Something in the Way

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.

So Fine

Eek-a-Mouse has recorded about twenty albums, give or take, and I only listen to one of them. U-Neek is just one of those records that I’ve listened to so many times over I know every song, and it’s a record I put on when I want to leave my troubles at the door. I’m sure that some of Mouse’s other records are fine as wine too, but this one is just special. I can’t recommend a better party record, for one thing, if you’re into weird parties. It’s good for getting drunk and dancing alone in your bedroom like a goddamn teenager in an 80’s movie. Children like it. And it’s funny. Five stars, an absolute favorite.

Smells Like Teen Spirit

I think we can say, with absolutely no hyperbole, that Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit is officially the definitive song of, like, the whole entire 90’s. At least, it was declared as such the minute it was released, in 1991. That may have been jumping the gun a little bit on the part of the music press, but it turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Smells Like Teen Spirit would be the rock anthem of the decade, and Kurt Cobain the voice of his generation. That was a load of hype even the most mentally ironclad person would have a hard time dealing with. Kurt Cobain was not mentally ironclad, unfortunately, and he could not deal. Which, of course, sealed his fate. Because minus the tragedy of all that snuffed-out charisma, Nirvana’s music really wasn’t all that different from the alternative and post-punk music of the 80’s. There’s no particular reason for this song to be anything more than just a really good rock song. Instead, what you’re hearing is a the sound of an entire generation’s first big grown-up rock star crush, followed by their first big grown-up taste of tragedy, loss and human frailty. It’s 90’s kids’ first pop culture trauma.

Sing Your Life

I can see Morrissey having an alternate career singing lounge jazz. If he had more musicality and less dysfunction, he could have made it on the cocktail lounge scene for sure. He would, of course, be a very a very campy lounge singer, perhaps the kind who specializes in warming up the crown before a drag show. Alternate universe. As it is, Morrissey turned out to be a campy old queen of a very different stripe, and he certainly made his mark with the choices he made. It’s his life to wreck in his own way, after all.

Show Must Go On

Queen is enjoying a lot of attention today, thanks to being in a movie and whatnot, and honestly it is heartwarming to witness a new generation of teenage fans celebrating Freddie Mercury’s life and legacy as though he was only alive yesterday. No one could pretend that Queen was ever underrated before, but their fandom definitely skewed elderly and balding. No one more richly deserves to be an icon for the youths than Freddie Mercury, for myriad reasons, and his unwavering dedication to making the show go on is not least of them. This song was clearly written to be the triumphant encore spewing pyrotechnic wonderment over Wembley Stadium, but it was one of those masterpieces that came along too late. Queen’s final recording sessions were a race against time, as Mercury was fast losing his years-long fight with AIDS. He died only months after the last album was released. The critics, not knowing that dying was something he’d been planning to do, said the record was overly sentimental and pointed out that Mercury’s voice was sounding slightly diminished, ranging only over three octaves instead of his usual 5- or 6- hundred. In hindsight, of course, everything looks different. It is dazzling that such a powerful and inspiring piece of work could come from a man in the final throes of terminal illness. Freddie Mercury never revealed his illness to the public, not so much because of the stigma but because of his own discomfort with being seen as an object of pity. He didn’t want to be a martyr, a figure of pathos or a cautionary tale. He wanted to carry on making uplifting music and inspiring people with his showmanship. The idea that “the show must go on” no matter what is an adage as old as show business itself, and Freddie Mercury lived that motto to the fullest until, literally, he couldn’t live anymore.

Shopping for Girls

From the vantage point of today, why wouldn’t you want a bunch of feedback-laden, industrial-sounding songs about unsavory things from David Bowie and a bunch of guys with bad hairdos? Like, bring on all of those things. When you’re browsing for David Bowie songs, don’t you sometimes think “I really want something that sounds like Nine Inch Nails but have it be about Thailand’s child trafficking industry”? Here is David Bowie’s Nine Inch Nails-sounding song about child prostitution. Which, by the way, was a subject that came up because of the very legit activism of guitarist Reeves Gabrels and his investigative journalist wife: 
“That song actually came out of an investigative magazine article that Reeves’ wife wrote on child prostitution around the world. And one of the places she went to was Thailand. Reeves had the rather unsavory job of hiring the children and then getting them out of the brothels to Sara, who could then interview them. We were just talking about those experiences one night. And I’ve also been in Thailand and witnessed the same kind of thing. The actual approach of how to write the song was quite devastating. ‘Cause it was so easy to slip into sensationalism. I tried all kinds of ways of approaching it … the moral point of view … and I just ended up doing it straight narrative. That seems to make it stronger than any other approach.”

Why this approach wasn’t met with wild acclaim in its own time, I have no idea. Maybe because 1991 sucked? 

Sax and Violins

“Love so deep, kills you in your sleep”

David Byrne isn’t talking about his relationship with the other members of Talking Heads, that’s for sure. This isn’t even really a proper “Talking Heads” song, though it’s on the books as their final release. It’s an old demo from the Naked sessions that David Byrne slapped some lyrics on for a movie soundtrack. So, basically, a David Byrne song, as all Talking Heads songs are basically just David Byrne songs anyway, because in a band spearheaded by such a strong personality the pretense of creative equality kind of falls apart (and then the band itself falls apart). That explains why Byrne is the only one who appears in the video. Byrne’s own explanation for the song is pretty interesting: “I wrote the words later for the opening scene of Wim Wenders’ Until the End of the World. The movie is supposed to take place in the year 2000, so I spent a lot of time trying to image music of the near future: post-rock sludge with lyrics sponsored by Coke and Pepsi? Music created by machines with human shouts of agony and betrayal thrown in? Faux Appalachian ballads, the anti-tech wave? The same sounds and licks from the 60s and 70s regurgitated yet again by a new generation of samplers? The Milli Vanilli revival? Rappin’ politicos… sell your soul to the beat, y’all? Well, it was daunting… so I figured, hell with it, I’d imagine Talking Heads doing a reunion LP in the year 2000, and them sounding just like they used to.” Everything he imagined except the Milli Vanilli comeback has come true with a vengeance and it’s the phrase “Talking Heads reunion” that sounds like outlandish gibberish.