Blind Melon

Blind Melon

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Blind MelonBlind Melon is the 1992 debut album by the rock band of the same name. The album was an international seller due primarily to the breakthrough hit “No Rain” along with a few other minor hits. With producer Rick Parashar, the band approached production of the album to be intentionally devoid of any digital effects or any 1990’s production techniques in an attempt to make a “classic” sounding record. This extended to the use of out-of-date amplifiers and instrumentation.  The results were mixed with some tracks enhanced by the “vintage” sound and others just sounding muddled and under-developed.

Although often mis-labeled as a “Seattle” band, the album was merely recorded in Seattle.  The band itself was formed in Los Angeles and made up of personnel from the South and Midwest. Blind Melon came together in 1990 when vocalist Shannon Hoon, an Indiana native met guitarist Rogers Stevens and bassist Brad Smith, both from Mississippi. Stevens and Smith eventually persuaded fellow-Mississippi drummer Glen Graham to come to L.A. and a second guitarist, Christopher Thorn rounded out the quintet. Although the band’s rise in L.A. was rather rapid, they were signed to Capitol Records in 1991, they eventually decided that they did not “fit in” with that scene and relocated to Chapel Hill, North Carolina where they were able to rent a house big enough for them and their equipment and work on new material for their first album.

The iconic cover art is based on a 1975 photograph of Graham’s younger sister in an awkward bee costume and was carried through for the band’s videos which used a modern day actor who resembled the younger Graham.


Blind Melon by Blind Melon
Released: September 14, 1992 (Capitol)
Produced by: Rick Parashar & Blind Melon
Recorded: London Bridge Studios, Seattle, February-June 1992
Track Listing Band Musicians
Soak the Sin
Tones Of Home
I Wonder
Paper Scratcher
Dear Ol’ Dad
Change
No Rain
Deserted
Sleepyhouse
Holyman
Seed To a Tree
DriveTime
Shannon Hoon – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Rogers Stevens – Lead Guitars
Christopher Thorn – Guitar, Mandolin
Brad Smith – Bass, Flute, Vocals
Glenn Graham – Drums, Percussion
 
BlindMelon

Blind Melon opens up with a multi-part jam song called “Soak the Sin”, which is slightly reminiscent of what Pearl Jam was doing on their debut, but with a looser structure. This is followed up by the funk-driven “Tones of Home”, a better structured single with a nice rhythm by Smith and Graham. However, the lyrics here are a bit trite and immature –

“I thought that this would be the land of milk and honey, but I’ve come to find out that it’s all hate and money…”

“I Wonder” adds a lot of diverse parts, starting with an acoustic intro and winding through several riff-driven sections. There is a sense of hesitation and under-development as the players appear to follow Hoon through the various changes. This begins a section of the album where Blind Melon seems to be on the brink of making strong and interesting rock music but had not allow the time for the songs to properly ripen. “Paper Scratcher” and “Dear Ol Dad” illustrate this perfectly, with the only real highlight being the acoustic lead by Stevens.

The heart of the album is two back-to-back songs in the middle. “Change” is the first of these, a nice acoustic ballad with brilliant harmonica and mandolin overtones by Thorn. It is a coming-of-age song with poetic lyrics and fine performances by everyone, showing that this band definitly had potential to develop into a top-notch act.


 
The other great song on the album is, of course, “No Rain”, by far the most popular song by the band. Although its popularity was fueled by the brilliant MTV video that depicts a bee girl trying to find her niche in the world, the musical credentials of the song itself make it an entertaining and timeless classic decades later. It contains a most unusual arrangement where Stevens’ lead and Thorn’s acoustic are given’ prime attention with just sparse rhythm intervening mostly for effect. This all adds as a perfect canvas for Hoon’s fantastic vocals, unmistakably clear and present and a bright signpost along the highway that is 1990’s music.

Unfortunately, the album really falls off and these highlights, with the final six tracks not adding much in terms of originality or entertainment that is not already present earlier on the album. Of these, only the closer “Time’ offers much in way of ambition, as the band attempts to summarize the themes of the previous twelve tracks to end the album.

Like many rock band’s Blind Melon‘s turn at fame was meteoric and cut short tragically. Shortly after releasing the band’s follow-up album Soup in 1995, lead singer Shannon Hoon died of a drug overdose, abruptly ending the band’s rise.

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1992 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1992 albums.

Images And Words by Dream Theater

Images and Words by Dream Theatre

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Images And Words by Dream Theater Images and Words is the second studio album by Dream Theater, released in the summer of 1992. It is the first to feature vocalist James LaBrie and is considered one of the most influential albums ever for the genre of progressive metal, although it may be short-sighted to try and place this material into a well-defined box of any musical genre. On this album the music, vocals, and lyrics are in a constant exploration that appears to respect no boundaries of musical style. The result is a very diverse and complex masterpiece made up of a multitude of elements which, for the dedicated music fan, becomes more vivid with each subsequent listen.

Dream Theater’s seeds were planted in the mid 1980s when guitarist John Petrucci, bassist John Myung, and drummer Mike Portnoy, all attended the Berklee Schhol of Music in Boston. They formed a band called Majesty, along with keyboardist Kevin Moore and vocalist Chris Collins, who was later replaced by Charlie Dominici. After a name change due to a conflict, Dream Theater recorded their first album When Dream And Day Unite, released in 1989. During the subsequent tour however, the band became unsatisfied with Dominici’s vocals and his creative vision and he was released from the band. It would take two solid years until they found a satisfactory replacement, auditioning nearly 200 vocalists before LaBrie, formally of the Canadian band Winter Rose, sent the band an audition tape in 1991. With LaBrie on board, the band made anew audition tape and was soon signed to a seven album contract with Atco Records.

