Of the past 20+ years in my music fandom, 1992 is the toughest to quantify. Only 17 titles in my CD collection bear a 1992 copyright date. Oddly enough, 1992 could be considered the emblematic year of that decade’s music. The year before, Nirvana ushered in what major labels would call "alternative music", a descriptor I find ridiculous to this very day. 1992 would signal a gold rush for everyone — listeners seeking more of this "different" type of rock, labels signing up grunge clones in a mad dash to fill the coffers.
I had hopes that if ’80s college rock crossed over, it would sound like Camper Van Beethoven, All About Eve or In Tua Nua. Instead, it sounded like 4 Non Blondes and Stone Temple Pilots.
The list for 1992 consists of only five titles. I’ll also list a number of titles I used to own that year and why I let them go.
Musicwhore.org Favorite Edition 1992
Wayne Horvitz/The President, Miracle Mile
It took a while for me to adjust to Wayne Horvitz’s more sparse sound. I was hoping to hear the same fireworks he produced with Naked City, but his work with the President was more cerebral. (Horvitz wouldn’t channel that energy till Pigpen and Zony Mash.) Miracle Mile is incredibly understated, and there’s a hint of minimalism between the hooks and the solos — motifs with clashing rhythms, melodies pieced together like cells instead of phrases.
Máire Brennan, Màire
Perhaps the most striking feature of this album isn’t Máire herself but her backing singers of siblings Deidre and Brídín. Until she released her first solo album, Máire had harmonized primarily with her brothers, Ciarán and Pól, if not multitracking herself. With Máire, she brought new family members into the music fold while creating a sound distinctive from Clannad and her other sister, Eithne. It’s still the same mystical Celtic pop produced by Clannad and Enya, but it’s her own spin on the family aesthetic.
Henryk Górecki, Symphony No. 3 (Dawn Upshaw, David Zinmann, London Sinfonietta)
I’ve already talked about this symphony at great length before, so there’s no reason it shouldn’t be on this list.
Robin Holcomb, Rockabye
This album actually isn’t as good as her self-titled debut, but it’s better than a lot of the stuff I encountered in 1992.
Kronos Quartet, Pieces of Africa
This album is perhaps the most pop-listener friendly in the Kronos repertoire. I actually don’t listen to it much, but if given the choice between this album and, say, Soul Rotation by the Dead Milkmen, it’s no contest. (Aside: The Milkmen themselves consider the one album they recorded for Hollywood Records a "lost" era.)
1992 was the time my classical music studies in college went into full swing, so the new music slant to this list was influenced by that. (Four of those titles were released on Nonesuch. Curious.) Perhaps that precociousness interfered — or rather intereferes — with my ability to appreciate some of the landmark albums released back then. More likely, my skepticism meter is just ratcheted unusually high.
Because, really … what kind of aging hipster wouldn’t love these albums? We’ll, you’re reading him.
R.E.M., Automatic for the People
This album would turn out to be the omen to the post-Bill Berry era. Critics and listeners pissed all over themselves to praise this album. But it was like Protestant faith — you either felt or you didn’t. On the surface, I could recognize the songwriting was well-crafted, and "Nightswimmer" is quite beautiful. But the album just came across as far too precious. I loved the vibrancy of Out of Time, even the cornball moments. Automatic for the People feels flat and thin, and it takes its seriousness to the level of bombast. I don’t fathom its esteem.
Sonic Youth, Dirty
Goo was my first Sonic Youth album, and while I heard about the band’s avant-garde tendencies, I wasn’t at all familiar with how far they went. Butch Vig and Andy Wallace, the team behind the boards for Nirvana’s Nevermind, helmed Dirty, so there was a lot of hype with that. I somehow managed to fall asleep while I was listening to this album. On more than one occasion. "100%" — isn’t that just a cover of Soft Cell’s "Tainted Love"?
10,000 Manaics, Our Time in Eden
With this album, Natalie Merchant effectively overshadowed her bandmates. On the MTV Unplugged album, the band is introduced as "Natalie Merchant and 10,000 Maniacs", not just "10,000 Maniacs". Merchant may have been the main songwriter, but the band kept her solipsism in check, forcing her to perform more extrovertedly than she perhaps had preferred. Between the glossy production by Paul Fox and Merchant’s heavy social consciousness, 10,000 Maniacs had moved far away from the poetic folk-rock narratives of its early independent days. Our Time in Eden was essentially Merchant’s first solo record. I was skeptical she would thrive creatively as a solo artist, and judging by the lukewarm reviews of her albums, she didn’t.
Annie Lennox, Diva
Yes. Another exhibit in why my gay card needed to be rescinded. Lennox’s voice is usually described as icy, but with Diva, so was the music. Everyone kept raving about how emotional the album was, but I guess I must have been listening to a different album because those synthesizers made her sound stiff and frigid. She sounded far warmer on Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) and Savage than she did on this album.
Sinéad O’Connor, Am I Not Your Girl?
Oh, c’mon — on what planet would a standards album by Sinéad O’Connor sound like a good idea?
Faith No More, Angel Dust
Mike Patton did a better job corralling the avant-garde ideas of this album on Mr. Bungle. I kind of wish the band pushed back a bit and came up with something a bit more tuneful. Yes, I wanted The Real Thing, Part the Second.
Sade, Love Deluxe
Sade writes great singles, but the band’s albums tend to have too much filler. Love Deluxe was all filler.
I came across Camper Van Beethoven way too late, and Cracker was all right. It just wasn’t Camper Van Beethoven.
k.d. lang, Ingénue
I’m willing to reconsider my opinion about this album. I bought it before lang came out of the closet, and when she did, I hadn’t myself. I didn’t want to have lesbian music in my collection, so I sold the album. So yes, internal homophobia clouded my judgment. I recently listened to the 30-second excerpts on Amazon, and boy, was it mistake to let this album go.