Following the success of R.E.M.‘s 1988 album Green and the extensive supporting tour which followed, the band took nearly a year to recuperate before reconvening to produce their next album. That album would come in 1991 and be titled Out of Time, and would serve to further expose this once niche alternative band to mainstream commercial audiences. The seventh studio album by the band, Out Of Time was by far the most richly produced to date, with more relatable compositions, an expansion of the instrumentation used, cameos from contemporary artists, and much more attention paid to sonic detail of the finished product.
The album combines the elements which were carried over from Green – pop and folk – with the addition of country, funk, and classical elements. The band’s chief lyricist, singer Michael Stipe, moved away from the overtly political themes they had used frequently in the 1980s, towards more personally-relatable and accessible songs, a direction they would continue through the 1990s.
Fueled by the blockbuster hit “Losing My Religion”, which became the band’s biggest, Out of Time would top the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, despite the fact that R.E.M. did not tour to support the album. The single and album won a combined three Grammy Awards in 1992 and to date has sold over 18 million copies worldwide.
Out of Timeby R.E.M.
Released: March 12, 1991 (Warner Brothers) Produced by: Scott Litt & R.E.M. Recorded: Bearsville Studios, Woodstock, NY, Sep-Oct 1990
Losing My Religion
Near Wild Heaven
Shiny Happy People
Half a World Away
Me in Honey
Michael Stipe – Lead Vocals, Melodica Peter Buck – Guitars, Mandolin Mike Mills – Bass, Keyboards, Vocals Bill Berry – Drums, Keyboards, Vocals
The album commences with “Radio Song”, a lighthearted funk that was completely unique to anything the band had done to that point. The song features vocals by KRS-One, leader of Boogie Down Productions, and also shows off the talents of the band’s drummer Bill Berry. Another popular song from the album to include a guest vocalist was “Shiny Happy People”, featuring Kate Pierson of the B-52s. The song is introduced with a unique string arrangement before breaking into a typical, upbeat R.E.M. riff. It became the band’s fourth career Top 10 hit. The song’s title is based on a Southern phrase meaning “being at the end of one’s rope, however Stipe has also stated the lyrics are influenced by unrequited love.
Near Wild Heaven” was another single released from the album, co-written and sung by bassist Mike Mills. It was the first such song to be written and sung by Mills. Mills also provided vocals for “Texarkana”. While this was not released as an official “single”, did well on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. “Country Feedback” was written as a stream-of-conscious by Stipe who claims he sang it in one take as an experiment and it was not re-recorded. The recording features pedal steel guitar by John Keane.
With the success of Out of Time, R.E.M.’s status grew to a top-level, major act from their humble beginnings as a “cult band” on colleg radio. They would continue the momentum into the next year with 1992’s Automatic For the People.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1991 albums
It had taken nearly two decades for Bonnie Raitt to achieve the commercial success that critics had long felt she would achieve. That success came with Raitt’s 1989 album Nick of Time, her tenth album overall. She followed this up with the 1991 album Luck of the Draw, an even more popular release which has sold close to 8 million copies in the United States alone to date. The album spawned many radio-friendly hits and introduced Raitt to a general pop audience. This is a bit ironic in that Raitt’s claim to fame had long been as an outside-the-mainstream female blues performer who uniquely played signature bottleneck slide. Although some of this legacy cascaded into Luck of the Draw, it wasn’t quite the front and center element which made this album successful.
While in college in the late 1960s, Raitt became enthralled with the blues and eventually played alongside such established blues legends as Howlin’ Wolf, Sippie Wallace, and Mississippi Fred McDowell. In the Fall of 1970, a reporter from Newsweek caught her act at a nightclub in New York City and the subsequent article spawned much interest in Raitt from major recording labels. She recorded her debut album in 1971 and during the 1970s released a series of roots-influenced albums which incorporated elements of blues, rock, folk and country. By the mid 1980s however, her sales began to slump and it appeared that her run was over when she made this dramatic commercial comeback.