Beyond the band’s dedicated fans, Images and Words remains highly acclaimed by music critics and musicians alike. In a review of the album, critic Jonathan Scott stated;

The five musical prodigies of Dream Theater show here that they are not afraid to stand out from the crowd and shout, with unnaturally-sized drum kits and keyboardists equipped with mutant spider-fingers, that music, the art, cannot be condensed down to simple hooks and choruses…”

Providing historical context to the album, musician Jay Santos said;

“Although stemming from the late 80’s, their progressive style and superior and solid execution captured the attention of serious musicians hence giving them a safe place, protected from the grunge movement…”

Santos also pointed to the fact that the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs have long used portions of “Metropolis” as incidental music during their games, proving that while the band will never receive mainstream pop coverage, they still have still crossed over to mainstream culture.


Images and Words by Dream Theater
Released: July 7, 1992 (Atco)
Produced by: David Prater
Recorded: Bear Tracks Studios, New York, September-December 1991
Track Listing Band Musicians
Pull Me Under
Another Day
Take the Time
Surrounded
Metropolis, Pt. 1: Miracle and Sleeper
Under a Glass Moon
Wait for Sleep
Learning to Live
James LaBrie – Lead Vocals
John Petrucci – Guitars, Vocals
Kevin Moore – Keyboards
John Myung – Bass
Mike Portnoy– Drums, Vocals
 
Images and Words by Dream Theater

The album contains four extended pieces which clock in over 8 minutes apiece, each complex but with their own distinct signature. “Take the Time” begins very rudiment heavy before breaking into a funk section by Myung, who excels at bass throughout the track. While the song navigates through a multitude of sections reminiscent of early Genesis or Yes, it returns frequently to the main vocal hook and Petrucci’s signature lead riff. “Metropolis, Pt. 1: The Miracle and the Sleeper” is sprinkled with sonic candy with more great rudiments under the verse and plenty of space for virtuosity in its multiple parts. This piece never relents and keeps your ears perked at maximum attention as each band member shines brightly throughout, most especially Moore with a killer synth lead.

The closer “Learning to Live” starts off with more virtuoso instrumentation but is far more steady and subtle compared to other extended pieces. It is quite different than anything else on the album, with a more surreal quality which may take a few times to appreciate.

Pull Me Under singleThe opening song “Pull Me Under” has a long, building intro, before settling into a heavy metal riff by Petrucci and a double-kicked beat by Portnoy. Written by Moore, the lyrics are philosophical about life and death and contain a direct quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Despite being over eight minutes in length, the song was released as a single and peaked at #10 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart.

The album nicely counterbalances the extended tracks with more lighter, more conventional, and shorter tracks. “Another Day”, written by John Petrucci for his father, has been described as “prog metal meets Kenny G”. With its gently rocking piano and a couple saxophone leads by Jay Beckenstein, who rarely stepped away from playing “smooth jazz” before this session. “Surrounded” starts and ends as a ballad with a rotating key riff, accented by two piano chords but nicely morphs into a choppy, odd-timed rocker through the heart of the song.

The album’s diversity os once again displayed later on when the pure heavy metal “Under a Glass Moon”, frantic throughout and with all players at full throttle is followed by “Wait for Sleep”, a short and calm ballad containing mostly just piano and vocals. This latter track acts as the default title song for the album, containing its title in the lyric and describing the scene of the album’s cover.

Images and Words would become the first of a string of highly regarded albums that continues to this day, 20 years later, and is the most successful album to date commercially (although albums in recent years have fared better with chart positions). The band has gone through several personnel changes over the past two decades, with the most recent being the departure of founding drummer Mike Portnoy in 2010, who is now a member of Flying Colors (also reviewed today on our affiliate site Modern Rock Review). Still, Dream Theater keeps going strong with an album released in 2011 and another planned for later in 2012.

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1992 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1992 albums.

New Miserable Experience by Gin Blossoms

New Miserable Experience by Gin Blossoms

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New Miserable Experience by Gin BlossomsReleased during the heyday of the grunge music movement, New Miserable Experience was the peak of Gin Blossoms‘s short-lived fame in the early 1990s. It consists of lean and jangly pop music that hearkened back to some of the college radio alternative pop of the 1980s such as The Replacements or R.E.M. The album was the band’s major-label debut after they had spent years building their popularity at the local level around Phoenix. However, the making of this album came with inner turmoil as chief songwriter and lead guitarist Doug Hopkins became an impediment by drinking heavily and growing stubborn and disillusioned with the recording process, which ultimately led to his termination from the band at the label’s insistence.

Hopkins’ writing credits included all four of the popular “hits” from the album, with his penchant for somber lyrics and notable melodies. He founded the Gin Blossoms in the mid 1980s and helped them develop into one of the most popular local bands in Tempe, AZ and facilitated independent record releases. Hopkins, who suffered from mental illness and alcoholism, was staunchly against the band signing with a major label, and this led to his downward spiral in the studio and eventual firing. Hopkins became increasingly despondent as the band rose to fame performing the songs he had written. Shortly after receiving a gold record for the song “Hey Jealousy”, he tore it off the wall and destroyed it. Ten days later, Hopkins committed suicide. As lead singer Robin Wilson later acknowledged; “Without Doug and his songwriting, we never could have signed a record deal.” Quite ironic.


