May 20 – New Wave Supergroup Were Getting Away With It

Yesterday we looked at the breakup of The Smiths, and noted singer Morrissey was quick out of the gates with a solo record not long after. Today we look at one of the first things the Smiths guitar ace, Johnny Marr did after their end. Marr had also played with the idea of a solo record, but he had a lot of friends in music, so he soon paired up with Bernard Sumner, multi-talented singer of New Order to form a band called Electronic. They were about as hot as they’d be this day in 1990, with their first single, “Getting Away With It” making it into the U.S. top 40.

Sumner had been thinking of doing a solo record as well at the time. He was still in New Order and they were doing well, but he was feeling a bit crowded or under-appreciated; that his song ideas weren’t given as much consideration as those of the others. So he started working on one, but found he got bored quickly. So he turned to Marr and they collaborated, bringing in some other big name new wave talent as well – drummer David Palmer of ABC and Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys, who actually co-wrote this one.

Marr was a little bitter at Morrissey and how the Smiths ended, so this song was clearly a parody of “Moz” lyrics… the opening line of “I’ve been walking in the rain just to get wet on purpose” gives you a clue to that; Tennant called the idea “miserablism.” Musically though, the sound probably owed more to New Order, with Sumner doing the lead vocals and playing keyboards. Yet another Brit 80s star, Anne Dudley of Art of Noise was called in and arranged and added in the string section. It was somehow reminiscent of The Smiths as well in as much as it had a lively, breezily upbeat feel despite the deliberately morose-leaning lyrics. The NME hit the mark describing it as “A lovely airy melody” with “obtuse lovelorn one-liners” that end up making “the record be much more than the sum of its parts.”

It came out on New Order’s Factory Records, and they gave it a good push, releasing it as a single on 7” and 12” vinyl as well as a cassette single and CD one; with various mixes of the song ranging from about 4:23” in length to 7:30”. It would later be included on their debut, self-titled album.

The song never reached the heights, sonically or commercially of the best of the works of Marr and Sumner’s previous bands, but was a good start to a career – particularly as both of them made a point of Electronic being a side-project, not their life’s main work. “Getting Away With It” hit #12 in their UK (they’d actually have a couple of bigger hits there, including “Get the Message” which hit #8 about a year later) but hit #38 in the States, their only noteworthy success there. On alt rock charts, it reached #4. The album itself went gold in Britain.

Electronic recorded sporadically through the ’90s, at times involving members of Kraftwerk as well, but failed to have a major breakthrough beyond the first record…which is probably OK with them. A gold record and international hit from essentially a weekend side project? That’s “getting away with it”!

May 20 – Foos Rounded Into Fighting Form

Trying to prove he was more than just someone who knew Kurt Cobain…and succeeding! On this day in 1997, Dave Grohl put out his second post-Nirvana album as Foo Fighters, The Colour and the Shape. This album actually was a band effort (their debut was recorded basically as a Grohl solo) and continued to build the band’s reputation and bank accounts.

Grohl had recruited bassist Nate Mendel and guitarist Pat Smear – both of whom are still in the band – as well as drummer William Goldsmith, who isn’t. It ended up being the last album they’d do before Taylor Hawkins joined as the drummer. Sadly, as we know, Hawkins passed away recently leaving the job and the actual fate of the band in a state of flummox for now.

A couple of tracks on the record are the only Foo ones Goldsmith appeared on. When they recorded most of the album in late-’96 at a farm near Washington, Goldsmith was the man with the beat. However, Grohl didn’t like the way most of the demos sounded and re-convened the band in L.A. in the beginning weeks of ’97… without Goldsmith. He wasn’t altogether thrilled with the other’s skills and felt he wasn’t quite done with being a drummer himself, so he did most of the drumwork on the finished product. (He says now that while he liked the way it turned out, he regrets the way he handled the unceremonious dropping of the other drummer.) And while he produced the debut record himself (again – despite the name, the first Foo Fighters was truly a Dave Grohl solo work) he decided that if he added some studio musicians, it wouldn’t hurt to bring in a producer for a fresh set of ears. He picked Gil Norton, a talented Brit who came to fame working on the great ’80s Echo & the Bunnymen album Ocean Rain and had worked on a trio of Pixies records in between. Thankfully, Grohl didn’t have any real problems with Gil… he even used the British spelling of “color” (with the “U”) for the title as a nod to him. Norton was quite a perfectionist though. “It was frustrating, it was hard and it was long,” Grohl says of the recording. “At the end of the day, you listened back to what you’d done and you understand why you had to do it a million times.”

