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UNDESERVEDLY FORGOTTEN POP-ROCK ALBUMS OF THE ’90S Date: 11/23/2013   Views: 4.080

If ’90s music is remembered for anything, it’s for producing groundbreaking alternative artists, as well as a slew of shallow, glossy pop novelties. Somewhere in the middle of all that, the following pop-rock artists released amazing albums featuring a little bit of slickness, and a whole lot of craftsmanship. They’re remembered neither as revolutionary records, nor as Macarena-esque mockeries. In fact, they’re barely remembered at all. See which ones you recall…

Fountains of Wayne – Utopia Parkway


Remembered for:

Pre-dating the major success of their novelty tune “Stacy’s Mom,” thus being one of the only FoW albums not marred with the “one-hit wonder” label.

What it should be remembered for:

Although it’s arguable that Utopia Parkway’s best attribute was laying out a near-perfect template for their breakthrough follow-up album to replicate, it gets points for doing it in a more free-wheeling way. This is power pop at its loosest, effortlessly dropping gems like the sock hop-inspired “Denise,” and the dopily simple ”Hat and Feet.” It’s all a bit dorky, admittedly, with layers upon layers of synths and hand-claps propelling most of the songs, but then, wasn’t the ’90s ideal for getting in touch with your inner doofus? After all, any one of us could have been the protagonist of “Red Dragon Tattoo,” hoping to up our cool factor with a little permanent ink. But few of us could have expressed our inner lameness so poignantly:

“I’m fit to be dyed
Am I fit to have you?”

Everclear – So Much For the Afterglow


Remembered for:

Being the sophomore album from that band you somehow still confuse with Everlast.

What it should be remembered for:

First of all, the album opens up with some of the finest a cappella harmonizing this side of the Beach Boys. Who doesn’t love that? The themes captured on Afterglow are vintage Everclear, which is to say they’re immensely depressing: abandonment, disillusionment, rejection, drug abuse, fears of inadequacy, etc.

If not necessarily more upbeat than its predecessor (1995′s also-excellent Sparkle and Fade), it’s at least more consistently uptempo. It’s an album about life’s dirtiest dilemmas, covered up with slick production and a happy frappy vocal delivery. “Father of Mine” should be some Radiohead-level bleakness but, in the hands of lead singer Art Alexakis, it comes off as wistful and optimistic. At least as optimistic as a song about an absentee father could ever hope to be.

Fastball – All the Pain Money Can Buy


Remembered for:

This is the one with “Closing Time” on it, right?

What it should be remembered for:

First of all: no. That’s Semisonic you’re thinking of. But you do likely remember Fastball’s actual famous ditty, “The Way,” for its constant intrusion into your life in 1998. And while there’s nothing wrong with it, per se, it’s one of the weakest tracks on what is an otherwise peppy, rollicking good pop rock album. Multiple singers, various moods, and an uncanny surplus of hooks make All The Pain Money Can Buy a completely painless listening experience. Ba-dum-tsh.

Semisonic – Feeling Strangely Fine


Remembered for:

Was this the one with “Closing Time” on it??

What it should be remembered for:

Yes. Do you need another reason why this album is essential ’90s listening? Oh, you do? Really? Kind of argumentative of you, but whatever …

No other album of the era better balanced twinkling, heartfelt piano ballads with sensitive, acoustic guitar ballads. Okay, so there are a lot of ballads. But these ballads are both gorgeously simple and completely cheese-free. As for the non-ballads, they range from the bluesy (“Never You Mind”) to the overtly sensual (“Completely Pleased”), with a solid dose of propulsive jangle pop (“Singing In My Sleep”) tossed in for good measure. It’s quite a lovely grab bag.

Third Eye Blind – Third Eye Blind


Remembered for:

The “doot doot doot” song.

What it should be remembered for:

Spawning more hit songs than any other 3EB release — including that “doot doot doot” song, properly known as “Semi-Charmed Life” — their eponymous debut often gets swept over as just another failed attempt to emulate a shallow post-grunge formula. Except, Third Eye Blind isn’t really a post-grunge band. Sure, songs like “Narcolepsy” and “Good For You” may try too hard to achieve that “epic” sound that’s a little beyond their grasp, but the majority of the album is simple, concise, and most importantly, delightful.

“Burning Man” brings some killer funk — with a guitar/bass line combo that absolutely birthed Maroon 5 — while “London” is a fast, loud, shouted mess that defies the sometimes unflattering “pop rock” label. And, of course, “Jumper,” the happiest song about talking a suicidal friend off the ledge, like, ever. What more could you want?

Better Than Ezra – Deluxe


Remembered for:

Almost nothing. Wait, check that. Precisely nothing.