Luck Of the Drawby Bonnie Raitt
Released: June 25, 1991 (Capitol) Produced by: Don Was & Bonnie Rait Recorded: Ocean Way Recordings & Capitol Studios, Los Angeles, Spring 1991
Something to Talk About
Good Man, Good Woman
I Can’t Make You Love Me
Tangled and Dark
Come to Me
One Part Be My Lover
Not the Only One
Papa Come Quick (Jody and Chico)
Luck Of the Draw
All At Once
Bonnie Raitt – Guitars, Piano, Vocals Turner Stephen Bruton – Guitars Bruce Hornsby – Piano, Keyboards James “Hutch” Hutchinson – Bass Curt Bisquera – Drums
With Raitt taking writing credit for only four songs on Luck of the Draw, and none of these “hits”, this album was created mainly around her talent as a performer and collaborator. The down side of this method is that while it has her face and voice throughout, it is not a personal look into the artist.
“Something to Talk About” was written by Canadian songwriter Shirley Eikhard, who has written for Ann Murray, Emmylou Harris and Cher. The song was actually rejected by Ann Murray’s producers her own album Something to Talk About. Raitt’s guitar work on this pleasant, bouncy pop song makes it an interesting listen and a way to kickoff the album out with some sass .
The duo, “Good Man, Good Woman” with Delbert McClinton is a predictable pop song with a steady back beat accented by McClinton’s harmonica. This is followed by “I Can’t Make you Love Me”, perhaps Raitt’s biggest hit on this record. Her voice is understated while she hits all the right notes. It is the bare simplicity and honesty of her voice against the soft piano played by Bruce Hornsby that give this song it’s universal appeal. How much more honest can lyrics be, “I can’t make you love me if you don’t” – a simple truth to which almost any listener can relate. The remainder of the album’s “hits” – “Slow Ride” and “Not the Only One” – are also pop songs that may have been hits performed by other artists, but find a happy home in this collection.
The songs that Raitt wrote herself include “Tangled and Dark”, a jazzy song with a cool sax interlude and “Come to Me”, which is drenched in Caribbean rhythms and gutsy lyrics like “I ain’t looking for a man Baby can’t stand a little shaky ground/He’ll give me fire and tenderness/And got the guts to stick around. The most insightful and heartfelt performance is the album’s closer, “All At Once”, which offers a glimpse into the difficulties of a family going through a divorce. The anger and confusion of trying to come to terms with damaged relationships penned in lyrics such as “Looks to me there’s lots more broken than anyone can really see/Why the angels turn their backs on some is just a mystery to me.”
Record companies had been trying to make a superstar out of Bonnie Raitt for years. They did not achieve success until they started capitalizing on her assets – her expressive vocals and her guitar skills while using collaborators in pursuit of commercial success. The resulting album drops Bonnie Raitt the folksy blues singer guitar player into a pillow of pop perfection.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1991 albums.
As the Grateful Dead’s long career began to wind down in the early nineties, there were many pseudo-hippie, jam-oriented bands that emerged to fill the void for the “dead heads”. Although many would ultimately have long and successful careers (i.e. Phish, Widespread Panic), none would achieve greater concentrated commercial success than the Spin Doctors. The band’s debut album, Pocket Full of Kryptonite, released in 1991, became a huge (albeit belated) commercial success through 1993 and 1994. This was fueled by some catchy and concise pop songs, starting with “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” followed by “Two Princes” and “Jimmy Olson Blues”.
Pocket Full of Kryptonite languished for nearly a year as the band embarked on nearly non-stop touring of small and medium clubs in the Northeast. Then some of the songs were finally picked up by radio, and once in the rotation, these songs stuck around for a long time. The catchy, repetitive, three or four chord riffs and funky rhythm were perfectly suited for radio in the early nineties and Spin Doctors soon became a sensation, selling millions of albums around the world. Ultimately, the multi-platinum album sold millions world-wide and Spin Doctors looked poised to launch a long and successful career. But this was not to be, the band’s fame seemed to decline nearly as rapidly as it rose, by 1996 they were no longer a major label act.
