A YEAR IN MUSIC: HÉROES DEL SILENCIO – Senderos de Traición (1990)

Review by: Jaime Vargas Sánchez

When we were proposed this “A year in music” thing, I decided that the best way for me (especially for music from when I was alive) was to relate the albums to my personal history, since that gives me a sense of perspective. In that respect, 1990 is a very particular year. It was the year I finished high school and started college, with an awesome summer in between, and as such I always am surprised when I look at lists of albums from 1990 because they seem to cover a larger timespan than one year – because albums from early 1990 are remembered as “happening” to a totally different person than albums from late 1990.

But I don’t want to make this too personal, because then I’d have to select as “most important” Led Zeppelin’s Remasters (the 2-CD summary of their box set), which was only second to the Rolling Stones’ show in Barcelona in shaping my future listening self (no, I didn’t attend, I saw it on TV). So, from an overall perspective I’d say the album of 1990 in my immediate surroundings was “Senderos de Traición” by Héroes del Silencio (a band which is mainly known by 3 groups of people: a) Spanish-speaking audiences, b) Germans – if the contemporary accounts of their success there are accurate – and c) players of Guitar Hero 3). But really, in late 1990 and especially 1991 the hits from this album were EVERYWHERE, and the guys were bona fide stars. I personally didn’t like them, but I don’t know whether that was due to my recent allegiance to classic rock (“everything after 1979 is shit”) which today seems to me like the faith of the converse (yes, in the 80s I liked Italo disco and I’m not ashamed anymore), or to my dislike to what I perceived as unfounded arrogance. In fact I didn’t reconcile with the Héroes until I read some refreshingly self-deprecating comments by singer Enrique Bunbury after they had already disbanded.

Or maybe it was because they didn’t play guitar hero solos. Listening to it today, although the album historically fit into the “return to rock” aesthetic of the early 90s, sonically it’s still got some of the 80’s earmarks. Not the most plastic elements of that – Phil Manzanera’s production is organic enough – but the guitars have those clean-sound-with-reverb-echo-and-chorus/flanger earmarks of the Smiths / U2 / Simple Minds persuasion. Guitarist Juan Valdivia plays few solos, and those he plays are usually built around the chord changes instead of indulging in blues rock cliches, and prefers to devise arpeggio patterns. Singer Enrique Bunbury harmonizes with himself here and there, which together with his powerful and affected voice made him sound larger than life (that he seemed to pattern some of his on-stage demeanor after Jim Morrison in an era in which people were more or less rediscovering the Doors also helped), and the songs were a bit of a mix of hard rock attitude, goth rock sounds and pop sensibilities. Maybe a good comparison could be the then-contemporary The Cult. So, overall, an album that I remember as being in the environment rather than belonging to MY personal history, but which I can recommend today without hesitation.

A YEAR IN MUSIC: MEGADETH – Rust in Peace (1990)

Review by: Dinar Khayrutdinov

Thrash metal was still hot in 1990, but this is not why this album was so successful in the charts and acclaimed by critics. Why was it that well-received, though? What distinguishes it from other thrash metal albums? The answer is quite simple – it simply went one step beyond everything the genre was known for: ferocious riffage, technical complexity, kick-ass speed and angry, socially conscious lyrics. Remember that movie, ‘This Is Spinal Tap’, where a rock band members really wanted to go ‘one louder’ by having their amps ‘go to 11’? This is what Megadeth did on this album (not literally, of course). Rust in Peace is an onslaught from the very opening riffs of ‘Holy Wars… The Punishment Due’ to the closing chords of ‘My Creation’, but not in the all-out crazy way either, no siree! Megadeth sure as hell ain’t Slayer. Mustaine is clever enough to amp up the songwriting, the musicianship and the production too instead of just going for speed and aggression. But the main thing is here, folks: THIS IS A CONSISTENTLY ENTERTAINING ALBUM! Every song has something to offer, be it hooky guitar lines (yes! they manage to make thrash-metal catchy!), tasty solos, time signature changes (they’re almost going prog on some of the songs!) or ironic lyrics about wars, nuclear holocausts and government conspiracies (with aliens!).

