Tag Archives: 1991

Rocks In The Attic #638: Metallica – ‘Metallica’ (1991)

RITA#638The top-selling album of the past 25 years, or so the hype sticker says, this takes me back. When I was fourteen, this sounding like nothing else: heavy, thunderous, massive. Plenty of the bands I was into at the time were loud and heavy, but Metallica’s Black Album (as this record became to be known) just sounded huge.

Now, of course, it seems quite tame. Strip away the bombast and what you’re left with is a well recorded, well engineered and well produced heavy rock album. After four records of long-form songs that straddled the fence between thrash-metal and prog-metal, the band took a chance by employing Bob Rock in the producer’s chair.

Rock had engineered Bob Jovi’s Slippery When Wet (1986) and Aerosmith’s Permanent Vacation (1987), before winning acclaim for producing Mötley Crue’s Dr. Feelgood (1989). The big difference he brought to Metallica was in commercialising their sound, slowing them down in tempo, and shortening their songs. The Metallica of old would pack as many ideas as possible into one song, lasting anywhere between four and nine minutes, before running out of ideas. The Black Album’s songs are boiled down in their arrangements, to the extent that they become radio-friendly, almost…dare I say it…structured like pop songs.

As much as I loved it as a teenager, the record has definitely lost a lot of its appeal in the intervening years. Radio has done to this record as a metal album what it has done for Led Zeppelin II as a rock album: overplayed it to death. There’s no intrigue left. Hetfield, Hammett, Newsted and Ulrich used to be enigmatic (to a degree), but watching the band sit around with their analyst in Some Kind Of Monster (2004) showed that they’re very much real people, plagued by the kinds of insecurities and anxieties that stifle us all.

Hit: Enter Sandman

Hidden Gem: My Friend Of Misery

Rocks In The Attic #624: Howard Shore – ‘The Silence Of The Lambs (O.S.T.)’ (1991)

RITA#624.jpgPop quiz, people: what’s the link between this Jonathan Demme film and Miloš Forman’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest from 1975?

Clue – it isn’t that they’re both set in mental asylums, although of course that is undoubtedly true; the answer is something more specific. Just like the magazine quiz in the Sunday papers, you can find the answer at the bottom of the page!

“Starling! Starling! Crawford wants to see you in his office.”

So begins one of the best films of the 1990’s, and arguably the best Thomas Harris adaptation. Hipsters will try and claim Michael Mann’s Manhunter (1986) – the first film adaptation of Harris’ Red Dragon ­– but that feels very dated now, compared to the later, admittedly duller, remake, Red Dragon (2002). Manhunter isn’t even the best Michael Mann film – surely that accolade would sit with Thief (1981) or Heat (1995).

While Manhunter introduced the character of Dr. Hannibal Lecter to the silver screen, Lambs stands head and shoulders apart from the earlier film and Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal is so different to Brian Cox’s version that it feels like a different character altogether.

Fresh off her Best Actress winning role in 1998’s The Accused, Jodie Foster plays Clarice Starling, a trainee FBI agent tasked with interviewing an incarcerate Lecter on the current serial killer at large, Buffalo Bill. Like all great films and television shows, the naive Starling acts as our guide into this world for which she isn’t ready.

RITA#624aAnother clue for the pop quiz at the top of the page – the third film that links The Silence Of The Lambs and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is Frank Capra’s 1934 proto-romantic comedy It Happened One Night.

Even if you take away Lambs most thrilling scene – the sequence involving Lecter’s escape from a heavily locked-down Tennessee courthouse – and the film’s many, many contributions to ‘90s popular culture, there’s still a lot to love. Howard Score’s musical score is very highly strung, with a recurring theme that resonates with Starling’s unease into Lecter and Buffalo Bill’s territory, every performance from the principals down to the support roles and bit-parts feels just right, and the film’s final switcheroo when Starling knocks on the door of a lead, while the FBI storm the house of their main suspect, is just wonderful – a cinematic device I’ve seen imitated many times since but never bettered.

