What kind of year is it when three of the biggest records are associated with suicide, rehab and a fatal overdose? Sublime's singer, guitarist and main songwriter, Brad Nowell, did not live to see the release of his band's breakthrough album; he died of a heroin OD last May. But whatever it was that drove Nowell into the arms of Mr. Brownstone is nowhere to be heard on Sublime. The trio's bright, wired bounce and the shell-game shuffle of funk beats, snappy Jamaican rhythms and mosh-pit, shout-it-out choruses in Nowell's writing that's the stuff of a band with great promise and the confidence to make good on it. If only that were still possible.
Stone Temple Pilots managed to make Tiny Music between, and in spite of, singer Scott Weiland's highly publicized bouts with drugs and the law. That would explain the broad, self-deprecating irony in the album title and the few moments of instrumental filler here but not the clattering, upbeat character of much of the music. Never mind the poison-press clips: STP are actually a crackin' glam band. (I got the picture after seeing them play a New York show in full Kiss makeup.) And at its best particularly the hat trick of "Pop's Love Suicide," "Tumble in the Rough" and "Big Bang Baby" Tiny Music swings with big balls despite the heavy weather.
If Muddy Banks is the last word on Nirvana, it's the appropriate one. MTV Unplugged in New York documented with chilling clarity the soul and craft in Kurt Cobain's music and what might have been had he not slammed into a brick wall of despair. Muddy Banks all live, all electric, no flab captures the raw power and battered glory that made us care in the first place. Get the two-record vinyl version if you've got something to play it on; Side 4 is all loony stage banter. "I spent all my life trying to stay away from sports," Cobain cracks in one excerpt. "Here I am at a sporting arena." That night, at least, he could laugh about it. (RS 750/751)
(Posted: Dec 2, 1996)
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