Sunday, August 29, 2010

1990: "Objection Overruled", Exodus

Gonna wrap up the current slate of metal coverage with the last of the thrash heavyweights to release an album in 1990, Exodus. Much like Testament, Exodus had less than 18 months to simultaneously tour in support of a mid-career masterpiece - in this case Fabulous Disaster - and also pen / record a follow up... the better to underwrite yet another tour for.

Of all the thrash albums we've discussed so far, Impact is Imminent is unequivocably the most lackluster. One might be forgiven for thinking otherwise while watching the video for barnstormer "Objection Overruled", but a quick listen to the rest of the CD proves that the band pretty much shot their wad with that lone song. One further single, "The Lunatic Parade", was released to an even more tepid response before the label gave up on supporting the record altogether. Capitol Records gave them one more chance with 1992's Force of Habit - frankly an underrated and pretty convincing comeback - before public indifference and declining record sales led to the band breaking up for several years.

1990: "Souls of Black", Testament

It's really not until you start getting to the second tier thrash bands of 1990 that the wear and tear starts to become apparent. Suicidal may have had a career year, but the rest of their not-ready-for-primetime brethren weren't faring so well. Testament was never a household name, but the previous year's Practice What You Preach found no fewer than three music videos gracing late night MTV, and the enhanced visibility garnered them a support slot on 1990's legendary Clash of the Titans tour with Slayer, Megadeth and (who else?) Suicidal Tendencies. The so called "Big Four" of thrash included Metallica and Anthrax in addition to Slayer and Megadeth, but the Clash of the Titans lineup made a pretty good case that if things were expanded to a "Big Six", ST and Testament would fill the vacant slots.

Though the band were still technically touring on the back of Practice What You Preach when the tour began, most considered the hasty follow up, Souls of Black, to be somewhat of a letdown. In hindsight it's a fine album, well executed and cleanly produced, but the lack of prep time obviously curtailed the band's ability to craft hooks with the same consistency they'd been used to.

And really that's the recurring theme of this beginning of the end for thrash: there wasn't a decline in popularity at this point - if anything 1990-1992 was a peak era for interest in thrash metal - but that popularity often resulted in rushed production schedules and a forced demand for quick product. The end result was a flurry of diminishing returns over the next few years which resulted in die hard fans tuning out, favoring instead the new trump card in extremity that the death metal bands were offering.

It should also be noted, however, that later in 1989 the influential late night MTV program "Headbanger's Ball" was cut from three hours to two; the heavier, less commercial bands were largely relegated to that third and final hour, so when it was 86'ed that left room for only a token handful of thrash videos per night... and it wasn't like true metal (as opposed to glam) was getting airplay outside the confines of "Headbanger's Ball". In an era when a lot of headbangers were farm belt kids who relied on MTV to sample new metal, that would turn out to be a fateful decision.

1990: "You Can't Bring Me Down", Suicidal Tendencies

An important precursor(*) to later emo tropes in the metal genre, Suicidal Tendencies had been preaching to disaffected youth since their self titled debut - in more of a hardcore punk vein - in 1983, but by 1990 thrash had long since become the dominant strain in their crossover sound. Probably more than any other thrash band signed to a major label at the time, 1990's Lights... Camera... Revolution would mark the career apex of Suicidal Tendencies, a confluence of the swelling fan base the band had been building up over the years and a peak in media attention and airplay [1992's Art of Rebellion would achieve a higher Billboard placing than any previous album, but fan response to singles - save perhaps "Asleep at the Wheel" - was fairly tepid and the record was quickly forgotten by all but diehard fans].

To say that 1994's Suicidal for Life was poorly received would be an understatement. Considering the first four proper songs all had the word "fuck" in the title, it's no wonder that critics and aging fans alike considered the album juvenile and one dimensional. Suicidal Tendencies were dropped from Sony/Columbia afterward and have been self-releasing their own records to a dwindling core of die hard fans ever since. In all fairness, singer Mike Muir's recurring back problems have at times made tours few and far between, which has no doubt contributed to the band falling off the casual fan's radar.

