Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Best Albums of the 90s: 15-11

15. Beck - Odelay
Beck is strangely unlistenable now. I once considered him a genius. In the summer of 1999, my number 1 album of the year was Midnite Vultures, an album I thought was revolutionary and complex and now consider incredibly tame. Same thing with Mutations. I used to listen to it . Mellow Gold has a ramshackle feel to it, that is easy to love and equally annoying. And poor Odelay. Once destined for pantheon status as on of the landmark albums of the 90s and of all time, is now slowly fading. But it's also the only great Beck album (though I'll still stand by most of Sea Change) and deserves to be looked at again.

14. Nirvana - In Utero
I don't get Nevermind. As the one album from the nineties that ever touches lists of great albums, it remains a complete mystery to me why it does so constantly, all the time, and without irony. Nevermind bugs the hell out of me, not because I hate the songs, but just the production. It's glossy and well manicured. Maybe blame Butch Vig, but it sounds dated. In Utero? It's still hits really, really hard. Maybe it was Girl Talk that reintroduced me to those drums in Scentless Apprentice, but they are massive. But this has always been my favorite Nirvana album, maybe I liked the darker shades of Kurt, and especially All Apologies. But when I think of Nirvana this is always the first album that comes to mind.

13. The Flaming Lips - The Soft Bulletin
This was another album that I came to after the fact. I was even late to the game on Yoshimi, an album that I immediately fell for. But the Soft Bulletin is something different, and I wasn't quite ready for it when I found it. It's dark, warped, and not nearly as playful as Yoshimi. It took time, but while Yoshimi sounds tied to its time, the Soft Bulletin sounds better every time I return to it. The power of the Soft Bulletin is how it wraps it's songs in some of the most impressive production techniques, and yet each one of these strange tunes could stand neatly on its own if played on an acoustic guitar. There aren't many Flaming Lips songs you can say that about.

12. Belle and Sebastian - If Your Feeling Sinister
One of my favorite things to witness in New York is when someone puts Belle and Sebastian on the jukebox at some indie dive. It's so quiet compared to whatever came on before that everyone sits around wondering if anything is playing. A shock runs through the room. They get real quiet. Is it broken? But slowly a little acoustic guitar strum appears, and that little croon pops up. By the second verse, it becomes more evident, and when everyone finally notices that it's the Belle, they usually smile and comment that, isn't that nice, Belle and Sebastian is playing. As quiet and peculiar as this album is, for some reason it sounds best with a lot of people listening to it. That Blake is usually responsible for the play is another matter.

11. The Smashing Pumpkins - Siamese Dream / Pavement - Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain

Out on tour with The Smashing Pumpkins Nature kids, i/they dont have no function I dont understand what they mean And I could really give a fuck.

It's come to my attention over the past years that these albums are essentially one and the same. These artists have much more in common than anyone would like to believe. Both are highly adventurous albums, which signaled both groups most commercial work. That the Pumpkins sold millions upon millions more than Pavement is beyond question. Why they both remind me of each other, even if though it's obvious that they didn't like it each other, is the subtle ways each one tries to act like the other. The similarities even go down to their album titles.

I believe it deep down, a fact that I think was backed up with Pig Lib, that Stephen Maulkmus wishes he had a muscular rock band behind him. Sure the charm would be gone, but he'd be able to indulge his prog rock instincts. What is "Stop Breathing", other than an excuse to, however awkwardly, solo? And because Maulkmus is a much better guitarist than he has any right to be, he wants to break away at every moment, but stumbles when he sees the rest of the band not catching up.

And in that same way, Billy wishes he could be as cool as Malkmus. It's really obvious. Billy wants so often to be cool, but he couldn't be further away. So he hides his lyrics in vague meanings and tries to sound smarter than he is to counter the affect. But maybe I'm stretching things. The best part about each one of these albums, is how they try for each others glory and end up stumbling over their own unique vision. Crooked Rain's awkward walk is half of it's charm, and Siamese Dream would stumble over itself if it were even sort of cool.

Even if you discount the duality in both of their album titles, the similarities run deep. They should really end their feud and create a supergroup. Now that would be an album.


Michael said...

i can't BELIEVE you would actually link asshole goths SP with personal jesuses the Pave. Plus, yeah Malkmus can wail on guitar (his new stuff gets a little jammy), but it's spiral stairs who takes over with the solos on the pavement albums (do you have the preston school of industry album? worth copping). And have you seen the pavement video clip on their DVD? they're asked about said SP bashing, and Malkmus responds deadpan: "it's not about the music... it's personal." Just more slacker sublime from the indie king.

Michael said...

PS agreed on Nevermind/In Utero, but i think the Bek has (had) more going for him than that in the 1990s. Plus B&S should be on everyone's list. expect a lengthy response to your REM post coming on my blarg.

Dan said...

Midnite Vultures will always hold a special place for me no matter how old it gets. I was an after-the-fact Soft Bulletin fan as well and can think of few better summer night driving albums. No comment on the SP/Pave thing. I pledge loyalty to neither.

Nick said...

Maybe I was too hard on Beck. I did nearly wear out Midnite Vultures. I just feel like he tried to make an ironic dance album because there was no good popular dance music going in America. Then a band like the Rapture come and play "serious" dance music with guitars and it makes him look like weak.

I obviously don't know anything about dance music, though. I'll just stop.

No one will ever believe me about Pavement and the Pumpkins. It's fucking uncanny.