Nine Inch Nails “Closure”


(25 November 1997, Nothing/Interscope)

I’m not a huge collector of CDs and DVDs. As such, I don’t have a huge number of shelves and other areas to store them. This posed a bit of a problem when my last girlfriend was moving in and trying to find space for her movie collection on my tiny storage rack. A friend from work had given it to me several years ago when I moved and it’s served me well ever since. It has enough space that the bottom is nothing but Daniel Tiger and Peppa Pig DVDs for my daughter. But when Darcy moved in it wasn’t nearly enough for both of our collections.

The obvious solution was to remove a few of my ‘questionable for children’ movies and put them in the less-visible entertainment stand cupboard. I suggested moving the GG Allin documentary Hated, GWAR’s Ultimate Video Gwarchive and Nine Inch Nails’ Closure to that area. My daughter hasn’t taken any interest in this sort of thing yet, but it’s good to be proactive.

It seemed like a good idea and we were able to make enough room on the shelves for both of our collections. Nevermind that she replaced Closure with Scarface. I think that’s a step in the right direction.

I’ve always loved the music video format and Nine Inch Nails were definitely at the top of the game. They were edgy, artsy, creative and controversial all rolled into one. The best part of this double VHS package is the tape that features all of their videos up to that point (with the exception of “Burn” from the Natural Born Killers soundtrack and “Gave Up” from the unreleased Broken movie).

Some of these videos I was familiar with from MTV and other stations: “Closer,” “The Perfect Drug,” “Head Like A Hole.” I even saw “Pinion” late one night. But a lot of these weren’t made to be aired on American TV. I was blown away by the strap-on clad, joint smoking guys in “Sin” and just a little disturbed by the torture machine in “Happiness in Slavery.” Throw in the musical snippets and electrocuting an elephant footage between the videos and you have the best music video collection ever released.

The other tape wasn’t nearly as good as I remembered. Which was strange considering this was one of the biggest musical influences on me during my teen years. Sure, there’s plenty of cool stuff on there: Backstage antics and destruction, celebrity/tourmate cameos featuring Lou Reed, Marilyn Manson, Jim Rose and David Bowie and live performances. Maybe in the DVD age, 60 minutes isn’t long enough for something like this and I would just like to have some more.

There are some great performances, “Terrible Lie,” “The Only Time,” and the “Hurt” duet with David Bowie are all great, but “Down in It” and “Something I Can Never Have” fall short. Plus, I’m unsure why “Wish” should appear on this tape when it appears on the other as both a live video and the official video. I guess I just would have liked to have seen more.

The best part is that we now live in the age of Youtube and all I have to do to see footage from early NIN shows, Lollapalooza or interviews is to open a tab on my browser and click down the rabbit hole. That’s never the same as having a nice physical copy of a video album. And this is one I’ll always cherish.

(I was going to post the NSFW “Happiness in Slavery,” but that’s not available on Youtube.)

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Fuel “Sunburn”


(31 March 1998, 550, Epic)

A recent swimming trip with my daughter left me thinking about this album. I have the title all over my back! But it’s a good album to be thinking of. This is one that has survived numerous trips to the used record store to be sold. They never made an offer, but I liked it too much to send it to the Goodwill. So it’s remained in my collection.

It’s not the greatest album I own, but it’s far from the worst. It’s easy to lump Fuel in with all the other post-Grunge groups of the late nineties who only saw 15 minutes of fame, but Fuel has stuck with me through the years. Probably because my Mom loves them so much. But it could be that there’s some great songwriting here too.

“Shimmer” and “Sunburn” are both great tunes and obvious for singles. Both are the kind of semi-ballads that I can imagine listening to while dealing with a breakup.

What makes the album unique are the strange sounds that come in places like the into of “Bittersweet.” I have no idea what chord that is. The rest of the song is a great stereotypical hard rocker, but then it breaks to a really weird atmospheric guitar sound. There’s a great sense of balance there.

I’ve always loved “Jesus or a Gun.” It’ like American Psycho; there’s a message hidden in there. I have no idea what that message is, but I know it’s there.

