24 To Fight For: Depeche Mode

24 To Fight For: Depeche Mode

Listen To The List: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/19HA7QqS8VMJGHMdWist4Z

Imagine if you had to choose a desert island playlist for a band you really love. Imagine if for some reason you were going away and could only take a single 24 song playlist with you for that beloved group and that those would be the only songs by that artist that you could ever listen to again. What would you choose? What 24 songs would you fight for and say that these songs are your personal favorites and/or the best that the artist has to offer. That is the premise of my 24 To Fight For playlists. For this project I will choose my personal favorites from an artist and make the tough call of ranking those songs from #24 to #1 (trying to NOT let the fact that some songs may be overplayed influence me but basing them on my original feelings are much as possible). This is my list and I would love to see you play along and make yours too! What songs would you fight for?

AUTHOR’S NOTE: When I first envisioned this particular project one of the bands that I was initially excited to create my list for was my favorite band, Depeche Mode. However, I continually delayed actually doing my list for Depeche Mode for fear that it would just be too hard. After all, when I did my 24 To Fight For for U2, a band I really like and appreciate, but don’t love the way I do Depeche Mode I found it exceptionally hard to winnow down my list. However, as I compiled my list of 24 Depeche Mode songs I found something that surprised me, it was easier than I thought it would be by a lot. As much as I love Depeche Mode and truly believe that they have very few bad songs in their discography, it became apparent that there was a core group of songs from my favorite band that I just liked better than the rest. That group was larger than 24 songs, but not by a whole lot, so creating this list was much less painful than creating my similar lists for bands like U2, Live, or even Coldplay, bands that I love, but nearly as much. This isn’t a list of what the world thinks is their biggest hits and best songs, nor is it comprehensive (it under represents both DM’s early years and their later ones), but it is my “desert island disk” of 24 songs, and while you will find hits on it my list is also missing Depeche Mode classics like “Strangelove”, “Somebody”, Walking In My Shoes”, “People Are People”, “Everything Counts, “It’s No Good” and others. So, let me present my 24 To Fight For – Depeche Mode.

#24 – “Policy Of Truth” – From the album Violator

Built up from a darkly cool, slinky groove that somehow both feels propulsive and languid, “Policy Of Truth” was Depeche Mode’s third massive hit single from 1990’s Violator. Telling a cautionary tale of morality gone astray, Dave Gahan sings the darkly ironic lyric with absolute conviction, while Martin Gore’s background lyrics provide an eerie, haunted counterpoint, while Alan Wilder and producer Flood add a variety effects, noises, and atmospheric touches that raise the song from excellent to full-blown classic.

#23 – “Going Backwards” – From the album Spirit 

Even in the 1980’s when Depeche Mode was an all-synthesizer group primary songwriter Martin Gore always insisted in interviews and with critics that Depeche Mode were a rock and roll band. The lead track from 2017’s Spirit proves that true more than even guitar-led synth stompers like “Personal Jesus” or “I Feel You”. While the synths are present “Going Backwards” sounds and feels like a rock track with organic, rock instrumentation. Lyrically, the song is an attack on the rise of xenophobia, nationalism, and neo-conservative politics that has fueled movements like Brexit in the UK and Trumpism in the US. The song sets the tone for the album and proves to be one of Depeche Mode’s best latter-day songs.

#22 – “Judas” – From the album Songs Of Faith & Devotion

Depeche Mode’s primary songwriter is multi-instrumentalist Martin Gore. Even though Gore is not the band’s lead singer he has a beautiful tenor voice and it is Gore’s superb backing and counterpoint vocals that are one of the secret weapons of Depeche Mode. However, on every Depeche Mode album except A Broken Frame, Gore steps to the forefront and takes lead vocals on a song or two. “Judas” is the first of four Gore-sung vocals that will be on this list. “Judas” is a masterpiece of mood and atmosphere, opening with uilleann pipes that create an eerie, foggy atmosphere before a chugging beat and sadly sweet synth part come in to support Gore’s vocals. “Judas” is a fan favorite and one of the more underrated songs in the Depeche Mode oeuvre. 

#21 – “Leave In Silence” – From the album A Broken Frame 

Depeche Mode found success right from the beginning with their first album Speak & Spell spinning off hit singles like the bouncy and fun “Just Can’t Get Enough” and “New Life”. However, the primary songwriter on that album was original member Vince Clarke, who would leave the band after Speak & Spell’s supporting tour to first form Yaz and then Erasure. Rather than fall apart Depeche Mode simply moved forward with Martin Gore as their new primary songwriter. Gore’s songwriting would follow a darker path than that of Clarke, and while much of their second album A Broken Frame would find Depeche Mode pulled between the upbeat synthpop of their first album and the darker textures Gore wanted to pursue, the album’s opening track was the moody, pulsing early career highlight “Leave In Silence” which proved Depeche Mode would be just fine without Clarke.

#20 – “The Things You Said” – From the album Music For The Masses 

The second lead vocal from Martin Gore to make it on to my list is “The Things You Said”. Gore’s tenor is best suited to softer and more intimate moments and “The Things Yous Said” is perfectly crafted to suit him. A bitter examination of a relationship falling apart due to rumors and a lack of trust Gore is able to make “The Things You Said” feel both accusatory and morose. It is a song that deals in high drama without being overly dramatic. “The Things You Said” is built off of a sensual pulse that has a dark edge, while Gore sings in a manner that suggests secretive conversation and quiet disappointment. 

#19 – “Told You So” – From the album Construction Time Again 

Perhaps no Depeche Mode album should be played as a full album more than 1983’s Construction Time Again whose industrial musical influences and lyrical themes of politics, poverty, and work create something of a song cycle. That said, one of the individual highlights for me from that record is the swirling and pulsing “Told You So”. An examination of organized religion’s exclusionary tendencies (and the hypocritical nature of many of their members) that manages to be both lyrically clever and a great synth/dance number. The underlying keyboard/synth riff is catchy, while gang shouts, cool vocal effects, and a strangely quirky song intro make “Take You So” one of the more interesting and unexpected moments in the early Depeche Mode canon.

#18 – “Stripped” – From the album Black Celebration 

“Stripped” is, perhaps, the epitome of Depeche Mode’s experimentations with “found sounds” and masterfully incorporates engine noise and industrial sounds into its synthetic/electronic musical base. These choices make perfect sense as a counterpoint to the song’s lyrical themes of finding personal fulfillment through human connections rather than becoming overwhelmed and isolated by urban sprawl and invasive technology; themes that resonate even more now than they did when the song was first released in 1986. Indeed, “Stripped” is almost prophetic in its prediction of our dependence on technology and suggests healing comes from letting go and baring your emotions to another human being – and it sounds great doing it.

#17 – “Little 15” – From the album Music For The Masses 

“Little 15” is one of of Depeche Mode’s most simple songs, yet it still packs a musical and emotional punch. The music starts out as a circular, almost circus-like, synth riff that continues throughout most of the song while other subtle elements are slowly added to give the song a feeling of increasing tension and drama. Meanwhile, David Gahan sings of a lonely older woman who feels trapped by her life and who finds both hope and envy in her 15 year old traveling companion’s joie de vivre and unwritten future. The song does what many of the best Depeche Mode songs do by finding a perfect balance between darkness and light. It’s also a song that my own personal appreciation has increased for as I’ve aged and my perspective has shifted from the younger character to the older one.

#16 – “In Your Room” – From the album Songs Of Faith & Devotion 

First, I have to be clear that while I do like the album version of “In Your Room” that appears on Songs Of Faith & Devotion, the version I prefer and am including here is Butch Vig’s Zephyr Mix that was used as the single version of the song in both the US and UK. “In Your Room” is the centerpiece of Songs Of Faith & Devotion and is ominous, atmospheric, and darkly epic as it slowly builds in scale and drama. Vig’s remix of the song creates a fuller sound while also adding a guitar part that serves as a sonic hook that ties the song together and elevates it to potential alt rock radio hit rather than just the atmospheric moodpiece the album version is.

#15 – “Suffer Well” – From the album Playing The Angel 

Depeche Mode’s primary songwriter Martin Gore may well be one of the greatest songwriters of his generation so it makes sense that he has written the vast majority of Depeche Mode’s songs over the course of their career. However, in the early 2000’s singer David Gahan released two solo records and began to push to have some writing credits in Depeche Mode too. Gahan is a decent songwriter but he and his writing partners are no Martin Gore. And least not usually. However, Depeche Mode has put out four albums so far in the 21st century and it is at least arguable that the best Depeche Mode song from those albums is “Suffer Well”, penned by Gahan (and his writing partners Christian Eigner and Andrew Phillpott). “Suffer Well” does what the best Depeche Mode songs do: It blends the synthetic and organic, the club-friendly with the pop-oriented, the sacred with the profane, and it manages to do it while sounding like a wonderful cross-pollination between the sound of Depeche Mode and New Order. The song is also strengthened by Gore’s perfect backing vocals. “Suffer Well” is Gahan’s high point as a writer and a late career classic for the band.

#14 – “Something To Do” – From the album Some Great Reward 

Urgent and intense “Something To Do” opens up Depeche Mode’s fourth album Some Great Reward in dynamic fashion. Depeche Mode had always had hits and made good albums but Some Great Reward is where it really all comes together for them and kicks off a run of five (arguably six) albums that are close to flawless. “Something To Do” combines the “found sound”/industrial synthpop style that they had pioneered with a hard-charging club beat, a shared Gahan/Gore vocal, and lyrics looking for joy and meaning in a world that is largely filled with drudgery and meaninglessness. While the production techniques and computers would get better, “Something To Do” showcases the classic Depeche Mode sound that would make them alternative music legends in the coming years.

#13 – “The Bottom Line” – From the album Ultra 

I’m not sure why but “The Bottom Line” spoke to me from the first time I heard it and has remained one of my personal favorites ever since that first listen. Another Gore lead vocal, I think it is one of his best, his voice warm and full of yearning. Lyrically, the song is about love, obsession, and the inevitable outcome of destiny. Musically, “The Bottom Line” sounds and feels like Depeche Mode as Gore sings over a simple bed of electronic pulses and noises. However, there is an added sense of ambience that really makes the song stand out due to the presence of steel guitarist B.J. Cole and drummer Jaki Liebezeit of Can fairly prominently on the song. Cole adds an exotic flair as his steel guitar adds an almost Hawaiian feel at moments, while Liebezeit’s live drumming adds an organic feel to the beat that makes the song feel more human and lively.

