Gin Blossoms, New Miserable Experience

Gin Blossoms

Apparently, there’s a wicked case of nostalgia going around. I had no idea until I read Chuck Klosterman’s recent Grantland article (which I highly recommend) on the epidemic, but you know what? I’m kind of glad Chuck said something because now I feel less alone. I’ve been weirdly obsessed with the 90s for … well, a while now. It started with watching Thirtysomething reruns on tv, and then Northern Exposure on DVD. And the more I was re-exposed to the 90s, the more I’ve wanted 90s stuff – to the point that I’ve even got Soul Asylum on my iPod. Really. Soul Asylum. It’s becoming a problem.

But it all fits in rather well with a band I’ve been wanting to post about for a long time: Gin Blossoms and, specifically, their 1992 album, New Miserable Experience. Gin Blossoms are a band that kind of just faded away into unimportance, although this was a pretty great album. I suppose it’s not really the kind of album that gets referred to as one of the best of its time or anything, and – sadly for the band – it doesn’t really help anything that their lead songwriter (or, at least, the one who wrote their biggest hits), Doug Hopkins, was fired from the band just before this album was released and then committed suicide not long after. The band continued with a new guitarist, but either it just wasn’t the same without him or the Gin Blossoms were a band destined only for a specific moment.

Honestly, I’m not even sure what that moment was – an idea Chuck explains in his article that I found incredibly interesting: some music makes you nostalgic falsely, that you didn’t really listen to it at a great time in your life so much as you listened to it a lot at some point in your past. That notion really rang true with me; there are indeed some albums that are so intertwined with a specific (good) time of my life, that they are nearly inseparable. Pearl Jam’s Ten will always, always conjure up warm feelings associated with buying a much-desired album with saved pocket money, a weird sense of music-induced independence – the first album I loved fiercely, all on my own. New Miserable Experience doesn’t bring back any specific memory, only a sense of fondness. Back then, I didn’t have that many tapes, and I think Chuck is probably right that we used to listen to fewer albums more often. Through sheer repetition, Gin Blossoms became a band that I feel nostalgic about.

But that’s not really fair to the album and the band. New Miserable Experience really is a good album – early 90s alternative pop at its very best. Sure, its sound is most definitely of its time but, as a pop record, it holds up really well. It’s got mad catchy hooks everywhere you turn, so the songs burrow into your head and refuse to let go. It’s got the kind of melodies you absolutely can’t help but sing along to. Not terribly challenging listening, but here’s where I think Chuck missed one tiny aspect of musical nostalgia: a side effect of listening to one album a lot is that it becomes extremely easy to listen to. You know every note, you remember the lyrics years and years later, the melodies are so familiar you don’t have to think about it at all. It’s second-nature, and relaxing because of it. I think that’s also why I’ve been enjoying those old tv shows – they’re silly and naive, but they are so simple and easy to watch. Sometimes you don’t want to think about it, you just want to sing along.

The B-52’s, Cosmic Thing: the real #1?

The B-52s, Cosmic Thing

For many, many years, I’ve claimed that Pearl Jam’s Ten was my first album purchase but it recently occurred to me – holy crap! – have I been lying about that all this time?!

Not that my real #1, now that I see my mistake, isn’t just as cool. My deception was accidental, I assure you – I promise I was not trying to look cooler than I am. Please. I freely admit I adored New Kids On The Block. The cool ship has sailed.

So anyway, I recently went on a miniature album shopping spree and, at the last minute, threw The B-52’s Cosmic Thing into my cart. It was by the register and stuff. Listening to it the next day, I couldn’t get over how fresh, fun, and surprisingly not dated it sounded. Honestly, I bought it thinking it would be a nostalgic giggle and not much more. “Love Shack”, anyone? But that never was the best track on Cosmic Thing and I should’ve remembered that.

Taken aback by how much I still loved it, and not in a kitschy sort of way at all, I looked it up and – wha?! – found out that it was released in 1989. That’s a whole TWO years before Pearl Jam released the amazingness that is Ten. Even if my 9-year-old self took a while to catch on and buy Cosmic Thing, it still came first. Whoopsie. Sorry I lied to y’all for so long.

When I thought about it a bit more, I actually remembered the exact day I bought it – on cassette! From Phar-Mor!! I had a little pocket money I’d gotten as a gift or something, I’d guess around $10, and I couldn’t decide whether I wanted some specific Barbie or the B-52’s album. I guess I wasn’t really your typical 9-year-old girl. I must’ve been dimly aware that I’d already prolonged the decision-making process out to a near-painful point, because I remember choosing the Barbie, in part, just to be done with it so my father and I could go home already. I was known for this type of separation anxiety when it came to my pocket money. But, perhaps predictably, I regretted it almost immediately and was in quiet, trying-to-hold-them-back tears by the time we got home a few minutes later. I wonder if I’d have done the same if I’d gone the other way in the store? I guess not, because Dad was crazy nice about it and took me back to exchange the Barbie (though he really must’ve wanted to shake me silly by that point) and I never looked back. I mean, I totally still played with Barbies, but I didn’t want one more than I wanted that album. I guess I was a budding music dork long before I knew what that meant.

But back to the album. Maybe not as ass-kicking as Pearl Jam, but Cosmic Thing is still – after 22 years, that’s a scary thought – a really great album. It feels just like the time, but also like it totally could’ve come out this year – both nostalgic and timeless somehow. Fred Schneider’s freaky speak-singing really should be annoying or gimmicky, but it fits here, alongside Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson’s angelic harmonies, to make something unusual and pretty, poppy and alternative. “Roam” is still my favorite track, it’s just too dreamy, though I have always loved the quirkiness of “Junebug”. Whatever, the whole album’s classic – get it yourself right here.

The B-52’s – Roam
The B-52’s – Junebug

Friday Favorite: R.E.M.

R.E.M. – Orange Crush