Looking back on the singles it’s weird that these guys didn’t hit it big for another two years, but even the other tracks have some great stuff. I suppose a lot of it may come off as derivative though. A lot of other bands were doing stuff like this at the time. “It’s Come to This” makes me think of the Smashing Pumpkins for the experimental, atmospheric guitar tones. “Song For You” reminds me of Candlebox with the single-note intro. Not that Fuel was trying to ape these groups, it’s just a hazard of sharing a genre.

There are some other great hard rockers in there too. Opener “Untitled” is a great attention getter. “Ozone” is another that makes my ears perk up.

While some groups seemed to just jump aboard the grunge bandwagon as a way to fame, Sunburn scorches with authenticity. It’s not so much grungy as it is a solidly written album that just happened to be released when that was the sound you got.

You’d obviously be forgiven in 2018 for writing these guys off and not paying any attention, but you’d be missing out.

Rammstein “Sehnsucht”


(22 Aug 1997, Slash)

Today is the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the protestant reformation. It has now been half a millennium since Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the church of Wittenburg.

What does this have to do with anything?
I was reading the Economist¹ and it said: “To Luther music was a divinely inspired weapon against the devil.”

That struck me as somewhat odd, having listened to the music of such artists as Glenn Danzig, Ghost and Luther’s countrymen Rammstein.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Rammstein. But they’re about as far from “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” as it’s possible to get. I love heavy industrial music and these guys are up there with the best of them. Not only do they have brutal, punishing thrash-metal guitar riffs driving the songs and great danceable beats, but this album features some of the best keyboard work I’ve ever heard. Some of the sounds had to have been placed in a time capsule because I swear they came straight from the eighties but they don’t sound dated.

And singing in German just goes to help establish their heavy metal bona fides. Is there any better language for metal than German? I love the language because no matter what you say it sounds like you’re really, really angry. The coolest thing about listening to singing in another language is being able to focus on the melody instead of the message. And from what I’ve heard, the message in most Rammstein songs is horrible.

I’m embarrassed to say the first time I’ve listened to this entire album was for this review. I still remember seeing the terrifying video for “Du Hast” which I think is still they’re biggest hit in the US, but I enjoy other tracks just as much. “Engel” has a whistled intro that makes me think of that other German metal band, The Scorpions. “Klavier” is notable as being the lone ballad on the album. Most of the other tracks blend into each other, but they all have those great vocals, driving riffs and beautiful keys.

This might not be the kind of music Luther was talking about when he used the term “divinely inspired,” but it’s not as evil as other bands Germans like… such as David Hasselhoff.

 

¹.  Anonymous. “Nailed it.” The Economist. 7 January 2017: 45. Print

 

Insane Clown Posse “The Great Milenko”


(12 August 1997 Psychopathic/Island)

I hold several very unpopular opinions. There are issues that I find myself on the unpopular side of with just about everyone. My enjoyment of the Insane Clown Posse is probably the most unpopular view I take.

Everyone is entitled to their guilty pleasures, but I probably go too far with this one.

The strange thing is that I enjoy ICP for the same exact reason most people hate them: they are completely ridiculous. I’ve always enjoyed the shock rock of Marilyn Manson and Alice Cooper, but ICP are on another level. Whereas Marilyn Manson presents himself as a very intelligent social satirist, ICP dress up like scary clowns and rap about things that are impossible to take seriously.

Which is kind of a shame because they do touch on some important topics. Death, morality, rape, police brutality and greed. Of course, this album also features the lyrics:

“What is a juggalo?
A dead body
Well, he ain’t really dead, but he ain’t like
Anybody that you’ve ever met before
He’ll eat monopoly and shit out connect four

What is a jug..?
What the fuck? Connect four?
Man that shit is whack
Don’t worry about my shit
Just rap motherfucker”

But isn’t the purpose of shock rock to knock us out of our comfort zones? Maybe.

I’ve come across some hardcore juggalos who don’t care much for The Great Milenko because it’s the album casual fans like me tend to go for. This is an album that blends rock and hip-hop in a way that would become extremely popular over the ensuing years. They didn’t shy away from the standard rap practice of having guest musicians all over the album, but the inclusion of Sex Pistol Steve Jones on “Piggie Pie” and Slash on “Halls of Illusion” entices me in the way a Kanye appearance never would. I just found out that it’s Alice Cooper’s voice on the awesome introduction.

