Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Alanis Morissette

Sound Familiar?
“You Oughta Know,” “Ironic,” “Thank U”

Who Is She?
The reigning Canadian queen of angsty girl music.

Before Alanis Morissette was ripping Dave Coulier a new asshole in “You Oughta Know,” she was flexing her acting muscles in You Can’t Do That on Television and crooning Top 40 hits in Canada. In 1991, Alanis released her debut album Alanis, which eventually went platinum. Of course, it was only released in her native country.

The dance-pop debut earned Alanis the title of “The Debbie Gibson of Canada.” (You ‘80s babies should get the reference.) Alanis spawned the glitzy single “Too Hot,” which gained a handful of Juno Award nominations. (Fun fact: Alanis’ first tour was as an opener for Vanilla Ice.)

A year later, our Canadian queen released a ballad-driven follow-up called Now Is the Time. It was a commercial failure, but paved the way for a more personal third album that you may have heard of.

Keep in mind that Alanis wasn’t even out of high school when she released her first two albums. After graduating in 1993, she moved to Toronto to start recording Jagged Little Pill. By spring of 1995, Alanis had completed the album and signed with Maverick Records (only after almost every other label had passed on the album).

Jagged Little Pill was released internationally in 1995 and was only expected to sell enough copies to pay the bills. But once influential Los Angeles radio station KROQ-FM put “You Oughta Know” into rotation, Alanis’ popularity snowballed.

Once “You Oughta Know” hit MTV, Jagged Little Pill went straight to the top of the charts. Subsequent singles “All I Really Want” and “Hand In My Pocket” enjoyed moderate success, but it was “Ironic” that proved to be Alanis’ biggest hit.

Jagged Little Pill is currently in the top 20 best selling records of all time, beating out Purple Rain and Abbey Road. How’s that for success?

The album also earned four Grammys in 1996, including Album of the Year.

Following the 18-month tour, Alanis decided that she needed a vacation, so she headed to India for six weeks.

In 1998, Alanis was featured as a guest vocalist on Ringo Starr’s album Vertical Man and Dave Matthews Band’s Before These Crowded Streets. She also contributed the hauntingly gorgeous track “Uninvited” to the City of Angels soundtrack, which won the 1999 Grammy for Best Rock Song.

The follow-up to Jagged Little Pill was 1998’s Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie. Considering the fact that matching the success of such a huge record is almost impossible, Infatuation Junkie did surprisingly well.

The wordy lyrics alienated many fans and Infatuation Junkie ended up selling considerably less than its predecessor. However, it still received positive reviews, including a four-star review from Rolling Stone.

Alanis rounded out the decade with an appearance at the disastrous Woodstock ’99 and a tour with fellow singer/songwriter Tori Amos.

Where Is She Now?
Still releasing albums, though slightly less angsty.

In 2001, Alanis released Under Rug Swept, which featured guest musicians Eric Avery (of Jane’s Addiction), Dean DeLeo (of Stone Temple Pilots), Flea (of Red Hot Chili Peppers) and Meshell Ndegeocello.

The songstress caused a little controversy in 2004 with her appearance at the Juno Awards. Alanis hosted the ceremony dressed in a bathrobe, which she took off to reveal a flesh-colored bodysuit. The stunt was a response to increased US censorship following Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” during the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show.

Unfortunately, the increased censorship also hindered Alanis’ promotion of her next album, 2004’s So-Called Chaos. The lead single “Everything” failed to achieve commercial success in the US partly due to American radio stations refusing to play it. The first word in the song happened to be “asshole,” which didn’t fly with the uptight censors.

After a tour with The Rolling Stones in 2005 and a tongue-in-cheek cover of The Black Eyed Peas“My Humps,” Alanis released her seventh studio album, 2008’s Flavors of Entanglement.

Alanis made some appearances on various charity singles and American Idol in 2010, and announced that she had begun work on the follow-up to Flavors of Entanglement in 2011.

But Why Alanis Morissette?
Her new album drops this year! Look for Havoc and Bright Lights on August 24. In the meantime, enjoy Alanis’ newest single “Guardian.”

What Does Sam Think?
Female singer/songwriters of the ‘90s had some balls. Fiona, Tori and Alanis, among others, proved that girls could rock, too. These women were part of a new breed of female musicians. They were the antithesis to image-centered artists like Madonna. Instead of working to preserve a persona, they spoke their minds.

