Jar of Flies by Alice In Chains

Jar of Flies by Alice In Chains

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Jar of Flies by Alice In ChainsOne of the biggest debates about Jar of Flies by Alice In Chains is how exactly to refer to it. Wikipedia refers to it as “the first EP in music history to debut at number one on the Billboard 200 Chart”. However, that same site’s definition of an EP sets the maximum time at 25 minutes, so at 30:49 Jar of Flies is a proper LP album. Whatever may ultimately be the case, this short 1994 collection of songs is edgy, diverse, and entertaining and captures the short-lived group in their prime and exploring new avenues of rock music adventure. The result is a collection which is highly reflective lyrically while moody and methodical musically.

Following the success of their 1992 album Dirt, Alice in Chains went on an extensive world tour with new bassist Mike Inez, who replaced Mike Starr after he left the group. Upon returning to Seattle in September 1993, the band went to London Bridge Studio and spent an entire week writing and recording. While this was originally done purely for cathartic reasons and the group never originally intended this material for public release, the record label insisted and Jar of Flies debuted at number one on the American album charts.

The material on the album employs rich musical scope and a healthy variation of instrumentation. While most of the songs were built on Jerry Cantrell‘s acoustic guitar and Layne Staley‘s lyrics, the group tactfully used overdubs and session musicians to enrich the sonic quality of this record.


Jar of Flies by Alice In Chains
Released: January 25, 1994 (Columbia)
Produced by: Alice In Chains
Recorded: London Bridge, Seattle & Scream, Studio City, CA, September 1993
Track Listing Group Musicians
Rotten Apple
Nutshell
I Stay Away
No Excuses
Whale and Wasp
Don’t Follow
Swing on This
Layne Staley – Lead Vocals
Jerry Cantrell – Guitars, Vocals
Mike Inez – Bass
Sean Kinney – Drums, Percussion

Jar of Flies by Alice In Chains

 

The opener “Rotten Apple” starts with the slow bass riff by newbie Inez coupled by the furious talk-box riffing by Cantrell. The song feels its way around for a while before fully kicking in with drums and vocals, but it then, unfortunately, becomes repetitive and mundane through the remainder of its seven minute duration. A gently strummed bright acoustic starts “Nutshell” which, while still dark and foreboding, is overall more melodic than the opener. Cantrell’s crunchy outro lead guitar is the real reward in this sad piece of music.

Jar of Flies really starts to pick up with “I Stay Away” and remains top notch through the rest of the album. Starting light and melodic, the song eventually builds in intensity with swarming guitars during the pre-choruses and a soaring ethereal surge during the hooks. The song reached number ten on the Mainstream Rock charts and was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance . Starting with an interesting rock drum beat by Sean Kinney, “No Excuses” contains harmonized vocals throughout and steady, hypnotizing guitar/bass riff. The song was the most popular radio hit from the album as its easygoing pace and catchy chorus struck a chord with listeners.

A rare instrumental in the group’s collection, “Whale & Wasp” starts with a long, reverb-drenched droning electric guitar note by note above a gently picked acoustic piece. Later on, a nicely harmonized lead keeps the moody feeling going as does the subtle string quartet which accompanies the band during this piece. “Don’t Follow” leans more towards a traditional folk acoustic piece, very laid back and deliberate. The second half of song picks it up a bit with slight rhythm by Inez and Kinney and a frantic harmonica by guest David Atkinson. There’s no deception in the title of the album’s closer, as “Swing on This” is built on a jazz swing, provided mainly by Inez’s bass and nicely complimented by Kinney’s drums and Cantrell’s push chords. The song’s refrain is more alt-rock-oriented, almost in an awkward way, building up tension until the swing returns and Kinney’s drums carry through the final stages of the song and album.

Alice In Chains in 1994

Jar of Flies has been certified triple-platinum and landed at or near the top of the charts in countries across the globe. However, this accomplishment was bittersweet. After the album’s release, Staley entered rehab for heroin addiction and the band had to eventually cancel their scheduled tour dates to support the album.

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1994 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1994 albums.

Definitely Maybe by Oasis

Definitely Maybe by Oasis

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Definitely Maybe by OasisA tremendous commercial success, Definitely Maybe is the 1994 debut album by Oasis. This album was instrumental in revitalizing the bright and optimistic “Britpop” movement in the midst of an era dominated by the deeper and darker grunge sound. Although portrayed at the time as a collection of largely spontaneous tracks, many of the songs were actually composed years earlier by guitarist Noel Gallagher, some predating his 1991 arrival joining up with the band. In any case, the themes of things said plainly and for the very first time really struck a chord in Britain and beyond as Definitely Maybe provided the fuel for Oasis’s rocket dominance of the mid 1990s.

In the early 1990s, guitarist Paul Arthurs, bassist Paul McGuigan, and drummer Tony McCarroll formed a group called The Rain. Unhappy with their original vocalist, the group auditioned Liam Gallagher as front man, who in turn suggested the name Oasis for the band. When the band started playing live in 1991, Liam invited his older brother Noel to see the band. Noel decided his brother’s group would be a good vehicle for the songs he had written and joined Oasis as a fifth member.

The group began recording the album at Monnow Valley Studio. The Stone Roses were about a mile down the road, recording Second Coming, the follow-up their own brilliant debut, and the two groups bonded. However, the sessions proved unsatisfactory, as the group found the sound to be “thin, weak, and too clean”, despite the high cost of these sessions. In February 1994, the group began re-recording the album at Sawmills Studio with producer Mark Coyle and replicated their live sound by recording together without soundproofing between individual instruments.

The long recording process delayed the release of the album. In the interim, between April and August 1994, Oasis released three singles ahead of Definitely Maybe. This actually helped build anticipation for the debut and it shot straight to the top of the U.K. charts upon its release and went on to be certified eight times Platinum.


Definitely Maybe by Oasis
Released: August 30, 1994 (Creation)
Produced by: Mark Coyle, Owen Morris, Dave Batchelor & Oasis
Recorded: December 1993–April 1994
Track Listing Group Musicians
Rock n’ Roll Star
Shakermaker
Live Forever
Up In the Sky
Columbia
Supersonic
Bring It On Down
Cigarettes & Alcohol
Digsy’s Dinner
Slide Away
Married with Children
Liam Gallagher – Lead Vocals
Noel Gallagher – Guitars, Piano Vocals
Paul Arthurs – Guitars, Piano
Paul McGuigan – Bass, Vocals
Tony McCarroll – Drums, Percussion

Definitely Maybe by Oasis

 

The short, slow, droning guitar breaks out into the more upbeat song proper of the opener “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star”. Released as a single, the song became a radio and concert favorite, as did the album’s second song, “Shakermaker”. Dominated by a slow jam with Liam Gallagher’s extra long, whiny vocals, the song starts somewhat interesting but gets annoying after a short while. Further, the song borrowed its melody from a 1970s Coca-Cola commercial and the band eventually had to pay $500,000 in damages.