#12 – “Personal Jesus” – From the album Violator 

In 1989 Depeche Mode shocked critics, doubters, and their fans with the release of the lead single from their upcoming album Violator, “Personal Jesus”. The track was shocking to both those who loved the band and those who questioned their rock status because it featured guitars. Depeche Mode had used guitars for accents and aural coloring to their synth music before but “Personal Jesus” was built off a full-blown blues guitar lick played by Gore over a minimalist electronic/synth beat. While an outlier of sorts on the diamond-hard and darkly pulsing Violator album “Personal Jesus” became a massive, mainstream hit and, in a sense, marked the end of Depeche Mode as a synthpop band and the start of Depeche Mode as electro-rockers. The song is insanely catchy and musically clever, combining elements of rock’s distant past with the very modern. It also featured a lyric that juxtaposed the religious with the secular, examining the way Priscilla Presley felt about Elvis and equating her devotion to him and his ability to make her feel safe and healed to the relationship between Christ and Christians. In the end though “Personal Jesus” is just a great song with a wicked riff that plays great as a single and even better as a live showstopper.

#11 – “Clean” – From the album Violator

Martin Gore has stated that he based the sound of “Clean” on Pink Floyd’s “Meddle” and it is similar with its rumbling, driving bassline and otherwise minimalist sound. It opens with a chorus-like intro that creates a quasi-religious tone before the bass groove and Dave Gahan’s voice come in. Gahan sings a defiant lyric about overcoming his obstacles and addictions that only has gained in emotional resonance in the years since as his real life battles with addiction and recovery became public knowledge. “Clean” is simple, uplifting, and redemptive, and serves as a perfect ending to one of the greatest albums of all time.

#10 – “Never Let Me Down Again” – From the album Music For The Masses 

“Never Let Me Down Again” opens 1987’s Music For The Masses in dramatic fashion while also foreshadowing the more organic direction the band would pursue in future years. Featuring a slamming rhythm part that is almost Zeppelinesque in its size “Never Let Me Down Again” immediately grabs the listener’s attention. The song also features some subtle guitar accents and builds to a huge, show stopping finale. It has deservedly remained a fan favorite over the years and is still often an important song in Depeche Mode’s live show. 

#9 – “But Not Tonight” – From the album Black Celebration 

Depeche Mode’s album Black Celebration is a bleak affair, filled with songs about death, the loss of innocence, the isolating nature of technology, the fleetingness of love and passion, and the meaninglessness of life. Yet, at the end of the album is “But Not Tonight”, a melancholy yet warm song that offers a glimmer of hope in the form of the renewing power of nature. “But Not Tonight” is simple and melodic and stands in contrast to most of the rest of the album in both tone and themes. It is a great song placed perfectly on the album to lend that album more emotional power. However, it wasn’t meant to happen. Depeche Mode thought the song was a throwaway and originally allowed it to be used in the promotion for a film called Modern Girls and as the B-side to the pre-album single “Stripped”. However, their American record label added it to the end of Black Celebration against the wishes of the band on American and bonus track versions. The band may have been unhappy with the decision originally but it is the right one, “But Not Tonight” serves as a coda that provides both closure and hope and never feels like it is tacked on. Indeed, it is one of Depeche Mode’s great songs.

#8 – “Sea Of Sin” – B-Side to the single “World In My Eyes” 

I love “World In My Eyes”, the opening track to 1990’s Violator and it was one of the last songs to be cut from this list. That said, “World In My Eyes” is outshone by its own B-side, the bass-driven and pulsing “Sea Of Sin”. For reasons that have never been explained, “Sea Of Sin”, which is a darkly seductive song with a great club pulse and wickedly not-so-subtle lyrics, was not included on Violator. This has always baffled me as the song fits the sound and mood of the album (which is only nine songs long) perfectly. It has always been a favorite and, while it is sad that it is largely unknown, it is a nice “secret” for the fans.

#7 – “Lie To Me” – From the album Some Great Reward 

Possibly no song from Depeche Mode’s early years (which I generally regard as their first four albums and the non-album singles released before Black Celebration) predicts the mood and feel of their peak period work more than does “Lie To Me”. Moody but seductive, melancholy yet sexy, “Lie To Me” feels like a song  that would have fit in (with different production flourishes) on Black Celebration, Music For The Masses, Violator, Songs Of Faith & Devotion, or possibly even Ultra. “Lie To Me”. Certainly one of the highlights from Depeche Mode’s early years where Daniel Miller was the band’s main producer, “Lie To Me” is the highest song on my list from that time period.

#6 – “Barrel Of A Gun” – From the album Ultra

“Barrel Of A Gun” is in many ways the perfect fusion of Depeche Mode’s earlier dark synthpop sound and the more organic, guitar-based direction they pursued with “Personal Jesus”, “I Feel You” and other songs from that era. “Barrel Of A Gun” feels like a rock song with squalling noise and a huge beat but it also has a slinky and driving electronic pulse that shows a mastery of synth textures. It isn’t grafting the two styles together so much as finding a perfect midpoint and, in doing so, beating Depeche Mode descendents like Stabbing Westward, Filter, God Lives Underwater, and others at their own game. And for those who know the band’s history well, especially Dave Gahan’s battle with addiction and his near-death experience (or more accurately his death and revival experience), “Barrel Of A Gun” feels like Gore perfectly captured the mood and issues of that period from Gahan’s perspective. While it was a single and got some attention, “Barrel Of A Gun” feels underappreciated outside of the band’s core fan base.

#5 – “Enjoy  The Silence” – From the album Violator 

It is hard to be completely objective about “Enjoy The Silence” any more no matter how hard I try to be. The song was both a massive hit and has become a part of the fabric of our culture. I remember absolutely loving it when I first heard it, and while the glow of the new has worn off, I still can appreciate it as an amazing song. Written as a ballad by Martin Gore, bandmate Alan Wilder and producer Flood convinced him to leave the studio and let them work with it, and they reworked the song into an uptempo synthpop masterpiece that retained its bittersweet heart. Thus, “Enjoy The Silence” is both a perfectly crafted piece of songwriting and a master class in production, making it the deserved massive hit that it was and one of Depeche Mode’s signature songs. I still love it.

#4 – “Home” – From the album Ultra 

The only Gore-sung song to make the top half of my list is “Home” from 1997’s Ultra. Built from the bottom-up “Home” is a melodic ballad laid over a vaguely hip-hop beat that is emphasized by the way Gore performs the vocals. Somehow the combination of the music, rhythm, and vocal performance makes “Home” feel like a lullaby, a nursery rhyme, and a hip hop-inflected ballad all at once. “Home” also finds Gore in excellent voice as he performs one of his richest and most nuanced vocal performances. “Home” then rises to a soaring conclusion when a warm-toned, soaring guitar riff comes in over the end of the song. “Home” is easily one of Depeche Mode’s most underappreciated songs and could have been a massive hit had it been released just a few years earlier.

#3 – “Fly On The Windscreen – Final” – From the album Black Celebration 

Depeche Mode originally released “Fly On The Windscreen” in 1985 as the B-side to “It’s Called A Heart”, a new single recorded for a Depeche Mode singles collection that is almost universally believed to be among the band’s worst singles/songs. While both songs (along with “Shake The Disease” and “Flexible”) were included on the collection “Fly On The Windscreen” was largely overlooked as a B-side to a bad song. However, the band realized that “Fly On The Windscreen” was a moody masterpiece in the making and reworked it slightly for inclusion on Black Celebration. This version, dubbed “Fly On The Windscreen – Final” is not radically different but it is better, especially the cool opening effects that help kick off the song and set the dark and strange tone. Ultimately “Fly On The Windscreen” is one of the bleakest songs on a very bleak record, yet it still is compulsively listenable and aurally interesting even all these years later and I am very glad the band didn’t move on from it after its inauspicious beginning. 

#2 – “I Feel You” – From the album Songs Of Faith & Devotion 

Most people prefer “Personal Jesus” but I think “I Feel You” is Depeche Mode’s best guitar-based song (and one of their very best songs period). From the opening squall of noise that then slips into the song’s dominant guitar riff played by Gore, “I Feel You” is Depeche Mode as full-blown rock band. Alan Wilder provided live drumming which was then sampled for the beat (and played on live drums by him in concert) while Andy Fletcher adds electronic pulses and noise to create an underlying foreboding atmosphere. And then over top of it all are Dave Gahan’s vocals which roar, plead, beg, and brag, all in the same song as he sings “this is the morning of our love/this is the dawning of our love” (or is it Allah?) as Depeche Mode continue to meld the sacred and the sexual, the holy with the hedonistic. An amazing song and an amazing way to kick off the Songs Of Faith & Devotion album, “I Feel You” showed that “Personal Jesus” was no one-off experiment and that they were going to embrace the grunge and alt-rock tone of the 1990’s successfully and on their own terms. I still love it so much.

#1 – “Halo” – From the album Violator 
Like nearly every song on Depeche Mode’s masterpiece album Violator “Halo” is a fusion of incredible song writing, perfect production, and skilled performance. From its opening lasso-like effect through to its epic-scaled conclusion “Halo” finds joy in the apocalypse, even if that apocalypse is perhaps self-inflicted. “Halo” is built on a massive, thumping beat, but over top the song slowly builds in intensity and drama. Gahan provides rich and seductive vocals that help create the sense of one reveling in the forbidden, even knowing that they will pay the price for later; while behind him Gore provides excellent counterpoint vocals that come in at just the right moment to create a sense of power and grandeur. Released as the fifth single from Violator “Halo” earned a little attention in alternative music circles but largely remains a fan favorite and cult classic buried on one of the greatest albums of all time.

Alternative Reality: Songs of the Day – April 2021

This is the playlist of the songs used on my Alternative Reality Facebook site as the “songs of the day” for the month of April 2021. This month the playlist includes songs from Wolf Alice, Editors, Counting Crows, The Jam, The Jesus & Mary Chain, Martin Gore, and many more!