Pocket Full of Krypotoniteby Spin Doctors
Released: August 20, 1991 (Epic) Produced by: Frank Aversa, Peter Deneberg, Frankie La Rocka, Spin Doctors Recorded: Power Station & RPM Studios, New York, August-December 1990
Jimmy Olsen’s Blues
What Time Is It?
Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong
Forty or Fifty
More Than She Knows
Off My Line
How Could You Want Him
Shinbone Alley/Hard to Exist
Chris Barron – Vocals Eric Schenkman – Guitars, Piano, Vocals Mark White – Bass Aaron Comess – Drums, Vocals
There is something really cool about the tie-in of the album’s title with the opener “Jimmy Olsen Blues”. This catchy song tells the story of an alternate universe where young Jimmy Olsen plots the destruction of the ultimate superhero to win the affection of Lois Lane. Like most of the hits, the song is fueled by the riffs of guitarist Eric Schenkman which cut through the moderate and measured vocals of Chris Barron.
“Two Princes” would ultimately become the band’s biggest ever hit, not just through radio and commercial channels, but also in pop culture. It was used as song of celebration by the 1993 National League Champion Philadelphia Phillies, as a theme on several television shows including the children’s show Sesame Street and an Israeli TV comedy, and has been featured in several movies as well as covered by many bands.
While most of the tracks on Pocket Full of Krytonite are short, pop-ready hits, the band does takes some different approaches. The nearly pure funk “What Time Is It?”, is led by the slap-bass of Mark White while their “jam band” core seeps through in songs such as the ten minute closer “Shinbone Alley/Hard To Exist”.
Although, Spin Doctors would go on to record and release five more studio albums through 2005, none of these would achieve any critical recognition or commercial success of note.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1991 albums.
Lenny Kravitz followed up his brilliant 1989 debut, Let Love Rule with Mama Said two years later. Although many critics thought this sophomore effort paled in comparison, Mama Said was Kravitz’s commercial breakthrough. The album was a stylistic evolution from his debut reflecting the changes in Kravitz’s life. His recent breakup with wife Lisa Bonet made Mama Said an album filled with emotions of loss and sadness as well as the denial of such. Some have referred to this as Kravitz’s “divorce album”.
As the sole producer of the album and performer of most of its music, Kravitz was innovative and inspired, fusing elements of jazz, soul, rock, and dance music. He was also free to enlist musicians of his choosing to help out. Former high school classmate and current Guns n’ Roses guitarist Slash helped out on a few songs. Kravitz even co-wrote a song with Sean Ono Lennon, the 15-year-old son of his musical idol John Lennon. The song was “All I Ever Wanted”, on which Lennon also played piano. For the most part, however, Kravitz was pretty much a one man band on this album with engineer Henry Hirsch filling in on a variety of instruments where needed.
Some listeners have also noted that Kravitz moved forward a couple years in parallel from the late sixties influence fixations of Let Love Rule to the early seventies sound of Mama Said, which sounds like it could have been produced during that era.
Mama Saidby Lenny Kravitz
Released: April 2, 1991 (Virgin) Produced by: Lenny Kravitz Recorded: 1990-1991
Fields Of Joy
Always On the Run
Stand By My Woman
It Ain’t Over ’til It’s Over
More Than Anything In This World
What Goes Around Comes Around
The Difference Is Why
Stop Draggin’ Around
Flowers For Zoe
Fields Of Joy (Reprise)
All I Ever Wanted
When the Morning Turns to Night
What the Fuck Are We Saying?