New Miserable Experience by Gin Blossoms
Released: August 4, 1992 (A&M)
Produced by: John Hampton & Gin Blossoms
Recorded: Ardent Studios, Memphis, TN, 1992
Track Listing Band Musicians
Lost Horizons
Hey Jealousy
Mrs. Rita
Until I Fall Away
Hold Me Down
Cajun Song
Hands Are Tied
Found Out About You
Allison Road
29
Pieces Of the Night
Cheatin’
Robin Wilson – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Doug Hopkins – Guitars
Jesse Valenzuela – Guitars, Mandolin, Vocals
Bill Leen – Bass
Phillip Rhodes– Drums, Percussion
 
New Miserable Experience by Gin Blossoms

The bulk of the hit songs on New Miserable Experience, were actually recorded three years earlier, in 1989, for the Gin Blossoms independent album Dusted. These included “Lost Horizons”, “Hey Jealousy”, “Cajun Song”, and “Found Out About You”. The opener “Lost Horizons” establishes the basic vibe of the album (which does not vary much throughout) with driving, bright guitars, subdued vocals and a steady, methodical rhythm. Lyrically, Hopkins addresses his own alcoholism and personal demons;

“I’ll drink enough of anything to make this world look new again, drunk, drunk, drunk in the gardens and graves…”

“Hey Jealousy” has a jangly power pop motif with more darkly confessional lyrics by Hopkins with a bit of emotional complexity. On Jesse Valenzuela‘s “Cajun Song”, the band displays more versatility with strong harmonies and country elements, something that is more fully explored later on the album’s closer “Cheatin'”. “Found Out About You” became the band’s only #1 hit, topping the Modern Rock Tracks, and the best pure pop song on the album, with a catchy hook and a melodic mix of guitar parts.

A few more of the more popular radio tracks include the melodic and restrained “Until I Fall Away” and “Allison Road”, which Has a Buddy Holly influenced beginning, and more pleasant and melodies and harmonies. Throughout the album, the rhythm section of bassist Bill Leen and drummer Phillip Rhodes, provide the steady and driving tempo which allows for movement on top end. This especially true on the album’s heavier tracks, “Mrs. Rita”, “Hold Me Down” and “Hands Are Tied”.

Many wondered if Gin Blossoms could replicate the success of New Miserable Experience without Hopkins songwriting. They did reach a level of success with their 1996 follow-up album and a few more hit singles, but by 1997 the band was finished and this album proved to be their apex.

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1992 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1992 albums.

Southern Harmony & Musical Companion by The Black Crowes

The Southern Harmony & Musical Companion
by The Black Crowes

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Southern Harmony & Musical Companion by The Black Crowes With the follow-up to their blockbuster 1990 debut, The Black Crowes took a more rootsy and soulful approach with The Southern Harmony & Musical Companion. That debut, Shake Your Money Maker, sold over 5 million copies in its first two years and sent the band on a near-constant tour playing over 350 shows in a year and a half. The new record by the band featured Marc Ford on lead guitar, who replaced Jeff Cease after his departure the year before. This, along with the addition of a full-time keyboardist in Eddie Harsch and a strong presence of female backing vocals gave the Black Crowes room to explore, improvise, and jam with the new material.

The album borrowed its title from a popular book of hymns from the nineteenth century and was suggested by lead singer Chris Robinson. First published by William Walker in 1835, the original The Southern Harmony & Musical Companion was often the sole source of musical literacy for many rural Americans.

The core of the Black Crowes is their rhythm section, lead by Chris’s brother Rich Robinson on guitar who forges the cool, fresh-sounding grooves that anchor the band’s sound. Johnny Colt lays down the solid bass while Steve Gorman provides a very effective, assertive, and melodic form of drumming. The album was produced by George Drakoulia, who gave every instrument a sharp and clear voice, while embracing the looseness of the compositions.


Southern Harmony & Musical Companion by The Black Crowes
Released: May 12, 1992 (Def American)
Produced by: George Drakoulias
Recorded: Various Locations, 1991
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Sting Me
Remedy
Thorn In My Pride
Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye
Sometimes Salvation
Hotel Illness
Black Moon Creeping
No Speak No Slave
My Morning Song
Time Will Tell
Chris Robinson – Lead Vocals
Rich Robinson – Guitars
Marc Ford – Guitars
Eddie Harsch – Keyboards
Johnny Colt – Bass
Steve Gorman– Drums
 
Southern Musical & Harmony Companion by The Black Crowes

The album contains nine new songs written by the Robinson brothers, along with a Bob Marley cover “Time Will Tell”, which closes the album. Just as the band made a signature song out of the Otis Redding cover “Hard To Handle” on the previous album, they make the Marley song their own by rearranging the reggae into a more New Orleans sound. Unfortunately it does not work nearly as well as the previous cover.

The essence of the Black Crowes’ sound is their revival of the solid roots rock of the 1970s along with just enough chord changes, tempo shifts, and the decor of feedback and other effects including catchy lyrics. This is evident early in the album, starting with “Sting Me”. This album opener became a hit for the group, reaching number one on the Billboard Album Rock Tracks chart, while the next track “Remedy” had even greater success. This second track has a good hook in the beginning and evolves as the song goes on, never getting stuck in the same rut as some of the other songs.

“Thorn in My Pride” is one of the finest songs on the album and also sets the template for the type of approach the band took on many tracks here – a laid back, slow, and melodic build which introduces the instruments seperately above the picked out acoustic notes gradually building into an extended, 6-minute hymn which showcases all that the band is capable of doing. “Hotel Illness” is another strong track with a Stones-like riff and bluesy elements throughout.

While Southern Harmony contains a strong collection of songs, which bridge the metamorphasis between the concise pop/rock of Shake Your Money Maker and the more jam-oriented tracks of their future records, the album at times seems too even, with not enough peaks and valleys to make it an interesting adventure for the listener. This is true for the album as a whole as well as for many individual tracks. It would have been a respectable debut had it come first, but it really didn’t raise the bar for musical excellence.

