Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Sam's Top 50 Favorite Albums of the '90s (Part 5)

Here it is, folks—the final installment of my top 50 favorite albums of the ‘90s! Here you’ll see the coveted Top 10. Make sure to check out parts one, two, three and four before you start to complain about an album that appears to be missing.

10. OK Computer by Radiohead (1997)

This is a pretty obvious choice for a ‘90s Radiohead album. While I do like The Bends (and kind of, sort of enjoy Pablo Honey), OK Computer is by far the superior album of the three. Before this album, Radiohead was just another Britpop band trying to make it big across the pond. OK Computer has a much more experimental sound (though not nearly as experimental as something like Kid A or Amnesiac, both of which came right after this album), but it’s surprisingly accessible. “Airbag” is a killer opening track, and songs like “Karma Police” and “Lucky” have the power to reach a wide audience. Since I have a thing for long, multi-part songs, my favorite song on this album (and favorite Radiohead song in general) is “Paranoid Android,” a track with so many layers that I just want to curl up and live in it. While OK Computer isn’t my favorite Radiohead album of all time (that title belongs to Hail to the Thief), it’s still a flawless record in an objective sense.

9. The Downward Spiral by Nine Inch Nails (1994)

I’ve gushed about Nine Inch Nails plenty in my NIN entry, but let me just tell you how incredible The Downward Spiral is. The first NIN song I ever heard was “Closer,” and my little pre-teen mind was fascinated by the creepiness this band exuded. The Downward Spiral was recorded in the house where Sharon Tate was murdered by the Manson family, which makes the album all the more frightening. This is supposedly a concept album following an unnamed protagonist through his descent into his own psyche--and boy, is it twisted. The lyrics are pretty dark (see “Heresy” and “Hurt,” especially), but the instrumentation is really the most menacing aspect. Listen to the clicking backbeat in “Closer,” or the swirling chorus of screams in “The Becoming.” Scary, ain’t it? If I were able to include EPs in this list, Broken would probably top this album, but The Downward Spiral is an obvious winner for best NIN album of the ‘90s.

8. The Holy Bible by Manic Street Preachers (1994)

Oddly enough, I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned Manic Street Preachers on this blog before. The Holy Bible is honestly the only Manics album I really enjoy, and I think that’s because it’s one of the darkest. Musically, it’s deceptively catchy. But lyrically, it deals with everything from British imperialism and fascism to anorexia and the Holocaust. It’s very much a politically charged album, taking on both the British and American governments. “Ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforonedayitsworldwouldfallapart” is an especially biting criticism of racism in the US (though bassist Nicky Wire has said it’s not a completely anti-American song). “4st 7lb” is a fairly intense portrait of an eating disorder. (Warning to readers who are sensitive to mentions of anorexia: DO NOT listen to “4st 7lb.”) The Holy Bible sounds a lot like a post-punk album, but it also invokes new wave, industrial, art rock and goth rock styles. It’s an unapologetic album and I really admire the band’s audacity to write about such serious subjects on a rock record.

7. The Fat of the Land by The Prodigy (1997)

I’ve always loved this album for nostalgic reasons, but now that I’m older, I can really appreciate how great of a record this is. I grew up listening to a lot of electronic music and The Prodigy eventually became one of my favorite bands. The Fat of the Land was always on repeat in my mom’s car, and I remember being so entranced with songs like “Breathe” and “Narayan.” This album has the perfect mix of pumped up tracks (“Smack My Bitch Up,” “Firestarter”) and musically layered spectacles (“Narayan,” “Climbatize”). The Fat of the Land, like The Downward Spiral and The Holy Bible, is a fairly controversial album (mostly because of “Smack My Bitch Up”), but don’t let that deter you. Even if you don’t like electronic music, you’ll probably like this.