Alanis Morissette stands out because she made the huge jump from teen pop star to sharp-tongued alternagirl. How many other female musicians have gone from releasing dance-pop hits to songs about going down on Uncle Joey in a movie theater? I challenge you to send me a list if you can.

If you started reading this entry wondering where the hell Alanis went, you’re not alone. As you can see in the brief history above, her albums since Jagged Little Pill haven’t been nearly as successful. As much as I’d like to say that this is a grave injustice, it’s really not that surprising.

You see, Alanis went soul-searching after her jump to mainstream stardom and picked up a little wisdom on the way. You can hear the drastic shift in maturity from Jagged Little Pill to Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie (which is a fantastic album, by the way). That caught most fans off guard because they were expecting another bitter break-up song like “You Oughta Know” or even a radio-friendly hit like “Ironic.” Instead, they got a grown woman singing about moving on and finding spirituality.

It may sound pretentious on paper, but it Alanis made it work. Though she’s faded into slight obscurity, she still makes the music she wants to make. Her later albums (with the exception of Under Rug Swept) are a little lackluster, but I’m glad she didn’t fall into the trap of churning out 10 more albums that sound exactly like Jagged Little Pill.

The bottom line is: Alanis is a queen. She is the poster-woman for girl power (and not in the Spice Girls sense of the phrase). She’ll always hold a special place in my heart, even if she doesn’t really know how irony works.

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

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Sound Familiar?

“Santa Monica,” “I Will Buy You a New Life,” “Father of Mine”

Who Are They?

One of the most radio-friendly alternative bands of the ‘90s.

Singer and guitarist Art Alexakis started Everclear as an escape from his troubled upbringing. Art’s family faced significant financial hardships and was eventually forced to relocate to the slums of Los Angeles. During this time, Art found solace in heavy drug use, which escalated to a near-fatal cocaine overdose.

After that wake up call, Art turned to music. He played in a short-lived band called Shakin’ Brave in the late ‘80s, but eventually got sick of the Los Angeles music scene and moved to San Francisco.

The big thing in San Francisco at that time was this phenomenon called cowpunk. It’s basically a fine mixture of punk rock and county/blues. If you’re a little confused as to how a genre like this could exist, I’ve got two words for you: Social Distortion.

So what did Art do when he discovered cowpunk? Why, he started a cowpunk band, of course.

Not only did Art start a band called Colorfinger, but he also founded his own record label, Shindig Records. Go big or go home, right?

Unfortunately, Shindig Records failed after only one month. On top of that, Colorfinger broke up and Art found out his girlfriend was pregnant. So he and his girlfriend moved to Portland and Art did what most lone musicians do in a new city – he placed an ad in a local newspaper.

The ad earned him two responses: bassist Craig Montoya and drummer Scott Cuthbert. After settling on the name Everclear (after the infamous grain alcohol), Art and the gang recorded their first independently-released album World of Noise in 1993.

The record didn’t sell. Shocking, isn’t it? Art realized his mistake and began searching for a major label deal. Before scoring the big deal, Scott Cuthbert ditched the band and was replaced with Greg Eklund. Gary Gersch signed Everclear to Capitol Records in 1994 and the band released their major label debut, Sparkle and Fade, the following year.

(Does the name Gary Gersch sound familiar to you? It should. He’s the man responsible for signing Nirvana, Sonic Youth and Counting Crows to DGC Records. He’s kind of a big deal.)

Sparkle and Fade initially didn’t find an audience. Though the first single, “Heroin Girl,” received modest airplay on MTV, it was overlooked by the mainstream.

And then “Santa Monica” happened.

Mainstream audiences went gaga over “Santa Monica,” thanks to the budding alternative radio format. Sparkle and Fade achieved platinum status, but the last two singles (“Heartspark Dollarsign” and “You Make Me Feel Like a Whore”) failed to find the same success.

By 1996, Everclear was struggling to come up with a follow-up. They also had to endure the inevitable comparisons to Nirvana, as most alternative ‘90s bands did.

