June 4 – Waters Was Watching

Another sad anniversary in world history; another powerful protest song to recall it. It was on this day in 1989 the Chinese government put its jackbooted foot down on protestors at Tiananmen Square, leaving hundreds, perhaps thousands, dead and the country’s reputation in tatters…not that they much cared.

Tiananmen Square is actually a 53 acre open space in the middle of Beijing. It’s home to the National Museum and a Monument To the People’s Heroes. But in ’89 it gained international notoriety when in April thousands of protestors took to it and set up camp to protest the country’s state of affairs. Mostly it was university students there, although some ordinary laborers joined them. China was changing (as was the entire world) and while they’d allowed in some access to Western media and partly converted their land to a market economy, it was still a Communist dictatorship. Students wanted free elections and freedom of the press; the workers mostly wanted a fairer share of the wealth as they sensed that a few were getting very rich while most were working harder for less than before.

The protests drew attention, both internally and internationally. By late May, similar protests were occurring in 400 different towns and cities. “Paramount Leader” Deng Xiaoping ordered a crackdown on them, and sent some 300 000 troops, many in tanks and all armed, into Beijing. On June 3rd, people were warned to stay in their homes the next day, but the protestors stood their ground. Troops rolled into the square, shooting and killing many, running over others and of course creating pandemonium. The battle was lopsided, but not entirely one-sided; along the streets to the square, people attacked soldiers, threw molotov cocktails at them and publicly hung a few unfortunate soldiers they captured. A few foreign journalists were able to get footage of the massacre out to the world and the next day Stuart Franklin took the now-iconic picture of a lone man standing in front of a line of tanks leaving town seen above.

The Chinese government cracked down on public freedoms and either jailed or expelled foreign news people and journalists. And much like the Irish Bogside Massacre and the Ohio State riots, a scathing protest song arose from it. Although unlike the U2 and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young classics, this one by Roger Waters didn’t get a lot of attention. Still the 1992 song “Watching TV” does give an angry dose of insight into the horrible event.

While one can accuse Waters of many things (and David Gilmour and his wife do just that) one can’t say he pulls punches with his angry lyrics, nor that he is lacking in know-how to create a good-sounding and well-produced record. He checked off both those boxes on “Watching TV”, a six-minute dirge written from the perspective of a fictional, heartbroken young Chinese student whose sister died in the protest and showed up in the TV coverage. It hints at how traumatic that would be as well as the irony that the protests had probably been fueled by them seeing the outside world (particularly the rapid changes happening in the Soviet Block) on TV and wanting that for themselves. It was from his third solo album, Amused to Death, a loose concept album about how TV and mass media was dumbing us all down. The album checked in at over an hour, and was recorded in “Q-sound”, a way of enhancing 3D sound effects and more recently re-released in 5.1 Surround Sound. He said that was done, about eight years back because “it didn’t get the attention it deserved” and the problems he sang about are “maybe even more relevant to our predicament as people in 2015.” Among those helping him on this track were Jeff Beck on lead guitar, Madonna-collaborator Patrick Leonard producing and playing keyboards while Don Henley added backing vocals.

The song wasn’t released as a single but did get some airplay on FM rock stations. The album reached #8 in the UK and #21 in the U.S. Record Collector applauded it for being “Waters at his most bleakly inspired since… The Wall.” One wonders if he’ll come up with a bleakly-inspired follow-up, “Watching Tik Tok.”


June 2 – A Quarter Century On, Do Fans Still ‘Adore’ This One?

Following up a monster-seller is always tough and Smashing Pumpkins took over two years to follow up their big Mellon Collie and the infinite Sadness. That one had rocketed them from a truly “alternative” band with a decent following into the realms to superstardom, with Diamond sales awards at home and in Canada and five big radio hits including “1979” and “Thirty Three.”

They followed up that with Adore, out this day in 1998 to less-than-enthusiastic responses. Billy Corgan and Co. , without drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, went more electronic and soft in comparison to their previous works. Even the title was the Bald-one’s little joke about the change – he said it was meant as “a door” that they were going through to some new territory. Although the album did hit #2 in both the U.S. and Canada and sold in the range of four million copies, it was a massive drop from their prior popularity. “Ava Adore” and “Perfect” did fine on modern rock radio but critics were fairly unimpressed. Spin summed it up thusly: “Adore is a late night album, a headphones album…an essential part of the band is missing – the swaggering confidence!” Allmusic gave it 3.5-stars, lowest of any of their upto that point, although still praising it for being a “hushed, elegiac album that sounds curiously out of time.”