6. Jagged Little Pill by Alanis Morissette (1995)

Angsty female singers of the ‘90s are my lifeblood. When I was younger, I wanted to be Alanis Morissette. Jagged Little Pill was Alanis’ first foray into alternative music, as her first two albums were of the dance-pop persuasion. But she sounds at home with the distorted guitars and harmonicas. The lyrical content always hits me hard, especially on tracks like “Perfect” and “Mary Jane.” There’s really a song for every mood on this album—“Mary Jane” is for those rough patches in life, “You Oughta Know” is for that awful breakup and “Head Over Feet” is for those special occasions when you find yourself in love with someone who really cares about you. So no, not all of Jagged Little Pill is endless angst, but even the slower songs have a certain intensity to them. Alanis isn’t afraid to get personal on this album and it definitely pays off.

5. Porno for Pyros by Porno for Pyros (1993)

I said this in my Jane’s Addiction entry, but I’ve always preferred Porno for Pyros over Jane’s Addiction. Perry Farrell is an entertainer, and Porno for Pyros always seemed like a better outlet for all that creativity than his first project. Of course, I still enjoy Jane’s Addiction (though not the more recent stuff), but this album just blows me away. When I went through my Woodstock ’94 phase (which I guess I’m still going through), I watched Porno for Pyros’ performance of “Cursed Female” and “Blood Rag” for the first time on YouTube. Both songs included a bit of performance art and I thought that was so rad. This band was edgy and psychedelic without trying too hard. Porno for Pyros is a fairly chill album compared to a typical Jane’s Addiction album, but the laid-back atmosphere is perfectly executed. The band’s second album is good, but not nearly as fantastic as this one. But apparently Perry and the gang are reuniting for a new PFP album soon. Fingers crossed.

4. In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel (1998)

Let me just crack open a PBR and put on my hipster glasses for this one. But in all seriousness, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is life-changing. I discovered this album during my senior year in high school, and I shit you not, it changed my life. Senior year was a really weird time for me and this album helped me get through it. I know it’s the quintessential “hipster” record (and yes, before you ask, I have it on vinyl), but that doesn’t make it any less amazing. Sure, Neutral Milk Hotel is not everyone’s cup of tea. I can understand why some people just don’t dig anything this band has every done. Jeff Mangum’s voice isn’t always pitch-perfect and the instrumentation is sometimes off. But the first time I heard the title track, I was somehow able to ignore all those minor issues. It’s very rare for me to fall in love with an album upon first listen, but In the Aeroplane Over the Sea won me over on the first try. I love the strange instrumentation (the band used everything from a singing saw to a shortwave radio) and I adore Jeff’s cracking voice. And yes, I still cry every time I listen to “Oh Comely” and “Two-Headed Boy Part 2.”

3. Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness by Smashing Pumpkins (1996)

This album is 100% nostalgia for me. I mean, a track like “1979” just sounds like how nostalgia feels. It’s so comforting. I feel like I could wrap Mellon Collie around me like a big fluffy blanket and just sleep in it. And if I haven’t already mentioned this about a million times already, I really love concept albums. According to Billy Corgan, this isn’t really a concept album, though—the two halves (Dawn to Dusk and Twilight to Starlight) represent day and night. Nevertheless, the musical diversity on Mellon Collie is impressive. The Smashing Pumpkins go from moody, hard rock riffs on “Zero” to string arrangements on “Tonight, Tonight” to playful electronic effects on “Lily (My One and Only).” Mellon Collie was the last really great Pumpkins album, in my opinion. This record, along with Siamese Dream, really defines the band.

2. In Utero by Nirvana (1993)

Yes, I’m one of those people who likes In Utero more than Nevermind. But that’s not because I think I’m too cool to like Nevermind (if you recall, it still made my Top 20). I prefer In Utero because it’s so much darker and definitely more personal than its predecessor. I like dark things—who knew? This album kind of hearkens back to Nirvana’s Bleach days, but it’s not as sludgy. There are some delicate tracks on here (see “Dumb” and “All Apologies”), but the majority of the album is a heavily distorted punch in the face. The opening track, “Serve the Servants,” uses a droning guitar riff that’s almost hypnotizing, “Tourette’s” is one big feedback fest and “Scentless Apprentice” features some of the dirtiest drum work (and gnarliest screams) I’ve ever heard. Whether we know the true meanings of these songs or not, I still believe Kurt Cobain bared his soul on this record.