(*) "Alone" from this same album would have made a better case for ST as an emo influence in the later genres of nu metal and metalcore, but in all honesty I have a harder time processing the self absorbed alienation in those types of tunes these days than I did when I was 16... so I stuck with one of their more inflammatory numbers, "You Can't Bring Me Down", even if the knee jerk defiance in this song isn't much more mature. Either way, the band were pretty gifted at incorporating compelling melody into their material, and Rocky George was always one of the more interesting lead guitar players in the genre.

1990: "Belly of the Beast", Anthrax

Like Slayer, Anthrax was also attempting to rebound from a divisive album, but in their case it wasn't so much that State of Euphoria had divided fans as it was that fans almost universally considered it a mediocre follow up to their career peak, Among the Living. Unlike Slayer, however, Anthrax didn't change much, instead just taking a little more time to solidify compelling material and eschewing the occasional tongue-in-cheek lyrics of old in favor of more consistently addressing social ills this time out.

There are people who never really became big Anthrax fans until the John Bush era, but for those who are able to appreciate both lineups many would single out 1990's Persistence of Time as being either equal to or a close second with Among the Living as the peak of the band's artistic legacy. Anyway, to this day controversy reigns over who was the better singer, the embers no doubt being perpetually stoked by the revolving door at that position over the past 5+ years. John Bush has undoubtedly the better range, but it could be argued that Anthrax wrote the lion's share of their best material around Joey Belladonna's higher pitch.

1990: "War Ensemble", Slayer

Two years prior, Slayer had divided fans by following up their groundbreaking speed metal masterpiece Reign in Blood with a much slower, Sabbath-worshiping doom effort: South of Heaven. And so in 1990, they sought to bridge the gap between the old fans and the new by offering a little bit of both on that year's Seasons in the Abyss.

Titling the album after Rimbaud's Une Saison en Enfer, the common thread was that - much like the previous album - the members of Slayer had begun turning away from theological horrors and focusing on the hell right here on Earth, a lyrical conceit that continues to this day. Topics vary, but the most common themes are war, the corrupting influence of religion, and examinations into the minds of serial killers.

The track below, "War Ensemble", was the first cut on the album, and was obviously intended to reassure the older fans that they could still bring the thrash at a blistering pace when they wanted to. But elsewhere the cracks were filled in with more melodic, mid tempo songs, like the title cut "Seasons in the Abyss", which is catchy enough to be considered "radio friendly" if it weren't for the gore-intense lyrics. Bridging the gap, the classic "Dead Skin Mask" returns them to the languid pacing and atonal, ringing chords of South of Heaven. Altogether, Seasons in the Abyss is probably the most well-rounded of all the Slayer albums, though it's arguably only the 2nd or 3rd best.

1990: "Holy Wars... The Punishment Due", Megadeth

1990 was a pivotal year for heavy metal. Thrash had already peaked, and was in the process of transitioning to death metal, but you wouldn't necessarily know it from the career peaks enjoyed by Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax and Suicidal Tendencies.

Megadeth's Rust in Peace is frequently recognized as the best metal album of 1990, and few would argue that Dave Mustaine & co. ("& co." being, of course, whatever hired hands are currently in the band) have managed to scale these heights in the 20 years since. It's interesting to note that, whereas Metallica later went through a long period of treacly counseling before emerging with the colossally misguided St. Anger, in 1990 Dave Mustaine had only recently finished a twelve step program of his own; yet Rust in Peace would emerge as the band's most focused, grounded album.