Lenny Kravitz – Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Drums Henry Hirsh – Bass, Keyboards, String Arrangements Karl Denson – Saxophone David Domanich – Drums
Slash joined in for the first two songs, the emotive “Fields of Joy” and the intense “Always On the Run”. This latter song was a dedication to Kravitz’s mother, actress Roxie Roker, and the default title song of the album. It was also co-written by Slash and combines some very funky Sly Stone-esque grooves and horns with some Hendrix-like heavy rock guitars.
The following two songs, seem to indicate non-acceptance of his faltering marriage, the Lennon-esque “Stand By My Woman” and the swirling Philly soul sound of “It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over”. Both are very entertaining and melodic hits, with the latter featuring a pulsating bass line, a sitar riff, many strings, and the singer’s flawless, high pitched vocals. The video for this song is nearly an exact replica of the Doors 1968 performance on The Smothers Brothers show, complete with Kravitz dressed nearly exactly the way Jim Morrison did for that performance.
Other standouts on Mama Said are the quiet ballad “Flowers For Zoe,” written for Kravitz’s daughter , the anti-song anthem “When The Morning Turns To Light”, and a psychedelic song with a vulgar name, “What The Fuck Are We Saying?”. Kravitz returns to the high falsetto on the brilliant, jazz influenced “What Goes Around Comes Around”, which gradually builds with guitars, horns, strings, and saxophone, while remaining cool and refrained throughout.
With the commercial success of Mama Said, Lenny Kravitz was poised to deliver a string of successful albums through the rest of the nineties, although the edge that he possessed on his first two releases would never quite return.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1991 albums.
Gish is the debut album by alternative rock band Smashing Pumpkins, released independently in 1991. The album was co-produced by Butch Vig and recorded in his studio in Madison, Wisconsin. The other co-producer was the band’s lead vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter Billy Corgan who worked tirelessly on getting the right sound, spending hours each on everything from harmonies to guitar tones to drum tunings. This was highly unusual for indy recordings at the time, which were usually recorded “nearly live” in a few days due to shoe-string budgets. This album had about 30 days of working sessions and was very intense and stressful for the four band members.
The result is a technically proficient album with strong performances by all members, starting with the beautifully executed syncopation by drummer Jimmy Chamberlain, who was described as a jazz/hard-rock drum freak let loose on alt-rock radio. Along with Corgan, the rich and layered guitars were performed by James Iha, who has a knack for playing catchy melodies. Rounding out the lineup is bassist D’arcy Wretzky, whose low, cutting bass lines have been compared to that of Black Sabbath’s Geezer Butler.
The album itself has two distinctive influences – a hard-edged, alternative metal and a softer, psychedelic, dreamy influence. On Gish, these distinctions are often pulled apart, making it slightly unballanced overall, top-heavy with the songs with the most punch up front. Corgan was the son of a professional jazz guitarist and started his musical career in the early 1980’s forming the the Smashing Pumpkins in 1988 in Chicago.
Gishby Smashing Pumpkins
Released: May 28, 1991 (Caroline) Produced by: Butch Vig & Billy Corgan Recorded: Smart Studios, Madison, WI, December 1990–March 1991
I Am One
Billy Corgan – Lead Vocals, Guitars James Iha – Guitars, Vocals D’arcy Wretzky – Bass, Vocals Jimmy Chamberlin – Drums
Four songs on the album were previously recorded as demos in 1989. “I Am One” starts the album and was Smashing Pumpkin’s first single. A frenetic and explosive rocker led by Chamberlin’s opening groove and the many layers of guitars by Corgan and Iha. The closer “Daydream” is also in this group, although it varies widely as a folky number featuring D’Arcy on lead vocals and including a “hidden track” at the very end.
The psychedelic “Rhinoceros” contains a cool and unique tremolo guitar and almost whispered vocals, giving an effect that is at once fascinating and nerve wracking. At over 6 minutes, it is the longest song on the album and provides a glimpse into the type of material that the band would develop in later years. It is one of the few early songs that would be performed live consistently throughout the band’s career.
A couple more of the heavier songs on the album are “Siva”, with flowing feedback and crunchy guitars and the catchy “Bury Me”, which is held together by D’Arcy’s bassline and features co-lead vocals by Iha.