1. Dookie by Green Day (1994)

Was there anyone out there who didn’t see this one coming? As I have mentioned countless times on this blog, Green Day is my favorite band, so of course Dookie is my favorite album of the ‘90s. Sorry that I’m just too predictable (but I’m not really sorry). But come on—Dookie is a really fun record. Even if you hate everything Green Day’s ever done, you probably still have a soft spot for this album. It’s snotty and brash while still being radio friendly. It has a song with one of the best bass lines I’ve ever heard (that would be “Longview”). It just makes me really happy, okay? “When I Come Around” was one of the first songs I ever remember hearing on the radio, and I would make up words to sing just so I could sing along. While Dookie isn’t necessarily the one album that truly defines me (if I had to choose one, it would probably be American Idiot), it’s still an amazing album. I can listen to every song about a million more times and I would still never get sick of any of them.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Sam's Top 50 Favorite Albums of the '90s (Part 4)

Sorry for no entry last week, my dear readers. I’ll make it up to you by skipping a regular entry in favor of part four of my ‘90s albums countdown! Check out parts one, two and three first.

20. When the Pawn… by Fiona Apple (1999)

If you were not already aware of how much I adore FionaApple, prepare for ultimate fangirl mode. Fiona is a queen and When the Pawn… is quite possibly my favorite album from her (her newest release, The Idler Wheel…, is a very close second). This album isn’t as jazzy as her debut, but Fiona manages to find the right mix of soulful and poppy. But there’s still some angst underneath all those gorgeous piano hooks, especially on tracks like “Limp” and “Get Gone.” Of course there are some general crowd pleasers (“Paper Bag,” “Fast As You Can”), but I think the real highlight on When the Pawn… has to be the final track, “I Know.” I saw this live and I won’t lie—I cried. “I Know” is a strikingly heartbreaking tune that shows off Fiona’s incredibly sultry voice perfectly. If you only know Fiona Apple for “Criminal,” you’re really missing out on her best stuff (though “Criminal” is still a fantastic song).

19. Mezzanine by Massive Attack (1998)

Didn’t I say you’d see more electronic artists as the countdown went on? I grew up listening to this album in my mom’s car (even though I had no idea what I was listening to at the time), but you might recognize one of these songs as the theme tune to House (that song is “Teardrop”). The rest of Mezzanine isn’t as delicate as “Teardrop,” but it’s still brilliant. Most of the tracks are sexy as hell, as is the case for most trip-hop bands. Just take a listen to “Inertia Creeps” or “Risingson” and try to tell me you don’t get all hot and bothered. Massive Attack has a way of making even the most complicated hook sound effortless—in fact, most of the beats in the band’s songs are a little weird, but in a good way. If you’re just starting to get into electronic music (or you’re only versed in dubstep), put on Mezzanine and prepare to have your mind blown.

18. Homogenic by Björk (1997)

Björk appeared earlier on this countdown with Post, but Homogenic is definitely my favorite album of hers. From the menacing opening track (“Hunter”) to the heartbreakingly beautiful closing track (“All is Full of Love”), this album is just flawless, and it’s Björk at her very best. Homogenic is the perfect mix of pop hooks and experimentation—it’s weird, but not too weird. The Icelandic pixie shows off her incredible vocal talent on tracks like “Joga” and my personal favorite, “Bachelorette.” Homogenic is full of stuttering beats, chilly string arrangements and lyrics that make you believe in love. I still think this is Björk’s best album and I will fight anyone who says otherwise. Some may be turned off by her more recent stuff (see the highly experimental and polarizing Biophilia), but Homogenic captures the true essence of this lovely lady.

