In 1993, the classic rock station in Honolulu changed to an alternative rock format. A station that in the past could barely accommodate Duran Duran now had promos touting them on their playlist. Literally overnight, history was swept aside. Now it seemed as if Honolulu was always so cool to have a radio station that played Björk and R.E.M. Right — and I didn’t spend my senior year of high school cursing KTUH for not being able to broadcast more than three miles from campus.
The classic youthful response was to grumble, and grumble, I did. My siblings and friends looked at me weird when I played albums by bands with strange names. Those bands became standard fare, so I had to look elsewhere to elicit the same reaction.
So it was serendipitous timing that the Internet came into my life that year as well. Back then, only science majors were granted Internet access. Exceptions were made for certain courses not part of the science departments, and my way in was through a political science class.
Usenet allowed me to delve deeper into the downtown New York scene, and while the next couple of lists only show trace evidence of such, I went through a mean Celtic period from 1993-1996.
Musicwhore.org Favorite Edition 1993
Duran Duran, The Wedding Album
One of the first destinations I visited on my Internet travels was the Tiger List, a mailing list devoted to Duran Duran. The Wedding Album marked the first time I could enjoy a Duran Duran album with other fans, despite never meeting them face-to-face. Most of the folks I knew personally liked the band but didn’t love them. The Wedding Album put Duran Duran back on top, and the optimism of other fans was pretty infectious. When I heard "Ordinary World" back in December 1992, it was obvious the band had a moment of clarity, where their instincts worked for them.
Bill Frisell, Have a Little Faith
Have a Little Faith is my litmus test for a cover album. Frisell reworks these songs to suit his needs, injecting enough of his personality into the source material without losing the original essence. A lot of musicians who record cover albums don’t realize how delicate this balance is, and Frisell achieves it wonderfully with some very ambitious works. How can you not admire someone some reduces Aaron Copland’s Billy the Kid ballet suite to a stage band? John Philip Souza, John Hiatt and Madonna are also covered by Frisell on the same album.
John Zorn/Naked City, Absinthe
Oh, this shit will fuck you up.
Judy Dunaway and the Evan Gallagher Little Band, Judy Dunaway and the Evan Gallagher Little Band
Before she started exploring the musical potential of balloons, Judy Dunaway recorded some avant-garde singer-songwriter albums that mixed some biting — and sometimes surreal — humor with very unpredictable music. This second self-titled effort was helmed by Bongwater leader and Shimmy Disc founder Kramer, and it was released on small label in Germany. I would like to think that if this album were released today, the Internet would allow more people to discover it than the incredibly few who sought it out 15 years ago.
Spiny Norman, Crust
Spiny Norman opened for Smashing Pumpkins when the latter was touring to support Gish. Rock music doesn’t have much of foothold in the Honolulu music scene, but Spiny Norman tapped into the zeitgeist of early ’90s alternative rock, writing and performing on a level far beyond the local talent. In my mind, Crust used Siamese Dream to mop the floor.
The Love Gods, Hujja Hujja Fishla
With Crust and Hujja Hujja Fishla being released in the same year, I mistakenly thought Honolulu audiences demonstrated a clear desire for homegrown rock bands. But Spiny Norman wouldn’t release a full album for another five years, and the Love Gods would disband while in the midst of recording a second album. Hujja Hujja Fishla was clearly a child of ’80s college rock, referencing Morrissey and R.E.M., sometimes with tongue placed firmly in cheek.
Michael Nyman, The Piano
The buzz about this movie had me thinking it would a be a sweeping drama on the level of Howards End, but I ended up disliking it. It felt too precious. But I like the soundtrack very, very much, and Michael Nyman has certainly mined that material for subsequent works. I’m surprised he hasn’t released a recording of the piano portfolio performed by Holly Hunter in the film.
Wayne Horvitz/Pigpen, Halfrack
Inspired by his work with Naked City, Horvitz formed Pigpen, and John Zorn’s Japanese record label, Avant, would describe the group as "grunge jazz". This debut EP finds Horvitz rocking out in a way not hinted on the President’s Bring Yr Camera.
When a Volkswagen ad using Clannad’s "Harry’s Game" as background music flashed a 1-800 number to call for more information, callers asked about the music more than they did the car. Banba marked the first studio album to follow in the wake of that ad, and Clannad really dug deep into the mystical, ethereal Irish pop sound. In other words, they were playing catch up with Enya.
Emerson Sting Quartet, American Originals: Ives/Barber String Quartets
I’m going to go out on a limb and make this a revisionist ranking. In reality, this slot probably requires a three-way tie with American Originals, Frank Zappa’s The Yellow Shark and Henryk Górecki’s first two string quartets performed by Kronos Quartet. But I’m giving it to American Originals because it’s a tightly-themed disc with works covering a broad spectrum of styles. It’s probably the easiest to enjoy, although all three are rewarding.
The Yellow Shark has a lot of angular pieces, but it’s winning strength is the biting humor in "Food Gathering in Post-Industrial America, 1992" and "Welcome to the United States". Humor isn’t something about which modern composers really seem to care.
Górecki’s string quartets feel intensely personal, which the Kronos manage to convey expertly. But it’s a disc that requires either a very quite listening environment or headphones, the latter of which I have.
1993 was another year big on significant releases, some of which are touted by critics as essential to the decade. I didn’t drink the Kool-Aid then, and I can’t say I’m all that convinced now.
Smashing Pumpkins, Siamese Dream
Most of my distaste for Siamese Dream stems from my love of Gish. Thanks to major label marketing muscle, Siamese Dream was essentially shoved down the throat of the listening public. Gish was not afforded that attention. Even on its own, Siamese Dream drags. The album pretty much has one tempo (medium), and the wall of guitars can’t disguise Billy Corgan’s utter lack of joy. Or interest.
This album is something of a timid start to an otherwise adventurous career. Björk is one of those singers whose off-key moments still sound remarkably musical, but Debut smoothed over her rough edges. Nelle Hooper’s boring ass production didn’t do nearly enough to bring out the weird. She sounded way more interesting with the Sugarcubes. I wouldn’t be convinced of Björk’s viability as a solo artist till Homogenic.
Janet Jackson, janet.
Janet Jackson has been recording this album ever since, and it’s nowhere near as good as Control or Rhythm Nation. Its clones even less so.
Zooropa isn’t the level of suck that is Pop, but it’s not Achtung Baby either. The band recorded the album in a break between tours, so it sounds quite rushed. Some of the experiments U2 try out aren’t bad — "Numb" is particularly cool — but the biggest strike against this album is "Lemon", a very bad imitation of Emotional Rescue-era Mick Jagger. I shudder to think …