As I've been delving into all of this personal history (or old CDs), some of which I haven't revisited in ages, it's apparent which albums have held up in my mind versus those that haven't. This has proven both interesting and disappointing depending on what I've listened to. In some ways this sort of makes me regret my decision to reexamine these albums, their impact permanent despite my new assessments. You sort of go, "Huh... I wonder why this was such a big deal." Naturally, exposure humbles your opinions with regard to your milestone records. Age does, too. At 17, my musical world tiny next to where I am at 37, I definitely interpreted these releases differently. But, like I said, some have held up. For that, I'm grateful.
Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral
When Trent Reznor released the Broken EP, which was much more of a metallic and guitar-driven affair than Pretty Hate Machine had been, I was really into this evolution and figured this was where he would take The Downward Spiral, once word of its imminent arrival had spread throughout the pages of Rolling Stone and SPIN. Guitars were doing more for me at the time than keyboards, even if Reznor's use of the instrument resulted in something attractively dark, his mechanized environs pointing toward a void of humanity, which I found enjoyable. Inasmuch as "Head Like A Hole" justified my self-absorbed teenage want of independence, ("I'd rather die, than give you control!"), I found the distortions emanating from "Wish" enthralling and wanted a long player to carry out this direction. The Downward Spiral, though, turned out to be an excessively wired treatise on sexual tension, nihilism and personal dismay, which managed to align with just about every thought, insecurity and instance of physical longing I was experiencing at the time. Reznor could plainly express something as blunt and perverse as "I wanna fuck you like an animal" and somehow jumpstart the reproductive works within the bods of every of teenage girl I knew at the time, an enviable position that I certainly had not the balls nor status to ever hope to attain. Such declarations from my mouth would've earned me a slap across the face. I eventually discovered the word "charisma," gleaned its definition and realized it was not a word that applied to me. (Not sure it ever has, to be honest.)
But, the album:
While for me Nine Inch Nails hasn't translated too well past Y2K, listening to The Downward Spiral now is different. Whatever old feelings had manifested while running through its 65 minutes notwithstanding, Reznor's talent for arrangement is much more apparent. While the novelty of a song like "Closer" still remains permanently fixed at its point of reference, the smaller moments in songs like "March of the Pigs," "The Becoming" and "The Ruiner" grabbed most of my attention this time around. While "March of the Pigs" remains as much of a kick in the head as ever, its momentary lapse of piano ("Now doesn't that make you feel better?") a perfect, sarcastic little jingle that I can appreciate more now. The acoustic shifts in "The Becoming" are conversely serene next to the song's intensity and the live instrumentation brought into "The Ruiner" as some analog component fits in unexpectedly well.
The doom behind "Reptile" still resonates. It's a song that I'd put on more than a couple mixtapes and it still sounds vast and explosive through a set of headphones.
Soundgarden – Superunknown
I remember making many copies of Soundgarden's Superunknown for friends of mine, happily distributing them with "you're gonna love it" certainty. Even before hindsight proved as much, Superunknown felt like a big album, a then new world application of the classic rock paradigm finding relevance in a 90s "alternative" album. It's long and grand, accessible but still loud enough to appeal to those of us who were above that sort of "mainstream bullshit." And, part of the reason I put Superunknown in the same league as something like Zeppelin IV is that this was one of the only albums my Dad ever listened to without argument. Even that ever-reliable and dismissing babyboomer superiority eased up just enough to appreciate what was going on and, like all classic rock, FM radio has more or less driven Superunknown into the ground so much it no longer means anything. Kind of like "Stairway to Heaven." Kind of like "Iron Man." And, I forgot how many singles this album would eventually boast. (Fucking FIVE!!!)
While the singles might now represent the album's weakest moments, "Fell On Black Days" and "My Wave" still sound great. I can't say the same for "Spoonman" or "Black Hole Sun," the latter forever associated with a "Pleasant Valley Sunday"-styled suburbia depicted in the track's video, its populace altered by stretched mouths and growing eyes.
The song, though, that made the album for me were the sludgy crawl of both "Mailman" and "4th of July," not to mention the harmonic guitar phrases Kim Thayil performs in "Limo Wreck," which were particularly affecting this time around. Not sure why I didn't appreciate them as much when I was younger. Also, Matt Cameron's drum combos in "Head Down" are perfectly relentless. My favorite track on Superunknown, though, remains "Fresh Tendrils." It has my favorite vocal melody employed by Chris Cornell. The song still makes my blood turns to ice.
Pantera – Far Beyond Driven
It could be said that there wasn't much room for thrash metal in the early nineties while "alternative rock" was king, but Pantera managed to transcend the climate and somehow embedded themselves within the era. Far Beyond Driven isn't something I can listen to often, as it conjures unpleasant memories and feelings I'd rather forget. The album is an intense, artfully brutal masterwork that's had me forever hold Dimebag Darrell, Phil Anselmo, Rex Brown and Vinnie Paul in the highest regard. From the introductory snarl of Dimebag's six string in "Strength Beyond Strength" to the runaway drum sounds during the middle of "Slaughtered," Far Beyond Driven boasted the highest payoffs, the sweetest drum fills, some incredible guitar work and pinnacle performance from Anselmo. "25 Years" was the offering with which I could most identify, its second half a monument to confessional styled rage.
Rollins Band – Weight
I refer to Rollins Band's Weight as "the one with the hit." Following the personal revelation that was for the band's 1992 release, The End of Silence, Weight was an album I'd eagerly anticipated and grew with for most of the year. While it's since become one of my least favorite Rollins Band releases, songs like "Disconnect," "Civilized" and "Liar" sounding rather thin next to some of the more deranged and heavy-hitting songs featured in Weight's predecessor (not to mention the extraordinarily abrasive Life Time and Hard Volume), it's still a solid album, though I find the second half to be its most engaging. "Volume 4" is an amplified sludge quake on par with the band's more metallic output and "Alien Blueprint" is perfectly energized, guitarist Chris Haskett's tone remarkably clean. The addition of bassist Melvin Gibbs provided more of a funk sensibility, very prevelant in "Alien Blueprint" and the album's closing track, "Shine." It was the first Rollins Band album I'd heard that didn't end in a flurry of sonic eruption and Henry Rollins' mic-as-catharsis screaming, which might've seemed a letdown at the time.
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