Tuesday, July 28, 2009

That Wonderful Year in Music... 1994

I promised a different decade, and I give you another decade...

I wonder what can be said about 1994 that hasn't already been recycled, rehashed and stewed into cliche. That it was the year Kurt Cobain --and to some degree, the grunge movement-- entered eternal life? That gangsta rap went mainstream? That emo broke out? When punk made its big comeback after lying low for nearly a decade? That a certain legendary music festival was revisited upon its 25th anniversary, only to be morphed into a highly commercial, money-making opportunity? Whether you look back at 15 years ago with glee or mild misgivings, you can't doubt the quality of music that came out that year.

1. Grace, Jeff Buckley. In a year that was top-heavy on strong debut efforts and breakthrough CDs, Buckley's first (and sadly, his only proper) disc takes the cake. His cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" is the track everybody remembers, but his textured dabbles in jazz, folk, and alt-rock make Grace a ponderance at what could've been a long and healthy career as the Gen-X Van Morrison.
2. Ill Communication, Beastie Boys. Muscular, vigorous, and perhaps their most introspective piece of work, the Boys' follow-up to Check Your Head follows the same blueprint as its predecessor yet soars a tad higher. Singles like "Sure Shot" and "Root Down" hold their own against funky experimental pieces such as "Flute Loop" and "Bodhisattva Vow."
3. The Holy Bible, Manic Street Preachers. Incidiary for the sake of being incidiary, MSP's third album is their most political, visceral, and focused. Nothing is spared of guitarist Richey James' vitriol, from abortion to anorexia to the perception to the shallowness of American pop culture. Unfortunately, James' rants might've worked too well; shortly after the album's release he suddenly disappeared, either a victim of those he railed against or his myriad personal problems. (The remaining trio soldiers on to this day.)
4. Weezer (aka The Blue Album), Weezer
5. Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, Pavement
6. Dookie, Green Day
7. Vitalogy, Pearl Jam
8. The Downward Spiral, Nine Inch Nails
9. Superunknown, Soundgarden
10. MTV Unplugged In New York, Nirvana. CD releases of the popular MTV concert series were a dime a dozen in the mid-90s, yet the Seattle trio's 1993 performance is on a completely different wavelength. Emotionally naked and seering, the whole show plays out like Kurt Cobain's farewell message from beyond the grave. It's impossible to listen to the closing cover of Leadbelly's "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" and not feel haunted.

Honorable Mentions: Bee Thousand, Guided By Voices; Illmatic, Nas; Definitely Maybe, Oasis; Smash, The Offspring.

"You Wreck Me," Tom Petty
"Cornflake Girl," Tori Amos
"What's The Frequency, Kenneth?" R.E.M.
"She Don't Use Jelly," The Flaming Lips
"Seether," Veruca Salt
"I Alone," Live
"Bull in the Heather," Sonic Youth
"Fade Into You," Mazzy Star
"Whatta Man," Salt-N-Pepa
"Nuttin' But Love," Heavy D & The Boyz

1. "Sabotage," Beastie Boys. Maybe the best music video ever?
2. "Closer," Nine Inch Nails. Very creepy, somewhat disturbing... and kinda hypnotic.
3. "Buddy Holly," Weezer. Innovative usage of digital green-screen technology transplants Rivers Cuomo and company in a typical episode of "Happy Days." Did Spike Jonze have a banner year or what?
4. "Gin n' Juice," Snoop Doggy Dogg. Home Boy Alone!
5. "Basket Case," Green Day. A surreal, color-saturated trip through a mental institution. No need for critical thought here; it's just a fun clip.

Your thoughts?

1 comment:

  1. What do I think? I remember the weird kids in school were into Green Day back in the day. 1994... I was still in my Oldies period then, still a full year from my 1st CD player. Other than a brief flurtation from 1995-1999, I never really got into Mainstream (which at this point, was Alternative) and quite frankly, as awful '80s music was, the '90s had the weakest staying power yet IMO. So far up to now, never liked the Beastie Boys, NIN is Emo-ridiculous, wasn't impressed by Weezer despite being told numerous times that they 'were my type of music', and as for the rest of the singles list, only Tom Petty doesn't make my eyes roll or lift a questioning brow. It's kind of sad that most of the music I connect with was made before I was born.