Friday, October 28, 2011

1996 in Music Review

*Note - I'm away for 6 days now on an important trip. You'll find out in due course what I'm up to. Enjoy 1996 in Music Review.*

Hey everyone, welcome to the fourth edition in a series of reviews of a year in music. So far I have covered all the 2000s together as the Noughtie series, and so far monthly, the year 1999, then 1998, and then last month, 1997.

Just in case you’re not familiar with it, here’s the format. It will be done in five parts. I'll do a brief history of what happened in that year, followed by my five favourite albums of the year, then what I think the five best videos are. I'll then do a Top 10 most impactful (still refraining from using the word important) songs from that year. To wrap it up, I'll do my favourite songs in a mixtape format. So now that you know where I'm going with this, let's get to it!

By the way, I’d like to wish all of these albums, singles and music videos a happy 15th year anniversary.

Brief History of the Year 1996 in Music

  • The Sex Pistols reunite for the first time in eighteen years for a tour.
  • The Ramones split after a legendary 22 year punk career.
  • MTV2 is launched, providing a further platform for alternative rock music.
  • Jay-Z releases his debut album. It would be the start of a legendary rap career.
  • Rapper Tupac is shot in what is reported as a drive-by. He died six days later.
  • Linkin Park form. They were not to release their first major release for another four years however.

My Top 5 Albums of 1996

#5 – “Evil Empire” by Rage Against the Machine
Released: 16/4/96
Rating: ***3/4 stars
Stand-out tracks: "Bulls on Parade", "People of the Sun", "Year of tha Boomerang"
This was Rage Against the Machine’s second album and their first in four years before their explosive first hit the scene. The pressure was on for Rage to capitalise on their unique and innovative sound and praise first time round and they definitely delivered. That being said, out of all three of their original albums (Renegades being the covers album) I personally think this is the worst. I’m not saying this is a bad album, after all, it’s made this list, but it’s just a step down from the uncontrolled frenzy of the first album, and the quality of the third. What this album is though, is a huge amount of experimentation. Tom Morello is one of the most unique guitarists of all time, and his work with the guitar in this album is astounding. Some of the riffs are out of this world, and that’s what stands out most in “Evil Empire”.

#4 – “To the Faithful Departed” by The Cranberries
Released: 30/4/96
Rating: ***3/4 stars
Stand-out tracks: "Will You Remember", "The Rebels", "Hollywood"
Ah, this is an album from my childhood. My father, despite all his detriment in my life, did have decent taste in music and his favourite band from the nineties was The Cranberries. While “To the Faithful Departed” is not their best work, The Cranberries were on form with this effort, and it sounds great. Dolores O'Riordan's fantastic and distinctive vocals carry the album and the music is decent too. “Hollywood” is a great opener and the main single, “Salvation” is a decent track too. But the song that stands out the most for me is the short yet memorable “Will You Remember”, which is a simple yet effective play on children’s playground tunes, not too far off The Magic Roundabout. “To the Faithful Departed” is an album that doesn’t get the credit it deserves, it’s better than other albums in the nineties that get all the credit to their contribution to the decade.

#3 - “Gravity Kills” by Gravity Kills
Released: 5/3/96
Rating: ****1/4 stars
Stand-out tracks: "Guilty”, “Inside”, “Never”
Haha, I love Gravity Kills. They’re such an awful yet good band I can’t help but like them. Why are they crap? Well, if they ever did an X Factor for industrial metal and Gravity Kills entered, they’d win the entire competition. They just feel like an industrial band that is pumped out commercially. Their lyrics are absolutely awful. All eleven track titles are won word and dimensional. The vocals are poor at times. But their sound… is actually quite good. It’s Gravity Kills’ music that makes them stand out a little, even if it is diluted Nine Inch Nails. I like this album a lot, I enjoy listening to it, and some of the industrial metal on here sounds pretty damn good. “Inside” is basically “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails but tweaked and changed lyrically. But it sounds fricking cool. “Guilty” has a great sound too, even if the song feels like it’s too long and loses steam quickly. A lot of these songs are catchy and simple, and if you like industrial metal, give it a go. It’s not bad at all, it just feels cheesy.

#2 – “Murder Ballads” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Released: 5/2/96
Rating: ****1/4 stars
Stand-out tracks: " Stagger Lee”, “The Curse of Millhaven”, “Where the Wild Roses Grow”
What an album the “Murder Ballads” is. It’s arguably Nick Cave’s most famous piece of work, both as an album and also the single “Where the Wild Roses Go”, was Nick Cave’s biggest hit, where he worked with pop singer Kylie Minogue. The “Murder Ballads” is only ten tracks long, but most of these songs are long, and none longer than the penultimate track “O'Malley's Bar", which is a monstrous fourteen minute killing spree where a man kills an entire pub full of people. As you can tell, the album is a selection of murder ballads, where Nick Cave sings and speaks the stories of many murders, apparently totalling in sixty four in the entire album. Musically the album is just brilliant, none better than “Stagger Lee”, which is just a badass song in sound and in style. If you’ve never heard the magic that Nick Cave has, give this album a listen, it’s full of it.