So Much for the Afterglow was released in late 1997 to an initially lukewarm response. The first two singles (“Everything to Everyone” and “I Will Buy You a New Life”) performed modestly, but that was the least of the band’s troubles.

Everclear’s 1998 Australian tour was an utter disaster. Shoes and explosives were thrown onstage (knocking Art’s teeth loose and burning a stagehand) and Craig Montoya’s acoustic bass was stolen. The band has yet to return to Australia, though Art maintains that he has no bad memories of the country. (I wouldn’t want to return to a country whose fans throw lit explosives onstage. Maybe that’s just me.)

Following a US tour with fellow ‘90s favorites Marcy Playground and Fastball, Everclear released So Much for the Afterglow’s most successful single “Father of Mine.”

Where Are They Now?

Still touring and releasing music with a brand new lineup (minus Art).

After the success of So Much for the Afterglow, Art decided to work on some solo material, which eventually turned into another Everclear project. Songs from an American Movie, Vol. 1: Learning How to Smile (released in 2000) was a heavily pop-influenced record with the monstrous hit single “Wonderful.” (Fun fact: “Wonderful” was used as the graduation song for the Columbine High School class of 1999, just months after the Columbine Massacre.)

The band decided to forgo a tour in favor of releasing a second album that same year. Songs from an American Movie, Vol. 2: Good Time for a Bad Attitude ended up being released just four months after Vol. 1, which resulted in some intense confusion. Not only did Vol. 2 come out way too early, but it also had a completely different sound compared to Vol. 1.

The somewhat awkward decision to tour with Matchbox 20 made the situation even worse. When you’re trying to promote a hard rock album, touring with a predominately pop-rock band isn’t the best idea.

Following the release of Slow Motion Daydream in 2003, Craig and Greg had enough of Everclear and left the band, leaving Art as the only original member. Everclear left Capitol Records one year later.

Craig and Greg both formed other bands after parting ways with Everclear. Craig founded Tri-Polar and Greg founded The Oohlas.

Art concentrated on a solo career before handpicking a brand new Everclear lineup consisting of bassist Sam Hudson, guitarist Dave French and drummer Eric Bretl in 2004. After signing to Eleven Seven Music, the “new” Everclear released Welcome to the Drama Club in 2006.

The band has since cycled through several different drummers and traveled to Iraq in support of the troops.

But Why Everclear?

Their first album in six years, Invisible Stars, in set to drop next month! And if that wasn’t enough, Art and company will embark on a huge tour this summer with Sugar Ray, Lit, Marcy Playground and the Gin Blossoms. Is that ‘90s enough for you?

What Does Sam Think?

I will admit that Everclear kind of sounds like most of the other post-Nirvana bands of the ‘90s (they even toured with most of the mainstreamers of the decade). And post-‘90s Everclear is a little too poppy for my liking.

But in its heyday, this band was everywhere, and for good reason.

Listen to anything from Sparkle and Fade or So Much for the Afterglow. The songs may be radio-friendly, but the subject matter is almost as dark as an Alice In Chains record.

As I noted above, Art Alexakis had a pretty rough childhood. While that’s not uncommon for a musician in any genre, it gave Art the ammo to attract a wider audience. He details his struggles with drugs, money and his absent father under the guise of catchy pop tunes. And it’s not like he made the references cryptic. Listen to “Father of Mine.” The lyrics say it all:

Father of mine
Tell me, how do you sleep
With the children you abandoned
And the wife I saw you beat?

The blow may be softened by the upbeat guitar melodies, but the message is clear. I think that’s what made Everclear so popular. They took these deeply personal experiences and put them in an accessible package.

Are they the greatest band of the ‘90s? Not even close. But do they have some great songs? Yes, they do.

The alternative scene in the ‘90s was massive and its influence has spilled over into the new millennium. Yeah, the sound has morphed a bit and become exponentially more mainstream, but maybe we’ll get back to those “low end of the dial” roots someday. Until then, we’ll have to endure another few Maroon 5 records.

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

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Will Smith

Sound Familiar?
“Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It,” “Miami,” “Wild Wild West”

Who Is He?
Probably one of the most successful cases of a rapper-turned-actor in history.

In West Philadelphia, born and raised, Will Smith spent most of his days as one-half of the surprisingly successful hip-hop duo DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince. If you happen to be a child of the ‘80s, you’ll remember that catchy tune “Parents Just Don’t Understand.” If you were born a little too late, you should still know that song.