Play The List – April 2021: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/717ATafnIZDIRhCQBM1enO

90’s Albums Revisited: July 1992

In 90’s Albums Revisited we will look at four key albums released month by month starting in January 1990.  As this is an alternative music site I will generally focus on albums that would fall under the “alternative music” umbrella, but I may stray into the mainstream world on occasion. Also, for whatever reason, the month of December is consistently a thin month for new releases so I will fill out the list for that month by including albums from earlier in the year that I originally did not include and will indicate these releases as such when I do this. I hope you enjoy this journey, may you revisit old favorites and find some new ones. 

This Month In History – July 1992: Presidential candidate Ross Perot speaking at an NAACP convention refers to the audience as “you people”. The Slovak parliament declares independence from Czechoslovakia beginning the “velvet divorce” or separation of Czechoslovakia into Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Columbia drug kingpin Pablo Escobar escapes prison. Nelson Mandela announces a general work strike in South Africa to encourage the removal of President F.W. de Klerk (elected under the Apartheid system) and to push for free elections.

July 1992 – Listen To The List: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/5E4eWKaCWNUzmYWFq8Piwn

“Your Arsenal” – Morrissey

1992’s Your Arsenal is arguably Morrissey’s best solo album. Following the relatively lifeless and lackluster Kill Uncle Morrissey found an almost entirely new group of collaborators; replacing his songwriting partners, forming a tougher sounding new backing band that was rooted in rockabilly, and convincing former Bowie guitarist Mick Ronson to produce. Combine that with some of Moz’s best songwriting and Your Arsenal is a tough, yet diverse album. Your Arsenal ranges from the stomping faux-rockabilly of “You’re Gonna Need Someone On Your Side” and “Glamorous Glue” to the lush ballads of “We’ll Let You Know” and “I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday” to the vaguely Smiths-like singles “Tomorrow” and “We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful”. All of Morrissey’s decisions to shake things up paid off in spades. There isn’t a weak track on the record.

“Gordon” – Barenaked Ladies

While already known in their native Canada because of the success of the independently released The Yellow Tape EP, Gordon is Barenaked Ladies’ debut album and overall it is a very solid album. Gordon probably shouldn’t really work as the album is a strange mix of humorous college rock, jazz-inflected pop. and wistful and sensitive singer-songwriter inspired folk, yet somehow it all comes together; or at least nearly does. While not really hits at the time (at least in the USA) Gordon contains favorites like “If I Had A $1000000”, “Be My Yoko Ono” and the studio version of “Brian Wilson” (made famous later in its live version from Rock Spectacle). However, upbeats songs like “Box Set” and “Enid” are also strong, while more introspective moments like “What A Good Boy” (my personal favorite) and “The Flag” shows real talent that belies their young age at the time and their reputation as jokesters. Indeed, Gordon’s biggest flaws are simply a few songs that haven’t aged very well (but would have been fine then) like “Grade 9” and “New Kid (On The Block)” and the simple fact that Gordon, like many albums of the early CD era is simply a few tracks too long.

“Dirty” – Sonic Youth 

Sonic Youth’s Dirty doesn’t quite have the critical reputation of earlier albums like Daydream Nation or Goo but I think it is my favorite album from them (at least most days). The album has a little more structure and tightness to it than many of Sonic Youth’s other albums, and while that is why some fans and critics like Dirty a little less, it is why I like it more. Dirty also has some really great songs. “100%” was the lead single and should have been a much bigger hit. The fusion of punk and noise rock on that song was made for 1992 and it still surprises me that it didn’t make a bigger dent in the mainstream rock landscape. Both “Youth Against Facism” and “Sugar Kane” were good singles as well that hid melodic hooks under the bluster and noise. Some other highlights on Dirty are the beautiful noise of “Theresa’s Sound-World”, a song that foreshadows the sound of Siamese Dream-era Smashing Pumpkins (an album that, like Dirty, will be produced by Butch Vig), “Drunken Butterfly”, a tribute to 70’s rock titans Heart, and “Swimsuit Issue”.

“Psalm 69” – Ministry

Industrial rock titans Ministry had scored a surprise success with their previous album The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste and the song “Burning Inside” so the pressure was on as they made its follow-up Psalm 69 (a pressure likely heightened by the commercial success of Nine Inch Nails whose own version of Industrial music had crossed-over in a big way). Ministry would meet this pressure and make their masterpiece, even as the band was falling apart internally. Psalm 69 takes the blueprint the band had already established on The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste and pushes their sound further, while also taking a cue from NIN and using more traditional song structures more often. Psalm 69 is not for everyone but lead single “Jesus Built My Hotrod”, a psychobilly thrasher sung by Butthole Surfers’ vocalist Gibby Haynes, is a 90’s alt rock classic. The other two singles, the anti-government “N.W.O.” and “Just One Fix” are more classic-sounding Ministry given just enough of a hook to cross into more mainstream worlds. Both are among Ministry’s best songs. Psalm 69 is deeper than the singles though and shows some variety as well.  A prime example being “Scare Crow” which slows thing down and is a grinding dystopian crawl than vaguely recalls some of the band’s work from their early, synth-oriented days, just with walls of guitar laid over the top. 

24 To Fight For: Sinead O’Connor

24 To Fight For: Sinéad O’Connor

Listen To The List: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/0FMvVTvPzVDGkadr4mENSp

Imagine if you had to choose a desert island playlist for a band you really love. Imagine if for some reason you were going away and could only take a single 24 song playlist with you for that beloved group and those would be the only songs by that artist that you could ever listen to again. What would you choose? What 24 songs would you fight for and say that these songs are your personal favorites and/or the best that the artist has to offer. That is the premise of my 24 To Fight For playlists. For this project I will choose my personal favorites from an artist and make the tough call of ranking those songs from #24 to #1 (trying to NOT let the fact that some songs may be overplayed influence me but basing them on my original feelings are much as possible). This is my list and I would love to see you play along and make yours too! What songs would you fight for?

#24 – “Jerusalem” – From the album The Lion & The Cobra

Sinéad O’Connor is an artist who defies traditional genre labelling. Her work can at times draw from indie rock, folk, pop, hip hop, dance/club music, rap, classic rock, Celtic music, R&B, soul, reggae, showtunes, standards, and a variety of other styles. Several of these influences can be heard on “Jerusalem”, a great track from her debut album that both showed off her powerful voice and her eclectic musical approach.

#23 – “Thank You For Hearing Me” – From the album Universal Mother 

The closing track on Universal Mother, Sinéad O’Connor’s first album of original material since her blockbuster breakthrough album I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got. Universal Mother is a solid, but quiet album but lacks the diversity of the two albums that came before it (perhaps as a response to the quietly beautiful “Nothing Compares 2 U”) and misses it. That said, the closing track and lead single from Universal Mother is the lushly beautiful and affirming “Thank You For Hearing Me”. The song is lovely and, as always, Sinéad is in great voice. It also is likely not an accident that “Thank You For Hearing Me” was the first thing music she had released since the controversy surrounding her tearing up a photo of the Pope on Saturday Night Live in response to allegations of child abuse by many priests and a Church coverup. While Sinéad was ultimately proven to be largely right that didn’t change the backlash she had to deal with and “Thank You For Hearing Me” seems to be, at least in part, a message of thanks to her fans, friends and supporters, and one of defiance to her critics. Thus, “Thank You For Hearing Me” is both beautiful and quietly powerful.

#22 – “Dense Water Deeper Down” – From the album I’m Not Bossy, I’m The Boss 

Sinéad O’Connor always was influenced by a wide array of musical genres but her career in the 21st century was so varied as to feel hopelessly directionless. Between 2002-2012 Sinéad released an album of traditional Irish folk music, a reggae album, a largely religious album, and a more traditional album that was almost completely ignored. Then, out of nowhere in 2014, Sinéad O’Connor released the very good I’m Not Bossy, I’m The Boss which sounded and felt like a proper follow-up to 2000’s Faith & Courage. One of the highlights is the groovy soul of “Dense Water Deeper Down” which finds Sinéad sounding carefree and like she is having fun making music, something that is often missing from her work. The song is better because it doesn’t aim to be too big, just relying on her great voice, a melodic rhythm that makes you want to move and some nice horns to add a little punch.

#21 – “Mandinka” – From the album The Lion & The Cobra 

O’Connor’s first real hit (a mainstream hit in the UK and a college radio hit in the USA), “Mandinka” blends rock elements with some subtle dance/pop touches, all serving her beautiful and banshee-like voice. With a title referencing an African tribe from Alex Haley’s novel Roots the song evokes images of defiance and strength and is a great pop/rock song that straddles the line between the feel of 80’s alternative music and the more punk influenced sound of 90’s alternative rock that was rising and would breakthrough to success a few years hence. 

#20 – “In This Heart” – From the album Universal Mother 

“In This Heart” is an a capella lullaby and it is one of the true highlights of the Universal Mother album. Having already done an a capella song solo on I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got (the excellent title track) Sinéad O’Connor takes “In This Heart” one step further and enlists the aid of the Irish vocal group The Voice Squad. “In This Heart” opens with just Sinéad’s voice before the three members of The Voice Squad’s voices are slowly added over the course of the song. It is both beautiful and warm making “In This Heart” one of the true overlooked gems in Sinéad O’Connor’s discography.

#19 – “Silent Night” – From the non-album single “Silent Night” 

What to say? “Silent Night” has to be one of the most covered songs in music history and Sinéad O’Connor’s delicate, haunting, gorgeously sung version still stands out as an incredible performance even though she sings the song with a hushed quiet that never extends her voice rather than a showy, powerful drama. It’s one of my personal holiday favorites, yet is good enough to listen to all year.

#18 – “Last Day Of Our Acquaintance” – From the album I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got 

What many casual fans of Sinéad O’Connor don’t realize is that, at heart, she is a folk singer and that many of her very best songs fall into the realm of traditional folk music. “Last Day Of Our Acquaintance” is a folk song about divorce that evokes all of the feelings and conflicted emotions of a couple who have decided to move on from one another – sadness, frustration, regret, nostalgia, and anger are all there. For most of the song these are primarily expressed through Sinéad’s singing, but the last quarter of the song sees it shift from a contemplative folk ballad to a full-band rocker and it provides a cathartic conclusion to it all.