#1 - “Antichrist Superstar” by Marilyn Manson
Released: 8/10/96
Rating: ****3/4 stars
Stand-out tracks: "Mister Superstar”, “Angel with the Scabbed Wings”, “Minute of Decay”

Of course this was going to be my #1. I reviewed this album a good seven or eight years ago and you can read that here. The review doesn’t do the album justice, I was just starting to write at the time but in a few months from now I’m going to pay a complete homage to Marilyn Manson, including reviewing all his albums so this album naturally will get a full revision when I do.

This album is on top of a large pillar in terms of my favourite albums. When people ask me what my favourite albums are, three albums come to mind. They are “The Downward Spiral” by Nine Inch Nails, “Mechanical Animals” by Marilyn Manson, and this. While I prefer the work of NIN on the whole to Manson, between the years of 1996 and 1998 Manson was the best thing around in my eyes. He was untouchable. And Antichrist Superstar was the moment where he was at his best. This album is just phenomenal. It’s Manson in his heaviest, filthiest, and most gifted phase. There are some absolute crackers in here; “Mister Superstar” is one of my favourite songs of all time, the build up is just extraordinary. Say what you want about Manson as an icon, but there’s no doubt that as an industrial artist in the mid nineties, he was almost unstoppable. Antichrist Superstar to me is one of the best metal albums of all time.

My Top 5 Music Videos of 1996

#5 - "Firestarter” by The Prodigy
Firestarter was The Prodigy’s first ever #1 hit and arguably brought the dance music boom forward in the UK (along with other nineties artists like The Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim). But what the song is perhaps most famous for is the video. It’s bizarre really, as the video isn’t really innovative, and not much really happens in it. But it stands out visually; it’s hard to take your eyes off the screen when it’s on. It’s basically filmed in an abandoned underground tunnel in Aldwych, London, and is essentially Keith Flint, the singer in the track, pratting about. The video is completely in black and white and Flint has a Mohican and striking clothes. He does weird poses, snarls, pulls his tongue out, pats himself on his head to the beat of the track and flips out in tune to the music. It apparently was considered controversial and children were scared of the video. I was seven years old when this song came out and I don’t remember being scared of it. Don’t get me wrong Keith Flint has an unusual appearance, but he doesn’t do anything that wasn’t done in the seventies in the punk era. But still, the video is striking and stands out very well.

#4 - "Big Me” by the Foo Fighters
I’ve said many times before, but the Foo Fighters are the best music video band of all time, due to consistently bringing out fantastic music videos. This was probably the first great video really, which mocks a Mentos advertisement in the nineties. It’s just really cheesy and shows the band’s great sense of humour, mocking the “Footos” brand they made. There’s nothing much more to say about it really, it’s a good song and a better video.

#3 - "Amish Paradise” by Weird Al Yankovic
I’m a big Weird Al fan. That being said, he hasn’t had the most consistent of careers; he has had some duds in his long career but he always makes great comebacks. You can argue this was one of them. “Amish Paradise”, a parody of the rap classic “Gangster’s Paradise” by Coolio. That being said, this was Yankovic’s last entry in the Top 100 in the US for another ten years (with “White and Nerdy”). Anyway, the video is excellent, where Yankovic dresses up like an Amish man and praises his fantastic lifestyle. He does loads of things in the video, it’s really worth a watch if you haven’t  seen it before, but my favourite bits are the churning of lots of butter, and the mock of LV, (the person who sings the song in the original Coolio version) who in their video is sweating a lot. Yankvoic overdramatically sweats even more than LV, much much more. It’s just really funny.

#2 - "Street Spirit (Fade Out)” by Radiohead
One of Radiohead’s best videos was directed by Jonathan Glazer, who would go on to also do the video for “Karma Police”. It’s just simply one of those videos that is harder to explain than to watch. The whole video is in black and white and it shows things happen out of time, out of synch, things happening like a bucket of water being delayed to allow passage of the band members. The song itself is really harrowing, and this video, while it doesn’t add to the depth of sorrow the song brings, it justifies it well enough. It’s just artistically a great video, and if you’ve not seen it, watch it below.

