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Tuesday, August 27, 1991

Pearl Jam Released Ten: August 27, 1991

Originally posted 8/27/11. Updated 8/27/13.

image from last.fm


Release date: 27 August 1991
Tracks: (Click for codes to singles charts.) 1. Once 2. Even Flow (4/18/92, #27 UK, #3 AR, #21 MR) 3. Alive (8/3/91, #16 UK, #16 AR, #18 MR) 4. Why Go 5. Black (12/26/92, #3 AR, #20 MR) 6. Jeremy (8/15/92, #70a US, #15 UK, #5 AR, #5 MR, sales: 0.5 m) 7. Oceans 8. Porch 9. Garden 10. Deep 11. Release

Sales (in millions): 12.0 US, 0.1 UK, 18.9 world (includes US and UK)

Peak: 2 US, 18 UK

Rating:


Review: Pearl Jam grew out of the ashes of Mother Love Bone, a late ‘80s grunge group helmed by Andrew Wood. After he overdosed on heroin, the remaining members regrouped, tapped Eddie Vedder as their lead singer and Pearl Jam was born. While their debut, Ten, “didn’t explode out of the box” GW (it didn’t hit its chart peak until nearly a year after its release) like Nirvana’s Nevermind, the two albums found themselves battling each other “in a grunge popularity contest” RS even though they “had very little in common, beyond a raw, raging power that had been missing from rock for too long.” TB Nevermind got the lion’s share of credit for breaking grunge and alternative to the mainstream, SH but its appeal “wasn’t universal; rock radio still viewed them as too raw and punky, and some hard rock fans dismissed them as weird misfits.” SH

However, Pearl Jam were “the latest manifestation of the primeval power than galvanizes rock whenever it gets complacent.” PR It didn’t just help in legitimizing grunge, but “in reshaping hard rock” RS with its “ferocious synthesis of hard rock and punk to articulate the pain and frustration of a generation.” PR “Radio programmers in search of acceptable grunge to to play alongside Led Zeppelin, U2 and Guns N’ Roses” GW discovered Pearl Jam “songs that sounded great anytime, anywhere.” GW

“In retrospect, it’s easy to see why Pearl Jam clicked with a mass audience – they weren’t as metallic as Alice in Chains or Soundgarden, and of Seattle’s Big Four, their sound owed the greatest debt to classic rock.” SH “Pearl Jam’s rhythm section links the majestic brawn of Led Zeppelin to the righteous fervor of the Who to the visceral, distorted, frayed-nerve guitar attack that made Seattle famous.” TM Ten embraces “the structured guitar work of Jimi Hendrix over Nirvana's buzz saw leads.” RV Pearl Jam’s album was marked by Eddie Vedder’s “urgent, highly distinctive timbre” GW and “shaky, agonized growl” RS not to mention “intricately arranged guitar textures and expansive harmonic vocabulary.” SH

“Though they rock hard, Pearl Jam is too anti-star to swagger, too self-aware to puncture the album’s air of gravity.” SH They tackle “weighty topics – abortion, homelessness, childhood traumas, gun violence, rigorous introspection – with an earnest zeal unmatched since mid-‘80s U2, whose anthemic sound they frequently strive for.” SH “Vedder’s “stories don’t always unfold in linear fashion or end with a tidy summary,” TM but as McCready said of Vedder, “He’s a man full of conviction. That comes in his singing and writing, and hopefully our music backs that up.” GW

Jeremy

“Virtually everything…on this rousing debut, goes straight for the jugular.” TM For example, Jeremy told the true story of “a seriously disturbed 16-year-old student at Richardson High School in Dallas, Texas, who had shot himself dead in front of his class.” TB Vedder combined the story of Jeremy Wade Delle with his memory of a San Diego junior high classmate who took a gun to school and went “on a shooting spree, though with less disastrous results.” TB It “gave voice to a generation of children ignored and abused.” RV The video won MTV’s award for Video of the Year.

