Get the Message – Electronic

  • First Appearance: June 22, 1991
  • Weeks on the Chart: 2
  • Album: Electronic
  • Have I heard this song before (pre-listen)? No?
  • Have I actually heard this song before? No.

This band has very bad SEO.

When I wrote that, before I listened to the album, a small part of me hoped that I wouldn’t have anything else to say about the album. That is not the case. The band was formed by former members of New Order and The Smiths, and was active from the late-80s to late-90s.

If you had told me that this band was a cutting edge band from the late 70s I would have believed you. If you’d told me the rode in with new-wave and synth in the mid 80s, I’d have believed you. If you told me this band came out of the early 2010s along with the likes of VHS vs. Beta, I’d have believed you.

Despite being very stylized, maybe even because of it, their music seems like it could have been written nearly any time in the last 40 years.

Getting Away With It may be the more familiar song to you on this album, but it’s certainly worth a listen, assuming you can find it.

The Other Side of Summer – Elvis Costello

  • First Appearance: May 25, 1991
  • Weeks on the Chart: 5
  • Album: Mighty Like a Rose
  • Have I heard this song before (pre-listen)? No?
  • Have I actually heard this song before? No.

The Other Side of Summer is pretty classic-sounding Elvis Costello. Complete with 1960s sensibilities, catchy hooks, and a multi-layer production. I’m almost surprised I hadn’t heard it before, but it also isn’t quite as memorable as the songs of his with which you are more familiar.

The rest of the album ranges a little further than what you’d identify as classic Elvis Costello with some distinctly weird and experimental moments, but all very listenable-to. It’s an enjoyable and interesting album, and not one I can claim to have really heard anything off of before.

See the Light – Simple Minds

  • First Appearance: May 11, 1991
  • Weeks on the Chart: 2
  • Album: Real Life
  • Have I heard this song before (pre-listen)? No?
  • Have I actually heard this song before? No.

Just when I thought I was out of the 80s, Simple Minds bring me right back in.

Best known for “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” from The Breakfast Club soundtrack, this Scottish band was a staple of the 80s, and this album feels incredibly 80s. Strong on the synths, and soaring vocals, it’s a stark departure from Out of Time.

The charting track, See the Light, was not particularly more memorable than the rest of the album. It’s interesting that it was chosen to be the single.

Losing My Religion – R.E.M.

  • First Appearance: March 16, 1991
  • Weeks on the Chart: 8
  • Album: Out of Time
  • Have I heard this song before (pre-listen)? Yes.
  • Have I actually heard this song before? Yes.

If you haven’t listened to it lately, Losing My Religion is still a very good song.

I don’t know that I’d ever listened to the entirety of Out of Time, R.E.M.’s 7th full length studio album, before. It’s a solid, if not stand-out or particularly stellar album. The songs are good, but few are as catchy or impactful as Losing My Religion or Shiny Happy People.

This is going to be another short one, it seems. This happens when the music doesn’t provoke a lot of emotion from me. A lot of these songs kind of just “are.”

I do want to shout out “Belong” as a particularly neat song. Spoken word with jangly guitars and a chanted chorus of “Ohs” is unusual and cool. It reminds me a bit of “Butterflies” by Toad The Wet Sprocket (from fear released in August 1991).

Right Here, Right Now – Jesus Jones

  • First Appearance: February 9, 1991
  • Weeks on the Chart: 5
  • Album: Doubt
  • Have I heard this song before (pre-listen)? Yes.
  • Have I actually heard this song before? Yes.

Jesus Jones is an English band. I did not know this.

Their first track on Doubt is almost punk or thrash. It’s very loud and very fast, and really does not match the rest of the album in any meaningful way.

The next few tracks, leading up to Right Here Right Now better set the tone for what was one of the most ubiquitous songs of 1991. Some twenty-seven years later and that track is still catchy, and the band very much deserved all the money they made from licensing it every chance they got. I’m, in fact, a little surprised that it’s not still used as a “this song is to establish that this movie or TV scene is happening in the early 90s”-song.

After that the album gets a little weird: loud and distorted. It never really feels like a cohesive album, and it’s not a shock that I couldn’t have named another song off of this album if my life depended on it.

All This Time – Sting

  • First Appearance: January 26, 1991
  • Weeks on the Chart: 2
  • Album: The Soul Cages
  • Have I heard this song before (pre-listen)? No.
  • Have I actually heard this song before? No.