If the album was a real band effort musically, it was more of a personal work than the first one when it came to lyrics and themes. Grohl had just divorced his first wife and tried to work through the varying emotions involved on the album, resulting in the mix of hard rockers and more tuneful ballads and at times introspective lyrics. He says he even thought about putting a therapist’s couch on the cover! The therapy worked musically and commercially. It was a top 10 hit in the U.S., Canada and UK and to date is their biggest-seller in the States (at 2.4 million copies and counting.) The singles “My Hero”, “Monkey Wrench”, “Walking After You” (re-recorded for the X-files soundtrack) and “Everlong” made them mainstays of modern rock radio. Not only is the latter double-platinum as a single in the States (one of three they’ve landed), it’s also David Letterman’s favorite song and he had them perform it on his last late-night show

Reviews were mixed when it came out and if anything were more positive on the other side of the ocean. The NME rated it 8 out of 10 and declared it has “Dave Grohl established himself as a musical talent that didn’t end with being the drummer for Nirvana”, applauding “Norton’s production, providing a sheen that showcases Grohl’s knack with fuzzy guitars and bubblegum pop” and summed up by saying “it’s a record you should own.” Over here, Rolling Stone liked the “big, radio-ready modern rock sound” but called it “over-produced”; Spin put Grohl on their cover but gave the record only 6 out of 10. Although they say Dave “has come into his own”, they thought the Beatles-y tunes sounded like you’d “catch your dad whistling along while mowing the lawn” and referenced comparisons to Journey and Steely Dan – and not in a complimentary way.  Allmusic look back at it with more awe, declaring it “perhaps the best example of post-grunge modern rock.” Fans looking for the best example of this ‘best example” album might look for the 10th anniversary re-release. It included some outtakes and b-sides, two of which were of note – a popular acoustic version of “Everlong” and Grohl’s loud cover of “Baker Street.”

May 8 – Second Generation Cali-pop Gold

You never go too far wrong with some lovely ladies harmonizing nicely on simple love songs. Nor do you usually go too far wrong having all the right connections in music. Wilson Phillips learned that with their stroke of genius – or beginner’s luck – almost three decades back. they put out their self-titled debut album this day in 1990.

If ever there was a group which was well-groomed to become makers of melodic pop, Wilson Phillips would be it. The female trio consisted of Carnie and Wendy Wilson, daughters of Beach Boy Brian, and Chyna Phillips, daughter of John and Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas, two groups that more or less defined California soft rock in the ’60s. At the time this record came out, the three were each 21 or 22 years old and had grown up together, hanging out, singing, and being inspired by all the famous musical talent around their houses when young. It took very little time for them to get a contract (with SBK Records, at the time a new spinoff owned by Columbia) when they announced they were writing some pop tunes and wanted to record; it took them even less time to be featured in Time and Vanity Fair, both of which ran articles about them before the record was released.

SBK went all out for the record, not too surprisingly. they used several of SoCal’s best studios to record it They brought in top-flight producer Glen Ballard (who a few years later would go on to team up with Alanis Morissette on Jagged Little Pill) and some fine session musicians including Joe Walsh on guitars. The effort and expense paid off.

Wilson Phillips was a breezy, pleasant collection of 10 love and love-lost songs that would’ve felt at home on their parents’ records. At least their parents’ B-sides. It dominated adult contemporary and pop radio for close to a year, hitting #2 in the U.S. and topping Canadian charts, going 5X platinum or better in both. It achieved that by being a steady seller for a year, based on five singles, the first two of which (“Hold On” and “Release Me” ) both went gold at home. The latter hit #1 in both the U.S. and Canada, while “Hold On”, co-written by Ballard, was not only a #1 single, it ended up being the biggest-selling single of ’90.

