the 90s

Metallica (The Black Album) – Metallica

Release Year: 1991

Rating: 9.5/10

By the late 80s, Metallica was one of the most successful thrash metal bands on the scene. With Master of Puppets being one of their bestselling albums, no one thought they could top it. Then the Black Album happened. This is the record that launched the band from thrash cult heroes to heavy metal superstars. Not only was it met with critical acclaim, there was also backlash and anger. But whatever your feelings are on the album you can’t deny how it’s changed both the band and heavy metal.

But before we get into what makes the album so different, we have to talk about “Enter Sandman,” still one of Metallica’s best songs. Everything about it is a beast from James Hetfield’s singing to the iconic guitar riff. Thanks to its memorable chorus and more rock oriented sound, the song caught a commercial following, which sparked many to cry “sell outs.” But you can’t deny how fucking awesome the song is. It starts with the sparse riff while the rest of the music builds up around it, leaving listeners anticipating for the big explosion. And when it happens it’s so satisfying. The lyrics are also notable as they take sleep, which is supposed to be comforting, and turn it into a nightmare. Even the sandman, who is supposed to an innocent fairy tale, turns into a monster you don’t want to meet. It’s not only one of the band’s best songs, it’s one of the best heavy metal songs ever.

Prior to this record, the band was known for playing fast and having extended solos. For this release, they slow things down. “Sad But True” is still a ferocious, intense track, but compared to their past efforts it’s pretty slow. The guitars grind along while the rest of the music is sludgy. The same goes for the anthemic “Wherever I May Roam.” It starts what sounds like a sitar setting this ominous air before being taken over by guitars building on top of one another. Things finally speed up only to slow down again when James Hetfield growls”…and the road becomes my bride.” But perhaps the biggest change comes in all the ballads on the album.

The band previously tackled ballads with songs like “One” and “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” but they’re completely redone here. The somber “The Unforgiven” features soft vocals from Hetfield as if he’s singing from a broken place. And while there are moments where the music gets heavy during the verses, much of it sounds like light classical guitar playing. It’s almost…pretty, which you don’t expect from a Metallica song. But the most genre defying song on the record is the heartbreaking “Nothing Else Matters.” By incorporating stringed instruments and an orchestral sound, Metallica were taking a giant risk with this track. Even the guitars are light sounding like something from a lullaby. With these two unlikely genres successfully coming together, there’s a dramatic vibe that grows as the song continues. It’s a sentimental track about Hetfield missing his girlfriend that he never intended to release publicly. Right from the line “never opened myself this way” you know Hetfield is speaking from somewhere private and personal. Thankfully Lars Ulrich got Hetfield to change his mind about the song; it’s a stand out track on an already stellar album.

Not only is the album notable for its shift in music, it’s also their most personal. For many of the songs, Hetfield and Ulrich turned inward for inspiration. There’s the aforementioned “Nothing Else Matters” about missing a loved one, but there’s also the brutal track “The God That Failed.” The song is already intense and heavy with Hetfield’s vocal delivery and the music, but the song gets even darker when its story is revealed. The song is about Hetfield’s mother dying of cancer and not seeking medical relief due to her Christian Science beliefs. Suddenly, his anger and spitfire venom makes sense. He’s criticizing a religious system and how it wasn’t there for her in the end though she devoted her life to it. This gives the aggressive track a deeper meaning, yet is still depressing giving listeners insight to what the frontman was going through at the time. It’s a powerful track both musically and lyrically.

Even though this album shows Metallica heading in a different musical direction, there are still some elements of thrash metal here. “Through the Never” starts with guitars that race out of the gate and dares listeners to keep up with them. Everything about the song is heart pumping and in your face, which is often when Metallica are at their best. “The Struggle Within” follows a similar route with speeding guitars and lots of energy. It ends the album on a fiery note as if to say the band hasn’t forgotten where they came from.