Sting exists outside of spacetime. If you’d told me this was a Sting album from ’87, right after the Police broke up, I’d believe you. If you told me that Sting released this album last year, I would believe you. If you’d told me that Sting brought a synth back to 1823 and recorded this album on that modern synth, and period instruments, I would also believe you.

All of which is a long way of saying that this album does not feel 90s. It feels Sting. It’s competent and good, but being Sting it does not evoke particularly strong feelings or insights.

Kinky Afro – Happy Mondays

  • First Appearance: January 19, 1991
  • Weeks on the Chart: 1
  • Album: Pill ‘N’ Thrills and Bellyaches
  • Have I heard this song before (pre-listen)? No.
  • Have I actually heard this song before? No.

First and foremost, the name of the album is stylized in a way that makes my head hurt. Everywhere I could find it, it was Pills ‘N’ [sic] Thrills and Bellyaches. Why it had a capital ‘n’ inside the single quotes, and used both an ‘N’ and “and” are totally beyond me. But then, I suppose there’s no use in being a grammar pedant when talking about music. Especially when one of my favorite bands is Wilco who’s lyrics often make no good grammatical or semantic sense.

The relevant track, Kinky Afro was just a little weird, to be honest. Kind of forgettable, and not interesting in any real way. The rest of the album was interesting. The album still kind of reeks of the 80s with more synths and drum kits than I’d like, but it feels like it’s on the edge of something new. There are hints of later U2 here, and some foreshadowing of the alt rock we’ll see really emerge in the next few years.

The rest of the album is kind of cool. It really spans genres ranging from dancy, to funky, to just alternative/indie.

More – Sisters of Mercy

  • First Appearance: December 15, 1990
  • Weeks on the Chart: 5
  • Album: Vision Thing
  • Have I heard this song before (pre-listen)? No.
  • Have I actually heard this song before? No.

This is the last album of 1990, the first of 1991, and the weirdest intro track of the year. It’s like if Metallica and Devo had a baby.

They are very much a goth rock band. The song Ribbons is a heavy beat, with the phrases, “Flowers on the razor wire,” “incoming,” and “walk on in” repeated at regular intervals. It is precisely as strange as it sounds.

This is another one of those albums that seems like a parody of the genre now, but was likely a little less absurd when it came out. Songs like Detonation Boulevard, and Ribbons are so over the top that they’re a little hard to take seriously.

In a lot of ways this seems like a fitting album to close out 1990. It’s overly serious, dark, and sounds like a lot of things that came before it. In a lot of ways 1990 was still the 80s for music.

The song that charter, More, is actually a bit more chill and listenable. But it’s fair to say it was a bit of a relief when the album was over and I could move to 1991, which holds the promise of Achtung Baby, Out of Time, and Nevermind, among others.

Merry Go Round – The Replacements

  • First Appearance: October 13, 1990
  • Weeks on the Chart: 4 (non-consecutive)
  • Album: All Shook Down
  • Have I heard this song before (pre-listen)? No.
  • Have I actually heard this song before? No.

This was the last studio album from The Replacements, and this was their last single. I expected to have heard it before, but I also assume there’s a reason it was their last single off of their last album. It was clearly The Replacements: fun, relentless, pop, but it wasn’t the magic of some of their other singles that have persisted.

Unsurprisingly this album seems a little more mature and thoughtful than some of the Replacements’ work that you may be more familiar with. And if you’re wondering how I can write much more about The Replacements’ last album than one of The Cure’s most popular it’s because I’m enjoying this a lot more. Other reasons include: much more ink has been spilled about The Cure’s Ritual de lo Habitual than All Shook Down; and, I can’t imagine anyone has ever listened to The Cure and thought, “I want to start a band just like this one,” meanwhile The Replacements have likely influenced a lot more work.

The title track, All Shook Down, is a really sweet and quiet song, with what sounds like a recorder in the background. Meanwhile, Torture is a sweet little foot tapping love song, despite what the title would imply.

This is definitely a strong reminder to re-listen to their catalogue. Such a delight.

Never Enough – The Cure

  • First Appearance: September 29, 1990
  • Weeks on the Chart: 2
  • Album: Mixed Up
  • Have I heard this song before (pre-listen)? Yes.
  • Have I actually heard this song before? Yes.

This is an album The Cure. It sounds exactly like you’d expect an album by The Cure to sound.