Middle school is an awkward region of limbo between childhood and life as an adult. It is a time when one begins to take pleasure in certain things of the adult world. One starts to prefer the humor of “Saturday Night Live” to that of Bugs Bunny, adult writers like Stephen King over the old Encyclopedia Brown mysteries, and the music on MTV over Sesame Street songs.
I’m looking back in time, way back to the first few years of the 1990s, at some of my favorite bands when I was in middle school who have recently released albums all these years later. Remember, this is a time before fluorescent spandex shorts and zebra-striped MC Hammer pants went out of style. So the question is, can these bands still cut it in a world where so much has changed?
Red Hot Chili Peppers
By the Way
I must confess that I never was a huge Chili Peppers fan. I liked one video, “Give It Away,” the one that featured them smeared in sparkly body paint and wearing the horns and pants of satyrs. This video was infused with so much raw sexual energy that it made me romp around the living room to the dismay of my mother. I then bought the cassette. However, after MTV showed that whining, melodramatic ballad, “Under the Bridge,” unceasingly for about two years, I never again cared much for the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
By the Way is not really a surprise. There are a few songs with elements of that early energy, replete with funk bass lines and tongue-twisting lyrics, but they’ve been playing in that style
forever. It’s lost its freshness. And, of course, there are innumerable tracks of Anthony Kiedis droning on in his trademark nasal whine. Also, on a few songs, you can literally see the Chili Peppers rushing to throw their knapsacks onto the bandwagon of the new rock sound of the Strokes or the Hives. These are cheap imitations and seem too little too late. All in all, this album is teeming with overproduced, banal songs. If that suits you, then by all means indulge yourself. I wouldn’t buy it.
Public Enemy, along with NWA, really opened my eyes to the black power movement for the first time. Ex-hippie parents with left-wing views brought me up, but those household politics were too mild-mannered for me—a youth seething with incorrigible hormones and a healthy amount of adolescent angst. I needed something more militant and found it in early hip-hop.
Although it’s been quite some time since I dug out those old cassettes worn fuzzy by repeated play, Public Enemy is still fun to listen to. It’s not just for the sake of nostalgia. Front man, Chuck D, calls Public Enemy’s newest release, Revolverlution, “a trilogy within.”
There’s a composite of three components: new songs, live tracks from San Francisco and Switzerland, and re-mixes of PE classics. In the style of true democracy, these re-mixes are a product of the people. Chuck D and his rap cohort, Flavor Flav, posted a cappella tracks on their Internet site, and office-chair DJs from all over the world downloaded the vocals and laid sounds underneath. These tracks provide an interesting blend of old-school rhymes and new-school hip-hop or even electronic beats. The live tracks are also good.
Also, the new songs demonstrate that Public Enemy is as politically potent as ever. The best cut on the album is a heavy metal guitar-infused ditty titled “Son of a Bush.” They recount the evils of the current president and of the first Bush. PE mentions the “serial killer kid’s” enthusiasm for execution while governor of Texas (“138 dead at last count”) as well as his alleged history with coke and inherited fervor for war.
In an age when mainstream rap tends to be more about designer clothes and custom cars than politics or fighting racism, Public Enemy is still a beacon of hope that the younger kids may follow toward revolution.
When I was 12 years old, my father found a cassette of the Pixies’ Surfer La Rosa laying naked without case or inlay card in the middle of the street. He rescued it from a crushed death beneath the menacing tires of automobiles and brought it home to me. I have been a fan of the Pixies ever since. It’s almost as though I began listening to them by an act of divine intervention.
This newest Pixies CD is a re-release of songs from their first 1987 demo, which has come to be known by diehard Pixies fans as “The Purple Tape.” From this demo, eight of the songs were chosen for the Pixies’ debut album, Come on Pilgrim, and the remaining nine are on this CD. Of these nine songs, eight were later re-recorded for subsequent albums, leaving only one previously unreleased song, which honestly isn’t really that good. That’s probably why they decided against putting it on any later album.
For the true Pixies fan, this CD is worth owning if only for anthropological purposes. It’s fascinating to listen to the early versions of classic songs like “Broken Face” or “Here Comes Your Man,” and trace how the Pixies’ style evolved from its earliest days. For someone who’s never heard the Pixies, I’d recommend buying Doolittle or another early album first. But if you have everything else the Pixies ever put out or you don’t really like the direction Frank Black is going, this CD is a great way to remember the youth and dynamism of the Pixies 15 years ago.