Tag Archives: 1993

Rocks In The Attic #642: Nirvana – ‘In Utero’ (1993)

RITA#642Last weekend I found a pair of perfectly good speakers on the side of the road. A handwritten sign – ‘FREE’ – was standing next to them. I did a quick u-turn and threw them in my car. New Zealand’s attitude to freecycling occasionally delivers gems like this. You could probably drive around all weekend and furnish your entire house with kerbside treasures that people are throwing away. The speakers are a lovely pair of Technics, standing 18” tall and my vinyl-collecting friend at work, who’s far more knowledgeable about hi-fi equipment, assures me they’re a very, very good find.

That’s if they still work, of course, because who in their right minds would throw away a perfectly good set of speakers? A quick trip to the local electronics store to get some speaker cable, and I can rest assured that not only do they work perfectly, but they also sound fucking awesome. It makes a world of difference to the set of (perfectly good for purpose) surround speakers I was running my turntable through previously.

Whenever I’m testing a new set-up – be it a new turntable, or a new amp, or a new set of speakers – the album I always turn to is Nirvana’s In Utero. My clear favourite of their three studio albums, it towers over their unripe debut, and their too-slick crossover follow-up. Steve Albini’s production sounds more like what I imagine the band’s natural sound to be, and it was the record I turned to when Kurt died as it was their final studio album.

The reason it’s so good to test hi-fi equipment is that it’s so dynamic, and so well recorded that it doesn’t sound like the product of pro-tools. After Albini’s initial production (foreshadowed by a great letter to the band), Geffen Records attempted to fix what they saw as an uncommercial record by employing Robert Ludwig to master it. Still unhappy, the master tapes were then given to REM producer Scott Litt, who remixed the singles alongside Andy Wallace (who had mixed Nevermind). With so many cooks in the kitchen, the album should sound conflicted, but to my ears it sounds perfect.

RITA#642aThe hi-fi recommendations in the inside cover of the CD booklet, something that you just don’t usually see in liner notes, have always made me chuckle. I suspect that rather than being a genuine instruction to listeners (unlikely), it’s an irreverent poke at the casual music fans the band were attracting (a more obscure jab than the lyrics to In Bloom).

RITA#642dAlthough I own a late ‘90s reissue of In Utero, I jumped at the chance to get the Steve Albini mix of the record, released to mark the album’s 20th anniversary. Running at 45rpm, and split across two discs, it’s a wonderful package. But while it’s very interesting to hear, I think I’ll always prefer the original version. Albini’s mix of the singles sound so much more in line with the rest of the album, and if anything the contrast shows how much the Scott Litt mix of those songs sounds like the range of dynamics you would hear on an REM single.

One thing I really liked around the 20th anniversary re-release was a memo that did the rounds on the internet, mocked up to look like a letter to record store owners, pleading with them to get behind the album’s reissue. I seem to remember some discussion at the time around whether it was genuine or not, but it’s clearly a joke – it’s dripping in cynicism, and reads like something that Kurt Cobain might have composed from beyond the grave.

I don’t usually pay much attention to the ‘thank you’ lists in liner notes, but there is one particular name on the In Utero sleeve that is deserving of a mention. The band listed Quentin Tarantino in this section – in 1993 a relatively cult director with only one film, Reservoir Dogs, to his name (and Pulp Fiction yet to be released). When the soundtrack to Pulp Fiction eventually saw the light of day in September 1994, Quentin repaid the favour and thanked the now-departed Cobain.

Hit: Heart Shaped Box

Hidden Gem: Radio Friendly Unit Shifter

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Rocks In The Attic #618: Hans Zimmer – ‘True Romance (O.S.T.)’ (1993)

RITA#618.jpgYou wait twenty-five years for a True Romance soundtrack to be released on vinyl, and then two turn up at once. Already this year, we’ve had the long-awaited pop soundtrack for the film seeing its debut on wax; now we have a release dedicated solely to Hans Zimmer’s score. Being a fan of all things Tarantino, I had to get this to complete my collection. I mean, the guy’s practically my best friend!

Do I need this score though? No, definitely not. The pop soundtrack captures a couple of tracks from Zimmer’s score and these serve as a pretty good representation. The full score actually gets a little tedious towards the end; the innocence of the main melody turns into something a little more serious. Out go the lovely xylophones and marimbas, and in come some really dated synth cues that feel a little out of place for what is an otherwise very cool film.

RITA#618aI’m starting to come around to Hans Zimmer. I’d previously written him off as a workaday composer, but I’m starting to appreciate the occasional hidden gem amongst his many scores (137 and counting). His soundtracks for Christopher Nolan (particularly Batman Begins and The Dark Knight) have been my favourite action scores this side of the turn of the century – perfectly blending digital sounds within a traditional orchestral score.