The Pumpkins are still smashing along, without D’arcy these days but with drummer Jimmy Chamberlin back. They have put out eight more studio albums since, including Atum: A Rock Opera in Three Acts, a box set of three discs running nearly two and a half hours, this spring. But there seem to be fewer fans around to “adore” them these days; their last three releases all failed to crack the American top 50.

May 25 – A Song For The Season Three Weeks Early

Rolling Stone at the time termed him “punk’s brightest angry young man”…but also noted that a decade and a half into his career he was facing a “midlife crisis.” So it went for Elvis Costello who hit #1 on Billboard‘s Alternative Rock chart on this day in 1991, for the second, but also last time with “The Other Side of Summer.” He’d hit the top of that chart once before, with “Veronica”, and perhaps would have done so more often if Billboard had begun the list before 1988; by this time most of his best-loved work, with singles like “Alison,” “Pump It Up” and “Everyday I Write The Book” was behind him.

The single was from his 13th studio album, Mighty Like A Rose. He went to L.A. to record it, bringing in producer Mitchell Froom, who’d worked with Paul McCartney and Roy Orbison in the ’80s and would soon work with Sheryl Crow, Susanna Hoffs, and Suzanne Vega, whom he’d marry. Perhaps the city was fitting as a backdrop, as its known as a place of excess. And while Costello may not have been a true “punk” rocker in his early days, he did live by much of that genre’s code, if you will – short, sparse songs with basic instrumentation and unobtrusive production. Things conspicuously absent on Mighty Like a Rose, an album with heavy production and a whole busload of studio musicians (even including Elvis’ dad, Ross, playing trumpet on some tracks.) Costello and Froom set out to make a “wall of sound” style, and arguably succeeded, but more debatable was whether such a backdrop was needed for the work. Allmusic, for instance, gave the album an uncharacteristically low 2-stars, suggesting that songs like this one (picked as the best on the album) “would have been accessible with different production”. Entertainment Weekly yawned that it seems like for him “all that’s left to do is what he’s done before, only better” although they did like “The Other Side of Summer,” a “bumptiously ironic sing-along.”

Ironic and heavily produced it was. To get that “wall of sound” feel, two basses were used, as well as “14 keyboards, all playing the same thing – but nobody’s going to sit and count,” according to the singer. Among the keyboardist’s was Benmont Trench of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. Costello said he consciously wanted to make a song that was a “pastiche” to the Beach Boys, of whom he was a fan. He says the result was a song “as much like a Californian summer as possible (but) you listen it’s a little contradictory.” Contradictory indeed, as Costello – who says he was mad about the Gulf War at the time – didn’t seem too impressed with the City of Angels. The chorus sings of “foaming breakers of the poisonous surf” and “burning forests in the hills of astroturf”, while the verses jab just about every cliché about California, from shallow teenage girls to gated communities keeping the poor out to mentally ill types on the streets. He even finds time to throw out some barbs at fellow Brit musicians Pink Floyd and John Lennon somehow. “It’s not a slap at John Lennon,” he says, “John Lennon wrote some wonderful songs, but ‘Imagine’ which has been so sanctified is one of the worst.” Punk’s angry young man had become alt rock’s angry middle-aged man, with a taste for summery sounds apparently.

While the album hit #5 over in the UK, despite (or perhaps because of) the American references and production, it peaked at #55 in the States. While “The Other Side of Summer” was an alt rock hit over here (even on L.A.’s KROQ despite its swipes at the city), it failed to sell well on either side of the ocean and, suggesting that perhaps EW was correct, he’d only go on to score one more hit song on even the alternative charts in the ’90s.

May 23 – Old Was New Again For The Hip

A spooky but interesting sort of shout-out from beyond the grave. Two years ago this week, Canada’s eternally-popular Tragically Hip released a new record – Saskadelphia. The six song album/EP comes almost four years after the sad death of the band’s charismatic singer/lyricist, Gord Downie.

Now, this came as a surprise to the legion of Canadian fans, in no small part due to the fact that the remaining quartet of the Hip clearly stated upon Downie’s death due to cancer that it was the end of the Tragically Hip. They’d had a great run of over 30 years, putting out 14 platinum-selling albums there, winning 16 Juno Awards and performing in front of the Prime Minister in a nationally-televised concert. But without Downie, there was no Tragically Hip. So just how did we have a new album?