Dave Mustaine has always had a more conventional sense of thrash than his former bandmates in Metallica, so Rust isn't exactly a left field art rock opus, it doesn't dabble in prog metal, and hell, the lyrics aren't even personal enough to qualify as cathartic... basically what we have here is a relentless riff fest fueled by paranoid politics and conspiracy theory lyrics. New arrival Marty Friedman is widely considered the best of all the "hired gun" lead guitarists Mustaine has acquired over the years - to the point where many feel his departure in 1999 was the final straw for Megadeth's artistic integrity - and for good reason: Friedman's solos are some of the best ever heard in the metal genre, and it's obvious that the new competition has Mustaine feeling reinvigorated.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

1990: "Help Me Please", Sonic Boom

Pete Kember was one of two primary members of the neo-psych band Spacemen 3 in the mid-to-late 80s before going solo at the turn of the decade. He recorded one album, Spectrum, under the moniker Sonic Boom before changing the band name itself to Spectrum. Kember has since divided his time between Spectrum and another ongoing project dubbed Experimental Audio Research (E.A.R.) as well as more recently trying his hand at production duties, including the new MGMT album, Congratulations.

"Help Me Please" marries existential drone with lyrics straight out of a Hank Williams outtake, in the process inadvertently creating a left field chillout classic.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

1990: "Supernaut", 1000 Homo DJs

Interesting story on this one: sometime around 1988, following the release of their The Land of Rape and Honey album, Ministry mainman Al Jourgensen found himself with a handful of outtakes and set about brainstorming ways to get them distributed. Details are sketchy on why he chose to try to build a whole new project around them instead of using them as b-sides, but long story short Trent Reznor found himself involved a year or so prior to the release of Nine Inch Nails' debut, Pretty Hate Machine.

It seems Reznor only stuck around long enough to record vocals for a proposed cover of Black Sabbath's "Supernaut", but for whatever reason - did I mention details are sketchy? - the tapes languished on the shelves until Reznor had made a name for himself with NIN, at which point he decided he didn't want his vocals being used after all.

Debate continues to this day whose vocals made it to the eventual 1000 Homo DJs EP, but the party line is that Al Jourgensen recut the vocals in a similar vein to Reznor's and released the record as per Reznor's wishes. An authorized version with Reznor's vocals was eventually released on the Wax Trax label's 10th anniversary box set, Black Box, in 1994, but some have argued that even the original bears a heavily distorted Reznor vocal rather than a recut Jourgensen one.

Whatever, they sound similar, which makes choosing one version over the other pretty fucking pointless. It's also a lot more upbeat and dance-worthy than the usual Ministry / NIN fare, so the EP as a whole is worth checking into, though it's often overpriced considering its brevity.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

1990: "Cradle of Love", Billy Idol

If you need an explanation of why this is one of the all time greatest music videos, you're probably too jaded by veritable reams of online fisting videos (yes, pus intended) to get the point.

"Cradle of Love" was released on both Idol's fourth studio album, Charmed Life, and also the soundtrack to the heavily promoted bomb, The Adventures of Ford Fairlane. It was also by far Idol's last major hit, a sort of sex kitten video oasis in a desert of indifference that stretched back to Idol's prior outing, the frankly underrated Whiplash Smile, an oasis that would turn immediately back to endless sand on his next single... a dubious cover of "L.A. Woman".

Billy would go on to stake his claim to retro hipster credentials with a notable cameo in Adam Sandler's 1998 box office hit The Wedding Singer and, years later, an anarchic appearance on MTV's Viva La Bam, but otherwise even a reunion with guitarist Steve Stevens in 2005 generated little interest outside the nostalgia circuit.

Monday, August 9, 2010

1990: "Corner Store", Jonathan Richman

While we're being all retro... "Corner Store" was originally recorded in a more upbeat rendition on Jonathan Richman's 1986 album It's Time For, but I think this more stripped down Americana version from 1990's Jonathan Goes Country serves the humorous yet wistful lyrics better.

1990: "Texas Eyes", Guana Batz

When the Guana Batz hit the English psychobilly scene in 1982, the Cramps and the Meteors were about the only other bands of note thinking along the same lines. That situation would change dramatically in the ensuing years, but the Guana Batz always hewed a little closer to traditional rockabilly themes and never became completely unhinged the way the Cramps preferred it.

1990: "Drunk Daddy", Cherry Poppin' Daddies

Years later, they would be eclipsed by newer swing revival bands like Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and the Brian Setzer Orchestra, but if anyone got there first it was Eugene, Oregon's Cherry Poppin' Daddies. Formed in 1989, the Daddies emerged out of the much more popular ska tradition, but though they did in fact dabble in both ska and swing (and any other genre that would support the liberal use of saxophone), even on their 1990 debut, Ferociously Stoned, swing music dominated.