Although the public liked it, reviews were middling. The Village Voice for instance, gave it just a “C”. Later, allmusic would post a confusing review of it. they graded it 4-stars – very good for anyone. However, the written review slammed it, saying it was “about as lightweight and sophomoric as it gets” and suggesting even Debbie Gibson or tiffany had musical “bite” compared to this.

Their 1992 follow-up, Shadows and Light , still sold to platinum levels but totalled only about a quarter of the debut’s 10 million copies and it yielded only one, somewhat forgettable top 20 single. Chyna Phillips, who pointedly let Rolling Stone know in a 1990 story about them that she didn’t appreciate their parents’ bands being referenced, decided to go solo, breaking up the group after only 3 years. Her solo record flopped, as did (more surprisingly) a ’97 album entitled The Wilsons that the other two girls did with their dad, Brian Wilson. As a result (perhaps) they reunited in 2001 for a Beach Boys tribute concert in New York and they’ve worked, and recorded together off-and-on since. They have yet to come close to the gigantic success of the opening shot however. But “Hold On”… maybe they still will!

May 1 – Maybe A Little Richer After Hit

Sixpence was an old British coin, withdrawn in 1981, worth perhaps a quarter in today’s American money. Methinks Matt Slocum and Leigh Nash were richer than that twenty or so years ago. The duo collectively known as Sixpence None the Richer got to a high-water mark of #2 on this day in 1999 with the likable little song “Kiss Me.”

Kiss Me” was from the self-titled album many would assume was the band’s debut, but actually it was their third…and it had been out for about a year and a half at the time that the song finally took the Billboard elevator. They were a testimony to the value of being true to your ideals and persevering, having been around most of the decade by that time, having their first label go bankrupt and being quickly tucked into the niche musical genre of “Christian Rock.”

The pair cut their musical teeth along I-35 in central Texas, meeting in a church where Nash sang as a teen, near San Antonio, having Slocum (the main writer and guitarist for them) relocate to go to school in Austin, being turned down by bars there and even by SXSW until they more or less made it, but finding early acceptance in Dallas. Although both are Christians, they looked at themselves as musicians first and foremost; Slocum name-checks U2 in an interview as another band who have strong faith but don’t get pigeon-holed and says that the likes of XTC and The Smiths are his musical influences, as well as the writing of classic poets. Nash said she was obsessed with Patsy Cline at one time and was compared to the voice of a female Van Morrison by the Texas magazine.

Despite extensive touring beginning around ’94,sometimes opening for 10000 Maniacs, they got signed to a Nashville Christian label, which did fine at getting them airplay on specifically Christian radio stations but nothing much else. Problems ensued with the label, and Slocum told Texas Monthly “Christian music really is like any business” adding that “it ended up being really confining for us.” Their name may not have helped in that- Sixpence None the Richer is a phrase from a C.S. Lewis story in his seminal work of faith, Mere Christianity.

That began to change with the 1997 self-titled release, which included both secular and spiritual songs. One song was a Neruda poem “Puedo Escribir”, (tonight I write the saddest words) set to music. It did about what they expected, selling 38 000 copies through 1998, largely to their core Christian music fanbase.

Luck or good marketing took off for them in 1999. Somehow “Kiss Me” got put into the movie She’s All That. People noticed, the album soared to 100 000 copies and among the fans were producers of Dawson’s Creek. The show used it twice and included it in a soundtrack to the TV show … and Sixpence None the Richer were richer. The record went gold within weeks and the song rose and rose up the charts, to the point it hit 23 years back. It slowly seeped into people’s subconscious and spent 16 weeks in the top 10, being one of the top 10 singles of the year (being played in video of Prince Edward’s royal wedding that summer didn’t hurt either). In Canada and Australia it got to #1; the album ended up platinum in the U.S. and being nominated for Grammys in both pop and “gospel” categories. A spot on the Lilith Fair that summer followed, as did one more mainstream hit, a cover of the ’80s La’s hit “There She Goes” which was hastily added to latter pressings of the album. Slocum said not all were happy at their newfound fame and broader appeal, even if it meant more ears for their spiritual message.