Well, turns out it’s an honest release, not some change of heart cash-grab with a new singer. Even though released in 2021, the songs on Saskadelphia were recorded in 1990 in New Orleans as part of their recording session for the album which became Road Apples. Diehard fans might recall that the former was actually the band’s choice of album names, but the record company thought it too hard to spell and too Canadian-sounding, so Road Apples – another very Canuck term – was used instead. At the time, the band had a huge amount of material and wanted to put out a double-album but MCA quashed that idea. After all, at the time, they were still a young band whose debut album, Up to Here, had done fairly well (cracking the top 10 and contained their first domestic hit single, “New Orleans is Sinking” that Power Pop blog looked at today ) at home, but they were still a long ways from being a household name yet. They whittled it down to a single album. Canadian music historian Alan Cross suggests that some of the last tracks used came down to a coin toss by the band. That single album became their first #1 hit. Needless to say, this meant there were unreleased tracks left behind.

Which is where the story gets a bit odd. They likely didn’t think much about those songs when they were rolling along with a string of new hits, Fast forward about 17 years and there was the gigantic Universal Studios fire which wiped out thousands upon thousands of original recordings stored by Universal Music. The Hip were told their masters, including these outtakes, were among them. Gone forever.

However, as it turns out for some odd reason Universal in California had sent the Tragically Hip material back to Canada in 2001, which probably gives you an idea of the parent company’s appraisal of the band’s worldwide commercial appeal. Somehow, the band found out about this and went looking. According to Cross, who has an interview with the four remaining members coming up soon, the boxes weren’t labeled at all so it was a tedious process to find any new songs. Then the tapes had to be “baked” before using to keep the 30-year + old tapes from breaking up when played. Eventually they were usable and digitized, with five of the originals appearing on the new record. One track though, “Montreal”, was a part of that recording session, but they couldn’t locate the original master. The version on Saskadelphia was recorded live, in Montreal appropriately enough, in 2001. They were appearing on the 11th anniversary of a horrific college shooting in the city, which opaquely inspired the song. They remembered the tune and decided to play it there. Johnny Fay of the band says “Downie wasn’t quite sure about the lyrics” but remarkably they found them online and “he did a quick once over and said, ‘OK, we got this!’”.

Hearing the “lost” songs was quite an experience for the band themselves. Rob Baker says “I went ‘wow’ when I heard ‘Ouch’ (one of the new tracks) after all this time. We were a pretty good little band!”

Fans will no doubt agree when they hear Saskadelphia, which was released on vinyl, CD or digital copies.

Initial listens suggest that the six, including “Ouch”, “Not Necessary” and “Reformed Baptist Blue” sound quite inline with the band’s early-’90s work we’re familiar with, a jaunty blues rock sound with poetic lyrics, little surprise given the history of the recording. But for fans, it’ll be a great reminder that indeed, they were a “pretty good little band.”

May 20 – One Disappeared, Three Returned Stronger

One of Britain’s most celebrated band’s returned stronger than ever after being the focus of one of Britain’s biggest mysteries 27 years back. The Manic Street Preachers put out their fourth album, Everything Must Go, this day in 1996…about a year after their main lyricist and sometimes-guitarist Richey Edwards seemingly evaporated into thin air.

The Manic Street Preachers formed in Wales in 1986, under the name “the Manics” (which many fans still refer to them as), with core members James Dean Bradfield (the singer and guitarist), drummer Sean Moore (who can also add a trumpet bit here and there as required) and bassist Nicky Moore becoming friends in school. Richey Edwards was initially a roadie and buddy of theirs. Like them he was rather dark in mood and fiercely political (the band ally themselves with the socialists). He also had a way with words so by the time they signed to Columbia Records in the early-’90s, he was on board as a member who wrote most of their lyrics and played guitar, albeit not that well by most estimations. The band had good success right out of the gates with their first album in 1992 and were making quite a name for themselves by the time they put out their third record, the oddly-or-provocatively named Holy Bible in ’94. Enter 1995, and the day the band was supposed to fly off to North America for a tour, Edwards seemed to disappear. It’s quite a complex and odd case, but in short, he seemed to be seen here and there around Britain for a week or so then no more. His car was found abandoned near a bridge on Valentine’s Day with no trace of him. Many suspect he commit suicide, though no body was found, while others believe he executed a plan to simply go incognito and start a new life elsewhere under an assumed persona. There’ve been various supposed sightings of him through the years since in far-flung places like India and the south Pacific, but he was declared dead in 2008, even though no one has a clue as to what truly happened to him.

