Metallica 1991 album

Metallica (Black Album) by Metallica

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Metallica 1991 albumAfter four studio albums and ever-building popularity in the 1980s, heavy metal band Metallica felt they were poised for their artistic breakthrough. During the summer of 1990, the band got together to write some songs lead by primary songwriters James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich, but with input from the other members of the band; lead guitarist Kirk Hammett and bassist Jason Newsted.

The band then hired Bob Rock as mixing engineer, having been impressed by his past work with Mötley Crüe. However, after comparing the band’s previous studio albums to a recent live show, Rock was convinced that the band was not capturing their live energy in their self-produced recordings and convinced Metallica, to hire him on as full producer, to which they agreed. As Ulrich stated, “We felt that we still had our best record in us and Bob Rock could help us make it.” However, things did not go smoothly at first, as Rock was very frank and forthcoming with the band and they resented being told what to do. Eventually Rock reached an implicit compromise with the band members. He would not mess with their arrangements, just their tempo, and after about 8 months of marathon rehearsing, recording, and mixing sessions, they forged a new and tremendously successful sound for Metallica. It was a combination of the band’s traditional thrash metal grit with a slowed down tempo, diverse instrumentation, and more melodic vocals. Under Rock’s direction, the bass guitar was also brought up to a more equitable position in the mix, which also enhanced the breadth of the sound and added a new, doomier dimension.

The result was the band’s 1991 eponymous fifth album that would come to be known as “The Black Album”, due to its simple cover and packaging. The album would go on to tremendous commercial success, breaking the radio silence that many thought the band would never realistically break through.

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Metallica by Metallica
Released: August 13, 1991 (Electra)
Produced by: Bob Rock, James Hetfield, & Lars Ulrich
Recorded: One On One Recording Studios, Los Angeles,
October 6, 1990-June 16, 1991
Track Listing Band Musicians
Enter Sandman
Sad But True
Holier Than Thou
The Unforgiven
Wherever I May Roam
Don’t Tread On Me
Through the Never
Nothing Else Matters
Of Wolf & Man
The God That Failed
My Friend of Misery
The Struggle Within
James Hetfield – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Kirk Hammett – Lead Guitar
Jason Newstead – Bass, Vocals
Lars Ulrich – Drums, Percussion

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The lynchpin that holds the entire look and feel of The Black Album together is the opener “Enter Sandman”. Built off a riff by Kirk Hammett, this doomy, futuristic sounding motif was the first written for the album and the last recorded, but the first mixed so Rock could use it as a sonic template for the final, mixed and mastered sound of the album. A rather simple song with a simple theme on dreams and nightmares, “Enter Sandman” would become a recognizable audio icon in many corners of pop culture. The song is followed by “Sad But True”, which could almost be considered “Enter Sandman, Pt II”, as it has a similar sound and theme about dreams. “Holier Than Thou” was originally slated as the first “emphasis single”, as it harkens back to the band’s traditional, thrash metal style, with the sound driven by Hetfield’s layered rhythm guitars and Ulrich’s front & center double-kick drums.

On a macro level, the album winds through a journey of differing sounds which fuse with the base, core sound of the band. “Wherever I May Roam” starts with an Eastern-influenced sitar riff before kicking into the typical, slow beat metal sound, occasionally reaching other gears as it works through some odd timing signatures while maintaining an overall cohesiveness. “Don’t Tread On Me” has a marching, almost patriotic feel in the intro before it nicely fuses into a steady beat with interesting chord changes during the verses, making it a unique listen on the album. “Nothing Else Matters” was a love song written by Hetfield, which he originally did not intend to use for Metallica but was eventually encouraged to do so by the other band members. The song includes a full orchestral score by Michael Kamen, most of which was not used for the album’s version of the song, but was remixed for an alternate “elevator version”, which the band found fascinating.

