Now that even the tail end of the decade is almost 10 years ago, I decided it was time to weigh in on this very important topic. Important?, you ask. Why yes. Because at least one version of mainstream rock musical history goes like this: the Dinosaurs, Punk, 4 days of Power Pop, Hair Metal (during which Motley Crue was the biggest band on the planet for all of about 6 minutes, before getting knocked off by Guns n’ Roses), Grunge.
And then nothing…..Sure, the occasional song appears. But generally good rock music hasn’t been heard since. Certainly not on a commercially viable scale.
If the 90s were the end of the road, some measure must be made of the peaks that were reached before the end. I have a nominee for song, and a nominee for album, as well as brief defense of each.
Song: ‘Bullet With Butterfly Wings’ – Smashing Pumpkins
The Pumpkins drove me crazy sometimes back in the day. Billy seemed really whiny. But once they were gone, I sure did miss them. This song isn’t just their high point, but also captures the pinnacle of 90s rock: loud soft simple of methaphor catchy powerful nearly disposable urgent trashy short sharp
Some reasoned folks have made the argument ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ must fill this spot. I disagree. It was the song that broke grunge. It was a commercial smash. It shared almost every characteristic of BWBW…but it didn’t realize any of them as fully. It was proto-best. Not best.
Perhaps most importantly, it fails ‘the spaceship test’. The one where you get beamed up and can only give one example of something to explain it to the aliens. It oversimplifies us in a way BWBW does not.
Album: Temple of the Dog, ‘s/t’
While capturing much of the bombast of the 90s, this is the record that takes the humaness of its creators and displays it most vividly. It places at least a glimmer of hope in the bleakness. 5 dudes and 2 vocalists just letting it all hang out. Instruments and voices.
It’s popular competitor for the crown? Pearl Jam, ‘Ten’.
This one’s actually alot closer than the song contest. I remember when ‘Ten’ first came out, before the singles even landed, while ‘Alive’ was still buried exclusively at the tail end of Headbangers Ball each week, feeling like some all-powerful combination of classic (even southern) rock and the new ethos had been spawned.
Rick Parashar’s production work moved him instantly into my all-time list for that category. It, as much as anything else, helped make the record work as perfectly as it did. Not a short-coming on the thing.
So how does it fall short? We have to get back on the spaceship to find out. Both records are emotional. Both demonstrate the humans’ ability to make music. Where TOTD edges just slightly ahead, however, is in demonstrating our capacity for perserverance and celebration. The spacemen need to know this about us, at least as much as they need to know about the other human aspects that both albums deliver in spades.
Some of you might have other ideas. I would very much like to hear them.