The compositionally excellent “Live Forever” follows as the most indelible song on the album. Noel Gallagher wrote the song in 1991, and it contains a great chorus, overtone, and melody that was inspired by The Rolling Stones song “Shine a Light”, and was the first Oasis song to enter the Top Ten. “Up In the Sky” is a heavier track with interesting riff variations, almost sixties psychedelic, while “Columbia” has chanting lyrics and a rotating drone of three chords throughout its six and a half minutes, never really relenting but still the band’s favorite song to play live.

McCarroll’s drum intro with a long guitar pick scratch above the melodic riff introduces another radio single, “Supersonic”. The beat never deviates one bit, while overdubbed guitars make it all entertaining. This song was the band’s first single to chart in the United States, where it peaked at number 11. “Bring It On Down” is a more intense, almost punk song where the music overtakes Liam Gallagher’s voice for one of the rare times. McCarroll couldn’t quite get the beat, so a session drummer was brought in to show him how, and McCarroll was promptly discharged from the band once recording was complete, sparking lawsuits for years to come.

Oasis 1994

“Cigarettes & Alcohol” contains a more traditional, bluesy rock arrangement, almost like a cross between The Rolling Stones and T-Rex (which sparked the second accusation of plagiarism on this album). The vocal hook is also more traditional (and catchy) and lyrics more legible than most songs on the album. “Digsy’s Dinner” is like a short radio hit of the early sixties, except with heavy guitars and distant vocals, while “Slide Away” is a long track with little variation in guitars, souring vocals and complex, methodical choruses. The closer “Married with Children” is a rather refreshing change from the over-production of the rest of the album. Recorded partially on a hotel bed, the song contains a strummed acoustic with slightly overdubbed electric and low-key vocals, that warm down the album to a formidable end.

The critical and commercial success of Definitely Maybe carried over strongly to their follow-up in 1995, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, which kept Oasis on top of the pop world for years to come.

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1994 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1994 albums.

The Division Bell by Pink Floyd

The Division Bell by Pink Floyd

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The Division Bell by Pink FloydPink Floyd completed their extraordinary recording career with 1994’s The Division Bell, the longest single album the group had ever recorded (there were a few double albums along the way). More importantly, both compositionally and musically, this album was a true collaboration among the three remaining members of the group, something that had now truly happened in over twenty years (since The Dark Side of the Moon). This was, in part, due to the full return of founding member and keyboardist Richard Wright, who had only performed with the band as a hired player over the course of 15 years. The end result was the most complete Pink Floyd album since The Wall in 1979.

After Roger Waters left the band in the mid 1980s, guitarist/vocalist David Gilmour and drummer Nick Mason recorded A Momentary Lapse of Reason as the next Pink Floyd album. This sparked lawsuits by Waters, who also attempted to subvert the subsequent tour by threatening promoters who used the Pink Floyd name. Eventually, the parties reached a legal agreement that gave Mason and Gilmour the right to use the Pink Floyd name. In early 1993, Wright joined the duo, working collaboratively and jamming on material for a new album.

Bob Ezrin returned to co-produce the album, with much of the recording taking place on Gilmour’s houseboat Astoria. Starting with about twenty-five tracks, the group chose eleven cuts with themes of communication as well as many references to former members Waters and Syd Barrett. Joining the three core members is bassist Guy Pratt, who played on the previous album and tour and had since married Wright’s daughter.


The Division Bell by Pink Floyd
Released: March 28, 1994 (EMI)
Produced by: Bob Ezrin & David Gilmour
Recorded: Astoria, London, January—September 1993
Track Listing Group Musicians
Cluster One
What Do You Want from Me
Poles Apart
Marooned
A Great Day for Freedom
Wearing the Inside Out
Take It Back
Coming Back to Life
Keep Talkin’
Lost for Words
High Hopes
David Gilmour – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Richard Wright – Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Nick Mason – Drums, Percussion
Guy Pratt – Bass, Vocals

The Division Bell by Pink Floyd

 

Fittingly, only the three band members perform the opening soundscape, “Cluster One”, which is also the first Pink Floyd song credited to Wright/Gilmour since “Mudmen” on the 1972 album Obscured By Clouds. After a two minute swell for the intro, the piece goes through another four minutes of new-agey notes from Wright’s piano and Gilmour’s guitar, with Mason joining in much later to add some light percussion. “What Do You Want from Me” is the first of many tracks on this album co-written by Gilmour’s soon-to-be-wife Polly Samson. Musically, the slow, bluesy groove held together by Pratt’s deliberate bass countered by Gilmour’s frantic riffing. The timing on this track is quite impressive because it works well while being so incredibly slow, especially during the extended outro part which masterfully employs rock riffs and vocal harmonies.

The most underrated song on the album is “Poles Apart”, which fades in with a quality and moody acoustic phrase and never loses its charm which brings Floyd right back to its heart in the late 60s and early 70s. Gilmour’s vocals are at their brightest and most inspiring and even the odd, synth-driven, carnival-like mid-section works well in maintaining the nostalgic and slightly melancholy mood of the song. This all culminates with the strong final verse, laden with philosophical lyrics;

“the rain fell slow down on all the roofs of uncertainty, I thought of you and the years and all the sadness fell away from me…”

Although it was highly lauded to the point of where it won the 1995 Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance, “Marooned” really doesn’t quite fit into this part of the album’s journey, as a follow-up to the impressive “Poles Apart”. Here better attention to concept details and sonic flow might have worked better. “A Great Day for Freedom” has a duality of moods with the piano being melancholy while the melody and lyrics are more optimistic and hopeful. Gilmour provides an impressive lead during the outro, reminiscent of “On the Turning Away” from their previous album, seven years earlier. The song celebrates the great hopes following the fall of the Berlin Wall, but many interpreted it as a reflection on Gilmour’s estranged relationship with Waters. Wright performs lead vocals on “Wearing the Inside Out”, another first in over two decades. The saxophone solo right at the jump by Dick Parry sets a great mood, but overall the six and a half minute song is pretty slow moving, save for Wright’s slight synth lead in the middle. The real highlight comes in the third verse when Gilmour provides a reflective vocal with rich chorus accompaniment;

“look at him now, he’s paler somehow but he’s coming around, he’s starting to choke it’s been so long since he spoke but he could have the words right from my mouth…”

“Take It Back” may be Gilmour’s most impressive musical performance, between the melodic vocals and various guitar textures. With a genius use of an e-bow, and a great lead during the moody, sound-laden middle section, this song ranks right up there with Pink Floyd’s best guitar songs (and there have been many). “Coming Back to Life” starts with a gentle, bluesy guitar intro and is overall not a bad listen. However, Gilmour seems to have an annoying habit of projecting his own guilt back at the audience and the lyrics on this song illustrate that fact.

