Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Offspring

Sound Familiar?
“Come Out and Play,” “Self Esteem,” “Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)”

Who Are They?
One of the bands responsible for reviving mainstream interest in punk in the ‘90s.

Way back in 1983, Bryan “Dexter” Holland and Greg Kriesel decided to form a band after being refused entry to a Social Distortion show. They called themselves Manic Subsidal and eventually picked up Doug Thompson, James Lilja and Kevin “Noodles” Wasserman. (Fun fact: Noodles was a school janitor and quite a bit older than the other guys. Dexter and Greg allegedly let him join the band because he was old enough to buy them alcohol.)

After a small lineup change, the band changed its name to The Offspring in 1986. The boys recorded a few demos, lost a drummer (who went on to pursue a career in gynecology) and signed to Nemesis Records in 1988. The Offspring’s self-titled debut was released in limited numbers in 1989 and a proper CD release didn’t surface until 1995. After a six-week national tour, the band ditched Nemesis Records for Epitaph and released Ignition in 1992.

Ignition exceeded everyone’s expectations and led The Offspring to tour with the likes of Pennywise, No Doubt and Voodoo Glow Skulls.

But these California punk rockers didn’t achieve mainstream success until the release of the aptly-titled Smash in 1994. Thanks to huge singles like “Self Esteem” and “Come Out and Play,” Smash went on 16 million copies, a record for an independent label band.

Since they had a ton of cash to blow at this point, Dexter and Greg created their own label called Nitro Records. The label signed quite a few punk bands, including The Vandals and Guttermouth.

Smash’s follow-up, 1996’s Ixnay on the Hombre, didn’t do as well. The album marked a departure from the band’s signature punk sound with more mainstream rock songs like “All I Want” and “Gone Away.”

The Offspring’s ascension to mainstream status reached critical mass with 1998’s Americana. The album spawned three of the band’s biggest hits to date: “Pretty Fly (For a White Guy),” “Why Don’t You Get a Job?” and “The Kids Aren’t Alright.”

The boys rounded out the decade by appearing at Woodstock '99. (As always, I have included the entire set for your viewing pleasure.)

Where Are They Now?
Riding the success of a brand new album and tour.

The Offspring greeted the new millennium with just a hint of controversy. Conspiracy of One, the band’s sixth studio album, was originally supposed to be online through the official website, but the bigwigs at Sony put a stop to that. The Offspring just wanted to show its support for downloading music on the Internet. What’s so bad about that? (Fun fact: The band sold T-shirts with the Napster logo on them and donated the money to Napster founder Shawn Fanning.)

Drummer Ron Weity split in 2003 and replaced by Josh Freese during the recording of Splinter, then by Adam “Atom” Willard after the album’s release. Splinter’s original title was supposed to be Chinese Democrazy (You Snooze, You Lose), named after the long-delayed Guns N’ Roses album. Axl Rose got wind of this and did what he does best: pitch a bitch fit. He filed a cease and desist order against The Offspring, but took it back once he realized the album’s title was announced on April 1.

After a greatest hits album and an appearance at Warped Tour, The Offspring went on a short hiatus. During this time, Atom left the band to join Tom DeLonge’s pet project Angels & Airwaves.

The band’s eighth studio album, Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace, was released in 2008 to mixed reviews. The second single, “You’re Gonna Go Far, Kid,” landed at number one on the Hot Modern Rock Tracks chart and stayed there for 11 weeks.

The Offspring’s most recent album, 2012’s Days Go By, has also received mixed reviews, with particularly negative ones from Spin and Rolling Stone.

But Why The Offspring?
Along with having a brand new album to tour behind, the band will co-headline the 2013 Soundwave Festival in Australia with Metallica and Linkin Park.

What Does Sam Think?
I love ‘90s pop punk bands and you should, too. They helped bring punk to the mainstream, and no, I don’t consider that a bad thing. It’s accessible music that’s a little jagged around the edges. It doesn’t try to be hardcore or no wave or anarcho-punk. Pop punk is fun, but not “bubblegum pop” fun. Of course, I’m talking early pop punk, not the lame bands you see today (ahem, All Time Low). Green Day, Rancid, Operation Ivy, Social Distortion, The Offspring. These are names you should know.

Now let’s look at The Offspring. This band, along with Green Day, rode the mainstream wave longer than the rest of the scene and doesn’t show signs of stopping. Granted, The Offspring continues to dive into modern rock territory (see the decidedly mediocre Days Go By), but the pop punk roots are still there.

Smash is the band’s best album. Period. It’s a prime example of where punk was going in the ‘90s (see also: Green Day’s Dookie and Rancid’s …And Out Come the Wolves). It’s fast, but not too fast. You can hear the influence from The Ramones, but the songs have a bit more substance. “Self Esteem” remains one of the best Offspring tunes because it’s just so punk rock, man. No, but seriously, that riff is so heavy, sometimes I wonder how it reached all those teenyboppers.

This band is just coasting along now. These guys will always have a loyal fan base, but they really haven’t put out a solid album in a while. Yeah, they’ve passed the point of having to prove themselves to an audience, but come on. The Offspring is capable of so much more than Days Go By.

My advice to this band is to go back underground, experiment a little and come back with a fresh outlook on music. (Same goes for you, Green Day.)

-- Sam Boyer, reporting from the ‘90s.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Marcy Playground

Sound Familiar?
“Sex and Candy”

Who Are They?
Classic ‘90s one-hit-wonders responsible for one of the most frequently asked questions of the decade: “What the hell is disco lemonade?”

Marcy Playground (named after the elementary school front man John Wozniak attended) achieved success early on with its debut self-titled album and this little ditty called “Sex and Candy.” Prior to the band’s formation, John had already recorded an album of his own called Zog BogBean – From the Marcy Playground in 1990. Two songs from that record (“Our Generation” and “The Dog and His Master”) would appear on later Marcy Playground albums.

After attending notable liberal arts school Evergreen State College, John moved to New York and hooked up with his pal Jared Kotler. Once bassist Dylan Keefe joined the band, Marcy Playground began to play shows in NYC and eventually signed to Capitol Records in 1995. Unfortunately, John and Jared couldn’t get past their personal problems, so Jared split and Dan Rieser stepped in just in time to record Marcy Playground in 1997.