Hit: You’re So Cool (Main Title)

Hidden Gem: Not My Clothes

 

Rocks In The Attic #608: Various Artists – ‘True Romance (O.S.T.)’ (1993)

RITA#608.jpgIn the early 1990s, director Tony Scott was handed a piece of gold dust. Quentin Tarantino, a cocky, young up-start had been circling Hollywood for a few years trying to develop his first script, True Romance. Tarantino decided to sell the script, and Warner Brothers snapped it up greedily. In hindsight it would have been too large a project for a first-time director anyway.

Instead Tarantino turned his attention to his next script, a simpler heist story called Reservoir Dogs. This would have been an easier film to pitch with him as director – the heist is never seen, only referred to, and much of the film takes place in one location.

By the time he was handed Tarantino’s script, Tony Scott was already a blockbuster director, arguably more commercially successful than his older brother Ridley. While Ridley had scored critical successes with Alien and Blade Runner, Scott had directed Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop II and Days Of Thunder. His collaborations with super-producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer say more about his directing style than anything else.

True Romance then, becomes the lost Tarantino picture. His trademark dialogue is evident throughout the film – all pop-culture references and cooler than cool soundbites – but Scott’s input muddies the water somewhat. The cinematographers that Scott worked with throughout his ‘80s and ‘90s films had a very peculiar style. Lots of obtrusive close-ups, too many filtered interiors, and a very synthetic, staged camera set-up. By the time you get to something like 1996’s The Fan, the cinematography is so overbearing that the film is practically unwatchable.

Looking back, True Romance has one of the greatest ensemble casts of all time, featuring several actors who would go onto bigger things. Joining leads Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette were Michael Rapaport, Bronson Pinchot, Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken, Brad Pitt, Chris Penn, Tom Sizemore, Samuel L. Jackson and a pre-Sopranos James Gandolfini.

RITA#608aThe soundtrack also differs from most Tarantino films in that it has both a pop soundtrack and an original score, by Hans Zimmer (the only soundtrack of Tarantino’s to mix pop songs with an original score is The Hateful Eight). Zimmer’s score is delightful – practically a proto-Thomas Newman score before he rewrote the rulebook on esoteric, oddball soundtracks with 1996’s American Beauty.

Some of the pop songs wouldn’t be out of place on a Tarantino soundtrack. Charlie Sexton’s Graceland, Robert Palmer’s (Love Is) The Tender Trap and Chris Isaak’s Two Hearts feel like they belong in QT’s record collection, but mediocre tracks like Charles & Eddie’s Wounded Bird and John Waite’s In Dreams reminds you that this really is just a typical run of the mill blockbuster soundtrack, and wasn’t curated in any way by Tarantino. Even Soundgarden’s Outshined sounds a little too obvious. The absence of Aerosmith’s The Other Side – presumably due to rights reasons – is personally disappointing, but it would have just dated the soundtrack even more.

Hit: Outshined – Soundgarden

Hidden Gem: Graceland – Charlie Sexton

Rocks In The Attic #600: Aerosmith – ‘Get A Grip’ (1993)

RITA#600During their formation in the early 1970s, Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry initially rejected Steven Tyler’s proto-power ballad Dream On, believing that the only type of slow song the band should play was a slow blues. Perry was somehow won over (overruled? blackmailed?) by Tyler and they recorded the song in late 1972. It was a high point on the band’s self-titled 1973 debut, eventually becoming one of the band’s biggest hits, peaking at #6 on the U.S. Billboard Top 200 upon its re-release as a single in 1976.

Twenty years on, and Perry’s principles have been left behind in rehab with his various drug addictions. Either that or his accountant has managed to point out how many Ferraris and swimming pools Tyler’s ballads have paid for in the intervening decades. Their eleventh studio album, Get A Grip shows that Perry has all but given up in the struggle against Tyler’s proclivity towards slower, commercial songs.

Things don’t start well, with Tyler rapping – yes, rapping – over a drum loop. A snippet of their well-known Walk This Way riff completes the heavy-handed reference to the band’s crossover hit with Run-D.M.C., before making way for some Polynesian drums and the first song proper, Eat The Rich. It sets the scene well, with a heavy riff and a ballsy production by Bruce Fairbairn aimed at a grunge / alternative rock audience.

Something isn’t quite right though. Over their two previous records, Permanent Vacation (1987) and Pump (1989), Aerosmith showed that they could succeed by employing external songwriters. But Pump, the more successful of those albums, still had a decent proportion – 60% – of self-penned songs. With Get A Grip however, Aerosmith put almost all of the album – thirteen out of fifteen songs – into the hands of ‘song doctors’. As a result, the band sound less and less like the 1970s classic rock versions of themselves, and more and more like something created in a school for performing arts.