Pink Floyd in 1994

The album finishes strong with three solid tracks composed by Gilmour and Samson. While the song itself is really not that interesting, “Keep Talking” has a masterful arrangement starting with the vocal interludes by Stephen Hawking to the extensive use of a “talk box” and the call and response of the verses between Gilmour and the female chorus. The first single released from the album, the song topped the Album Rock Tracks chart in the U.S. for six weeks. “Lost for Words” fades in masterfully with deep organ drone before it finally gets to the folkish, acoustic heart of the song, complete with slight accordion and honky piano and a fine acoustic lead in the outro of the song. “High Hopes” is the final song of the final album and Pink Floyd’s long recording career. Starting with joyous bells in the distance of a rural scene, the lyrics speak of the things one may have gained and lost in life. Fittingly, the song concludes with a fine, bluesy guitar lead by Gilmour.

Despite lukewarm reviews by the mainstream press, The Division Bell topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic and in several nations across the globe. The group toured throughout much of 1994, playing their final full concert on October 29th of that year. Over a decade later, Waters, Gilmour, Mason, and Wright performed a handful of songs as Pink Floyd at the Live 8 concert in London’s Hyde Park in 2005, the last ever performance by Pink Floyd.

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1994 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1994 albums.

Dookie by Green Day

Dookie by Green Day

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Dookie by Green Day Produced by Rob Cavallo, Dookie is the third overall album by Green Day and their major label debut. The album became a commercial success worldwide, driven by five hit singles, an unprecedented feat for any pure punk rock group. This was due to the accessibility of the compositions by composer, guitarist, and lead vocalist Billy Joe Armstrong, who used potent melodies to deliver brutally honest lyrics and unambiguous rock music. The end result is a highly influential and critically acclaimed album that echoed and cascaded through the decade of the nineties and launched a very successful career for Green Day that persists to this day.

While still in high school in 1987, Armstrong and bassist Mike Dirnt formed a band called Sweet Children. The next year, the group signed with the independent Lookout! Records and prepared to record their initial EP. They decided to change their name to Green Day (a marijuana reference) in order to avoid confusion. In 1990, they released their debut studio album, 39/Smooth, and brought on Tré Cool as their permanent drummer. Meanwhile, the band’s popularity began to reach unprecedented levels for an independent punk group and they went on tour through the States and in Europe. Released in 1992, the second LP Kerplunk sold well and led to a number of major record labels being interested in Green Day.

Cavallo had done work with the band The Muffs, which impressed the members of Green Day and helped him connect with them and “speak their language”. Dookie was recorded in three weeks in late 1993 and was mixed and remixed twice to perfectly capture the confluence of a raw underground group hitting its stride with the backing of a big budget production.


Dookie by Green Day
Released: February 1, 1994 (Reprise)
Produced by: Rob Cavallo & Green Day
Recorded: Fantasy Studios, Berkeley, CA, September–October 1993
Track Listing Group Musicians
Burnout
Having a Blast
Chump
Longview
Welcome to Paradise
Pulling Teeth
Basket Case
She
Sassafras Roots
When I Come Around
Coming Clean
Emenius Sleepus
In the End
F.O.D.
Billie Joe Armstrong – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Mike Dirnt – Bass, Vocals
Tré Cool – Drums, Vocals

Dookie by Green Day

 

The opening song and album thunders in with “Burnout”, a classic-sounding punk screed with updated sonic qualities which exits nearly as fast as it begins. Written while the group was on their first national tour in 1992, “Having a Blast” is another upbeat and driving tune, distinguished by the rudimentary stops late in the song. The third song at the top which comes in at less than three minutes is “Chump”, which distinguishes itself with a long instrumental section that concentrates mainly on the bass and drums of Dirnt and Cool. This leads into a frantic outro which dissolves nicely into the bass intro of “Longview”.

The first song of real importance on the album, “Longview” is a breakthrough on many levels. Dirnt is given the breadth to really shine during the verses with his bass pattern before the full band explosion of the chorus. Written while on tour, the song got its title from the city of Longview, Washington, where it was first performed in 1992. It was the band’s first single from the album and climbed to the top of the Modern Rock chart.

“Welcome to Paradise” was originally released on Green Day’s second album Kerplunk but was re-recorded for Dookie. Here, the group goes back to the basic punk formula but with rich vocal harmonies and another unique instrumental bridge, which builds on a bass line and gets ever more frantic to the end of the song. The lyrics are based on the band’s experience of moving into an abandoned house in Oakland while trying to make it on the punk scene. On “Pulling Teeth”, the band almost leaves the punk genre altogether for the first and only time on the album. This song has an almost outlaw country vibe with twangy (albeit heavy) guitars and duet vocals throughout.

“Basket Case” has the strongest musical performance by Armstrong and the band, especially Cool’s timely and rapid-fire tom fills. This very melodic and cross-over song was written about Armstrong’s struggle with anxiety, later diagnosed as a panic disorder. Starting with a naked bass and drums through opening verse, “She” is another short, accessible and melodic tune that keeps the album rolling along at a hundred miles an hour, while “Sassafras Roots” is a rather weak song where the sound starts to sound repetitive and stale.

“When I Come Around” revitalizes the sound with a break from the driving riffs to something more choppy and hard rock oriented. Armstrong’s vocals and guitars really carry this song like no other, even bordering on an actual guitar lead after the second verse and chorus. Green Day’s most popular radio single, the song peaked at number 6 on the pop charts. Next, follows the three shortest tracks on the album, each less than two minutes. “Coming Clean” is almost a theatrical quality in the simplest of songs, while Dirnt’s “Emenius Sleepus” is almost a continuation of the previous, again relying on the duo chord phasing in the verses. Armstrong wrote the song “In the End” about his mother and her husband, while “F.O.D.” starts with the first verse and chorus played by Armstrong on an “unplugged” electric with distant vocals to give the “live demo” effect (which, I presume it actually was). Finally, full band, production, and electricity kick in to drive the listener to the official conclusion of the album – but, of course, this was the nineties and a hidden track was there for anyone patient enough to wait the minute and a half before the frivolous “All By Myself” commences.