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Another personal song written by Hetfield is “The God That Failed”, which dealt with growing up in a family with Christian Science beliefs that forbid medical treatment from outside physicians. Hetfield’s mother eventually died from cancer, in part because of this practice. Newsted’s main songwriting contribution to the album is “My Friend of Misery”. The song, which begins with a doomy bass riff, was originally intended to be an instrumental (as all previous Metallica albums had contained one) but was adapted into a proper song that fits nicely with the overall feel of the album.

The best song on the album is “The Unforgiven”. Like much of their songs, it contains building and fluctuating sections held together by consistent drumming by Ulrich, but “The Unforgiven” offers a reverse method by returning to the calm and melodic during the chorus, not the verse. From the finger-picked, classical acoustic guitar in the intro, to the melancholy guitar lead, to Hetfield’s best vocal performance ranging from traditional grit in the verse to a softer, very melodic melody during the choruses, this song is a bonafide classic. Apparently the band concurred, writing two sequels – 1997’s “Unforgiven II” from ReLoad and 2008’s “Unforgiven III” from Death Magnetic. Ironically, the band lifted a horn sound from an old Clint Eastwood “spaghetti western” for the intro to this song, while Eastwood would return to westerns the following year with a film named Unforgiven.

Prior to this album, most critics dismissed Metallica as an over-hyped garage band, which would never catch on beyond the core of dedicated, cult-like fans. Metallica would prove them wrong and make many in the ever-changing industry reconsider the scope of genres which have mass appeal. The album would be a major influence for the post-grunge sound of the mid to late nineties and be the absolute pinnacle of Metallica’s long and successful career. As Hammett simply referred to it; “it is our Dark Side of the Moon”.

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

Psychotic Supper by Tesla

Psychotic Supper by Tesla

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Psychotic Supper by TeslaOut of the deluge of “hair bands” that populated the rock scene in the late 1980s, Tesla was, perhaps, the most talented and interesting. The band composed songs which were deeper and less formulaic and had slightly better dynamics then the clones of Poison or Mötley Crüe. By the time the band got around to its third studio album, Psychotic Supper in 1991, they seemed primed to move into the top level of popular rock bands. Their previous studio album, Great Radio Controversy in 1989, got their great radio play with a few charting hits as well as critical respected. This was followed by the live Five Man Acoustical Jam, which put the band on the cutting edge of the rising trend of performing stripped down versions of heavier songs in an intimate setting. With that setup, the band looked to knock it out of the park with this release.

But Psychotic Supper suffered greatly from its time and place in the rock and roll scene. It was released within 30 days of two of the most influential albums of the decade coming out of the Seattle grunge scene – Pearl Jam’s Ten and Nirvana’s Nevermind, both of which would become a phenomenon in the coming years. To compound this misfortune, Tesla’s album was also released within 30 days of long awaited albums by established artists – Metallica’s self-titled (black) album and Guns n Rose’s duo realease of Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II. All of this combined to “crowd out” the news of the release and effectively diffuse any momentum that Tesla had built.

The album contains a more stripped-down production method (than practiced in the eighties) and few overdubs to give it an air of legitimacy and live feel. It is the band’s bluesy, acoustic-tinged, approach at its height, with just a flourish of self-indulgence which may have further “dated” the sound in a year of radical change in rock n’ roll.

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Psychotic Supper by Tesla
Released: August 30, 1991 (Island)
Produced by: Michael Barbiero
Recorded: 1991
Track Listing Band Musicians
Change In the Weather
Edison’s Medicine
Don’t De-Rock Me
Call It What You Want
Song and Emotion
Time
Government Personnel
Freedom Slaves
Had Enough
What You Give
Stir It Up
Can’t Stop
Toke About It
Jeff Keith – Lead Vocals
Frank Hannon – Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals
Tommy Skeoch – Guitar, Keyboards
Brian Wheat – Bass, Piano
Troy Luccketta – Drums & Percussion

Psychotic Supper by Tesla

“Call It What You Want” is one of the most striking songs with the moody and melodic intro morphing into an exciting, upbeat theme with dynamic vocals and sonically pleasing guitar accents. While the “Tesla sound” may be encompassed in “Call It What You Want”, their overall band theme could be “Edison’s Medicine”, which tells the story about the famous inventor Thomas Edison and his lesser known (but equally brilliant) rival Nikola Tesla, the band’s namesake.