That was the backdrop for Everything Must Go, an album seeing the MSP back to their trio form, although the enigma that is Richey wrote lyrics for five of the songs and had laid down guitar tracks for one song (“No Surface, All Feeling”). Given that, it’s remarkable that a band viewed as rather bleak and almost nihilistic, who idolized early The Cure and Siouxsie and the Banshees should put out an articulate, polished record of intriguing songs. But that’s what they did.

Rising star producer Mike Hedges produced the record, with them visiting his studio in France to record most of it. Bradfield had wanted him since Hedges had done great work with Siouxsie, but his background – 10 years working at Abbey Road studios – probably helped shape the album greatly. He brought in strings, streamlined songs and helped them work towards a “Wall of Sound” effect they were hoping for. They looked to quite a range of subjects for inspiration including Sylvia Plath’s writings (“The Girl Who Wanted to Be A God”), the wave of American culture that dominated British media and minds (“Elvis Impersonator : Blackpool Pier”), a well-respected photojournalist who worked largely in Africa (“Kevin Carter”), and intriguingly an ode to suffering animals in captivity (“Small Black Flowers That Grow In The Sky”), its lyrics penned by Edwards and believed to be a metaphor for his own mental state – feeling caged and gawked at. And as one would expect with a left-leaning punk-influenced band, one good diatribe about the plight of the working class and the disparity between classes, “A Design for Life.” Nicky Wire wrote that primarily, saying they were “sick of the patronization of the working class.” Ironically that was the song which could have lifted them out of the ranks of the blue collars into the Blue bloods by itself, becoming a massive hit.

While all but unknown on this side of the ocean, they were on the rise and this album drew lots of attention and praise at home. Many noted how different – but by almost unanimous agreement – better than their previous record. The NME gave it 8 out of 10, declaring “tragedy has not dimmed the Manics creative glow” and calling the album “a record that races with heavenly string arrangements and huge sweeps of emotive orchestration; one that bristles with a brittle urgency.” At year’s end they called it the Album of the Year and “A Design for Life”, Single of the Year. The Guardian graded it 4-stars as did Q, which said it was “a return to and improvement upon the epic pop-rock sounds of Gold Against the Soul (their second album)”. Vox raved it was “so superb it just might make intelligence fashionable again.” Nicky Wire noted soon after it was “the most timid we’d ever been…it was the most un-Manics we’ve been. And then it was the most successful.” Successful indeed, it grabbed the Brit Award for Best British Album of ’96 and earned them the Group of the Year award

While they’d had one prior top 10 single in Britain (curiously, their take on the MASH Theme, “Suicide is Painless”), “A Design for Life” took them to another level, debuting on the charts at #2. The #1 slot eluded it but it quickly became their first platinum-selling single. “Kevin Carter” and “Australia” – which oddly didn’t crack the top 100 in that land – were also top 10s off Everything Must Go. The album itself made it to #2 and went triple-platinum there. But they seemed a fairly localized taste; outside of the UK and Ireland, it didn’t make a huge impact, barely cracking the top 30 in New Zealand and Sweden, and worse than that elsewhere. Here in North America, it didn’t chart anywhere but a few discerning alternative rock stations.

The Manics have put out ten more studio albums since, with a total of a dozen of theirs being top 10 at home, and Richey Edwards? To the credit of the band, they still keep his share of the royalties separate and in an account, waiting… Maybe he’s watching the success of his old buddies. Perhaps from a hut in the tropics, perhaps from somewhere in the Great Beyond.

May 9 – Seems Like U2 Day In Canada

On this day in 1987, U2 got to the top for the first time in Canada. On the singles charts that is, about a month after The Joshua Tree hit the #1 spot on the album chart there. “With or Without You”, the first single off that album zoomed up the Canuck charts as it did throughout much of the world…it did in the U.S. as well, but almost astonishingly, they only scored one more #1 song there.

