My 1995 Village Voice Pazz & Jop
January 2, 1996
What kind of year was 1995? One huge sigh.
For me, 1995 was summed up by its nadir -- the middle of a good,
workmanlike concert by my once and future favorite band, R.E.M. I had
gone to a place I absolutely hate -- the Shoreline Ampitheatre, one of
Bill Graham's monstrous legacies, and a place that might be ok for a
post-apocalyptic picnic (tickets sold by Ticketmaster and catered by
Bill Graham Presents, natch), but is the worst place ever for a stadium
rock show -- in the vain hopes that live versions of the
Monsterosities that had left me cold for nearly a year
would finally make sense -- in just the same way that the
Green songs came alive for me in 1989.
After all, every single prior time I'd ever seen R.E.M. -- from a club
date in 1984 to that Green tour in a basketball arena --
I'd felt like I made some sort of personal connection with the band.
Not me personally, of course, but I always could see and, even better,
feel them making their music. But not this time. This time I was lost
in a huge writhing screaming bowl of endless high school students and
frat boys who really didn't give a fuck that it was R.E.M. -- the most
important American rock band of the last 15 years, at least -- up
there, for chrissakes.
To most of the crowd, it could have been anybody -- Live, or Hootie and
the Blowfish or Green Day or anyone -- they were there for the big show
of the summer, and more power to them, I guess. But it just depressed
the hell out of me, because, R.E.M. is still R.E.M. to me, and they
always will be, I guess. I was there to try to reconnect with my
favorite band, and the only way I could even see them was by watching
the video screens. So instead of seeing an R.E.M. concert, I ended up
paying 30+ dollars to watch an R.E.M. video with 20,000 other people.
For the record, both my girlfriend and my roommate -- neither of whom
had seen R.E.M. before and didn't have the history -- had a fine old
What totally sucks is that a) I knew it would be like this in advance
-- I was hoping against hope that R.E.M. could somehow use the inherent
hugeness of stadium rock to their advantage like U2 or the Rolling
Stones had in the past (forgetting that R.E.M. has always been about
the intensely personal, and not the whole wide world), and b) this is
what I've always wanted for them. Popular acclaim to match their
critical acclaim. And now that they have it, I feel great for them,
because it somehow vindicates the scene I came from, but actually
experiencing it in person just makes me feel blah, which is a pretty
good word for how I feel about Rock and Roll 1995, even as the world
R.E.M. influenced dominated rock and roll once again.
Nothing felt new this year: most of my favorite records were outright
throwbacks to an earlier style. In fact, many of them could be seen as
one-record summations of previously released box sets: Oasis --
The Beatles Anthology; Rancid -- The Clash On
Broadway, Yo La Tengo -- Peel Slowly and See; etc.
Sonic Youth, Neil Young and Guided By Voices all made great records,
but they weren't that different from the same great records they've
always made. There was no sense of groundbreaking. -- hell, even
probable poll winner P.J. Harvey went back to the blues for
Yet, weirdly enough, it was as tough as ever to narrow my choices down
So, here are my lists:
|Oasis||(What's The Story) Morning
|Neil Young||Mirror Ball||10|
|Guided By Voices ||Alien Lanes||10|
|Rancid||Out Come The Wolves||10|
|Sonic Youth|| Washing Machine||10|
|Son Volt || Trace||10|
|Yo La Tengo ||Elect-ro-pura||5|
|Everclear || Sparkle and Fade||5|
|The Jesus and Mary Chain|| "I Hate Rock and
|Goo Goo Dolls|| "Name"|
|Oasis || "Live Forever"|
|Des'ree || "You Gotta Be"|
|Coolio ||"Gangsta's Paradise"|
|Foo Fighters|| "This Is A Call"|
|Chris Isaak || "Somebody's Cryin"|
|Pearl Jam || "Merkin Ball"|
|Rembrants || "I'll Be There For You"|
|The Velvet Underground||Peel Slowly and
|Sam Cooke|| Sam Cooke's Night
|Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
|The Who ||The Who Sell Out|
|Guided By Voices ||Box|
- Oasis -- (What's The Story) Morning Glory?