The album’s first single, “Poppies,” failed to make a splash, but once “Sex and Candy” hit the radio waves, the band’s popularity skyrocketed. (Fun fact: “Sex and Candy” knocked Oasis’ “Wonderwall” out of the number one spot on Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks list.)

But what does “Sex and Candy” mean, you ask? Well, according to John, the title is a reference to an evening he spent in his girlfriend’s dorm room when he was 17. The girl’s roommate walked into the room and said, “Oh, it smells like sex and candy in here!” John liked the phrase, so that’s why we have a song called “Sex and Candy.” As for the meaning behind the lyrics, your guess is as good as mine. (But according to Urban Dictionary, “disco lemonade” is actually a tasty cocktail made with vodka and lemonade.)

Marcy Playground released its follow-up, Shapeshifter, in 1999. The album didn’t do nearly as well as its predecessor (hence why the band is considered a one-hit-wonder), and Marcy Playground went on a short hiatus.

(Fun fact: The cover art for Shapeshifter had originally been conceptualized by Paul Leary of Butthole Surfers for the Surfers’ aborted project After the Astronaut. After the artwork was used without permission, Paul was ready to fight. Fortunately for John and company, it was Capitol Records who had stolen the artwork, not the band, so Paul let it go and John had a mini fanboy moment when he realized that a member of Butthole Surfers had designed one of his album covers.)

Where Are They Now?
Touring till death do them part.

After a brief hiatus, Marcy Playground released its third studio album, MP3, in 2004. It didn’t achieve mainstream success, but “Deadly Handsome Man” was featured on the Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back soundtrack and “Punk Rock Superstar” was featured on an XBox 360 playlist.

But the boys remained positive about their future in music, especially on the track “Hotter Than the Sun,” in which John reflects on the band’s short success.

Leaving Wonderland…In a Fit of Rage followed MP3 and Marcy Playground began touring along the California coast.

Lunch, Recess & Detention, a collection of rarities, b-sides and new material, new released earlier this year. Marcy Playground spent the summer touring in support of it alongside fellow ‘90s heavyweights Everclear, Sugar Ray, Lit and Gin Blossoms on the Summerland Tour (which I had the privilege of attending).

But Why Marcy Playground?
There’s the album, the tour and the band’s determination to keep touring no matter what. These guys have another album or two in them. Just wait.

What Does Sam Think?
I have a soft spot for most ‘90s one-hit-wonder bands, mostly because a lot of them deserve more than one hit. Marcy Playground is number one on that list.

“Sex and Candy” is one of the best songs of the ‘90s (though it was ranked criminally low on VH1's list). It’s simple, but murky and just plain sexy. The band’s debut album as a whole is pretty quiet and minimalistic, and I think that really works to its advantage. The late ‘90s was chock full of post-grunge bands wanting to be as loud as possible and Marcy Playground was a welcome alternative to that mindset.

Marcy Playground was heavily influenced by bands like Van Morrison and Nirvana, and you can definitely hear that on each album. The band’s music is a little dark, but not the black metal kind of dark; it’s the art school kind of dark.

As far as live performances go, these guys definitely know who their audiences are. They make light of being one-hit-wonders and always, always play “Sex and Candy” at least once (they usually let the audience sing it a few times). Seeing them live actually prompted me to listen to the rest of their discography, which is pretty solid.

So will Marcy Playground come back to rock radio with a vengeance? Probably not. But I think this band has some more secretly great music up its sleeve. And if these boys continue to tour in support of that new music, they will always have a faithful audience.

If you tour, they will come.

-- Sam Boyer, reporting from the ‘90s.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Nine Inch Nails

Sound Familiar?
“Closer,” “Wish,” “The Perfect Drug”

Who Are They?
One of the most influential industrial music projects in music history.

Though Nine Inch Nails is usually referred to as a group, producer/singer/songwriter/instrumentalist/deity Trent Reznor is really the only official member. Trent started out playing keyboards in a band called Exotic Birds in 1987. Once he quit that group, he landed a job as assistant engineer and janitor (what a combo!) at Right Track Studios. One day, he asked studio owner Bart Koster for some studio time to record some demos. Unable to find a band that could do everything he wanted to achieve with the demos, Trent decided to play all the instruments (minus the drums) himself.

After playing a few shows with Skinny Puppy, Trent signed with TVT Records and released Pretty Hate Machine under the name Nine Inch Nails in 1989. (Fun fact: Trent said in 1994 that there is no meaning behind the band name. He chose it because it abbreviated easily. Other rumored explanations include a reference to Jesus’ crucifixion with nine-inch spikes and Freddy Krueger’s nine-inch knife fingers.)

Pretty Hate Machine was praised by critics, but failed to break the Top 70 on the Billboard charts. The album did, however, become one of the first independently released records to reach platinum status.

Three music videos accompanied the album, but it was the explicit video for “Sin” that gave Trent his first taste of controversy. If you’ve never seen the video, you’re not alone. The full version never made it to air, but you can watch the whole thing here. (Warning: The video is definitely NSFW because it contains images of pierced genitals. So if you’re not into that, avoid it.)

(Fun fact: During promotion for Pretty Hate Machine, Trent and his touring band were asked what shows they’d like to appear on. They jokingly replied with Dance Party USA. So what happened? They were booked on the show and actually made an appearance. Be careful what you wish for.)

After the tour, Trent and company faced pressure from TVT to produce a follow-up record. Trent tried to get the label to terminate his contract, but of course, that wasn’t going to happen. So he began recording under various pseudonyms. The result was the Broken EP, which was released in 1992.

Broken marked a drastic change in NIN’s sound. The songs were much more abrasive, which was a preview of what was to come. Two of these tracks (“Happiness in Slavery” and “Wish”) earned Nine Inch Nails two Grammy Awards, both for Best Metal Performance. (Fun fact: After winning the award for “Wish,” Trent joked that his epitaph should read: “REZNOR: Died. Said ‘fist fuck,’ won a Grammy.” “Wish” is still the only Grammy Award-winning song to include that phrase.)