Dookie peaked at number two on the U.S. album charts and won the Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album in 1995. That same year Green Day followed this up with their fourth studio album, Insomniac, an album which leans a bit more hardcore than their melodic 1994 breakthrough.

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1994 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1994 albums.

Cracked Rear View by Hootie and the Blowfish

Cracked Rear View by Hootie & the Blowfish

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Cracked Rear View by Hootie and the BlowfishCracked Rear View was a debut album that found phenomenal commercial success for Hootie & the Blowfish. Released in 1994, it went on to be the highest selling album of 1995 and tallied over ten million total copies sold over the next two decades. While the material isn’t all that innovative, the simple and direct songs with memorable hooks and easy, bright melodies struck a chord with the garden variety audience of the mid nineties. Almost as a backlash to the grunge and neo-punk movements, the group found a “common man’s” niche. As a review in AMG stated, “At their core, Hootie & the Blowfish are a bar band, but they managed to convince listeners that they were the local bar band…”

Eight years prior to the release of Cracked Rear View, Hootie & the Blowfish was formed in South Carolina after guitarist Mark Bryan heard his freshman dorm-mate Darius Rucker singing in the shower and invited him to start a group. They began playing cover tunes and eventually bassist Dean Felber and drummer Jim Sonefeld signed on. After independently releasing two cassette demos in the early 1990s along with a self-released EP, Kootchypop, the group gained interest from major labels.

After signing with Atlantic Records, the group teamed up with producer Don Gehman and headed to Southern California to record their full-length debut.


Cracked Rear View by Hootie & the Blowfish
Released: July 5, 1994 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Don Gehman
Recorded: N.R.G. Recording Services, North Hollywood, CA, 1994
Track Listing Group Musicians
Hannah Jane
Hold My Hand
Let Her Cry
Only Wanna Be With You
Running From an Angel
I’m Goin’ Home
Drowning
Time
Look Away
Not Even the Trees
Goodbye
Darius Rucker – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Mark Bryan – Guitars, Mandolin
Dean Felber – Bass, Keyboards, Vocals
Jim Sonefeld – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

Cracked Rear View by Hootie and the Blowfish

 

The album starts strong with the driving and upbeat “Hannah Jane”, highlighted by vocal variations, musical rudiments, and well-placed bass phrases by Felber. This is followed by the album’s first single and the group’s first Top Ten single, “Hold My Hand”,a song which starts off very melodic and catchy but quickly gets repetitive. Written in 1990 and originally released on the group’s first cassette demo, this song features David Crosby.

The second single from the album was “Let Her Cry”, which nearly topped the charts, peaking at #2. This ballad also went on to win the 1996 Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals. Completing the trifecta of Top Ten hits is “Only Wanna Be with You”, a song which got the band an all-star sports cast for their MTV video as well as a lawsuit by Bob Dylan for quoting his lyrics. As for the song itself, this acoustic driven tune is not a terrible listen, but the corny video takes away any musical dignity that may have existed.

Getting beyond the radio-saturated tracks, Cracked Rear View contains a handful of decent tracks. “Running from an Angel” is a sonic treat, with a violin riff by guest Lili Haydn and great percussion by Sonefeld. There is also more natural drama in Rucker’s voice than the overly melodramatic tracks that precede this track. “I’m Goin’ Home” starts with a jazzy acoustic accented by fine electric riffs from Bryan, and some soaring Hammond organ by session man John Nau, who also later contributes some piano to the track. “Drowning” has an interesting time signature in the rhythm and a quasi-rap rhythm in the melody, all with strong rock guitars, while “Time” contains a dramatic intro with slowly picked electric riff during the first verse, giving way to a full band arrangement starting with the second. Later in this song is a short but pretty interesting lead by Bryan and alternating call and return vocals by Rucker and the other group members.

Unfortunately, the album closes with three less than inspiring songs. After Haydn returns for the short track “Look Away”, the basic ballad “Not Even the Trees” does include some interesting sonic elements provided by the acoustic and bass guitars. The closer “Goodbye” is a melancholy piano ballad which never really goes anywhere sonically, save for the short hidden rendition of “Motherless Child” at the very end of the album.

The success of Cracked Rear View won Hootie & the Blowfish the “Best New Artist” Grammy and gave them enough momentum that their second album, 1996’s Fairweather Johnson, quicky topped the charts. However, sales of that album soon waned and the group’s next three releases hardly made a ripple at all, making this debut a true shooting star situation.

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1994 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1994 albums.

Weezer 1994 debut album

Weezer (Blue Album)

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Weezer 1994 debut albumTwenty years ago this weekend, Weezer stormed into rock and roll consciousness with their potent, popular, and critically acclaimed self-titled debut, which has come to be known as simply the “Blue Album”. Over these past two decades, critics and fans have been contorting to place the group’s sound within a specific genre, with many coming up with blends that include 80s hair metal, 90s grunge, and punk with a “geek” element. No doubt, Weezer draws from these influences, but to my ears I hear more late sixties influence like the Velvet Underground and, especially, The Kinks in their structure combined with an early nineties inhibition which leaves it raw, unreserved and honest.

Formed in in Los Angeles in 1992, Weezer is led by principle songwriter and vocalist Rivers Cuomo, who had already composed some of the material on this album prior to the band’s formation. ue their lack of a definitive genre, they were not initially well received by an L.A. club scene which was in the thrawls of a love affair with grunge rock. Undeterred, the band self-produced a demo known as “The Kitchen Tapes” to try to create some buzz, which they eventually received and were signed to a Geffen Records subsidery in mid 1993.

While the band pushed for self-producing their official debut, the label wanted an established producer. Former Cars frontman Ric Ocasek was eventually enlisted and helped guide band to find a “brighter” sound. For their part, the quartet prepared for the studio sessions by practicing vocal interplay and barbershop-styled songs, as is evidenced in the non-album track “My Evaline”. Bassist Matt Sharp developed a falsetto-style backing vocal, which ultimately enhanced the material’s sonic depth and mood. Once the group arrived at Electric Lady studios in New York, some of their inital tracks were cut for the better quality ones which came later. These include the songs “Lullaby for Wayne”, “I Swear It’s True”, “Getting Up and Leaving”, and “Mykel and Carli”, which are all included in the deluxe edition of Weezer, released ten years after the original.