But in the Great White North, fast forward five years to the day, and in 1992, they’d place their fifth song atop the charts there – the appropriately titled “One.” (In between they’d had chart-toppers with “Desire”, “Angel of Harlem” and “Mysterious Ways”) In their native Ireland, mind you it was their tenth #1. Although it didn’t quite get to #1 in the U.S. or UK,(it made #10 in the former and #7 in the latter) it’s widely seen as close to the band’s finest hour. As Jon Bon Jovi gushes, “Achtung Baby was bigger than life. It was unique. A song like ‘One’- beyond ridiculous!” Entertainment Weekly at the time called it “biting and unprecedentedly emotional” while Rolling Stone thought it a “radiant ballad… few bands can marshal such sublime power.” Q readers agreed, in 2006 voting it the fifth greatest song ever. Bono likes the song but says it’s not a love song. “It’s a bit twisted. I could never figure out why people want it at their weddings!” Michael Stipe and Mike Mills of R.E.M. performed the song with U2’s Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen in ’93 at a concert for president Bill Clinton.

They’d go on to top both the Canadian and Irish singles charts 11 more times…and counting. That included “Staring at the Sun”, which was #1 exactly five years after “One”, this day in 1997! U2 should really like May 9th by now. With a new album out recently, Songs of Experience, and another one rumored to be coming shortly, one might not bet against them making that a dozen!

May 6 – Forgotten Gems : Ash

It’s almost a cliché to look back at the 1990s and say musically they were all about grunge over here and Britpop in Europe. It overlooks the fact that grunge was really only a hot commodity for about three years and ignores things like the huge sales of country dude Garth Brooks, the impact of Lilith Fair, or at least the ladies who were on the bill there, the American love of boy bands … but it’s not without at least a little merit. Grunge shook things up in North America, and the Brits did love their homegrown young bands like Oasis and Blur. This month’s Forgotten Gem might indeed be as close to a bridge between the two sounds as we had – “Goldfinger” by Ash. Not to be confused with the James Bond theme, but we’ll get to that later. It was the standout single from their debut album, 1977, which came out this day in 1996.

Ash were from a small town in County Down in Northern Ireland. The band’s singer, guitarist and main writer, Tim Wheeler described it as “just a small town with not much going on and not much in the way of escape. Probably the main way people would escape would be smoking hash and stuff like that, drinking…” And it might seem, by playing loud rock music. Wheeler and his buddy Mark Hamilton had been in a rock band since 1989, when they tried to be an Iron Maiden cover band! What’s surprising about that is they would have been just 12 years old at the time! (As journalist Daniel Zunga notes, the album title 1977 was a nod to the fact that it was the year “punk exploded… Star Wars streaked acrossmovie theatre screens for the first time” and the two lads were born.) By 1992, they’d started doing some of their own songs and had changed the name to Ash. Soon after they got a record deal, with Infectious Records, a small label owned by BMG.

The album itself was a mish-mash of sounds and songs, Zunga aptly descibed as being able to mix “the recklessness and raucousness of youthful abandon with a power pop sensibility that belied the group’s age.” Or, as Drowned in Sound would say, “an album by the young, for the young.” Despite the uneveness of it, the single “Goldfinger” stood out as a pretty excellent grunge-tinged tune that made you think they’d listened to the Pixies and Nirvana but maybe some ’80s R.E.M. or ’70s Raspberries as well.

Wheeler has called it “the best song we’ve ever written”, and described it as “this little romance story in this small, s*** town”. And romance makes life – and music -exciting. “The world seems so alive” in the song’s emphatic estimation.

The song took off in the British Isles, hitting #5 in the UK (still the highest-chart position of their 60 total singles) and #8 in Ireland. Collectors might want to look for a limited edition vinyl single of it that was on clear vinyl with gold flecks in it. Not only did the song do well, what’s more it pushed the album to #1 in Britain. Over here, it didn’t get a lot of attention but a few alt rock stations like Toronto’s CFNY played it heavily.

Ash are still rolling along, as Wheeler is proud to point out, long after most of their contemporaries have fallen by the wayside. And that song title? He says he regrets it, as it confuses people who assume it was the Shirley Bassey movie opus, which astoundingly charted lower in Britain than theirs. Apparently the group thought a couple of bars in the song sounded a bit like the Bond theme and used it as a working title when practicing and it stuck.

May 1 – Uncle Tupelo Became Two

One of those influential bands everyone’s heard of but no one seems to have records by called it a day this day in 1994Uncle Tupelo. The band had been around for some seven years and had just released their first major label album, Anodyne on Sire Records after three well-reviewed, small-selling indie albums.