Then there are the dreamy/pop sixties-influenced numbers. “Suffer” is a steady jam with soft, chiming riffs and beats by all band members. It includes several soun effects, like a distored sitar approximation and a strange flute solo. Corgan has described “Snail” as his favorite from this album primarily because it is so unapparent as anything of quality upon first listen, but slowly creeps into a better place. “Tristessa” took its title from Jack Kerouac’s 1960 novella of the same name. The word is Spanish for “sadness” and the song was originally pressed as a 7″ single prior to the release of this album.
Released prior to the more heralded 1991 albums by Pearl Jam and Nirvana, Gish nonetheless paved the way for Smashing Pumpkins to become one of the most important alt-rock bands of the 1990s. Although the album had no chart success and many mainstream critics didn’t look at this album untll the years when the band’s popularity was exploding, Gish eas the highest selling independent album for three years following its release.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1991 albums.
It had been four years since Guns n’ Roses had put out their last full studio album, which also happened to be their first studio album and the biggest selling debut of all time, Appetite For Destruction. With fans and critics alike eager for new material, the band unloaded a great volume of music on September 17, 1991, the day they released the equivalent of two double albums, Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II.
With these albums, especially Use Your Illusion I, the band demonstrated much growth and expansion of style, including elements of country, blues, and progressive rock, while maintaining the hard rock edge which made Guns n’ Roses famous in the first place. Much like Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti, these albums included older recordings which were not previously used interspersed with new material that was written for the project(s). The band also included a well-known cover on each album and each also has at least one track sung by band members other than lead singer Axl Rose.
These two albums, released in 1991, would be the final studio albums with this classic lineup in tact and Guns n’ Roses would not release another studio album for 17 years until Chinese Democracy in 2008. Also, the band put out no less than ten videos from these two albums, a final gorge for the heyday of MTV and music videos, which would go into rapid decline through the nineties.
Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion IIby Guns n’ Roses
Released: September 17, 1991 (Geffen) Produced by: Mike Clink & Guns n’ Roses Recorded: A&M Studios, Record Plant, Studio 56, Conway Studios, Metalworks, Los Angeles, 1990-1991
Use Your Illusion I
Use Your Illusion II
Right Next Door to Hell
Dust n’ Bones
Live and Let Die
Don’t Cry (Original)
Back Off Bitch
Double Talkin’ Jive
Garden of Eden
Don’t Damn Me
Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door
Get the Ring
Pretty Tied Up
You Could Be Mine
Don’t Cry (Alternate)
Group Musicians (Both Albums)
Axl Rose – Lead Vocals, Keyboards, Guitar, Percussion Slash – Acoustic & Electric Guitars, Dobro, Six String Bass Izzy Stradlin – Guitars, Vocals Dizzy Reed – Keyboards, Vocals Duff McKagan – Bass, Vocals Matt Sorum – Drums, Vocals
Use Your Illusion I starts off with a song intentionally aimed at Rose’s neighbor in Hollywood who had recently sued him, called “Next Door To Hell”. It also contains “Back Off Bitch” and “Bad Obsession”, which were originally written for Appetite for Destruction “Bad Obsession” later features Michael Monroe, of Hanoi Rocks and a big influence on the band, playing the harmonica and tenor saxophone.
“Don’t Cry” is a calm and steady song, which became a big radio hit. The serene guitar is cut by Rose’s sharp vocals which climax with a ridiculously long, 25 second, ad hoc vocal to end the song. Another version of this song, with alternate lyrics was included on Use Your Illusion II. “Live and Let Die” is a cover that would’ve been better left alone, as it does not add anything to the intensity of the original Paul McCartney version. “The Garden” has a bluesy beginning with a moderate acoustic accented by a long slide electric. It then kicks in more intensely for the heavier and doomier chorus sections which feature Alice Cooper on vocals. This is interesting because much of the theatrical feel of these albums are reminiscent of early Alice Cooper Band, especially the 10-minute-plus closer of Use Your Illusion I called “Coma”.