In fact, that song was so good it won the first ever Grammy in the Best Rap Performance category in 1989. Not bad, not bad.

DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince released five albums from 1987 to 1993. What’s even more impressive for this novelty hip-hop group is the fact that these guys have sold over 5.5 million albums in the US.

Due to a self-admitted “spendthrift attitude,” Will ended up blowing through $2.8 million and ditched paying taxes. Long story short, he got caught by the IRS and was forced to pay it all back.

In 1990, after releasing three albums with DJ Jazzy Jeff, Will took up an offer for a starring role in a little sitcom called The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. That show’s theme song was the equivalent of “The Star-Spangled Banner” for just about every ‘90s kid. If you didn’t know all the words, you weren’t an American.

During the show’s run (1990-1996), Will released a couple more albums with his buddy DJ Jazzy Jeff and began to pursue acting full-time. His first lead roles were in 1993’s Six Degrees of Separation and 1995’s Bad Boys. After leaving The Fresh Prince in 1996, Will landed the role of a lifetime in the massive blockbuster Independence Day.

Will struck gold again in 1997 with Men In Black. Not only did he star in yet another blockbuster, but he also recorded a hit single for the film. “Men In Black” earned Will another Grammy for a rap performance (which seems kind of silly considering that the track was written for a comedy film).

That same year, Will released his first solo album Big Willie Style. The album’s lead single “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” reached number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and earned Will yet another Grammy. This man is made of Grammys. It’s insane.

After starring in Enemy of the State in 1998, Will released his follow-up album Willennium in 1999. The record’s only major hit was “Wild Wild West,” a track recorded specifically for the film of the same name. (Fun fact: Will turned down the role of Neo in The Matrix in favor of a starring role in Wild Wild West. It’s okay, Fresh Prince. We all make mistakes.)

Where Is He Now?
Still active in the film industry, but also ready to make another album. Did I also mention that he’s one of the richest men in America? Yeah, the Fresh Prince is loaded.

Will took a break from music to star in 2001’s Ali (which earned him an Oscar nod for Best Actor) and 2002’s Men In Black II. Born to Reign, his third solo studio album, dropped in June 2002. While it didn’t achieve the platinum status of the first two records, Born to Reign garnered mostly positive reviews from critics (Allmusic gave it a 4/5 rating, which is pretty damn good).

After a couple more film roles, Will released Lost and Found in 2005. The record featured some heavy-hitters in the rap and hip-hop community (Mary J. Blige, Snoop Dogg, and Ludacris), but failed to achieve any commercial success.

Since the commercial failure of Lost and Found, Will has shifted his focus back to film. In 2006, he scored another Oscar nod for his role in The Pursuit of Happyness.

After roles in I Am Legend and Hancock, among others, Will began to favor working behind the scenes. In 2010, he produced the remake of The Karate Kid starring his own son, Jaden Smith.

But Why Will Smith?
People were actually begging for this entry and I originally thought they were kidding. Then I realized, “Hey! Will Smith is actually kind of relevant as a ‘90s icon right now!”

In case you didn’t know, Men In Black III hits theaters on May 25 (though Will doesn’t appear on the soundtrack). In music news, Will is actually in the process of recording a brand new album. Does this mean we’ll finally get another party anthem from the Fresh Prince himself? I sure hope so.

What Does Sam Think?
The whole rapper-turned-actor thing isn’t a new concept and Will Smith definitely wasn’t the first guy to make a successful transition (Marky Mark, anyone?). So in that respect, he’s not a special snowflake.

What’s really interesting about Will is his squeaky-clean rap career. At a time when rap/hip-hop was starting to get gritty (see N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton), DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince kept it radio friendly.

Unfortunately, this attitude kind of attitude discredited Will as a “real” rapper. He even managed to avoid Parental Advisory stickers on his solo albums. Sure, he’s been mocked by the rap community for sticking to his morals, but do you really have to be a so-called “gangsta” to be a rapper?

Will actually addressed this issue on Lost and Found. The album is a critique of the perceived state of hip-hop at the time. In the title track, Will speaks about how he doesn’t do the standard “sex, drugs and violence” songs as found in gangsta rap. In “I Wish I Made That Swagga,” he mentions the issue of not being “black enough.”

