What does it sound like?:
Grunge is worthy of more than just a footnote in the history of rock. Briefly, in the early nineties, it made rock music commercially successful again as Nirvana’s Nevermind knocked the Prince of Pop’s Dangerous off the top of the charts, and grunge bands became millionaires.
Cameron Crowe is a rock journalist turned film-maker who decided to ‘write a love letter to Seattle’, the home of grunge, and did so by making a rom-com movie called Singles. As you’d expect from Crowe, an essential ingredient of the film is the music. One character, played by Matt Dillon, is an aspiring musician. The clubs and bars all play grunge and the characters all wear the sloth-style clothing associated with the genre. Many local musicians appear in cameos or in Matt Dillon’s fictional band, Citizen Dick. When he started filming, Nevermind hadn’t been released and Pearl Jam were still called Mookie Blaylock. By the time the film was finished, Grunge was already on the rise and the Original Soundtrack transcended the movie itself, providing a definitive package of the Seattle music scene in 1991/2. Now, twenty-five years on, Singles gets a make over with an additional disc of outtakes and rarities.
Grunge is characterised by dark, introspective lyrics, dwelling on the ugliness of life, backed by a sludgy, riff-laden, distorted swamp of noise. However, Singles, the album, is much more appealing than that. Alice In Chains open with a sinuous bass-line, rumbling drums and a deep throaty vocal on the chorus. The presence of two Pearl Jam tracks may well have attracted sales, especially as they were recorded shortly before their breakthrough album, Ten. Dense guitar textures and Vedder’s impassioned vocals disguise the fact that they are secretly straightforward rockers. The monster that is State Of Love And Trust is the better of the two. The death of Mother Love Bone’s singer, Andrew Wood, from a heroin OD is meant to have inspired the movie. It is only fitting, then, that their epic, Chloe Dancer/Crown Of Thorns, is at the heart of the LP, eight minutes of throbbing, raucous roller-coaster. Nearly Lost You is an illustration of how quickly the Seattle Sound was developing. It is so much more powerful and hard-hitting than anything on Screaming Trees debut album, Uncle Anesthesia. Both Soundgarden and Mudhoney make contributions but neither are particularly telling. There are two blasts from the past. One of them is Seattle’s most famous musician, Jimi Hendrix, whose ballad, May This Be Love, effortlessly highlights how limited Grunge guitar playing really is. The Lovemongers (Heart’s Ann and Nancy Wilson) faithfully replicate Led Zeppelin’s Battle Of Evermore. The last track is handed to Chicago’s The Smashing Pumpkins. Their link to Seattle is tenuous at best but Drown is a single in the making, overspilling with Billy Corgan’s mixture of violence and sentimentality. It is a fitting finale.
Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell was given a list of fictional song titles for Citizen Dick. His one track on CD1, a nice acoustic ballad called Seasons, is a welcome lightening of mood. Now, we get to hear Nowhere But You, Flutter Girl, Spoon Man and Missing, plus Ferry Boat #3 and Score Piece #4. Similarly, Paul Westerberg, fresh from leaving The Replacements, had been commissioned to provide songs for the film. In addition to his two songs on CD1, we get four more on CD2. There are some live cuts from Alice In Chains and Soundgarden and a couple of demos. However, there are only a few new tracks that would have fit well on CD1. Six Foot Under’s Blood Circus and Truly’s Heart And Lungs were both left off to make room for bigger names. Matt Dillon fronting Pearl Jam for Touch Me I’m Dick is also of interest. Other than that, CD2 tells us more about the film than it does about Grunge.
The Original Soundtrack Singles captures a time, a place and a musical style almost to perfection. All it needed was a track from Nirvana. This deluxe edition is welcome but it waters down the impact of the original album by focussing more on the music written specifically for the movie.
What does it all *mean*?
Less is more and twenty-five years has flown by.
Goes well with…
Lumbar jack shirts and bottled beer.
Might suit people who like…
Visceral rock, screaming vocals and dark lyrics