A couple of other interesting tracks from the first album are the punk-influenced, fast and furious “Garden of Eden”, and the slow country/waltz with a heavy slide guitar presence, reminiscent of cuts from the Stones Sticky Fingers called “You Ain’t the First”. “Dead Horse” which starts with intentionally flat and apathetic vocals over an opening acoustic part but later kicks into a better jam. But, without a doubt the best song on either album, and perhaps the best song ever by Guns n’ Rose, is “November Rain” on Use Your Illusion I.
It is amazing how, from several different perspectives, “November Rain” represents the exact end of an era, the eighties hair-band era with the obligatory power ballad and high budget music video. For this song, the tab was about $1.5 million for an eight minute video which itself depicts the good times ending; as a joyous wedding celebration through most of the song morphs into a surreal funeral during the coda. The irony here is that Guns n’ Roses themselves help bring an end to this hair band era with the cutting-edge Appetite for Destruction, which cut against the grain of many rock conventions and helped open up the industry to the deluge of grunge which was rapidly approaching. But the song itself is purely great – a piano ballad led by Rose, a theatrical, orchestral backdrop, and some of the finest guitar work by Slash which helped secure his spot as a rock legend. “November Rain” may well be one of the best songs of the entire decade of the nineties.
I suppose the danger of releasing so much music at one time is simply overkill. And if one is to listen to both of these extra-long albums, back-to-back they may become numb to the band’s edge (especially the vocals) and it all eventually becomes repetitive. What was exciting and innovative on the first album, feels like over-indulgence on the second, and this is part of the problem with Use Your Illusion II. The other part is that it is simply not as good as its twin brother. In this light, the opening “Civil War” comes off as preachy and melodramatic and Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”, which had long been a staple of the band in concert, just doesn’t to have the effect it had a few years before (and this may be the most tolerable of all their covers, due to an excellent lead by Slash).
Released a few months ahead of the albums and featured in the film Terminator II: Judgment Day, “You Could Be Mine” was the first big hit from either album and actually propelled sales of Use Your Illusion II slightly ahead of those by Use Your Illusion I. In reality, this is an average song at best, which benefited greatly from the cross-marketing, including a special video featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger in character.
Being just about as long as UYI I, this second album does include a few interesting highlights. Izzy Stradlin, who wrote several songs on both albums, sang solo lead on “14 Years”, a song dedicated to Axl Rose, whom he had known since 1977 (14 years earlier) when the high school classmates started their first band together in their hometown of Lafayette, Indiana. “Yesterdays” is a highly reflective song, which sounds like it should be reserved for the end of one’s career. Bassist Duff McKagan provided lead vocals on “So Fine”, while the provocative “Get In the Ring” gets very personal during a profanity-laced middle section where Rose calls out several members of the music press by name. The second album concludes with the weird and distorted rap “My World”, which feels like a throwaway filler so that they could reach the 30 song mark between the two albums.
Seven years later, with fans already in a frenzy for new material from Guns n’ Roses (which would not arrive for another decade), the band released a compilation simply entitled Use Your Illusion, which featured six of the more popular cuts from each album, a sort of “trial pack” for the casual fan.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1991 albums.
When determining which albums to review here at Modern Rock Review, we like to stay pretty much within the bounds of mainstream rock and usually only make exceptions for very important albums which just cannot be ignored. Once in a while, however, we’ll find something odd, obscure, unknown, or all of the above that strikes a chord with us and lands a prestigious spot on our review board. The Dylans were a very short-lived band that came out of the “Madchester” scene in England. They really tapped into the retro-rock sound that would blossom in the early nineties and they did so early and well. So, for our second review of 1991, we’ve decided to review this band’s self-titled debut album, The Dylans. This debut has been called “totally underrated” by those who are aware of it’s existence (which are not a very great number). They combine fuzzy guitars, and effects-laden vocals with a more modern rhythm and back beat and their songs fluctuate between the psychedelic sounds of the sixties and the modern pop sounds of the eighties.
