Your Video, which reunited AC/DC’s original producers, Harry Vanda and George Young, and was a commercial success.

The Razor’s Edge was produced by Bruce Fairbairn and is the the only studio album by the band to feature drummer Chris Slade. The Young brothers took on composing duties alone because vocalist Brian Johnson was unable to attend some of the early album sessions.


The Razor’s Edge by AC/DC
Released: September 24, 1990 (Atco)
Produced by: Bruce Fairbairn
Recorded: Windmill Road Studios, Dublin, & Little Mountain Studios in Vancouver, BC, 1989-1990
Track Listing Group Musicians
Thunderstruck
Fire Your Guns
Moneytalks
The Razors Edge
Mistress for Christmas
Rock Your Heart Out
Are You Ready
Got You by the Balls
Shot of Love
Let’s Make It
Good Riddance to Bad Luck
If You Dare
Brian Johnson
Lead Vocals
Angus Young
Guitars
Malcolm Young
Guitars, Vocals
Cliff Williams
Bass, Vocals
Chris Slade
Drums, Percussion

With a long, building and catchy intro, “Thunderstruck” is the perfect opening track for The Razor’s Edge. The track is built on Angus Young’s fingerboard progression, which acts as an arpeggio that leads the rhythm for the entire track. The song peaked at #5 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart and remains a staple in the band’s repertoire. “Fire Your Guns” continues the feel as a rapid and spastic rocker with steady rhythms by Slade and bassist Cliff Williams, along with nervous riffs and desperate hooks.

 
The album’s second big hit, “Moneytalks” is another track built on a simple but rich riff and a catchy shout-along. Johnson’s vocals hit a sweet spot somewhere between a crier’s shout and an alley cat’s yowl with satirical lyrics about the economic ways of the world. The title track, “The Razors Edge”, starts with droning solo by Angus Young and eventually builds on the drum accents by Slade into a moderate and dark rocker. This song has more musical variety than preceding tracks but still sticks to a simple, anthemic theme lyrically. The farcical “Mistress for Christmas” is a bit of racy fun with Christmas tunes, while “Rock Your Heart Out” features a cool bass line by Williams. “Are You Ready” was another minor hit, reaching #16 on the Mainstream Rock chart with its building riff and strategic launch.

The album’s second half contains lesser known (and somewhat forgettable), tracks, starting with “Got You by the Balls”, a less tactful rendition in the line of the brilliant “Big Balls” from 1976’s Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap. “Shot of Love” continues as another generic AC/DC track, followed by the slightly better “Let’s Make It”, with a nice riff by Malcolm Young. “Goodbye & Good Riddance to Bad Luck” has an interesting title above anything else, while the closer “If You Dare” finds a nice groove to end the album on a high note.

The Razor’s Edge reached #2 in the US and #4 in the UK, a level of commercial success that matched that of AC/DC’s glory years of the late seventies and early eighties. Following its release, the group embarked on a highly publicized world tour which spawned material for the group’s 1992 live album and sustained their popularity for years to come.

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

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Empire by Queensrÿche

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bossanova by Pixies

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Bossanova by PixiesOne who appreciates an album which flows in a seamless order from track to track will not be happy with Bosanova, a collection of short tracks that change radically from one track to the next. The third studio album by Pixies, the album’s original material was written by frontman Black Francis. The sound includes elements of punk, new wave, Brit pop, surf rock and 60s pyschedelia. Although the album only reached #70 in the US, it fared much better in the UK, reaching the Top 5 on their charts.

The group formed in Amherst, Massachusettes in 1984 when Francis began jamming with guitarist Joey Santiago. In early 1986, bassist Kim Deal and drummer David Lovering joined to round out the quartet which chose their name from randomly arriving at “pixies” in the dictionary. In 1988, the band recorded and released their critically acclaimed first full-length album, Surfer Rosa. Producer Gil Norton produced their second full album, Doolittle, which employed a much cleaner sound than the debut but found similar critical acclaim.

In early 1990, the band members relocated to Los Angeles to write an record the album. With little time to rehearse along with a few some studio issues, some of the material may have been underdeveloped. While Francis admitting to writing lyrics on napkins just “five minutes” before he sang on some of the tracks, he has also stated that this is his favorite Pixies album.


Bossanova by Pixies
Released: August 13, 1990 (Elecktra)
Produced by: Gil Norton
Recorded: Hollywood, Berlin, & London, 1990
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Cecilia Ann
Rock Music
Velouria
Allison
Is She Weird
Ana
All Over the World
Dig for Fire
Down to the Well
Happening
Blown Away
Hang Wire
Stormy Weather
Havalina
Black Francis
Lead Vocals, Guitars
Joey Santaigo
Guitarss
Kim Deal
Bass, Vocals
David Lovering
Drums, Percussion

The surf-infused “Cecilia Ann”, written by Frosty Horton and Steve Hoffman, is a cool instrumental with heavy distorted guitars by Santaigo. This is followed by “Rock Music”, a literal screed with more than its share of distortion and feedback effects in its less-than-two-minute duration. In contrast, the vocals are smooth and the music is subtle on “Velouria”. The song also features s subtle theremin by guest Robert F. Brunner. “Velouria” was the first single by Pixies to reach the UK Top 40.