You say you’re Christian, but you play your guitar so loud we can’t hear the lyrics,” he says he’s been told. Others complained about them allowing the song to be used on Dawson’s Creek due to its positive depiction of gays and yet more had issues with them being part of Lilith Fair since the name “Lilith” has pagan connotations.

Sixpence None The Richer never hit the heights of ’99 again but have worked on and off since then, at times touring with another Christian band who flirted with mainstream stardom, Jars of Clay.

April 30 – Beck Perfected Being A Winner By…Being A ‘Loser’?

Ever feel like you can’t win for losing? Well, today we look at the oddball story of a song and singer that seemingly that couldn’t lose for winning. “Loser” by Beck hit a peak of #10 in the U.S. this day in 1994.

The song certainly sounded like very little else on radio then, fitting because Beck was rather unlike many of the artists he shared the airwaves with. At the time, he was 23, and back in his beloved L.A., after a stint of living in New York. He’d spent some time with relatives in Europe as a kid, but always gravitated back to the Pacific coast. His mother was a friend of Andy Warhol’s, so needless to say, a bit of an odd, avant garde type. Beck dropped out of school after grade eight, but used a fake ID to attend some music and literature classes at a California college. When he was 16, he got himself a guitar and taught himself to play, taking to the streets to busk. He was a big fan of folk music and hip-hop, and tried to combine the two. “I knew my folk music would take off if I put hip-hop beats behind it,” he later said.

He tried that out in cafes in New York and L.A., singing somewhat stream-of-consciousness lyrics. Or at times “I’d just make up these ridiculous songs just to see if people were listening. ‘Loser’ was an extension of that.” (A previous indie single he put out was called “MTV Makes Me Wanna Smoke Crack” so one might think he took advantage of that strategy of checking to see if anyone was listening frequently.)

It caught the ear of a local producer, who put the song out as a 12” vinyl single on his own Bong Load label. They made 500 of them. Then Beck began to win, with “Loser.” Two local college radio stations liked it and played it, which in turn drew attention from alt rock powerhouse KROQ in town. As Pitchfork put it, “it arrived without context or marketing” in the city. But with one of the nation’s top stations backing it, major labels got curious and soon Geffen – Nirvana’s label – signed Beck and got him working on his first album, Mellow Gold. “Loser” was the first track for it.

Beck played guitars and bass on it, and synths on some tracks for the album, but he got some major help from Carl Stephenson, the producer. Stephenson played sitar on the song, but more importantly put the dance beat to it and found all the little samples, like George Bush saying “I’m a driver, I’m a winner.” Stephenson would later say he rather disliked the song and regretted putting something so negative out there.

Many felt differently though. Rolling Stone called it “ultra-catchy” and were one of several publications that worked some sort of Bob Dylan comparison in with its review. They also correctly seemed to predict it would take off since “slacker victims often trumpet their dropout status with dilapidated jeans, greasy hair and a sarcastic, defeatist posture.” Everything needed to make Beck their “unwitting icon” as Record Collector‘s Bruno MacDonald suggests.

By the time Mellow Gold came out, “Loser” had already spent five weeks at #1 on the Alternative Rock chart, and from there, mainstream success followed, hitting the top 10 at home as well as in Canada and New Zealand and #15 in the UK. With it ending up a (mellow?) gold single, it remains Beck’s biggest-seller to date. Many would say that was quite a good “winner” of a debut. 

April 22 – Turning Silver Into Platinum

Some record executives might have become… well, the band name thinking about their Canadian sales. Moist hit their high-water mark this day in 1998, being awarded a 4X platinum album for their debut Silver in their homeland. It wasn’t exactly an overnight success though, the album had come out just over four years earlier.