The band was formed by Colin Gregory, who had been with the sixties-retro band 1000 Violins through the late eighties as a guitarist. Gregory moved to bass and lead vocals to make way for the two rhythm guitarists Jim Rodger and Andy Curtis. Within months after their formation in 1990, the band was signed to an indie subsidiary of RCA Records. As the band started to write and record songs for their debut, Curtis was replaced by Andy Cook, who would become the chief songwriter for the album.
The Dylansby The Dylans
Released: November, 1991 (Situation Two) Produced by: Stephen Street & John A. Rivers Recorded: Black Barn Studios, Surrey, England, Summer 1991
She Drops Bombs
I Hope the Weather Stays Fine
Sad Rush On Sunday
No Coming Down
Mary Quaint In Blue
Colin Gregory – Guitar, Bass, Vocals Jim Rodger – Guitars Andy Cook – Guitars Quentin Jennings – Keyboards Gary Jones – Drums
The album has a great start and a strong finish, with a bit of repetitive lull in the middle. It is well-produced throughout with plenty of sonic ear candy along with solid melodies and song structures. Right from the start, with the song “She Drops Bombs”, it is evident that the band wants to tap into sixties psychedelia, with some remnants of Revolver-era Beatles (especially the Harrison songs) and other, more obscure acts like Strawberry Alarm Clock, giving it all a very vibey, acid rock feel. This sound is scattered throughout the album, especially on “No Coming Down”, “Indian Sun”, the single “Godlike”, and the album’s only instrumental which is titled “Particle Ride”.
The other predominant sound of the album is more influenced by 1980s British pop. “Planet Love” starts with a sixties-like effect which was gypped from the opening of Pink Floyd’s “Astronomy Domine” but then settles into a U2-esque beat, behind the still heavily-layered top end. “I Hope the Weather Stays Fine” has some definite eighties club music influence, but still maintains that English top end and a Doors-like organ to give it a unique edge. It also contains an interesting second “voice” to deliver the catch phrase title of the song. “Love To” is an upbeat, feel-good, “life is good” song to change the pace a bit.
But perhaps the two most interesting songs on the album are the ones which do not sound too “sixties” or too “eighties” either way. “Sad Rush On Sunday” has an upbeat, three chord, very catchy riff and remains snappy throughout, accented by deeply wah-wahed guitars. “Mary Quant In Blue”, the last single from the album and The Dylan’s biggest “hit” ever, contains a definite dance beat, noted-riff, layered guitars, with a very melodic hook delivered by new wave-ish vocals.
This 1991 debut album would be the pinnacle for the band. In the following years, The Dylans would be plagued by several lineup changes which would delay the recording of their second album, Spirit Finger, until 1994. Then, when sales for that album were lethargic and lower than expected, the band decided to call it quits altogether.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1991 albums.
“The sound of four men chopping down The Joshua Tree.” This is how lead singer and lyricist Bono described the radical new approach that the established and successful band U2 took when putting together their 1991 album Achtung Baby. The album was produced following the group’s first extended break from touring and recording and it marked a distinct milestone in the evolution of U2’s sound.
This was the first full studio album since the blockbuster The Joshua Tree in 1987 and Bono felt that they were creatively unprepared for the phenomenal success of The Joshua Tree, which resulted in the critically panned soundtrack album Rattle and Hum in 1988. In October 1990, the group headed to Berlin to start work on this new album. On the eve of German reunification the band felt that recording there would be uplifting and inspiring. Instead, they found the vibe to be depressing (the studio was located in a former SS ballroom). Further, there was division growing within the band itself over the musical direction. Bono and lead guitarist The Edge were becoming influenced by recent fads such as the Madchester scene in England and the industrial rock movement in America. However, these dance-oriented beats and rhythms did not sit well with bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen, who felt their roles were being diminished within the band. The fact that Bono and The Edge were also writing the material in more isolation did not help matters.