NIN’s second full-length album, 1994’s The Downward Spiral, was recorded in a studio Trent built in the house where the Manson Family murdered Sharon Tate. Charming, eh?

The Downward Spiral debuted at number two on the Billboard 200 (ahead of Soundgarden’s Superunknown) and remains NIN’s highest-selling release to date. The record’s success was mostly due to the lead single “Closer” and its bizarre music video.

With “Closer” came more controversy. A heavily edited version of the video received frequent rotation on MTV, but it still didn’t sit well with people. The video features graphic sadomasochistic and sacrilegious imagery (but no genital shots, so it’s perfectly safe for work).

NIN also gave a particularly aggressive performance at Woodstock ’94. It’s so good that I’ve included it for your viewing pleasure. (I actually watch this at least once a week because I’m just that obsessed with it.)

Five years after The Downward Spiral, NIN released the double album The Fragile at the tail end of the ‘90s.

Where Are They Now?
Apparently planning to release some new material (finally)!

Six years elapsed between the release of The Fragile and 2005’s With Teeth. During that time, Trent was battling alcoholism and substance abuse. The album is heavily influenced by his struggle and eventual recovery.

Along with being a criminally underrated album, With Teeth featured a “leaner,” much less abrasive sound. With Teeth is also the last NIN studio album to have a Parental Advisory label.

In 2007, NIN released Year Zero, which Trent refers to as “the soundtrack to a movie that doesn’t exist.” Essentially, it’s a concept album that revolves around a futuristic version of the United States where the government has seized absolute control of the country and reverted to a Christian fundamentalist theocracy (or “Year 0”). It gets a little more complicated, so I won’t give you the entire synopsis here. I will say that there’s apparently a TV adaptation in the works.

After releasing Ghosts I-IV and The Slip in 2008, Trent decided to make NIN “disappear for a while” and focus on his new project, How To Destroy Angels, and win an Oscar for Best Original Score for The Social Network.

But Why Nine Inch Nails?
Trent recently answered some questions for fans on Reddit and revealed that 2013 looks like a good year to bring Nine Inch Nails back. He will also appear on the next Queens of the Stone Age record.

What Does Sam Think?
I think I’ve alluded to my love for NIN quite a few times on here, and now I finally have an excuse to gush about it.

First of all, The Downward Spiral is one of the greatest albums of the ‘90s. Period. I know I say that about a lot of albums, but this is seriously a masterpiece. This is also a pivotal album for NIN and Trent. This was the record that defined Nine Inch Nails after the softer-edged Pretty Hate Machine. Though I do love PHM, The Downward Spiral just has a much more aggressive sound.

And can I just mention how amazing the Broken EP is? I mean, two of the songs on that EP won Grammys. Yeah, Grammys don’t mean much, but it’s still a big deal for a band like NIN to win some.

Let’s not forget about With Teeth either. It’s pretty underrated, in my opinion. It’s probably the most personal NIN album considering the road Trent was on when he wrote most of the songs. With Teeth isn’t classic industrial NIN, but it’s still great.

If I could wish for one thing for Christmas, it would probably be for Trent to get his head out of his ass and stop with the How To Destroy Angels thing because it’s just lame. Nine Inch Nails is great. His film scores are great. We don’t need How To Destroy Angels. There, I said it. Come back to the light, Trent.

Ahem. Sorry about that. Anyway, I’m pumped to see where Nine Inch Nails will end up with this new material. For now, I’ll just have to watch the Woodstock ’94 performance about a million more times and creep out the small population of the world that hasn’t seen the “Closer” video.

-- Sam Boyer, reporting from the ‘90s.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


Sound Familiar?
“Buddy Holly,” “Say It Ain’t So,” “El Scorcho”

Who Are They?
Power pop geeks with enough successful singles to make blink-182 jealous.

Four geeks from Los Angeles played their first show in 1992 opening for Keanu Reeves’ band Dogstar (yes, that was a thing). A year later, Weezer recorded its debut album with producer and Cars frontman Ric Ocasek. The band’s first single, “Undone (The Sweater Song),” was an instant hit, but Weezer’s popularity really exploded with “Buddy Holly.”

The Spike Jonze-directed video for “Buddy Holly” featured Weezer spliced into an episode of Happy Days. If you’ve never seen this video, shame on you. It’s hands down one of the best music videos of the ‘90s (and perhaps of all time).

Fueled by the success of “Buddy Holly” (the four VMAs and two Billboard awards kind of success) and the fairly popular third single “Say It Ain’t So,” Weezer (or “The Blue Album”) went triple platinum.

After that whirlwind of fame and fortune, Weezer took a break from touring and frontman Rivers Cuomo began to piece together the next album with an eight-track recorder. The original concept was a space-themed rock opera called Songs from the Black Hole. Thankfully, that idea was dropped in favor of Pinkerton.

Though initially viewed as a commercial failure and labeled as “one of the worst albums of 1996” by a Rolling Stone readers’ poll, Pinkerton eventually achieved cult status and is considered one of the greatest albums of the ‘90s. (And if I can’t convince you, and Pitchfork’s perfect 10 rating can’t convince you, maybe you should just listen to it for yourself.)

(Fun fact: Rivers took college classes at Harvard and Berklee College of Music off and on between 1995 and 2006. He graduated from Harvard with a bachelor’s degree in English.)

Following Pinkerton, Weezer decided to take a break. Due to frustration and creative disagreements, the break turned into a hiatus until 2000.

Where Are They Now?
Releasing mediocre albums and playing shows on cruise ships (this sounds worse than it really is).

Weezer reunited in 2000 for the Fuji Rock Festival in Japan and released Weezer (or “The Green Album”) in 2001. Thanks to heavy MTV rotation of “Hash Pipe” and “Island in the Sun,” Weezer was able to enjoy renewed success.

Meanwhile, bassist Mikey Welsh was checked into a psychiatric hospital. He mysteriously went missing after the filming for the “Island in the Sun” video.

The recording process for 2002’s Maladroit was a little different from previous albums. Weezer decided to download demos on to its official website in return for fan feedback. The fans weren’t exactly helpful. The band’s original A&R rep Todd Sullivan said Weezer fans chose the “wackest songs.”

