does anyone else know what i mean when i say ’90s voice? in the car today, i was flipping between 92.9 and 101.7 and i just got a steady stream of ’90s alt rock. not for the first time, i was stricken by how similar the intonation and affectation was between bands then. i’m talking about that really back-of-the-throaty, almost country western-style delivery, perhaps most closely associated with eddie vedder, layne staley, and scott weiland before he went, uh, velvety.
you know what i’m talking about: it’s in pearl jam’s “alive;” it’s in, well, every alice in chains song ever and every stone temple pilots song pre-1996; it’s that “yeah” (or maybe it would more accurately be spelled “yeRRRRh”) in the pre-chorus of collective soul’s “shine.” y’know, the one between all the dur-ner-ner-ner-dur-ner-ner-ner-ner-nert-NERTs.
the smashing pumpkins did it, when billy wasn’t taking the nasally high road. metallica built a buttrock empire on it. even bands no one cares and/or cared about, like econoline crush, were guilty. and long after most of those bands were more concerned with destroying napster than creating new material, everyone’s favorite christian rock-metal-pop crossovers creed dusted it off and brought it back into the lamelight.
it’s delightful to make fun of. even if you like that music, and i do like some of it. but give it a whirl sometime; you won’t be disappointed.
anyway, i was thinking about how in certain genres that presently exist, this same thing happens. i’ve been writing about cold cave lately; let’s throw them back into the mix here for a second. they have a singer who very much subscribes to the robert smith-times-peter murphy vocal delivery of latter day goth revival bands, and he’s certainly not alone in doing so: see the entrance band and stellastarr for details, and to some lesser (but more ian curtisy) extent, interpol. oh, and she wants revenge, and that gardens band that was out for like ten seconds a few years ago. then we also have the post-panda bear chillwave crew who’ve nailed that echoey, beachy noah lennox vibe-o-rama like it was their job: i’m talkin’ delorean and el guincho, just to brush against that iceberg (ha – get it! iceberg! chillwave! yeah, i need to get the fuck off the internet).
this is all interesting when you look at it from the point of view of understanding that the human voice is just another instrument. the same way the neo-goth kids nick the basslines and synth arps from their ’80s idols, they’re recreating the vocal stylings as well. that becomes a part of a “scene,” just as three-chord hardcore chord progressions did, just as the chugging bass and ratatat drums of that aural fecal matter…oops, i mean music got popular and dominated the genre.
anyway, every time i hear ’90s voice, i’m brought back to a really specific time in my life: early high school, when ’90s alt-rock was the unrivaled king of my musical domain. i played stone temple pilots’ “plush” at my 9th grade guitar recital. i got a stereo for my 14th birthday and wrote the names of all the noteworthy grunge and grunge-related acts on the speakers in bright red sharpie. do you ever think back on the first music you listened to regularly – the first stuff you really got obsessed with, and really dug deeply into (i mean, the stuff for which you bought the unauthorized biographies and the eBay bootlegs and everything) – and wonder what it was that made it so great to you then, especially when you can hardly stand it now?
my theory is that whatever you picked up first had some degree of mystery and power to it in your eyes because you’d never exactly heard anything else before. and either you kept on seeking that mystery and that power out in new and different stuff because you longed to relive it again, and you moved far away from that starting point, or you stagnated or stopped caring or whatever. therein lies the two factions of music fandom, i think.
“i am, iyaaam, iyaaaam, i said i wanna getttt neeeext to youuuuhhh, i wanna getttt cloooooose to yoooouuuhhhh…”