#1 - "The Beautiful People” by Marilyn Manson
It may not be a video associated with many “greatest music videos of all time” listings but for me, this is a fantastic video. Like the song itself, it’s the epitome of Manson, as a musician and an art icon. There’s a lot going on in this video, it crams more odd and grotesque themed imagery than some full feature films do. And the presentation is great too. The video was filmed in what looks like an abandoned lab class in a school, and has lots of medical instruments around, some that Manson uses himself. One of the most iconic scenes is the piece of dental equipment Manson poses in, exposing his gums and teeth fully, emphasising on the metal plates on the fronts of his teeth. Other great scenes are the bizarre outfit Manson wares to make himself stupidly tall, and the Hitler-esque crowds that appear to cheer the Antichrist Superstar on. It’s just a fantastic video, one of my personal favourites, and a must if you like this industrial/shock horror genre of music.

The Top 10 Most Impactful Songs of 1996

As I said, I'm NOT calling it the 'important' list, although it's more than just popularity as well. Anyway, here are the 10 songs of the year. It's an unbiased list.

#10 – “Place Your Hands” by Reef

Reef aren’t really a band that are associated often with the greats of the nineties but they weren’t bad either. “Place Your Hands” is pretty much the only song in their back catalogue that has remained popular, for its catchy chorus and almost modern Rolling Stones influence it became their biggest hit, reaching #6 in the UK charts. They did get a few more song in the Top 20 but none of those songs are really played anymore. All that remains really for Reef in the modern day is “Place Your Hands”, which is a shame, but that being said, it’s a damn good song and one that won’t be forgotten.

#9 - "Female of the Species” by Space

It may not have charted higher than some of the songs they released afterwards but there’s no doubt that this track is the staple song of Space. The Brit-pop band released this as their second single off their debut album after the “Neighbourhood", the debut single, barely reached the UK charts, yet this got straight to #14. The impact? They re-released “Neighbourhood" and it got to #11. This song was also used as the main theme in a TV series called “Cold Feet” which was huge at the time. It’s just safe to say that if Space are remembered for one song, this is it. And it’s pretty damn good too.

#8 - "Virtual Insanity” by Jamiroquai

Getting to #3 in the UK Charts, Jamiroquai has barely had a song that made the impact this did. He’s had moderate success since (Deeper Underground, a very good song, got to #1), but nothing matches the popularity this song had and has; it’s still played somewhat today. One of the main reasons this song is so popular is definitely the video, which was innovative at the time, where it shows Jamiroquai in a relatively plain room with plain furniture, and the objects and Jamiroquai himself appear to be moving at a whim in different directions. The video won many awards and the song was the breakthrough that Jamiroquai needed to cement himself as one of the more unusual artists of the past fifteen years.

#7 - "Tonight, Tonight” by the Smashing Pumpkins

No song by the Smashing Pumpkins is as well thought of in this country as this one. “1979” is usually the song associated with the band in the States (and “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” for those who like their heavier stuff) but in the UK this song is the most popular, the most played, and also charted the highest, getting to a very respectful #7 in our chart. “Tonight, Tonight” is also well thought of because of the music video, which pays great homage to a silent film made in 1902 called “A Trip to the Moon”. It’s just a beautifully crafted song with a 30-piece string section done by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. It’s just a masterpiece of a song and still gets played more than any song by the Pumpkins in this country today.

#6 - "The Beautiful People” by Marilyn Manson

Trust me; I’m not being biased with this entry. I try to get the best of all rock and metal genres in these listings and “The Beautiful People” was THE metal song of 1996. “The Beautiful People” as mentioned earlier, is the epitome of Manson, it’s the song strongly attached to him as a singer and is a staple in metal history. Not many songs touch this in the nineties as a classic metal anthem. It only got to #18 in the UK, a placement that has been beaten by “The Dope Show” (#12), “Disposable Teens” (#12), “Tainted Love” (his highest UK placement of #5), “mOBSCENE” (#13) and “Personal Jesus” (#13), but this song has outlasted all of these tracks. This song may not have charted too well, but it was groundbreaking for Manson, as an artist at the time only associated with shocking stage antics and chaos, performed one of the best industrial metal tracks of all time. That’s why this song is in this list, it’s simply a metal classic.

#5 - "Don’t Speak” by No Doubt

Gwen Stefani is known nowadays as the hot slim RnB artist who looks ridiculously young for 42. But in the nineties, she was the lead singer of post ska rock band No Doubt who had a very good run in both the States and the UK. “Don’t Speak”, similar to “Female of the Species” above, is arguably the staple track in No Doubt’s catalogue. No Doubt had a few big hits but this was the only track to actually hit #1 in this country. The song is a modern ballad and tells the tale of the real-life breakup between Gwen Stefani, the lead singer and Tony Kanal, the bass player, who were together for seven years. Don’t Speak is still steadily played even today, and is probably played more than most No Doubt tracks, which is why it’s made it onto this list.

