The Midday Meal

A repository for the various things i consume in the course of daily existence

Monday, October 11, 2004

Songs 7 & 8 Alice in Chains - Would?/The Screaming Trees - Nearly Lost You

It’s about now that I start wishing again that this was a list of albums rather than songs, it would make it so much easier to choose the candidate(s) for this entry that way.

I discovered a lot of my favourite bands through one album put out in 1992. It was the soundtrack to the Cameron Crowe movie, Singles. The movie was pretty dull, but the soundtrack was another thing entirely. It lists a who's who of the late 80's early nineties scene in the Pacific Northwest, the bands who brought us the phenonmenon known as grunge music… Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Mudhoney and the Screaming Trees.

Grunge was young people music, the music of a bunch of kids who felt the gorwth and success of the eighties had left them on the outside. It was a little immature and unsure of itself, angry and yet often disinterested. And it was loud and dirty, at one point in 32 Songs Nick Hornby talked about the uncertainty which he felt led to the love of loud music, that you couldn't be sure if it was good, but you could be sure that it was loud.

I think there's a bit of that in most of the best stuff most of the stuff that came out of Seattle in this period. The majority of bands that were involved in the genesis of grunge were just punk bands doing it a little different. The good bands learnt something, and their later albums got less rough, although not necessarily less loud, but turning that noise into more intense heaviness, or more intricate arrangements.

There is something in the rawness which was a feature of the tracks on this album, almost all the bands featured on this that went on to anything grew and improved over their next few albums. The exceptions to this were Alice in Chains for whom Would? (and the album Dirt) was probably their greatest moment and Mudhoney, who just never grew up at all.

Alice in Chains displayed grunge’s metal influences at its darkest. Where the big L.A. bands of the eighties were quite happy to sign about their dalliances with illegal drugs, they did so in a kind of glammed up way. Alice in Chains music was influenced by drugs, particularly heroin, but rather than celebrate their involvement with the drugs, they instead explored the dark parts of addiction. Alice in Chain’s singer Layne Stanley was a heroin addict and the music they created was full of the bleakness and oppressive weight of addiction.

The Screaming Trees were the best band that Seattle produced, their 1996 album Dust is the most complete musical acheivement of any of the "grunge" bands. Mark Lanegan (who went on to Queens of the Stone Age as well as solo albums) has one of the best voices I’ve ever heard, kind of silk and gravel all mixed in together. Nearly Lost You probably isn’t their finest hour but it’s still a great song. One of the great things about rock and pop music is that the best stuff is often the most simple, think about the riff from Led Zepellin’s Whole Lotta Love, or the Stone’s Can’t Get No Satisfaction, not a whole lot going on there but they are absolutely fantastic. Nearly Lost You is the same thing, one simple riff, a guy whose voice could make you sympathise with just about anything and about 4 minutes is all you need.

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