RECORD STORE TALES #923: The Dead 90s (A Nigel Tufnel Top Ten list)
I think it was around 1995 that I really gave up into the ’90s.
What do I mean by this? It’s simple. In late 1991, there was a sea change in rock music. The old guard was suddenly unhip, while a new unkept kind of rock was surfacing in Seattle. Within three years, classic rock bands such as Motley Crue, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Poison, Ratt, Whitesnake, and even the once-bulletproof Guns N’ Roses were in some sort of decline, losing key band members or just breaking up completely. They were replaced on the charts with a swath of new bands, from Nirvana, to Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. Rock had been on such a high in mid-91 with #1 albums by Skid Row, Metallica, Van Halen and more. It only took months for the landscape to darken. But really, the warnings were in place well back in ’89.
It was a disorienting change and it got to a point in the middle of the decade where my favourite bands were dropped, broken up, or transformed. Bon Jovi survived this period unscathed, losing only the inconsequential Alec John Such. They were one of the few exceptions. Motley Crue put out a killer record with their new singer that was criminally panned at the time by its critics and many longtime fans. Winger couldn’t catch a break. Some of the bands that did put out records in the 90s released sub-par trash. Quiet Riot: guilty with Down to the Bone. Judas Priest: Jugulator. Dokken: Shadowlife. Unless your name ended with Jovi, it seems like every old guard rock band put out albums that were crap, sold like shit, or both. Then, half of ’em broke up.
What was a metal head to do? Still buy the old bands’ records and hope for the best, yes, but when you’re buying so much shit on a wing and a prayer, you start looking for something else. I had to open my heart to some newer bands that, I felt, had something in common with the old.
Here is a list of 11 bands that made their way in.
1. OASIS. I still love those first three records, and all the B-sides that came along with the tide. My mom got me into the Beatles, and while I never bought into that “the new Beatles” crap, I did like that Oasis brought back some of what I liked about the fab four. They were the only Brit Pop band I could put my heart behind. Not metal at all, but Lars liked ’em. They had guitar solos at least.
2. GOO GOO DOLLS. Right around the time of “Slide” and “Broadway”, I let the Goo Goo Dolls into my life. They reminded me of Bon Jovi without the bombast (and the solos). They would have to do during the time when I needed a surrogate Jovi, which happened in the late part of the 90s when Jon released the stinker Destination Anywhere. Goo Goo Dolls nailed the lovestruck acoustic/electric vibe that was once a Bon Jovi strength.
3. THE BARSTOOL PROPHETS. Amazing Canadian band that could have been the next Tragically Hip. The Prophets might have been a little more hard edged, and I identified with their lyrics more than the labyrinthic words of Saint Downie. T-Trev was a fan and he recommended I give ’em a try, and I have loved them since.
4. sandbox. A band that did not win me through a friend or a music video, but through the live experience. Opening for the Barenaked Ladies, sandbox (all lower case) were a bit gloomier and heavier. But there was also something magical about their songs “Curious” and “Lustre”. They soothed my soul when I was lonely. Later on, I found out that guitarist Mike Smith was on a television show called Trailer Park Boys…
5. THE PRODIGY. Who didn’t buy Fat of the Land in ’97? It was a good album and Crispian Miller from Kula Shaker had lead vocals on one track. This new heavy brand of electronica had hooks and a rock-like vibe. It was like dance-y industrial rock. I could dig it. They even had a guitar player named — no word of a lie — Gizz Butt.
6. THE TEA PARTY. I couldn’t get into Splendor Solis; I foolishly dismissed the band as a Zep clone. I came to my senses on their third album The Edges of Twilight. The Zeppelin comparisons were obvious (and I didn’t care about the Doors), but who else was making music like this anymore? Nobody. The Tea Party would do!
7. SLOAN. It was not until their fourth album Navy Blues that Sloan scratched the itch. Yes, I was a late comer. Yes, I got into them during their commercial peak. But the truth is it was really their double live 4 Nights at the Palais Royale that really nailed it. One of the best live albums since the mighty Kiss Alive. The comparisons don’t end there, as both bands feature four lead singers — a configuration I always enjoy. (Hello, Goodbye, Beatles!)
8. RANCID. Incredible band, two lead singers, and one great album that just slayed me. Many of the rock bands I liked, such as Guns and Motley, extolled the merits of their punk rock backgrounds. Just as Zeppelin and ZZ Top encouraged me to check out Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, Nikki Sixx pushed the Pistols on me. Rancid were much better than the Pistols, but they had the same snot in their noses. Rancid brought with them the ska and reggae side, which appealed to me immediately.
9. OUR LADY PEACE. For one album, anyway. Maybe it was Arnold Lanni that made this band buzz for me, but they were really a single album group. Naveed is a monster. Jeremy Taggart was a good enough drummer for Geddy Lee! It had some things in common with hard rock, like loud guitars. I could build them a bridge into my heart.
10. LIVE. I maintain that everybody bought Throwing Copper in 1995. This band just had tremendously broad appeal. Unusually, every song was up to the same lofty level of quality; no duds, all keepers. A number of strong singles led to massive radio and video play, but no followup album of the same stature ever emerged.
11. NINE INCH NAILS. I was just starting to get into Nine Inch Nails. The Downward Spiral is my album when it comes to this band. They took such a long break after it that I lost interest. What I liked were the riffs built from noise, the layered approach, the angst, the self-loathing, and the anger. The album is still is trip to play, but I have never liked “Piggy” or “Closer” and think them a bit contrived. Admirable though that the video for “March of the Pigs” is 100% live, music included.
Although there were many good albums made by metal bands in the 1990s that I have not mentioned, it was not enough for a music addict. I needed to expand my horizons or remain stuck in the past. There were more — Ben Folds Five, Steve Earle, Robbie Williams, Mel C. (yes that Mel C.) and Tonic to name a few. Anything that had some kind of integrity of connection to the rock music I loved. Ben Folds didn’t even have a guitar player, but his music rocked nonetheless. These were all great picks to sample some of the best of the 90s. Have a listen.