#4 - "The Day We Caught the Train” by Ocean Colour Scene

Another band that has unfortunately disintegrated into rock history are Ocean Colour Scene. This is another song that carries the band into modern times, as a relic from the nineties, while most of the other work by the band has been forgotten about. “The Day We Caught the Train” is a classic nineties brit-pop track, with its really catchy chorus and its feeling of nostalgia, Ocean Colour Scene really got everything right in this song. Peaking at #4, no song has charted higher (although “Hundred Mile City” also got to #4), and one thing is certain, this song won’t go away either, like it or not.

#3 - "Stupid Girl” by Garbage

For me, there’s three songs from 1996 that will never die, that are classics and that appeal to many people across a variety of genres. The first of those songs is “Stupid Girl” by Garbage. There are many words to describe “Stupid Girl”; cool, enticing, personal, awesome, I could go on. While I prefer other Garbage songs to it, there’s no denying that “Stupid Girl” follows a similar theme that many songs on this list does, and that is, it’s the staple song by the band. There are songs released before and after this that were well received and charted well but when people think of Garbage, they tend to think of this song. It’s a great song, a classic now as I said, and will forever live as one of the best songs of the nineties.

#2 - "Firestarter” by The Prodigy

We’ve already spoken about the video for Firestarter above but the song itself was fantastic, and as previously reported, got The Prodigy their first of two #1 hits. It’s hard to say more about this track that wasn’t said before, but I’d just like to emphasise that this song had a huge impact on techno/dance music, as it was definitely on the rise at this point in the nineties. In the eighties, dance music was a completely different animal, but this ‘club’ music scene was gathering momentum since the early nineties and then this song is arguably one of the first #1 dance songs to get into the UK charts. The rest is history, as club and techno music has a multi million fan following and has really developed into an art of its own.

#1 - "Street Spirit (Fade Out)” by Radiohead

In at #1 is another song that was featured in my video listing above. I debated whether to put this or “Firestarter” as #1 but I’ve gone ahead with this. This didn’t get to #1, it got to #5, in fact, Radiohead have never had a #1 hit so far in this country (their biggest hit is “Paranoid Android”, which got to #3). They have only had #1 hits in Canada, with “Knives Out” and “There There”. It’s a shame really as Radiohead really deserve a #1 hit due to their influence and inspiration to many bands in the past decade. And “Fade Out”, as it’s often called, is one of those songs that tug on the heart strings and give you goose bumps. It has a strong place in the history of music, arguably more so than “Firestarter”. “Street Spirit” for what it is, is actually an anthem too, and it’s a difficult task to make such a sad and emotional song into an indie anthem. Listening to “Street Spirit” live is an experience I’d love to experience, watching Radiohead perform it on Glastonbury on the television a good few years ago made me very envious of the people who saw that gig in person. This song is unparalleled in certain dimensions, and that’s why it’s my #1 in terms of impactful in 1996.

The Year 1996 Mixtape

Just in case you didn't know by now...

"A Mixtape is a playlist of a certain genre, band or era. The list is generally 80 minutes long, the same length of a blank CD, with further recommendations if some of the songs aren’t to your taste. Remember kids, downloading is wrong!"

So here we go! My favourite songs from the year 1996. Yes, this is a biased list.

  1. Amish Paradise - Weird Al Yankovic
  2. Peaches - The Presidents of the United States of America
  3. Female of the Species – Space
  4. Champagne Supernova – Oasis
  5. Place Your Hands – Reef
  6. Devil's Haircut – Beck
  7. Supervixen – Garbage
  8. Street Spirit (Fade Out) – Radiohead
  9. Big Me - Foo Fighters
  10. The Man Don't Give a Fuck - Super Furry Animals
  11. Car Song – Elastica
  12. Brain Stew - Green Day
  13. Down – 311
  14. Breathe - The Prodigy
  15. Guilty - Gravity Kills
  16. Zero - Smashing Pumpkins
  17. Bulls on Parade - Rage Against the Machine
  18. I'm Your Boogieman - White Zombie
  19. The Beautiful People - Marilyn Manson

And here are the five alternative songs if you don't like some of the above...

  1. Clown – KoRn
  2. All I Want - The Offspring
  3. Salvation - The Cranberries
  4. Don't Speak - No Doubt
  5. Virtual Insanity - Jamiroquai
And there we go! The year 1996 in review! I hope you've enjoyed this. So that’s four years covered from the nineties, next month naturally I’ll be covering 1995. What we your favourite songs and albums from 1996? Any other comments or queries? Raise them below. Thanks for your time.

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