So Maladroit was released without fan feedback and ended up receiving generally positive reviews from critics. (And can I just say that "Keep Fishin'" is one of the best Weezer videos? I mean, it features The Muppets! How can you not love that?)

Make Believe, Weezer (or “The Red Album”) and Raditude followed Maladroit. I group them together because they’re basically the same mediocre album released under different titles. “Beverly Hills” (off Make Believe) and “Pork and Beans” (off Weezer) did do very well on the charts, but that doesn’t really make up for all the other songs.

After the release of Hurley in 2010, the band was hit with devastating news. On October 8, 2011, former bassist Mikey Welsh was found dead in a Chicago hotel room. Weezer performed in Chicago the next day and dedicated the concert to Mikey.

But Why Weezer?
There’s supposedly a new album in the works, but we may not see that for a while. For now, the band is heading to Australia in early 2013 for its first Australian tour since 1996.

What Does Sam Think?
Weezer was heavily influenced by my favorite band (Green Day, if you’re new to this blog), so me liking this band is kind of a given. (Also, check out the cover of "Worry Rock.")

Weezer is a band that floats between power pop and pop punk. What’s the difference, you ask? Answer: the word “punk.” I’m not going to get into an argument with anyone about what punk really means, so let’s just keep it simple, stupid. Power pop = bands like The Kinks, The Knack and Cheap Trick. Pop punk = bands like Green Day, blink-182 and Hüsker Dü. Listen and learn.

Back to Weezer. This band’s first few albums are golden. The Blue Album is an almost flawless debut album and Pinkerton is just genius. Songs like “Buddy Holly” and “Say It Ain’t So” are poppy enough to be played on mainstream radio, but have an underlying abrasiveness to them that appeals to the underground kids.

And let’s not forget about the “geek sheik” image. Rivers Cuomo’s black-rimmed glasses make all the ladies swoon and gave all those nerdy guys in bands something to hope for. That image definitely gave the band a universal appeal, as everyone seems to like nerdy boys-next-door.

Before I leave you, we should probably talk about Pinkerton in detail. I do consider it to be Weezer’s best album to date (and I’m probably not alone on this). It’s a bit more abrasive than The Blue Album and feels a bit more personal, especially with songs like “Tired of Sex” and “Across the Sea.” Each track is virtually flawless (both musically and lyrically), and admit it, "El Scorcho" is the best drunk sing-a-long song. I know from firsthand experience.

-- Sam Boyer, reporting from the ‘90s.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Marilyn Manson

Sound Familiar?
“The Beautiful People,” “The Dope Show,” “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”

Who Are They?
Controversial anti-Christ superstars who shocked suburban families everywhere.

Mild-mannered Brian Warner was born in Canton, Ohio to semi-religious parents. But once Brian discovered his grandfather’s bizarre sexual fetishes (bestiality and sadomasochism), he was scarred for life. Scarred enough to start a rock band called Marilyn Manson and the Spooky Kids in 1989.

Brian came up with the stage name Marilyn Manson by combining the first name of universal sex symbol Marilyn Monroe with the last name of infamous serial killer Charles Manson. The name (along with the similar stage names of other band members) was representative of a central concept: the dichotomy of good and evil, and the existence of both, together, in every whole.  

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Before Brian became Marilyn Manson, he wrote music articles for South Florida lifestyle magazine 25th Parallel. (Fun fact: Brian actually went to college for journalism.) After meeting guitarist Scott Putesky (stage name: Daisy Berkowitz) and bassist Brian Tutunick (stage name: Olivia Newton Bundy), the three decided to start a band.

Marilyn Manson and the Spooky Kids released a demo tape and started touring. The band’s highly visual live shows generated significant buzz and sparked the attention of this guy named Trent Reznor. Trent (mastermind behind Nine Inch Nails and all-around rad dude) had just founded his own record label, Nothing Records, in 1992. Once he saw Marilyn Manson and friends, he immediately offered the band a contract with his label and a supporting slot on NIN’s headlining tour.

Marilyn Manson and the Spooky Kids was shortened to Marilyn Manson by the time the group released its debut, 1993’s Portrait of an American Family. The recording process was disastrous, resulting in drummer Gidget Gein being kicked out of the band for a pretty severe heroin problem.

Once the tour started, so did the controversy. During a show in Jacksonville, Florida in 1993, Marilyn was accused by the town’s Christian Coalition of violating adult entertainment codes. During the same tour, Marilyn met with Church of Satan founder Dr. Anton LaVey, who honored the singer with the title of “Reverend” (this refers to a person who is revered by the church, not one who dedicates his life to preaching the gospel of Satan).

After losing yet another drummer (Marilyn actually torched the guy’s drum set onstage as a farewell gesture), the band released an hour-long EP of covers, remixes and overall weird stuff called Smells Like Children in 1995. Marilyn Manson’s first real hit was a cover of the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” (which is a great cover, by the way).

But the real success came with 1996’s Antichrist Superstar. The album was considered a rock opera/concept album and spawned the highly lucrative single/disturbing video “The Beautiful People.”

Though Marilyn Manson was receiving plenty of attention in 1996, not all of it was positive. The band was a target of congressional hearings in the US to determine the effects of violent lyrics on young listeners. Additionally, religious organizations protested nearly every performance on the Dead to the World Tour.

After the Dead to the World Tour, the band turned to David Bowie and glam rock for inspiration. The result was 1998’s Mechanical Animals.

The tour, however, was cut short after the Columbine High School shootings in 1999. During a media frenzy shortly after the massacre, the band’s music was targeted as the shooters’ motivation. In a Rolling Stone article, Marilyn chastised America’s habit of putting the blame on scapegoats to escape responsibility. (In the 2002 documentary Bowling for Columbine, director Michael Moore asked Marilyn what he would have said to the shooters, to which he replied, “I wouldn’t say a single word to them. I would listen to what they had to say and that’s what no one did.”)

Much of Marilyn Manson’s third studio album, Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death), was written in response to the Columbine shootings and marked a return to the abrasive sound on Antichrist Superstar. (Fun fact: Antichrist Superstar, Mechanical Animals and Holy Wood are a trilogy of albums connected by the overarching theme of the relationship between death and fame in American culture.)