“Song and Emotion” is an almost bluesy rendition on picked electric lead by the soulful vocals of Keith. The song slowly works its way in before exploding into a heavier rhythm while still maintaining its original feel. “Government Personnel” is a pure acoustic, near-spoof that lasts barely a minute but is still very entertaining. The highly suggestive “Toke About It” uses Van Halen-like showmanship rock to present a party atmosphere to close out the album.

“What You Give” is the most memorable anthem from Psychotic Supper, due especially to the interplay between Frank Hannon on acoustic and Tommy Skeoch on electric guitars. The song itself is a philosophical examination of relationships that is intentionally slow developing to accent the vocal performance as well as its own fine arrangement.

Some of the heavier material on the album include the driving, accent-heavy, and aptly titled “Don’t De-Rock Me” and the more standard fare “Had Enough” with some bluesy-edged lead guitars.

Tesla never quite fit into any specific box as far as genre goes, and sadly this prevented the band from getting their due in retrospective critique. In the late eighties they were a step ahead of the (what was then considered) “heavy metal” scene and in the early nineties they weren’t melodramatic enough to benefit from the grunge or alternative waves that swept the rock world. Psychotic Supper was, in effect, the band’s “last hurrah”. After their next album, Bust a Nut in 1994, the band commenced a six year “hiatus” to close out the century which all but ended the productive portion of their run at fame.

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1991 Images

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

Blood Sugar Sex Magik by Red Hot Chili Peppers

Blood Sugar Sex Magik
by Red Hot Chili Peppers

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Blood Sugar Sex Magik by Red Hot Chili PeppersJust as the Red Hot Chili peppers were starting to break out in the late 1980s, two of the band’s members were struggling mightily with drug abuse. One of them, lead singer Anthony Kiedis, decided to get clean and survived. Unfortunately the other, guitarist Hillel Slovak died of a heroin overdose in June 1988. The band’s then drummer Jack Irons subsequently quit due to the substance problems in the band and went on to help form Pearl Jam. So Kiedis and bassist Flea were left to search for a new guitarist and drummer.

Guitarist John Frusciante was an avid fan of the band and auditioned along with former P-Funk guitarist DeWayne “Blackbyrd” McKnight. Frusciante was ultimately chosen to fill Slovak’s place along with drummer Chad Smith, who joined just prior to production of the band’s 1989 album Mother’s Milk, which would be their last album with EMI. Courted by many labels, the band ultimately signed with Warner Brothers, at the urging of Kiedis and Rick Rubin was brought in to produce the Chili Peppers first album for the label.

At Rubin’s suggestion, the band recorded the album in an old mansion once owned by magician Harry Houdini. In early summer 1991, equipment was moved in and the band decided that they would remain inside the mansion for the duration of recording. Frusciante, Kiedis, and Flea each had their own separate rooms at each end of the house and Kiedis ended up recording all his vocals in his room, as it was large enough to accommodate the recording equipment. For over thirty days, the Chili Peppers worked inside the house on the album that would become Blood Sugar Sex Magic.

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Blood Sugar Sex Magik by Red Hot Chili Peppers
Released: September 24, 1991 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Rick Rubin
Recorded: The Mansion, Los Angeles, May-June 1991
Track Listing Group Musicians
The Power of Equality
If You Have to Ask
Breaking the Girl
Funky Monks
Suck My Kiss
I Could Have Lied
Mellowship Slinky in B Major
The Righteous & the Wicked
Give It Away
Blood Sugar Sex Magik
Under the Bridge
Naked In the Rain
Apache Rose Peacock
The Greeting Song
My Lovely Man
Sir Psycho Sexy
They’re Red Hot
Anthony Kiedis – Lead Vocals
John Frusciante – Guitar, Vocals
Flea – Bass, Vocals, Trumpet, Keyboards
Chad Smith – Drums, Percussion

