And now for a stroll down memory lane… The sound of decades past.
Notable September 2009 releases:
The Avett Brothers – I and Love and You
Not everyone agrees that this is Seth and Scott’s finest effort, but those who disagree are wrong. It really doesn’t get better than this, and starts with the title track, a gorgeous piano song that is still the most-streamed of their career. When the chorus hits for the first time, it induces chills, and furthermore “dumbed down and numbed by time and age, your dreams the catch the world the cage; the highway sets the traveler’s stage, all exits look the same” is all-time greatness.
“January Wedding” is a terrific love song driven by banjo and acoustic guitar and is so earnest that few artists could successfully pull it off. “Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise” is my favorite track here and features some real introspection: “there was a kid with a head full of doubt, so I’ll scream ‘til I die or the last of those bad thoughts are finally out”. Yes, most of this record is piano driven, thoughtful music that some might find to be a bummer, but the writing is as strong as the musicianship.
There are also a few up-tempo numbers mixed in that serve to keep things loose, including “And It Spread”, “Kick Drum Heart”, and the bombastic/fantastic “Slight Figure of Speech”. Yes, there are also a couple of weak moments (see “Tin Man” and “It Goes On and On”), but those are easily overlooked among the rest of I and Love and You’s glory. Things close out with the simple yet lovely “Incomplete and Insecure” and its repeated mantra “I haven’t finished a thing since I started my life, don’t feel much like starting now”.
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/2PPFtYUnnqMYflIEn3b7ON?si=ilb3Di-ISUi6MWvu9PdThQ
Pearl Jam – Backspacer
On the heels of their disappointing (but better than most people give it credit for) eponymous album, Pearl Jam came back with a fury on Backspacer. The first three songs (“Gonna See My Friend”, “Got Some”, and lead single “The Fixer”) rock as hard as anything since Vs. and make it clear these guys were far from washed up. P.S. if you were actually worried in 2008 that PJ was washed up, you clearly hadn’t seen them perform live recently.
After the forgettable “Johnny Guitar”, things really get going again with one of Eddie’s finest love songs, “Just Breathe”. “Amongst the Waves” is everything a rock song should be and inspires one to live life to the fullest (maybe, for example, writing a blog entry in your underwear). Mr. Vedder’s voice shines on the highlight that is “Speed of Sound”, and can melt even the coldest heart on the stunning album closer “The End”. This record is the sound of America’s greatest band getting older, wiser, and I would say better with age.
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/4DCwNXpnKEBYbls0T4LQzN?si=SOraAG5nRkObUmpAlLClNw
Notable September 1999 release:
Nine Inch Nails – The Fragile
This double-album was huge when it was released, the result of a five-year wait after the seminal The Downward Spiral and an aggressive marketing campaign that included two terrific singles. The NIN logo had become so ubiquitous that Trent even partially obscured it on the album cover. Thankfully, the music lived up to the hype, and this was a big part of the sound of my high school years.
The killer singles that blew up rock radio (“We’re In This Together Now”, a 7-minute masterpiece that sounds more ominous than comforting, and “Into the Void”, with the classic “I tried to save myself, but myself keeps slipping away” line) were just the beginning of what I describe as a modern industrial rock opera.
Speaking of beginning, “Somewhat Damaged” is one of the finest compositions of pain and rage that I have ever heard even to this day twenty years later. Trent’s ability to express vulnerability and hurt as his music relentlessly pummels you is truly a gift, and when he seethes “broken, bruised, forgotten, sore… poisoned to my rotten core, too fucked up to care anymore” I want to turn it up until my ears bleed.
Feelings of alienation and isolation are rampant throughout the album, especially on the marvelous “The Day the World Went Away” or “Where Is Everybody?”. The piano that drives “The Wretched” could be coming from a morgue and gets backed up by a guitar riff so heavily distorted that it doesn’t even sound natural.
The title track is a plodding ode to someone that Trent wants desperately to save from the fate he has already realized, and finds him pleading “I won’t let you fall apart… its something I have to do, I was there too; before everything else, I was like you”. It also paints this dystopian picture: “We’ll find a place where we can run and hide, I’ll build a wall and we can keep them on the other side; but they keep picking, and picking, and picking, and picking…”. Chills, just before the sonic assault resumes.
I could go on about these 23 tracks, but suffice it to say that I believe this is Trent’s crowning achievement, which is saying something since he also wrote Pretty Hate Machine and The Downward Spiral, two of the greatest rock albums of all time.
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/4uiVwLbTzE6VMkXpaDAwB8?si=UE94UpJcTn6uaY_qSUaVeg