17. Darkest Days by Stabbing Westward (1998)

Taking a detour from critically acclaimed albums for a second, let’s talk about Stabbing Westward. Not all of my favorite ‘90s albums are Pitchfork-friendly (see Creed and Dave Matthews Band), but they’re still perfect 10’s to me. I grew up thinking everyone knew who Stabbing Westward was because my parents let me listen to music I probably shouldn’t have been listening to at such a young age. My mom played the shit out of Darkest Days and I eventually fell in love with it. In case you weren’t aware, Stabbing Westward was an industrial band (though not quite as heavy as Nine Inch Nails or Ministry) that had a “Brandon Lee in The Crow” vibe. You may know for their arguably biggest hit, “Save Yourself.” The rest of Darkest Days is basically a dark concept album that follows four phases of going through a nasty break-up. It’s loud, emotionally raw and just plain badass.

16. Dirty by Sonic Youth (1992)

To me (and I guess to most critics), Dirty ranks pretty high on the list of great Sonic Youth albums. The title is also the perfect description of the noise you’ll hear for one solid hour. It opens with a solid wall of sound on “100%” and continues to let the guitars buzz, even on slower tracks like “Wish Fulfillment” and “JC.” If you don’t like distortion, I’d stay away from Dirty (but you’re totally missing out on some of the best noise rock you’ll ever hear). Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore trade off vocal duties throughout the album (Lee Ronaldo only gets one song, but it’s actually one of my favorites), and even though their vocal styles are different, I don’t prefer one over the other. I keep thinking, “Oh, well I like Kim’s songs more because of ‘Swimsuit Issue’ and ‘Drunken Butterfly.’ But wait, Thurston sings really well on ‘Sugar Kane’ and ‘100%.’ THEY’RE BOTH SO PERFECT.”

15. Vegas by The Crystal Method (1997)

More electronic artists! Like Massive Attack’s Mezzanine, this album was always on repeat in my mom’s car. Vegas was TheCrystal Method’s debut album, and remains the group’s most successful album to date. I think the record’s appeal stems from the totally random samples used in almost every song. For example, the album’s opening track, “Trip Like I Do,” samples dialogue from the ultra-cool Jim Henson movie, The Dark Crystal. “Keep Hope Alive” samples a Jesse Jackson speech. But perhaps the weirdest sample is in “Bad Stone,” which uses dialogue from a couple of Bill Cosby’s stand-up routines. Other than the samples, Vegas is just a rich electonic album with a huge sound. It reminds me of a massive wave that continuously crashes around me.

14. Californication by Red Hot Chili Peppers (1999)

Okay, so I know including this album is really cutting it close in terms of the time frame. Californication was released at the tail end of the ‘90s and its major singles didn’t even make it to the radio until 2000. But dammit, this is my favorite Red Hot Chili Peppers album and I will include it in this list if I so choose! I’ve heard a lot of criticism about this album, and I can see where it comes from. Yes, it’s not as funky as, say, Blood Sugar Sex Magik. And yes, it does sound a bit overproduced. But I’ve always had this strange connection to it since the day I first heard “Otherside” (also, this album’s predecessor, One Hot Minute, is pretty awful). John Frusciante comes roaring back to the band with some crazy awesome riffs, especially on “This Velvet Glove” and “Around the World.” Many of these tracks are a bit more personal than tracks on previous Chili Peppers album (even though a lot of critics called it “false empathy”), and I think that’s what makes Californication stand out to me. Yes, Blood Sugar Sex Magik is still an amazing album (and it’s probably objectively better than this one), but I will always prefer Californication.

13. Insomniac by Green Day (1995)

Finally, Green Day makes its first appearance on this countdown. You saw it coming. While most people tend to remember Dookie as one of the best Green Day albums, Insomniac is probably the most underrated album in the band’s catalog. This was kind of a big “fuck you” to all the punks back home who cried, “Sell-outs!” Insomniac is raw, nasty and honestly has some of the best Green Day songs ever. Billie Joe Armstrong and company manage to pack a metric ton of angst into just 32 minutes of music. The lyrics are so much darker than the songs on Dookie—“Geek Stink Breath” tells the story of a meth addict and “Brat” tells the story of a kid waiting for his parents to die so he can get his inheritance. “Brain Stew/Jaded” was the most successful single (they’re technically two separate songs, but they were released as a single track for radio play), but the real highlight on Insomniac (for me, at least) is “Panic Song.” That track was written by both Billie Joe and bassist Mike Dirnt as kind of an homage to panic attacks, and that really hits home for me.

