Every month, we’ll be looking back at the music from 1995 to explore why these albums are still relevant to us 25 years later. This month brings us Radiohead’s The Bends, Faith No More’s King For a Day…Fool For a Lifetime, and Morphine’s Yes.
Radiohead—The Bends by Chris Flackett
Goodbye, “Creep.” Hello, Radiohead.
As we’ve discussed previously, the band’s biggest hit to that point had become a beast larger than themselves, threatening to erase the band and leave a hit-playing group of mannequins in its wake. The My Iron Lung EP, released in 1994, was a notice of intent: things were going to change. Then 1995 brought The Bends, and change things did.
An assertion of belief in one’s artistic vision, especially in the face of audience and record label expectation, it took two attempts at recording the album to get it how the band wanted. Even then, EMI couldn’t help meddling, handing the tapes of the sessions to the producers of previous album Pablo Honey to give the record a “more American-style mix,” according to Billboard.
What’s striking about The Bends now, with 25 years of further Radiohead releases allowing us the benefit of hindsight, is that the album isn’t the complete cut-off from their past that something like, say, Kid A, is. When I listen to The Bends now, I’m struck by how much songs like the jaunty strum of “Sulk,” the strutting rhythm of “Bones,” the pretty trilling of “Bullet Proof…I Wish I Was” and the extremely ’90s anthemic college rock of “High and Dry” sound almost like a different band. And yet it doesn’t matter: the songs are that good. Just thinking of “Bones” now gives me a fizzy little rush of energy.
Yes, the late ’80s/early ’90s college rock stylings and song writing of Pablo Honey are still there to a point. It’s just that the song writing had become so much stronger and idiosyncratic.
Take a song like “Just.” Parts Nirvana, parts Sonic Youth, and yet listen to those queasy chord changes, Jonny Greenwood’s very individual controlled noise, equal parts brain, brawn and ecstatic release! While Radiohead may have only very occasionally “rocked” since, the sound of “Just” is unmistakably that of Radiohead.
Elsewhere, the likes of “Planet Telex,” with its ambient washes of soundscape, and the terrifyingly stark and desolate acoustics of “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” sketch out the obsession with textures and atmosphere that albums like Kid A and The King of Limbs, and songs like “Knives Out” and “In Limbo” make good on (as if you could make good on songs which are already brilliant in their own right, but Radiohead did it all the same).
In the years since The Bends, Radiohead have done their best to distance themselves from rock—partly from artistic development, but also out of a disdain for loud guitars and rock culture and a fear of the popularity that drove them to the brink of madness when OK Computer went stratospheric.
But they shouldn’t. As The Bends proves, they were damn good at it. I love what Radiohead have done since, but when they’ve melded rock into the ambient developments they’ve made since, on songs such as “2+2=5” and “Bodysnatchers,” they proved they could make guitar music sound even more individual to them, and exciting too.
For now, we have The Bends. Radiohead’s present starts here. Thank God!
Faith No More—King for a Day…Fool for a Lifetime by Laura Stewart
I remember the exact day Faith No More’s King for a Day…Fool for a Lifetime came out. Back in March 1995, you’d learn all about upcoming releases from NME or Melody Maker, and the radio and MTV to a lesser extent. It had been three years since Angel Dust, one of my most listened-to albums of all time, and the one that cemented my love for the band and Mike Patton for eternity. They were loved universally in my gang of mostly male friends, and we were so hyped for this release. We were all 15-16 years old, in our last year of school before college/Sixth Form, and this album became the soundtrack for those final months of exam hell and the cider-drinking and weed-smoking that went hand in hand with it.
The single “Digging The Grave” had been released in February, and the band even performed on Top of the Pops, which I had video recorded off the TV and watched on repeat. “Digging The Grave” was a fairly standard Faith No More metal track, an absolute powerhouse from start to finish, and when it was played in Baron’s nightclub, we would all go ballistic. I have slightly mixed feelings about the track, as my then-boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend took the opportunity to pull me to the ground and repeatedly kick me in the head while no one really noticed due to said ballisticness. My boyfriend’s friend did eventually notice and carried me off the dance floor like a knight in shining armour (I dated him not long after). Ah the good old days.
Anyway, the rest of King For a Day… is pain-free, but it did drive a wedge between my friends. We were basically split down the middle as to whether the album was good or not. It was certainly different. Yes, there were still classic FNM tracks such as “Cuckoo for Caca” (rumoured to be about Mike Patton’s love of scat play), “Ugly in the Morning,” “What a Day” and “The Gentle Art of Making Enemies,” which featured Patton’s growling howls, but there was also something very new. We all knew Mike Patton could sing, but perhaps not this well.
The guitarist, Jim Martin, made quite a shocking departure from the band having been fired due to musical differences (via fax sent by keyboardist, Roddy Bottum so they say), so everyone was expecting a new sound, but this was really something else. Mike Patton was the new Frank Sinatra. He crooned his way through “Ricochet,” “Just A Man,” “Take This Bottle” and “Evidence” and it was surprisingly perfect. I fell in love all over again. Faith No More had grown up (sort of) and wore suits, cut their hair and wrote really great jazz/funk/rock songs. The long shorts and sneakers and squeaky voices were gone, and yes some of the great guitar riffs were lost too, but not entirely. There was a bit of something for everyone on King For a Day… oh and that title track, it is magnificent—melancholy, orchestral and haunting.