The only aspect of the film now that doesn’t work as well as it might have done upon release is Demme’s use of extreme close-up. While this works with the voyeuristic theme of the film, in practice it feels a little too jarring, particularly when used in relatively benign scenes like, for example, the scene where Starling and her FBI colleagues watch the TV news press conference by the parents of Buffalo Bill’s latest victim.

“I do wish we could chat longer, but… I’m having an old friend for dinner. Bye.”

Hit: Main Title

Hidden Gem: The Cellar

RITA#624bANSWER: All three films – It Happened One Night, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and The Silence Of The Lambs – won the ‘big five’ academy awards in their respective years: Best Picture, Best Director (Demme), Best Actor (Hopkins), Best Actress (Foster) and either of the two screenplay awards, in this case Best Adapted Screenplay (Ted Tally).

Now, while this is one of my tried and tested trivia facts, and something I’ve bored countless people with over the years, what I find even more interesting are the films which were nominated for the ‘big five’, but didn’t pull off a clean sweep like these three films did. As of the latest Academy Awards in February 2017, a total of forty three films have been nominated for the ‘big five’. The following list ranks each of the forty three by their number of wins in the ‘big five’ categories:

Four
Gone With The Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939)
Mrs. Miniver (William Wyler, 1942)
Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977)
American Beauty (Sam Mendes, 1999)

Three
From Here To Eternity (Fred Zinnemann, 1953)
The Apartment (Billy Wilder, 1960)
Network (Sidney Lumet, 1976)
Coming Home
(Hal Ashby, 1978)
On Golden Pond
(Mark Rydell, 1981)
Million Dollar Baby
(Clint Eastwood, 2004)

Two
Cimarron (Wesley Ruggles, 1931)
The Philadelphia Story
(George Cukor, 1940)
Gentleman’s Agreement
(Elia Kazan, 1947)
A Place In The Sun
(George Stevens, 1951)
The Country Girl
(George Seaton, 1954)
Room At The Top
(Jack Clayton, 1959)
Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner
(Stanley Kramer, 1967)
The Lion In The Winter
(Anthony Harvey, 1968)
Rocky
(John G. Avildsen, 1976)
The English Patient
(Anthony Minghella, 1996)
La La Land (Damien Chazelle, 2016)

One
A Star Is Born (William A. Wellman, 1937)
Goodbye, Mr. Chips
(Sam Woodm 1939)
Rebecca
(Alfred Hitchcock, 1940)
Johnny Belinda
(Jean Negulesco, 1948)
Sunset Boulevard
(Billy Wilder, 1950)
A Streetcar Named Desire
(Elia Kazan, 1951(
Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?
(Mike Nichols, 1967)
The Graduate
(Mike Nicols, 1967)
Reds
(Warren Beatty, 1981)
Silver Linings Playbook
(David O. Russell, 2012)

Zero
Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (Richard Brooks, 1958)
The Hustler
(Robert Rossen, 1961)
Bonnie And Clyde
(Arthur Penn, 1967)
Love Story
(Arthur Hiller, 1970)
Lenny
(Bob Fosse, 1974)
Atlantic City
(Louis Malle, 1981)
The Remains Of The Day
(James Ivory, 1993)
American Hustle
(David O. Russell, 2013)

RITA#624c

Rocks In The Attic #571: Soundgarden – ‘Badmotorfinger’ (1991)

rita571I think I remember the first time I ever heard Jesus Christ Pose. Who wouldn’t? It was a B-side on the single to Black Hole Sun; a live version from South Dakota. Boom – what a song. Just white noise and a screaming vocal. What the hell are these guys smoking?

Then I found the album somewhere. Maybe Jesus Christ Pose is the only good song on the album, I thought? Pah! First track – Rusty Cage. Oomph! Then Outshined – what a groove!