12. Rubberneck by The Toadies (1994)

I’m fairly certain that I mentioned multiple times in my Toadies entry that this band is probably the most underrated band of the ‘90s. You know these Texas post-grungers for their hit “Possum Kingdom,” but the rest of the album it came from is beyond brilliant. The Toadies inject some Southern charm into their strange, post-grunge sound, and it’s kind of unnerving (in a good way). I mean, just listen to the lyrics on “Tyler.” That song is about some guy who stalks a girl and breaks into her house. “Possum Kingdom” is (supposedly) about vampires. And Todd Lewis really knows how to wail (with his voice, that is). There’s an underlying creepiness to Rubberneck that’s hard to find on other albums, and I just wish more people listened to this band and appreciated it. I saw the Toadies live quite a few years ago and they sounded incredible. Even their most recent album is almost Rubberneck quality. It’s really too bad they’re considered a one-hit-wonder.

11. Nevermind by Nirvana (1991)

Before you go shunning me for not putting this in the top 10, let me just remind you that these are my personal preferences. You’ll see Nirvana again, I promise. As for Nevermind—well, what can I say about this album that hasn’t already been said? The first time I listened to it, I felt like I had found the Holy Grail. I was a pre-teen with some manufactured angst and I absolutely worshipped this band in 5th and 6th grade. I remember listening to Nevermind with my friend Alex and deciding to start a band (that obviously fell through because neither of us could play an instrument). I also remember being completely devastated when I found out Kurt Cobain has died almost a decade prior to the first time I heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Even though this album belongs to Generation X, I can still feel the impact. I still love the three-chord simplicity, the gruffness of Kurt’s vocals, the often-nonsensical lyrics. Nevermind may be as old as me, but it feels new every time I hear it.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Sam's Top 50 Favorite Albums of the '90s (Part 3)

Get ready for part three! Check out part one and part two first.

30. Sixteen Stone by Bush (1994)

So, if you couldn’t tell already, a lot of my favorite albums came out in 1994. This was the year of Kurt Cobain’s death and the unofficial death of grunge. All other bands with a similar sound that came out after Kurt’s passing are considered post-grunge (what an original name). Bush was one of the first, and say what you will about the band’s later albums, but Sixteen Stone is flawless. If you don’t listen to any other Bush albums, listen to this one. Gavin Rossdale and company are from across the pond, but they ended up with not three, not four, but FIVE successful singles from just this album. You’ll probably recognize the songs “Comedown,” “Everything Zen” and my personal favorite, “Glycerine.” Bush isn’t the most creative band out there, but sometimes I like straightforward rock songs, and Sixteen Stone has plenty of those.

29. Electriclarryland by Butthole Surfers (1996)

What can I say about Butthole Surfers? This band is strange and unapologetic, but it scored a mainstream hit with a song that features the line, “Then there was the ever-present football player rapist / They were all in love with dyin’, they were doing it in Texas.” That was from possibly the only Butthole Surfers song most people know, “Pepper.” The rest of Electriclarryland is a pretty bizarre ride (though not nearly as bizarre as earlier albums), but it still packs a punch. There’s something psychedelic about the whole album, like a 50-minute acid trip. It’s honestly difficult to describe Butthole Surfers to someone who isn’t familiar with their music. My only advice is to listen to Electriclarryland first, then work your way up to something like Locust Abortion Technician. Highlights include “Jingle of a Dog’s Collar,” “Cough Syrup” and “The Lord is a Monkey.”

28. Goo by Sonic Youth (1990)

This was the first Sonic Youth album I ever listened to and it quickly became one of my favorites. I was always aware that Sonic Youth was an important band and basically required listening. During my huge Nirvana phase back in 5th and 6th grade, I took Kurt Cobain’s musical preferences as gospel and began to go through all his influences. That list included PJ Harvey, the Melvins and of course, Sonic Youth. Goo is usually cited as the band’s best album (probably next to Daydream Nation) and the most accessible album thanks to singles like “Kool Thing” and “Dirty Boots.” It’s noisy, gritty and just plain cool. My favorite Sonic Youth song also appears on this album, even though Goo is only my second favorite album from the band (that song is “Mote” if you’re interested).