1990: "King of Love", Dave Edmunds

Dave Edmunds may not have been an incendiary soloist but there was nothing about his rhythm work that ever disappointed. And he could still rip off a few quality leads in a rockabilly vein when he needed to.

1990: "As the Years Go Passing By", Gary Moore

More guitar hero swellness, from a guy who admittedly didn't always not suck. I mean, shit, look at that photo:

1990: "Moanjam", King's X

Hush, child, we'll get to Martika's sophomore album (no slump in sight, natch) by and by. But first, anytime King's X stop singing about Jesus or being pussy whipped it's time to sit up and take notice. Especially when they uncharacteristically go into 60s jam band mode in the middle of it.

1990: "Pocahontas Was Her Name", Thee Headcoats

Speaking of one Billy Childish:

1990: "Half Man Half Boy", Thee Hypnotics

Not everything Thee Hypnotics did reveled in 60s garage rock filth to this extent, but twenty years later "Half Man Half Boy" is still one of the greatest neo-garage tunes to not have the name Billy Childish associated with it.

1990: "Nancy Boy Cocaine Whore Blues", Cows

If ever there were a genre that made either introduction or explanation pointless, enter noise rock:

1990: "Whitlam Square", Died Pretty

Died Pretty were another long standing Aussie band that began in the mid-80s and have never broken up, but their relatively conventional roots rock sound never really distinguished the band from countless others plying the same trade a quarter century ago, so to this day they remain a pleasant diversion and nothing more, certainly mix tape worthy but you definitely wouldn't want to queue up multiple full length albums back-to-back or anything.

1990: "Cool Fire", Beasts of Bourbon

Man, at this point I'm actually much further ahead on the listening curve then I am in actually posting worthy singles, so apologies in advance if these next few are fairly sparse on the background material. While playing catch up I'll try to limit myself to stuff that maybe didn't warrant a novel's worth of explanatory captioning to begin with.

This first one is by Beasts of Bourbon, one of the many 80s bands from Australia still keeping the faith. For those of you unfamiliar with any Oz bands aside from INXS and AC/DC, the 80s in Australia was largely dominated by the twin strains of garage rock and an obsession with rural Americana, the latter usually twisted into some sort of gothic folk in the vein of Nick Cave. BoB pretty much dabbled in both of these things.

1990: ALBUM SPOTLIGHT: "Violator", Depeche Mode

You can hate Depeche Mode altogether if you're just determined to do so, but if you hold the band in even the slightest regard - and you're not just trying to score hipster points by being contrary - you surely recognize their 1990 effort Violator as the peak of the band's artistic talents.

Such was the wealth of goodness surrounding this album's release and the attendant b-sides that we can afford to completely ignore the actual singles altogether. So in no particular order of greatness:

"Blue Dress"

"Waiting for the Night"


I didn't even know there was a promo video made for this song until just now, but I don't think I'm cheating by not considering this a "hit" single. Watch it now before WB swoops in with their caped attorneys and snuffs this clip for good, at which point I'll naturally have to replace it with one of those bullshit camera phone live vids.


"Dangerous" is one of the catchier and most well known of DM's b-sides, but frankly I have no problem with it not making the cut on the album. Whereas Violator was largely a step into new, artsier territory for the band, "Dangerous" sounded pretty retro by comparison.

DM may have been getting largely away from dance beats on their albums, but the singles often found them immersing themselves in the latest club sounds, which in 1990 meant full on techno.

"Kaleid [remix]"

1990: "Merry Go Round (live)", The Replacements [Paul Westerberg]

OK, if we go any further with industrial at this point I'm going to have to listened to Consolidated's empty sloganeering over skeletal, half assed beats, and I don't think I'm up for that this early in the week so let's opt for something with a little more warmth / charm, shall we?

