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Cassette (Re)collection: 2

Posted by NumberSix , 16 September 2009 · 391 views

I was initially raised on WIBC, an AM radio station that was 75% news and 25% Top-40-lite. Eventually I graduated from AM to FM when I learned how to operate a radio for myself. WZPL was my entry point into the full spectrum of Top-40, though I would later learn to prefer Casey Kasem's weekly syndicated American Top 40 radio show, which in Indianapolis was broadcast on WENS (whereas WZPL chose to side with Rick Dees' inferior counterpart). In high school I began working part-time at McDonald's on late shifts that would lead me to discover Post-Modern MTV and 120 Minutes as an after-work sonic cocktail. From there came the need to know more about music beyond major-label product. The quest would lead me to the original readable version of Spin and other music magazines, and then to Ira Robbins' invaluable Trouser Press Record Guide, which I read from cover to cover more than once because I wanted to know and hear more.

Eventually I got old, and -- as with my elders -- my need to keep pushing my musical boundaries sank to a lower priority level compared to my other hobbies, but the resulting music collection remains.

And now, on with the countdown.

The Alarm -- After several barely noticed albums, this Welsh band (I was always told they were Scottish, but I now see the Internets say otherwise) managed to generate enough singles by 1990 to warrant a greatest-hits package. Standards, then, collects their beginnings as a would-be U2 whose every song was an attempt at a soul-stirring power-chord anthem, evident in the simplistic self-empowerment protests of "The Stand", "Spirit of '76", and "Sixty-Eight Guns" (a distant, more muscular forefather to today's "21 Guns"). Later years saw them metamorphose into just another corporate bar band, best embodied by the more mild-mannered rawk of their most well-known song, "Sold Me Down the River". The only aggravating misstep in this otherwise harmless best-of is a sappy by-the-numbers cover of "Happy Christmas (War is Over)" that will never be collected on any holiday anthology, and this serves no good purpose other than to clarify their stance on war in general, in case all the other songs left any ambiguity.

Listeners in search of extra credit can go dig up a copy of their 1991 album Raw (which I discarded in a previous purge) to check out their equally unnecessary cover of Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World", an ironic firebrand negated by their arena-happy treatment.

Alice in Chains -- When local metal/alt-rock station WRZX debuted in 1992, 90% of their initial playlist consisted of two albums: Metallica's "Black Album" and Alice in Chains' Dirt. Even seventeen years later, nearly all of the songs on both albums remain in constant rotation. I found them so ridiculously, maddeningly overplayed that both albums are no longer in my collection. If I want to hear them today, I can turn on X103 and just wait fifteen minutes.

For years I've clung to Alice in Chains' first album Facelift, from which "Man in the Box" was likewise overexposed (in both its original and censored versions, either of which X103 will play depending on the time of day), but the rest of which was kept safe from airplay. As someone who was once hypnotized by all things grunge during the '90s, I lumped Facelift in with that movement and have retained it largely on those grounds. The first four tracks -- the aforementioned "Box" as well as "We Die Young", "Sea of Sorrow", and "Bleed the Freak" -- are still a killer set of hammering wall-of-sound manic depression, and side 2's "Put You Down" is an incongruously bouncy intermission. Upon further listening, though, the rest of this album has become thudding, unattractive, and too much of an aural barbiturate. I'd like to think I'm not being unduly influenced by original lead singer Layne Staley's death by overdose in 2002, but in retrospect the bulk of Facelift sounds like a dark, bombastic cry for help.

[Next entry: one-hit spiritual rap and some Canadians who became big like LeAnn Rimes.]

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