27. Eleventeen by Daisy Chainsaw (1992)

I just recently got into this band and I’m still kicking myself for not listening to Eleventeen earlier. I first heard of Daisy Chainsaw on an episode of Roseanne (if you know me in real life, you know how much I love that show). This was Darlene’s favorite band, and I love Darlene, so I had to check it out. Eleventeen is the definition of noise rock with one hell of a female singer. It’s the only Daisy Chainsaw album to feature the flawless Katie Jane Garside on lead vocals, and oh man, can she wail. Katie Jane has one of the best screams I’ve ever heard. Add some heavy distortion and trippy vocal effects and you’ve got one weird, raw album. It’s really too bad Daisy Chainsaw broke up. I always seem to get into bands that have already disappeared.

26. Odelay by Beck (1996)

Oh, Beck. You clever man. Yes, I went with the obvious choice for best ‘90s Beck album, but Odelay is incredible (and it proved that Beck wasn’t just a one hit wonder with “Loser”). This was one of the many albums that I found in the CD traveler case in my mom’s car and became obsessed with. Beck is cool without even trying, especially on songs like “Devil’s Haircut” and “Sissyneck.” Even though he samples a healthy mix of different songs, he makes everything his own. Take “Where It’s At” for example—Beck samples five different songs, but the samples are seamless. “Where It’s At” doesn’t sound like an amalgamation of five different artists—it sounds like one really rad Beck song. This man is incredibly talented and dares to be different, experimenting with hip-hop, noise rock and folk music. Odelay is still impressive almost a decade later.

25. Loveless by My Bloody Valentine (1991)

I tried to explain what shoegaze is to my mom one day, but I found it impossible to give her a clear description, so I just played “Only Shallow” from Loveless. I waited a while to listen to My Bloody Valentine, possibly because I didn’t think I could handle it. You have to be emotionally prepared for Loveless. This album is pure fuzzy noise, but it’s beautiful. Each song is a swirl of drum loops, hushed vocals and the sound of a million guitars. When you hear the term “wall of sound,” it’s basically referring to this album. The sound just hits you in the face and the swallows you whole. I know quite a few people who can’t stand My Bloody Valentine, but they’re wrong and we’re probably not friends anymore (kidding, but seriously, they’re wrong). Loveless has influenced plenty of bigger names, including Trent Reznor, The Cure and Radiohead. It’s a fuzzy dreamscape that I don’t want to wake up from.

24. Pinkerton by Weezer (1996)

Remember when Weezer put out great albums? Pinkerton wasn’t a huge hit when it first came out, but it has since gained cult status (and a perfect 10/10 rating from Pitchfork). It’s dark, it’s abrasive and it has one of the best drunk sing-a-long songs ever (“El Scorcho”). I’ll admit that I wasn’t a Weezer super fan before I head this album. I was familiar with a few songs, most notably “Buddy Holly” and “Hashpipe.” I listened to Pinkerton for the first time over Christmas break a few years ago and I fell in love. It’s a brutally honest album with some excellent musical moments. The heaviness of a track like “Tired of Sex” meshes surprisingly well with the delicateness of a track like “Butterfly.” Pinkerton is one of those albums that seems to be accessible for everyone, even people who otherwise dislike Weezer. Everyone finds common ground when they’re shouting, “I think I’d be good for you / And you’d be good for me!”

23. Human Clay by Creed (1999)

I’m not even sorry for this one. You secretly made fun of me for including Dave Matthews Band earlier in the countdown, but now you’re probably considering leaving this blog for good for including Creed in a list of great albums. If you read my previous entry on the band, you already know that I used to be a Creed fanatic. Since this band was such a huge part of my life growing up (though not so much anymore), I just had to include Human Clay. Ignoring “With Arms Wide Open” for a second (because that song is probably the worst one on this album), Human Clay is a pretty strong rock record. “Are You Ready?” is a great opener, and even the slower songs have intensity. Yes, Scott Stapp’s voice can get grating at times, but he can still carry a tune. And yes, I still know the words to every song. Judge me all you want.