Since I’m not exactly a rap/hip-hop connoisseur, I’ll leave you to ponder the finer details on your own.

As far as his solo work is concerned, Will knew how to write a pop song. “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” is so ‘90s-tastic (in the best possible way). Listening to it now just makes me long for those delightfully simple pop hits of yore.

Maybe it’s just the nostalgia talking, but I miss Will Smith as a musician. Of course he’s a great actor, but I feel like he’s got another pop hit in him just waiting to emerge. Even if this new album ends up being moderately serious, I’ll still be excited to hear Will get back to his musical roots and see him return to his throne as the Prince of Bel-Air.

Yo homes, smell ya later!

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

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

No Doubt

Sound Familiar?
“Just a Girl,” “Don’t Speak,” “Simple Kind of Life”

Who Are They?
One of the most successful ska revival bands of the ‘90s (even if they did go pop in the ‘00s).

No Doubt started as a strictly ska band in 1986. Gwen Stefani’s older brother Eric came up with the idea after a conversation with his pal John Spence at a Dairy Queen in Anaheim. John took over lead vocals and Eric jammed on the keyboard with a handful of other musicians playing backup. Eric thought it was only appropriate to include his little sister Gwen on backing vocals (little did he know, she’d soon become the star of the whole show).

Current bassist Tony Kanal joined No Doubt shortly after attending one of the band’s earlier shows. Gwen had the hots for him and the two began dating secretly, as it was an unspoken rule that nobody was allowed to date Gwen. (Think of these two as the ska versions of Romeo and Juliet.)

But it wasn’t all trombone and secret romance in the beginning. In 1987, several days before the band was scheduled to play an important gig at The Roxy Theatre, singer John Spence committed suicide. No Doubt disbanded in his honor, but decided to regroup after several weeks with Alan Meade on vocals. Alan didn’t last long, so Gwen replaced him.

By 1989, No Doubt had a solid lineup with Gwen on vocals, Eric on keyboards, Tony on bass, Tom Dumont on guitar and Adrian Young on drums. The band eventually landed a record deal with Interscope Records in 1990 and released their self-titled debut album in 1992.

Unfortunately, that was the wrong time to release a ska record. The album’s upbeat sound was a little too happy-go-lucky for gloomy grunge fans, so No Doubt was a commercial failure.

Eric began to withdraw from the group after this little setback and left No Doubt during the recording process of the outtake album The Beacon Street Collection in 1994. (Fun fact: Eric went on to work as an animator for The Simpsons.)

One year after Eric’s departure, No Doubt released their commercial breakthrough Tragic Kingdom. The album, though quite poppy, focused on Gwen and Tony’s tumultuous relationship. The hugely successful ballad “Don’t Speak” was based on the couple’s messy breakup and earned No Doubt Grammy nods for Song of the Year and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group.

Moral of the story: everyone loves a good breakup song.

Where Are They Now?
Reunited after an eight-year hiatus.

After the mainstream success of Tragic Kingdom, the band released the 2000 follow-up Return of Saturn. The album was a little darker than its predecessor and instead of focusing on Gwen and Tony’s romance, it focused on Gwen’s new beau, Bush frontman Gavin Rossdale.

Though critics praised Return of Saturn for its more mature content, the album failed to achieve the same commercial success as Tragic Kingdom.

During the recording process of 2001’s Rock Steady, Gwen began to venture out on her own, making high-profile appearances on Moby’s “South Side” and Eve’s “Let Me Blow Ya Mind.” Instead of tearing the band apart, Gwen’s explorations lent No Doubt credibility and an opportunity to explore new genres.

The result of these musical adventures was the heavily Jamaican dancehall-influenced Rock Steady. Fueled by Grammy-winning singles “Hey Baby” and “Underneath It All,” Rock Steady enjoyed huge mainstream success. In 2003, the band released a greatest hits compilation (The Singles 1992-2003), which included a cover (and a very good one, at that) of Talk Talk’s “It’s My Life.”