On the surface, (What's the Story) Morning Glory? is just
big dumb derivative rock and roll -- as a matter of fact, under the
surface it's just big, dumb, derivative rock and roll. That's why it
rules. It has no significance whatsoever -- socially, politically,
intellectually, or, for that matter, even to the future of rock and
roll itself. Not for a second does it pretend to have any value beyond
sounding absolutely wonderful: these maniacal Britfucks aren't
beholden to any subculture, any scene, anything beyond their precious
ambition. All they want is to be the greatest rock and roll band in
In a rock era dominated by Americans with huge agendas, that sort of
ambition could only come from the U.K., where the ascendance of
alternative hasn't turned their world upside down. And while five
years ago, I might have laughed at such an ambition, and five years
from now, I might wonder what I ever got from Oasis in the first
place, right now, to me, they have the only attitude that makes any
sense whatsoever. Furthermore, its neither buoyed nor encumbered by
the antics of the people who created it -- I couldn't give a fuck if
Noel or Liam Gallagher overdose or get murdered or commit suicide or
break up the band or just make shitty records from here on out. I
just can't be bothered to care about these people. All I need is what
I got right now and that's this question: "What's the story morning
- Neil Young - Mirror Ball
As if we needed any more proof that Neil's instincts are still better
than most artists' master plans, he plugs Pearl Jam into his hard
rocking groove and continues to defy gravity, age and logic. Sure,
they could have worked harder on this, but why? As an antidote to his
well-wrought Kurt Cobain tribute of a year ago, it proves Pete
Townshend's maxim: rock and roll won't make your troubles go away, but
it will let you get up and dance all over them. Plus, he provided a
lyric for Neil Young fans from 8 to 80: "People my age/they don't do
the things I do."
- Wilco -- A.M. -- Out of the rubble of Uncle Tupelo
comes not one, but two great albums, thereby pulling off a trick that
not even the Beatles or Hüsker Dü managed -- both principal
singer/songwriters of a band following a breakup with great records.
While Wilco's A.M. feels more good-timey, more fun than
Son Volt's Trace, Jeff Tweedy still finds it in him to
sing "I just can't find the time/to write my mind/the way I want it to
read" and write one of the greatest songs ever about the real-world
consequences of drunk driving -- "Passenger Side."
- Rancid -- … And Out Come The Wolves I thought that
mohawks looked stupid in 1977, in 1995, they're beyond lame. For
years, I've been avoiding bands that "looked" punk -- my favorite punk
bands from Television to X to the Replacements to Nirvana were always
derided by the anarchy sheep that made up the hardcore subculture.
Beyond that, not only can I play "Spot the Clash Influence" on just
about every single song on this record, if I concentrate hard enough, I
can tell from which moment on which Clash song they are stealing. And
so what? Unlike the Pistols or Buzzcocks or even the Jam, the Clash
weren't ever copied that much -- they were too eclectic, even from the
start. I couldn't even tell you what Rancid's other records sound like
-- my guess is closer to by-the-numbers hardcore than this great
record, which uses its historical perspective to take ska rhythms for
granted instead as a change of pace, and like its forefathers The
Clash (you can bet they own both versions) and Give 'Em
Enough Rope (though not London Calling), it's
catchy as hell, and never lets up, not even for a second.
- Sonic Youth -- Washing Machine "Hello 2015!" Lee
Ranaldo screams, somewhat optimistically, near the end of this record,
just before they launch us on a sparkling sailing voyage towards that
very year. It's like, for the first time, they've really considered
their place in our past and, more importantly, in their future. And
they like what they see. And if they keep making records this strong
and loose, they just might meet themselves on the other side.
- Guided By Voices -- Alien Lanes As an indication of
how weird things are right now, the backlash set in on GBV before their
sales broke the 100,000 mark. It was probably the box set, which, in
retrospect, was a much better idea on paper, and showed that their
inspiration has been relatively recent, to say the least. And when I
saw them live, I was impressed how tight they could be while Robert
Pollard downed beer after beer. He even remembered all of the words,
which, no, still don't make any sense, even though Alien
Lanes is his most consistent set of melodies to date. Lets see
what happens when low-fi 'tude meets real production values next year.
- Son Volt -- Trace Out of the rubble of Uncle Tupelo
comes not one, but two great albums. In a way, its kind of like ten
years ago, when Hüsker Dü scored two bullseyes with totally
different albums that were still completely in their vein. While Son
Volt's Trace feels more moody, more depressed than Wilco's
A.M., Jay Farrar still finds it in him to sing "May the
wind take your troubles away," and rock as hard as ever.
- Yo La Tengo -- Elect-ro-pura So Lou Reed and John
Cale couldn't make nice longer than one European tour. So Sterling
Morrison died and rendered the question forever moot. Watching this
band slowly and quietly shoulder the Velvets mantle -- ALL of it, not
just the parts that Luna, The Feelies, the Dream Syndicate, Modern
Lovers, even Uncle Lou and Auntie Moe themselves rejected -- for the
rest of us. This record finds them improving with age and experience,
just like the rest of us who were too young to discover the Velvets the
first time around, but fell in love with them devotedly, intensely and
- Pavement -- Wowee Zowee They coulda had the world.