Even 25 years on when I listen to this album it doesn’t sound dated at all. As each track plays I think to myself, “oh this is my favourite,” then the next one and the next one. It is absurd, hilarious, heartbreaking and musically exquisite. I always admired FNM for just doing what they wanted. I don’t think anyone was quite aware of Mike Patton’s scope as a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist before this. Now of course, he is in something like a thousand bands of every genre and style, creates screaming and howling noises for video games, and is still the coolest man on the planet. Patton has since earned critical praise for his diverse array of vocal techniques, and VVN Music found Patton possesses the widest vocal range of any known singer in popular music, with a range of six octaves. Impressive.
King For A Day… introduced me to so many other genres and styles of music, and this angsty teen needed that. It didn’t have to be all metal for it to be great alternative music. Faith No More were unique, and influenced many great rock bands such as Deftones, Slipknot, Korn and System of a Down, who are all good in their own right, but will never reach the heights of Faith No More. Their subtle legacy will live on forever. Have faith.
Morphine—Yes by John Bernardy
Yes came out right before my 17th birthday, completely unannounced except for when I was going through the Chicago Tribune ads and saw it right there out of the blue in (I think) a Sam Goody ad. That whole school day I was pumped. I don’t think I’d anticipated an album this much since the Star Wars Trilogy The Original Soundtrack Anthology set from a few years earlier.
I adored—still do—Morphine’s previous album Cure for Pain, and was so disappointed it hadn’t made its way to the radio. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever hear from the band again.
And yet here I was, seeing the album cover of Yes right in the grid with all the other new big releases. Considering the leap of quality between Good and Cure for Pain and the sudden retailer attention—plus being ready for my birthday—it all pointed to Yes being huge!
What did I end up feeling once I listened to it? I liked it quite a bit, but it still felt a little disappointing. It was hard to quantify how the band went in a different direction, but it worked.
If I had to classify it now, I’d say Yes is half break-up album, and half beatnik poetry, with equal portions of silly and sexy. While it could never be Cure For Pain 2, I’m glad for this album.
“Honey White” kicks in strong and fast with a story about being with a woman who’d promised herself to the devil in the end. And she’s probably leading both parties on.
“Scratch” is much more Morphine-smooth, almost like it’s starting over the album after the first song did singer Mark Sandman wrong. “Radar” ends the trio of relationship songs, especially when Sandman stops the instruments to drop an actual calendar date that you know his listener would implicitly know. It’ll make you think “oh damn, there’s a real story in there.”
“Whisper” is one of the band’s best and smoothest songs. Sandman says “don’t worry I’m not looking at you,” but of course he is. The way Sandman’s two-string fretless bass slides around just barely out of tune—plus Dana Colley’s layered saxophone work—is exactly why I want to tear the frets out of my bass and re-create his instrument.
The instrumentation on “Yes” is fantastic, but the first verse where “yes” is the only word introduces the beatnik vibe to the album. “All Your Way” brings the band back with possibly the best melody Sandman sings. The lyrics are fascinating: is he giving in to someone’s wishes, or finally developing empathy to see her side of things? The answer fluctuates so much I still don’t know the answer. Great song.
After having listened to “Whisper” I had no idea how much “Super Sex” was going to make me blush, but it ended up feeling like a corporate feeling version of sexy. The bass and sax was there, but the song doesn’t show, it just tells. My thought is there’s a playful satire in here too, playing it both ways.
“I Had My Chance” is the most commercial of this album’s songs—proven when it was used in the Get Shorty soundtrack—it’s as classic a song about regret as you can get, even when you include the hand grenade metaphor when Sandman says “tick” repeatedly. Somehow, he sells that stuff. Must be the deep roomy vocals.
He sells “The Jury” too even though it’s abstract rhythm with a literal beat poem on top of it (likely written by the song’s co-writer Frank Swart). This really sets the tone to sell the awesome goofiness of “Sharks.” This one’s a simple speedy riff that cuts out for the verses, which are little metaphor packages. It’s a really fun way to deliver a message basically about “get out of there before they get you.”
“Free Love” is my least favorite song to listen to on the album. Sandman holds the notes long and puts on an air that feels sloggy. And this on top of both the bass and sax having a simple line through the song—usually it’s one or the other. However, if there is a story on this album, this is probably the one where the singer finally acknowledges the truth of the facts and is finally done. Love isn’t free. Don’t bank on it. I’m done.
And then where does the story go from there? To a simple sweet melody over a single guitar. With all the last song’s distance, “Gone For Good” is real, authentic and special. It’s a goodbye after there’s already been a goodbye, and the tones and notes in the song are respectful of what the relationship had meant to him. There’s zero bravado here, and even though there’s no sax or bass, this was the perfect way for Yes to end.
Was this album as huge as I expected? No, but that’s okay. This time, I knew Morphine wasn’t going to fade away. These guys were here for good.