Where Are They Now?
Still churning out albums, though not nearly as shocking.

After completing the Antichrist/Mechanical/Holy Wood trilogy, Marilyn Manson was free to try out a brand new sound. The Golden Age of Grotesque was released in 2003 and sounded a little different (it was influenced both by swing music of the 1920s and the heavy industrial beats of KMFDM).

After Trent Reznor’s Nothing Studios closed in 2004, Marilyn Manson signed to Interscope Records and released Eat Me, Drink Me in 2007. By this time, Marilyn was the only original member.

(Fun fact: Marilyn supposedly wrote the song “Mutilation is the Most Sincere Form of Flattery” as an attack on My Chemical Romance. He later denied it, but stated that “I’m embarrassed to be me because these people are doing a really sad, pitiful, shallow version of what I’ve done.” So basically, it was about MCR.)

The High End of Low followed Eat Me, Drink Me and ended up selling less than all the previous Marilyn Manson albums (apparently no one was shocked anymore).

But Why Marilyn Manson?
What better way to celebrate Halloween than with Marilyn Manson? Also, Born Villain was released earlier this year, in case you weren’t aware.

What Does Sam Think?
Marilyn Manson is closely related to the industrial metal scene, and if you know anything about me, you know that I love industrial metal.

Now, this band is no Nine Inch Nails or Ministry, but that doesn’t mean it should be overlooked. Musically, Marilyn Manson hasn’t really done anything groundbreaking; the real appeal lies in the aesthetics.

If you’ve never seen this band live, you need to reevaluate your life. Okay, not really. But this live show is seriously a spectacle. This band (and the man himself) is all about the gorgeously grotesque and the importance of having an image. If you have a spectacular live show, your music doesn’t necessarily have to be the best (but it helps).

I’m not saying that Marilyn Manson doesn’t have any talent. Antichrist Superstar is a fantastic album. I’d probably even name it one of the best of the ‘90s. It’s aggressive and dark and a little insane (perfect Halloween music).

But what Marilyn Manson really does best is music videos. Because this band is all about the image, the videos have to reflect that mindset. And boy, do they ever. You can watch the video for “The Beautiful People” below, but also check out “The Dope Show,” “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” and the drastically obscene “Born Villain.” There’s plenty of sacrilegious Christ imagery, nudity and gore to go around!

As far as controversy goes, Marilyn the man and his music have mellowed out quite a bit. After basically getting blamed for the Columbine massacre, I think Marilyn made an unconscious decision to tone things down a bit. If you listen to the albums following Holy Wood, they don’t seem as frightening. Born Villain is decent, but it’s definitely nowhere near mid-‘90s Manson.

So if you’re in the Halloween spirit tonight (or anytime, for that matter), crank up some Marilyn Manson and scare your neighbors. (“Rebel, rebel, party, party / sex, sex, sex, and don’t forget the violence!”)

-- Sam Boyer, reporting from the ‘90s.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Rage Against the Machine

Sound Familiar?
“Guerilla Radio,” “Killing in the Name,” “Bulls On Parade”

Who Are They?
A political powerhouse of a hard rock band.

Once upon a time, a pretty skilled guitarist named Tom Morello met a pretty rad dude named Zack de la Rocha while the latter was freestyle rapping in an LA club. Tom asked Zack to be a rapper in his band, and the two of them drafted drummer Brad Wilk and bassist Tim Commerford to form Rage Against the Machine.

(Fun fact: The name Rage Against the Machine stems from a song Zack had written for his previous hardcore punk band Inside Out. The term “rage against the machine” was coined in a 1989 article in a zine called No Answers.)

After giving their first public performance in Orange County in 1991, the guys signed to major label Epic Records and their self-titled debut was released a year later. Rage Against the Machine went triple platinum thanks to the heavy radio play of “Killing in the Name.” (Fun fact: BBC Radio 1 accidentally played the “Fuck You” version of the song on the Top 40 singles show. What’s so bad about that? Well, Zack screams “fuck” 17 times in the repeated phrase, “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!”)

The debut is also known for its album cover, which features the Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of Thich Quang Duc, the Vietnamese monk who burned himself to death in protest of Ngo Dinh Diem’s regime during the Vietnam War (just wanted to give you guys a mini history lesson since this band’s history is chock full of political references).

RATM didn’t release a follow-up until 1996’s Evil Empire (this blogger’s favorite Rage album). It was during the Evil Empire era that the band started getting vocal about their political views. During a performance on Saturday Night Live in April 1996, Zack de la Rocha and company attempted to hang inverted US flags from their amps (which symbolizes distress or great danger) in protest against having Republican presidential candidate Steve Forbes as guest host. (The act was cut out of the program.)

The band began 1997 by supporting U2 on their PopMart Tour, allowing all their profits to be donated to various social organizations (aw, how nice). After successfully showing their humanitarian sides, the boys decided to end the year by going on a controversial tour with Wu-Tang Clan, of all groups. Needless to say, cops in several jurisdictions got a little nervous about this pairing and attempted (unsuccessfully) to get some of the shows cancelled, citing the bands’ “violent and anti-law enforcement philosophies” as viable cause. (The Roots later replaced Wu-Tang Clan.)

Two years later, RATM supported the release of its third studio album, The Battle of Los Angeles, by playing at the disastrous Woodstock ’99 concert. (Here’s the full set for your viewing pleasure.)

Where Are They Now?
Still sticking it to the man in various ways, both as a band and individually.

On October 18, 2000 Zack announced his departure from the band, saying, “Our decision-making process has completely failed. It is no longer meeting the aspirations of all four of us collectively as a band, and from my perspective, has undermined our artistic and political ideal.” So basically, artistic differences.

RATM’s final studio album, 2000’s Renegades, was a collection of covers of artists such as Devo, Cypress Hill, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan (“Renegades of Funk,” an Afrika Bambaataa cover, is arguably one of the best on the album).