I enjoy the music on the album more than other hip-hop. I find a lot of that genre to be too simplistic and beat-oriented for my taste. There are tracks without a lot of stuff going on, but many of them have great guitar riffs or other strange instrumentation. I love the keyboard melody on “The Neden Game.”

I’m more embarrassed to say I’m a fan of ICP than any other guilty pleasure I have. With good reason I think, have you ever seen their fans? They tend to ruin the whole experience by taking it way too seriously. I probably just like them because they make me laugh. I have the juvenile sense of humor that led to belly laughs when I read the headline “Hubble just spotted something massive coming out of Uranus”

It’s hard to shower a group like the Insane Clown Posse with praise. When you come down to it they’re ridiculous, juvenile, misogynistic and impossible to take seriously; just like Donald Trump.

 

 

Days of the New S/T (Yellow)


(3 June 1997, Outpost/Geffen)

I started getting into music at a really inopportune time.

The genre of rock that first appealed to me was grunge. I’ve written about the profound effect Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” had on me and it was truly life changing. Before that, I listened to whatever my parents handed down to me. After that, I was eager to set out on my own.

So why was it a horrible time? By the time I heard that song, Kurt Cobain was already gone. Soundgarden broke up just a few years later. Alice in Chains never officially broke up, but they went into hibernation shortly after my conversion. Pearl Jam is the only grunge band who continually released new music, but they put a lot of effort into remaining obscure.

It was almost like I discovered something I really loved and as soon as I did it was stolen from me by the Backstreet Boys and Spice Girls.

When I first heard Days of the New it was a breath of fresh air. There was finally something for me to get excited about. An unwashed, detuned, yarling ray of sunshine.

They never really dominated the airwaves, but “Touch, Peel and Stand” has become a rock radio staple. I’m even hearing that track on the local non-profit station. “Shelf in the Room” still pops up occasionally, but “The Down Town” seems to have faded into the ether.

I always loved how hard this album rocked. You wouldn’t expect a tune like “Freak” from a band with acoustic guitars. It’s a dumb gimmick, but it really helped to create a unique sound and establish a place on the map.

A lot of the other stuff is more experimental. “Face of the Earth” and “Solitude” are a bit too droning for me to get it down off the shelf very often. A few are good, but not really groundbreaking. The highlight for many tracks is the lead guitar work of Todd Whitener.

I was always a much bigger fan of their second album, which I found much more interesting.

Unfortunately, by the third album they were all out of tricks and produced a lackluster effort I didn’t buy. I think this will conclude my Days of the New series, but it won’t be the last time I load these albums on my MP3 player.

 

 

Foo Fighters “The Colour and the Shape”


(20 May 1997, Capitol)

I’m not a baseball fan, so pardon me if I screw up this analogy.

Foo Fighters’ debut was at least a triple play. It could be almost be said it was a home run, but I don’t think it quite made it over the fence. It was good. Hell, it was great. But there was something missing. It wasn’t quite a perfect album.

But as the old saying goes, you have as long as you need to write your first album. Dave Grohl had years to compile the songs on that album. The band had a considerably shorter time period to write the follow-up. Could they deliver? What were they going to do in their next at bat?

I’d have to say The Colour and the Shape is a grand slam. This was the album that catapulted Foo Fighters into the stratosphere. Before this album, you could expect to hear one Foos song on the radio for every ten Nirvana plays. Now you’re lucky to hear one Nirvana track for every twenty from the Foo Fighters.

They’re no longer “that band with the drummer from Nirvana.” Foo Fighters are now “the biggest fucking rock band in the world.” I’m not saying that every song on The Colour and the Shape is great, but they all flow together so well that even the throwaway tunes work in the context of the album to make it great.

“Monkey Wrench” was the perfect lead single. That hummable, descending guitar line and poppy melodies mix perfectly. It’s just heavy enough to appeal to metalheads, but light enough to bounce around to. “My Hero” is one of those songs where I like the video more than the actual song, but it’s still a great one. Those goofy guitar turnarounds at the end of the chorus make it all worth it for me. How do you listen to it and not play air guitar to those licks?

And how do you follow up something like “Big Me,” which is as close to a perfect love song as I’ve ever heard and puts a smile on my face nearly every time I hear it? With a song that the rest of the human population feels that way about! I can’t help but wonder how many children were born because of the song “Everlong.”