So, in a nutshell, this is why Rust in Peace is my favorite 1990 album. It pushes the boundaries of thrash-metal in every direction without ever going “out-of-the-genre”: it’s still just thrash metal, yeah, but it’s THAT good. If you’re a metalhead, you have probably already heard it. If you’re not but you have at least a passing interest in metal, this is not one to miss.

A YEAR IN MUSIC: MEREDITH MONK – Book of Days (1990)

Review by: Andreas Georgi

Meredith Monk is a vocalist, composer and choreographer who is a truly singular artist. Monk uses her impressive vocal chops to weave wordless vocalizations that involve all possible “extended techniques” to create abstract soundscapes that evoke the feeling that she is tapping into some primordial communication beyond language and rationality. Personally, I find I have to shut off the part of my brain that wants to analyze and categorize things, and allow the music to tap into something deeper.
“Book of Days” is basically the soundtrack to a film of the same name, done two years earlier. The theme is roughly the story of a Jewish girl in Medieval Europe somewhere. The album’s tracks are extended versions of pieces used in the movie. The accompaniment is relatively sparse, using mostly instruments that are consistent with the Medieval theme and feel of the album. The music ranges from delicate to surreal to harrowing as themes of hope, wonder, fear and more. The feel and subject matter are decidedly Medieval, but the sparse use of synthesizer with the period instruments ties the themes to modern concerns.
If you haven’t listened this Meredith Monk it may take a bit of work to get it. This is as good as any place to start exploring her work. I’ve only seen short bits of the film, but it’s quite surreal and interesting. My knowledge of her work is hardly comprehensive, but other works of hers that I can recommend are “Songs of Ascension” and “Facing North”, both of which show different aspects of her artistry.
Thumbs up for sure!

A YEAR IN MUSIC: WEEN – GodWeenSatan: The Oneness (1990)

Review by: Francelino Prazeres de Azevedo Filho

I had already listened to The Mollusk a few times before I tried this album, in my opinion it was a good album, but nothing spectacular. I got to download GWS more out of George Starostin’s praise of this album rather than anything else. The first two or three times I put GWS on my headphones, nothing came out but disappointment: it was a huge cacophonous mess.

To give it one last chance, I put it on the USB drive I use on my car, as I like to discover new music on my routine driving. It came up when I was going from home to college one day, and this time it was different. You Fucked Up, Tick, I’m in the Mood to Move, it was trully a mess, but not cacophonous, or at least the good kind of cacophonous! Somehow the album finally got to me, and I could see both the trees and the forest! There are few things one can experience in their life better than when you first perceive an album’s greatness, it is a sublime experience, and that day will always be in my memory. By the time the album diversified into stuff like Up on the Hill or Nicole, it felt like my mind was being opened to a whole new musical universe, but with an axe! I actually got to college before the album was through, but the rest of it surely didn’t disappoint, with Squelch the Weasel being a prog-parody better than the whole of The Mollusk. I’ll never forget that day, and I’ll always treasure GodWeenSatan as the musical marvel it is!

A YEAR IN MUSIC: LLOYD COLE – Lloyd Cole (The X Album) (1990)

Review by: Charly Saenz

Well Lloyd Cole is not losing his charm with the years. His voice is even better and his sound is even more classic. This album came out in 1990, after the Commotions split up so it’s an important step in his career. 

“Don’t Look Back” is a somehow laid back beginning with that guitar sweetly jangling along and the classic Cole sound all over, but this time with more punch, the voice and sound is more direct. The female chorus marks the melody hook and the lyrics are the now usual pessimist/realistic Lloyd (“I used to wake up early, now it’s hard to sleep”).

“What Do You Know About Love” is a little darker and it’s a gem the Commotions should have recorded. Great vibe and it must be better when heard on the walkman in the rain. Yeah the walkman. “No Blue Skies” is another radio classic and “Loveless” the easygoing ballad about.. “You fall back into the english way of feeling guilt only ‘cause you feel no pain/You’re crying’ and pleading’ and you’re hell just to be with”, I bet you’re singing to yourself, old boy. Or to me, well, who knows.