I take it the Replacements need no introduction. At least I fucking hope not, since 1990's All Shook Down was their very last album, and easily their spottiest artistically, at least since they got over that early hardcore period that most fans try to pretend doesn't exist. Nonetheless, a handful of nuggets abound this late in the game, and frankly you'd better get used to inconsistency before you try to navigate Paul Westerberg's solo career.

I really wanted to do "My Little Problem" but couldn't find a Youtube clip and I'm publishing remote today, so maybe I'll make my own and circle back to the 'Mats in the future. Speaking of Westerberg, you're going to have to settle for a solo rendition of my alternate choice, "Merry Go Round", since Warner Brothers have a monopoly on the official video for the song and naturally that means the embedding is disabled. Bastard sons of a thousand whores!

1990: "Danger", X Marks the Pedwalk

Coming in at the harder, more abrasive end of the EBM sound a la Skinny Puppy, X Marks the Pedwalk lifted their seemingly nonsensical moniker from a Fritz Leiber story, which is about as far as we looked into it since WKMR are not SF fans (besides, they're German, what more do you need to know?). XMTP were the first signing to then new Zoth Ommog Records, which arguably was the greatest and most influential of the industrial labels in the 1990s, despite not surviving that decade. One could also make the case for Metropolis Records, but Cleopatra can kiss our low rent asses.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

1990: "Money Is Not Our God", Killing Joke

Rebounding hard after a couple of uncharacteristically abysmal albums, Killing Joke hit it out of the park with Extremities, Dirt and Various Repressed Emotions. "Money Is Not Our God" was probably the most political and anthemic song they would release until 1996's "Democracy". "Is your answer yes or no to these painful truths?"

1990: "Liebeslied", KMFDM

Naive was KMFDM's fourth album and their breakthrough. It was a late victim in the Sample Wars, having been taken off the market three years after release due to a belated copyright claim over the use of Carl Orff's "Oh Fortuna" in the song "Liebeslied". The album would eventually be completely overhauled and remixed - not just the offending "Liebeslied" - and re-released in 1994 as Naive/Hell to Go. In 2006, the album was reissued again with both the original + remixed version of all the extant tracks with the exception of "Liebeslied", which was included sans "Oh Fortuna" sample. Well, fuck that, here's the 1990 out-of-print original intact.

1990: "Get Down Make Love", Nine Inch Nails

Alright, Brits have gotten enough love recently. Time to move on to some industrial.

Nine Inch Nails didn't release an album in 1990 but the singles culled from Pretty Hate Machine were just tapering off, Sin being the last and historically the least successful. So I'm reaching to include this, as it's a mere b-side to the Sin CD single, but when Trent Reznor decides to cover Queen it's worth a look.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

1990: SPOTLIGHT - Ride

For the most part, the objective here on WKMR is to cherry pick either the best or equally good but less well known tracks from a band's annual efforts in mixtape fashion... typically it's considered bad form and uncreative to stack a bunch of back-to-back songs from a band on a mixtape - even more so if they're from the same album or year - but in certain rare cases a band may be so prolific in a given era that they warrant a spotlight of their own.

Since we're trailing off on the first wave of shoegaze material from 1990, this seems an opportune time to inaugurate the Spotlight feature with the most prolific of those bands at the turn of the decade: Ride.

Like Swervedriver, Ride were from Oxford as well, sporting a neo-psych take on layered Britpop that differentiated them from the rest of their peers. They debuted in January 1990 with a self titled EP from which the following pair of songs is culled:

Both Ride and the subsequent Play EPs were repackaged for the US market as the Smile compilation. "Like a Daydream" is taken from the latter EP.

The following were present on all versions of Ride's debut long player, Nowhere. The 60's-style harmonies are noticeably offset by a decidedly post punk melodic sensibility.

And finally, these two were initially released on the Fall EP, which came out in September 1990, one month before the Nowhere album, and the entire Fall EP was appended to the CD release of the debut album. "Dreams Burn Down" in particular simultaneously looks back at the aching dream pop of Cocteau Twins while also anticipating the weighty ballast of 00s post-metal, as exemplified by Isis and many other bands on the Hydra Head roster.