The album has no less than seven singles (released over a fourteen-month span), and this is where the album loses focus. It’s almost as if they were trying to create an album of singles, a ready-made Greatest Hits compilation. Released smack-bang in that early-‘90s period when nearly all rock albums tended to be sixty-plus minute affairs, the only limits were the band’s imagination (and the running length of a compact disc). As a result, it lacks the cohesion of Pump, and has far too much filler material.

Joe Perry should be happy though. The album contains a more than adequate dose of straightforward rockers, and he even gets to sing a self-penned number (the refreshing Walk On Down). However, it isn’t power ballads that Perry should be looking out for; Steven Tyler has a new weapon in his arsenal – country-rock. Be afraid, be very afraid.

One of the most joyous moments on Pump was its final song What It Takes – a slow-burning country-tinged ballad, co-written by Tyler and Perry with Desmond Child. Something about it didn’t seem serious though. Tyler hams it up by singing the lyrics in a southern drawl, and it sounds more like the band is having fun playing in a different style than a serious attempt at a change in genre.

Fast forward four years and either Tyler has been bitten by the country bug or somebody has pointed out how lucrative the country market is. Two of Get A Grip’s singles – Cryin’ and Crazy – are unashamedly country rock, and this time the band aren’t playing around. They’re deadly serious. By 1993, two of Garth Brooks’ four albums had debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 – a feat Aerosmith could only dream of at that point – so it’s difficult to view their change of direction without a degree of cynicism. Get A Grip would be their first record to peak at #1, so maybe the left turn into country music paid off.

The album does have some high-points– the cosmic jam of Gotta Love It finds them channelling the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Line Up is a welcome collaboration with Lenny Kravitz and Boogie Man might just be the weirdest, most soothing guitar instrumental you’ve ever heard after Fleetwood Mac’s Albatross.

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The Get A Grip tour programme

But it’s the big singles that are the showcase of the album. Released a month in advance, Living On The Edge is a weighty rocker, with the band in important-message-to-the-youth-of-today mode. It’s so earnest; a million miles away from the band who had recently been singing about transvestites and sex in elevators. The other notable hits – the Alicia Silverstone music video trilogy of Cryin’, Amazing and Crazy – are as commercial sounding as possible. Chart fodder, indistinguishable from a Bon Jovi record.

I saw Aerosmith on the Get A Grip tour, in Sheffield on Thursday October 21st 1993, the very first concert I went to, and so the record means a lot to me. I just wish that such an important record in my musical upbringing was a better record.

If Pump represented a high water-mark for the second age of Aerosmith, Get A Grip signals the beginning of a long, slippery slope downhill.

Hit: Livin’ On The Edge

Hidden Gem: Gotta Love It

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Rocks In The Attic #563: Stone Temple Pilots – ‘MTV Unplugged 1993’ (2016)

rita563Thank f**k for bootlegs. I reckon I might be waiting until the end of my days for Atlantic Records to dig this one for an official release, so thankfully the enterprising Russian chaps at DOL Records put this out last year. DOL were also responsible for putting out Aerosmith’s 1973 radio appearance at Paul’s Mall, so they’ve come out of nowhere to be one of my favourite – ahem – enterprising record labels.

I used to listen to so much STP in my teens that I almost can’t tell when one songs ends and another one starts. They’re burnt into my DNA. I was sad to see it was the anniversary of Scott Weiland’s death at the beginning of December. What a loss, albeit certainly not an unexpected one.

I don’t think I ever saw the original transmission of STP’s Unplugged set back in the day on MTV. While it might have been in heavy rotation across the Atlantic, it definitely didn’t see that kind of airplay in the UK. In fact, once Kurt Cobain killed himself, pretty much all of the rock programming on the channel was taken over by Nirvana.

When STP released their second record, Purple, they released one of the singles, Vasoline, with a couple of songs from the Unplugged set. I know these versions of the debut album’s Crackerman and David Bowie’s Andy Warhol like the back of my hands, and have always wanted to hear the full set. The wonder of the Internet allowed me to watch the show a couple of years ago, and then I finally got my hands on this disc last year.

Hopefully an official version will see the light of day someday. DOL are great at finding unreleased material to put in stores, but their mastering leaves a lot to be desired. On that early Aerosmith record, they change the running order of the songs to make them fit on the two sides better, and on this STP record there’s a one-second gap of air in the audience reaction between a couple of the tracks, like a badly mastered home CD. Still, beggars can’t be choosers.

Hit: Plush

Hidden Gem: Crackerman

Rocks In The Attic #300: Various Artists – ‘Dazed And Confused (O.S.T.)’ (1993)

RITA#300Rocks In The Attic turns 300!