#17 – “Take Me To Church” – From the album I’m Not Bossy, I’m The Boss 

Sinéad O’Connor has always been an artist that explored religion in both her music and her life and she, somewhat surprisingly, had a mini-comeback with her first genuine pop hit (albeit of a lesser variety) in 2014 with “Take Me To Church”. Despite what the title may seem to imply, the song is really an upbeat pop/rock song with a light gospel touch about self-examination and finding healing and forgiveness through worship. It really is an effective but unexpected song to be a minor hit, both because Sinéad O’Connor hadn’t had a hit in 14 years and because it seemed so out of step with an increasingly secular world. However, at its heart it really is just a catchy, affirming pop/rock song that is a really good listen.

#16 – “No Man’s Woman” – From the album Faith & Courage 

One of Sinéad O’Connor’s best uptempo rockers “No Man’s Woman” slowly builds in intensity over the course of the song, building from its simple, propulsive beginning to its full-blown rock ending. Lyrically, the song can be heard as an anthem for strong independent women; and while it is that, it also becomes clear that while Sinéad may not need to rely on a man, she does need to rely on God. Thus, “No Man’s Woman” is a good, solid rocker on one level, a female empowerment anthem on another level, and a song of religious devotion on yet another. Not bad for a three minute pop rocker.

#15 – “This Is To Mother You” – From the EP Gospel Oak 

While Sinéad O’Connor can sing in almost any style effectively, she is at her best when the songs are simple, allowing her amazing voice to shine and bring character to the song. “This Is To Mother You” is a prime example of this. A gentle, Celtic-tinged lullaby to a lover, “This Is To Mother You” is an overlooked gem hidden away on the very good Gospel Oak EP.

#14 – “Fire On Babylon” – From the album Universal Mother 

While nearly the entire Universal Mother album is a quiet and meditative affair (even Sinéad’s misguided attempt at Nirvana’s “All Apologies” is recast as a quiet, acoustic number) the one exception in the opening track and second single, the soaring near-anthem “Fire On Babylon”, which sounds and feel like a lost sonic cousin to the best moments from Sinéad’s debut The Lion & The Cobra. “Fire On Babylon” is built around a pulsing club groove, over which Sinéad sings an almost Biblically epic lyric with emotion and power, especially when she breaks into a banshee-like wail on the word “fire” at the climax of the song. 

#13 – “You Made Me The Thief Of Your Heart” – From The In The Name Of The Father Motion Picture Soundtrack

From the soundtrack to the movie In The Name Of The Father, “You Made Me The Thief Of Your Heart” was written by Bono, Gavin Friday, and Maurice Seezer for the film, which deals with the false conviction of an Irish man for a bombing that killed several British soldiers. Perhaps unsurprisingly, considering the musicians and songwriters involved and the subject of the film, “You Made Me The Thief Of Your Heart” is a Celtic-flavored song that increases in tension and drama over the course of the song. Sinéad is in excellent voice on the song and sings it with real fire and passion. Ultimately, it is an overlooked and underappreciated song in her catalog and feels like a should-have-been hit that was perhaps hurt both by the fact it was released on a film soundtrack and that it came out shortly after the scandal surrounding her tearing up the photo of the Pope on SNL.

#12 – “If U Ever” – From the album Faith & Courage 

A deep album cut from 2000’s Faith & Courage “If U Ever” is a lovely ballad full of loss and longing. The song has a sparse beauty and (again) a light Celtic feel to it that has always made it vaguely feel like a cousin to Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” from the soundtrack to Titanic, and while that may seem like a negative to some people I mean it as a complimentary comparison. “If U Ever” also is quite sonically interesting as, under Sinéad’s voice and the slow pulse of the music, real world sound effects like blowing wind, revving engines, and screeching brakes, have been added. These sound effects ground what otherwise would be a quite ethereal ballad, which serves to make the emotion of the song seem more real and less romanticized. “If U Ever” has always been a personal favorite of mine from Faith & Courage.

#11 – “Daddy I’m Fine” – From the album Faith & Courage 

“Daddy I’m Fine” is an autobiographical look at Sinéad O’Connor’s own youth, her journey of self-discovery, and the toll that took on her parents. Thus, “Daddy I’m Fine” is both a statement of self-purpose and growth for Sinéad and an apology to her parents, especially her father, for the pain and stress she has caused them over the years. Ending with the refrain, “I am happy in my life/daddy I’m fine/daddy I love you”, the song is surprisingly warm and affectionate considering the song’s lyrical themes and the confrontational reputation of Sinéad O’Connor and her music. Indeed, it is a glimpse into the mind of Sinéad O’Connor at a moment of health and happiness that seems to revel in both her own history and the lessons she has learned from it.

#10 – “House Of The Rising Sun” – B-Side to the single “Thank You For Hearing Me”

Sinéad O’Connor is an excellent songwriter, but she is a singer first and foremost, with a voice that is both beautiful and expressive. This allows Sinéad O’Connor to sing almost anything and make it both exquisite and her own. Her retelling of the old folk standard follows closely to the most famous version of the song, The Animals version from 1964. However, Sinéad O’Connor reigns in the song and sings it with a powerful restraint that showcases both her voice and the superb melody of this arrangement of the song. 

#9 – “Til I Whisper You Something” – From the album Faith & Courage 

One of Sinéad O’Connor’s most slinky and sexy songs, “Til I Whisper You Something” finds the chanteuse trying to make her serious and downbeat lover happy by offering both support and seduction. The song is built up from a thumping mid-tempo groove and has an interesting blend of hip hop and Celtic influences that is captivating (and fairly unique outside of her own catalog). Interestingly, the slinky, sexy pulse of the song may be due to the fact that “Til I Whisper You Something” was co-written by Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics (along with two songs others on Faith & Courage, which happen to be my three favorites from the album) and he is a man who both knows how to create a great dance groove and how to frame an amazing female voice. 

#8 – “4 My Love” – From the EP Gospel Oak 

“4 My Love” is a simmering and darkly throbbing work that creates a hazy sense of mystery and exotocism by drawing on Arabesque motifs and martial percussion. Over the course of the song O’Connor sings in a quiet, hushed voice, as if she is sharing a dangerous secret with her lover. The song also has a few expertly placed samples that cut through the almost droning rhythmic pulse that lends it a sense of reality. It is yet another superb track from the tragically overlooked Gospel Oak EP.

#7 – “Troy” – From the album The Lion & The Cobra 

Sinéad O’Connor’s first single ever is one her best songs and still the favorite of many of her fans. A cinematic epic of a song that is literally so, equating the betrayal of a lover and his destruction of their relationship with the tragic fall of the city of Troy. Synth strings create first a sense of loss, then one of drama, and then one of tragic destruction, while Sinéad’s voice pines, pleads, and ultimately punishes her unfaithful lover, only to rise stronger and more defiant. “Troy” is a true tour de force and showcases Sinéad O’Connor as a fully formed and visionary artist from the start.

#6 – “Jealous” – From the album Faith & Courage 

“Jealous” is another of the songs from Faith & Courage that was co-written with Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics and it does have the electronic pulse one would expect from the man who created the music for “Sweet Dreams” and “Here Comes The Rain Again”. However, “Jealous” is a quietly beautiful song that finds Sinéad singing at her most intimate and vulnerable, especially on the “If you’re gonna go then go/And if you’re staying stay” refrain near the end. “Jealous” is a subtle yet powerful song that shows that Sinéad doesn’t have to sing epics or cathartic ballads to impress.

#5 – “The Emperor’s New Clothes” – From the album I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got 

The follow-up single to Sinéad O’Connor’s massive crossover hit “Nothing Compares 2 U”, “The Emperor’s New Clothes” is one of her best pop/rock songs and a decent success as a single in its own right. The song has a catchy pop-oriented melody with chugging guitars, light organ to provide atmosphere, and a really cool slow/fast/slow percussion rhythm. Lyrically the song seems to be fairly autobiographical, dealing with the trials of the world around her while she deals with motherhood, relationships, and other changes in her life due to her fame. It is a mature and thoughtful pop/rock song that manages to be that without being staid or boring.

#4 – “Drink Before The War” – From the album The Lion & The Cobra 

“Drink Before The War” is a sonic cousin to the song “Troy” from the same album. Generally, “Troy “ has been seen as the more popular and better of the two songs (and I like it and have it at #7 on this list) but I have always preferred “Drink Before The War”. The power and range of Sinéad’s voice has rarely been showcased better as the song shifts from an introspective ballad to a vicious attack on complacency and lack of compassion. Indeed, while Sinéad O’Connor has become known for her opinions and politics “Drink Before The War” may be her first song to really address those issues directly and, at least here, she creates a song that is effective, thought-provoking, and an excellent listen.

#3 – “Nothing Compares 2 U– From the album I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got  

Not much needs to be said about this song. Written by Prince, whose own genre-bending and blending was an obvious inspiration to Sinéad O’Connor’s own music, “Nothing Compares 2 U” deservedly made Sinéad O’Connor a star. Her voice is angelic and her emotional interpretation of the words still can get me even after hearing the song hundreds of times. Combine that with the shockingly intimate feeling music video and you have all the makings for an international smash hit, which is exactly what this is. Prince may have written it but this song will always belong to Sinéad and it still holds up after all these years.

#2 – “I Am Stretched On Your Grave” – From the album I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got 

One thing that I realized about myself as I composed this list of my personal favorite Sinéad O’Connor songs is that I really like her songs that combine her Celtic heritage with music that is rooted in either dance or hip hop culture. “4 My Love”, “Til I Whisper You Something”, “You Made Me The Thief Of Your Heart”, “Jealous” and possibly others all fit this description. However, the best of this type of Sinéad song is “I Am Stretched On Your Grave”, which manages to feel sad, sexy, and supernatural all at once; like a lonely lover looking for their lost love while wandering around an Irish moor in the dark. The song creates a palpable sense of gothic romanticism in the traditional sense of that, like a musical cousin to Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. And when the fiddle kicks in at the end it adds just the right touch to raise the song to near perfection. A classic.

#1 – “Black Boys On Mopeds” – From the album I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got 

A sparse, acoustic folk/protest song, “Black Boys On Mopeds” is powerful and beautiful in the way the best Bob Dylan or Joan Baez or Gordon Lightfoot song is. The song deals with themes of racism, police brutality and poverty and indirectly addresses the real life murder of Colin Roach by the police. “Black Boys On Mopeds” is not a showcase for Sinéad’s voice (although her singing is nuanced and lovely), nor is it one of her excellent genre-blending pop songs. It is a sad and poignant folk song that’s power is drawn from being a superbly written song that has an important message. Sinéad wrote it, sings it tenderly, and otherwise keeps it simple and raw, letting the song speak for itself. It works and is my personal favorite.

