The chances are quite good that you’re not reading this post because you want to know my career choices or why I made them. So, I’ll confine myself to music.
I owe almost all of my good fortune that year to three very great guys, Ron Strayer, Kevin McCormick, and Craig Breaden.
Ron introduced me to what would very soon be called “alternative” but was then being called “college rock” or “modern rock.” Kevin sent me recommendations, including the rather insistent demand to purchase cds by World Party and The Sundays. And, finally, Craig introduced me not only to neo-psychedelia but to psychedelia from its original age.
I’d loved prog and New Wave, but my vision was pretty limited to only these genres by the end of 1989.
With the help of three friends, 1990 opened up huge musical vistas for me.
Richard Thompson, as a part of French Frith Kaiser Thompson, wrote two of the best songs I’ve ever heard that year: Peppermint Rock and The Killing Jar.
Suzanne Vega’s third album, DAYS OF OPEN HAND, came out that year, and it’s still one of my favorite albums. Vega always produced gorgeous pop and folk in the vein of XTC and others. If this is pop, it’s very high pop. She never became political like so many of her counterparts but let the music and lyrics remain art. Her breathy vocals, weird and yet captivating, only add to her appeal.
Echo and the Bunnymen’s almost totally forgotten and (when remembered) maligned album, REVERBERATION, is a slice of pop-rock perfection. Yes, it’s missing Ian McCulloch, but this only lets Will Sergeant soar. Frankly, their sound hit its height with OCEAN RAIN and fell flat on the follow-up album. This one, REVERBERATION, reveals an effective rebirth of the band. The vocalist, while not possessing the cancerous gravel of McCulloch’s voice, captures the spirit of the lyrics perfectly. Word play and cliché become clever and, indeed, addictive. There’s not a dud song on the album, but the employment of psychedelic Indian musicians really works rather perfectly on “Enlighten Me” and on the Doorish “Flaming Red.” The former is really one of the finest songs the band ever wrote.
Mazzy Star. Hardly anyone remembers this California psychedelic folk and navel-gazing band that emerged from the underground band, Opal. Too bad as 1990’s SHE HANGS BRIGHTLY is a thing of disturbing beauty. Walls of sound, clever lyrics, and earnest lyrics make this album a masterpiece of the neo-psych revival.
“Is it too late, baby?” World Party. What to say about this that hasn’t been said by a million others? While Karl Wallinger continues to make interesting music (despite severe health problems), he really threw every thing his soul possessed into GOODBYE JUMBO. From the crazy Beatle-sque cover to the basement production, this is a gem. All of the songs work very well, though they rarely reach beyond simple Beatle’s pop. Taken as a whole, however, this is a prog-pop album. Not that the individual songs are prog. They’re not even close. But, imagine a really, really, really clever Paul McCartney reworking side 2 of Abbey Road. Then, you’d have GOODBYE JUMBO. Thank you, world, indeed.
The Sundays. Ok, so the lead singer is one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen. This doesn’t hurt my opinion of the band. But, really, it’s her voice. That voice. How to describe it? There are no words, really, that could capture it. She’s playful. She’s earnest. She’s flirtations. She’s so utterly sincere. Oh, Harriet. At one time, you were my Beatrice. Her husband, David Gavurin, knows exactly how to write music to match his wife’s voice. What a team. And, they did the album for the fun of it, which makes it even more enjoyable. If you don’t’ own or if you’ve never heard of The Sundays, treat yourself. You’ll never regret this purchase. Promise.
Charlatans UK. SOME FRIENDLY. I know next to nothing about this band, but I absolutely dug their sound when Ron introduced them to me. I’d never quite heard drumming like that (though, The Cure would use the exact same style on their 1991 album, WISH). The drums, the keyboards, and the bass make this one of the most interesting albums I’ve ever heard it. While I wouldn’t place it up there with the previous albums I’ve mentioned in terms of outright excellence and staying power, it’s still really good.
House of Love. Album title? I’m not sure, as there’s none listed. Just the band’s name with a butterfly. Some of the album fails, but when it works, it works in a stellar fashion. The album is worth owning for the first two tracks alone—Hannah and Shine On—which really blend into one continuous 10-minute track. Great build up and perfect execution on these two songs. From what little I know of the band, they were a bunch of really raucous and idiotic druggies. Still, some amazing talent there.
Cocteau Twins, HEAVEN OR LAS VEGAS. The best for last? I’m not sure, but, sheesh, do I love this album. Aside from LOVELESS by My Bloody Valentine, no album reaches as close to shoe-gaze perfection as does HEAVEN OR LAS VEGAS. This album simply never ages. It’s so weird and yet so continuously captivating. I assume the artists behind Cocteau Twins wield some special instrument to speed up or delay time, but I can’t verify this. Listening to this album is NEVER a casual experience. It demands full immersion, but you re-emerge not as one drowned but as one baptized.
3 thoughts on “Remembering 1990 in Music”
World Party, Cocteau Twins, Charlatans, Richard Thompson – yeah, I’m definitely with you. I checked out Mazzy Star, because The Rain Parade were one of my favorites from the 80s, Roback came from them. Here’s a Spotify playlist I put together of favorite 80s tunes: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/7LNYtnvSx3iblFdikbvbIp?si=tFYSwyI8TEKBPdun0kAfuA
The first song is “Fotzepolitic” from Heaven or Las Vegas!
Yes, Mazzy Star, and World Party (the first album has some nice things on it too), The Sundays, Cocteau Twins! Takes me back to a place. I need to give Reverberation a re-listen (I think you sent it to me on cassette!)
Mazzy Star!! Dang. I need to re-listen. Fantastic group.
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