Instead, just like R.E.M. with Fables of the Reconstruction of
the Fables, they intentionally took a step sideways, maybe even
back a little back. Maybe not. We'll just have to wait and see how
this record fits with their oeuvre ten years from now.
It goes without saying that "You Oughta Know" will be considered the
zeitgeist single of 1995, so a couple of words about something that
became a major annoyance. I mean, I can enjoy a well-crafted single as
well as the next person, but is was more than the alternahop drumbeats
and the post-Kurt quiet verse/loud chorus that made it into an anthem.
It was the words. Which is where Alanis loses me. Just because you
use the word "fuck" doesn't mean you enjoy the concept, much less the
act, it just means you know the word gets people to notice you.
Especially when you give yourself away by calling oral sex "perverted."
Even worse is the poor poor pitiful me words underneath all of the
screaming. If she hates the cross he gave to her so damn much, why
doesn't she just drop it??
No wonder he broke up with her.
No question, "You Oughta Know" is the "You're So Vain" of 1995 -- a
career-making single by a professional entertainer that almost
certainly means more to the people who love it than the people who made
it -- and probably won't sound good again for 20 years. Now all she
needs to do is marry someone like Evan Dando.
- Elastica -- "Stutter" Let us now play compare and contrast with
the best single of the year -- Elastica's "Stutter:" first off, the
music is timeless -- blasts of momentum and noise and hooks like this
are what defines pop music to me. Next, no self-pity here: when
Justine Frischman snarls "is it just that I'm much too much for you?"
you know that the poor drunken slob is toast, not to be trifled with
again. And it always sounded great on the radio, always would have and
always will world without end amen.
- The Jesus and Mary Chain -- "I Hate Rock and Roll." Their moment
as the Next Big Thing nearly a decade gone, the Jesus and Mary Chain
have loosened up in the past couple of years and, as a consequence,
stumbled back into the groove that made them great in the first place.
It doesn't even matter whether they really believe the bite the hand
that feeds me lyrics -- at this point they damn well know it doesn't
matter what they sing -- a song that sounds like this ain't gonna get
on the radio or MTV anyways.
- The Goo Goo Dolls -- "Name." What to make of the Goo Goo Dolls?
When I saw them tour on A Boy Named Goo several months
ago, they were as energetic and great as they were four years ago after
Hold Me Up. It made no sense to me that, in an era that supposedly was
rewarding great fast pop, they couldn't make a dent. I figured it was
cos -- being children of 1987, not 1977 -- they didn't dress up like
punks like Green Day or Rancid or Offspring. And now, as back then, as
forever more -- it's more fun for testosterone-driven suburban males to
outrage their parents with green hair than faded jeans.
But I always loved my peers the Replacements and Hüsker Dü
far more than any of the elders of the class of '77 ('cept maybe the
Clash), and for me, the fluky success of the Goo Goo Dolls -- who come
directly and naturally and (most importantly) unaffectedly from
that school, and Johnny Reznick has been including pretty acoustic
ballads on their albums since their indie days. Not cos they wanted
mega-success, but because that's what Paul and Bob did. So this fluke
single warms my heart. Besides, "when reruns all become our history"
just sounds right, doesn't it?
- Oasis -- "Live Forever." Driving around in early spring with the
windows down and Jimmy insisting we play this CD over and over just so
he and I could drive Roxanne nuts by singing "laaaaaaaaate-leeeeeeee"
and "maaaaaaaay-beeeeee," at the top of our lungs . . . for a short
period of time, even Los Angeles was a beautiful place.
- Des'ree -- "You Gotta Be." Cooooooooool.
- Coolio -- "Gangsta's Paradise." One of my favorite moments of
the year was when my feminist poet roommate walked into the room and
announced: "I can't believe I like a song by someone named Coolio!"
- Yo La Tengo -- "Tom Courtenay" Ba ba ba buh ba ba ba ba!
- Chris Isaak -- "Somebody's Cryin" He turned tough this year, or
something, because Forever Blue had an extra edge I've
never heard before in Isaak's music. Still retro, natch, and this one
works for the simplest of reasons -- he just sings the fuck out of it.
- Pearl Jam -- "Merkin Ball." The anti-Oasis.
- Rembrants -- "I'll Be There For You" What's everybody complaining
about? Had the Paul Collins Beat or Nick Lowe or anybody else hit big
with this song back in the day, it would have been heralded as a
breakthrough single. Power Pop like this has always gotten short
shrift from the radio and the charts, so who cares if its attached to
the biggest pop culture phenomenon of 1995?? Not me.
What kind of year was 1995? The kind of year where you had to add the
word "Hootie" to your spell-check.
Back to my Writing Home Page
This document created 04 January, 1996
I was listening to The Velvet Underground -- Peel Slowly and See