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1992 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1992 albums.

Automatic For the People by REM

Automatic For the People by R.E.M.

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Automatic For the People by REMAutomatic For the People is the eighth album by R.E.M., released in 1992 following their breakthrough Out of Time. Since the band did not tour to support that album, they were able to start writing and rehearsing for the next album shortly after its release in June 1991. The three musicians -guitarist Peter Buck, bassist Mike Mills, and drummer Bill Berry had informal rehearsals for months, often trading instruments and trying different musical arrangements. Lead vocalist and chief lyricist Michael Stipe was not present for these 1991 sessions and received finished demos at the start of 1992, when he started recording vocals.

The album is very much musically subdued and deals with mortality. This was not the original intent, as the band first strove to record a more “upbeat” album, but soon turned further away from the lighter, sweeter pop of previous albums. The finished product was co-produced by Scott Litt at Bearsville Studios in Woodstock, New York. String arrangements by former Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones were recorded in Atlanta.

Many critics regard Automatic For the People as the finest R.E.M. album due to its beautiful and moving sounds mixed with melancholy themes of hopelessness and anger. It contains a core set of folk songs with majestic overtones resonating from the exotic instrumentation. This is the group’s coming-of-age album as they pass the “alternative” flame to the slew of new bands which now populated the rock landscape.


Automatic For the People by R.E.M.
Released: October 7, 1992 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Scott Litt & R.E.M.
Recorded: Various Locations, 1991-1992
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Drive
Try Not to Breathe
The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite
Everybody Hurts
New Orleans Instrumental No. 1
Sweetness Follows
Monty Got a Raw Deal
Ignoreland
Star Me Kitten
Man On the Moon
Nightswimming
Find the River
Michael Stipe – Lead Vocals
Peter Buck – Guitars, Mandolin
Mike Mills – Bass, Keyboards, Vocals
Bill Berry– Drums, Keyboards, Vocals
 
Automatic For the People by R.E.M.

The pace of the album is immediately set with the opening track “Drive”. This doomy, acoustic-driven tune with heavily reverbed vocals and a touch of accordion has Neil Young quality along with a touch of some of the moodier material by the James Gang. “Try Not to Breathe” follows as another acoustic tune, but much lighter and brighter than opener, although the Stipe’s lyrics are every bit as dark as they narrate the plight of an elderly person who has chosen to end his life.

The radio hit “Everybody Hurts” contains high, sweet vocals and romantic chord progressions by Buck with topped off by themes of desperate hope. The lyrics are stripped of their usual crypto-poetic attributes to a pure, raw, and unambiguous message;

“…when you think you’ve had too much of this life, well hang on, don’t let yourself go, everybody cries, everybody hurts sometimes…”

“New Orleans Instrumental No.1” is an entertaining musical break with tremolo electric piano and a sustained-note guitar groove. “Sweetness Follows” contains more ethereal doominess and a comforting melancholy while “Monty Got a Raw Deal” is built like a traditional R.E.M. song with an acoustic folk beginning and the later addition of the accordion and mandolin. “Ignoreland” is the most rock-oriented song on the album, with strong fuzz guitars, distorted vocals by Stipe, and intense drumming by Berry while “Star Me Kitten” is a calm and moody, almost psychedelic tune with ethereal organ and synth effects and a melodic lead guitar.

Nearly a decade after his death, many people had all but forgotten about comedian Andy Kaufman before R.E.M. figuratively brought him back to life with “Man On the Moon”, a song which both pays tribute to Kaufman while poking fun at the theorists who thought he staged his own death as an elaborate joke. Musically, the somber calmness seems to fit this theme perfectly and the effective two-part chorus puts the song over the top. The song’s title was later used to name the Hollywood biography of Kaufman, starring Jim Carey.

The nostalgic, piano driven “Nightswimming” is an ode to teenage freedom and discovery. The odd musical arrangement and mood makes this a unique and interesting listen. The album concludes with “Find the River” a nice acoustic ballad with piano, fiddle, backing vocals, and an overall good mixture, ending the album with a more traditional song than much of the other material.

Automatic For the People was yet another in a string of hit albums for R.E.M., reaching number two on the U.S. album charts and yielding six regular radio tracks. The album would perhaps be the high-water mark for this innovative band who were truly alternative long before alternative was cool.

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1992 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1992 albums.

Little Earthquakes by Tori Amos

Little Earthquakes by Tori Amos

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Little Earthquakes by Tori AmosLittle Earthquakes is the debut solo album of singer/songwriter Tori Amos. It followed the dissolution of her 1980s synth-pop band called “Y Kant Tori Read”, with a batch of a dozen compositions which set the stage for her solo career as well as forge a template for the more introspective music that flourished among female singer/songwriters during the 1990s. The songs are often stripped-down and raw, but consistently genuine throughout. The album shattered many long-held conventions in the popular music industry (especially for debuts) and launched a career for Amos where she would sell 12 million (and counting) albums worldwide and be nominated for 8 Grammy Awards.

The album was recorded in various phases between 1990 and 1991 in locations ranging from the renowned Capitol Records studios in Hollywood to the home studio of Amos’s then boyfriend. At the label’s urging, Amos then relocated to London (where it was thought there would be a more receptive audience for eccentric performers) where she spent the better part of a year performing in small bars and clubs, slowly getting the material exposed. Little Earthquakes was actually released in the UK in January 1992, a month ahead of its US release, to much critical acclaim.

Sonically, the album contains a balance of acoustic and electronic instrumentation and some very innovative use of vocals to build mood-inspiring crescendos throughout. The best example of all these elements is found in the closing title song, “Little Earthquakes”, which fluctuates between the introspective ballad with deep lyrics and the primal expression of vocal emotives over the consistent and haunting reverberation of a kick drum.


