Great (and very good) albums by short-lived bands
It put me in mind of really good albums by bands that didn't last long, and the fact that this either deprives us of more musical genius or fixes the band in time as something that never degraded, whichever way you want to put it. Then I thought, "Hey, I have a blog - why don't I ramble on about this and ask for opinions?" So here are ten albums by bands that didn't last very long that I consider great or even just very good. My criteria is strict: these bands must have released one or two albums. Three albums simply implies a longer career. In the case of Boston, it took ten years for those three albums to come out. And remember, these are only albums I actually own. So with that in mind, here they are, in no particular order:
1. Mother Love Bone, Apple, 1990. This is truly a great album, released not long after Wood died. It really captures the early grunge sound, even though it's influenced by classic rock a great deal. Wood gives us surreal yet beautiful lyrics, and Stone Gossard's guitars are fantastic throughout. The band easily moves from powerful rockers like "This is Shangrila" and "Holy Roller" to power ballads like "Stardog Champion" and "Man of Golden Words" to bittersweet love songs like "Stargazer" and "Crown of Thorns." It's a brilliant album with only a few missteps (I could lose "Captain Hi-Top"). It's out of print, but you can find the compilation that includes their EP, Shine, which also is pretty danged good. Pearl Jam, to which Gossard and Jeff Ament went, wishes they were as good as Mother Love Bone.
2. Horse Flies, Gravity Dance, 1991. I'm counting the Horse Flies, because they've only released two studio albums, but they have done two movie soundtracks, so if you want to say I'm cheating, oh well. I have spoken often of my love for this album, and whenever I listen to it, it almost demands that I stop driving (which is where I usually listen to music) and pull over and just sit there. It begins with the strangely tragic "Life is a Rubber Rope" and moves on to the horribly funny "Roadkill" (which is indeed about eating things you find on the side of the road) and the weird "Needles on the Beach" (again, self-explanatory). The two highlights are "Two Candles," which is a beautifully haunting paean to lost love, and "Your Eyes are Elevators," which ends the album on a wonderfully bizarre bluegrass note. The Horse Flies are a weird band with a strange melange of styles, but for the most part, they make it work.
3. Think Tree, Like the Idea, 1992. This weird Boston-based band released a couple of albums in the early Nineties, but they were far too weird to ever have any kind of mainstream success. They combined a kind of mystical Zen thing with raunchy and irreverent lyrics and twangy electronic music that, they were proud to mention, was done without the help of a computer. With songs like the wonderfully corny "Monday A.M. First Thing" and "Porcupine Coat" to the serious but still weird "Everything is Equal" and "Eye for Eye," they covered a lot of ground on this album. It's still one of my favorites, and I'm very glad I happened across it in a record store in Auckland, New Zealand, of all places.
4. Temple of the Dog, Temple of the Dog, 1990. This is the only "supergroup" on this list, as this was a band that was never meant to release more than one album. It was put together after the death of Andrew Wood (see above) and takes its name from a lyric in a Mother Love Bone song ("Mr. Golden Words," if you're interested). They released one album, but man, it's a good one. The two tributes to Wood, "Say Hello 2 Heaven" and "Reach Down," are actually the two weakest tracks on the album (although they're still good), and the album really gets going with "Hunger Strike," which features Eddie Vedder before Pearl Jam took off. This is a superb album that happened to come together at a perfect time, and I'm certainly glad Chris Cornell and the members of Pearl Jam never tried to recapture it.
5. Liquid Jesus, Pour in the Sky, 1991. I'm trying to figure out if Liquid Jesus ever released a third album, as this would disqualify them. But I can't, so I'm going to count this, their second album, as their last one. The only people I've ever known who have heard of Liquid Jesus (two of them) hated them, so maybe I would be in the minority, but I think they were excellent, and this, their only studio album (like Jane's Addiction, after whom they were clearly modeling their career, their first album is live), is very good. "Finding My Way" kicks off the album, but it really gets good with "W.H.Y.B.," a song from their first album. They also give us a powerful upbeat love song in "Better or Worse" (featuring Bruce Hornsby on piano, which is slightly odd) and some very good rock tunes like "No Secret" and "The Colorful Ones." They mixed a lot of different sounds and styles, using a mellotron on at least one song ("Feelings Flower"), which gave them a neat sound but probably hurt their chances of being commercially successful. Maybe you heard them on the Pump Up the Volume soundtrack!
6. Amanda Ghost, Ghost Stories, 2000. I wouldn't call this a great album, but it is very good. Ghost has an odd, bluesy voice, and she sings some great songs on this, her only album (so far; apparently she's working on one). She could easily sing in a dark bar, leading pathetic patrons onward to something beyond their sad lives. The album starts off very well, with "Filthy Mind," "Idol," and "Glory Girl" the three best songs on it, but the quality doesn't dip too far for the rest of the disc. There's a great deal of sadness in her voice, but a great deal of hope as well. It's a wonderful combination.
7. Scissor Sisters, Scissor Sisters, 2004. This is cheating, as the Sisters are just beginning their career and probably have plenty of albums left in them (even if they don't, they surely have a third album in them!), but technically, right now they have only released two. Both are good, but their debut album is a bit better. "Laura" kicks off the album with foot-stomping goodness, and their cover of "Comfortably Numb" is excellent. Other excellent songs abound: "Lovers in the Backseat," "Tits on the Radio," and "Filthy/Gorgeous" are all interesting with great beats. The album loses a bit of steam at the end, but that's okay. The best song on the album is "Take Your Mama," and that alone would make this a worthwhile disc. Luckily, there's plenty of other great tunes on it.
8. Ruby, Salt Peter, 1995. This is an odd album, but for the most part, it works. Ruby has a gruff and angry voice, and the music, which is that mid-1990s electronica stuff, has a hypnotic power. Ruby's vicious lyrics come through nicely on such songs as "Flippin' Tha Bird," "Paraffin," and "Swallow Baby," and she also slides into ethereal-ness (ethereality?) on the album's final track, the seven-minute "Carondelet." This isn't a great album, but it's quite good. Ruby did release another album, but that's it. I wonder what she does with herself.
9. Stress, Stress, 1991. I have mentioned this band occasionally, but I can't find anything about them on-line. I believe this is the only album they ever released, but I can't be sure. Anyway, this is a pretty darned good album, with a weird psychedelic Beatles thing going on, with a blend of Eastern mysticism with flower-power hope and just enough rocking to give it an edge. "Indian Summers Dream" is an excellent song, as is "Lordy Lord," which is sweetly nostalgic. I imagine this is long out of print, but it would be a nice purchase from a dark used record store.
10. King Swamp, King Swamp, 1989. Does anyone remember King Swamp? I saw their video for "Is This Love" and really enjoyed it, so I bought this. It turns out to be a good album full of strong rock songs with a good bluesy edge, and even some hard dance beats (like in "Year Zero," a song about working the fields). There's not really a clunker in the group, although some are better than others. "Original Man," "Widders Dump," and "Motherlode" are highlights, and the album ends wonderfully with "Sacrament," a powerful ballad with a haunting chorus. It's too bad they weren't more popular, and after a second album, they broke up and disappeared.
Those are just ten albums I own that I think are pretty darned good by bands that didn't last too long. I have some others, but they aren't as good. I always enjoy owning albums by bands that didn't last, especially if I like them, because I feel like I'm pulling a fast one on all the losers who didn't get in on them. Of course, it's probably that I'm the loser for not liking better bands, but I can live in my delusions, can't I?
Anyone have any good albums by short-lived bands they'd like to champion? That's why we have blogs, after all!