“Allison” is an extremely short, almost pop song which seems like the start of a something that was abandoned when one’s attention span was diverted. “Is She Weird” is built on Deal’s driving bass and bright guitar riffs in the verses, while “Ana” is a spacey ballad with fine guitars over the odd chord structures and breathy vocals, all compressed into 129 seconds. The longest track on the album, “All Over the World” has a real new wave feel with the drums of Lovering right up front, along with harmonized vocals in the verses. This track is one of the few with a proper mid section, and it is laced with distant, spoken vocals behind the dueling guitar chops which lead to the outro of the track.

“Dig for Fire” is another interesting track with choppy but entertaining phrases and Talking Heads-like lead vocals. This song is almost danceable in comparison to other tracks and it peaked at #11 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart. After the emo drone of “Down to the Well”, the eclectic track “The Happening” starts as a dance track built with punk toppings but takes a quick and drastic turn during the first chorus and never really returns to its roots. “Blown Away” is a spacey, sixties type rock with upbeat rhythms and distant vocals and guitars, while “Hang Wire” returns to the new wave and gives the album its title;

Every morning and everyday, I’ll bossanova with ya…”

“Stormy Weather” is measured and sing-songing with Santiago’s bluesy guitars cutting through> The entirety of lyrics is one repeated line, offered in different variations much like the Beatles’ “You Know My Name, Look Up My Number”. Rounding out the album, “Havalina” is a fine sonic piece with bright guitar chords and duo vocals in the distance by Francis and Deal.

A year after Bossanova, the band released their final album before Francis abruptly announced that Pixies was finished as a band (with no explanation) in early 1993.

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

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Extreme II: Pornograffitti
by Extreme

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Extreme II, Pornograffitti by ExtremeThe rock quartet Extreme reached their popular climax with Extreme II: Pornograffitti. Sub-titled “A Funked Up Fairy Tale”, the album is a quasi-concept album with loosely-related songs that explore themes of sex and vice with lyrics primarily written by lead vocalist Gary Cherone. Musically, the album is dominated by the guitar textures and techniques of co-composer Nuno Bettencourt. The double-platinum selling result was an album which peaked at #10 on the Billboard album charts.

Extreme was formed in suburban Boston in 1985 by Cherone and drummer Paul Geary. Bettencourt and bassist Pat Badger were in rival bands and the four met after an altercation among the groups backstage at a multi-band local concert. Starting in 1986, the band gradually developed a strong local following and, during this time, Cherone and Bettencourt composed several original songs. They were signed to A&M Records in 1988 and recorded and released their self-titled debut album in 1989.

For their second album, veteran rock producer Michael Wagener was brought in. A mixture of funk, pop and hair metal sounds, the group’s hard sound was heavily influenced by Sammy Hagar-era Van Halen. However, the group is not done any great favors by the production style, which buries some of the finer elements of the playing in favor of the mind-numb beats and top-end “shearness”. Also, the band tries to take some kind of social stand or social commentary, which often comes off as adolescent, shallow or both. Ironically, it was two of the tracks which bucked these sonic and lyrical trends that became the band’s most successful.


Extreme II: Pornograffitti by Extreme
Released: August 7, 1990 (A&M)
Produced by: Michael Wagener & Nuno Bettencourt
Recorded: Scream Studios, Studio City, CA, 1990
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Decadence Dance
Li’l Jack Horny
When I’m President
Get the Funk Out
More Than Words
Money (In God We Trust)
It ‘s a Monster
Pornograffitti
When I First Kissed You
Suzi (Wants Her All Day What?)
He-Man Woman Hater
Song for Love
Hole Hearted
Gary Cherone
Lead Vocals
Nuno Bettencourt
Guitars, Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Pat Badger
Bass, Vocals
Paul Geary
Drums, Percussion

The album begins with “Decadence Dance”, which gives the listener a good sampling of what’s to follow both musically and thematically. Released as a single, the opener was a minor success in the UK, peaking at #36. “Li’l Jack Horny” features intro guitar harmonics for melodic effect by Bettencourt before he changes direction with a strong, bluesy riff. A fine track overall with good melody of lyrics that use nursery rhymes and fables, the song borrowed its title from the six member “Li’l Jack Horn Section”, who performs on this track and “Get the Funk Out”. The latter track is driven by the bass pattern of Badger and features Pat Travers on co-lead vocals.

“More Than Words” is a fine finger-picked ballad where Cherone and Bettencourt are free to fully display their talents at the fullest. For how over-produced most of the rest of the album is, the sparse arrangement here is a brilliant break in the action, and worked well to make this a quasi-classic. Lyrically, the song examines the diminished meaning of phrase “I love you”, as actions speak louder. The song became a #1 smash on the Billboard charts in the US. The subsequent single, “Hole Hearted”, another acoustic track, was also successful, rising to No. 4 on the same popular music chart.