If you take the time to look past the singles there’s still great stuff. I’m not a fan of some of the lighter fare. “Doll” and “Walking After You” are a little too light for me. They remind me of a bag of potato chips – mostly air.  Stuff like “See You” and “New Way Home” are a lot better. Fun, simple rockers that get the feet tapping, but it’s the raunchy rockers that get my blood pumping.

I love “Hey, Johnny Park.” The main riff is just pure brilliance. I’m not sure if I heard this many years ago and it stuck in my head. It sounded familiar when I got my copy recently, but maybe it’s just one of those riffs that is so catchy I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t in my head.

“The Colour and the Shape” might be my favorite Foo Fighters song. When you hear the tunes “Times Like These” and “Best of You” it’s easy to forget that Dave Grohl cut his teeth playing in punk bands. When you hear the screams and noise of the title track it’s front and center.

The best thing about The Colour and the Shape is that it sounds like a group effort. Grohl already proved he could write and record an album on his own with Foo Fighters and the Late! cassette he released while still with Nirvana, but he doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who needs absolute control like Trent Reznor or Prince.

Utilizing the whole band turned out to be a good decision. This was the album that led to sold out arenas and a quarter billion dollar net worth. Sometimes all it takes is four guys in a room jamming to come up with a masterpiece.

 

RIP Chris Cornell


Wow. Just… wow.

You know, when I was younger I wanted to grow up and be Chris Cornell. I was extremely disappointed to discover the job had already been taken.

Now that it’s open again I doubt I could fill his shoes.

I’ve gone on record as saying I wasn’t a huge fan of King Animal, but I was looking forward to its followup. I’m disappointed that I’ll probably never hear that now.

Hope you enjoy my hastily thrown together playlist.

 

 

Soundgarden Superunknown

Soundgarden Down on the Upside

The Where’s My Shirt Tour

#Top15onthe15th

Rock on the Range 2013

Helmet “Aftertaste”


(18 March 1997, Interscope)

Helmet are one of those deceptively brilliant bands. A cursory listen will leave one thinking this is a simple, caveman rock band with no depth and a modicum of talent. And the caveman description would be somewhat appropriate. They called their third album Betty and opened it with the track “Wilma’s Rainbow.” I can only assume these were references to the most well-known cave women in pre-history.

Most of the songs on Aftertaste are pretty formulaic. Simple, syncopated riff+angry vocals=Helmet. The strange thing is Page Hamilton’s ability to sing in a tone so close to yelling, but still so melodic. It’s the perfect balance of rage and tunefulness. I haven’t heard anyone else combine these elements and produce such a satisfying product.

Opener “Pure” relies on one chugged chord for the main riff and a strummed octave chorus, but it creates a beautiful wall of sound. This is a band that uses negative space better than any other band in existence. The brilliance is not just in the notes they play or don’t play, but in the spaces between those notes.

The most well known cavewomen in pre-history

It’s easy to let an album like this fade into the background. To be honest, most of the songs sound so similar it’s difficult to tell them apart. But every now and again you hear something like the guitar solo of “Driving Nowhere” or the superb noise of “Broadcast Emotion” and it’s like catching a glimpse some mythical beast rising from the murky depths. The bass heavy intro of “Renovation” is hard to ignore as it hearkens back to “Milktoast” from Betty.

After a few listens light finds its way through the cracks in the stone to illuminate cave drawings I missed on the first pass. I’ve been jamming to Betty in my car for the past few days thinking it’s a superior product to this one, but then I hear “Like I Care” for the second time and I’m amazed that I listened to it with anything other than… amazement.

 

I could go on and on about this album, but mostly I just want to- wait, what the hell? Did you catch that? There’s a string of like four songs that clock in at about 2.5 minutes and sound like they’re cut off in the middle. Is that a problem with my Spotify account? Or is is supposed to be like that?

I’m not even sure how to classify Helmet. Hard rock seems most appropriate. They’re a bit too heavy to call alternative, but not quite heavy enough for metal. And even though Hamilton is an accomplished Jazz player with chops to spare I don’t think prog or fusion fits. Wikipedia calls them post-metal, but I’m strongly opposed to defining any type of music by saying it came after some other type.

