Friday, May 13, 2005

The Top 26 Albums Of The 1990s (Part 5)


Who: Sebadoh
What: Bakesale
When: September 1, 1994
Why: One of the stranger bands to trod the alt-rock earth. Born of Lou Barlow’s ejection from Dinosaur Jr., the band began as thrash rock kings and ended as high-end power balladeers. In between a majestic peak was reached with this album – perfectly balanced on the cusp between where they had been and where they were going, full of thrashy, speedy power ballads. The key to the band when they were at their best was the tension between the two primary songwriters, Barlow and Jason Lowenstein. Their dynamic was familiar to Husker Du fans – as with Bob Mould and Grant Hart, they never seemed to collaborate so much as compete -- but when they were both at the top of their games (as on Bakesale), the result is a sustained volley of pure pleasure. This is shown to its greatest extent on the pairing of “Not A Friend” and “Not Too Amused.” It seems almost impossible that these songs weren’t written (the first by Barlow, the second by Lowenstein) with each other in mind, but the lyrics are so bitter that it also seems impossible that they could have been written to each other while the band was still intact:

“Not A Friend”

I'm not a good friend, I'm not a friend at all
It's never resolved, I'm nervous when you call
My words are limp, and my mind is dry
I try to be polite, but I feel like I'm stuck for life
I follow my heart, it leads me far from you
No matter how close we are, I'm far, far away
I have too much now to fill my day today
I'm not a good friend, I'm not a friend at all
I don't need obligations to our crippled conversations
I’d never tell you, it’s something you should know
I'm not a friend at all, oh, please let me go
Somehow I don't trust you
I don't trust myself
And I may never forgive you
‘Cuz I can't forgive myself
Somehow I don't trust you
I don't trust myself
And I may never forgive you
‘Cuz I can't forgive myself
Don't break my stride
Don't break my stride
Don't break my stride
Don't break my stride

“Not Too Amused”

What was that you just said?
That didn't make any sense to me
It's not the way I see it, man
I'm almost tired of listening to you
Why do you tie me up with words?
The way your eye shifts makes me wanna go
Black-jawed living room couch professor
When will you be through with me? I'd like to know
Everywhere I go I feel it
But I won't talk, I won't get stuck with you
Everyone's so lonely I dig it
But I'm afraid I can't share this with you
So don't make me your captive
I don't feel like talking your shit
I nod my broken head
I'm not too amused with humans

Lyrically black and bleak, the music for each shares a sense of doom, of a slowly but inexorably tightening grip of tension. The screws are turning. A remarkable pair of songs from a remarkable pair of songwriters, but these two are merely the tip of the iceberg on this album.

To Bring You My Love

Who: P.J. Harvey
What: To Bring You My Love
When: February 28, 1995
Why: The blues, as channeled by a skinny little British woman. Demographically she is as far from Blind Lemon Jefferson as a human can get. In spirit – pretty damn close. Polly Jean has had some great albums in her career, but this remains the most thematically and musically consistent. The themes: sex and death. The music: classic blues riffs – killer blues riffs. Liz Phair’s album on this list is a one of the great albums ever by a chick, but this is what a real woman sounds like.

The Bends

Who: Radiohead
What: The Bends
When: April 4, 1995
Why: In 1993 Radiohead was a one-hit Nirvana sound-alike. Now I’ll grant that the one hit remains one of my favorite songs, but apart from “Creep,” Pablo Honey had (and has) little to offer. With this album, Radiohead began at a leap to become what they are today – the best band in the world. While they’ve grown and changed with each record since, The Bends is probably still their most influential album – if only because Coldplay, Travis, etc. are still stuck on aping it so successfully (in terms of the quality of the imitation as well as the impact on their bottom lines). The record lacks the conceptual pretensions of the band’s later albums, but doesn’t lack for great songs. Like waves on a beach, they just keep coming: “Planet Telex,” “The Bends,” “High And Dry,” “Fake Plastic Trees,” “(Nice Dream),” “My Iron Lung,” and on and on and on. What a great band sounds like before they decide to become artistes (not that they ever really lost anything in that exchange) – a truly great alt-rock record.


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