Moist were a quintet back then, lumped in with the “grunge” movement but having more in common with a number of other modern rock acts of the day like Collective Soul or fellow-Canucks Our Lady Peace than the traditional Seattle sound personified by Nirvana.

Moist met in school in Kingston, Ontario, home of another famous Canadian band – the Tragically Hip. In fact, the singer and frontman for Moist, David Usher went to school with the frontman for the Hip, Gord Downie. However, they set their sights westward and moved to Vancouver to be closer to the happening Seattle scene in 1992, and made their own bare-bones indie cassette the following year. Record chain Sam’s promoted it in the city and they became locally popular…. enough to then sign to EMI Records, who had them record a full-length album. But didn’t bet the house on them. Silver was made for about $4000 and included five of the songs off the earlier cassette, just remastered and remixed.

The 49 minute album contained a dozen tracks (11 plus a “hidden” one at the end) with names that sounded largely fitting for the times – “Machine Punch Through”, “Freaky Be Beautiful” and the two real hit singles off it, the title track “Silver” and “Push.” That one got played on MTV (it even found its way into a Beavis and Butthead episode) and made the U.S. rock charts, the only significant indent they made south of the border. At home, the album hit #12 and the two singles were top 20 hits. Curiously enough, the three studio albums they did later on all charted higher in Canada, but sold fewer copies.

Allmusic rated the album 4-stars, noting the “dark, angry songs show the influence absorbed from… Seattle, but Silver is no copy of anyone else’s style.” The website Bucket List included it in their look at the ’90s, considering them “something different than most of the angsty grunge acts that were emerging. They were dark and brooding, for sure, but somehow they seemed playful” as well.

Singer/writer David Usher had more melodic, atmospheric aspirations as well and launched a lengthy solo career later in the ’90s and disbanded Moist around the end of the decade but has since relaunched them.

April 21 – Smith’s Birthday ‘Wish’ For Fans

Happy birthday to Robert Smith, main man of The Cure and many “what not to do” manuals in Hairdressing school! He’s 63 today and 30 years back he gave his fans a birthday gift of sorts. Wish, one of the band’s best-received albums came out this day in 1992.

It was their ninth studio album, coming about three years after their North American breakthrough, Disintegration. In the time between, they’d toured extensively, put out a record of remixes, fired long-time drummer Lol Tolhurst, replacing him with Boris Williams and brought in a new guitarist/bassist, Perry Bamonte. What they did keep from the end-of-the-’80s momentum though was David Allen, who co-produced it with the band themselves as he had on the previous one. As well as perhaps the concept of injecting a little levity into their gloom – “Love Song” off the previous one was arguably their biggest hit to date and the one which made them “big” in the U.S. So they followed up with an even giddier love song for this one, “Friday I’m In Love.”

That song was joined with another 11 for Wish, which runs about 66 minutes. Although the song titles leaned towards brevity (“High”, Apart”, “Cut”, “End”) the works themselves didn’t! Four songs ran past six minutes, with “From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea” pushing eight. While still resonating some degree of gloom and darkness, the sound was overall a little chippier and jangly than much of their past work and had a lot of layers. They recorded it on a 48-track recorder and used nearly every available track for each song, using a lot of over-dubbing as well as more distortion and feedback than one might have expected. “Friday I’m In Love” really stood out, not only for its cheerfulness but because they actually sped up the tape a tiny bit, to make it all the more hyper. “It makes your brain take a step backwards,” said Smith.

Reviews were, and seem to remain, somewhat mixed, with many perhaps feeling like the idea was a little better than the execution. Entertainment Weekly graded it “B”, calling it their “happiest album to date” while noting they were known for “indulging in dirge-like tempos and depressing lyrics.”) and acknowledging that “the band’s bleak…always super-arty stance has struck a chord with a significant portion of today’s youth.” Rolling Stone gave it 4-stars, suggesting “for the cult of millions, The Cure offers the only kind of optimism that makes sense.” Q also gave it 4-stars, saying “the album’s outstanding track is ‘Friday I’m In Love’” and also admiring “End” with its “see-sawing guitar riff which will probably get nicked by Nirvana.” Years later though, allmusic would give it just 2.5-stars, lowest of their records between 1984-2008. Although they liked the “jangling guitars and simple arrangements” better than earlier works and they did find four songs that “make the record worthwhile” – “High”, “A Letter to Elise”, “Wendy Time” and “Friday I’m In Love” – they found the “even-handed production” made the songs sound too much alike and too many songs seemed to have been written in their sleep.

