311- 311 (The Blue Album)
By Bryan O’Donnell
My first musical obsession was Metallica, but I would say my most intense obsession was 311, during my high school years. I had all of the albums, including the “imports.” I knew their lyrics front to back and saw them live at least a half-dozen times in a short time period.
Although my favorite 311 album ultimately ended up being Grassroots, it was the self-titled “blue” album that introduced me to the band. Released July 11, 1995, the band’s third album brought 311 more into the mainstream with singles “Down,” “All Mixed Up,” and “Don’t Stay Home,” moving them up with the likes of Red Hot Chili Peppers and Beastie Boys as bands that mixed alternative, funk, and rap. 311 also included a bit of reggae in their sound, something that drew me to them more than other rock/rap bands of the time.
The Blue Album was 311’s most popular album for a good reason. Yes, it had those three catchy singles mentioned above. But the album’s other songs are just as good—better, even. “Random” and “Jackolantern’s Weather” both have elements of what I loved about 311: Great grooves, lyrics that were a blast to sing along to, and the perfect mix of vocalists Nick Hexum and SA Martinez. Revisiting the album for this write-up, I can confirm I still know all the lyrics to “Jackolantern’s Weather”—both vocal parts—and it’s still fun to sing along to. (“Smooth like Reggie Miller in an airborne freeze frame/Funky like the kung-fu that can put you to shame.”)
“Hive” has a big party vibe, which definitely appealed to my high school-age self at the time, and features some of SA Martinez’s fastest lyrics. I remember reading the liner notes (back when listening to CDs was the most common way of consuming music) to figure out what the hell he was saying and trying to mimic it. Even knowing the words, I couldn’t match the speed.
“Loco” is an interesting 311 tune. Rather than the alternating verses, this song features Hexum and Martinez singing together for the entire song, with Martinez providing the perfect amount of harmony to give the song a very unique sound.
And album closer “T & P Combo” (named after guitarist Tim Mahoney and bassist P-Nut) closes things out with a bang. This song is 311 at its best: Tim and P-Nut laying down a high-energy groove, drummer Chad Sexton pounding out the beat with precision, and Hexum and Martinez providing their signature complementary alternating vocals.
With the Blue Album featuring a number of funked-out rockers, I think what makes it so special is its two incredible lower-key, “chill” songs—“Purpose” and “Sweet.” Their feel-good vibe round out the album; they give it heart. Also, the guitar solo in “Sweet” is killer.
For me, 311’s Blue Album is at the center of the band’s heyday. My fandom hit its peak with the release of 1997’s Transistor and lasted through From Chaos. But if it wasn’t for the Blue Album, I probably would not have been the rabid 311 fan that I was.
Ani DiFranco- Not a Pretty Girl
By John Bernardy
I tend to think of Not A Pretty Girl as the studio versions of songs I love from Living In Clip—Ani’s 2-disk live album released two years after this—which was how I met her music. Does that mean I think this album is worse for it? Not at all, but it certainly has different energy when not performed with an audience that has just as much familiarity with the music as she did.
While Living In Clip is a conversation, Not A Pretty Girl is more of a presentation—though her poem “Tiptoe” has that in-the-same-room feeling thanks to hearing her audibly approach the microphone halfway through the track. It’s an excellent implication of space.
What’s most important about this album is how it begins introducing Ani to the mainstream. “32 Flavors” is the song for that, even though Alana Davis’ 1998 cover is the one that made it to the radio in a major way. Ani’s forever known as the indie scene angry woman to a lot of people thanks to this portion of her career, but Not A Pretty Girl explains how that’s often a misnomer. Specifically, the album’s title track takes this on directly.
I am not an angry girl
But it seems like I’ve got everyone fooled
Every time I say something they find hard to hear
They chalk it up to my anger
And never to their own fear
As best I can see it, Ani does a better job than pretty much anybody of explaining what it’s like to live as a female in the particular patriarchy of 1990s America, in all the different aspects that could mean. While she can get loud, more so DiFranco’s a poet about it. She’s incredibly eloquent no matter what she’s talking about. She’s more often making quieter songs that go on journeys. Sure, she yells “I could be the million that you never made” near the end of “The Million You Never Made” but that’s one of the few instances of overt aggression towards the oppressive patriarchy (that she’s smashing) on this album.
“Shy” gets in my head more than most of this album’s songs. It’s all about taking chances with someone, but the imagery of the rooms and situations are much more vivid than most songs in this subject matter. “Shy” is not saccharine, it’s realism—no matter how poetic she’ll get with it. You feel her locking herself in a bathroom to think just as much as you’ll feel her confidently telling her object of desire to not be shy together. It’s a fully realized narrator solid enough to be the lead in fiction stories.
Another noteworthy song is “Sorry I Am,” a meandering explanation of regrets that is quiet and exploratory, no anger to be found. “Light of Some Kind” goes at how women are supposed to hold their tongue and lie to get by, something Ani will always refuse to do. No guilt or shame as her main operating system. “Asking Too Much” is a conversation that hinges on this punctuation to her coda: that she wants someone who isn’t afraid of her and who isn’t afraid of themselves. I’d go so far as to say this also describes her ideal listener. And the ideal state you’re in after listening to this album.
Foo Fighters- Foo Fighters
By Chris Flackett
Imagine you’re the drummer in the biggest rock band in the world when, not only the main songwriter and personality in the band, but also your friend, commits suicide. Apart from the depression and the grief of losing your bandmate and friend, it’s the disorientation of becoming untethered from such a stratospheric phenomenon – where do you go from there?
For Dave Grohl, there were no firm plans. He turned down offers to play drums for other bands, suspecting the experience would only remind him of Nirvana. But after playing with The Backbeat Band for an MTV awards ceremony and on Mike Watts’ debut solo album, that love for music started to re-emerge. He decided to go into a studio with a bunch of songs he had written over the years and lay them down, not with the desire to release them, but as a kind of DIY catharsis, to work away the pain of his loss.
Looking back at Foo Fighters now, what amazes me is how far Grohl has travelled away from the songs here, having moved further and further into safe, predictable, stadium rock as the years progressed. But the songs on Foo Fighters make no pretence towards so-called tastefulness. While not as muscular as his previous band, Grohl was able to utilise their noise, spirit and energy to record a set of grungy, punky pop songs that owed as much to Hüsker Dü and The Beatles as they do Nirvana.
“This Is a Call” powers along on a sugar rush of glorious melody, punk speed and noise, with a chorus to die for. “Big Me” takes the early Beatles strumalong style and filters it through the looser, ‘90s slacker sound. “Oh, George” and “Exhausted” play with a bittersweet melancholy, like a shadow crossing part way across the sun. “Alone + Easy Target” and “I’ll Stick Around” ride aggressive riffs into big, moody singalong choruses, “Wattershed” goes for full-on punk thrash and “For All The Cows” mixes bluesy picking with a heavier refrain and quirky humour.
In fact, rather than the songs being vehicles for grief, an oddball sense of humour emerges throughout. Look at the song titles alone: “Oh, George,” “Weenie Beenie,” and the aforementioned “For All The Cows.” The last mentioned sees Grohl state that he’s not about to blow it “for all the cows.” “This Is a Call” examines how “fingernails are pretty.” “Wattershed” finds Grohl “pinned against a pot plant” and “pissed about the 5-ham.” No tear-stained confessions here, but the quirkiness of the writing helps to give the songs a real charm.
Foo Fighters proved that, for Grohl, as well as the larger listening world, there really could be life after Nirvana. The rest is history.