Tad: Salt Lick/God’s Balls

A while ago, Tad singer and guitarist Tad Doyle tweeted something about how a snare drum should sound like an ominous thunder clap. I like my snare sound tight and fast, so I didn’t really get it even though Tad is one of my favorite bands. Now that I’ve gone back to listen to this collection of some of their earlier work I get it. A big part of Tad’s sound is the pummeling of a snare drum that sounds almost like an extra punchy tom.

Salt Lick/God’s Balls, as its name suggests, combines two earlier Tad releases on Sub Pop. The first six songs are the Salt Lick EP and the last seven are culled from the ten songs that made up the God’s Balls LP. In between the two you’ve got the “Loser” single. Yes, that’s the inspiration for the Sub Pop “LOSER” shirts.

Somewhat surprisingly, this mash up works really well as a whole. The sequencing isn’t quite right, for obvious reasons (you could probably have a superior experience just putting it on shuffle), but conceptually and sonically it all works together. One thing that doesn’t make sense about this release is how it’s missing three tracks from God’s Balls. This came out in 1990 on CD and cassette only, so it would have been no problem to fit those in.

Alice In Chains and Soundgarden, especially the former, are often held up as the metal sides of the grunge scene. Tad’s there, too, but in more of a dirty, grimy, Cookie Monster-vocal kind of way as opposed to the arena-friendly sustained chords and melodically hooky guitars of the other two. Tad’s kind of like Sex Pistols meets Melvins. This collection could use a few more hooks, but that’s asking something of them that they’re not. This is a fantastic set of music.

Mixers: “Wood Goblins,” “Potlach,” “Loser,” “Satan’s Chainsaw”
– “Axe To Grind,” “High On The Hog,” “Glue Machine,” “Behemoth,” “Pork Chop,” “Helot,” “Sex God Missy,” “Cyanide Bath,” “Boiler Room”
– “Hibernation”
Filed Between: T-Ride (T-Ride) and Tad’s 8-Way Santa
Song Notes: After the jump
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Singles Soundtrack

Since I am so familiar with this album, or at least so intimately familiar with my experience with this album, I’m going to focus this re-review on what’s different for me now, 20 years later. By which I mean, what’s different between my experience now and what I remember my experience being then.

I remember liking this album a ton more than I did on these recent listens for this re-review. Specifically, I remember being hit much harder by Alice In Chains’ “Would?” and Pearl Jam’s “State Of Love And Trust” and really liking Pearl Jam’s “Breath,” Chris Cornell’s “Seasons,” and The Lovemongers’ cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Battle Of Evermore.”

I was kind of ready to be less enthused about those last two. I’ve cooled on Zep’s catalog in general, especially the deeper cuts, and I figured that time would diminish the novelty my high school self found in this version. The remaining interesting part of this track, and it’s not to be diminished, is the harmonic and contrapuntal interplay of the Wilson sisters’ vocals and how they evoke Robert Plant’s singular style.

I’ve almost completely soured on Cornell’s solo output after hearing everything that came out after the track here and finding that it all sounds exactly the same as this track. Cooling on “Breath” was more of a surprise as I remember it being something that was easily good enough to be on Ten. It probably still is, but I can hear now why it maybe fell into the B-side bin in the band’s mind.

“Would?” and “State Of Love And Trust” are still awesome, but they’re not completely flooring me the way they did in the past. I’m going to chalk that up to listening to ripped versions on my phone since I know I loved those two songs very recently.

On the other hand, I was expecting to like Soundgarden’s “Birth Ritual” less because over the years I’ve come to hear it as a B-sider of Soundgarden’s, not good enough to make Badmotorfinger, and it’s probably not, but it’s still pretty sweet (and gets bonus points for being in one of the best scenes of the movie).

I expected to like Paul Westerberg’s tracks more than I did back in the day, when I hated them. I still hate them. Though now I at least find some of the lyrics to “Dyslexic Heart” clever. Why those songs have not received more derision for completely bringing this album down and being utterly out of place, I don’t understand. I don’t know what dirt he has on Cameron Crowe to warrant his inclusion here.

