Aren't the 90s starting to seem far away? The turn of the century extended their pop-culture reach for a few more years, but now as we head toward 2010, the muted, earth-toned vaguely slack-jawed irony is finally past us. I'm beginning to look back at the music with yearning nostalgia instead of tired annoyance.
I thought it would be fun to post the first three songs of a cultural artifact--a nearly forgotten compilation album put out on the Too Pure label in England (recently disbanded), "Pop (Do we not like that?)." Why would I do that? Because these songs are perhaps the greatest openers of a compilation ever put together, and because I can.
What sets this CD apart is the proliferation of women, mostly singing lead vocals; women with strong, unusual singing and songwriting styles. The early 90s were a good time for women vocalists and songwriters as long as they didn't expect a lot of commercial airplay. Because that wasn't and still isn't the case in the land of alternative rock programming. I'm not saying there wasn't commercial airplay, just not a ton of it go around, and in some markets, not going around at all these days. I'm merely stating a bitter and unfortunate fact.
Stereolab - Super-Electric (with intro by founding members Tim Gane and Lætitia Sadier)
I've seen Stereolab live many times over the years, most memorably at a free Central Park concert with John Cale during a heatwave. They are a treat--artful and accessible. I lost interest in the late 90s when they became more of an experimental lounge band. I can only take so much electronic repeitition before I start nodding out. The tragic bicycle-accident death of singer/keyboardist Mary Hansen left a huge hole in their harmonies and layered female voice(s), but Stereolab has forged on, dusting off their Moog synthesizers once more to release a new album, Chemical Chordson 4AD.
P.J. Harvey - Sheela-Na-Gig
"I can't decide--is she hot or not?" asked a confused Beavis and Butthead while watching Polly Jean, the original angry-woman archetype on MTV. I found her look and sound attractive yet repellent in the way I find Iggy Pop and Patti Smith attractive yet repellent. There's a lot of wounded anger in her music, but equal amounts of strength, sexiness, and melodic sense. She's been way more influential than the radio-ready angry-women types, Alanis Morissette and that corporate creation, Avril Lavigne. I'm talking about all the Sleater Kinney stuff and beyond. P.J. Harvey is kind of the one-woman Velvet Underground phenomenon. I'm sure a lot of girls who heard her went on to pick up a guitar.
Answer: yes, she is hot.
Don't Jones Me by Th' Faith Healers is available on their beloved but undersold album, Lidobut this version was newly recorded in 1993 and was released in the States for college radio. Why? No one's saying. An unusual back-story for an indie band. It costs money and takes time to re-record a song, so if anyone knows the reason, I'm curious. I like this version very much. It really builds into some controlled chaos with soothing/menacing vocals by Roxanne Stephen.
According to their fan site, they disbanded in '94 to pursue various interests. They never got their due but did regroup for some Berlin and NYC shows in 2006.
The rest of "Pop" has an assortment of punk, electronica and some folky-experimental rock stuff, none of which stands out as much as these first three songs. Available for twenty cents on Amazon, it's still your best entertainment value.