There’s no question Metallica changed with this album and some would say for the worse looking at their output after this release. Yet, it’s still an amazing record that showed Metallica could do more than just play fast and loud. They may have moved away from their thrash roots, but they expanded both as songwriters and musicians. And they did a damn good job of it. Every song on the record feels like it has a purpose. Even if its a ballad, it still has the intensity and fire that made them so viscous. They were still angry, but they were also vulnerable and wounded something we rarely saw before. They grew as musicians, took risks, and made an album they were happy with. Looking back at it, the changes they made no longer seem drastic. Many metal bands vary their sound and it seems Metallica paved the way for that. No matter your feelings about the album, it’s still one of the best in metal history.


Musical Rant: In Defense of Blink-182


Blink fans everywhere couldn’t be happier when Blink-182 appeared together on the 2009 Grammy’s to announce they were making music once again. Since then, they have put out a good album and even better EP. Anyone who follows them on Twitter or Instagram can see constant studio updates from them and they are always teasing fans by saying they’re working on new songs for the band. In other words, they’re doing what other active bands do: make music. So why are they branded as a nostalgia act?

Whenever I’m talking about Blink-182 with others it is guaranteed that at least one of them will say “Oh yeah, I used to listen to them in high school. They’re still around?” I’ve even had one person tell me that “They make me think of high school.” It’s not just former fans who say this. Several media outlets have branded the band as a blast from the past. One article I read about this year’s Riot Fest found the writer saying the line up didn’t interest him because he didn’t feel like going back to high school.  Sure, when they went on hiatus in 2005 this label might’ve been appropriate, but they’ve been actively making new music since 2011. Why is it they can’t seem to shake this label?

I get it, not everyone who listened to Blink-182 in 2001 still listens to them now, so of course to them they’re nostalgic. But it’s getting to the point where people, former fans and media alike, just want to ignore the fact that they are making new music that’s good. Lately, they’ve been featured in lists like “Things that make you think of the 90s” or “Things that make you think of the 2000s” or “Things that make you feel old.” Maybe it doesn’t bother other Blink fans, but lately it’s been getting on my nerves. I get that they were most popular during the late 90’s, early 2000’s, but this shouldn’t get them instantly labeled as a nostalgic act.

When I hear those words, I think of some band that really hasn’t done anything in years. Prime examples would be any boy band from the 90s (minus BSB and NKOTB, they’re trying to stay relevant at least), Baha Men, Aqua, Chumbawumba or any other band who has attempted to stay relevant and has failed. Or any one hit wonders from the 80’s and 90’s. Some of these bands may have even tried making more music down the line, but they can’t shake the shadow of whatever made them popular for 15 minutes. These are acts that are related to a specific time or era and while technically Blink-182 are as well, it’s still unfair that people want to treat them as they add nothing to the music world.

It’s been my experience that Blink-182 has not gotten respect in the music world for years. I remember one time in college I was wearing a Blink-182 shirt and I got laughed at. And since I love Green Day many fans have tried pitting the two bands against each other, trying to prove that one is better than the other. Maybe it has something to do with their infamous humor. Because they liked to sing about masturbation or dicks people didn’t take them seriously as musicians and even though they have moved away from that humor (at least in their music) people still see them as immature jokesters. Yes, they did write songs fucking a dog and fucking your mom, but while they were doing that, they also wrote serious tracks like “Adam’s Song” and “Stay Together for the Kids.” They may not be the best songs written about divorce and suicide, but they helped a lot of their fans who were going through similar issues.

As the years went by, they improved as musicians and songwriters. Their Untitled album is amazing. It showed that they could successfully hold their own without talking about masturbation. They had “matured” yet they were still awesome and didn’t really change their attitude. Also, they’re still making jokes. Anyone who goes to their live shows knows that there is constant “potty humor” banter between Mark and Tom. They may not be the most ground breaking band in music today, but you can at least acknowledge that they’ve grown as musicians. These guys don’t deserve the nostalgic label; they should get more respect than that regardless of their past music. Look at Depeche Mode. They’re one of the most respected bands from the 80’s around, yet they started out as a mediocre new wave band. Think about it.

