Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Hump Day Shuffle: 1992

1. Stone Temple Pilots - Wicked Garden - Core
I've been up and down on this album so many times over the years. I was big into it right away, for all the reasons any 13-year-old would dig a hard rock album that was blowing up all over the place. Then I grabbed onto the "copycat" backlash. Then jettisoned it from my collection all together. Then reacquired it, for old times' sake. Then listened to it occasionally for a couple years. Then re-thought the flaws - chiefly how obviously derivative it was. Then watched Weiland's ridiculously made-for-tabloid personal life take more and more strange turns. Then found Velvet Revolver turning my stomach. Then kinda forgot about STP all together. Then found it on shuffle, and remembered every bit of those ups and downs.

2. John Mellencamp - Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat - Bob Dylan: The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration
Yikes. As much as I like the idea of an all-star blow-out tribute to Bob Dylan, this thing reeked of exploitation from the outset. Dylan was skeptical and hesitant from the beginning, and on a whole separate plane of existence musically, in the midst of a rather uncommercial folk revival period. And the guest list had plenty of wrong choices. But despite all the problems, there are some impossibly excellent gems from the project. Not this Mellencamp number, mind you. I'm thinking more the excellent "Masters of War" from Pearl Jam and the bury-all-egos "My Back Pages," which is what an all-star blow-out tribute should be all about.

3. Emmylou Harris - Smoke Along the Track - At The Ryman
I only started digging into Emmylou (besides the greatest hits album) after seeing her play in San Francisco a year and a half ago, and I snagged this live album mostly because I wanted to hear her cover Steve Earle's "Guitar Town." It's excellent, but I stopped there for some reason. The fact is nothing she's ever recorded has been bad, and the backing band on this one is excellent, so a brand new track like this one seems familiar and comforting right off the bat.

4. Flaming Lips - The Sun - Hit To Death In The Future Head
I still find it hard to believe that the Flaming Lips have spent nearly 17 years on Warner Brothers Records. But in 1992, major labels actually were willing to sign left-field acts. This isn't the earliest Flaming Lips record I've managed to acquire, but it's the earliest one I've listened to with any regularity, and I got to say, it's just plain weird. I love that about the band, but I love it much more when the music reached higher peaks. This song kinda sounds like the Meat Puppets, if they grew up a few states further east, which up until the Soft Bulletin is a description that could've been applied to just about anything the Flaming Lips came up with.

5. Arrested Development - Mama's Always On Stage - 3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life Of...
Another album I had from pretty much when it came out, but this one I've actually managed to keep to this day, to my endless surprise. I liked the hits, and as a young teen never had the patience for anything else. Just a bit too commercial to fit in with the Native Tongues bands, and too much of a one-hit wonder to fit in anywhere else but made-for-TV 90s compilation albums, this is a curious album to hear after so many years.

6. Bob Dylan - Diamond Joe - Good As I Been To You
See, this is what Dylan was all about when Columbia tried filling Madison Square Garden with hosanas in a transparent attempt to move a double album of Dylan covers. A collection of traditional folk covers (with a horrible album front) must've been the last thing the label wanted their legendary act to deliver, but damnit if the songs don't sound fantastic. The chameleon struck again...

7. Beastie Boys - Groove Holmes - Check Your Head
Wow. When this one came on I thought I'd stumbled onto a Medeski, Martin & Wood track I didn't know I had. I've never been a huge Beastie Boys fan, and though over the years I gladly copied all their albums from Mr. Chair I think I've only ever listened to the songs I already knew from radio. This is funky organ-driven jazz. Weird.

8. Mary J. Blige - Intro Talk - What's The 411
It was Mike Doughty's cover of "Real Love" on his Skittish album that finally made me check out Mary J. Blige, and while the album has never thrilled me, I found enough unexpected features to come out with thumbs up. For one, she brings in Busta Rhymes as a prominent contributor, which is never a bad thing. Still, "Real Love" is the album's highlight, and I have to confess I'll always prefer Doughty's version.

9. The Pharcyde - Officer - Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde
Another early (mid?) hip-hop classic that I never got passed the hits on. Jazzy and funky, it's an interesting notion in 2009 to stand this album alongside The Chronic, which brought a sort of paranoid intensity and an entirely new theory of sound to West Coast hip-hop. (The proceeding sentence was courtesy of the fact that I only really know "Passin' Me By" from this album, and the fact that I'd rather any song from The Chronic have come up on shuffle instead.)

10. Morphine - You Speak My Language - Good
Even thought I'll never see Good as anything other than a warm-up for the excellent Cure For Pain, one of the albums I played to death for several years and would still call one of the top 10 records of the 1990s, it's worth remembering how out of place a sax-bass-drums trio was in the early 1990s. I love the band, and even though I did get the opportunity to see them play once, I remain heartbroken by Mark Sandman's death, which was mere weeks before Morphine was supposed to join Soul Coughing for a show at Phoenix's Celebrity Theatre. I have no doubt that would've been a show I'd still be talking about in 2009.

Morphine - You Speak My Language (live)

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