The band dissolved after Zack left, releasing a slew of live DVDs as an apology. But the controversy continued with Clear Channel’s 2001 memorandum, which contained a list of what was termed “lyrically questionable” songs for radio (this was shortly after 9/11). Rage Against the Machine was the only band to have all of its songs deemed “lyrically questionable.” (This list also included Sugar Ray’s “Fly” and Dave Matthews Band’s “Crash Into Me,” neither of which are even remotely offensive. Come on now, Clear Channel.)

In the wake of RATM’s breakup, Tom Morello, Brad Wilk and Tim Commerford teamed up with Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell to form Audioslave. The supergroup released three albums before Chris left in 2007.

Tom began a solo career in 2003, playing open-mic nights and various clubs under the alias The Nightwatchman (a superhero name fit for a superhuman guitarist).

Meanwhile, Zack started collaborating with DJ Shadow, Company Flow and Questlove for a solo album, but dropped the project to work with Trent Reznor (who wouldn’t?).

Rage Against the Machine finally reunited at Coachella in 2007, a reunion which Tom described as a vehicle to voice the band’s opposition to the “right-wing purgatory” of George W. Bush’s America (though Green Day kind of beat them to that with 2004’s American Idiot).

A proper reunion tour followed the Coachella appearance, but hopes for a new album were continuously dashed. Tom cited his work as The Nightwatchman his principal focus, Zack admitted that a new album was a “genuine possibility.”

But Why Rage Against the Machine?
A new album is totally possible at this point. Also, the band recently released a 20th anniversary box set for their debut album.

What Does Sam Think?
I’m not a very political person, but something about this band spurs me into believing that I can start a revolution. This is pure, unadulterated anger with a message clearer than most Dead Kennedys songs. And RATM isn’t a band that just talks shit. These guys take action.

But I won’t get into politics here (there's an entirely separate article on Wikipedia dedicated to RATM's political views). That’s not really what this blog is about. So let’s concentrate on the music, shall we?

First of all, Tom Morello is hands-down my favorite guitarist of all time (if you couldn’t tell by the number of times I’ve mentioned this in the sections above). He’s not technically the greatest, but his creativity is impressive. He’s a big fan of effects pedals (much like Muse’s Matt Bellamy) and I love that. Guitars can do so much more than play a few chords. I’m not gonna pretend that I know everything there is to know about guitars, but I know what I like and I like Tom Morello. BAM.

Second, Zack de la Rocha is a kick-ass frontman (like literally, he could probably kick my ass). He has this intensity in his voice that never seems to waver. That could also be because there is no such thing as a slow RATM song (with the exception of the band’s cover of Devo’s “Beautiful World”).

With the addition of Tim Commerford’s boss bass skills and Brad Wilk’s funky drumbeats, this band hits you with the force of a brick wall. Rage Against the Machine is not a band for the faint-hearted. You don’t have to be into politics to appreciate these guys, but if you’re into kick-ass jams that punch you in the gut, this is the band for you.

-- Sam Boyer, reporting from the ‘90s.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Wu-Tang Clan

Sound Familiar?
“Protect Ya Neck,” “C.R.E.A.M.,” “Triumph”

Who Are They?
One of the most critically-acclaimed and respected rap groups of all time (and the best one of the ‘90s).

Wu-Tang Clan assembled in 1992 with RZA serving as the group’s de facto leader and producer. So what the hell’s a “wu-tang,” you ask? Well, since RZA and Ol’ Dirty Bastard were such huge fans of old kung fu movies, they took the name from the 1983 martial arts film Shaolin and Wu Tang (sound bites from the English dub of the film appear in Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers).

Though plenty of rappers have collaborated with RZA and friends over the years, the official members of Wu-Tang Clan are RZA, GZA, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, U-God, Masta Killa and the late great Ol’ Dirty Bastard. (Longtime contributor Cappadonna’s status as an official member is unclear even though RZA supposedly added him to the group years ago.)

But I have neither the time nor the space to get into all the separate entities of the group (and there are a lot, I know. I’m pretty sure I was in Wu-Tang Clan for like a minute at one point). So for now, let’s get back to the history.

In 1993, Wu-Tang released its first independent single “Protect Ya Neck,” which immediately gave the group a huge underground following. After some difficulty finding a label that would sign the group while still allowing each member to venture to other labels for solo albums, Wu-Tang signed to RCA and released Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers later that year.

The success of 36 Chambers allowed each member to negotiate solo contracts. Without delving too deep into each solo career, I’ll just say that almost every member found success on his own. Method Man even picked up a Grammy for his track “All I Need.”

After proving themselves as solo artists, the members of Wu-Tang Clan reassembled to record the follow-up to 36 Chambers, 1997’s Wu-Tang Forever. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Charts, achieved multi-platinum status and earned a Grammy nod for Best Rap Album. Wu-Tang Forever’s was more similar to the solo albums than 36 Chambers and featured verses written in dense stream of consciousness form (“Triumph” in particular was considered an odd choice for a first single since it featured nine verses with no chorus or hook).

A second round of solo albums followed Wu-Tang Forever, but they weren’t nearly as well-received as the first round. Wu-Tang Fever began decline by 1998 as a result of oversaturation. Keep in mind that these guys were everywhere in the mid-‘90s. They had albums under Wu-Tang Clan, solo albums, a clothing line and even video games. Yes, video games.

Where Are They Now?
Enjoying solo careers and possibly putting out a sixth Wu-Tang studio album in the near future.

Wu-Tang Clan reconvened in 2000 to release The W, the first album without Ol’ Dirty Bastard (he was too busy being incarcerated for violating his probation, but he did manage to record a verse for “Conditioner” via telephone).

ODB began having issues shortly before the release of The W, but kind of threw caution to the wind later that year. He escaped custody while in transit to rehab, became a fugitive and was finally caught signing autographs at a McDonald’s in North Philadelphia.

But back to Wu-Tang. Iron Flag followed The W, but didn’t sit well with fans due to its light crossover vibe. Around this time, Method Man began his acting career, starring in the stoner comedy How High alongside Redman. (Fun fact: The film currently holds a dismal 27% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but a 420% rating among stoners.)

By 2004, Wu-Tang Clan was wearing thin as a rap collective. U-God left the group claiming that RZA had hindered his success as a solo artist. The two ended up reconciling later on and Wu-Tang embarked on an unexpected European tour. Later that year, Ol’ Dirty Bastard collapsed in the recording studio and was pronounced dead just two days shy of his 36th birthday.