Things get a little tougher with “Sweetheart” and a bitter but slightly satisfied goodbye (“I got your letter baby the one that said you’ve been loving me too long/Maybe we should kick it in the head”). But the real winner in this album for me is “Downtown”, an amazing, rolling song where the girls sing their lungs out to accompany an infectious chorus, that killer harmonica and the ever present organ. “Undressed” is another stolen Commotions bit, adorable and engaging.

The rest has some filler, here and there, but the guy tries things, “Mercy Killing” is a great ending with an almost psychedelic vibe and that hanging note in the end.

This is, ladies and gentlemen, first class Pop. LOTS OF HOOKS and a fantastic company for your iced tea (it’s hot like hell in here) or a cool Mimosa if you’re more adventurous.

Don’t let it waste with other trash from its time. Lloyd still has a lot to say, he did electronica, instrumental stuff and more these days. This was only the beginning after a great career with the Commotions. Good pop is like the salt of the earth in music. Let’s drink to that.

A YEAR IN MUSIC: PREFAB SPROUT – Jordan: The Comeback (1990)

Review by: Nina A

I have been reliably informed that Jordan: The Comeback is my favourite album from 1990. I have also been encouraged to write about it because it would be good to have it represented. And I agree, this album is important – maybe ultimately not important to the state of pop music 1990 or after but certainly important in the band’s history and since the album covers “Love, Elvis, God and Death – all the big topics” as NME has apparently put it, it has the capacity to become important for the listener too.
Prefab Sprout were up to that point generally critically praised for their melancholy but tuneful pop songs, and were known for Thomas Dolby’s lush production, Wendy Smith’s angelic vocal contributions and songwriter Paddy McAloon’s special brand of songwriting (and I feel that the rhythm section of Martin McAloon and Neil Conti also deserves a mention for the tight sound). All of these features are turned up to 11 in Jordan: The Comeback with Thomas Dolby once again involved with the production and adding an extra dimension with to sound. Several songs here deserve special mention, and I feel that the first six track from the opening “Looking for Atlantis” through the title track serve excellently to establish the sound of this album and the newfound maturity with which Paddy tackles subjects and themes that strongly suggest that the protagonist of this album has reached a point in his life where he looks back at life so far and doesn’t shy away from looking toward… well, Jordan beckoning at the end. Some gentle reminiscing in “We Let the Stars Go” and longing for the times of youthful energy in “Wild Horses” are excellently complemented by the main themes of retrospection and making peace with oneself on the cusp of a new era in “Carnival 2000” – a song about entering the new millennium but curiously predating it by a whole decade. Somewhere around track 13 – Paris Smith – the album briefly descends into what I’d say is a somewhat weaker aspect of most Prefab Sprout record b-sides – the midtempo & drawn-out vocals noodling that Paddy seems so fond of. I wouldn’t say that any of the songs on here don’t have their individual merits and inherent beauty but in a 19 track album such as Jordan: the Comeback they can be a bit of a drag to sit through. An interesting highlight here is the next track – The Wedding March – with its nostalgic vibe, and the album closes strongly with the gorgeous Doo-Wop in Harlem, helped here by atmospheric production and of course Paddy’s own gentle vocals, and making a really strong case for the emotional resonance of this record. In conclusion, Jordan: the Comeback is a worthy contribution to the pop-canon of 1990 and a strong contender for your love too, dear listener.

A YEAR IN MUSIC: COCTEAU TWINS – Heaven or Las Vegas (1990)

Review by: Alex Alex

Almost none of the Cocteau Twins albums have “normal” lyrics, the songs featuring a random set of stupid short words instead. Because of this clever artistic decision all the Cocteau Twins albums sound exactly the same. Of those identical albums “Heaven or Las Vegas” is not the one you need. The one you need is “Treasure”.  You have to make sure you have “Treasure” in case you have any other Cocteau Twins albums, otherwise people may think you are an ignorant idiot. Once you have acquired “Treasure”, and trying to leave the market, they will try to sell you all the other Cocteau Twins albums. Those are simply accessories: chargers, earplugs, used condoms with the “Apple” logo. “Heaven or Las Vegas” is one such. Musically, in accordance to the long before established formula, an interplay between the boom-boom of a big, guitar-shaped phallus and the cultured, reserved and disciplined through the years orgasmic screams of a newly-born sperm it holds as fine as any of their previous work because new people are born naïve and remain so through all the suffering. 

