Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Countdown to 30: My Favorite Album From 1993


Oof...so...1993 is going to be a tough choice, so I'm going to do a countdown of my top three albums.

I said that my 1991 album choice Woodface was my second favorite album by Crowded House. Well, third place is my actual favorite Crowded House album, Together Alone. Together Alone is a gorgeous, lyrical and auditory masterpiece. Obviously, I can't go into too much detail since it's only my third place pick, but it's just so personal. The production on Woodface is probably stronger, but Together Alone feels like you're being sung to. The songwriting is like a summation of everything the band had done up to that point. The instrumentation is strong, but so is the gentle flow, so is the element of power pop.

So, if that's third place, what are the other two? I'm glad you asked, other Emma. One is an album that was actually a big deal to me growing up, and which I would still identify as some of this artist's strongest songwriting. The other is an album that took over my life while I was writing an article about bands influenced by Queen back in 2015, and which I still identify as being an almost perfect album. Decisions, decisions.

I have all the right in the world to be biased toward Kate Bush's 1993 album, The Red Shoes, for which she made a promotional movie called The Line, The Cross, and The Curve, which at seven years old I  made my own version of. I would watch that movie to kill time when I was too excited to sit still before going to a friend's house. I listened to my cassette soundtrack often too. At 19, when I was preparing to move back to Ohio from California, "Moments of Pleasure" came up on my shuffle and made me cry. I messed up "Rubberband Girl" at karaoke in Denver, Colarado while I was filming my as-yet unreleased documentary. This album has deep roots in my life. I love the way Bush used many of the songs to process her emotions about the death of her mother and a session guitarist she frequently worked with, Alan Murphy. She was also mourning the end of a long relationship with bassist Del Palmer. The duo continued to work together after the end of the relationship. I think all this makes this Bush's Rumors. "Moments of Pleasure" is a song of mourning for many of these losses, although she still believed when it was written that her mother would pull through and beat cancer ("For those who will survive"). 

Bush frequently had strange and wonderful guest appearances on her albums, and The Red Shoes was certainly no exception. Prince contributed instrumentals to "Why Should I Love You?" and comedian Lenny Henry contributed vocals to the track. Eric Clapton plays guitar on "And So Is Love," with Gary Brooker from Procol Harum on Hammond organ. It's really a great album and I encourage everyone to check it out at some point.

But clearly, my number one pick is going to be the last one I talk about and that's the one I want you to hear the most. Spilt Milk by Jellyfish is truly art from start to finish.

Spilt Milk is a dream. I listened to a podcast (which I can't remember the name of or I would totally link it here) in which they broke down just how the concept of the night's sleep plays out, beginning with the lullaby that is "Hush." Producer Albhy Galuten and the band themselves had such a clear artistic image for the album that every noise seems to be deliberate, every instrument there for a reason. And yet, it's still playful, childlike. The cover of the album was designed by Mick Haggerty, the genius behind the cover of Supertramp's Breakfast in America. This album had every reason in the world to be successful and regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time, and yet...

Remember what I said about Crowded House in 1991? The early '90s were a source of plenty of power pop...but a difficult time to find your niche in a world of genres that didn't quite match what bands like Jellyfish and Crowded House. Jellyfish even moreso than Crowded House, because they were making sunshiny bubblegum pop at the same time that Kurt Cobain was mumbling inaudible lyrics over heavy guitar and drums. 

That's not to say the album hasn't found its place in the world. Many audiophiles and classic pop nerds such as myself have found it since and absolutely love it. Drake Bell and Puffy Amiyumi have covered  the second track on the album, "Joining a Fanclub," a cautionary tale about idol worship. 

"Ghost at Number One" takes on some of their contemporaries, the fleeting nature of fame, and does all of this with nods to The Beach Boys. It was one of the first songs of theirs that I heard, although "Sebrina, Paste, and Plato" is a strange and playful song and it actually bears more resemblance to Queen.

But the track that made me fall in love with the band, the other one listed on the forum about Queen influence, is "New Mistake," a song wearing ELO influences on its sleeve. I never dislike listening to this song, and it's become one of my "magical songs," one I avoid listening to too often so that it can retain the charm it has for me. 

All of the tracks on this album have merit. There's not one I would skip over or roll my eyes about. It's a shame both that these boys didn't find more success and that they couldn't seem to get along for more than a few years. 

Christmas 1993. I become the recipient of a tickle attack from my father.
As I mentioned, my relationship with the band started in 2015. I was at a very strange place in my life. I had finally embraced being alone after living with my ex for a couple of painful years. I was prolific on this blog, I was writing for REBEAT, and I was successful in my professional life. I was making preparations to leave the country for the very first time. I dove headfirst into my love of Jellyfish, spreading that love with anyone I could find. My subordinates at work even greeted me with a Jellyfish song as I came in to work one night, attempting to ensure that I had a good night. When I finally did leave the country, I searched for Jellyfish CDs in shops in London, snagging myself the deluxe reissues of both albums. I still look back on that zeal with pride. It's nice to like something that much. Healthy obsession can be fun, and there's a lot to dive into with Jellyfish. Their first album is great too, one of the good ones from 1990, before I was born. But Spilt Milk is really a congruent masterpiece. Check it out.

Okay, let's throw it up on the leaderboard!

Join me tomorrow for my favorite album of 1994.

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