Little Earthquakes by Tori Amos
Released: February 25, 1992 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Tori Amos, Eric Rosse, Davitt Sigerson, Ian Stanley
Recorded: Capitol Records, Los Angeles, 1991-1992
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Crucify
Girl
Silent All These Years
Precious Things
Winter
Happy Phantom
China
Leather
Mother
Tear In Your Hand
Me and a Gun
Little Earthquakes
Tori Amos – Lead & Backing Vocals, Acoustic & Electric Piano
Steve Caton – Guitars, Bass
Eric Rosse– Synths, Percussion, Backing Vocals
 
Little Earthquakes by Tori Amos

All songs on Little Earthquakes written and composed by Tori Amos. The first single from the album was “Silent All These Years”, which did not make a huge splash on the airwaves but did connect with many listeners on an intimate level. A delicate song built on a chromatic piano figure with many subtle flourishes and more sudden and diverse voices from Amos, the song’s bridge is an intense release of pent-up fear and uncertainty into a new role of benevolence and confidence.

“Precious Things” and “Tear In Your Hand” 4:38 are more traditionally arranged with Will McGregor playing bass and Carlo Nuccio playing drums on each track, with “Precious Things” using more experimental sounds such as the intro breathy percussive effects. “Girl” is moody and hypnotic with a consistent drum beat and piano riff interwoven with a variety of orchestral and guitar effects and a building vocal ensemble during the bridge.

The opening “Crucify” is about guilt, self-doubt, and a bit of paranoia, using much Christian symbolism throughout. Lyrically, one may compare this to the type of self-examination Roger Waters used on The Wall. Despite the deep subject matter, the song is musically one of the brighter and more pop-oriented on the album, lead by a moody electric piano and accented by a vocal chorus.

The best composition on the album is “Winter”, one of  four singles released from the album. This is a deeply personal song where Amos incorporated her father, a Christian minister. Lyrically it uses the wonder and confusion of winter and transition of seasons in a reflective allegory for growing up –

“…when you gonna make up your mind, when you gonna love you as much as I do / because things are gonna change so fast”

“China” is often cited as one of Amos’ most traditional-oriented songs, a soft lament to lost with more highly allegorical lyrics. But a few of the songs on the album are so raw and and exposed that they are hard to listen to. “Mother” contains just piano and vocal and may be a bit drug out at seven minutes in duration. “Me and a Gun” is the most haunting song on the album It consists of a single,  acapella vocal by Amos which lyrically recounts her thoughts during a violent rape that she suffered through years earlier following a late-night gig. As she explained the experience and the reason for the song:

“How am I alive to tell you this tale when he was ready to slice me up? In the song I say it was ‘Me and a Gun’ but it wasn’t a gun. It was a knife he had. And the idea was to take me to his friends and cut me up, and he kept telling me that, for hours. And if he hadn’t needed more drugs I would have been just one more news report, where you see the parents grieving for their daughter…”

But then there are some lighter moments on to the album (at least musically). “Happy Phantom” is upbeat and jazzy musically, offering an light and entertaining break from the depth and moodiness of the rest of the album while still maintaining a rather dark lyrical motif. “Leather” is another good composition with excellent arrangement and production. The pleasant and melodic melody is complimented by poignant strings and subtle bits of heavy guitar by Steve Caton, along with entertaining sections of rag-time piano by Amos.

Following Little Earthquakes, Amos consistently released highly acclaimed albums throughout the 1990s and the first decade of the new millennium. Her most recent studio release is 2011’s Night of Hunters.

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1992 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1992 albums.

Core by Stone Temple Pilots

Core by Stone Temple Pilots

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Core by Stone Temple PilotsAround 1990, a hard rock band from San Diego, CA called Mighty Joe Young recorded a demo featuring some unorthodox musical styles, such as funk and yodeling and soon began to attract a fan-base in Southern California. After the group was signed to Atlantic Records and began work on their first professional studio album, they received a call from their lawyer who informed them that there was a blues-man who had already claimed the name Mighty Joe Young.  So the group hastily chose the name Stone Temple Pilots, after the STP motor oil stickers that adorned their rehearsal space, and continued on to record what would become their debut album Core.

The “core” of this group is Singer Scott Weland and bassist Robert DeLeo, who first met in 1986 and had performed together in various bands since. DeLeo later recruited his older brother Dean DeLeo as the band’s guitarist with drummer Eric Kretz rounding out the quartet. Although all four contributed to the songs on the album, Robert DeLeo wrote the bulk of the compositions with Weiland applying much lyrical content, forging a distinctly flavored version of grunge metal.

The album was released in September of 1992 but original received mixed to very negative reviews, with some critics blasting the more popular songs as “rip-offs” of more established grunge bands and the lesser know material as “pedestrian”. While there is no denying that the band incorporates several signature elements of contemporary bands Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam, and Nirvana, the very fact that so many of the songs on Core have held up over the past two decades is testament to the quality of this material.


Core by Stone Temple Pilots
Released: September 29, 1992 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Brendan O’Brien
Recorded: 1991-1992
Track Listing Band Musicians
Dead and Bloated
Sex Type Thing
Wicked Garden
No Memory
Sin
Naked Sunday
Creep
Piece of Pie
Plush
Wet My Bed
Crackerman
Where the River Goes
Scott Weiland – Lead Vocals
Dean DeLeo – Guitars
Robert DeLeo – Bass
Eric Kretz– Drums
 
Core by Stone Temple Pilots

 

A distant rap commences the album and its initial track, “Dead & Bloated”, which breaks into a slow and methodical riff and beat, During live renditions of this track, Weiland often hands a bullhorn to a fan to perform the intro. “Sex Type Thing” was the debut single from the album and the most controversial on the album due to its first person telling of perpetrating a rape (although Weiland contends its purpose was anti-rape). Musically, the song is much more upbeat, with DeLeo crediting “In the Light” by Led Zeppelin as a primary influence on the main riff.