No Strings Attached- Nsync

NSYNCNoStringsAttachedRelease Year: 2000

Rating: 8/10

I believe I have mentioned in the past that I was a huge Nsync fan when I was younger. I had my favorite member (JC) the board game, the PC game, the teddy bears, the dolls, etc. And when I moved on to bigger and better music, for some reason I couldn’t get rid of the albums and I’m glad I didn’t. Their second release is probably their best and still their most popular today. Because they left behind their record company and their sleazy manager Lou Pearlman at the time, the boys were able to have fun and mix in R&B elements on this record. What we get is a solid, fun album full of songs that you’ll never forget.

Of course the album opens with the ever so popular “Bye Bye Bye.” This song is just awesome. Admit it, you love singing it while doing the dance that went with it. With this song, we can already see the different direction of the album. The music here is heavier and a bit more aggressive than what was found on their debut. Not only is it catchy, but it can have a double meaning. The lyrics refer to leaving a girl who is manipulative, but it can also relate to them leaving scumbag manager Lou Pearlman. Either way, it’s still a great song even though Justin sounds like a sheep braying.

“It’s Gonna Be Me” follows the same format with the punchy music and the infectious lyrics. What makes this song great is how music sounds weird, but it’s playful and upbeat too. It even has this circus like feel to it. But of course you can’t help but think of the music video where they turn into dolls when you hear this. For me, the song is notable because of the way Justin sings. I always said he sounds like a sheep here because he overemphasizes everything. He sings “It’s gonna be meh!” and it gets me every time. The next song “Space Cowboy” is still pretty fun, but it is weird. What is a space cowboy anyway? It’s like they mixed their boyhood dream jobs and made them into one ambitious career path. Either way the chorus of “Why-yi-yi-yippie-yi-yay-yippie-yi-yo-yippie-yi-yay” may be silly, but super fun to sing. You also gotta give up to the boys for getting Lisa “Lefteye” Lopez on the track. Even though there are times where it sounds like her rap doesn’t fit in, but for the most part, it’s still pretty bad ass.

For the most part, the songs are upbeat and fun to put you in a good mood. They do a faithful cover of “Just Got Paid,” which most people can relate to and “Makes Me Ill” is filled with the most pleasing, odd music ever, even though the weird message by Justin at the end is unnecessary. One of the best, most confusing, and oddest songs here is “Digital Getdown.” This is their naughty song and they don’t hide it: “Baby baby we can do all that we want/We’re gettin nasty nasty, we’re getting freaky deaky.” If anything, they’re more creepy here, especially with lines like “Every time I’m sittin home alone girl/I can’t wait to get you on the phone girl/So pick it up babe I can see everything you do.” He sounds more like a stalker to me. To think that they were trying to get freaky on this track is hilarious, but the digital inspired music that makes you feel like you’re inside a computer is infectious. Also, the song is pretty weird because it seems to either be about an internet only relationship or porn. I think it’s the former, but you could easily relate it to the latter.

As usual, there are quite a few slow songs here and most of them are pretty sappy. “This I Promise You” and “That’s When I’ll Stop Loving You” are sweet in their own cheesy way, but overall they’re corny and filled with cliches. But the fact that they sound good makes up for it. The best slow track here is the closer “I Thought She Knew.” One thing that makes this song different from the others is that it’s performed acapella. As I’ve said before, these guys are really good when it comes to acapella. Their voices sound so smooth together. We also get a chance to hear Joey Fatone sing and he is really good. For such a big guy he actually has a pretty light voice. Also, the song is more thoughtful than the others. It doesn’t come off as sappy or corny. It’s really beautiful and may be their best slow song.