Following ODB’s death, the remaining members of Wu-Tang Clan released another round of solo albums, but have yet to release another collective studio album.

But Why Wu-Tang Clan?
They may or may not be celebrating their 20th anniversary next year with a sixth studio album. According to an interview with Ghostface Killah last year, the album was slated for release by May of this year. That didn’t happen. So then GZA told us that the album would probably never happen. But then RZA said the album would probably drop next year. I don’t even know what to believe anymore. Let’s just go with next year or never.

What Does Sam Think?
I really dig ‘90s rap and hip-hop, but I am in no way an expert. So why do I like Wu-Tang Clan?

I really can’t give you a coherent answer to this question. I always feel a need to explain myself when I admit to liking a rap group/artist, which is kind of ridiculous. Yeah, I’m really into rock music in general, but that doesn’t mean it’s all I listen to. But I digress. Rap artists of the late ‘80s and early to mid-‘90s definitely had something to say. That time period is usually referred to as “The Golden Age of Hip-Hop” for a reason. Acts like Wu-Tang Clan weren’t afraid to be political or aggressive. This isn’t your mommy and daddy’s hip-hop; this is the real shit.

There’s something about the grittiness of this group that really appeals to me. I can probably trace that interest back to my punk rock roots. Punk is all about channeling this rage you feel into an aggressive statement. It’s a slap in the face, and that’s kind of what rap groups like Wu-Tang Clan, or even N.W.A., were all about. Yeah, you can find the odd song about “bitches and hoes” in their discographies, but the majority of the songs deal with subjects like racism, classism and the occasional drug war.

I’m not going to pretend that I can relate to Wu-Tang songs. I’m a white girl going to college in the Midwest. I’m definitely not in this group’s key demographic. But in recent years, white college kids have become a key demographic in rap music. Think about Odd Future (arguably the modern day equivalent of Wu-Tang). That group is successful because it has such a diverse fanbase. It’s kind of baffling when you really think about it.

So let me end this entry by asking you, the reader, why you like rap music and why you think Wu-Tang Clan “ain’t nuthin’ ta fuck wit.”

-- Sam Boyer, reporting from the ‘90s.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Goo Goo Dolls

Sound Familiar?
“Name,” “Iris,” “Black Balloon”

Who Are They?
Top 40 giants responsible for one of the greatest ballads of the ‘90s.

In the beginning, there were two friends from Buffalo and a singer who was too shy to actually sing. The alternative trio settled on the name Goo Goo Dolls, taken from a toy ad in True Detective magazine. Since John Rzeznik couldn’t find his voice, bassist Robby Takac took over lead vocals for the band’s self-titled first album, released in 1987. It wasn’t until the third album, 1990’s Hold Me Up, that John finally found his courage.

Despite initially being labeled as The Replacements wannabes, the Goo Goo Dolls began to win audiences over with Hold Me Up. One album later, they achieved success with the critics and even made it to college radio and MTV’s 120 Minutes.

Shortly after recording wrapped on 1995’s A Boy Named Goo, drummer George Tutuska was kicked out of the band. Mike Malinin took his place just in time to enjoy the success of the album. “Name” cemented the band’s commercial success and A Boy Named Goo went double platinum.

In 1998, John was approached to write a song for the heart-wrenching film City of Angels (it’s an “ugly cry” kind of movie, trust me). John’s contribution was the equally heart-wrenching tune “Iris.” The song was a smash hit and propelled the Goo Goo Dolls to superstardom. (Fun fact: John was experiencing some serious writer’s block when he was asked to write “Iris,” and was actually considering leaving the band.)

“Iris” made it on to 1998’s Dizzy Up the Girl, which produced four other Top 10 hits: “Slide,” “Black Balloon,” “Broadway,” and “Dizzy.” Because the Goo Goo Dolls had gained quite a few new fans with their shiny new commercial sound, they rarely played any of their older songs in concert. The mutual decision must have been something like, “So let’s just forget those first three albums ever happened.”

Where Are They Now?
Settling into Adult Top 40 radio with the rest of those radio-friendly ‘90s alternative bands (and still reaping the benefits of “Iris”).

Once the “Iris” hysteria died down (okay, that’s a lie; the hysteria never died down), the Goos released Gutterflower in 2002. With most of the songs inspired by John’s divorce, Gutterflower was chock full of dark lyrical content (which usually makes for a fantastic album).

Following the release of Gutterflower, John wrote two songs for the 2002 Disney film, Treasure Planet. “I’m Still Here” and “Always Know Where You Are” were released as singles independently from the Goo Goo Dolls. (Sam-related fun fact: “I’m Still Here” was my favorite song for a good two years back in the day.)

The band celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2006 with the release of Let Love In, which gave birth to even more Top 10 singles. These guys actually broke an Adult Top 40 record with 12 Top 10 singles (Matchbox Twenty recently caught up with them and now both bands are tied with 13 singles).

(Unrelated fun “fact”: Apparently April 13, 1996 and July 4, 2004 are both considered “Goo Goo Dolls Day” in Buffalo. I put fact in quotations because I couldn’t find actual evidence of this. Pretty sure the Internet is lying to me.)

In 2008, John was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Goo Goo Dolls released their ninth studio album, Something for the Rest of Us, in 2010.

But Why Goo Goo Dolls?
The band is currently recording its tenth studio album, which we could possibly see by the end of this year or early next year.

What Does Sam Think?
As much as I enjoy Dizzy Up the Girl and Gutterflower, I’ll admit that there’s really nothing revolutionary about the Goo Goo Dolls. They’re a very average band that produces great radio-friendly hits. I’m not going to try to build them up for you because you’ve probably already made up your mind about them.

Like most people my age, my first taste of the Goo Goo Dolls was “Iris.” You don’t have to like the band, but you have to admit that “Iris” is a pretty rad tune. (The John Rzeznik/Avril Lavigne version of it, however, isn’t as good. And yes, that actually happened.)