It’s a bit sad that “Crown Of Thorns” has become Mother Love Bone’s legacy. They released a couple of great albums and have at least a handful of full-hearted songs. I understand why Pearl Jam’s gone on to play that and only that song, and it’s a great one, but its success has overshadowed the rest of the band’s output.

“Nearly Lost You” always was and still is the best track on the album.

It seems appropriate that Smashing Pumpkins round this thing out since they wouldn’t fit in any other place. Popular at the same time, but Chicago instead of Seattle (Paul Westerberg of Minneapolis is the only other non-Seattle artist) and not at all grungy. I have such an ambivalent relationship with them. Loved Gish, hated the too-clean production of Siamese Dream, though I can appreciate the songcraft there. This song fell in between those two releases. It has some great moments. But I think its verses are too long and quiet, meaning it falls just short of a full heart. It’s interesting to me that it’s not the feedback stuff at the end that takes away the heart but a big chunk of the more traditional song structure part.

I guess this ended up being a comparison of what I remember my old experience being, what I thought my new experience would be, and what my new experience ended up being. #navelgazing

– “Would?” (Alice In Chains), “Breath” (Pearl Jam), “Chloe Dancer/Crown Of Thorns” (Mother Love Bone), “Birth Ritual” (Soundgarden), “State Of Love And Trust” (Pearl Jam), “Overblown” (Mudhoney), “May This Be Love” (Jimi Hendrix), “Nearly Lost You” (Screaming Trees)
– “Seasons” (Chris Cornell), “Battle Of Evermore” (The Lovemongers), “Drown” (Smashing Pumpkins)
– “Dyslexic Heart” (Paul Westerberg), “Waiting For Somebody” (Paul Westerberg)
Filed Between: Frank Sinatra (The Best Of The Capitol Years) and Skeleton Key (Obtainium)
Song Notes: After the jump
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Mad Season: Above

This is like my fourth attempt to like this album. I don’t like it…because it pretty much blows. It’s singer Layne Staley (Alice In Chains), guitarist Mike McCready (Pearl Jam), drummer Barrett Martin (Screaming Trees), and bassist John Baker Saunders (The Walkabouts) (one of these guys doesn’t belong), so it’s got an all-star cast. But they’re just trotting out the same, tired grunge tropes that Alice In Chains had already worn out by the end of their 1992 album Dirt.

Everything here seems obvious and re-heated.  There are enjoyable moments, but never is there a surprise or a new sound. It’s slow like they’re being reflective of their recent rehab (Saunders and McCready met up in rehab in Minnesota), but it just ends up being tortured-young-white-rich-male pity-party plodding. They overplayed their hand, and even I wanted something different by 1995.

Even the names seem like they were just pulled from Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains cast offs: “I’m Above” (also very reminiscent of Gruntruck’s “Above Me”), “River Of Deceit” (the obligatory mix of nature with negative human social construct), “Lifeless Dead” (as opposed to the vivacious dead?), and “All Alone” (guys, the teenage boys who were so into your bands a few years ago have all lost their virginity now).

Staley and Martin are the only ones really doing anything here. I mean, it’s really their band…their fingerprints are over this the most. McCready…well, this is not his best work. He’s a guitar wizard well-suited to arena rock and blazing solos. This is slow bluesy stuff that Alice In Chains’ Jerry Cantrell does much better. And Saunders…I don’t know what his deal is. It’s like token bassist. You guys left all the songwriters back in your other bands.

They never put together one solid song, and with the last two being complete throwaways, it’s obvious that the biggest failing here is a lack of material. There are moments in the first four songs, even the created-in-a-sterile-grunge-factory “River Of Deceit,” that hint at what might have been with a more fully realized product. But this is just half-assed from top to bottom.

– “Wake Up,” “X-Ray Mind,” “I’m Above,” “Lifeless Dead,” “I Don’t Know Anything,” “All Alone”
– “River Of Deceit,” “Artificial Red,” “Long Gone Day,” “November Hotel”
Filed Between: Yo-Yo Ma (The Protecting Veil) and Made In Minnesota – Volume One
Song Notes: After the jump
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Screaming Trees: Dust

0000526870_500It’s conventional wisdom that the four year break between Sweet Oblivion and this album is what prevented Screaming Trees from being big stars; in other words, they didn’t capitalize on the Seattle boom of the early 90’s. And sure, no output from 1993-1995 surely hurt them. But just as big a factor, I have to think, is that this album just isn’t that good.