“Wicked Garden” is one of the signature songs on the album, with a series of distinct sections, each lead by pristine vocal motifs fueled by melody. Weiland revealed that the song about people allowing all their innocence and purity to be lost from their lives. Following the calm, picked guitar instrumental by Dean DeLeo called “No Memory”, “Sin” commences with a splash but is overall a weaker attempt at another anthem song like “Wicked Garden”. The only refreshing part is an acoustic section later in the song, but it breaks away too early for a sub-par guitar lead.

Robert DeLeo wrote the calm, melodic, melancholy, acoustic ballad “Creep”, which he says was influenced by Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold”. This radio hit never really deviates too much from its dark temperament, with Weiland doing his best Kurt Cobain vocal impression for the melodramatic lyrics.

What would become one of the band’s biggest all-time hits, “Plush” is built on a unique chord structure which was inspired by Robert DeLeo’s love of ragtime music. Lyrically, the song was loosely based on a newspaper article Weiland had read about a girl who had been found dead in an area outside of San Diego. The song won a Grammy award for “Best Hard Rock Performance” in 1994 and the award-winning video won an MTV Video Music Award for Best New Artist that same year.

But aside from “Plush”, much of the later part of the album is sub-par at best. “Piece of Pie” sounds worn out with the same old drum beat driving once again while “Wet My Bed” is an ill-advised, superfluous filler. Although “Crackerman” received a fair amount of radio airplay, it has been accurately critiqued as “a bad Alice in Chains parody”, and the closer “Where the River Goes” is a leftover from the Mighty Joe Young demo which probably should have been left off the album. In the case of these tracks, less would have been more in forging a consistent and rewarding album.

Stone Temple Pilots, built on the success of Core with a couple more residual albums through the mid nineties, before substance abuse brought them back to Earth. Today, several of this album’s songs remain rock radio staples and the band’s position in the pantheon of heavy grunge is secure.

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1992 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1992 albums.

Diamonds In the Coal by The Badlees

Diamonds In the Coal
by The Badlees

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Diamonds In the Coal by The Badlees At a time when many in the rock world were in the process of re-imaging from the slick 80’s hair band to the grungy 90s alternative, a young Pennsylvania band called The Badlees was forging their own path with a sound called “roots rock” with their first full length album, Diamonds In the Coal. The band, which had been steadily gaining popularity since the release of their initial EP It Ain’t For You in late 1990, had solidified their lineup with the addition of Paul Smith in 1991. With Smith’s addition, the Badlees had the core quintet in place that would drive them through their most productive years. The result is a well-crafted, entertaining, and thoughtful album with fine and exquisite details.

The album was co-produced by guitarist Bret Alexander and contains all original compositions which were mainly written by Alexander with about half being co-penned by band associate Mike Naydock. The songs are augmented by a structure of electric and acoustic guitars, solid rhythms, judicious use of ethic instruments, layered vocals, and thoughtful lyrics.

There are few things easier than to live badly and die well…”

This quote by Oscar Wilde was placed inner sleeve of Diamonds In the Coal, in an obvious play on the band’s name. Further, each song on the lyrics page contained its own special quote from philosophers and artists ranging from Aristotle to Andy Warhol, some of the extra attention to detail the band put into the atmosphere of the album. Topping it off were the authentic pictures that were used for the cover of early 20th century coal miners that drummer Ron Simasek found at a local Historical Society.

 


Diamonds In the Coal by The Badlees
Released: January 14, 1992 (Rite-Off)
Produced by: Bret Alexander & the Badlees
Recorded: Waterfront Recording, Hoboken, NJ / Susquehanna Sound, Northumberland, PA, 1991
Track Listing Band Musicians
Like a Rembrandt
Back Where We Came From
Just One Moment
The Real Thing
Heaven On Earth
Interlude / Badlee Rap
The Next Big Thing
Dirty Neon Times
Spending My Inheritance
Sister Shirley
Mystery Girl
Road to Paradise
Diamonds In the Coal
Pete Palladino – Lead Vocals
Bret Alexander – Guitars, Mandolin, Harmonica, Vocals
Jeff Feltenberger – Guitars, Vocals
Paul Smith – Bass, Vocals
Ron Simasek– Drums & Percussion
 

Diamonds In the Coal by The Badlees

 

Thematically, Diamonds In the Coal is nearly sliced in half by the light intermission of “Interlude/Badlee Rap”, with the rap itself performed by Loose Bruce above some slight guitar and harmonica. Songs previous to this on the album are mainly pop-oriented, with basic structure and strong hooks. This all starts with the opener “Like a Rembrandt”, of which Alexander sets the scene as “a bunch of young kids partying out by an old coal breaker and realizing full well that this may be the greatest summer of their lives”.

“Back Where We Came From” (commonly referred to as “The Na Na Song”) follows with a strong delivery by lead vocalist Pete Palladino. This acoustic-driven tune with electric overtones, was the first single from the album and the first to receive significant airplay. It also shows that the Badlees had perfected a song template that the much more heralded Hootie and the Blowfish would replicate years later. Despite the Bon Jovi-ish hook at the onset, “Heaven On Earth” is still a song with good instrumentation lead by a solid, strummed acoustic while the lighter sound of “The Real Thing” contains serene and solid guitar riffs by Alexander with just a touch of the instrument which would become more predominant in the band, the mandolin. “Just One Moment” is another pop-oriented track with a bouncy and choppy riff, good vocals, and strong back beat by Simasek.

