Posts Tagged ‘Alternative Rock’

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1991: Nirvana Kills Alternative Rock

April 19, 2009

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1991.

Nirvana releases Nevermindand singlehandedly destroys the futures of Warrant, Ratt, Poison, Dokken, and perhaps even Stryper. These hair metal bands are the known, mostly unmourned victims of the grunge revolution.

But what about alternative rock?

Before the grunge-fueled major label spending spree, there was a version of rock known as alternative rock (sometimes college rock) that encompassed a wide variety of bands including Love & Rockets, Jesus & Mary Chain, Echo & the Bunnymen, My Bloody Valentine, Happy Mondays, James, the Stone Roses and the Pixies, just to name some of the major players. This loose confederation of bands and radio stations operated outside the mainstream (except in Britain where it was the mainstream).

Then Nevermind happened.

Major labels went on a shopping spree, selling hair and buying flannel. The most unlikely of bands suddenly saw A&R men waving blank checks in their general direction. Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Stone Temple Pilots, Smashing Pumpkins were some of the more standard signees.

But the labels went further, seeking to wring the last dollar out of anyone they’d never heard of before. Uncomfortable execs found themselves flattened against the wall of the local dive, staring down the business end of the Butthole Surfers or asking the barkeep if they sold earplugs while getting to the bottom of this whole “Melvins thing.”

Case in point: Royal Trux. Fished off the Drag City roster by Virgin, Royal Trux gave thir soon-to-be-jobless A&R person the unenviable task of trying to market Sweet Sixteen, an album whose production values frequently slipped below lo-fi into no-fi and whose cover featured an overflowing, feces laden… fuck it. See the photo below.

Giving your artists creative control... it's a career-killer.

Giving your artists creative control... it's a career-killer.

Rock radio stations (who exist to push major label music and sell advertising) hastily revamped playlists and rechristened themselves “alternative.” Alternative rock stations, who had spearheaded the grunge attack, suddenly found themselves in the company of bigger, more well paid competition.

Major labels shoved everybody and anybody into the studio, grabbing them a Butch Vig or closest non-union equivalent. Turds were polished. Soul-patches were immaculately groomed. Studios turned into methadone clinics only without all that morphine or rehabilitation.

Kurt sticks it to the man. Via the man.

Kurt sticks it to the man. Via the man.

The former indie bands rebelled, often in t-shirt form. They started fires, used massive amounts of drugs, got hospitalized, broke up and refused to shower. Once Kurt took himself out of circulation, the majors were freed of their Jiminy Cricket. More cooperative and manipulated bands were signed. Candlebox, Bush, Seven Mary Three, Better Than Ezra, etc. Weak, watery shit, cloaked in the “alternative” whitewash, rinsed and sanitized for the masses.

The old altrock, with its variety and imagination, was replaced with wall-to-wall guitars, hoarse bellowing and ritualistic abuse of the loud-quiet-loud dynamic. An occasional jangle-pop band was thrown in to sucker in the ladies (Toad the Wet Sprocket, Live, etc.) The underground went deeper as the labels reps roamed the landscape hoping for the last great white hope.

Exhibit A – 1991 (the Victims):
the Pixies release their last album
My Bloody Valentine release their last album
the Jesus and Mary Chain enter the studio for their last good album, Honey’s Dead
the Happy Mondays enter the studio for their ill-fated last album, Yes Please! which bankrupts Creation Records
Ministry release their last good album, Psalm 69
Skinny Puppy enters the studio for their last good album, Last Rights

Alternative rock radio was now a loud, tuneless blare. Flannel was the new black. Grunge was the new metal. Alternative rock is dead. Long live alternative rock. 

Coming up: FNM, RHCP and RATM – Acronyms of doom. Nu-rock gang-rapes alternative rock’s cooling corpse. Meanwhile, major labels execs find Korn in their shit, feed it to the public.

Bonus download:
Solvent – My Radio.mp3
Electro artist sings nostalgically about how the radio used to be cool, man, but now it’s changed.

-CLT

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