Alternative Reality: Songs of the Day – March 2021 (Unplugged Edition)

This is the playlist of the songs used on my Alternative Reality Facebook site as the “songs of the day” for the month of March 2021. This month the playlist list includes all Unplugged performances from MTV and VH1 by Nirvana, Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam, The Cure, Eurythmics, Live, and many more.

Play the List – March 2021: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hEMm7gxBYSc&list=PLZ1jDITwOdBvupAGcePn9kPbPDU0ibTm2&index=1

90’s Albums Revisited: June 1992

In 90’s Albums Revisited we will look at four key albums released month by month starting in January 1990.  As this is an alternative music site I will generally focus on albums that would fall under the “alternative music” umbrella, but I may stray into the mainstream world on occasion. Also, for whatever reason, the month of December is consistently a thin month for new releases so I will fill out the list for that month by including albums from earlier in the year that I originally did not include and will indicate these releases as such when I do this. I hope you enjoy this journey, may you revisit old favorites and find some new ones. 

This Month In History – June 1992: The United States Post Office announced that the winner of the Elvis stamp contest was “young Elvis” rather than “old Elvis”. St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith sets the record for taking part in his 1,305th double play. Vice-President Dan Quayle makes headlines for instructing a student to spell the word “potato” incorrectly (Quayle added an “E” to the end). The remains of the murdered Czar Nicholas II and the Czarina Alexandra are discovered in Russia. Mob boss John Gotti begins his life sentence for murder and other crimes. 

June 1992 – Listen To The List: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/1ltsWhjdKqkhY2LSvGm8MH

“It’s A Shame About Ray” – The Lemonheads

The Lemonheads’ best  and best-known album is a sweet blend of indie rock, angsty 90’s alternative rock, pop, folk, and country. The hits were the melodic and melancholy “It’s A Shame About Ray” and the punky cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson” but the album has many other unassuming gems, including the borderline pop/punk of “Alison’s Starting To Happen”, the country-tinged “Hannah & Gabi”, the power pop of “Kitchen” and Americana meets indie of “My Drug Buddy”. A fairly simple album that is successful because it doesn’t try to be more than it is; the songs have hooks and melody, Evan Dando sings with a mix of awe and apathy, and Juliana Hatfield adds some sweet backing vocals on a few tracks.

“Angel Dust” – Faith No More

Faith No More’s “Angel Dust” is not quite a forgotten gem, but it is also not as well-known as it should be as it is consistently excellent throughout. The album opens with the driving alt-metal of “Land of Sunshine” which singer Mike Patton lends a perfectly placed sense of menaced insanity to. This feeling of slowly losing it extends to the country parody “RV” as well, which is slyly genius. Indeed, much of the album alternates between driving alt rock and weird, irony laced-detours, and both work very well. In the former group are songs like lead single and biggest hit “Midlife Crisis”, the almost pop of “A Small Victory”, and the angsty midtempo rocker “Everything’s Ruined”. While the latter category has the aforementioned “RV”, the prog rock feel and unusual vocal performance in “Smaller and Smaller”, and the version of the theme from “Midnight Cowboy” that closes the record. Then, as an added bonus, tacked onto the end of Angel Dust is their hit cover of The Commodore’s “Easy”, which was originally released as a non-album single. Equal parts faithful homage and ironic pastiche, Faith No More’s “Easy” shows off Mike Patton’s excellent voice while also giving an ironic wink that fit the irony-drenched 90’s perfectly, a combo that made the song a worldwide hit.

“Abba-esque” – Erasure

A short four song EP from synthpop masters Erasure that, as the title suggests, finds them covering four classic hits from 1970’s disco legends ABBA. Seeing as how the 90’s were a time drenched in irony and that irony-laced covers of songs from previous eras were a fairly common theme of the time (see both The Lemonheads “Mrs. Robinson” and Faith No More’s “Easy” above) it is easy to assume that is what Erasure is up to here, but that is not quite the case. Disco was an obvious influence on the 80’s synthpop scene that Erasure helped create and these cover versions seem more like an honest tribute to an artist they love than a laugh or joke. Indeed, while Erasure updates these songs and makes them feel like their own, they also remain fairly faithful to the original ABBA versions. “Lay All Your Love On Me” is given a faster beat but retains the melancholy undertone of the original, while “S.O.S” remains a pulsing ballad. “Voulez-Vous” and “Take A Chance On Me” play with the originals a little more, pushing the beats harder on “Voulez-Vous” and adding a rap by MC Kinky on “Take A Chance On Me”, but neither of these changes radically alters these songs either. All in all, Abba-esque is a delightful treat for fans of Erasure, ABBA, or solid dance/pop music in general.

Singles Motion Picture Soundtrack” – Various Artists
One of the great film soundtracks from the era of great film soundtracks, Cameron Crowe’s dramatic rock and roll rom-com Singles features a soundtrack line-up that is a virtual who’s who of the just then emerging 90’s grunge and alt-rock scene spreading out from Seattle (where the film is set). In hindsight the bands who contributed to this film soundtrack are mostly giants but at the time most of these artists were just starting to make a name for themselves. However, the fact that many of the songs were unreleased elsewhere at the time this came out makes the Singles soundtrack both a great overview of the most important movement in 90’s rock and an excellent sampler for both new and older fans of these groups, both then and now. Nearly every song is a winner. Alice In Chains’ kick off the set with the powerful and grinding “Would?”, which would also appear on their  soon-to-be-released masterpiece Dirt. Chris Cornell’s amazing solo track “Seasons” is also found here. The album also features songs from Seattle’s best including Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Screaming Trees, Mudhoney, and Mother Love Bone (whose “Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns” is both beautiful and sad). Seattle legends Jimi Hendrix and Heart (under the name The Lovemongers) also have moments here and The Lovemongers’ cover of Led Zeppelin’s “The Battle of Evermore” rivals the original. Finally, a few non-Seattle scene outliers can be found here in the Smashing Pumpkins and former Replacements leader Paul Westerburg. Both the Pumpkins’ “Drown” and Westerberg’s “Dyxlexic Heart” are great songs that lend the soundtrack a little more variety. (Note: Mudhoney’s “Overblown is not currently available on Spotify so it is not on the  playlist). 

History of Rock 16: Punk

Stepping a little outside the alternative rock focus of this site I have decided to do a series of playlists and short articles outlining the history of rock music. In this project, I have used a broader, more expansive definition of rock music than some would have, but I also recognize I could have gone deeper still into many genres and subgenres. I also recognize that there is overlap and, sometimes, disagreement about where a band fits in. Still, if you go on this exploration with me I think you will gain a great overview of rock history. Enjoy and feel free to follow the website (www.alternativealbumsblog.wordpress.com) and/or the Facebook page (@musicalternativereality) to get all the volumes as they come out.

Punk: Rock and roll will see the firm beginnings of the split between its mainstream tribe of fans and its alternative tribe of fans with the birth and rise of Punk Rock. Born out of the economic and social malaise affecting both Britain and the United States in the late 70’s punks looked at the state of rock and thought it was a joke. To the Punk world Arena Rock was boring and formulaic, Glam Rock was soft and silly, Progressive Rock was pompous and overblown, and Disco was unholy garbage.

Punks felt like rock and roll had lost the plot and was missing the point: Rock music wasn’t about talent it was about attitude. It was about fighting against authority and overthrowing the system. It was anarchic in the sense that it wanted to throw out the rules and it was democratic in the sense that anybody could do it. After all, did it really take any talent to learn two or three simple guitar chords and yell into a microphone? Punk Rock was short, simple, raw, and dangerous; it was an attitude and way of life as much as it was a musical genre.

The late 70’s was a time of high unemployment, rising inflation, fear of nuclear Armageddon, and continuing social change and unrest. America was dealing with the fallout of the Vietnam War and the morale of the country was low, while in Britain the slow realization that following World War Two they had ceased to be a global political or economic power was forcing the country to both reevaluate its role in the world and to cut back on many of its long standing social programs, making life for the common man harder than ever. In both places the future looked grim. Punk was a response to this, beginning with The Ramones in America in 1976 and exploding into a full-blown phenomenon in the UK in 1977, where its impact was much greater and more immediate than in the USA.

This first phase of Punk lasted about five years before it largely burnt out in Britain and continued as a small cult genre in the US throughout the 80’s (where it would evolve in a few different directions including hardcore and cowpunk). However, Punk’s impact will be long lasting as the first rock genre to really be outside of the mainstream rock tribe, so that Punk Rock and its attitude and aesthetic will influence nearly every kind of non-mainstream rock that will follow it, including a full-blown punk revival in the 1990’s.

Punk: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/1aUAsggmGakF1LWOaKt35Z

  1. “Anarchy In The UK” – The Sex Pistols
  2. “Breakdown” – Buzzcocks
  3. “Blitzkrieg Bop” – The Ramones
  4. “London Calling” – The Clash
  5. “That’s Entertainment!” – The Jam
  6. “21st Century (Digital Boy)” – Bad Religion
  7. “Los Angeles” – X
  8. “Ball & Chain” – Social Distortion
  9. “Reuters” – Wire
  10. “I Against I” – Bad Brains
  11. “Dancing With Myself” – Generation X
  12. “We Got The Beat” – The Go-Go’s
  13. “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” – The Clash
  14. “God Save The Queen” – The Sex Pistols
  15. “Minor Threat” – Minor Threat
  16. “Rise Above” – Black Flag
  17. “Bad Luck” – Social Distortion
  18. “I Wanna Be Sedated” – The Ramones
  19. “New Rose” – The Damned
  20. “In The City” – The Jam
  21. “Ready Steady Go” – Generation X

24 To Fight For: Alice In Chains

24 To Fight For: Alice In Chains

Listen To The List: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/7hcnWjxkchsllT4MzC511Q

Imagine if you had to choose a desert island playlist for a band you really love. Imagine if for some reason you were going away and could only take a single 24 song playlist with you for that beloved group and those would be the only songs by that artist that you could ever listen to again. What would you choose? What 24 songs would you fight for and say that these songs are your personal favorites and/or the best that the artist has to offer. That is the premise of my 24 To Fight For playlists. For this project I will choose my personal favorites from an artist and make the tough call of ranking those songs from #24 to #1 (trying to NOT let the fact that some songs may be overplayed influence me but basing them on my original feelings are much as possible). This is my list and I would love to see you play along and make yours too! What songs would you fight for?