Overall, the album gets 8/10. This album is great because the boys are less bubble gum pop here. They mix in R&B elements and at times heavier music. The songs are fun and infectious and even if some of them are cheesy, they’re still pretty good. This is far better than their debut, which was filled with manufactured beats and super cheesy lyrics. The album is still solid after all these years and reminds us why they were one of the most popular boy bands of their time.

13 Embarrassing Debut Videos

At their best, music videos can be amazing and even groundbreaking. At their worst, music videos are really, really bad. Even artists who are known for their videos don’t always have the best ideas for their very first one. Most musicians’ first videos are boring with them standing there miming the lyrics, but others who wanted to get creative ended up with corny, cheesy, and disastrous results. These are videos that the artists don’t even want to watch themselves. Here are 13 of the most awkward and shameful videos ever.

13. Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough- Michael Jackson

It may not be the worst video in MJ’s catalog and it’s definitely better than the other entries on the list, but compared to his other videos this one just doesn’t cut it. I give him credit for being ambitious because this video is still memorable, but some parts are just plain lame. First, it’s just Jackson standing in front of a green screen while random images that have nothing to do with the song, like marbles and jewels, move behind him. Also, it’s like he held himself back from dancing. He’s doing nothing but shuffling around and while it’s adorable to see that cute smile on his face, we know he’s capable of more.

12. We’ve Got It Going On- Backstreet Boys

Usually, boy band videos suck anyway and this one isn’t any different. There’s nothing too cheesy about it; it’s just lame. It’s standard footage of the guys dancing and singing and even playing basketball to show the girls that they’re just regular guys they have no chance with. What makes the video even funnier is to see how young and fashionable they look in the best clothes people in the 90’s could buy. And don’t forget those sweet ass dance moves. How any girl thought they were hot in this video is beyond me.

11. Take Me to Your Leader- Incubus

Incubus’ first video obviously has a message; what that message is I have no idea. Really, I was too distracted by singer Brandon Boyd’s semi nude body and dreads. I had no idea he used to look like a hippie. From what I can gather, the band is some sort of tribe running around in loincloths and makeshift spears throughout the city, trying to figure out where a water bottle came from. Boyd’s freaky facial expressions, the weird hardcore sound, and pale bodies running around all make for a weird and what I imagine embarrassing first video.

10. Uno (1st Version)- Muse

You know a video is bad when the band themselves not only stated that it was embarrassing, but they actually made two more versions to make up for it. That’s what happened with the clip for Muse’s debut single. This thing is just a mess. The video is made up of footage of the different members standing in a middle of a busy street. At one point two of the members randomly fall and the editor thought it was so great, he repeats it several times that makes it look funny. There’s also a moment when an old black and white Latin dance scene is thrown in. All of this, plus the ridiculous club shirt Matt Bellamy wears, is enough to hide your head in shame.

9. I’d Do Anything- Dead or Alive

This is a practice in narcissism and vocabulary all in one. Just about all of the video is filled with a pre-plastic surgery massacre Pete Burns wiggling around, shaking his gigantic hair, and bugging out his eyes as if he wants to eat us. When he’s not being creepy, there are random people singing parts of the song while various words scroll across their faces. The clip goes into scary territory when the singer reveals his all black contact lenses that make him look like a transvestite alien. I don’t know what’s worse: Pete’s dancing, his hair, or the fact that he’s wearing a blazer with no shirt underneath.

8. Dream Street- Janet Jackson

We see a very young, very cute Janet Jackson transported (I think) to the 30’s in order to find fame. It’s hard to tell because everyone around her is wearing fedoras, newspaper boys hats and the like, while she sports the most outrageous fashion from the 80’s. Also, for some inexplicable reason there’s a scene where Jackson is obviously standing in front of a green screen, awkwardly dancing while various scenes and designs fly around her. Definitely 80’s technology at its finest. Not only is the video hard to follow, it’s just painful to watch.