A year later, No Doubt embarked on a hiatus, giving Gwen the chance to start a solo career. And what better way to make a name for yourself than to employ the help of a group of a cute little Asian girls? Armed with her Harajuku Girl Posse, Gwen released two solo albums, 2004’s Love. Angel. Music. Baby. and 2006’s The Sweet Escape. (Her solo success can also be measured by the guilty pleasure “Hollaback Girl.” Admit it, you can’t spell “bananas” without singing that song. And I bet you just started singing it. Am I right?)

While Gwen was off spelling out fruit (and having a child with Gavin Rossdale), Tony released his own solo project, Invincible Overlord, and collaborated with P!nk on her album Funhouse. Meanwhile, Adrian became the touring drummer for Bow Wow Wow in 2004 and played on the majority of Unwritten Law’s 2005 album Here’s to the Mourning.

The band began recording the follow-up to Rock Steady in 2008 without Gwen, but planned to complete it after Gwen’s solo tour. The process was slow, mostly due to Gwen’s second pregnancy, so No Doubt didn’t really have time to tour in 2008.

In 2009, the band announced a summer tour with Paramore, The Sounds, Panic! At the Disco and others.

The mysterious new album was originally slated for a 2010 release, then a 2011 release and finally a 2012 release.

But this is the year, folks. This is the year we get a new No Doubt album.

But Why No Doubt?
I repeat: a new album. The first No Doubt album in 11 years is due September 25, 2012. It’s kind of a big deal, guys.

What Does Sam Think?
I will admit that I have a lady-crush on Gwen Stefani. Just thought I’d throw that out there. But I’ll concentrate on the music, I promise.

So I haven’t really addressed ska in any of my entries thus far. Believe it or not, it wasn’t just a ‘90s thing. Ska originated in 1950s Jamaica, was revived in the ‘70s with English 2 Tone and eventually made it into the mainstream beginning in the late ‘80s.

Ska in the ‘90s was mostly a West Coast thing, particularly in Orange County. When you think of ‘90s ska (or ska punk, as it was sometimes called), you probably think of three bands: No Doubt, Reel Big Fish and Sublime.

No Doubt wasn’t the first American ska band to find commercial success (that title belongs to The Mighty Mighty Bosstones), but they were one of the only American ska bands to branch out.

Of course their sound got incredibly poppy, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Though Rock Steady isn’t nearly as good as Tragic Kingdom, it isn’t the worst record No Doubt could have made. The singles from Rock Steady are fantastic, especially “Underneath It All.” That track has some great reggae undertones that I’ve come to appreciate.

Of course Tragic Kingdom is an instant classic, but a lot of people overlook the first record. If No Doubt’s later releases weren’t ska enough for you, check out the self-titled debut. It’s almost cartoonish in its delivery, but that’s what makes it good. To me, ska is supposed to be a little over the top. I mean, you’ve got an entire horn section behind you, so why not pump up the volume?

In regards to Gwen’s solo career, I never had a problem with it. I bought her first album and loved it (though The Sweet Escape wasn’t exactly my cup of tea). “Hollaback Girl” was my jam and I’m not afraid to admit it.

But I’m so glad there’s a new No Doubt album on the horizon. Love you, Gwen, but I prefer you with the boys instead of the Harajuku Girls.

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

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

My Bloody Valentine

Sound Familiar?
“Only Shallow,” “To Here Knows When,” “When You Sleep”

Who Are They?
Pioneers of shoegaze and creators of one of the most critically-acclaimed albums of the ‘90s.

Drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig and singer/guitarist Kevin Shields met in Dublin, Ireland in the ‘70s and decided to join a punk band. (Isn’t that how every musician starts out – in a punk band?) But Colm and Kevin wanted to take things further than fast-paced three-chord punk tunes. So the two recruited a singer and a keyboard player and became Burning Peacocks. (Then they realized that name was terrible, so they changed it to My Bloody Valentine.)

The band moved to Holland after playing a successful show in the Netherlands, but due to lack of opportunities, they moved to Berlin and recorded an EP. That EP (1985’s This Is Your Bloody Valentine) failed to leave an impression on anyone, and after four months, My Bloody Valentine left Berlin and lost touch.

After taking some time to regroup, the band decided to hire a bass player (because every good band needs one). Debbie Googe took the job and MBV released three more EPs.

