For me, Suzanne Vega’s 99.9F° is one of the seminal records of the 90’s. Obviously, 1992 was a very impressionable year. Nine year old me had very passionate opinions about music, and when I had a favorite record, it was locked in for several years. My obsession with this album carried over well into my teenage years, until some point when I actually started buying new music. So of course it really takes me back, and I’m grateful that I wasn’t one of those kids who grew up just ingesting whatever happened to be popular and now has to look back on a nostalgic library of unmitigated crap. I just grew up liking weird shit and not much has changed.
Not counting the hidden track, this is a gentle coda for a sometimes very loud and angry record. I suspect that a lot of people may not listen to Nevermind all the way through to the end. It’s frontloaded on the well-known songs, and once you get past the first half, the energy drops. And that’s fine, if all you want from Nirvana is angst at loud volume. But there’s also angst at a lower tempo. The inward and morose songs are valid too, and it’s important to experience both moods. It’s the thoughtful songs that will make you understand why Kurt Cobain was the sensitive troubled dreamboi du jour for 90’s kids.
Pulp is sadboi music for kids who are too cool to admit they’re sad. They hide their sadness behind postures of indifference, artfully arranged hair and expensive shoes. But they’re so, so sad because they’re always grappling with the harsh reality that all their style and coolness doesn’t make them any more successful at love than any other schmuck. Sadboi music for sadboi hipsters, as it were. An aesthetic I can relate to, in other words.
Lucinda Williams is the queen of my sad heart. Sometimes, when my heart is not sufficiently feeling sad, I listen to Lucinda to remind me of all the sad times. Not all her songs are about sadness, though. She has some ragers, too, and she’s got thoughts about things like family and religion. And she has love songs, love songs that aren’t all about the death of love. This one is a love song about love. It sounds sad, because it’s downtempo, and Lu just naturally has a sad voice. But it’s really about what makes us love who we love in the first place and what makes us hold onto people. Because some people make us feel magic, they light up mundane situations and we just can’t get enough of just being there with them. If we didn’t have that, we wouldn’t bother with the whole charade of courtship, wouldn’t bother opening up our lives and hearts, wouldn’t have anything to write all those other sad songs about.
I didn’t grow up listening to Pet Shop Boys; I wasn’t raised in a household that placed high value of electronic dance music, and it was pre-internet times. Now, however, I’ve become such a fan that I listen to their B-sides. B-sides is where artists send the material that is too weird or not quite good enough to make the album. It can be garbage or treasure, but the B-side compilation is only for people looking to make a deep-dive. So here I am listening to Alternative, and it’s a pretty mixed bag. But Pet Shop Boys are here to convince people who don’t place high value on electronic music that they’re wrong. They’re the counterpoint to any argument that their kind of music is silly and shallow and less intellectual than traditional guitar rock (yes, it’s a dumb distinction to even try to make, but there are purists on both sides), and as such, even their b-tier material is interesting.
I keep coming back to Geoffrey Oryema’s Exile album because it can evoke so many moods. I don’t, of course, know what most of his songs are about, but understanding words is overrated. This songs, for example, is called ‘Solitude’ though that’s just the English word someone put on it. I don’t have any way of knowing what it would be called on other language editions. But let’s assume it is what it is. Is it evoking solitude as an experience of loneliness and sorrow, or as a state of comfort and contemplation? Could it be a little mixture of both, as would be reflective of the shifting nature of most people’s experiences? It invites deep thought, but it could just as easily invite a thoughtless meditative state. You could also, and with equal easy, cry on the floor to this music, or get high, or fuck, or just sit there and drink tea. It’s music for everything, really, and there’s just not that many examples of a record that complements so many varied states.
You gotta wonder what it is the Pet Shop Boys have to be so mournful about all the time. No matter how uptempo their beats are, in their hearts they’re always sad. I’m sure that in real life Chris Lowe and Neil Tennant are very fun guys who aren’t mopey at all. But on record, they’ve set their tone as ‘music to cry to after coming home from the gay bar all alone’. Which honestly is a niche that needed to be filled. You can give them credit for showing that synth-pop and dance music can be thoughtful and emotionally deep. To this day there’s a lack of deep thought and feeling in the genre, as though people who go out dancing don’t have those things either. There’s the argument that people go to clubs and listen to dance music to escape from the thoughts and feelings that haunt them the rest of the time, but that’s a little bit simplistic. I mean, there’s nothing more emotionally triggering than dragging your alienation down to the club only to discover that it won’t go away no matter how much you drink, dance and grind up on strangers. Also, we’re still having trouble letting go of the idea that music with synthesizers and beats in it is something you only hear at the club while wearing booty shorts. Sometimes it’s basically emo with Casio keyboards instead of acoustic guitars. Or when songwriters like PSB get ahold of it and suddenly it’s filled with the full emotional complexity of the human condition and stuff.