Take Five: Five from the Archives

Back in 2004-2005, I wrote for Splendid, which billed itself as one of the first online music publications (founded in 1996). It was a great experience — every week, I reviewed three CDs, ranging from new releases by Le Tigre and the Fiery Furnaces to CD-Rs packaged in hand-crafted cardboard sleeves. Each album got an equal shot, and my favorite feedback was when a musician whose album I panned would write me to say that while he disagreed with my review, he could tell that I gave the album a fair listen and appraisal. I interviewed artists such as Jens Lekman, Iron and Wine and Matisyahu, and I got the incredible opportunity to attend and cover SXSW in 2005.

But some of my favorite writing at Splendid came for the Guilty Pleasure and Essential Album columns. This week, I wanted to revisit five of my favorite Splendid columns, paying a little tribute to the site where I got my start writing about music.

Guilty! Pearl Jam – No Code

Ah, “No Code,” I have such a soft spot for you, brilliant and flawed as you are. I think my assessment of it as brilliant but unbalanced holds up today.

No Code is a starkly serious album. Vedder and his bandmates moved on from the angry and introspective Ten and the morbid and experimental concept album Vitalogy, to arrive at No Code, which is alternately unforgiving and tender, contemplative and caustic. This is undeniably a very personal album, not unlike its three predecessors, but it somehow feels more vulnerable than they did. Vedder, you can tell, really wanted to earn his Neil Young and Bob Dylan badges on this one. His attempt, admittedly, is hit-and-miss. More

Essential: Brendan Benson – One Mississippi

For a while, Brendan Benson was mine — I felt I had rescued him from the bargain bin as a baby from the reeds. Even at the time I wrote this love note to his spurned major-label debut, when he released his comeback “Lapalco,” he was still flying a bit under the radar. That couldn’t be farther from the truth today — and I couldn’t be happier for him (even though I am not a fan of the Raconteurs).

While Lapalco is a fantastic album, One Mississippi deserves the buckets of belated accolades that lack of promotion unfortunately denied it in 1996. That random guy on the Ben Folds Five newsgroup sure knew what he was talking about. As pop-rock’s mid-90s reign was about to yield to the late-90s boon of boy bands, One Mississippi rose and set like an unnoticed sun, the warmth of which would not be appreciated until several years later. More

Essential: Weezer – Pinkerton

I never would have dreamed back in 2005 that Weezer would come around to embracing this album with a tour and a reissue, but that’s where we’re at. And for a generation more acquainted with recent Weezer (comparative) shlock, this is a very good thing.

Songs like the Blue album‘s “The World Has Turned and Left Me Here” and “No One Else” are more fully realized on the disarmingly confessional tracks “Why Bother?” and “No Other One”. There’s a simple explanation as to why this is the case. Pinkerton is remarkable for its honesty, not only lyrically and emotionally, but also musically. It is not a perfect album in the classic sense; it is an uncut gem, still clinging to imperfections fashioned by soil and pressure. But that’s part of its natural essence, its intrinsic perfection. It is self-sufficient, requiring little or no enhancement from that which was naturally begotten in the songwriting process. This truth shines through in songs like “El Scorcho”, where it appears that Rivers’ interior monologue was set to tape with lines like “How stupid is it? / I can’t talk about it / I gotta sing about it / and make a record of my heart.” More

Guilty! Third Eye Blind – self-titled

A friend tweeted a lyric from “Motorcycle Drive-By” the other day, and I swooned a little. That song is a real treasure, in my estimation. I tweeted back my approval, and another friend chimed in to share his, as well. This heartened me to no end. Third Eye Blind is often derided as crappy college rock, and I confess to not being a huge fan of their follow-up efforts to this album, but I remain an ardent devotee of this album, however uncool that may make me — but at least I know I’m not alone.

So, what is it about this reflective rocker? Is it [Stephan] Jenkins’s foray into a quieter, less [Elmer] Fudd-like vocal range? Is it the gentle, plaintive plucking that accompanies his hushed tones? Is it the oomph of a powerful and defiant chorus like “And there’s this burning / Like there’s always been / I’ve never been so alone / And I’ve never been so alive” (or is that just the VD talking again)? Could it be that of the album’s 14 tracks, this one resonates with the most authenticity and energy? It’s probably all of the above — even in spite of its Dawson’s Creek-like final lines, which evoke pensive paddling. “Motorcycle Drive By” is probably 3EB’s only defense against the “middling rock band that got lucky” argument, and it’s a powerful one. But maybe I’m just a sucker for a catchy, uplifting rock song. More

Essential: James – Laid

Freshman year of college, I borrowed this album so often from my floormate Jenny that she eventually bought me my own copy for Christmas. It was also one of the first albums that Rick and I bonded over. This is an important record for me personally, but it’s also one of the best of the 90s, hands down.

And that’s the most important thing about Laid: all of these songs are significant. None of them are throwaways. From “One of the Three”‘s heaviness to “Laid”‘s roll-the-windows-down mood, these songs all speak, and speak true. Part of the reason I love this album so much is because of how it speaks to me. It reminds me of all that is fragile and precious, of all that is lost and can be lost, but also all that we have. More

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