I imagine if Goldilocks were to find this in the three bears’ record collection she would describe Aftertaste as just right.

Marcy Playground – Self Titled


marcy_playground_-_marcy_playground_album_cover-1(25 February 1997, Capitol)

I was driving in the car with my girlfriend the other day when the Seven Mary Three song “Cumbersome” came on the radio. She told me she was really into Seven Mary Three when she was younger and listened to their album all the time. That blew my mind. It never even crossed my mind that Seven Mary Three would have an album and fans. To me they were just something that was always there. Like a DirecTV satellite dish that you mow around because you don’t want to take the time to pull it out of the ground. That’s how I thought of Seven Mary Three.

It wasn’t until today that I realized other people must think of Marcy Playground in the same way.

“Sex and Candy” is just as prevalent than “Cumbersome.” I hear it on the radio. I hear it at the gym. I hear it at Walmart. It’s all over the place; just like “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” or “Possum Kingdom.” But I actually own the album.

It’s not a bad album. It’s Folksy, Post-Grunge AOR. There are songs that I really enjoy and a few that I can’t tell from one another. Opener “Poppy’s” is held down by quirky guitar riff. Songs like “Gone Crazy,” “One More Suicide” and “Vampires of New York” are simple folk tunes made interesting by the wry vocals.

It’s something I enjoy, but when I listen to it and find it difficult to write more than 300 words about it I understand why they were a one-hit wonder.

Day of the New – S/T (Green)


Days of the New green(31 August 1999, Outpost)

One of the greatest things about music is its ability to take you places. Hearing a song can make you feel like you’re back in junior high school without a care in the world. A lot of songs bring scenes in movies to mind (think of Forrest Gump). Sometimes it can take you to a whole other world. Days of the New’s second album has the power to transport me from wherever I happen to be back to Hyrule.

My mom met the man who would become her second husband while I was in high school. He was living in a small apartment above a bar with a mattress, a chihuahua/shih tzu mix and a huge stereo from Rent-a-Center. It didn’t take long until he moved in with us; and brought the dog and the stereo. It’s easy to date when he moved in because he only had four CDs: Ozzy’s No Rest For The Wicked, Yngwie Malmsteem’s Facing the Animal, Godsmack’s debut and DotN’s second album.

“Enemy” was a big hit at the time and he loved it. He would play that album over and over while drinking at the kitchen table with his buddies. Being in high school I wasn’t old enough to drink and probably spent at least a little bit of time studying. But when I wasn’t studying I was sitting in front of the television with my little brother because around the same time he moved in with that huge stereo we got a Super Nintendo and A Link To The Past. I have no idea how many times we played through that game together, but I can remember having a lot of fun with him. I think that may have been the best bonding we ever did.

And the great thing is that whenever I hear Days of the New’s second album I can think back on those days.

the_legend_of_zelda_a_link_to_the_past_snes_game_coverIt probably helps that the album starts off with the sound of horse hooves. How else can I get from the water level to the desert level quickly? I’m a huge fan of all the segues that blend the tracks together. I honestly can’t name most of the songs on this album, and probably couldn’t tell you where most of them begin or end because it works as such a great cohesive whole.

The secret weapon is Nicole Sherzinger who would later achieve mega stardom as the lead singer of the Pussycat Dolls. It feels really weird to write that because the musical styles of the two groups couldn’t be more distant. But Sherzinger does have a beautiful voice and uses it to great effect with Days of the New.

Singer/Guitarist/Songwriter Travis Meeks got a lot of grief for pulling one of those megalomaniacal stunts of firing his whole band, but in his defense did you ever listen to Tantric? That was not a band I enjoyed. Sure, they were competent musicians and their stuff was okay, but there was no fire behind it. It always sounded like safe, middle-of-the-road rock to me. I just imagine them bringing the songs to him and him saying “No. You’re all fired.”

The acoustic guitars are still front and center but there’s plenty of other instrumentation to shake things up. The acoustic guitar thing was a good gimmick that definitely got them attention with their debut, but I’m guessing that wouldn’t have kept peoples interest if they’d just repeated that formula.

I’m not sure what all the instruments were used on this album , but I’m guessing there’s an ocarina in there somewhere. It really takes me back then.