Of course the two can’t be teased apart all that easily. The band folded after this record, and it seems likely to me that they were headed down the breakup path during its recording and release. They’ve got a new producer on this album in George Drakoulias, and the sound is just…different. It’s not as muddy as it was when I was complaining about it on their indie albums, but Lanegan’s voice is higher, even falsetto in some places, and the guitar sound is too clean and radio-friendly. The guitar is also missing the hooks. So without the amazing guitar melodies and Lanegan’s voice, is it even really Screaming Trees?

It’s not like the band lost its sense of aesthetics during this time. In 1994 Lanegan released the excellent Whiskey And The Holy Ghost, and of course he’s gone on to have an incredible career that’s kind of even exceeded that of his original band.

So they ended up with an album that’s a bit aimless. It’s not quite clear what they’re going for, but you can be pretty sure they didn’t hit it. There are a few good tracks on here, particularly on the back half of the disc, but that half also features the god awful, outrageously dull “Traveler.” I’m no fan of the opener, “Halo Of Ashes,” either, and when I hear the opening riff to that song I have to remind myself that some good songs are coming up in order to hang on through it.

Even though the last two songs are very good, in particular “Gospel Plow,” I think in my mind the band will always have ended at “Julie Paradise,” going out on top.

– “Sworn And Broken,” “Dime Western,” “Gospel Plow”
– “All I Know,” “Look At You,” “Dying Days,” “Witness”
– “Halo Of Ashes,” “Make My Mind,” “Traveler”
Filed Between: Screaming Trees’ Sweet Oblivion and Screwed Soundtrack
Song Notes: After the jump
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Screaming Trees: Sweet Oblivion

Just a ridiculously good album…nearly perfect. One of the rare occasions where a band’s best-known album is its best.  And one of the even rarer instances where a band’s best-known song (“Nearly Lost You,” which also appeared on the Singles soundtrack) may actually be its best. Just a great album, unfortunately still overlooked relative to its worth, one of the pillars of Peak Grunge. Beautiful vocal melodies, awesome guitar leads that cut through everything, great sound.

– “Shadow Of The Season,” “Nearly Lost You,” “Dollar Bill,” “More Or Less,” “Butterfly,” “The Secret Kind,” “Winter Song,” “Troubled Times,” “No One Knows,” “Julie Paradise”
– “For Celebrations Past”
Filed Between: Screaming Trees’ Uncle Anesthesia and Dust
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Screaming Trees: Uncle Anesthesia

This is what a major label debut is supposed to sound like. So much bigger and grown up, but not watered down and toothless. It’s a band coming through the indie ranks breaking out at just the right time, soul intact, fully-formed and unique; Continue reading

Screaming Trees: Something About Today

This EP is Screaming Trees’ major label debut (and kind of the debut of Mark Lanegan’s voice as it would come to be known). The EP served as a bit of a preview for their Uncle Anesthesia album. I’ve had this since I don’t know when, and I only just realized right now that only two of these four songs (the best two, “Uncle Anesthesia” and “Ocean Of Confusion”) actually appeared on that album. I thought it was a strict subset.

Anyway, the story of this is pretty simple. It’s some good songs mixed with inexcusably bad, muffled sound. The sound thing can be mitigated partially by turning the volume up, which exposes a lot more. But to listen at a reasonable volume is to be frustrated by the veil behind which the music is hidden. It’s like the musical equivalent of talking to a low-talker. I say inexcusably because this was 1990, a golden era of good-sounding rock. And it’s got the excellent Terry Date listed as co-producer (along with Soundgarden’s lead singer Chris Cornell and Screaming Trees themselves), lending even more bafflement to this issue.

A couple of really good songs, though, and “Something About Today (Numb Inversion Version)” is a cool look into what the band could do when it wanted to stretch outside of the standard guits and drums rock genre. If not for the sound problems, I would probably give this a full four clowns.

– “Uncle Anesthesia,” “Ocean Of Confusion”
– “Who Lies In Darkness,” “Something About Today (Numb Inversion Version)”
Filed Between: Screaming Trees’ Buzz Factory and Uncle Anesthesia
Song Notes: After the jump
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