Weezer by Weezer
Released: May 10, 1994 (DGC)
Produced by: Ric Ocasek
Recorded: Electric Lady Studios, New York, August–September 1993
Track Listing Group Musicians
My Name Is Jonas
No One Else
The World Has Turned and Left Me Here
Buddy Holly
Undone – The Sweater Song
Surf Wax America
Say It Ain’t So
In the Garage
Holiday
Only in Dreams
Rivers Cuomo – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Harmonica
Brian Bell – Guitars, Vocals
Matt Sharp – Bass, Vocals
Patrick Wilson – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

Weezer 1994 debut

 

The album got it’s nickname from the simplistic album cover featuring the band members lined up in front of a plain, blue background. This cover is actually an example of early Photoshop, as guitarist Brian Bell‘s head was added to a pose by original guitarist Jason Cropper, who left the band during recoding of the album. Cropper’s only songwriting credit is on the opening track, “My Name Is Jonas”, which quickly alternates between the folk-influenced picked acoustic notes and the thumping electric chords all while drilling in certain riffs and themes such as; “the workers are going home”. There is a slight harmonica lead late in the song before it comes full circle to the acoustic in the dissolve. The next two tracks are thematically linked with “No One Else” being about an obsessive relationship and “The World Has Turned and Left Me Here” about the aftermath when it’s over. The latter song contains a blend of electric and acoustic riff during the intro and remains steady throughout, methodically and precisely delivering the message of isolation and delusion in the wake of heartbreak.

The most popular song on Weezer is Cuomo’s “Buddy Holly”, a short and sweet song with a plethera of pop culture references lyrically and plenty of sonic riffs on guitars and keyboards. Cuomo was originally against the song’s inclusion on the album, saying it was “too cheesy”, but Ocasek saw its potential and lobbied hard for it’s inclusion. The result was a melody-driven tune which reached #2 on the mainstream rock chart after it was released on the 58th anniversary of Buddy Holly’s birth.

At first “Undone – The Sweater Song” seems a bit frivilous with spoken word interludes between first verses, but ultimately the song is one of the most original and rewarding on the album. Despite the party ambience, this is a song about detachment with the vivid lyrical imagery of a sweater unraveling. Musically, it contains good guitar lead and an excellent and original outro, which employs feedback, keyboards, and piano in bringing the song to an end. Co-written by drummer Patrick Wilson, “Surf Wax America” is a good-time party song with a punk rhythm and Beach Boys-like imagery, until the mood turns dark and tragic;

“all along the undertow is strengthening its hold, I never though it would come to this, now I can never go home…”

“Say It Ain’t So” is another top-notch song with funk and soul verses before the slow, grungy rock riff dominates for the chorus hook. The tune later seems to advance to a new level through the middle section with deeply personal lyrics and dualing lead guitars. Very popular among fans, “Say It Ain’t So” is a signature Weezer tune.

Weezer

After a short acoustic and harmonica intro, “In the Garage” is quickly interuppted by a thick, droning electric riff. The lyrics seem to celebrate a nerd’s man cave, which he uses as an asylum away from the real world. “Holiday” has a steady, driving rock rhythm throughout with thick layered guitar and vocal harmonies, which all flourish on this track despite it being one of the weaker on the album. The nearly eight-minute closer “Only in Dreams” is held down by Sharp’s bass riff with some light and surreal guitar textures throughout. This song has the least amount movement of any but does finish the album aptly with a clear and indelible message.

Peaking at number sixteen on the album charts, Weezer has gone multi-platinum since its release. They followed up with another fine effort, Pinkerton in 1996, and have gone on the release several more successful albums through the past two decades.

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1994 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1994 albums.

Throwing Copper by Live

Throwing Copper by Live

Buy Throwing Copper

Throwing Copper by LiveThrowing Copper is the second and most popular album by the Pennsylvania rock band Live. A signature album for the genre which would later be termed, “post grunge”, the album includes several radio staples along with tracks that would become live favorites throughout the group’s ensuing career. Throwing Copper contains a blend of heavy and moderate rock tracks, alternating between tight compositions and a freer form by the four-piece band, with many of the lyrics leaning towards the philosophical and the spiritual. The result of this is an indelible work which topped the album charts and has sold over eight million copies, while still sounding vibrant and fresh 20 years on.

The four members of Live had been together since middle school in 1980s, when guitarist Chad Taylor, bassist Patrick Dahlheimer, drummer Chad Gracey, and vocalist Ed Kowalczyk first got together to perform at a talent show and remained together through high school, playing new wave covers under various band names. Following the production of a self-released cassette of original songs in 1990 and a professionally produced EP in 1990, the group scored a contract with Radioactive Records. Jerry Harrison, keyboardist and guitarist of Talking Heads, produced the group’s 1991 debut album Mental Jewelry, which was lyrically inspired by Eastern philosophy.

Harrison was again at the helm for this album, recorded in Minnesota during the summer of 1993. The group had significantly tightened their sound through extensive touring following their debut, and were able to forge more cohesive yet sophisticated songs, with Kowalczyk writing the lyrics and the other three composing the musical scores. The story-telling lyrics tend to be more tangential than recursive with music layered to create very interesting ambiance, led by Taylor’s guitars.


Throwing Copper by Live
Released: April 19, 1994 (Radioactive)
Produced by: Jerry Harrison & Live
Recorded: Pachyderm Studio, Cannon Falls, Minnesota, July–September 1993
Track Listing Group Musicians
The Dam At Otter Creek
Selling The Drama
I Alone
Iris
Lightning Crashes
Top
All Over You
Shit Towne
T.B.D.
Stage
Waitress
Pillar Of Davidson
White, Discussion
Horse
Ed Kowalczyk – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Chad Taylor – Guitars, Vocals
Patrick Dahlheimer – Bass
Chad Gracey – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

Throwing Copper by Live

 

With an odd and distant album beginning, “The Dam at Otter Creek” meanders in a long swell and doesn’t really kick in until about two-thirds through, at which point it becomes so frenzied that it is barely audible. This sound collage of intensity that gives the track an almost progressive feel, may have alienated the casual listener who first tossed this in a CD deck but its ultimate break does set up the next song perfectly. “Selling the Drama” is, by far, the best song on the album. Where the previous track is opaque and uncertain, this is clear and direct with sonic treats ranging from Taylor’s electric riffs and acoustic strums to Gracey’s sock-hop drum beats to Kowalczyk’s melodic and pleasant vocals. However, it is Dahlheimer’s incredibly inventive bass lines which give this balanced song the edge that provides it with infinite potency. “Selling the Drama” was the first of three singles from this album to reach #1 on Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks chart. “I Alone” didn’t quite reach the top of that chart, peaking at #6 with its asymmetrical verse arrangements, which act as conduits for the contrast in dynamics between verse and chorus. The lyric to this song reach deep into the philosophical bag of tricks with lines such as;

“the greatest of teachers won’t hesitate
to leave you there by yourself chained to fate…”

“Iris” is a fine and original song with a sort of “fire one” approach to the arrangement. Gracey provides shuffle drums throughout with many melodramatic dynamics decorating the track, such as the layered vocals later in the song. This is followed by another great contrast, the slow and methodical “Lightning Crashes”, which became an instant classic and is the most popular song Live ever recorded. Taylor’s flange-drenched riffing compliment’s Kowalczyk’s nearly alien vocals which explicitly tell of a scene of simultaneous life and death in a hospital. Although there isn’t very much variation, save the interesting bridge with three rhythm guitars and bass line, the song was very well received in the mid 1990s, driving it just short of the Top Ten on the pop charts, in spite of not being officially released as a single.