#24 – “Rainier Fog” – From the album Rainier Fog

The title track from Alice In Chain’s third post-Layne Staley album “Rainier Fog” is a fast and fuzzy tribute to Seattle’s halcyon days of grunge and their fallen peers. The song has a weighty rush that is addictive and, while it sounds like Alice In Chains, also has a distinct sound and voice. “Rainier Fog” sounds like Jerry Cantrell and William DuVall, not like Jerry Cantrell and Layne Staley, and three albums into their partnership it is nice to hear that they are comfortable in being who they are now without abandoning their roots.

#23 – “Shame In You” – From the album Alice In Chains 

The best Alice In Chains songs always found a balance between the ugly and the beautiful and “Shame In You” finds that sweet spot. While it is almost certainly a coincidence, it is interesting that the guitar work in “Shame In You” almost sounds more like the work of Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready than that of Jerry Cantrell. Then again, maybe this isn’t a total coincidence since the writing and recording of the Alice In Chains album occurred in the immediate aftermath of the success of Staley’s work with McCready in the Mad Season side project. Either way “Shame In You” has a fairly unique and quite cool sound for an Alice In Chains song.

#22 – “Maybe” – From the album Rainier Fog 

Like “Rainier Fog” two slots earlier, “Maybe” finds a nice balance between the classic sound of Alice In Chains and the new harmonies between Cantrell and DuVall. “Maybe” feels like a slightly updated version of the softer Alice In Chains songs found on either the Sap or Jar of Flies EP’s. There is also a hint of an 80’s rock ballad tone to the song, and while often that would not be a positive for me, the polish and production works well here on “Maybe”.

#21 – “Sea of Sorrow” – From the album Facelift 

Alice In Chains’ debut album Facelift was recorded and released a year before the grunge scene exploded into the mainstream with the success of Nevermind, Ten, and Badmotorfinger. Certainly, many of the elements that would come to define “grunge” can be heard on Facelift as Alice In Chains were immersed in the same Seattle scene and, indeed, helped to shape and define its sound. However, while the songs may be “grunge” at their core, Facelift was created in a pre-grunge world and its production and some of its influences are more overtly indebted to the heavy metal scene of the time in a way that later Alice In Chain albums would not be. For me, this weakens some of the tracks on Facelift, as they feel pulled between what the band intended them to be and what the record executives thought they should be. However, “Sea of Sorrow” largely avoids this problem. Sure, it could be marketed as heavy metal (and was), but “Sea of Sorrow” feels like grunge before that term was in common use. The bass is grimy and heavy, the guitars are sludgy and lend a sense of weight, and the lyrics are symbolic and nihilistic, all hallmarks of what would soon be called grunge. All of these factors make it one of the best moments on Facelift.

#20 – “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here” – From the album The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here 

One of the best songs from the Cantrell/DuVall era of Alice In Chains, “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here” is an interesting look at faith and its ability to either help or hinder us. The vocal harmonies between Cantrell and DuVall are some of their best but the real genius of the song is the music which alternates between its eerie, primordial sounding verses and the thundering riffs of the chorus, which feel as large and ponderous as the dinosaur of the title.

#19 – “Scalpel” – From the album The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here 

“Scalpel” sounds like an outtake from Jar of Flies that somehow got lost for fifteen years and then was re-recorded with new singer William DuVall rather than Layne Staley. This distinction is small but it makes a difference as DuVall’s voice makes the song sound resigned and world-weary, whereas Staley’s voice would have likely lent the song a bleak and angry tone. This difference is subtle but works well, especially since Cantrell gives the guitars just a hint of a country flavor at times.

#18 – “Brush Away” – From the album Alice In Chains 

“Brush Away” is heavy and droning, like many great Alice In Chains songs are, but there is also a real melodic hook under the noise on “Brush Away” that makes it an easy listen and one that rewards repeated listens. In fact, “Brush Away” would have made an excellent fourth single from the self-titled album (or maybe a better third single than “Again”).

#17 – “Heaven Beside You” – From the album Alice In Chains 

I don’t believe that Alice In Chains ever wrote a song specifically designed to be a mainstream hit or to bring them crossover stardom. To do so would have gone against both the spirit of the era and the general sound of the band; not to mention they had enough trouble just putting out any music at all due to the addiction issues within the band. That said, if there was such a song in their discography it might be “Heaven Beside You” as the song is melodic, has a catchy underlying melody, walks the line between acoustic ballad and harder rocker, and does not wallow in extremely heavy riffing or nihilistic dread. It is Alice In Chains attempting a to something powerful, yet measured, and it works in spades.

#16 – “Got Me Wrong” – From the EP Sap 

Early in their career Alice In Chains seemed to alternate between their heavier proper albums and lighter, more acoustic-based EP’s. Sap was the first of these, released between Facelift and Dirt. “Got Me Wrong”, while still largely acoustic-based, is the heaviest moment on Sap and is a song that had a long life, first appearing on Sap but released as a single two years later when it appeared on the soundtrack to the movie Clerks. It also reappeared again in a more stripped down version on Alice In Chains’ MTV Unplugged performance. 

#15 – “Rain When I Die” – From the album Dirt 

Alice In Chains had their critical and commercial peak with their second album Dirt and its lighter, if not less bleak, sonic cousin Jar of Flies EP and albums from these two releases will dominate much of the top half of this list. The first of these songs is “Rain When I Die”, a song that manages to mix the sludgy sound of grunge, with the sonic assault of heavy metal, and the experimental nature of psychedelic rock. Indeed, “Rain When I Die” reminds me of the fusion of influences that Soundgarden would blend for their masterpiece Superunknown album a few years later. These various styles could have been a mess when put together but “Rain When I Die” works perfectly. I especially love Mike Starr’s bass on this track.

#14 – “Check My Brain” – From the album Black Gives Way To Blue 

“Check My Brain” is the first track from the first album to be released after the death of Layne Staley and hearing it immediately put me at ease about Alice In Chains without Staley. Of course, Staley can never be fully replaced but right out of the gate on “Check My Brain” a detuned guitar chugs out a fat, meaty riff, the low end growls, and the harmony between Cantreell and new singer William DuVall sound eerily reminiscent of the beautiful harmonies between Cantrell and Staley. “Check My Brain” proved Alice In Chains could move forward and still be Alice In Chains. It’s a great tune.

#13 – “Grind” – From the album Alice In Chains 

It was one of the worst-kept secrets in rock that Alice In Chains frontman Layne Staley was battling a crippling heroin addiction by the time the band released their self-titled third album. Staley himself must have known that everyone expected him to soon follow Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain to the grave, and while he eventually did, Staley kicked off this album by serving notice that he wasn’t going down without a fight. Opening the song and album with the lyrics, “From the darkest hole/You’d be well advised/Not to plan my funeral/before the body dies”. Under those words was a huge, grinding riff that felt like a freight train slowly, but inevitably, rolling down the track and crushing everything in its path. Indeed, “Grind” is a bruising rocker with just enough light in the verses to give it a sense of hope and a feeling of variety. 

#12 – “Man In The Box” – From the album Facelift 

The song that introduced Alice In Chains to most of the world. A heavy, sludgy rock song that showcased the musical sound the band would make famous and that would become a blueprint of sorts for the Seattle grunge sound. “Man In The Box” also allowed Layne Staley to show off his powerful voice and the harmonies and counterpoint vocals provided by Jerry Cantrell. With “Man In The Box” all the elements were there from the start and it was a deserved hit in the rock world even without the help of the grunge zeitgeist that was still a year away.

#11 – “No Excuses” – From the EP Jar of Flies 

A jangly acoustic number that became one of Alice In Chains biggest hits, “No Excuses” features the beautiful vocal harmonies between Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell as well as any song in their discography. “No Excuses” has a weathered beauty to it and a sense of propulsion to it that keeps it from sinking into a bleak and nihilistic ballad. 

#10 – “Brother” – From the EP Sap 

“Brother” is an eerie, almost Eastern-tinged ballad that opens the Sap EP. It is darkly beautiful and would have been almost completely out of place had it been included on Alice In Chains debut album Facelift. On Facelift it would have been lost in the bluster and brawn, but on Sap the song feels like it is showcased while also showing fans another side of the band. Heart’s Ann Wilson also has a nice vocal cameo that adds a nice touch.

#9 – “Angry Chair” – From the album Dirt 

Alice In Chains’ rhythm section of Mike Starr and Sean Kinney really drive the song “Angry Chair” which shifts from its fluid and creepy verses to the punctuated, staccato attack of the chorus. This shifting tempo helps the song to stand out even amidst the nearly universally excellent songs that make up Dirt while Staley’s vocal performance imbues the song with a suppressed menace that matches the music and then explodes out on the chorus. “Angry Chair” is a visceral and hard-edged minor twist on the band’s sound.

#8 – “Down In A Hole” – From the album Dirt 

Few songs feel less bleak and  hopeless and more desperate than Alice In Chains “Down In A Hole”. “Down In A Hole” manages to make a masterful epic out of self-loathing due to being entrapped by one’s own decisions. This pain is made even more powerful because of the real emotion Staley and Cantrell pour into the song as both men dealt with their own personal demons; demons that would eventually bring Layne Staley down. The song was always darkly powerful but its pathos has only increased in the years since Staley’s death.

#7 – “Your Decision” – From the album Black Gives Way To Blue 

In my opinion “Your Decision” is easily the best Alice In Chains song from the post-Layne Staley era. In fact, it is the only song from those albums that I think rivals the best of the band’s work from their time with Staley.  Cantrell takes the lead vocal and harmonizes with DuVall beautifully on a song that sounds and feels like a lost track from Jar of Flies. “Your Decision” is funereal, but with a stately majesty that makes the song feel more resigned to the evils of human nature rather than raging against them. This combination gives “Your Decision” a feeling that is both unique, yet familiar and makes it a late-career highlight for the band.