The album’s first single, Alive, was a “twin-guitar-powered rocker” TB which was “interpreted as an anthem by many.” WK However, Vedder later explained that it was a “semi-biographical tale of a son discovering that his father is actually his stepfather, while his mother’s grief turns her to sexually embrace her son, who strongly resembles the biological father.” WK As Vedder said, “the song’s protagonist ‘is still dealing with the death of [his] father’” and feels “puzzled and burdened by the knowledge that ‘I’m still alive.’” TM

Alive

Still, “no matter how cathartic Ten’s tersely titled songs got,” SH they were “just cryptic enough to get you thinking and not so brainy that it forgets to rock.” TM “They were never abrasive enough to affect the album’s accessibility,” SH which was aided by its “warm, rich sound.” GW “The result is a flawlessly crafted hard rock masterpiece.” SH


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Monday, August 12, 1991

Metallica released “The Black Album”: August 12, 1991

Originally posted August 12, 2012.

image from loudwire.com


Release date: 12 August 1991
Tracks: (Click for codes to singles charts.) Enter Sandman (8/10/91, #16 US, #5 UK, #10 AR, sales: 0.5 m) / Sad But True (12/5/92, #98 US, #20 UK, #15 AR) / Holier Than Thou / The Unforgiven (11/2/91, #35 US, #15 UK, #10 AR) / Wherever I May Roam (7/11/92, #82 US, #25 UK, #25 AR) / Don’t Tread on Me / Through the Never / Nothing Else Matters (3/14/92, #34 US, #6 UK, #11 AR) / Of Wolf and Man / The God That Failed / My Friend of Misery / The Struggle Within

Sales (in millions): 15.4 US, 0.3 UK, 24.6 world

Peak: 14 US, 11 UK

Rating:


Review: Depending on who you ask, Metallica’s eponymous 1991 release (nicknamed The Black Album for its monochromatic cover) “is either the band’s musical high point or the beginning of its downfall.” GW Previously, the group “wrote scathing diatribes about such topics as our desensitized society and the horrors of drug addiction, signed with a major record label, and then watched millions of kids buy these spewings, all without the benefit of one hummable melody.” EW “After the muddled production and ultracomplicated song structures of ...And Justice for All, Metallica decided that they had taken the progressive elements of their music as far as they could.” AMG After all, “You can only pound your head against a wall for so long before you get a headache.” EW

In an attempt to simplify their sound, “rock’s pre-eminent speed-metal cyclone” EW tapped Bob Rock, who had produced Bon Jovi and Mötley Crüe, to give them “crisp, professional production” AMG and add “a previously nonexistent warmth and depth to their sound.” GW The group “slowed down the tempos, streamlined the arrangements” GW and “the songs are tighter (the nine-minute behemoths of Justice are gone).” EW In addition, “the arrangements more concise, and the band plays actual hooks.” EW

Enter Sandman

“The band still roars and lumbers like Godzilla partying in Tokyo, but the lyrics are, well, introspective.” EW “The best songs are more melodic and immediate, the crushing, stripped-down grooves of Enter Sandman, Sad but True, and Wherever I May Roam sticking to traditional structures and using the same main riffs throughout.” AMG They “are three of the most direct and compelling tunes in Metallica’s catalog.” GW

Wherever I May Roam

On “Sad But True,” “grunting singer James Hetfield confesses his devotion to his partner while chastising her for not taking responsibility for her day-to-day life. Granted, it’s not '’Feelings,’ but huge leaps in emotional expression may be too much to expect from a band that titled its first album Kill ‘Em All.” EW Meanwhile, “Sandman,” “Roam,” and God That Failed are examples of how the group crafted “slower and more groove-oriented” AZ material while still featuring “the same heavy riffs and heavier rhythms that have always been a feature of Metallica's music.” AZ

Sad But True

Metallica “avoid the slash-and-burn guitar riffs that had always punctuated the band’s ballads.” AMG The “introspective” AZ The Unforgiven is “a sulking rumination on one man’s ruined life.” EW It “starts slowly, with crystalline overlays of acoustic and electric guitars, and builds to a cruncher with Kirk Hammett’s emotional, vibrato-drenched guitar solo. By welding the jackhammer attack of thrash to the complexities of old-fangled art rock, Metallica may have invented a new genre: progressive thrash.” EW