While I termed it a birthday gift to the fans, perhaps it was the reverse. In their UK, it debuted at #1, the band’s one and only #1 album there. It hit #2 in the States, #3 in New Zealand (highest positions for one of their albums in both) and #1 in Australia as well. It went platinum in the U.S., and gold in Canada and Britain, their fourth-straight to do that in the latter. Driving that to some degree was, as expected , “Friday I’m In Love.” It was their fourth #1 song on the Billboard Alternative Rock charts, and hit #18 overall in the U.S., as well as #3 in Canada. In the UK, it peaked at #6 but sold for a long time, going platinum and becoming their biggest-selling single ever. Perhaps that was Robert’s “Wish” when he blew out his cake candles?

April 15 – Depeche Mode Battled Demons With ‘Ultra’ Decent Results

We often talk about “decades” of music as if they were distinctly separate entities from one another. As if once 1980 rolled around, all things ’70s were dead and buried; that the ’90s were a not only a different species than the ’80s but a different life form altogether. As different and separate as an oak from a frog or Mars from Saturn. Now of course, that’s not the reality of it. Years blend into each other and even if Elton and Fleetwood Mac saw smaller audiences listening in the ’80s than the ’70s, they kept on rolling and doing pretty much what they’d always been doing.

That said, when we think ’80s, there’s a tendency to think lively, light-weight, electropop music, flashy videos and outrageous hair. Fast forward to the ’90s and we think grunge, distorted guitars and ripped flannel shirts. So, as Rolling Stone would note, “it ain’t easy being an ’80s icon (in the ’90s.)” One might imagine that Men without Hats wouldn’t have found as receptive an audience in 1993 had they dusted off their Casios and recorded a “Safety Dance Part 2” and had happy Rennaissance Fayre characters frolicking in the video as they did with their original in the ’80s. Which brings us to Depeche Mode.

Beginning as a relatively upbeat, synthesizer-driven dance-pop outfit in the early-’80s, they’d grown considerably darker, deeper and less bop-poppy as the decade progressed and by the beginning of the ’90s were barely recognizable in their black clothes and tattoos, sporting dour (yet still danceable) tunes that even broke out a Fender or Les Paul to compliment the Casios and Yamahas from time to time. That trend continued as they put an end to four years of virtual exile with their ninth studio album, Ultra, which came out this day in 1997.

It had been an interesting, if chaotic span between Songs of Faith and Devotion and this one for the Brits. Although they’d toured extensively for that album and spent much of ’93-94 on the road, they’d spent some time apart and seemed to the world to have fallen apart by the time Ultra hit the shelves. Largely because of singer Dave Gahan’s spiraling heroin addiction which led to at least two overdoses, a nearly-successful suicide attempt and becoming so well acquainted with some paramedics (who responded to calls to resusitate or rescue him) that they knew him and nicknamed him “The Cat”… as in having nine lives. All this silliness coupled with not a lot going on left founding member Alan Wilder disenchanted, and eventually quitting the band, leaving them with the first new lineup since their second album, and only a core trio of Gahan, Martin Gore and Andy Fletcher.

Little wonder this left them in a fairly dark space as Martin Gore began collecting his thoughts and penning tunes for this album. They began recording in early-’96 and took about a year to finish it, using studios in L.A. , New York and London along the way as Gahan finally began to get his life more together (he spent some of that time in rehab which finally would take) and move to the U.S.

The result was put together by a new producer to them, Tim Simenon, a producer who’d worked with Neneh Cherry and an act called Gavin Friday that the band really liked, and was widely known as a happening English club DJ at the time. three cities, a year of time and a new producer made Ultra a little less cohesive than many of their works. all that drama made it largely, although not unremittingly, bleak. But the band’s talent made it a solid work nonetheless.