Soundgarden are from Seattle – so the obvious thing at the time was to lump them in with the grunge movement of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. But that grunge label was really just a lazy way to pigeon-hole a bunch of bands together that didn’t really share anything except geography. Where Nirvana was just a punk band, and Pearl Jam was a classic rock band with an overproduced debut album, Soundgarden’s sound was straight ahead metal – a heavy, sludgy, American answer to Black Sabbath, with a scream to match.

Badmotorfinger is album number three for Soundgarden, and their last one before they crossed over into the mainstream and onto MTV with 1994’s Superunknown. It’s also the first Soundgarden record to feature Ben Shepherd on bass, who replaced Jason Everman following the Louder Than Love tour.

Jason Everman – the man that grunge forgot – is an interesting character. First, he was credited as the second guitarist on Nirvana’s debut Bleach, despite not playing on the record (Kurt Cobain provided the credit to thank Everman for stumping the $606.17 it cost to record the album) and being ejected from the band shortly after. He joined Soundgarden for the Louder Than Love tour, before leaving straight after – and effectively missing out on the band’s advancing career. In 1994, just as grunge was imploding on MTV, Everman joined the U.S. Army, and completed tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. In a nice nod to their former member, Nirvana invited Everman along to their Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction in 2014.

Hit: Jesus Christ Pose

Hidden Gem: Mind Riot

Rocks In The Attic #478: R.E.M. – ‘Unplugged 1991’ (2014)

RITA#478I’m glad that MTV’s Unplugged shows are gradually becoming more and more available on vinyl. Only the other day I picked up a bootleg of Stone Temple Pilots’ fantastic Unplugged set from 1993. Of course, the really famous ones are Eric Clapton’s Grammy award winning record from 1992, and Nirvana’s swansong show in 1993, also a Grammy winner.  Now if they would just release Aerosmith’s 1990 show, I’d be very happy.

As cynical as you want to be about the whole Unplugged thing – a soul-less cash-in by a corporate TV station only interested in producing programming content – it’s become a nice little time capsule of early ‘90s rock and alternative rock. Of course the show is still going to this day, but the last one recorded was by Miley Cyrus in 2014 which shows just how much it’s devolved over time. It’s just a ratings chaser and always has been. In the early ‘90s, it was Nirvana fans and Pearl Jam fans who were propping up the album charts, these days it’s tweens propping up the download charts.

RITA#478a
R.E.M.’s first Unplugged set (they recorded another one in 2001) is dated between 1991’s Out Of Time and 1992’s Automatic For The People – effectively smack bang in the peak of their career. They take the time to go as far back as their debut record Murmur( for Perfect Circle), and of their studio albums only Reckoning and Fables Of The Reconstruction are passed over. The set does lean a little more towards the later albums – Green and Out Of Time – which is understandable considering how the music videos from those albums had opened the door to the wave of Alternative Rock which would fill the station for the first half of the 1990s.

The sound on this record is superb, and my only gripe is that the guitars all sound a little too clear and bright. That’s R.E.M. all over though – jangly ‘80s pop guitars rather than an authentic dusty blues guitar vibe.

Hit: Losing My Religion

Hidden Gem: Rotary Eleven

Rocks In The Attic #424: Guns N’ Roses – ‘Use Your Illusion II’ (1991)

RITA#424The companion piece to Use Your Illusion I, this one was always my favourite of the two, really just because it has You Could Be Mine on it. In the early ‘90s, when I first heard this album I was already a huge movie fan, and so I knew the song like the back of my hand from its appearance in Terminator 2: Judgement Day.

Listening to the album twenty four years later, it feels more and more bloated with every listen. The record kicks off with Civil War which immediately leaves a sour taste in my mouth, being the last song that Steven Adler played drums on before he was unceremoniously kicked out of the band. When they said goodbye to Adler, they also said goodbye to the one component that brought swing to the band.