The Unforgiven

The “full-fledged love song” AMG Nothing Else Matters is “complete with string section, which works much better than might be imagined.” AMG “The video was extra jaw-dropping, showing the lads being (gasp!) sensitive in the studio.” BL Of the change in their sound, frontman James Hetfield said, “It’s scary to look out [at a show] and see couples hugging during that song.” RS500

Nothing Else Matters

“The song- and riff-writing slips here and there, a rare occurrence for Metallica, which some longtime fans interpreted as filler next to a batch of singles calculated for commercial success.” AMG While “the hard-core gagged at Metallica’s blatant commercialism,” BL “the band’s newly pared-down assault converted millions, making thrash seem almost mainstream” BL and “the biggest band in the world” GW with “one of the bestselling metal albums ever.” RS500

“In fact, the band’s popularity exploded so much that most of their back catalog found mainstream acceptance in its own right, while other progressively inclined speed metal bands copied the move toward simplification.” AMG At its best, Metallica “deservedly captured the heavy metal crown” AMG with “some of the best songwriting Metallica has ever done,” AZ but it “also foreshadowed a creative decline.” AMG


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Tuesday, August 6, 1991

Massive Attack released Blue Lines: August 6, 1991

image from wetcementwalls.blogspot.com

Originally posted 8/6/2012. Updated 3/9/2013.


Released: 6 August 1991
Tracks: (Click for codes to singles charts.) 1. Safe from Harm (6/8/91, #25 UK, #28 MR) 2. One Love 3. Blue Lines 4. Be Thankful for What You Got 5. Five Man Army 6. Unfinished Sympathy (2/23/91, #13 UK) 7. Daydreaming 8. Lately 10. Hymn of the Big Wheel

Sales (in millions): 0.2 US, 0.6 UK, 0.8 world (includes US and UK)

Peak: -- US, 6 UK

Rating:


Review: “Massive Attack set the standard for trip-hop long before anyone could categorize” RV the genre which “filtering American hip-hop through the lens of British club culture.” AMG Blue Lines was the genre’s “first masterpiece,” AMG “effectively exposed the connections between classic soul, dub reggae, hip-hop and even psychedelic rock into a record that a new generation could understand and no one could deny.” URB

The album’s “dark moodiness…exists in that twilight realm between sleep and waking” RV creating “a stylish, nocturnal sense of scene that encompassed music from rare groove to dub to dance.” AMG It “balances dark, diva-led club jams along the lines of Soul II Soul with some of the best British rap (vocals and production) heard up to that point, occasionally on the same track.” AMG

Safe from Harm

“The opener Safe from Harm is the best example” AMG of “this new breed of sound and all of the throbbing ecstasy it entails.” RV “Diva vocalist Shara Nelson” AMG “lays the vocals over…pulsing beats and balances Tricky Kid’s monotone rap style.” RV

“Even more than hip-hop or dance, however, dub is the big touchstone on Blue Lines. Most of the productions aren’t quite as earthy as you’d expect, but the influence is palpable in the atmospherics of the songs, like the faraway electric piano on One Love (with beautiful vocals from the near-legendary Horace Andy).” AMG

Five Man Army “makes the dub inspiration explicit, with a clattering percussion line, moderate reverb on the guitar and drums, and Andy’s exquisite falsetto flitting over the chorus.” AMG

Unfinished Sympathy

Blue Lines isn’t all darkness, either – Be Thankful for What You’ve Got is quite close to the smooth soul tune conjured by its title, and Unfinished Sympathy – the group’s first classic production – is a tremendously moving fusion of up-tempo hip-hop and dancefloor jam with slow-moving, syrupy strings. Flaunting both their range and their tremendously evocative productions, Massive Attack recorded one of the best dance albums of all time.” AMG

“By the time Blue Lines comes to a close with the layered orchestrations of Hymn of the Big Wheel, it’s clear Moby, Fatboy Slim, Portishead and Radiohead owe Massive Attack a debt of gratitude.” RV “It isn’t just a visionary soul record; it’s also a better slow-sex album than any other we can name.” VB


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