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The album would go on to be their blockbuster breakthrough, spawning several radio-friendly “hits” which were cherry-picked from a super-sized album loaded with funk/hip-hop fused, sexually-charged explicit material. The first of these hits was “Give It Away”, a very simple and catchy rap which first brought the album some mainstream attention in the Fall of 1991. This paved the way for the follow-up single which would put the band over the top for the first time in their career.

RHCP Under the Bridge single“Under the Bridge” was at first considered one of those songs that did “not fit the style” of the band. It was written by Kiedis as he reflected on his heroin and cocaine addictions about a moment that he came to believe was his lowest point. It started as a poem which Rubin stumbled upon and suggested Kiedis show it to the rest of the band. After some convincing, he sang the verse to Frusciante, they began structuring the song. After the song was recorded, Rubin felt the grand and epic outtro would benefit from a large group of singers. Frusciante invited his mother, Gail and her friends, all of whom sang in a choir, to perform the outtro.

Blood Sugar Sex Magik begins with a couple of rap songs with funk backing – “The Power OF Equality” and “If You Have to Ask”, each a bit trite and mundane compared to the album’s stronger material. The album then suddenly takes a sharp turn with “Breaking the Girl”, one of its more melodic tracks and a complete departure from the hip-hop/funk canvas. Acoustic and dreamy with pulsating bass, long strings and a tribalistic drum beat, the song shows that Kleidis can sing when he wants to.

Here the album starts to get much more interesting. Following “Breaking the Girl” is Flea’s slap-bass fueled “Funky Monks”, complete with high-pitched chorus vocals and a more interesting arrangement. This is followed by the heavier “Suck My Kiss”, an excellent song of pure energy that employs the higher tactic of innuendo in contrast to the more explicit songs. A softer, almost love song follows called “I Could Have Lied”. Driven by melodic bass, acoustic, steady drums, and a toned down, soft vocal, Kiedis supposedly wrote this about his brief relationship he had with Irish singer Sinéad O’Connor.

“Mellowship Slinky in B Major” is a funk sandwich wrapped in the bread of pure rock riffs, while “The Righteous and the Wicked” is another enjoyable listen, being bass groove driven, with a funky guitar, melodic vocals, and a good hook. It is essential Red Hot Chili Peppers in its diversity and even contains a nice riff in the middle which has a definitive Led Zeppelin quality

Unfortunately, as the 17-song album goes along much of the later material tends to be repetitive and overdone. One exception may be the eight minute mini-suite, “Sir Psycho Sexy”, which has a bit of a Frank Zappa quality to it musically accompanying porno-level explicitly sexual lyrics.

Despite some of the shortcomings, the album is a must have for any serious rock collector, especially those interested in unique sound and fusion. With Blood Sugar Sex Magik, the Chili Peppers set out to make their best possible album, which would be long remembered, and they definitely accomplished that goal.

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1991 Images

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

Out of Time by REM

Out of Time by R.E.M.

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Out of Time by REMFollowing 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 Time by R.E.M.
Released: March 12, 1991 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Scott Litt & R.E.M.
Recorded: Bearsville Studios, Woodstock, NY, Sep-Oct 1990
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Radio Song
Losing My Religion
Low
Near Wild Heaven
Endgame
Shiny Happy People
Belong
Half a World Away
Texarkana
Country Feedback
Me in Honey
Michael Stipe – Lead Vocals, Melodica
Peter Buck – Guitars, Mandolin
Mike Mills – Bass, Keyboards, Vocals
Bill Berry – Drums, Keyboards, Vocals

Out of Time by R.E.M.

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.

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1991 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1991 albums

Pocket Full of Kryptonite by Spin Doctors

Pocket Full of Kryptonite by Spin Doctors

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Pocket Full of Kryptonite by Spin DoctorsAs 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.