The band had been formed by one-time friends Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar, who shared writing and singing duties, as well as drummer Mike Heidorn. They drew on influences ranging from old country and folk to the Sex Pistols and Black Flag to create a new, low-fi, roots rock sound that many, such as the BBC, credit with single-handedly starting “Alt country” (although it was already a movement in Canada with the likes of Blue Rodeo and Crash Vegas and of course Gram Parsons had made similar music before them), and as Heidorn notes, “people are wrong in saying we started anything because we were just picking up the ball starting with Woody Guthrie in the early-’60s and on to the Flying Burrito Brothers.”. Although well-liked by critics, at the time they failed to put any record onto charts in either the U.S. or UK, though years later a compilation of theirs rose all the way to a lofty #173 at home. Tweedy and Farrar’s egos clashed and they fought over how many songs each should get per concert – and a girl. After playing this night in a bar near the Gateway Arch in their hometown of St. Louis, they went their own ways, Farrar (along with Heidorn) forming Son Volt and Tweedy going on to reasonable fame with his new band, Wilco.

April 30 – Cranberries Offered Salvation, But Did The Fans Want It?

Following up a hit record or two can be a tricky proposition. Expectations are high, and if the artist had a definable sound, there’s the challenge of repeating it and risking coming across stale or changing it up and potentially alienating the fans. Yesterday we looked at one band that had middling results straddling the line between the two options (Men At Work), today another example from another decade. The Cranberries figured two albums with them sitting on the same couch on the cover were enough and changed up the look and the sound for their third album, To The Faithful Departed, which came out this day in 1996.

The Irish quartet dominated by the voice and presence of the diminutive Dolores O’Riordan had become a major worldwide act thanks to their first couple of albums, full of lovely, inward-looking alternative-by-way-of-pop songs like “Linger”, “Dreams” and “Ode To My Family.” But their second album, No Need To Argue, had contained the different-flavored “Zombie”, a hardcore guitar-based rocker about the “Troubles” in their native Ireland involving IRA bombings and that had become a surprise smash hit…the video for it is in the elite group of 20th Century songs to have cleared a billion views on Youtube, for example.  Clearly Dolores figured that was the route to follow… louder, outward-looking political statements. There was a certain other Irish foursome who’d done pretty well with that tack for a few years in the ’80s, but after this, many figured … well, O’Riordan was no Bono. So even though the album was entitled To The Faithful Departed, a nod to both Dolores’ granddad Joe and record producer Denny Cordell who’d gotten them signed to Island, both of whom had passed away recently, there was less personal sentiment on this one than its predecessors and more “what’s wrong with the world and how do we fix it?” sentiment.

They were ambitious. The normal edition of the album had 15 songs and ran past 50 minutes despite the brisk pace of many tracks. A later deluxe reissue had four more including the religious standard “Ave Maria” with Luciano Pavarotti! And with titles like “War Child”, “Bosnia”, “I Just Shot John Lennon” and “Salvation”, one could guess without even listening, little Dolores’ (who wrote almost the entire album) was feeling less pixie-like than she looked. To add to the new approach, they ditched their previous producer, Stephen Street in favor of Bruce Fairburn, a Canadian rock hero who’d helped steer Bon Jovi to superstardom and Aerosmith back there after years of decline. They went to O’Riordan’s new adopted homeland, Canada, to record most of it.

Just looking at it, one figured it was going to be a bit different. After their close to monochromatic covers with them sitting on an old sofa for the first two, them with their instruments, in bright purple suits in a bright yellow room on this cover. The set was built in a forest and shot during a snowstorm, which perhaps suggests again that not every last decision about it was well thought-out.