#6 – “Don’t Follow” – From the EP Jar of Flies 

“Don’t Follow”, in spite of its lyrical content, is one of Alice In Chains’ warmest and most delicate songs. Built off of a repetitive guitar riff that is actually reminiscent of R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts” (which is itself similar to dozens of others) “Don’t Follow” is a lovely near-lullaby of a song that feels quite unexpected from a band like Alice In Chains. However, as pretty as the song is, the real punch of the song comes about two thirds of the way through when it suddenly shifts its tone and tempo and transforms itself into something far more desperate and bleak before briefly shifting back for its end. The genius is that not only does the tempo and mood shift, but the vocals themselves shift from Cantrell to Staley, giving the song the impression of a two-sided conversation. 

#5 – “Nutshell” – From the EP Jar of Flies 

“Nutshell” has to be one of the most beautiful expressions of abject misery ever recorded. Layne Staley sounds lost and broken beyond repair on the album version and seeing him sing it live on MTV Unplugged only reinforced that sense that all was definitely not right. The band itself agrees, often dedicating “Nutshell” to both Staley and Starr, their fallen comrades, when they play it live. What can I say? While it is not my very favorite song by Alice In Chains, it is probably their most beautiful and emotionally wrenching song.

#4 – “Would?” – From the album Dirt 

“Would?” was released as a single from the soundtrack to the movie Singles and was included on their soon to be released album Dirt as well. “Would?”, while still massively heavy, leaves behind some of the heavy metal leanings of Facelift and helped to define the public perception of grunge rock with its rumbling, driving bass part, soft/loud dynamics, and punk meets metal tone. Indeed, when I think of the blueprint for “grunge” rock “Would?” is one of the songs that comes to mind. A pummeling tour de force that is equal parts anger, frustration, and self-loathing, “Would?” is a 90’s rock classic and still one of Alice In Chains best songs.

#3 – “What The Hell Have I…” – From The Last Action Hero Motion Picture Soundtrack

A sometimes forgotten song from the Alice In Chains canon as it was found on the soundtrack to the failed Arnold Schwarzenegger action film The Last Action Hero rather than on one of Alice In Chains’ proper albums, “What The Hell Have I…” is among their best work. The rhythm section of Starr and Kinney drive the song forward which allows Cantrell to spin off a cool Arabesque-flavored riff that serves as the song’s hook. “What The Hell Have I…” also has a strong melodic core buried under the dissonance and drone that helps it get stuck in your head. It’s definitely the best thing to come out of the Last Action Hero project and one of Alice In Chains best.

#2 – “Dam That River” – From the album Dirt 

Grunge is often described as a bass-driven combination of the attitude and attack of punk rock mixed with the power and scale of heavy metal, with the various groups falling at different points along that spectrum. If this is true (and I tend to like this definition well enough) then Alice In Chains is a band that nearly always fell on the heavy metal side of that spectrum. “Dam That River” however is the song that shows Alice In Chains did also have a connection to the punk rock world too. Yes, “Dam That River” is heavy and huge sounding, but at heart it is a punk rock song played and produced like heavy metal. It is fast and aggressive and angry and one of the best songs Alice In Chains ever recorded. In fact, I wish the band had done more music along the lines of “Dam That River”.

#1 – “Right Turn” – From the EP Sap 

I have always loved Alice In Chains’ more acoustic numbers. These songs allow more space for Staley and Cantrell to bring emotion to the song from the individual singing and excellent harmonies. “Right Turn” is a simple song that takes that concept and amplifies it. Not only does “Right Turn” feature the vocals of Cantrell and Staley, but it also adds in the voices of fellow Seattle scene mates Chris Cornell of Soundgarden and Mark Arm of Mudhoney, creating something approaching a gorgeous four-part grunge vocal group.  These four voices working together are emotive and beautiful throughout the song and they approach the divine when they break out at the end, with Cornell roaring like a Banshee over the other parts. In a sense this is cheating because it is more than the sum of the parts of Alice In Chains, a fact the band acknowledges by attributing the song to “Alice Mudgarden” in the liner notes to Sap. That said, I don’t care. It was written by Alice In Chains’ Jerry Cantrell and included on their Sap EP, and it is my personal favorite Alice In Chains song.

Albums Re-Imagined: “Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me” by The Cure

Albums Re-Imagined: Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me by The Cure

Listen To The Re-Imagined album: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/4NvWZxKCByunxb8j8mqNqa

In 1996 The Cure released an album titled Wild Mood Swings. That title was fitting for that album but it might have been an ever more fitting title for The Cure’s album from almost ten years earlier, 1987’s excellent but emotionally schizophrenic double album Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me. The Cure had long proven to be a very diverse band both stylistically and emotionally and had already had successful songs that ranged from the tense post-punk of “A Forest” to the jazzy pop of “The Love Cats” and from the gothic horror of “The Hanging Garden” to the psychedelic ballad “The Caterpillar”. So, diversity was not necessarily new to The Cure. However, until Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me The Cure had never put it all on one album like this. The Head On The Door had hinted at this diversity of tone and style but The Cure went for it full bore on Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me. For some, this eclectic sprawl may be part of the genius of the album (and of double albums in general) but I personally have always found it a bit messy. I like my albums to feel like albums with a tonal arc running through them and so I have decided to take The Cure’s Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (which I truly love) and divide it into a true double album, with each album focused on a different part of the band’s style: The first album being focused on the warmer, happier, and more whimsical side of the band and the second album dealing with the darker, anger and lust filled songs. In my version you still get all the great songs (I actually added two of the outtakes from the era to give each album a nice round ten tracks) but you can also focus on whichever mood of the band you are feeling right now (or throw them both in you CD changer and throw it on shuffle to get the eclectic mix of the original record). 

DISC 1: Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (Lighter Side)

  1. Hey You!!! – More casual fans of The Cure (or those who only owned the CD version of the album) may not know the song “Hey You!!!” as it was omitted from the CD versions of Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me to allow the album to fit on a single compact disc. This is not a tragedy as, while the song is fun and frothy in the way The Cure sometimes are, it  is not a vital track. However, it is a great way to open the lighter record of my Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me as it does help the sunny and silly tone and is the song where the album title actually comes from.
  1. Icing Sugar – “Icing Sugar” is actually one of the darker toned songs to be on the lighter Kiss Me disc. This somewhat darker feel distinguishes it from “Hey You” and establishes that while this album may be the brighter half it isn’t all frothy pop. “Icing Sugar” has driving percussion and throbbing bass and these give the song a sense of need and urgency without pushing it into bleakness. “Icing Sugar” also connects back nicely to “Hey You!!!” because of the prominent use of saxophone in both songs which creates an aural bond between them and gives the album a united flavor from the start.
  1. Why Can’t I Be You? – “Why Can’t I Be You?” continues the run of songs with a loosely jazzy, horn-driven feel to them and it is these horns that help lend these songs their bright, shiny feeling. However, whereas “Hey You!!!” is mostly a silly diversion and “Icing Sugar” is more of a musical showcase for the band’s superb rhythm section of Simon Gallup and Boris Williams, “Why Can’t I Be You?” is a swirling pop masterpiece that balances its upbeat tempo and punchy horns with a self-deprecating lyric. Placing “Why  Can’t I Be You?” here allows the lighter Kiss Me disc to open with a surefire single near the front while also continuing the run of songs loosely connected by their uptempo, horn-driven mood.
  1. Catch – “Catch” is a slightly melancholy song, but it is the warm melancholy of an old love remembered fondly. Robert Smith sings the song in a wistful, fond way while the backing strings add a touch of elegance to the simple, pretty melody. “Catch” is a song about a relationship that is over, but also one that has provided happiness and nostalgia for a better time and it is a song  that has always left me feeling warm and fulfilled. Thus, I like it here as a calmer and more reserved moment following our opening run of songs.
  1. Just Like Heaven – A sublimely perfect pop song that manages to be catchy, beautiful, and emotionally complex all at once, “Just Like Heaven” is one of a handful of Cure songs that almost perfectly encapsulate the band’s ability to blend the sad with the sublime. “Just Like Heaven” also manages to carry the vaguely warm and nostalgic mood of “Catch” forward without sounding anything like that song. “Just Like Heaven” is the perfect centerpiece for the lighter side of Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me.
  1. To The Sky – “To The Sky” was recorded during the sessions for Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me but not included. It was eventually released on a Fiction Records compilation album two years later (and so is often associated more with the Disintegration era) but it is probably the best song cut from Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me and I am choosing to add it back to the album. While “To The Sky” is a slower number with a hint of sadness, it follows in the footsteps of “Catch” and “Just Like Heaven” by melding that melancholy with a fond warmth that gives the song a hopeful spirit that is both reassuring and affirming. Honestly, I’ve never understood why “To The Sky” was cut from the album as it fits in nicely with the overall mood and sound of the record and is a better song than a few others that were ultimately included in my opinion.
  1. The Perfect Girl – After an opening trio of jazzy, uptempo songs and a middle section of warmly melancholic songs, “The Perfect Girl” opens up the eclectic third part of my lighter first disc of the Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me double album. “The Perfect Girl” is a weird and warped little pop song that comes and goes without leaving a huge impression individually but that adds to the various moods of the album, which is an important component for any double album. In the end, “The Perfect Girl” is simply a quirky, happy little song that finds joy in the uniqueness of his paramour. It is a small song about a small thing, but those small things are often what makes a person special to us.
  1. Hot Hot Hot!!! – “Hot Hot Hot!!!” is a funky and rhythmic dance-pop song that finds the band experimenting with elements of funk and rap in a way that, while somewhat dated sounding now, still works surprisingly well for a band known for their icy ballads and towering, gothic epics. “Hot Hot Hot!!!”, more than anything else on Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, feels like a cousin to The Cure’s early 80’s run of warped pop singles. It is the 1987 equivalent to “The Walk”, “The Love Cats”, “Speak My Language” or “Let’s Go To Bed” and Robert Smith and company seem to be having a grand time playing around with these styles and sounds.
  1. One More Time – Putting “One More Time” on the lighter of my two Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me discs may be something of a stretch. The song is a yearning, aching ballad full of chiming guitars, aching vocals, and a perfect clarinet hook (at least I think it is a clarinet, I really should recheck the liner notes). Somehow though, at least to me, “One More Time” has always felt more like a plea to be with the one they love more than a wish unfulfilled, and thus has never really felt overly sad. Either way though “One More Time” serves as a nice quiet storm before the closing track on disc one.
  1. Fight – Disc one of my version of Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me ends with the staccato punch of  “Fight”. “Fight” is not exactly a warm or happy song but it is defiant and affirmative which can give a sense of positive closure to the album. On the other hand, the fact that the song also has a darker mood and tone leaves the outcome of the struggle in some doubt. This serves to have “Fight” be a perfect bridge to my darker second disc of Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me. By placing “Fight” as the closing track of disc one and the transitional song between the lighter and darker halves of the double album it gives the impression that we are moving from happier, simpler times into a more troubled and conflicted space; into a darker place where the happier memories of before and our fighting spirit may or may not be enough to get us through.

