Remember The Nineties?
Last week, after a couple of quick listens to Radiohead’s The King of Limbs, I had gushed about that album. Now, after several more unhurried listens, I am happy to report that – despite the negative blah by some critics (no guitar riffs; nothing new; very short…. yada yada…) – it is a fine album that I’m going to keep going back to. In fact, what I did after the second, third and fourth helpings of the 37-minute TKOL was revisit the band’s back catalogue and get lost for a couple of days in all of their albums, particularly Kid A, Amnesiac, Hail to the Thief and In Rainbows, all of which came out in the 2000s, but also the super ones that the band released in the 1990s – Pablo Honey, The Bends and OK Computer. That’s what set me thinking about the Nineties. I know, I know, it’s been a while since that decade passed, but have you stopped to think how much great music was produced in those ten years?
Why am I writing about the 1990s? Well, I could have gone really nostalgic and tramped back into the Sixties and Seventies and, (well, maybe not) the Eighties. I have friends who’re stuck, musically at least, in the Sixties and the Seventies who seriously believe nothing great has happened in the rock or pop genres after that. It’s not true but then who am I to mess around with their happy, if a bit ignorant, beliefs? For me, the Nineties opened up a whole new world of music. I discovered bands that quickly became fixtures on my playlists. Bands that may have been formed earlier but ones that really blossomed in the 1990s. Think Radiohead, of course, but also R.E.M. whose Automatic for the People (1992), Monster (1994) and New Adventures in Hi-Fi (1996) still remain on my go-to list. And Pearl Jam, whose albums, right from Ten (1991) to Yield (1998) kept popping up in my 1990s CD-cum-cassette player (remember those horrid combo units?).
R.E.M. and Pearl Jam are two bands that I instantly recall when I think of music in the Nineties – I’m waiting for R.E.M.’s Collapse Into Now (slated for release soon) and keeping my fingers crossed for a new one from Pearl Jam. But there was, and I am sure many of you will agree, another band that changed everything for us in the Nineties. Yes, of course, I am referring to Nirvana. Technically, their first studio album, Bleach, came out in 1989, but Nirvana were a band that was a Nineties phenomenon. And what a phenomenon! Kurt Cobain’s premature death put paid to the band that may have put out just three full-lengths – besides Bleach there was Nevermind and In Utero – but whose influence is still overwhelming for a legion of musicians. They were the godfathers of grunge and grunge begat garage rock and garage rock begat what we originally called indie music, a nomenclature that today covers a lot more genres, including soppy singer-songwriter stuff. Indeed, indie covers everything today. It’s more of a business model than a genre really, but let’s leave that for another column.
Call it serendipity but as I was thinking about music in the Nineties, a podcast popped up in my iTunes list. It was an episode of NPR’s All Songs Considered podcast called “The 90s are back. Or Whatever…” on which four of the channel’s critics, led by Bob Boilen, talked about and played their choices of the best albums, best songs and greatest influences of music from the Nineties. You can check out the podcast – it’s an hour and thirty-eight minutes long and covers a number of the great stuff that came to us in the Nineties. Of course, Nirvana is there (Smells Like Teen Spirit). So are Soundgarden (remember 1991’s Badmotorfinger and 1994’s Superunknown?), Smashing Pumpkins (you may hate Billy Corgan but do listen to Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness if you haven’t; if you have, put it on again!) and there’s Pearl Jam and Radiohead too on the podcast (thank God!). But there are a few other gems on the podcast that are bound to set you looking for your 20-year-old albums or discover some of them for the first time. Boilen and his colleagues tease each other and poke fun but they’re a knowledgeable bunch of critics whose views of music in the Nineties will leave you enriched.
As they did me. I brushed the dust off my Jeff Buckley album, Grace (1994), looked all over the house for (and found) the Irish dream pop band My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless (1991) and heard Beck’s Mellow Gold (1994). I’d clean forgotten how lovely that last one was – remember the song, Loser? It may have been a Nineties song about the Gen-X but how relevant it is even now. So, what’s your Nineties fix? Or are you one of those stuck in the (bleep) Sixties?