Matt Sorum may be a fine replacement, but he’s nothing special – a rock by numbers drummer, with none of the groove that Adler splashed all over Appetite For Destruction. Adler is sorely missed, and instead of sounding sleazy, the overall sound is too polished, too safe to be considered dangerous. If anything, it just made me mad that people would lap this turgid crap up by the bucketload, but only a few years later one of my favourite British rock bands, the Wildhearts, would sell a decimal point worth of records in comparison – even though everything they released was innovative, energetic and more interesting. There are more riffs in one three-minute Wildhearts song than in an eight minute GNR epic like Estranged or November Rain.

Use Your Illusion II also gives us Get In The Ring – a huge, embarrassing mess of a song aimed at the band’s rock critics. In this sickeningly jolly, uptempo number, Axl Rose embraces his southern hick sensibilities and calls out several journalists who had stuck in his craw over the years. His vocals sound like the sort of thing you’d hear in a trailer park around midnight on a Friday, before the camera crew from Cops turns up, and an overweight police officer jumps on somebody and shouts “Stop resisting!” as he employs  excessive force. Instead of sounding dangerous, Axl sounds pitiful. What a way to prove your critics right.

I’ve never owned The Spaghetti Incident? I have no reason to. After this, GNR were dead to me. And I wouldn’t even consider listening to Chinese Democracy. What a fall from grace. At one point, Guns N’ Roses were the biggest rock band in the world – but history keeps confirming that they really only had one great album.

Hit: You Could Be Mine

Hidden Gem: So Fine

Rocks In The Attic #294: Nirvana – ‘Nevermind’ (1991)

RITA#294Like a lot of people my age, this was the first exposure I had to grunge music. At first, the very idea of grunge just didn’t appeal to me – a genre made up of scruffy guys with bad hair and lumberjack shirts. Then my friends kept playing Smells Like Teen Spirit, and the intro burrowed into my head like an earworm.

I have trouble listening to this record now. I can’t hear anything resembling punk or new wave anymore; all I can hear is the perfect production by Butch Vig – the fantastic separation of voice and instruments, and the rampant double-tracking on the vocals.

There’s a great episode of Classic Albums where Vig isolates the vocals on In Bloom and you can hear just how strong those vocal melodies are on the chorus – Cobain’s lead vocal double-tracked, and then supported by Dave Grohl’s backing vocals, also double-tracked. Vig convinced Cobain that this was a good idea because it’s something that John Lennon would have done. That in itself sounds like a million miles away from punk rock.

Of the two albums, I prefer In Utero as a piece of work, and always have done. The songwriting isn’t overshadowed by the production on that album; and despite that album being the soundtrack to Cobain’s suicide, there doesn’t seem to be as much hype and baggage to put up with. I do enjoy the second side of Nevermind though, when you get away from all the overplayed singles that are littered on the first side. The album just seems to breathe a little easier on that side.

Still, Nevermind holds a lot of memories for me, and always will. That crazy photo of the baby underwater is a beautiful image – and proof that classic album covers didn’t die out in the digital age. Even the blurry photo of the band (on the back of the record sleeve, but on the inlay of the CD if I remember correctly) brings a smile to my face. In fact, the whole production design of the album is pretty awesome – the album title written in a font to make it look like it’s floating on top of water, and the back cover made to look like shimmering sunlight refracted through the water of a swimming pool. I spent many an hour of my teens just looking at the album art, and at that age you read far too much into every little thing. It just seemed important.

Throughout my adolescence (in the UK) I encountered plenty of people who were anti-American. These people will eschew anything from that side of the Atlantic, while singing the praises of anything recorded by the British, just simply because it’s British. I’ve never really understood this musical racism, and some of my closest friends have been blighted by it.

I was asked once why would I want to listen to an American chap singing about killing himself, when I could listen to an Englishman sing about living forever?

The answer is simple – there’s more joy and energy in one line of a Kurt Cobain’s song than in a lifetime of Oasis records. I’ll take invention and imagination over mediocrity any day.

Hit: Smells Like Teen Spirit

Hidden Gem: Lounge Act