DISC 2: Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (Darker Side)

  1. Like Cockatoos – The darker second disc of my Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me opens with the swirling winds and flocking birds of “Like Cockatoos” and it serves as the perfect ominous opening to my darker second disc of Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me. “Like Cockatoos” is a personal favorite that evokes (for me) images of dark Victorian nights, evil birds, Edgar Allan Poe, and Jack The Ripper
  1. If Only Tonight We Could Sleep – One of The Cure’s more psychedelic songs, “If Only Tonight We Could Sleep” is a hazy, opiated ballad that drips languid melancholy. It is one of The Cure’s best slow songs (and The Cure are a band that has many excellent slow songs) and “If Only Tonight We Could Sleep” has a simmering and majestic dark power to it that has few peers. It isn’t the kind of song that would ever have been a hit single but it is a fan favorite and a live show favorite. It is also a perfect follow-up to “Like Cockatoos” for opening up this darker Kiss Me disc as both songs are sad and eerie, yet quite unique and diverse.
  1. How Beautiful You Are – A song that potentially could have been a single “How Beautiful You Are” is a gorgeous and ultimately tragic song based on a French short story by Charles Baudelaire. The basic premise is that we can never really know the people we love deep inside and the song (and story) come to an incredibly bleak conclusion. That said, Robert Smith and company wrap this deeply sad tale in music so perfect that you can’t help but love the song even while hating the woman at its center (and by extension much of humanity). “How Beautiful You Are” is an excellent encapsulation of what The Cure do so well; finding beauty in bleakness and solace in the dark things of the world.
  1. Shiver & Shake – “Shiver & Shake” finds The Cure trying their hand at an almost classic post-punk song. The song features wiry and jagged guitars over a driving bassline and percussion, while Robert Smith wails about the fury he feels toward another. While not necessarily the same protagonist as “How Beautiful You Are” it sure feels like an extension or coda to the end of that song where the shock and sadness of the protagonist has turned to disgust and rage.
  1. The Snakepit – “The Snakepit” is an Arabesque-tinged track that is largely instrumental, slowly building up its sense of lurking, waiting danger. “The Snakepit” walks the line between a sense of dark lust and of impending disaster so expertly that it could be about an illicit lust-filled encounter, an impending danger such as terrorism, or losing the battle with ones own demons (or all of the above at once). Porl Thompson and Robert Smith’s guitars wind and wail throughout the song while Simon Gallup’s bass crawls underneath. It is a song that focuses on atmosphere and imagery as much as melodic hooks or narrative storytelling and is a masterpiece of mood.
  1. A Thousand Hours – Robert Smith throws as much emotion as possible into his vocals here and that alone saves “A Thousand Hours” from being a sort of Cure-by-numbers track. While never a personal favorite of mine it does point toward the sound and themes that would dominate The Cure’s next album Disintegration (although everything on that masterpiece would do it better) and serves as a nice moody ballad. There is nothing wrong with “A Thousand Hours”, The Cure just had just done this idea better before and would do so again. It is a nice musical break before the darker Kiss Me explodes into its next track.
  1. A Japanese Dream – Originally the B-side to the “Why Can’t I Be You?” single and not included on the original version of the album I have chosen to re-add it to my version of Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me. A distant sonic cousin to earlier songs like “The Hanging Garden”, “A Japanese Dream” uses a jagged, visceral guitar attack to grab the listeners attention. The guitars squall and slice all over the place like an explosion of glass shards and razor-wire, while tribal percussion pounds underneath alongside throbbing bass. Smith’s vocals are buried in the mix, giving them a distant, lost quality that serves almost a trance-like role and allows those guitars to be the center of the attack. It isn’t the best thing The Cure ever recorded but it is a unique sound and it deserves a place here.
  1. Torture – “Torture” is a song constructed in a very interesting way. It is a fairly heavy song but it creates that sound largely with bass and keyboards. This combination creates a sense of menace and impending doom that works well and fits the lyrical content, at least over the first half. Strangely though, “Torture” adds a punchy horn section to its final third that, I feel, undercuts the mood of the song. Thus, “Torture” is not my favorite Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me song, but it does fit in nice here on my version of the album.
  1. All I Want – At one point I considered ending my new version of Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me with “All I Want” as the song has a sense of finality to it (and certainly ends in a way that would be a cool way to end an album). It is also a song that, while leaning toward obsession and desire, has a sense of commitment in the lyrics as well, which potentially could tie it to the themes and mood of the first disc as well. Ultimately though I went in a different direction to close the album but “All I Want” is a very good song that segues nicely from “Torture”.
  1. The Kiss – “The Kiss” was the opening track from the original Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me but on my double album divided between the lighter and darker songs it works much, much better as the closing song of the darker Kiss Me disc and the double album as a whole. It also gives my version of the album a sense of connection both to each other and the album title since I opened the lighter themed first album with “Hey You!!!” which features the line the album title comes from and closed the darker disc with the roaring guitar fury of “The Kiss”. The kiss in question here may be one he wants badly but is also one that he knows may ruin him. Whether it is the same protagonist singing about kissing the same person as in “Hey You!!!” is open for interpretation, but if it is things have gone horribly wrong. All that said, “The Kiss” is a much better album closer than opener in my opinion and I love the way it ends this darker second disc and my re-imagined version Kiss Me, Kiss Me,Kiss Me.

90’s Albums Revisited: May 1992

In 90’s Albums Revisited we will look at four key albums released month by month starting in January 1990.  As this is an alternative music site I will generally focus on albums that would fall under the “alternative music” umbrella, but I may stray into the mainstream world on occasion. Also, for whatever reason, the month of December is consistently a thin month for new releases so I will fill out the list for that month by including albums from earlier in the year that I originally did not include and will indicate these releases as such when I do this. I hope you enjoy this journey, may you revisit old favorites and find some new ones. 

This Month In History – May 1992: The 27th Constitutional amendment barring congress from giving themselves a raise mid-term is passed. Teenager Amy Fisher shoots Mary Jo Buttafuoco (the wife of Joey Buttafuoco) in the face in an attempt to remove the wife and be with her lover; the story became a tabloid sensation. Englishman Dave Gauder singlehandedly pulls a 196-ton jumbo jet three inches. Early polls show the 1992 Presidential race to be deadlocked between three candidates: Republican George Bush, Democrat Bill Clinton, and Independent Ross Perot. 

May 1992 – Listen To The List: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/0uMtzpBRNye6DDd80SfP41

“Lazer Guided Melodies” – Spiritualized

Spiritualized’s debut album Lazer Guided Melodies feels like the lovechild of the sounds of the Jesus & Mary Chain and Mazzy Star. This album is largely a quiet, languid, trance-like affair that buries its ample melodies and pop hooks under layers of production and distortion. Lazer Guided Memories is definitely an album that works better as a whole than in individual parts (a fact that the band also understood as can be seen by the fact that the twelve songs on the original CD version of the album were grouped into four song suites and tracked as such, forcing listeners to hear them as long single entities unless they wanted to get creative with their own personal editing). That said, there are some noteworthy moments here though, especially the drifting space rock of “Shine A Light”, the pulsing “Run”, and the almost rock song “I Want You”.

“Rites of Passage” – Indigo Girls

The Indigo Girls have rarely, if ever, released a poor album but even in their consistently strong discography Rites of Passage is a standout album. In some ways it is a transitional album between the neo-folk of their early career and the more Americana and roots based music they would later explore and walks the line between those two different, but still related worlds. It is also the album where the songwriting styles and musical influences of Emily Sailiers and Amy Ray really begin to show themselves as being distinct and different with Ray rooting her songs in Americana, roots music, and rock and Saliers being more influenced by folk, pop, and balladry. This divide lends the album a deep character and great variety as Ray spins out great songs like “Three Hits”, “Jonas and Ezekiel” and “Nashville” to sit alongside Salier’s contributions like “Galileo”, “Ghost”, and “Let It Be Me”. Rites of Passage is a strong listen from start to finish.

“Never Enough” – Melissa Etheridge

Melissa Etheridge’s first two albums, both released in the late 1980’s, are both excellent. They are also both quite obviously indebted to her heroes, storytellers rooted in Americana like Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, and Tom Petty. Never Enough, her third album is where she really first begins to find her own unique style and Never Enough would be her most experimental album until well past her commercial prime. Never Enough isn’t a sharp left turn from her earlier work, as can be heard on the opening track “Ain’t It Heavy”. However, most of the songs here have subtle evolutions that work, whether or not they are improvements may depend on your own taste. “2001” is built up from complex percussion and a throbbing bass groove and “Must Be Crazy For Me” grafts Etheridge’s traditional sound over a danceable rhythm that works surprisingly well. Elsewhere “Dance Without Sleeping” has an eerie, almost new wave quality to it and “Keep It Precious” feels like the soaring stadium rock that would soon make her a superstar. Never Enough is the album where Melissa Etheridge decided to step beyond her Springsteen adoration and create her own niche; one that would influence the Lilith Fair movement that would soon emerge. 

“The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion” – The Black Crowes

The Black Crowes were always out of time and out of step with musical trends, which makes their ability to have hits in the 90’s even more remarkable on the one hand. On the other hand though it is hard to deny how good the songs on The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion are. Songs like “Remedy” and “Sting Me” are perfect southern rock revivalism, while “Thorn In My Pride” and “Sometimes Salvation” are nice blends of 60’s psychedelia with The Black Crowes southern influences. “Hotel Illness” and “My Morning Song” both have a bluesy 70’s swagger reminiscent of Aerosmith and “Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye” is a fitting sequel to “She Talks To Angels” from their debut. The Black Crowes put out a lot of good albums but The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion is their best.