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Pocket Full of Krypotonite by 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
Track Listing Band Musicians
Jimmy Olsen’s Blues
What Time Is It?
Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong
Forty or Fifty
Refrigerator Car
More Than She Knows
Two Princes
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

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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.

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1991 Images

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

Mama Said by Lenny Kravitz

Mama Said by Lenny Kravitz

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Mama Said by Lenny KravitzLenny 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.

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Mama Said by Lenny Kravitz
Released: April 2, 1991 (Virgin)
Produced by: Lenny Kravitz
Recorded: 1990-1991
Track Listing Primary Musicians
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?
Butterfly
Lenny Kravitz – Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Drums
Henry Hirsh – Bass, Keyboards, String Arrangements
Karl Denson – Saxophone
David Domanich – Drums

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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.

It Ain't Over Til It's Over Video by Lenny Kravitz, 1991     Touch Me Video by The Doors, 1968

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.

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

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Gish by Smashing Pumkins

Gish by The Smashing Pumpkins

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Gish by Smashing PumkinsGish 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.


Gish by Smashing Pumpkins
Released: May 28, 1991 (Caroline)
Produced by: Butch Vig & Billy Corgan
Recorded: Smart Studios, Madison, WI, December 1990–March 1991
Track Listing Band Musicians
I Am One
Siva
Rhinoceros
Bury Me
Crush
Suffer
Snail
Tristessa
Window Paine
Daydream
Billy Corgan – Lead Vocals, Guitars
James Iha – Guitars, Vocals
D’arcy Wretzky – Bass, Vocals
Jimmy Chamberlin – Drums

Gish by Smashing Pumkins

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.

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1991 Images

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

 

Use Your Illusion I & II by Guns n Roses

Use Your Illusion (I & II) by Guns n’ Roses

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Buy Use Your Illusion II

Use Your Illusion I & II by Guns n RosesIt 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.

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Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II by 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)
Perfect Crime
So Cruel
Bad Obsession
Back Off Bitch
Double Talkin’ Jive
November Rain
The Garden
Garden of Eden
Don’t Damn Me
Bad Apples
Dead Horse
Coma
Civil War
14 Years
Yesterdays
Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door
Get the Ring
Shotgun Blues
Breakdown
Pretty Tied Up
Locomotive
So Fine
Estranged
You Could Be Mine
Don’t Cry (Alternate)
My World
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.

GnR November Rain singleIt 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.

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1991 Images

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

The Dylans debut album

The Dylans

Buy The Dylans

The Dylans debut albumWhen 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.

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The Dylans by The Dylans
Released: November, 1991 (Situation Two)
Produced by: Stephen Street & John A. Rivers
Recorded: Black Barn Studios, Surrey, England, Summer 1991
Track Listing Band Musicians
She Drops Bombs
Planet Love
I Hope the Weather Stays Fine
Sad Rush On Sunday
No Coming Down
Mine
Particle Ride
Ocean Wide
Godlike
Mary Quaint In Blue
Love To
Indian Sun
Colin Gregory – Guitar, Bass, Vocals
Jim Rodger – Guitars
Andy Cook – Guitars
Quentin Jennings – Keyboards
Gary Jones – Drums

Buy The Dylans

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.

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1991 Images

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

Achtung Baby by U2

Achtung Baby by U2

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Achtung Baby by U2“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.

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Achtung Baby by 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
Track Listing Band Musicians
Zoo Station
Even Better Than the Real Thing
One
Until the End of the World
Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses?
So Cruel
The Fly
Mysterious Ways
Tryin’ To Throw Your Arms Around the World
Ultraviolet (Light My Way)
Acrobat
Love Is Blindness
Bono – Lead Vocals, Guitar
The Edge – Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals
Adam Clayton – Bass
Larry Mullin, Jr. – Drums & Percussion

Achtung Baby by U2

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.

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1991 Images

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