What it should be remembered for:

Well, first of all, everyone remembers Better Than Ezra’s most popular song, “Good,” but you’d be forgiven for not remembering it came from this band, or this album, or that the name of the song is “Good.” The chorus sounds like wailing gibberish (the words “It was good living with you” are stretched and inflected into a multi-syllabic mess), but the song is pure pop perfection. Deluxe, as a whole, is much less upbeat (unless “upbeat” secretly means “morose”), to the point that even their love songs have some eeriness lurking around the edges. Take for instance, “Porcelain,” a simple acoustic number about a love that went sour, with a melody that sounds like something the Goo Goo Dolls cooked up in a hurry to meet their nine-ballads-per-album quota. But the last verse is creep-tastic:

“I wish I could kill you, savor the sight
Get into my car, drive into the night
Then lie as I scream to the heavens above
That I was the last one you ever loved”

Spine-tingling shivers, anyone? If you put Deluxe on in the background, you’ll have an entirely different listening experience than if you really sit and pay attention. And that, my friends, is a two-fer.

Gin Blossoms – New Miserable Experience


Remembered for:

A slew of alt rock-ish, catchy singles that you forgot came from the same band, including “Hey Jealousy,” “Found Out About You,” and “Until I Fall Away.”

What it should be remembered for:

This was likely your laid-back soundtrack to the Summer of ’92 (and ’93, and probably some of ’94.) Aside from the aforementioned hit parade, New Miserable Experience is chalked full of both melancholy ditties for lakeside reflections, and jaunty numbers that were ideal for long car rides. In addition, it’s a widely-known fact that, if you play “Allison Road” on a rainy day, the clouds will part and sunshine will literally fall into your lap. Go ahead, try it.

Lead singer Jessie Valenzuela had a serviceable, everyman voice that never overshadowed the melodies, making these the perfect sing-a-longs for people with mediocre singing abilities (which is most of us, let’s be serious). Shaded in with elements of country and Americana, particularly on tracks like “Cajun Song” and “Mrs. Rita,” it stands as one of the few pop albums from the ’90s that both farm boys and city folks can agree on.

Eve 6 – Horrorscope


Remembered for:

Making “Here’s to the Night” a staple of Top 40 radio and every school dance since.

What it should be remembered for:

While it’s difficult to deny that the aforementioned sap-fest catapulted them into the mainstream, it also overshadowed one of the greatest pop rock albums of the decade. The rapid-fire delivery, and sharp wit, of lead singer Max Collins led to some of the most clever wordplay and over-syllabic lyrics of the genre. Take this inspired alliteration from “On the Roof Again”:

“Your heinous highness broke her hymen
Hey man, try to quit your crying
I know she broke your heart but try to come down”

The production is Slip-n-Slide slick, with a few well-placed bumps underneath to make it feel a little dangerous. Sometimes the emphasis leans a little heavy toward the superficial, but then, who hates looking at a pretty face? On the whole, though, Horrorscope is a catchy, inspired, melodic masterpiece worth frequent listens.

Oasis – (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?


Remembered for:

Beatles aping, and an endless sibling rivalry.

What it should be remembered for:

Noel and Liam Gallagher deserve credit for bringing Britpop over to the United States in a big way, despite wanting to rip each others’ faces off the entire time. In fact, it might have been because there was so much turmoil between the two brothers, that Morning Glory reaches such dramatic highs. Any comparisons to that other popular, mop-top sporting British band are mostly unwarranted, as The Beatles never came out of the gates with anything as sincere as “Wonderwall,” or as epic as “Champagne Supernova” (though the Fab Four kind of won out in that whole “longevity” thing, didn’t they?) Still, Oasis hits all the right notes here — guitar feedback included — delivering the best album of their careers.

Ben Folds Five – Whatever and Ever Amen


Remembered for:

Depressing you to your very core every time you turned on the radio, and heard Ben Folds singing about abortion.

What it should be remembered for:

Straddling the line between goofy and earnest, Whatever And Ever Amen is at times crass, quirky, heartbreaking, and hilarious. Sometimes all at once. Folds, who knows his way around the keys as well as Billy Joel or Elton John ever did, is a geeky guru who’s at his absolute best when he seems to be just foolin’ around. Those moments on Whatever And Ever that feel a little whimsical or off-the-cuff are often the brightest spots. For example, it’s hard not to get wrapped up in the sheer bombast of “Steven’s Last Night in Town,” with its cacophony of trumpet blasts, bass drum loops, and various, shouted refrains blending into a masterstroke of excess.

And whether singing about the t-shirt his ex-girlfriend still hasn’t given back (“Song For the Dumped”) or the child he almost had (“Brick”), Folds treats all subject matters with the appropriate level of instrumental gravitas.

It’s a little smug, a bit angsty, and sometimes too clever for its own good, but Whatever And Ever Amen is so good that it’s easy to overlook the ’90s of it all, and see it for what it truly is: the best.





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