The middle part of the album contains a couple of the more overtly pop songs on the album. “Top” is lesser known and unheralded, built much in the vein of the late 1980s pop/rock, as a rare track on this album which is straight-forward with little variance form standard formulas. “All Over You” is much more popular, perhaps a bit overplayed on radio, although it is pleasant enough due to its main rock riff. The best parts of this song are the instrumental and scat vocals during the bridge and outro parts. The group returns to the unconventional with “Shit Towne”, a rock waltz during the repeated verses of observant lyrics. While these lyrics (and title) leave much to desire, the music and melody are very potent interesting throughout.

A distant bass cut with reverb-laced percussion highlights the intro to “T.B.D.”, which stands for the “Tibetan Book of the Dead”. This song returns to the Eastern philosophy of Mental Jewelry, with inspiration drawn from Aldous Huxley’s writings. “Stage” is a proto-punk song with timely lyrics which seem to speak of the very recent demise of Kurt Cobain, while “Waitress” is almost frivolous while partly preachy, seeming like it was born out of an argument over tipping a waitress, a la the opening scene from Reservoir Dogs.

Live

The album concludes with three solid tracks, starting with the dramatic “Pillar of Davidson”, a nearly seven minute track that is driven by melodic vocals which compensate for the sparse music on the track. “White, Discussion” commences with an interesting and funky groove during the initial verses but  continually builds in intensity as it later breaks into something much harder and rawer, perhaps a bit over the top, before it closes with one of the longest feedback dissolves ever. Like many albums of the era, Throwing Copper finishes with a “hidden track”, which has come to be known as “Horse”. This track is pure country rock, complete with acoustic, pedal steel guitar, and Dahlheimer’s bouncy funk bass, which leaves the album with a good rock vibe.

The success of Throwing Copper built great anticipation for the 1997 follow-up Secret Samadhi, which debuted at number one but failed to match the overall popularity and longevity of this album. Harrison returned to co-produce 1999’s The Distance to Here, but that was even less popular. Ultimately, the original Live came to an acrimonious end when Kowalczyk was fired from the band in 2009 and a major lawsuit followed.

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1994 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1994 albums.

 

1989 Album of the Year

Full Moon Fever by Tom Petty

1989 Album of the Year

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Full Moon Fever by Tom PettyThis week marked the 25th anniversary of Full Moon Fever, which is listed the first official “solo” album by Tom Petty. However, the circumstances surrounding the production of this album are far too unique to really classify it as solo, especially when you consider the large contributions by members from both of Petty’s (then) current groups – The Heartbreakers and The Traveling Wilburys. From that latter group came Jeff Lynne, who co-wrote and co-produced the album, which became Petty’s greatest critical and commercial success of his career, spawning seven radio singles which kept material from the album on the airwaves for years to come. More impressively, the material from this album has stood the test of time.  This was the major deciding factor in our naming Full Moon Fever as Classic Rock Review’s Album of the Year for 1989.

While Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers had found top-level fame in the early 1980s, they began to stagnate a bit by the middle part of the decade. Their 1987 release Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough) had crept towards the metallic eighties pop style, deviating from the Southern-flavored roots pop/rock which had forged the band’s earlier sound. Early in 1988, Petty decided to record a solo album in the vein of what Bruce Springsteen and Phil Collins were doing outside of their respective groups. Petty brought in Lynne as a collaborator, but soon after they got started on this album, they were asked by George Harrison to help him record some B-side material for singles from his most recent album, Cloud Nine. This simple goal soon ballooned into the forming of the “super-group” Traveling Wilburys, to which Petty and Lynne dedicated much of the remainder of that year in producing the fantastic album, Volume One (which also happened to be our Album of the Year, from 1988). The experience of working with this group of legendary musicians had a profound effect on the direction of Petty’s solo album once work on that resumed.

The third producer and major contributor to Full Moon Fever was Mike Campbell, Petty’s guitarist from the Heartbreakers. Although Petty’s decision to do a solo album outside of the Heartbreakers was not received very well by the group members, all but one contributed in some way to this album. The recording process was reportedly laid back and low-key, with Petty finding contributing roles for many musician friends that stopped by Campbell’s garage studio where much of the recording took place. Like many great albums, there were some recorded tracks which did not make the final cut. These included the single b-sides “Down the Line” and “Don’t Treat Me Like A Stranger”, “Waiting for Tonight” featuring the female group The Bangles, and “Indiana Girl”, an early version of “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”, which became a hit five years later.


Full Moon Fever by Tom Petty
Released: April 24, 1989 (MCA)
Produced by: Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, ↦ Mike Campbell
Recorded: Various Studios, Los Angeles, 1988-1989
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Free Fallin’
I Won’t Back Down
Love Is a Long Road
A Face in the Crowd
Runnin’ Down a Dream
I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better
Yer So Bad
Depending On You
The Apartment Song
Alright for Now
A Mind with a Heart of Its Own
Zombie Zoo
Tom Petty – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Mike Campbell – Guitars, Mandolin, Keyboards
Jeff Lynne – Bass, Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Phil Jones – Drums, Percussion

Full Moon Fever by Tom Petty

 

The album commences with “Free Fallin'”, which would ultimately become the most popular song associated with Petty. With beautifully blended acoustic guitars and wistful, sarcastic lyrics. Using vivid scenery from California’s San Fernando Valley, Petty speaks of breaking free from a past love, but is freely falling a good thing or not? Although the song never leaves the core chord structure, there is much variety to vocal inflections and various guitar riff variations and arrangements.

Not far behind in popularity is “I Won’t Back Down”, a simple song about things worth fighting for with a syncopated bass line, vibrant guitar licks and good harmonies on the chorus. Harrison joins in along with Howie Epstein, making the lineup simultaneously three-fifths Wilburys and three-fifths Heartbreakers on the recording. The first single released from Full Moon Fever, the song reached the Top 20 on the charts. Co-written by Campbell, “Love Is a Long Road” employs classic Heartbreakers’ style rock and roll. With driving guitars backed with hard driving drum and bass and sharp production, the song continues the theme of salvation through fighting for things worthwhile.