But once that song got big, people forgot that the Goo Goo Dolls had four other albums. A Boy Named Goo is fairly underrated. The shift between that album and Dizzy Up the Girl is almost staggering. The band didn’t become 100% commercialized until 1998, and the earlier albums definitely represent pre-“Iris” Goos well. Hold Me Up and Superstar Car Wash are more college rock-oriented than you’d think. John and company didn’t get catchy until “Name.”

Post-“Iris” Goo Goo Dolls (isn’t it convenient to have two versions of the same band separated by one hit song?) are pretty safe, as are most other “adult alternative” bands (see Matchbox Twenty, Counting Crows, Gin Blossoms, etc.). That doesn’t make them a terrible band, though. If anything, it just makes them a little dull at times.

Bottom line: the Goo Goo Dolls are a great band for your dad to listen to. Every once in a while, they’ll produce a fantastic single (“Iris,” “Name,” “Here Is Gone”), but most of their albums sound way too similar. But hey, at least they’re consistent.

Okay, consistency isn’t really a good thing in the music industry. But you’ll always have a handful of acoustic ballads from these guys that get you all misty-eyed. I know you have those nights where you just want to eat a pint of ice cream and sing, “And I don’t want the world to see me / ‘Cause I don’t think that they’d understand” in between sobs. It’s okay, I don’t judge.

-- Sam Boyer, reporting from the ‘90s.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Yo La Tengo

Sound Familiar?
“Sugarcube,” “Autumn Sweater”

Who Are They?
The quintessential critics’ band and masters of the cover song.

Yo La Tengo, named after the Spanish phrase “I have it,” formed in 1984 by husband and wife duo, Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley. Funny story: the name Yo La Tengo wasn’t really a random Spanish phrase the two thought would be catchy. It comes from a baseball anecdote involving the 1962 New York Mets.

Once they got the name out of the way, Ira and Georgia recruited Dave Schramm and Dave Rick for the band’s first single, 1985’s “The River of Water.” After recording a song for a compilation album, Dave Rick left the band and Mike Lewis took his place. In 1986, our heroes released their first album, Ride the Tiger.

As with most critical darlings of the underground, most of Yo La Tengo’s early releases didn’t do very well commercially and by 1989, they had three great albums that no one had ever heard of.

The band switched record companies and released Fakebook, an album of mostly acoustic tunes (and some rad covers), in 1990. After the release of the 1991 EP That Is Yo La Tengo, James McNew joined the band and Yo La Tengo became the all-powerful trio they are today.

But things didn’t really heat up until the band signed with Matador Records in 1993. (Side note: I don’t really talk about the influence of certain record companies, but Matador was a big one for indie bands in the ‘90s. Along with Yo La Tengo, Matador was home to bands like Pavement and Sonic Youth.)

Their first release on Matador was 1993’s Painful, which YLT cites as one of their most important records.

“I think this group really started when we made the record Painful,” Ira explained in a 2009 interview with The A.V. Club. “Since Painful, I think we’ve gotten more confident and more willing to trust ourselves and trust each other, and probably better at dealing with things that go wrong.”

The album received high praise from just about every music publication, as did its follow-up, 1995’s Electr-O-Pura.

The band’s last ‘90s release is arguably their best album. I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One, released in 1997, is a musical buffet of just about every genre imaginable, including folk, rock, shoegaze, noise pop, ambient and bossa nova. The album is ranked by both Rolling Stone and Pitchfork as one of the best albums of the ‘90s (and they’re right).

Where Are They Now?
Still dropping hot records and wowing the music world with their fantastic cover songs.

After releasing And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out in 2000 and Summer Sun in 2003, Yo La Tengo took a break from studio albums and decided to contribute songs to various soundtracks. They also composed scores for 2005’s Junebug and Game 6, and 2006’s Shortbus and Old Joy. (You can listen to all four scores on aptly-titled compilation album, They Shoot, We Score. Bum-dum-tiss.)

The band’s 11th studio album, I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass (seriously the best album title EVER), was released in 2006 to mass critical acclaim. A compilation of YLT’s impromptu live cover songs (Yo La Tengo Is Murdering the Classics) followed.

As of 2012, the trio is still going strong, contributing tracks to various benefit albums and catering to their fans’ random cover song requests.

But Why Yo La Tengo?
Prepare yourselves for a brand spankin’ new YLT studio album in January 2013! For now, we have a new EP called Stupid Things

What Does Sam Think?
I’ll be honest here and say that I didn’t start listening to Yo La Tengo until earlier this year. But I’m really glad I found them when I did.

Indie bands of the ‘90s had a certain je ne sais quoi. I guess that goes for any indie band of any decade, but it goes double for bands like Yo La Tengo.

Without the pressure of producing mainstream hit after mainstream hit, indie bands are basically able to do whatever the hell they want and still have a loyal fanbase.

I’ve said similar things about Pavement, but Yo La Tengo is a little different. While Stephen Malkmus and company had a signature sound, Yo La Tengo had more a free-for-all genre orgy from album to album.

Take I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One, for example. Each track stands on its own, but the album as a whole still sounds consistent. How do they do it? My guess is with some kind of indie voodoo. Also talent.

But can we talk about this band’s collection of cover songs for a second? They cover everything. The Ramones, Devo, Bob Dylan, Daniel Johnston -- the list goes on. The curse of the cover song with most bands is usually a lack of originality, but Yo La Tengo avoids that every single time. The point of covering a song by another artist is to pay homage to that artist while making the song your own. If it sounds like a carbon copy of the original, ya dun goofed.

Listen to YLT’s cover of Bob Dylan’s “Fourth Time Around” for the I’m Not There soundtrack. It’s tough to cover a legend, but this band nails it. This is an ethereal take on Dylan and it’s completely gorgeous.

Their cover of The Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop” is also a highlight. It’s completely instrumental and a little reminiscent of ‘50s style rock ‘n roll.

As much as we all love the heavy-hitters of the ‘90s (the grunge bands, the one-hit-wonders), we can’t ignore everything else. Broaden your horizons with bands like Yo La Tengo, Stereolab, Built to Spill and Superchunk. Indie bands of today wouldn’t be here without them.

-- Sam Boyer, reporting from the ‘90s.