A YEAR IN MUSIC: THE POSIES – Dear 23 (1990)

Review by: Roland Bruynesteyn

This is a marvellous album. Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer, the main players and composers would later ‘join’ a regrouping of Big Star, and you can clearly hear why they were asked to join, and why they accepted with pleasure. The Posies really are Big Star for the 90’s, with a touch of Byrds and a (big) whiff of Beatles influence. Most songs sound like you knew them already, or at least, that they already existed for the music is more ‘of a certain time’ than timeless.
Although the first sound you hear is an electric guitar, the album has a very ‘acoustic’ feeling: every song includes acoustic guitar. I DO think that the sound is a little thin; whether it’s the engineer or the producer I don’t know, but on a good system you hear that there is a little more potential.
The last song, Flood of Sunshine, is great as it is, but would have become an all-time classic epic if it had a speeded up section (like 21st Century Schizoid Man or Free as a Bird (or even more of a build-up (like Buckingham Green, or For Crying Out Loud). All in all, I think this album is severely underrated and deserves a listen by any pop music lover.

A YEAR IN MUSIC: PAUL MCCARTNEY – Tripping the Live Fantastic (1990)

Review by: Roland Bruynesteyn

The 1989-1990 world tour was Paul McCartney’s first one since Wings. The 80’s had started great, with some solo hits hits with Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder, but Press to play did not help move things forward. Flowers in the dirt was a big improvement, and not surprisingly, Paul had still enough appeal to get people to see him live.
No doubt they came for the Beatles songs mostly, but even if you take into account that Paul wanted you to like his newer songs and he mixed them with his older repertoire on purpose, most of the new songs do in fact stand up to his older work: there’s no big difference in quality between, say Jet and My brave face in my opinion. At the same time, he goes back even further in time, by including some older rockers (Ain’t that a shame, Kansans City).
Anyway, the biggest appeal of the album is the live performance of many Beatles songs that had never been heard in a live context by concert goers, and mostly had never been played live before. Although some synthesizer sounds (The Long and Winding Road…) and the generally slick production make it sound somewhat dated, on the whole this is a very strong performance. Some little things do annoy me a little: the silly jokes (“Here’s a song you probably never heard, that Bobby wrote this morning, actually”, before starting Got to Get You into My Life, interludes like If I Were Not upon This Stage). And Ebony and Ivory is just not a good song, no matter how deep the message is…
But as a live performance this set the template for future Paul McCartney tours and cd sets and proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt that Paul McCartney is not just a great composer; he’s a great entertainer as well.

A YEAR IN MUSIC: JOHN MAYALL – A Sense of Place (1990)

Review by: Roland Bruynesteyn

John Mayall is most famous for picking great musicians, including more than half of Cream and Fleetwood Mac, as members of his Bluesbreakers, that would go on to have successful solo careers. But he’s a competent singer (somewhat nasally sounding however) and a good blues pianist and harmonica player himself as well. And he is a decent composer and arranger and he has a great talent for picking songs to cover. What’s not to like? During the early nineties he had a sort of renaissance, like many of the 60’s greats and this one sort of started it commercially. The next three albums for the Silvertone label would expand on this. This latest incarnation of the Bluesbreakers consisted of Coco Montoya on guitar, Freebo on bass (only on 3 out of 11 songs however, on 8 tracks the bass is played by ‘additional musician’ Bobbie Haynes) and Joe Yuele on drums, with Sonny Landreth guesting on slide.

It all comes together nicely on Sensitive kind (J.J. Cale cover), where Coco and Sonny play together great, with Sonny’s slide sounding like a dobro some of the time. John should have played acoustic piano, but it’s OK as it is. Let’s work together is better known as Let’s stick together, and here it gets a duo treatment: just John singing, playing piano and blowing that harmonica, with Sonny providing tasteful slide accompaniment.

In a way this is generic blues, with blues being a rather generic genre of itself already. Do not look for innovation here. But everything is not just performed professionally, they play enthusiastically, with gusto. And the variety of styles is quite nice.