Not only a great film, Richard Linklater’s Dazed And Confused also has a killer soundtrack – probably the one soundtrack that has had the greatest influence on the rest of my record collection. I’ve waited a long to get this on vinyl, and finally on Record Store Day this year it was released to celebrate the film’s 20th anniversary. I had to get it shipped over from the USA by my local record store, but it was worth the wait. It’s a double vinyl, and – to borrow a line from the film, “…it’s green too!”

I first heard about Dazed And Confused on my daily walk to school when I was 15. My good friend Ant used to do the same walk – through the fields behind my parents’ house that are no longer fields (they’re a housing estate), past the Elk mill that’s no longer a mill (it was demolished to make way for a retail centre) – and onto Clayton playing fields towards North Chadderton school.

On these walks, Ant would tell me about stuff he’d picked up from his brother. I owe my love of Bill Hicks to Ant and his brother – and I also owe my love of Dazed And Confused to them. Ant probably lent me their VHS copy of the film, but it wouldn’t be long until I acquired my own copy, and played it many, many time over the next few years into my late teens. I’d take this film to University with me, and turn lots of my friends onto it over the years.

On paper, Dazed And Confused doesn’t sound very interesting. It’s the story of high-school kids in Texas on their last day of school, but nothing really happens. There’s very little plot – just a lot of good music and more of a feeling about the time and place rather than any tangible storyline. But that’s probably true of a lot of youth films – Quadrophenia, The Breakfast Club, American Graffiti, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, etc.

Other than the killer soundtrack, the film also boasts an impressive cast of actors before they hit the big time – Ben Affleck, Matthew McConaughey, Milla Jovovich, Renée Zellweger, Parker Posey and Adam Goldberg all pop up in small but memorable roles.

But let’s talk about the music. I must have bought the soundtrack on CD as soon as I saw it, and it became the soundtrack to my summer of 1995. It’s fourteen tracks of rock music – some of which was already familiar to me – Sabbath’s Paranoid, ZZ Top’s Tush, Alice Cooper’s School’s Out – but it introduced me to a whole lot more.

For me, the soundtrack acted as a sampler – it turned me onto Ted Nugent’s first solo album, Skynyrd’s debut album and deepened my love of early ZZ Top. The second iteration of the soundtrack – Even More Dazed And Confused – even showed me that it’s okay to like Frampton Comes Alive!.

In fact, I love that second CD as much as the first. I remember being at a party at Palatine Road in Manchester and using Moo’s knowledge of Bob Dylan to collectively figure out why two of the film’s songs wasn’t included on either CD – Aerosmith’s Sweet Emotion and Dylan’s Hurricane are both on the Columbia record label, so there must have been some conflict of interest with The Medicine Label who brought out the soundtrack albums.

It’s almost criminal that the Aerosmith track isn’t included on the soundtrack – it’s the song that opens the film! I hear this was a last minute substitution though, after Robert Plant wouldn’t allow Linklater to use the Zeppelin song of the film’s name over those opening credits. Perhaps they just didn’t have time to think about whether they’d be able to clear Sweet Emotion for the soundtrack album.

There are a lot of hidden gems on this album. For one, the slow-burn of Ted Nugent’s Stranglehold reminds me of cruising around in a pale yellow Nissan Stanza with Stotty and Bez on Friday and Saturday nights. Good times!

Hit: Slow Ride – Foghat

Hidden Gem: Low Rider – War

Rocks In The Attic #280: Shihad – ‘Churn’ (1993)

RITA#280Before I came to New Zealand, there were only two New Zealand bands I had heard of – Crowded House, obviously, and Shihad. In fact, I didn’t even know Shihad were a Kiwi band. I’d heard some of their material and thought they were American, which isn’t a difficult mistake to make. But I had heard of them nevertheless.

Since living in the country, I’ve come to understand that they’re a national institution – a national treasure, if you will – which is odd considering that they started their career as a metal band, and a pretty heavy one too. Churn, their debut album from 1993 is a very heavy album, and doesn’t sound too much like the radio-friendly band that they would evolve into over the next twenty years.

My contact with Shihad in the five years I’ve been living in New Zealand has been with them fulfilling one of their key roles – that of New Zealand’s most prominent support band. It seems if there’s a big hard rock / metal band touring in New Zealand, you can almost bet Shihad will be supporting. I saw them play a radio-friendly set, supporting AC/DC in 2010, and earlier this year I saw them support a reformed Black Sabbath. Their set supporting Sabbath couldn’t have been any more different to the AC/DC slot – they drew heavily from this album, which had been re-released on vinyl for the first time that day – Record Store Day – to celebrate the album’s 20th year; and they were obviously playing to the more hardcore metal fans who had turned out to see Ozzy, Tony and Geezer.

Hit: Stations

Hidden Gem: Factory