The Badlees

The second “half” of the album contains songs that explore deeper subject matter and richer musical structure. Guitarist Jeff Feltenberger provides good vocal interplay with Palladino during “The Next Big Thing”, while upbeat power-pop anthem “Dirty Neon Times” provides more fantastic vocal harmonies by Feltenberger in a pleasant, acoustic driven song.

Alexander’s “Spending My Inheritance” is a well composed, sort of “people’s anthem” tune with some harmonica intertwined with fiddle by guest performer David Rose. “Sister Shirley” is perhaps the most unique song on the album. It includes a picturesque lyrical narrative by Naydock and some sweet, jazzy guitar by Alexander – a rewarding listen, which shows the band’s musical and compositional range. Feltenberger wrote “Road to Paradise”, in an odd time, with steady acoustic strumming against slightly spastic drums all topped by intricate, three-part vocal patterns.

The closing title song is the true masterpiece of Diamonds In the Coal. Here, the listener is brought into the dark, forgotten patch towns of Pennsylvania’s Anthracite Region. The imagery in this song’s lyric is so vivid that you can almost feel the coal dust flying, while the music sets the perfect scene with a methodic, marching rhythm below and some authentic, ethnic instrumentation up above. This song showed the true promise of the band in 1992 and would be the primer for their breakthrough album River Songs three years later.

Recently, Bret Alexander looked back with great fondness on the creation of this album, saying he had a tremendous amount of fun and creative fulfillment writing the songs and producing Diamonds In the Coal. Although he does lament that he doesn’t feel that the overall “sound” of the album has held up sonically through the years. There is a definite early-nineties, polished-up quality with the drum sound snare-centric, the rhythms contain little variation, and the well-compressed vocals always seeming to hang at eye-level. But still, after 20 years, a deeper listener will definitely appreciate the quality of the songs and recognize the watershed of creative music “springs” that began their flow with Diamonds.

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1992 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1992 albums.

American Fool by John Cougar

American Fool by John Cougar

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American Fool by John CougarAmerican Fool may mark the midway point of the artist’s evolution from the stage name “Johnny Cougar” back to his given name John Mellencamp. The differing names (of which there are four distinct) mirrored the change in musical style and image from the slick, glam-like pop star of the 1970s to the earthy, folk singer of the 1980s. This album straddles the line between the two, with a slight edge to the former as it tends to get quite formulaic as it progresses. In 1974, when Mellencamp was struggling to break through in the music industry, his manager suggested that his given name was too hard to market and concocted “Johnny Cougar” for the artist. The name used on American Fool, his sixth overall, was simply “John Cougar” the last of three to use this name.

Although his previous album, 1980’s Nothin’ Matters and What If It Did yielded two Top 40 singles, Mellencamp hated that album, dismissed its material as “stupid little pop songs”, and derided its outlandish cost of production of about a quarter of a million dollars. So it was clear that he wanted to move in a different direction with this album, and he accomplished much with a more authentic sound throughout. Still, American Fool is an uneven album with the bulk of the good (and popular) material on its first side and much repetitive filler on the second.

Also, there are, unfortunately, a bunch of interesting performances on this album that have gone un-credited. A record of who performed on the keyboards, accordion, harmonica, and who were female background singers, have been hard to discover. These are apparently session performances, but they all enhanced the album above the very basic core sound of the five credited musicians.

 


American Fool by John Cougar
Released: July 10, 1982 (Riva)
Produced by: Don Gehman & John Mellencamp
Recorded: Cherokee Studios, Los Angeles & Criteria Studios, Miami, 1981-1982
Side One Side Two
Hurts So Good
Jack and Diane
Hand To Hold On To
Danger List
Can You Take It
Thundering Hearts
China Girl
Close Enough
Weakest Moments
Primary Musicians
John Mellencamp – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Mick Ronson – Guitars, Vocals
Larry Crane – Guitars
George Perry – Bass
Kenny Aronoff – Drums

 

The album opens with “Hurts So Good”, co-written by George S. Green, a childhood friend of Mellencamp’s who would go on to collaborate on some of his most recognizable songs. This song is as pure a rocker as you can get. Its sonic boundaries combines a Lynard-Skynard-like-70s guitar riff with the most modern 80s drum sound (a potent formula) and it follows the common rock arrangement of Intro/Verse/Chorus/Verse/Chorus/Bridge/Chorus/Outtro. “Hurts So Good” would be Mellencamp’s biggest hit to date, reaching #2 on the Billboard charts.

A couple of other songs on the first side stick to this same basic formula, including the pleasant and melodic “Hand to Hold on To” and “Danger List”, a song composed by Mellencamp and guitarist Larry Crane. This latter song contains some harmonized guitars over an acoustic intro, returning to simple riff intermediately throughout the verse and chorus. It is reserved and quiet through most of its duration but gets louder and more rock-oriented as it approaches the end. According to Mellencamp, he recorded about 30 different improvised verses for the original demo and weeded out the ones he didn’t like for the final cut.

As much as “Hurts So Good” and the rest of the first side stick to convention, “Jack & Diane” is completely original in arrangement, using all kinds of instrumentation. “Hand claps” were added to the sparse, main electric riff to help keep time with the intention of removing them on the final cut, but it was just too empty without them so this distinct sound was kept in the mix. The acoustic verses and choruses are accompanied at different times by nice little flourishes of piano, organ, bass, and percussive effects. The song was recorded at Criteria Studios in Miami and Mellancamp gave the credit for the arrangement to the legendary Mick Ronson, who salvaged the song after Mellencamp had thrown it on the “junk heap”.