22. Dummy by Portishead (1994)

Still with me after that last album? Yes? Good. Let’s talk about Portishead. I grew up listening to a lot of ‘90s electronic music. I got really into trip-hop for a while with Massive Attack’s Mezzanine (which you’ll see later in the countdown), and it was around that time that I found Portishead. Beth Gibbons’ voice is absolutely heavenly and the instrumentals are so sexy. I remember listening to this album during a certain coming of age experience, so that might be why it appears so high on this list. But aside from that, Dummy is just a really chill record. This sounds silly, but I’ve written so much poetry while listening to songs like “Mysterons” and “Pedestal.” The slower tempos and trippy electronic effects are perfect for fueling creativity. And “Strangers” remains one of my favorite songs of all time.

21. Frizzle Fry by Primus (1990)

If you know me at all, you know that I adore Primus. And while this band has a fairly strong catalog, I’m going to have to go with Frizzle Fry as my absolute favorite (though Tales from the Punchbowl is a very close second). Frizzle Fry is the first complete studio album from the band and it’s the perfect introduction to the insanity that is Primus. I have a thing for heavy bass and this album is ALL BASS. The first Primus song I ever heard was “Too Many Puppies” and it hits me just as hard as the first time I heard it. Not only is Les Claypool a master bassist, but Larry LaLonde is one of the most underrated guitarists of all time. There’s some real skill on songs like “Pudding Time” and “The Toys Go Winding Down” that you just can’t ignore. Frizzle Fry as a whole is probably the heaviest funk metal album you’ll ever come across. And if you ever get a chance to see Primus live (which I had the pleasure of doing a few years ago), bring a helmet.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013


Sound Familiar?
“My Own Prison,” “Higher,” “With Arms Wide Open”

Who Are They?
Everyone’s favorite butt rock band to hate (next to Nickelback, of course).

Scott Stapp and Mark Tremonti met in high school in Tallahassee and formed a band called Naked Toddler in 1993. Once rhythm guitarist Brian Marshall and drummer Scott Phillips joined the group, the four-some changed its name to Creed.

The band had an awful time trying to book shows early on, so the boys ended up playing in gay bars and T.G.I. Friday’s. But once Creed played a successful show in a Tallahassee bar, the bar’s manager (who was conveniently head of his own promotions company) hooked them up with a producer named John Kurzweg.

Creed’s first album, 1997’s My Own Prison, was initially self-released and sold about 6,000 copies in Florida. The album began circulating around the music industry and eventually fell into the hands of Wind-Up Records rep Diana Meltzer.

My Own Prison was remixed and re-released by Wind-Up Records later that year. The album spawned four singles (“My Own Prison,” “Torn,” “What’s This Life For?” and “One”), all of which reached number one on the Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. Believe it or not, Creed was the first band to achieve this feat with a debut album.

With the money made from My Own Prison, Creed released the follow-up, Human Clay, in 1999. Though not as critically acclaimed as its predecessor, Human Clay did have two huge things going for it: “Higher” and “With Arms Wide Open.”

Chances are, when you think of Creed, you immediately hear “With Arms Wide Open” and have visions of Scott Stapp spreading his arms into the wind like a butt rock messiah. This is arguably Creed’s biggest hit (along with “Higher”) and I’m still not sure why (but we’ll get into my secret Creed feelings later on).

(Fun fact: Human Clay is the #8 best-selling album of the past 20 years. Metallica’s The Black Album is #1.)

Where Are They Now?
Reunited and possibly working on a fifth studio album (though that may currently be on hold).

In 2000, right when Creed was on top of the world, bassist Brian Marshall decided to badmouth Pearl Jam. Big mistake, Brian. He claimed that Scott was a better songwriter than Eddie Vedder and criticized the band’s music as a whole for “having songs without hooks.” Scott made it clear that he didn’t share Brian’s views and Brian eventually ditched the group.

