Sunday, May 2, 2021

Countdown to 30: My Favorite Album From 1991

I know I haven't posted in over a year, but 2020 wasn't exactly inspiring! I'm going to come back at you now with more articles back to back then I have ever posted, and they're more personal than I've ever gotten. I'm turning thirty in a month and I have been trying for almost a year now to figure out what I want to do special for my 30th birthday. I recently saw a video in which someone picked their favorite album from every year they've been alive and I was like: "that's it!" So for the next 30 days, I'll be taking you on a tour of the amazing albums from throughout my lifetime, starting with...


There were only two options that stood out to me from 1991. Oddly, there were a couple of albums I really liked that came out in 1990, but 1991 only had one runner up.

I got really into Talk Talk in 2005ish, and I'm one of those weirdos that loves them both as a new romantic band and a avant garde, post-rock musical outfit. I listen to It's My Life and clearly hear a link between the two. Laughing Stock was their final album, the band leaving the world just as I was coming into it. I don't want to be the guy to say this is a difficult listen (partly because it's not), but it's not something to bop your head and sing along to in the car. Mark Hollis sprinkles lyrics sparsely like any other instrumentation and it makes for a gorgeous work of art. Another thing I really like about the band and the album is that this was also their final collaboration with the great James Marsh, who did the art for all of their albums, no matter where the musical spectrum took them.

But that said, Laughing Stock is not my pick for 1991. If I could get you to listen to one album from 1991, it would be Woodface by Crowded House

My mom made a conscious effort to tame down her musical tastes once I was born, lest she expose me to something inappropriate. Woodface, however still deeply ingrained in my childhood. As an adult, it's only my second favorite Crowded House album, yet it still has fantastic songwriting, there's no arguing with that. 

As an adult, I have really grown to appreciate lead singer Neil Finn's songwriting, the flow of his melodies, the call of Crowded House harmonies, and the tender nature of many of his lyrics. Now many of the songs on this album were originally written with his brother Tim Finn, intended to be a part of an album they were working on, and ended up resulting in Tim joining the band. Tim would depart again during the U.K. leg of the tour supporting the album. 

Speaking of the lineup, let me give you another fun fact about the album before I launch into my full endorsement of it. You know who lends drums to several tracks? Ricky Fataar! He drummed for The Beach Boys and sang on one of my favorite later Beach Boys tracks, "Sail On, Sailor." He also plays the George Harrison character in The Rutles (playing guitar even though he's a drummer, but I guess that adds to the comedy?). 

To be honest, the lead single, "Chocolate Cake" doesn't even sound like what you would think of as a Crowded House song, but it carries the type of political message the band commonly employ, and it's a great kickstart for the album. With no offense intended, Crowded House typically have a much milder and less aggressive sound much more like "It's Only Natural," the intended lead single of the album, which ended up replaced by "Chocolate Cake" as the lead single. 

"Fall at Your Feet" is gorgeous, and of course, included in The Axis Of Awesome's "Four Chords Song" since it is a four chord pop song like many hits over the years.

She's going to be mad at me for sharing this but one of 
the things I learned in film school was something
about asking for forgiveness rather than permission. 
Sorry, Mom.
I have a couple of early memories related to the album. My mom had a shirt (from a tour I think?) and even though I knew somehow that it was an album cover, I always thought of it as her "Halloween shirt." There's even a picture of us carving pumpkins together while she's wearing it (and pretending to be grossed out by my zest for cleaning out the pumpkin innards).

When I was somewhere between 8 and 11, I starting going through my mom's cassette collection and borrowing what I wanted. I grabbed a cassette single of "Chocolate Cake" even though I had no idea what the song was really about. I kind of remembered the band from when I was a kid and I kind of liked chocolate cake, the food item. My mom couldn't understand why I wanted to borrow it, because I was already at an age where I was considering music critically, so I was surely too old to want to listen to it because of the title. This of course, was false. As a child, I liked the idea of the aforementioned "Chocolate Cake" for 100% the wrong reasons. I think I was surprised that it wasn't softer and only listened to it once. What childish tastes I had then! I mean, I was a child, and also listening to the Anastasia soundtrack still, but I was listening to "Jolene" by Dolly Parton and "Ring of Fire" by Johnny Cash on another cassette at the time, so I wasn't totally a baby.

Actual photo of me in 1991
Later in my life, the first song that really resonated with me was "Weather With You." Mom always sang it as a joke about how it tends to rain when she travels. I love the actual message of the song- have a positive outlook and demeanor and it will really help you out, whereas a negative attitude will make things continue to loop downward. It's a great message, one that I find very uplifting for some reason. It makes me think of my favorite depression quote from Hamlet, "there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. To me it is a prison."

My current favorite track, or the one I got really into most recently is probably the intended lead single, "It's Only Natural" or "Four Seasons in One Day." There's absolutely something to be said for "Whispers and Moans" as well though. Standout lyrics from "It's Only Natural": "you've seen me at my worst//And it won't be the last time I'm down there."

Looking back from the future (the present, but the future in 1991), this album and Crowded House in general was part of a very strange musical movement. 1991 was the year of Nevermind, the proto-grunge album, Loveless by My Bloody Valentine, an album widely regarded as the first shoegaze or dreampop album. Those albums are great, don't get me wrong, but there was also this melody-heavy music that wasn't folk, wasn't rock, and wasn't dated by its sound. Major props to the producers, Mitchell Froom and Neil Finn himself, who used restraint when producing the album. It's not acoustic, it's not electric. I'll tell you what it is: it's a great album!

Let's throw it up on the leaderboard!


...Not much of a leaderboard yet, but we'll get there.

Join me tomorrow for my favorite album of 1992.

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