Rolling Stone compared them to U2 in following up their statement that it wasn’t easy being an ’80s icon by them, and noted while the Irish lads had turned to electronica and Euro club sounds to keep them relevant, Depeche Mode went the opposite way, “the prior decade’s most arena-friendly technopop outfits began relying more on… guitars…to lend emotional urgency.” While no one was going to confuse them with Metallica around then, there was no missing the fact that they had a heavier sound less completely reliant on synths and electric pianos than they had been a decade before. Martin Gore still knew how to write a catchy song though, and this one contained several of the best of their latter works, including the lovely “Home” and the brooding “Barrel of a Gun.” Perhaps adding to the effect, the made-to-be-listened-to-on-CD effort came in just over an hour with eight of the 11 tracks running past five minutes.

Not all critics were entirely enthused, although few really despised it either. Rolling Stone gave it 3-stars, Entertainment Weekly graded it a “B+” and overseas in their homeland, the NME rated it 6/10. Rolling Stone liked “the bittersweet strings in the plaintive ‘Home’” and “moody, pulsating ballads such as ‘The Bottom Line’ and “Love Thieves” (which) are ideal vehicles for Gahan’s brooding baritone” but felt it lacked a standout obvious radio single. EW liked the “up-to-the-second synth effects with ripping melodies”. The NME meanwhile, noted it was the “culmination of a festering melodrama” and seemed to dislike not so much the music – “kinkier than U2 but not as perverse as Nine Inch Nails” – as their American popularity. They criticized the Mode for spending years “driving their juggernaut of angst across the States” with “startingly successful” results.

Perhaps not startingly, but it was successful. Ultra hit #1 in the UK (their second, and to date, last one) and Germany and hit a very respectable #2 in Canada and #5 in the U.S., where “It’s No Good” became their sixth top 40 hit. The album went gold in all those places and in the UK, “It’s No Good” got to #5, “Barrel of a Gun” made #4 (their best showing on the singles chart since “People are People” nearly a decade and a half earlier) and were joined by “Home” and “Useless” in the top 40, making it their third-straight album to score a quartet of top 40 hits at home. Guess that “juggernaut of angst” found a “Home” on both sides of the ocean, NME.

April 10 – Turning Homemade Yellow Into Gold

A sort-of self-made success before the age of YouTube. The Barenaked Ladies scored a gold “record” in Canada on this day in 1992 for their “Yellow Tape” (officially just called Barenaked Ladies), a demo that the band put out themselves on cassette.

The five-song, 17 minute, self-financed cassette with the yellow cover was meant to get them a record deal, but the majors turned them down. However, the Ladies’ were such a popular live act in Canada, it sold well off the stage and eventually record stores asked for it. Within a little over a year, it became the first truly “indie” release to win a gold disc in Canada. After they’d gotten themselves on TV through a local station’s “Speaker’s Corner” segment (a short bit that ran with commercials which usually had people sounding off on political topics or wishing someone a happy birthday), they got signed to an international record deal with Sire and Reprise records. Four of the songs on the “Yellow Tape” were re-recorded for their “Debut”, Gordon. Of those, “Brian Wilson” and “If I Had A $1 000 000” (which not only showcased their sense of humor, but introduced the world to the iconic Canadian side dish, “Kraft Dinner”) made it into the Canuck top 20 singles chart. The one song that wasn’t put on Gordon, a dubious “comedy” version of Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” was revived and expanded by them two years later for the Coneheads soundtrack.

As it turns out, the Speaker’s Corner bit wasn’t the only time TV boosted their career greatly. They got to do the theme show for a TV sitcom few expected to take off … one which after a twelve year run remains one of the most streamed TV shows today – The Big Bang Theory.

