Tuesday, January 25, 2011

That Wonderful Year in Music... 1996

As many rock historians will argue, 1996 was grunge's final stand; the genre was fully immersed in the alternative movement and the punk revival, but that revitalizing Seattle aesthetic had run its course. In retrospect, the rock sound was haunted by the ghosts of alt-nation past (Kurt Cobain), present (Bradley Nowell), and future (Layne Staley), and we the fans were Ebenezer Scrooge. 1996 was also a commercially successful year for female singer-songwriters with alternative inclinations; the popularity of Tori Amos, Alanis Morrissette, Sarah McLachlan, Fiona Apple and others --while not necessarily enduring-- was enough to launch the Lilith Fair music and arts festival, i.e. "the women's Woodstock," a year later.

From a personal perspective, 1996 was the year I turned 12 years old, and it was probably the first year I demonstrated any interest in politics. I spent a big chunk of the year parroting my dad's political beliefs (social moderate, fiscal conservative, pro-Flat Tax), demonizing President Clinton with the luddite bluster of a radio pundit, and alienating some of my sixth-grade cla.ssmates in the process. The Democratic National Convention was in Chicago that year, and I avoided news coverage of the proceedings like the plague. A decade and a half later, my underinformed and transparent dabbles with conservatism feel like juvenilia, a phase of my life that I don't look back upon fondly. On a more positive and less polarizing note, 1996 was the year I attended my first Kansas City Royals game (at New Comiskey), my first Blackhawks game (versus Anaheim), and moved into the attic bedroom that I spent the majority of my teenage years.


1. Pinkerton, Weezer. Rivers Cuomo set the blueprint for the band's 1994 debut: sunny, heavy guitar-pop with proto-emo and punk flourishes. Their sophomore effort was also heavily manuevered by Cuomo, eschewing playful power chords for raging, squealing guitars. Initially lambasted for taking such a starting left turn --Pinkerton made many critics' worst albums lists that year-- this album now stands as a singular artistic achievement bolstered by Cuomo's growth as an anxious, witty songwriter. Time heals all wounds, it seems.

2. Odelay!, Beck. In 1993, wispy anti-folk singer Beck Hansen released "Loser," a surrealistic blues-meets-rap lark that spoke to millions of jaded Gen-Xers. Three years later Beck, with crucial assistance from uber-producers The Dust Brothers, cut Odelay!, an album that fleshed out his unique voice, eclectic sound, and constant stylistic shifts. The album scored three Top 40 hits, but Odelay! is best enjoyed as one singular recording, a sonic mosaic whose overall image is greater than the sum of its parts.

3. The Score, The Fugees. An oasis from the increasingly monotonous and repetitive Gangsta Rap sub-genre, Lauryn Hill, Pras, and Wyclef Jean gave hip-hop a badly needed transfusion of intelligensia and social consciousness with their masterpiece The Score. It's hard to find a track that tops the clever "Fu-Gee-La," but the two standouts here are both covers: a funky rendition of Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly With Her Song" that turned Hill into an MC to be reckoned with, and an interpretation of Bob Marley's "No Woman No Cry" that makes you wonder why it wasn't a rap song to begin with.

4. Being There, Wilco
5. If You're Feeling Sinister, Belle and Sebastian
6. Evil Empire, Rage Against The Machine
7. Tidal, Fiona Apple
8. Sublime, Sublime
9. Everything Must Go, Manic Street Preachers

10. No Code, Pearl Jam. An underappreciated entry in the PJ canon, their fourth album might pale to their first three efforts yet rocks hard all the same. What might alienate you upon first listen is Eddie Vedder's sudden interest in Eastern religion and philosophy; each track delineates or alludes to some type of moral dilemma. Acoustic tracks like "In My Tree" and "Off He Goes" provide free range for Vedder's soul-searching, diamonds in the rough of a flawed yet utterly fascinating recording.

Honorable Mentions: Tigermilk, Belle and Sebastian; Maniacal Laughter, Bouncing Souls; Fashion Nugget, Cake; Reasonable Doubt, Jay-Z; Murder Ballads, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds; Millions Now Living Will Never Die, Tortoise.


"Santa Monica," Everclear
"Here in Your Bedroom," Goldfinger
"Swallowed," Bush
"Popular," Nada Surf
"Sucked Out," Superdrag
"Pretty Noose," Soundgarden
"Trippin' on a Hole in a Paper Heart," Stone Temple Pilots
"Too Much," The Dave Matthews Band
"Pepper," Butthole Surfers
"Setting Sun," The Chemical Brothers


1. "1979," The Smashing Pumpkins. One day in the life of a group of disaffected teenagers wandering nomadically in a late-70s model Dodge Charger. Billy Corgan once said this was his favorite Pumpkins video, though quite a few fans would argue for...
2. "Tonight Tonight," The Smashing Pumpkins. ...this, a faithful homage to the early 20th century silent film A Trip to the Moon starring Tom Kenny and Jill Talley of "Mr. Show" fame.
3. "Drop," The Pharcyde. After big years in 1994 and 1995, video director par excellence Spike Jonze had a relatively quiet '96. During his breather, however he still managed to create one great forwards-going-backwards clip featuring one of the '90s most memorable one-hit wonders and a litany of special guests.
4. "The Distance," Cake. A corporate drone runs away from his life and responsibilities --literally-- and encounters Fellini-esque oddballs in a colorful visualization of one of the year's best left-field hits.
5. "Big Me," Foo Fighters. Hey, remember those old Mentos "Freshmakers" commercials?

Honorable Mentions: "Sunday Morning," No Doubt; "Heaven Beside You," Alice in Chains.

Your thoughts?


  1. My thoughts?

    What changed you from being anti-Democrat to anti-Conservative? I hope it wasn't some teacher because they are incredibly biased.

    One of the few things I support from the other party is some Environmental laws (not dumping shit into the water should be common sense but it's not) and especially abortion (another one that shouldn't be a political divider but more of a personal choice, and dragging religion into it never made any sense; especially when apparently it's wrong to abort but it's okay to die at 18 or so in war.

    I think the biggest reason why I chose who I did is because I hate spending money, and I especially hate it when some no-nuts Gov't wants & keeps taking more of MY hard-earned money to spend & waste it on a bunch of programs with no checks & balances, corruption, no proven set figure that spending X-amount of money opposed to Y-amount of money actually makes a difference; and those who abide & enable the Gov't system use it solely to gain for their own benefit.

    Honestly, will you EVER hear a teacher say that they now "have enough money" for their school system at any given point? This goes for cops, unions and any elected politician or person who makes a living on the public taxpayer. The system is too big, too antiquated and too many lazy & corrupt people are benefiting from it. The Government sure has done a horseshit job with the people's money with everything. 'Stop spending more than you generate' is my motto.

    Never really studied the Flat Tax theory & never liked Weezer.

  2. Is it me, or is the novelty buzz word right now on TV is "fart" ? I swear I've heard it on TV at least 4 times this week :\

  3. Blatant usage of "fart?" I hadn't noticed.

    So what titled me to the left, or more specifically, the other side of the center? It was a coming-of-age thing, really; I guess I just couldn't relate to conservatives as much. I don't think friends and teachers made as much of an impact as it was the GOP themselves. First they trumped up the allegations that lead to President Clinton's impeachment, than completely bungled it. Then came the expungement of anyone who dared to be a moderate or tried to personalize the conservative platform for the needs of their own constituants as opposed to the party itself. I have my issues with the left, but not as many as the right.