You couldn’t get away from Radiohead’s radio hit “Creep” when it was released on the world in 1992-93. Not even the band could escape the clutches of such a megahit. So they did what any self-respecting band – a band inspired by the DIY ethos the likes of R.E.M. – would do with their next album, which was released in 1995. “The Bends,” the follow-up to “Pablo Honey,” is a tour de force album that 25 years later holds up as perhaps one of the most complete and wonderful albums of all time. The guitar virtuosity of Jonny Greenwood is complemented by the paranoid vocals of Thom Yorke. Oh, and the rest of the band is pretty freaking incredible, too. If people came listening for the next “Creep,” they were sorely mistaken. And thank God for that.
If we told you a member of the Jackson family produced an album in the 1980s that produced eight singles and multiple top 5 hits, you would likely assume it was Michael. However, younger sister Janet’s “Rhythm Nation 1814” was a behemoth of a hit-maker, with dance-able hits like “Escapade,” “Black Cat,” “Miss You Much” and “Love Will Never Do (Without You).” The album itself was a concept album meant to address loftier themes. But the videos were peak MTV-era goodness. You couldn’t escape Janet. But why would you want to?
When The Beatles returned to Abbey Road to record their sixth album, they were exhausted from constant touring and releasing at a pace of two albums a year. They also had virtually no songs prepared. But when it was completed, their sixth album was Rubber Soul, arguably the first actual album, not just a collection of songs. This was the turning point; it’s the album that bridges the British Invasion Beatles to Revolver and Sgt. Pepper. It’s the album that turned the music world on its rear, forcing the band’s rivals and contemporaries like the Beach Boys and Rolling Stones to step up their games. In essence, with Rubber Soul, the Beatles were just getting started.
Thirty years after it was released, “Disintegration” by The Cure remains a Goth masterpiece. It was Robert Smith’s answer to critics that his band (and, let’s be clear: it was HIS band) could still do moody, dark epics as well or better than anyone. No one was a bigger critic of Robert Smith than himself. So he brought it. It’s all there in its “Cure-iness.” Simon Gallup’s bass is the omnipresent driving low-end of the album. But it’s Smith’s lyrics about creepy lullabies, red-light districts, spidermen and, yes, even love that make “Disintegration” the masterpiece it remains today.
How does a band reach the pinnacle of both commercial and critical success, dominate the airwaves for a handful of years, only to disintegrate into the ether? That’s probably the question that has haunted the members of Līve for two decades now. The band’s second major album, “Throwing Copper,” was omnipresent on both pop and alternative radio. The video for “Lightning Crashes” was an MTV staple. And then? Poof! After some 8 million albums sold (and a couple of moderately successful follow-ups), they were seemingly gone from the radar. (It could have to do with the fact that in this Google/SEO world, the name “Līve” does not render easily on search engines. Shoulda thought that through, boys!) It’s a shame, really. “Throwing Copper” is everything good about quintessential 90s rock, highlighted by singer Ed Kowalczyk’s mystical/nebulous lyrics.
It would be the album that would break up The Smiths, but not before encapsulating all that was SO … Smiths about them. “Strangeways, Here We Come” combines the brilliance of Johnny Marr and the poetic, charming violence of Morrissey into a final testament of one of the most influential — if short-lived — bands of all time.
Young people all around the world were drawn to the angsty lyrics and lilting voice of Dolores O’Riordan when her band The Cranberries were EVERYWHERE in 1993 and 1994. But whereas their debut album featured beautiful pop hits like “Linger” and “Dreams,” their sophomore effort, “No Need to Argue” built upon the passion of relational anguish while shining a light on the horrors and plight of The Troubles in Ireland. Nowhere was that more evident and dramatic than in “Zombie,” which would be The Cranberries’ best-charting song of all time.
What does a band do when the record label shelves their album and ignores them? If you’re Jimmy Eat World, you strike out on your own, save your money, and release a platinum album. With their ability to blend pop-punk, rock, and emo, Jimmy Eat World produced such ear candy as Sweetness, A Praise Chorus, and the perfect anthem in The Middle. Good luck not singing along, and if you happened to be in high school when this album came out? Well done, you!
From the opening notes of “Zoo Station,” one quickly realizes “Achtung Baby” is not your mother’s U2. When the band released the album almost 30 years ago, they were not only the biggest band in the world, but the most important. But the stress of living up to those monikers almost broke them. The resulting album was a masterpiece built on the strains of love, stardom, and alienation. With classic hits like “One,” “Even Better Than The Real Thing” and even the monster radio hit “Mysterious Ways,” “Achtung Baby” was the band doubling down on its power and creativity – and may be their best album of all.
Hailed as “the grandchildren of the Beach Boys” by one reviewer, this soulful Chapel Hill band was also able to do rock, funk, and blues with impeccable harmonies. The band’s first full-length album, “Rosemary,” brought them incredible acclaim — if mostly on a regional level. But for a while there, they were the headliners while a lesser-known band from Columbia, S.C., was the opener. (Hint: it was Hootie.) “Rosemary” remains a delightful work of art that illustrates why North Carolina’s music scene has always been among the best in the land. And it clearly has lasting power, even if the band itself did not.