It was 1987 and our heroes were actually enjoying some success on the London gig circuit. During a string of shows supporting the Soup Dragons, singer Dave Conway decided to leave the band (way to go, Dave).

Finding a new vocalist is a tortuous experience for any band. My Bloody Valentine decided to take the newspaper ad approach.

In a 1989 interview with Underground Magazine, Kevin said, “[Putting an ad in the newspaper] was pretty dangerous. I made the mistake of mentioning The Smiths because we liked their melodies. The whole thing was disastrous and excruciating. You should have seen some of the fruitballs we got.”

Out of all those fruitballs, Bilinda Butcher left a good impression. With her on board, MBV recorded a couple more EPs and ended up attracting the attention of Creation Records owner Alan McGee at a 1988 gig. Alan was convinced these guys were the Irish equivalent of Hüsker Dü (and he wasn’t too far off considering MBV’s punk rock roots.)

After signing to Creation, My Bloody Valentine released their first full-length album Isn’t Anything in 1988. The record received some hefty critical praise and got MBV compared to bands like Sonic Youth, The Vaselines and The Jesus and Mary Chain.

So how do you follow up an album like that? Well, you release a better one. Obvious answer, I know. But most bands can’t do it.

It took two years and a lot of trouble to churn out 1991’s Loveless. During the recording process, Kevin Shields emerged as a monstrous perfectionist and almost derailed the entire operation.

But all that drama paid off with the final product. Though Loveless failed to chart in the US, its critical acclaim trumped the lukewarm response from audiences. The NME review declared, “However decadent one might find the idea of elevating other human beings to deities, My Bloody Valentine, failings and all, deserve more than your respect.”

Soon after the release of Loveless, Alan McGee dropped My Bloody Valentine from Creation Records because he just couldn’t bear working with Kevin again.

The band signed with Island Records in 1992, but recorded very little. Kevin pulled a Syd Barrett and disappeared into his own world for a while. He emerged again in 1996 to collaborate with Yo La Tengo, Primal Scream and Dinosaur Jr. while the rest of My Bloody Valentine went their separate ways.

By 1999, no new MBV material had surfaced, but Kevin insisted that another record was on its way.

Where Are They Now?
Back from the dead with reissues and (rumors of) a new album!

My Bloody Valentine seemed to have fallen off the face of the earth by the start of the new millennium. In 2007, Kevin came out of the woodwork to announce a reunion and an album that was 75 percent finished.

In 2008, the band played a slew of festivals, including All Tomorrow’s Parties, which they also curated.

Following the appearance at All Tomorrow’s Parties, Kevin announced that he planned to complete the new MBV album, but didn’t reveal a tentative release date.

Earlier this year, Sony Music announced that remastered editions of Isn’t Anything and Loveless are scheduled for release on May 4, 2012.

But Why My Bloody Valentine?

Among the string of back catalog material scheduled for release this year, fans may also see the first new My Bloody Valentine record in 21 years. Rejoice, shoegazers!

What Does Sam Think?
My Bloody Valentine are shoegaze heroes. Period. This band is so important to not only the genre, but to ‘90s music as a whole.

Loveless came out a couple months after Nirvana’s Nevermind, but it’s just as (if not more) groundbreaking. What makes this album so interesting is its use of static noise as an instrument.

Grunge fans can recognize the positive aspects of distortion (are there really negatives?). My Bloody Valentine took distortion one step further by adding pitch bending and digital reverb. Those ingredients mix together to create a mass of swirling guitars and ghostly vocals.

But shoegaze kind of got pushed aside when grunge mania hit. Most shoegaze bands gave up when Seattle took over, but that’s not really what happened to MBV. Kevin Shields and company probably didn’t know where to go after Loveless.

That’s really a sticky situation for any band: You release an extremely successful album that showcases your talent in a given genre, but you start to wonder if you should follow it up with a similar record or not.

So, it’s been 21 years since Loveless and there’s still no follow-up (but Kevin says there will be one). I think most fans are wondering what direction the band’s going to take with the new record. According to Mr. Shields, most of the “new” material is from 1996 and 1997. So this is a project that’s been at least 10 years in the making.

This poses a very important question: Will this new record sound like it was recorded in 1997, or will it show the “nu-gazers” who’s still boss?

Let’s hope this isn’t another case of Chinese Democracy.

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