After the calm and steady Americana of “A Face in the Crowd”, a song of anonymity with little variation, the album reaches its dynamic climax with “Runnin’ Down a Dream”. Frenzied rock compared to the rest of this album, this riff-driven tune sounds like a relentless car chase with some outstanding guitar solos and a signature reference to Del Shannon. The song reached the top of the Billboard Album Rock Tracks and has since found a residency on classic rock stations. Following “Running Down a Dream” on CD versions, Petty gives a tongue-in-cheek monologue about the marking of the end of the first side of the LP.

Tom Petty

While not as punchy and driven as the original “Side 1”, the songs on the second side shift towards more personal themes. The cover “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better” is a nod to one of Petty’s favorite bands, The Byrds, with doubled vocals and twangy guitars, its nothing new or different from the original, but it does introduce younger Petty fans to one of his influences. The Wilburys sound returns with “Yer So Bad”, an upbeat acoustic folk tune with layered guitars, harmonized vocals, some sarcastically cute lyrics and a catchy chorus. “Depending On You” is a bit Beatlesque, with its toe tapping beat and a chorus that sticks in your head, while “The Apartment Song” is a throwaway,  but fun with an interesting ‘interlude’.

“Alright for Now” may be the best forgotten gem on the album, as a short and sweet lullaby performed on acoustic. The song shows the true range of compositions Petty and Lynne utilized on this album. “A Mind With a Heart of It’s Own” is another highlight of side two, with a jangly Bo Diddley beat and an overall retro feel to the production and vocals. The lyrics on this song are glimpses of memories and connections tangentially strung together. The closer ,”Zombie Zoo” ,may be considered Tom Petty’s “Monster Mash”. Set in a nightclub with an overall theme of substance vs. style, with modern sock-hop rock, penny whistle organ, and rich sound and vocal arrangements. The late Roy Orbison even joined in on backing vocals on this song.  This is the closest the production comes to having an ELO-type vibe, showing Lynn’s great restraint at refraining from past production practices.

Full Moon Fever peaked in the Top Ten on both sides af the Atlantic and has gone well past 5× platinum on both continents. The following year, Petty returned to the Wilburys, releasing their second album oddly titled Volume 3 (leaving many to call this album “Traveling wilburys, Volume 2”). In 1991, Petty reunited with the Heartbreakers and found renewed success with Into the Great Wide Open, as Petty’s success cascaded well into the next decade.

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1989 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1989 albums and our Album of the Year from 1989.

 

The Real Thing by Faith No More

The Real Thing by Faith No More

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The Real Thing by Faith No MoreFaith No More found their signature sound and commercial breakthrough with The Real Thing in 1989. This was the first release by the band to feature vocalist Mike Patton, who brought with him an experimental along with dynamic vocals. The rest of the group followed suit, expanding their sound to fuse such diverse genres as heavy metal, progressive rock, hip hop, funk, jazz, and soul. The end result made The Real Thing the group’s most successful album commercially and immensely influential to the emerging sound of the 1990s, with over half the albums tracks covered by later artists, and many fusion groups sprouting up over those years.

Faith No More was formed in 1981 by bassist Billy Gould and drummer Mike Bordin. They recorded two albums with vocalist Chuck Mosley, who joined the band in 1983. The debut We Care a Lot was released in 1985 with Introduce Yourself coming in 1987. The following year Mosley was fired due to “erratic behavior” which included falling asleep on stage during a live show.

Patton was recruited soon after and took part in the majority of the lyric writing for The Real Thing in early 1989, although much of the music was composed while Mosley was still with the group. Beyond the eleven album tracks, the recording sessions in Sausalito, California also yielded extra songs, including “The Grade” and “The Cowboy Song” which later appeared on singles and later albums and “The Perfect Crime” which appeared on the soundtrack to the film Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey.


The Real Thing by Faith No More
Released: June 20, 1989 (Slash)
Produced by: Matt Wallace & Faith No More
Recorded: Studio D, Sausalito, CA, December 1988–January 1989
Track Listing Primary Musicians
From Out of Nowhere
Epic
Falling to Pieces
Surprise! You’re Dead!
Zombie Eaters
The Real Thing
Underwater Love
The Morning After
Woodpecker from Mars
War Pigs
Edge of the World
Mike Patton – Lead Vocals
James Martin – Guitars
Roddy Bottum – Keyboards
Bill Gould – Bass
Mike Bordin – Drums

The Real Thing by Faith No More

 

The album’s opener “From Out of Nowhere” is a straight up rocker with steady, driving rhythm and good and interesting chorus hook. Right from the start, Patton’s unique vocals stick out, making this song’s title a profound statement in of itself, and the thick instrumental arrangement is led by the coloring of keyboardist Roddy Bottum, who co-wrote the song. All five band members played a part in composing “Epic”, which would go to be Faith No More’s most popular song. From the hip-hop chant above the infectious bounce of Gould and Bordin’s rhythm during the rap-influenced verses, to the the rock drama of the chorus hooks, driven by guitarist James Martin. Although Martin really doesn’t perform any traditional leads, his great measured guitar riff during the elongated outro is a real highlight as it dissolves into the slow and distant classical-influenced piano coda by Bottum.

“Falling to Pieces” begins with Gould and Bordin’s bass and drum intro with some swirling synths this time. This too gives way to the heavy funk of the verse. This song also became a minor hit, reaching #28 on the Mainstream Rock charts. “Surprise! You’re Dead!” dates back to the 1970s, written by Martin when he was with a group called Agents of Misfortune. This short, speed metal screed is vicious and strong with an indelible message, but not all that focused in composition. “Zombie Eaters” goes the other direction, with the classically picked acoustic guitar by Martin during opening verses setting the soft and spooky moods. This song eventually morphs into something much heavier in the way a loud car starts its engine and takes off, but has little more of substance beyond that.

The interesting percussive intro by Bordin persists through long and dramatic first three verses of “The Real Thing”. This title tune later breaks into something more standard in heavy rock, but the multiple voices by Patton give it a rich kaleidoscope of moods throughout its eight minute duration. “Underwater Love” returns to a more standard, upbeat, radio-friendly rock, an oasis of this in the dramatic later part of the album. Gould provides more funky bass through the song proper, with a nice pattern to work in the dissolving outro. “The Morning After” is an overlooked gem with choppy bass and drum rhythms throughout with Martin working a counter guitar, first as a picked motif then later as driving heavy metal. Still, song never fully dives into the head-basing realm, just dabbles with it while staying melodic and interesting.