For Creed’s third studio album, 2001’s Weathered, guitarist Mark Tremonti pulled double duty and played both lead guitar and bass. The album was a huge success, debuting at #1 on the Billboard Top 200 and staying there for eight solid weeks (a record the band shares with The Beatles).

The tour to promote Weathered, on the other hand, was not as successful. It was delayed in 2002 when Scott was injured in a car accident, which resulted in his addiction to painkillers (along with a steadily growing alcohol problem).

At a tour stop in Illinois in December 2002, Scott was apparently “so intoxicated and/or medicated that he was unable to sing the lyrics of a single Creed song.” Four concertgoers filed a lawsuit against the band, but the case was later dismissed (though Scott did ultimately admit that he was, in fact, intoxicated during the show).

Tensions mounted between Scott and the rest of the band, resulting in Creed’s dissolution in 2004. Scott immediately went on to a solo career and the remaining members joined forces with Myles Kennedy to form Alter Bridge.

After Mark swore up and down that Creed would never reunite, the band got back together for a new tour in 2009. A new album, Full Circle, was released later that year, along with a record-breaking concert film, Creed Live.

(Fun fact: Creed Live broke the world record for the most cameras used at a live music event, which was a total of 239.)

After a fairly successful tour, Creed went back to the studio to begin work on a fifth studio album, but further details on new material have yet to surface. And now that Alter Bridge is back up and running, it looks like Creed is back on hiatus.

But Why Creed?
Because I’ve been waiting to write this entry for a long time. Also, I still think Creed has one album left in them.

What Does Sam Think?
Okay, I think it’s about time I revealed my secret to you all. I, Sam Boyer, ‘90s queen and grunge enthusiast, used to be the biggest Creed fan on the face of the earth. And not only did I worship this band, but I was also a card-carrying fan club member. (I wish I still had the card to prove it, but alas, it’s gone.)

So if you know me, this really isn’t that big of a secret. For a solid two-year period, I was hopelessly obsessed with this band. I still remember the lyrics to every song from the first three Creed albums. And yes, I still like to listen to them.

Perhaps my thought process is clouded by nostalgia, but I still don’t understand why so many people vehemently hate Creed. I can see why people dislike them—not everyone digs spiritual power-ballads with heavy Christian undertones. But why do people loathe them beyond reason?

Creed’s mainstream success obviously doesn’t reflect the group’s reputation as one of the most hated bands ever. Scott Stapp and company sold millions of albums and even broken records. Human Clay broke the Top 10 Best-Selling Albums of the Past 20 Years. So do millions of people (including myself) just have bad taste in music?

I’m not going to argue that Creed is the greatest band of all time—they’re just some guys from Tallahassee who started a post-grunge band and played some rad music that really resonated with people. “With Arms Wide Open” isn’t the song of a generation (and it’s far from the best Creed song anyway). Human Clay isn’t the best album of all time. But Creed is a decent band.

I don’t expect you to suddenly become a Creed fan overnight, but if you’ve never listened to the band’s music outside of the hits, consider giving it a try. You won’t die, I promise. If anything, give My Own Prison a listen. Compared to Human Clay and Weathered (we’re just going to ignore Full Circle because that album was awful), My Own Prison is incredibly dark. It’s definitely not riddled with soaring ballads.

Now that I’m not an eleven-year-old Creed fangirl, I can look back at my obsession objectively. How did I get into this band in the first place? What made a semi-Christian rock band appealing to me? I don’t consider myself religious at all, but I enjoy the storytelling in Creed’s songs. There are some great lyrics that still resonate with me, and even though the instrumentation is your typical testosterone-drenched post-grunge riffing (most of the time), it’s still catchy.

I guess the moral of the story is, if you happen to genuinely enjoy a band most people seem to hate, embrace it. Don’t call it a guilty pleasure if you don’t feel guilty about it. And if you want me to serenade you with Creed songs some night, buy me drinks and watch the magic (and the messiah arms) happen.

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