The second side of the album is much less rewarding with the bulk of the material being lesser songs that strictly follow the same formula as the hits on the first side. Ironically, the strongest moment on this side is the closing song “Weakest Moments”, a moody ballad with nice lyrical motifs. The song is acoustic throughout and also contains an interesting flute-like organ lead, an accordion, and a female backing chorus. Cougar’s vocals are a bit exaggerated in their melancholy, but otherwise this a fine tune to close the album.

With the commercial success of American Fool under his belt, Mellencamp had enough clout to add his real surname, going as “John Cougar Mellencamp” on his next album, 1983’s Uh-Huh. Eventually, the evolution would be complete and this artist would simply become John Mellencamp.

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1982 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1982 albums.

Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen

Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen

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Nebraska by Bruce SpringsteenBruce Springsteen‘s 1982 solo album Nebraska was an original “demo” that found unexpected life as a major label recording by a major label artist. The tracks for this sparsely-recorded album were recorded on a cassette 4-track recorder in Springsteen’s home as demos intended to be recorded with the E Street Band. The band did start recording the full-production versions of the songs in the studio but Springsteen and his engineers later decided that the “haunting folk” essence of the original demos best suited the dark themes of the compositions. So the original demos themselves were used on the album Nebraska. This was not an easy task, as the original demos were not recorded at optimal volume or with optimal noise reduction, and it was extremely difficult to transfer such recordings to vinyl, But with the help of newer mastering technologies, the finished product found the right balance of raw legitimacy and sonic competency that would ultimately become one of Springsteen’s highest regarded efforts.

According to Springsteen, he wanted to approach his next album differently by having many songs written and arranged previously, rather than working the writing process out in the studio;

I decided that what always took me so long in the studio was the writing. I would get in there, and I just wouldn’t have the material written, or it wasn’t written well enough, and so I’d record for a month, get a couple of things, go home write some more, record for another month — it wasn’t very efficient. So this time, I got a little Teac four-track cassette machine, and I said, I’m gonna record these songs, and if they sound good with just me doin’ ’em, then I’ll teach ’em to the band…”

During these same demo sessions, Springsteen recorded tracks that would be held over for his 1984 blockbuster Born In the U.S.A., including the title track, “Downbound Train”, and “Working On the Highway”. Fans have long speculated whether Springsteen’s full-band recording of the album (nicknamed “Electric Nebraska”) will ever surface, as these recordings have been held in tight confinement for 30 years.

 


Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen
Released: September 30, 1982 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Bruce Springsteen
Recorded: at Springsteen’s Colts Neck, NJ bedroom, January 3, 1982
Side One Side Two
Nebraska
Atlantic City
Mansion On the Hill
Johnny 99
Highway Patrolman
State Trooper
Used Cars
Open All Night
My Father’s House
Reason to Believe
Musician
Bruce Springsteen – Vocals, Guitars, Harmonica, Mandolin, Organ, Percussion

 

Some of the songs were inspired by left-wing historian Howard Zinn and his book A People’s History of the United States. The influence could be heard in “Mansion On the Hill”, a metaphor for the life of the wealthy that is unattainable by the working class who are locked out by the “hardened steel gates”, and “Johnny 99”, the story of a man who lost his job and then went crazy with a gun. This latter song with a nice boogie guitar has lyrics which explain the desperation of a man with debts no honest man could pay.

Nebraska got its title from a 1950s killing spree in and around Lincoln, Nebraska, by 19-year-old Charles Starkweather and his 14-year-old girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate. The opening title song contains dark lyrics, telling a story from the point of view of a murderer in a matter of fact way – not an emotional plea but simply a statement of facts. This makes the song all the more stark, bleak, and chilling in that we are always searching for reasons why people do bad things, but in this case, the criminal says there is just meanness in this world. The writing style for this track in particular was influenced by Flannery O’Connor, who Springsteen had been recently reading.

“Atlantic City” is the best track on this album (as well as its most popular). It tells the story of a young couple relocating because the young man grew tired of trying unsuccessfully to make an honest living and is taking a job with the mob in Atlantic City. It was written right around the time when the city was looking towards big-time gaming to save the city in the early eighties. Springsteen incorporated some real-life figures into this fictional song, the “chicken man” was mafia boss Philip Testa, who was killed by a bomb planted at his Philadelphia house in March 1981.
 

 
“Highway Patrolman” continues the themes of crimes and conscience in the story of brothers – one a lawman, one a criminal. The story is once again told in the first person with the lawman constantly struggling to keep his brother out of trouble and in the end letting him escape after he kills a man in a barroom fight. Musically and melodically, this is one of the most entertaining compositions on the album.

I’ve found that the songs “State Trooper” and “Open All Night”, yet more stories of desperation are linked in a way. “State Trooper” contains a guitar pattern which emulates the recurring sound of the road. The protagonist doesn’t have a license or registration, but he is driving late at night on a deserted highway just saying a prayer that his problems don’t get bigger by being stopped by a cop. “Open All Night” contains a similar beat, with the guitar a little more jangly in the fashion of of old time rock and roll. With nearly the same scenario of a guy driving alone through Jersey, but with more optimistic anticipation of seeing the girl he just recently met. The closing song “Reason To Believe”, finishes the album with a more upbeat note.

Bruce Springsteen would try to recreate the dark simplicity of Nebraska in 1995 when he released The Ghost of Tom Joad, album very similar musically and lyrically. However, it was impossible to recreate the happy accident that brought this simple casette demo, recorded in a New Jersey bedroom on a Sunday afternoon in January 1982, to the ears of millions.

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1982 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1982 albums.