The journey in recalling my favorite bands of the ’90s makes a stop in the Pacific Northwest this week. And no, it’s not Nirvana, it’s the far more overweight and underrated Screaming Trees, who never did quite get the attention (or sales) that their flannel-wearing bretheren such as Soundgarden and Pearl Jam got, despite their songs being arguably just as strong. Such is the way of the music business. The Trees had that albatross of being one of those “critically acclaimed” bands hanging around their neck.
Not to say that they didn’t have some success, though. Although now just another dated entry in the Hollywood scrapbooks, the movie “Singles” was probably our generation’s coming-of-age film circa 1992 and it heavily featured what turned out to be the band’s signature hit “Nearly Lost You,” a heavy sludge of a rock song that fit perfectly with the times.
While the band broke little ground in terms of inventiveness or lyrical panache, they had what I believe is the most important ingredient involved in what makes a rock band tick and resonate – an insanely distinctive voice in Mark Lanegan, whose throat I’ll get to later. Add to the mix the Trees penchant for a catchy song, throwing the drums WAY UP in the mix (skillfully slammed by the immensely talented Barrett Martin) and you’ve got yourself several albums worth of great music.
While you’ll probably get heavy argument on this one from Trees fans, the album I still go back to fairly often is Sweet Oblivion. I should note that there are several others that are more than worthy of a listen, but this 1992 offering is their most accessible and impressive and hit me at a time in my life when I was intensely trying to discover my own music, not what was put in front of me on FM radio. Since you’ve already heard “Nearly Lost You” a thousand times, I’m going with Shadow Of The Season as this week’s MP3 of the week. It’s my favorite song on the album.
As if that weren’t enough, I feel the need to focus in just a little on Mark Lanegan. Around 1996, the Screaming Trees disbanded and Lanegan set out on his own. Not as a rocker per se, but as a solo artist. While most would describe Lanegan’s solo career as hit-and-miss (I agree), when he hit, it was damn impressive. Taking a quieter tone on his solo records, you really get the power of Lanegan’s whiskey-soaked and ever-so-recognizable voice as you dig in.
While the 1999 album I’ll Take Care of You largely consists of cover songs, it’s here where I found Lanegan at his most experimental and interesting. Oh, don’t let experimental scare you off. I just mean that his tinkering with all kinds of instrumentation and different forms of songs made for a really compelling record. Maybe he felt the need to fool around a bit since these aren’t songs he wrote, but they have his bold signatures on all of them regardless. He made them his. So, as a bonus I’m offering a second MP3 of the Week here, the immensely enjoyable Consider Me, a song that you can just picture playing in a sad watering hole at 2am somewhere in middle-America. If this were the movies, that is.
Anyway, I put both MP3’s up this week simply because the two songs each represent such different types of music from one person. In a way, it’s also somewhat of a progression of my life and tastes as the 1990s progressed. I hope you enjoy.