The band was actually close to breaking up in Germany as ideas stagnated and disagreements escalated. But they were all brought back together by the nearly totally improvised “One”, where each member contributed on the spot to this excellent new composition. The band returned home to Dublin for Christmas 1990 where they all recommitted to a future with U2. The bulk of the rest of the album would be recorded in Dublin starting in February 1991.
Achtung Babyby U2
Released: November 19, 1991 (Island) Produced by: Daniel Lanois & Brian Eno Recorded: Hansa Ton Studios, Berlin, STS & Windmill Lane Studios, Dublin, October 1990 – September 1991
Even Better Than the Real Thing
Until the End of the World
Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses?
Tryin’ To Throw Your Arms Around the World
Ultraviolet (Light My Way)
Love Is Blindness
Bono – Lead Vocals, Guitar The Edge – Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals Adam Clayton – Bass Larry Mullin, Jr. – Drums & Percussion
The album’s title, “Achtung Baby”, is German for “Attention, baby!” or “Watch out, baby!”, and it was adopted by sound engineer Joe O’Herlihy during recording in the early Berlin sessions. Later in the process, the band decided on this as the title over more “serious sounding” titles that they were considering. The album was co-produced by Daniel Lanois, who was hands-on from start to finish and Brian Eno, who would work on the project intensely for several days straight and then take three or four weeks off in order to be able to come back and listen with “fresh ears”.
Upon listening to the album, the first thing you’re struck by is the sound – steady, almost techno beats, processed vocals, and very judicious use of the band’s previous biggest asset, The Edge’s signature riffs. For this album, the inventive guitarist used many different techniques and processing, most with stellar success, some with less.
Some of the most inventive guitars appear on the songs “Zoo Station”, “Love Is Blindness”, and the first hit from the album “Mysterious Ways”, which introduced the pop world to the “new U2”. Other songs used various inovative techniques as well. “Even Better Than the Real Thing” starts with wild synths and then uses doubled up, octave vocals. “So Cruel” uses a simple piano riff with a modern dance beat. “The Fly” experiments with alternate personalities of Bono, each portrayed by distinctive vocals built by cadence and effect. While the music fluctuates between alternative and R&B. “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses” starts as a piece of doomy, space age, psychedelia then morphs into a decent pop song that really hits a sweet note during the bridge with the high-pitched Bono vocals.
Other song highlights include the cleaver and inventive “Until the End of the World”, which portrays an imagined conversation between Jesus Christ and his betrayer, Judas Iscariot, while moving towards the traditional U2 sound musically. “Tryin’ to Throw Your Arms Around the World” contains a calm R&B beat with just enough musical decor to make it really moody under the somber vocals.
The true great from this album, on a level with anything U2 has done before or since is “One” . This is a gem that really deviates from much of the rest of the album. It starts with a traditionally strummed acoustic guitar coupled with a nice, overdubbed electric riff and then kicks in with perfect rhythm accompaniment. Calm vocals become more agitated as the verses proceed until we reach a climatic banshee scream at the close. Further, this is the song that really saved the album and possibly the band. As The Edge recalls;
“At the instant we were recording it, I got a very strong sense of its power. We were all playing together in the big recording room, a huge, eerie ballroom full of ghosts of the war, and everything fell into place. It was a reassuring moment, when everyone finally went, ‘oh great, this album has started.’ It’s the reason you’re in a band…”
As the release date drew near, rumors of U2’s new direction leaked out and certain critics and members of the press began to preemptively trash the new album on hearsay alone. On the eve of Achtung Baby’s release in November 1991, U2 was more unsure and less confident than they had been for any previous work. However, once the actual music was heard, the reception nearly all positive by critics and fans alike, with Achtung Baby topping most “album of the year” polls and winning a Grammy.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1991 albums.