April 8 – Pink Floyd Rises Up To Red Bear

It was a big week for Pink Floyd 28 years back, with their 1994 album The Division Bell debuting on British charts at #1. It was a momentous moment for them and their fans too. It was only the second one for the band since their acrimonious split with Roger Waters and it came a full six-and-a-half years after their previous album, A Momentary Lapse of Reason. In the years between, Waters had put out two solo records and kept them all busy in court suing over the use of the name “Pink Floyd.”

Unlike some of the previous Floyd albums, this one was put together rather easily and convivially, with most of the recording being done on David Gilmour’s large houseboat. He, keyboardist Richard Wright and drummer Nick Mason, as well as Bob Ezrin (who co-produced it with Gilmour) recorded it at a leisurely pace while Gilmour’s girlfriend, journalist/novelist Polly Samson joined them and co-wrote a good chunk of the lyrics with her beau. The general, loose theme of it all was “communications,” or generally interpreted to be that, although Rolling Stone pointed to “lyrics so opaque and inert, one cannot hope to plumb their meaning.” Mason suggested the album was about “people making choices, yeas and nays” while Gilmour bristled at suggestions that seemingly prickly songs like “Poles Apart” were aimed at his former bandmate. “People can invent and relate reasons in their personal was,” he said but insisted he wasn’t “conjuring Roger up.”

The album had their trademark superb craftsmanship and playing, and the usual share of Pink Floyd quirks and flourishes, like using a sample of Stephen Hawking speaking on the song “Keep Talking.” Mason loved how it “feels more homemade (than the previous album)…a band playing together in one space.” The easy-going feel didn’t win over critics that well though. Entertainment Weekly gave it a “D” and Rolling Stone a so-so 2.5-stars. They cited it having an OK “quieter, more contemplative mood” than most of the band’s efforts but thought it “seems to cry out for someone with an over-riding zeal, a passion…in short, a nettlesome overbearing visionary like Roger Waters.”

Fans didn’t care much though. Apart from spending a month at #1 in the UK, it topped charts in the U.S., Canada, Australia and a good chunk of Europe, and sold seven million worldwide – not Dark Side of the Moon territory (and actually fewer than the predecessor despite doing better in the States) and far from a flop. It also landed them a rare British top 30 single, with “Take it Back”, one of two major rock radio hits off it in North America, “Keep Talking” being the other. They then toured in a big way… and more or less disappeared. Fans assumed that was the final cut for Pink Floyd, a sense heightened with the death of Wright in 2008. So imagine the surprise when yesterday we found out there was a new Pink Floyd single – “Hey, Hey Rise Up!.”

It would take a lot to get Gilmour to dust off the old “Pink Floyd” name, something important… something like the unprovoked attack of Ukraine by Russia and the subsequent war now unfolding. Gilmour was irate for general and personal reasons. It hits close to home, he says because “my daughter-in-law Janina is Ukrainian. Her grandmother was in Kharkiv until three weeks ago. She’s very old, disabled, in a wheelchair.” Thankfully, Janina and family were able to get grandma out and to Sweden, but it highlighted the human toll of the war to Gilmour.

As well, he saw Ukranian rock singer Andriy Khlyvnyuk in a video, dressed in military garb, holding a rifle, singing a traditional Ukrainian protest song (translated as “The Red Viburnum Of The Meadow”) in front of a Kiev cathedral. Gilmour knew Khlyvnyuk, having performed at a British benefit concert together in 2015. “I thought ‘that is pretty magical’…maybe I can do something. I’ve got a pretty big platform (the name Pink Floyd) …it’s a really difficult and frustrating thing to see this extraordinary, crazy attack by a major power on an independant, peaceful democratic nation.” So he called up Nick Mason and said “listen, I want to do this thing for the Ukraine. I’d be really happy if you played on it.” Mason didn’t hesitate. So they took the audio of the Ukrainian song and created music to back it, showing both that Roger Waters didn’t have the monopoly about caring about world affairs and that Gilmour can still play some pretty dazzling guitar when he feels like it. The video went out this week and the song is available for download on major platforms, with all proceeds going to Ukrainian humanitarian causes. A little thing, but a pretty good use of his “big platform,” we think.