The most interesting piece on the album is the instrumental “Woodpecker from Mars”, which nearly rivals some of the great classic prog rock instrumentals. It starts with dramatic choppy piano and surreal synth until Martin’s heavy guitars and Gould’s buzzy bass bring the piece to a whole other dynamic level. The second section is slow and droning but just as powerful as Martin masterfully employs feedback. This alternates back and forth with each iteration becoming more intense overall, a wild psychedelic ride which really helps elevate this album to the next level – acts as perfect into to the Balck sabbath cover “War Pigs”. Patton’s vocals work well with this, while the crisp rock of the group gives it a real edge without ever abandoning the vibe of the original Sabbath song. The album ends with “Edge of the World”, a jazzy and calm piece led by Bottum’s nightclub-inspired piano. The song’s chorus almost brings it up to a full rock arrangement while lyrically this song seems to focus on an old pervert and the object of his affection. A distant saxophone joins the arrangement as the song and album fades away.

Although released in mid-1989, The Real Thing didn’t really peak on the charts until late 1990. On their next album, Angel Dust, Faith No More displayed an even more experimental effort, but did not last long beyond that as the group disbanded by the mid 1990s.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1989 albums.

1989 Images

 

Let Love Rule by Lenny Kravitz

Let Love Rule by Lenny Kravitz

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Let Love Rule by Lenny KravitzWhile only a moderate success in the United States, the 1989 debut album by Lenny Kravitz became an instant and huge hit elsewhere in the world. Let Love Rule mixed Kravitz’s musical influences, which included rock, soul, funk, and folk, into a contemporary blend that offered something profound and unique to pop music in 1989. A rarity for a newcomer working on his debut, Kravitz self-produced and also played played most of the instruments on the album, which contain all original compositions. Some childhood friends along with established pop and rock stars were also brought in to add some of the finishing touches to the album.

Born in New York, Kravitz is the son of television producer Sy Kravitz and actress Roxy Roker, who brought the family to Los Angeles when she landed a role on the television show The Jeffersons. Through his youth in Bevery Hills, Kravitz was influenced by everything from classical and opera to classic rock n’ roll, in the vein of Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Jimi Hendrix, and The Who. Between performing at the Hollywood Bowl with a boys choir to acting in television commercials, Kravitz was no stranger to the limelight. In 1985, Kravitz met keyboardist/bassist Henry Hirsch and the two started composing some original material. However, major record labels were less than receptive to the music because it did not fit neatly into “black” or “white” genres.

With this new dilemma, Kravitz and Hirsh began making their own demos. The two also had shared an interest in vintage instruments and recording equipment, which ultimately helped forge their sound. With a quality demo in hand, five major labels were suddenly interested and Kravitz eventually signed with Virgin Records in early 1989.


Pump by Aerosmith
Released: September 19, 1989 (Virgin)
Produced by: Lenny Kravitz
Recorded: 1988-1989
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Sittin’ On Top of the World
Let Love Rule
Freedom Train
Precious Love
I Build This Garden
Fear
Does Anybody out There
Mr. Cab Driver
Rosemary
Be
Blues for Sister Someone
Empty Hands
Flower Child
Lenny Kravitz – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Bass, Drums, Percussion
Adam Widoff – Guitars
Henry Hirsch – Piano, Organ
Karlly Gould – Bass
Chad Smith – Drums

Let Love Rule by Lenny Kravitz

 

From the calm strummed acoustic intro to the quarky, bass and clav body of the song, “Sittin’ On Top of the World” is an asymmetric song to commence the album. While starting potently, the song oddly kind of peters out at the conclusion. The title track “Let Love Rule” offers more stability, at least so far as the rhythm and beat goes. A quasi-Beatles vibe persists throughout the early part of the song with good vocals and a catchy hook. An extended saxophone solo by Karl Denson is accompanied by a subtle horn arrangement and joins the cool organ with popping bass out front with wailing vocals, all giving the latter part of this track a definitive Soul music feel. Although not credited, drums were provided by fellow Southern Californian Alex Van Halen.

“Freedom Train” is almost like a slow rap with distant, filtered guitar, a bass riff, and plenty of synthesized percussion and chops. Overall, a very cool and original song with great texture, albeit very little lyrical substance. “Precious Love” is a ballad with organ, piano, bass and a steady drum beat holding together backing to desperate, soulful vocals. An extended lead section during the bridge includes both an excellent piano lead and effective organ chops by keyboardist Hirsch. “I Build This Garden” is nearly religious in lyric, while containing a driving rock guitar riff blended with strings, in another Beatles sonic tribute. Melodic vocals are almost detached from the backing march, but still jive beautifully and later features include great electric piano riffs, a Gospel choir hymn, and a tremendous guitar lead in outro.

The middle part of the album turns towards a darker and more pessimistic tone. “Fear” is pleasant enough to listen towith a Stevie Wonder-like funk groove and vocal style, while the lyrics paint a doomy apocalyptic environment. Some musical features in this song, include a harmonized vocal “sang” through a guitar talk box along with a persistent clavichord. “Does Anybody Out There” is the first of a couple of overtly self-righteuos themes, again great musically, but a little bit too preachy lyrically by this point. The song starts with a quiet soft electric piano, which breaks into calm but strong guitar rock and very low-key vocals. The album hits a nadir with “Mr. Cab Driver”, obviously Lou Reed-influenced musically, but totally over the top lyrically as it attacks the working class to satisfy the latest Hollywood agenda in an almost hate-inciting method.

However, the album recovers nicely with “Rosemary”, a beautiful and exquisite song of hope driven by the simple acoustic of Kravitz and decorated by the bluesy harmonica of Lee Jaffe. With strong Christian religious themes, the song speaks of a young homeless girl and gradually builds to a full arrangement with flanged guitars and uplifting organ. “Be” is another song with good musical textures such as the thumping bass with piano chords, which may have been influenced by John Lennon’s classic Plastic Ono Band. This closing track of the original LP is steady, like an urban folk song with perfectly executed vocal harmonies and doubling.

The final three tracks were originally billed as “CD Bonus Tracks”. “Blues for Sister Someone” is a slow rocker about drug abuse with a hypnotizing rhythm combined with power chord riffing, much more filler than other tracks on album but still sounds great until it ends abruptly. “Empty Hands” is a bit Western folk, while again religious in tone. The song proper is melodic with acoustic, organ, strings, and the accordion, which has a short solo during the outro section. “Flower Child” is a pure piano rocker, almost frivolous and comical but still a fun listen and different than anything else on the album.

In its first five years, Let Love Rule sold over 2 million copies in Europe, but has yet to sell a million copies in the United States. However, Kravitz would find much more commercial success in the coming decade, starting with Mama Said, his sophomore effort in 1991.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1989 albums.

1989 Images