Reviews were mixed, but generally not entirely glowing. Most agreed a bit of edge here and there was fine for them, that some of the tunes themselves were good and some of the subjects tackled deserved to be discussed. Most also felt O’Riordan wasn’t the greatest person to lead that discussion and that sound-wise, they probably shouldn’t have tried to be Aerosmith. Songs like “Salvation” were seen as juvenile and “I Just Shot John Lennon” (with lines like “with a Smith & Wesson 38, John Lennon’s life was no longer a debate”, complete with gunshot sounds) and the pro-pro-choice “Free to Decide” just flat out irritated some. Rolling Stone gave it just 2-stars. They snarked the Cranberries “boldly take on more of the world’s problems, from drug addiction to the war in Bosnia and the band is overwhelmed.” O’Riordan was seen as reducing important issues to “bumper sticker lines.” The L.A. Times was more generous, giving it 3 out of 4, despite the opening track “Hollywood” which didn’t paint the more glamorous picture of the town. They called them “Ireland’s other politically-informed band” and liked its “eclectic selection of material” and furthermore, figured “the angry ‘I Just Shot John Lennon’ exudes the sort of raging energy that fueled the new wave that was popular at the time of Lennon’s death.” USA Today was in the middle, thinking it a “throwback to the guitar assault of the 1994 hit ‘Zombie’” It graded it 2.5 out of 4, lamenting “if only Dolores could pen a lyric…that doesn’t deteriorate into sentimental cliches.” Later on, allmusic declared it “where the Cranberries best intentions finally and thoroughly tripped them up”, questioning for one thing why they’d fire Street whose “ear for the band’s dynamic was note-perfect.” Still, they gave it a decent 3.5-stars, which probably fit most fans reactions – not terrible but an album that could have been much more.

Commercially it did well, but not as well as the first pair. Depending on your country, some of “Free To Decide”, “Salvation”, “When You’re Gone” – one of the few love songs suited to one of their previous records – and “Hollywood” were out out as singles, and by and large the first three all got good radio play. “”Salvation” topped U.S. Alternative charts and was a top 10 in Ireland and New Zealand and a #1 in Italy; “Free to Decide” made it up to #2 in Canada and “When You’re Gone” was a top 30 in the U.S., Canada and Ireland, where it became their ninth such chart hit. Overall, the album rose to #1 in Australia, #2 in their homeland and the UK, Germany and Canada and #4 in the States, going multi-platinum in North America and gold in the UK.

However, it didn’t help the band’s momentum, and coupled with O’Riordan canceling a large chunk of their world tour that summer due to knee surgery and stress-related issues, it’s safe to say Island Records was beginning to lose faith and after their next, less-successful release (Bury the Hatchet) the band had departed the label.

April 23 – Astronaut Helped IME’s Career Rocket Upwards

Yesterday was Earth Day, maybe today is I Mother Earth day…because that Canadian album put out their most successful album, Scenery & Fish this day in 1996.

It was the second release for the Toronto-based band formed in 1990, by the Tama brothers – drummer Christian and guitarist Jagori – and singer/poet Edwin. Bassist Bruce Gordon rounded out the foursome . They, along with Our Lady Peace, the Tea Party and Moist, became a part of a sort of quartet of Canadian alt rock bands that came out the grunge revolution that utilized various other influences including Door-sy lyrics and Eastern sounds. Allmusic described them as “a modern update (on Canadian rock of the ’70s) combining a wide range of influences including jazz fusion, funk and progressive rock.”

Their debut, Dig, on EMI in Canada and Capitol in the States, did quite well domestically and set the stage for a major push from the label for this one. Jag and his brother apparently wrote the dozen tracks (though they were credited to the whole group) and Jag co-produced it; another Toronto band, Rush were called on and Alex Lifeson added a bit of guitar in spots.

The album was sprawling, over an hour in length and besides the very brief opener “Hello Dave” ( a fine title we note!) all the songs check in over four and a half minutes; “Shortcut to Moncton” runs about eight. Allmusic give it 4-stars and called it “a worthy follow-up to an impressive first release”, liking the lead single “One More Astronaut” which they call “a propulsive cut” but noting “Another Sunday” would “settle slowly but surely into the brain” and complimenting “Used to Be Alright” for “incorporating the band’s fondness for percussion into a groove-oriented rocker.”

The band was big on Much Music and many rock and alt rock stations around their country and ended up hitting the top 10 and going double-platinum. With certified sales of over 300 000 domestically, it actually could have been triple platinum (record companies have to fill out paperwork to actually get the awards and at times, they just don’t bother it would seem). The single “Raspberry” hit #14 but “One More Astronaut”, while only reaching #32 in sales topped rock and alt radio charts and was their one breakthrough into the U.S. market, reaching the top 20 on Mainstream Rock charts.

It would be their high-water mark however; they did put out two more albums but to less commercial success or critical acclaim and by 1999 Edwin was already dabbling in solo work, putting out the first of three albums he’d do, with the first one generating three Canadian rock radio hits including “Hang Ten.” I Mother Earth split up in 2003 but have reunited at times in the past decade for live shows.