Extreme II: Pornograffitti has some weak moments through the middle of the album. “Money (in God We Trust)” starts with a slight dialogue about the tooth fairy before the upbeat core tries to be anthemic and preachy at the same time. Not very original or interesting and, in fact, the hook borrows heavily from AC/DC’s “What Do You Do for Money Honey”. Likewise, “It’s a Monster” 4:28 – really covers no new ground at all and, while the title track “Pornograffitti” begins with some blistering guitar riffs by Bettencourt and eventually settles into a rudiment-fused groove with steady beat, it really amounts to more Van Halen-style cloning.

The second break from form, “When I First Kissed You”, is jazzy piano ballad, completely sans guitar. Here, Badger appears to be using a stand-up, double bass which adds to the song’s feel of authenticity as well along with the fine orchestral strings over the bridge. “Suzi (Wants Her All Day What?)” is another hard rock narrative, while “He-Man Woman Hater” includes an excellent guitar intro that borrows from “Flight of the Bumblebee” with Bettencourt’s guitar accompanied by rapid, percussive tapping by Geary. Dweezil Zappa makes a cameo with the cartoonish voice of the title character. This is followed by “Song for Love”, a slow ballad with a dark feel throughout.

The album concludes with its finest track, “Hole Hearted”, which lifts the mood tremendously following the droning previous track. A stomp built on the ringing 12-string acoustic of Bettencourt, this track also has some of the finest melodies by Cherone, accompanied during the pre-chorus and chorus. The song is pure pop majesty and never needs to embellish on its simple arrangement to exude its pure rock energy. The fourth and final single from the album, “Hole Hearted” reached #4 on the US charts.

For his proficient playing on Extreme II: Pornograffitti, Bettencourt
was named “Most Valuable Player” of 1991 by Guitar World magazine.
The band followed up with the album III Sides to Every Story in 1992, but it failed to sell nearly as well. More than two decades later, Extreme performed Pornograffiti in its entirety on their 2014 tour.

~

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

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Social Distortion

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Social DistortionAfter working for over a decade to refine their sound, Social Distortion finally got their opportunity for a major label release in 1990. Their third overall album, Social Distortion,  displays the group’s unique mixture of blues and rockabilly flavored punk rock. Led by primary composer and vocalist Mike Ness, the group found the time and resources to find their true sound. They also found themselves fortuitous beneficiaries of a changing musical environment, which was growing more receptive to alternative sounds.

Social Distortion was formed in 1978 by Ness and guitarist Dennis Danell. By 1981, the group released their first of many singles, which was followed by their debut album, Mommy’s Little Monster in 1983, released on their own independent label. After a brief hiatus in the mid eighties, the band reformed with new members John Maurer on bass and Christopher Reece on drums and released their second album, Prison Bound in 1988.

After signing with Epic Records in 1989, the band returned to the studio with producer Dave Jerden. Now armed with more time and money than ever before, Social Distortion worked out a lean and powerful sound, partially influenced nearly in equal parts by The Ramones and by Johnny Cash.


Social Distortion by Social Distortion
Released: March 27, 1990 (Epic)
Produced by: Dave Jerden
Recorded: Track Record in North Hollywood, CA, August–October 1989
Track Listing Group Musicians
So Far Away
Let It Be Me
Story of My Life
Sick Boys
Ring of Fire
Ball and Chain
It Coulda Been Me
She’s a Knockout
A Place in My Heart
Drug Train
Mike Ness – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Dennis Danell – Guitars
John Maurer – Bass, Vocals
Christopher Reece – Drums, Percussion

Social Distortion begins with the track “So Far Away”, written by Ness and Maurer. The two guitar riff attack with rapid rhythms highlights a very simple song structure, while the clear lyrical message gives song its head wagging creds. “Let It Be Me” is pure, raw, punk straight from the seventies and a good overall energetic performance highlighted by the creative way Ness drawls out the main title hook, all very adolescent and rebellious while still being apt musically. “Story of My Life” is one of the more melodic tracks with root rock n roll elements and nice backing vocals and medleys.

While entertaining enough, “Sick Boys” is really nothing new in its musical approach, just a bunch of Na Na Na’s to make it sing-along-able. The fully punked-out cover of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” subtly lets the main melody ring out through the distortion and is vastly entertaining even if it falls far short of the original 1966 masterpiece. The song was a minor hit, reaching #25 on the Modern Rock Tracks. Another hit radio , “Ball and Chain” features bright music which is contrasted by rough vocals, but they melodic enough to make it all work.

Coming down the stretch, the album gets only stronger. “It Coulda Been Me” is notable because of its fine harmonica interludes and a great lead later, while maintaining a sound that is very catchy and accessible. A long, upbeat drum leads into “She’s a Knockout”, a song which tilts towards heavy blues rock, at least musically. After a false stop halfway through, the whole song repeats again, virtually verbatim. “A Place in My Heart” is one of many tracks on this album which have a standard, love song-type title while actually being upbeat and intense. “Drug Train” is a bluesy romp to close the album, with excellent playing by each member, while sparse but effective lyrically. With a good harmonica and slight blues guitar leads, this track ends the album on a high note.

While Social Distortion only peaked at #128, it did remain on the album charts for over 20 weeks. More importantly, it set the band up for more success through the nineties and influenced a new sub-genre known as “cow punk”.

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

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