7. Just Can’t Get Enough- Depeche Mode

They may be known for their groundbreaking moody albums now, but when they first started out Depeche Mode were a bunch of geeky lads desperately trying to look cool or at least that’s what you get from this video. Really weird dance moves, S&M inspired clothing, uninterested girls dancing around, and an adorable David Gahan can all be seen here. The band looks so young that in the bar scene you think it was a bunch of 15 year olds trying to order drinks. They may have a bunch of cool looking videos now, but this isn’t one of them.

6. Same Old Madness- Ministry

Before they were considered the godfathers of Industrial movement and creating music that intrigues and scares you, Ministry were trying to make it as a new wave band. I’ll let that sink in for a minute. This is their first video and it’s really hard to believe that it’s Al Jorgensen riding a merry-go-round looking like he stumbled out of Rob Halford’s closet. There’s also some of the finest dancing from the 80’s to be found in this clip. The best part? The video randomly shows a seen of a typical 80’s gentleman watching two women make out. It may be terrible, but this is something every Ministry fan has to see.

5. I Want You Back (1st Version)- Nsync

Later in their career, this boy band had some pretty awesome videos, but of course that isn’t the case here. Not only is it bad, it has to be one of the gayest videos ever. First, the shirts they’re wearing are so tight you can see their nipples whether or not you want to. Also, this is obviously before they had their sweet dance moves down, so most of the choreography here comes off as weird, silly, and a little too friendly. My favorite part is when they’re jumping up and down wiggling their arms like wacky arm inflatable tube men. Another thing that’s weird about this video is that for some reason it’s set on a space station. We know this thanks to the laughable CGI used to make the ship. But the best part is the look on Justin’s face before the video ends. Talk about way too hard trying to be sexy.

4. Mean Machine- Sugar Ray

You can’t have a soundtrack for the 90’s without these guys, but before they made immensely catchy tunes, they were a hard rock band. From the aptly named Lemonade and Brownies album, the “Mean Machine” video has Mark McGrath trying his hardest to be a badass. He breaks records, does his best head banging, and even break dances? It’s just as bad as it sounds. There’s also this poor bulldog stumbling around trying to escape the band and a guitarist that looks like he should be in Korn. What makes it even worse is the part where they try out their Beastie Boys impression. Just horrible.

3. Everybody- Madonna

This is the epitome of cheap 80’s video: shoddy effects, lame background, and uninteresting people dancing. This clip looks like it was made on a $100 budget. What’s even worse is that Madonna is so awkward here. She’s wearing the baggiest clothes I’ve ever seen her in, she’s not commanding the stage like she usually does, and she can’t dance for shit here. It looks like she’s teaching some aerobics class who is not getting paid . Maybe she knew it was bad because she looks so bored.

2. Planet Earth- Duran Duran

This is one of the worst and hilarious videos I’ve ever seen. The clip starts off with Simon LeBon’s best Carlton impression while the band stands on a stage that’s supposed to look like it’s hovering in the clouds. FYI, it doesn’t. You also have to give it up for their pirate inspired outfits. Aside from that, weird geometrical graphics fly around LeBon and at point he’s lying on the ground half naked. Luckily, the camera never pans down to show whether or not he’s wearing pants. And just when you thought it couldn’t get worse, stats about Earth flash across the screen while people dance. If you thought Duran Duran was bad already, this is even worse.

1. She’s Gone- Hall Oates

The only explanation for this video is drugs. That’s the only way this clip begins to make sense. It starts out with a Bowie inspired Hall and Oates with a full on beard sitting in chairs and smoking. They don’t really move til the end and they barely even “sing” the song. During the chorus, a woman with no shoes will walk through, followed by a guy in the cheapest devil costume, and one of the guys throwing what looks to be money. Then for some reason, Oates gets up to put on what looks to be part of a penguin costume and starts “playing” the guitar, while Hall stares into space wearing woman’s platform shoes. At the end, they just get up and leave. Even though it’s weird as shit, this is probably the most bad ass Hall and Oates will ever be.

Is there a debut video from your favorite artist that you think should be on this list? Let me know in the comments!