Fight! Fight! Fight! | Soul Asylum vs. Gin Blossoms

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When I was a kid, I loved hockey. I went to bed every night during the season listening to WJR out of Detroit, and Steve Yzerman, Joey Kocur, Bob Probert, Steve Chiasson, and Petr Klima were my best friends. I had a babysitter one summer who was from Buffalo -- a huge Sabres fan, and we'd watch ESPN's fantastic coverage (though in retrospect they seemed to highlight Gretzky and Gretzky only) while my parents were out doing whatever grownups do.

One night I watched an amazing hockey fight between the Soviet and Canadian junior teams that was being talked about on SportsCenter. I'd pretty much forgotten about that fight until someone brought it up in a Fark thread about SI's greatest fights -- and how it was left off the list. Helpfully, a poster provided a YouTube link to television coverage of the fight. It's one of the more amazing things you'll ever see.

Truly awesome, especially when they turn the lights off. Perhaps Kurt Cobain was referring to this incident when he wrote the words, "With the lights out/It's less dangerous."

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Had you come up to me in high school and asked me to list my five favorite bands, I'd probably have answered thusly:

Counting Crows
Gin Blossoms
Soul Asylum
Toad the Wet Sprocket
The Refreshments

One of those bands has been active since then. Two of them broke up, and the other two (Soul Asylum and Gin Blossoms) have been on hiatus... until this summer. Both bands released their first albums in several years (eight for Soul Asylum, ten for Gin Blossoms) and I anticipated their release with baited breath.

Reviews for the two records criticize that the bands' sound hasn't changed despite the lapse of time. Critics blame the bands for being "stuck in the '90s." Yet I argue that if you're going to emerge after a long hiatus, you HAVE to sound like you used to. Otherwise, you have no audience. An old band that returns with a new sound is going to alienate the only guaranteed buyers of your record. Plus, I LIKED how those bands sounded, and I'm happy that they sound like they did when I was a pimply-faced high school sophomore without a date to Homecoming.

So here are my reviews.

Gin Blossoms - Major Lodge Victory

Some say the Gin Blossoms' downfall came before their first full-length record, New Miserable Experience, was even released. At the end of recording sessions in 1992, the band fired Doug Hopkins, guitarist and writer of NME-bound tracks like "Hey Jealousy," "Found Out About You," and "Lost Horizons."

The record eventually became a huge success, Hopkins committed suicide, and critics proclaimed the Gin Blossoms a one-album-wonder. Their followup, Congratulations I'm Sorry, didn't find the same commercial success from the previous album, and the band faded away into county fair and rib-fest headlining obscurity.

After four years of promising rib-fest fans "A new album is on the way!" it was finally released a few weeks ago. What's missing? Strangely, not Doug Hopkins -- I got over that part early on. Sadly, longtime Gin Blossoms drummer Phillip Rhodes elected not to join the band in creating the new record, and his absence is conspicuous. I feel people ignore drummers a bit too often when they listen to music -- overemphasizing the singers and lead guitarists. Rather, I argue the drum beat is the primary component of a band's signature sound, and changing drummers can considerably affect how a band comes across.

That having been said, Major Lodge Victory isn't a bad album. It sounds considerably like vintage '90s Gin Blossoms. Just different. And more boring. The first two tracks, "Learning the Hard Way" and "Come On Hard" are fantastic, but after that, things sort of fall off. It didn't hold my attention very well, and I've only listened to it a few times since then. Is it better than 90% of the records that have come out in 2006? Absolutely. But music sucks.


I once saw Soul Asylum and Gin Blossoms back-to-back nights at a venue in Kentucky that no longer exists. Interestingly, the first time I saw the bands play they were also back-to-back -- literally, performing consecutively at the 1995 concert for the opening of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame at the late Cleveland Stadium. Gin Blossoms performed the Beatles song "Wait" and Soul Asylum rocked out with Iggy Pop.

Eight years later, in that dingy garage in Covington, Jarvin P and I stood watching Dave Pirner thrash around onstage with Soul Asylum in front of about 150 dedicated fans. "This guy used to f*ck Winona Ryder," I whispered to him, and wondered if Pirner was thinking the same thing, now that he's in a garage singing to your average Sociology 101 class.

The Silver Lining is Soul Asylum's return from the grave (dancer's union). Referring, I assume, to the death of bassist Karl Muller (which happened amidst recording) and Katrina (New Orleans being Dave Pirner's adopted hometown), the record is even more like vintage Soul Asylum than MLV was vintage Gin Blossoms. You've probably heard at least one track from this record already: ESPN uses "Stand Up & Be Strong" all over the place during college football highlights. It's a good song, but the intermission track of "Standing Water" is maybe the best song the band has written since "Runaway Train."

All this being said, the greatest surprise for me is the hidden track. The iPod revolution has changed the nature of looking for hidden tracks; simply by looking at the time remaining on the last song one can ascertain whether or not there's something extra afterward. Most hidden tracks are throwaways, and maybe that's the case with "Fearless Leader," but two seconds into it I recognized one of my favorite songs.

That's an interesting aspect of The Silver Lining. Most of the songs are actually quite old, and finally making their way to an album. "Fearless Leader" was written almost 20 years ago, during the Reagan Administration -- yet it, like Grave Dancer's Union track "Black Gold," could be a current criticism of President Bush. "Fearless Leader" was originally a B-side to the CD Single of "Misery," released in 1995, if that tells you anything. "Success is Not So Sweet" dates back to the multi-platinum days of 1994. "Slowly Rising" refers to "Weapons of Mass Destruction" yet was written long before 9/11 -- and the aforementioned "Standing Water" could be a perfect paean to New Orleans, and it is... but it was written years before Katrina.

Perhaps the prescience of these tracks makes the record what it is. What I do know is this: this record melted my face off, and having been conditioned by Major Lodge Victory to be disinterested, it was a real shock to find a record I was jamming to amidst rush-hour traffic. I hope this record sells well. I hope pop music hasn't evolved while we were all holed up listening to Replacements records (btw, Replacements bassist Tommy Stimson replaced Muller for the rest of the tracks on Silver Lining). I hope. I do.

1 Comment

Jesus, your favorite bands are awful. Counting Crows? Seriously?

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    This page contains a single entry by tim published on October 19, 2006 11:23 AM.

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