Features

The covers of Temple of the Dog, In Utero, the Blue album and Nautical Disaster
Image: Dasser Kamran/Fulcrum

Take a look at how the Fulcrum reviewed early 90s masterpieces in the days following their original release.

Over the last thirty years, the Fulcrum has reviewed a number of releases that eventually became career-defining and altering records for artists. These albums changed the music industry as a whole and helped define an entire era. 

This feature is the first part of a series that will look back at the last 30 years of Fulcrum record reviews. 

Temple of the Dog: Temple of the Dog 

Reviewed in the Fulcrum’s first issue of the 1991-92 publishing year, Temple of the Dog was one of the first mainstream grunge records to come out of the Seattle scene. Temple of the Dog featured members of Soundgarden (Chris Cornell and Matt Cameron) and Mother Love Bone, which would eventually become Pearl Jam (Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament, Mike McCready). Future Pearl Jam lead singer Eddie Vedder made one appearance in the album dueting with Cornell on the song “Hunger Strike”.

“Temple of the Dog”: Intelligent hard rock  By Bob McCarthy

Originally published on Sept.5, 1991.

Boy, the neighbours hate this tape!

Probably ‘cause when I listen to it, I listen to it loud! — and with much arena rock skidding, leaping, pumping/humping and gracelessness…

What the deal is here is vocalist Chris Cornell (spelled Connelly in the original review), the vocalist for an amazing band called Soundgarden, organizing a tribute to Andrew Wood, the aforementioned corpse from Seattle’s Mother Love Bone. Due to the man’s untimely demise, Mother Love Bone has had to pack it in, but its former bass player and guitar player are on hand to honour the doppelganger that ended up as Seattle’s most famous cadaver since Jimi Hendrix. 

Which it does. In style. Temple of the Dog, the only name attached to this project (notice that I don’t say product!), will be rocking megawatt speakers for some time to come. This project is better than anything Mother Love Bone had done on its own, and quite ironically, a lot of this can be attributed to vocalist Cornell. 

Never before has he sung with so much bluesy colour in his voice. Even on the more alternative sounding cuts he wrenches real emotion without spitting any teeth at us. The pain of his friend’s loss is quite apparent from the very beginning, and yet he uses this as a way to soar without being tethered by the usual grungy crew. Another key to the band is that it takes its time getting to the “big guitar solo” and when it comes, it wails and wails and wails, at which point my upstairs neighbours start pounding on the floor, too. 

Temple of the Dog is a most intelligent use of imagery and hard rock, and one that would be welcome in hard rock music no matter whom, or what, it was in honour of. In this case, good intentions equal good music and I think you’ll be hearing a lot of this band’s music on any of the few radio stations left that have the balls to play real good’n’loud music made by young rockers.

Nirvana: In Utero

In Utero was Nirvana’s third and final studio album, released in September 1993, before frontman Kurt Cobain would go on to take his own life the following April. The album was a much heavier effort than the group’s well-received sophomore album Nevermind which drew the ire of some critics. However, this record has a diversity of tracks with unqiue sounds, including with slower tracks such as “Dumb” and heavy numbers like “Scentless Apprentice.” 

Nirvana: These guys are bored! By Linda Yovanovich

Originally published on Oct.28, 1993

Attention! Attention! The members of Nirvana have an announcement: “We’re bored!”

Bored of what? Bored of grunge. Bored of fake Seattlites. Bored of the influx of record company reps into the band’s home in search of the next… Nirvana. And most of all Nirvana is bored with the fame that the band has received – the same fame that the band always vowed to reject.

So there it is in a nutshell, the theme of in Utero, Nirvana’s most recent release. Containing some blatantly harder-edged tunage than its breakthrough recording, Nevermind, this release is a response to all the hype the band has received since it became – gasp! – famous. Lead singer and songwriter Kurt Cobain uses in Utero to express his discontent with the Seattle-scene craze of the past few years and grunge’s evolution from an unobtrusive lifestyle to a commodity.

Listening to “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle”, one can almost see Nirvana standing in front of the Seattle city-limit sign, smiling and waving (most likely the finger) as the record companies leave the city with their young, new surefire future stars and signing: “It’s so relieving to know that you’re leaving”.

Yet “Frances Farmer” is one of the more radio-friendly recordings. The first release, “Heart Shape Box”. has a video on MuchMusic as well as soon-to-be-infamous lyrics like “I wish I could eat your cancer when you turn black” and “broken hymen of your highness/ I’m left black/throw down your umbilical noose so I can climb right back”.

Some critics have been saying that this is a sort of challenge that Cobain is proposing to the radio and video stations – a kind of “I dare you to play this song!” because he knows his lyrics are not mainstream.

“Very Ape” is another of the more listenable songs on the recording and the tune “Rape Me” will cause more than a few cases of déjà vu. The CD opener, “Serve the Servants” expresses the band’s distaste for the industry and contains some brilliant lyrics like “As my bones grew they did hurt/they hurt real bad/I tried hard to have a father/but instead I had a dad”.

Yet, as was leaked long before the release of in Utero, there are a number of devastatingly harder, scratchier, feedback-laden tunes that will likely not gain the band any new trend-following fans, though it might win back some old ones. Songs like “Scentless Apprentice”, “Milk It” and “Tourette’s” demonstrate Cobain’s aptitude for primal scream therapy.

In a sense, in Utero can be therapeutic to its listeners in that the mellower songs can relax you while giving you something to think about, and the heavier, driving songs can relieve your stress as you bounce around your bedroom like a rabid mosh-machine.

This band is not about the noise, however. Considering its first hit had inaudible lyrics, Nirvana has proven itself to be a thinking person’s band. Forever rebels of the industry, the band members are saying through in Utero that making their own music is what they are all about. They don’t want to sell lots of CDs.

According to early projections, this release is likely to sell far fewer copies than Nevermind (it has sold 15 million fewer copies worldwide as of 2020), but as the band might say – Who cares? If ignorance is bliss then boredom must be inspiring.

Weezer: Weezer (Blue Album)

Following the death of Cobain, there was a sudden rise of pop-punk bands such as The Offspring and Green Day in America. Across the pond, Britpop in the U.K. also took off with the release of Oasis’ debut record and Blur’s Parklife. Suddenly, one band appeared seemingly out of nowhere representing dork culture: Weezer.

Weezer By Jay Nieczyporowski

Originally published on Oct.13, 1994

These guys would be really good if they just tuned their guitars, didn’t sing flat, and took out all the weird background sounds. Just kidding. Actually, Weezer is totally awesome because of these attributes. Cool without being contrived, catchy without being predictable, eccentric without being pretentious, Weezer inspired near hysteria in critics and alternative/college radio folk with their self-titled debut.

Rivers Cuomo, Brian Bell, Matt Sharpe and Patrick Wilson decided to send a demo to Ric Ocasek (The Cars) who at the time was looking for a “fresh” new group to produce. To their astonishment, Ocasek got back to them after hearing the demo and wanted to get the guys into the studio as soon as possible. Two months later, after long, grueling studio sessions, the four guys were ready to put this package on the market. In May 1994, they came out with the Weezer release and the sky became the limit. This past summer, Weezer was the opening act for another successful L.A. band, Lush. 

How many other bands do you know that can be simultaneously kooky, plaintive and rockin’? Weezer’s song creaks into gear and nearly fades away in the middle, guitars shimmer and tweak as guitarist Cuomo sings lyrics of cynical observations and random thoughts in his unaffected, boyish tones (a bit like the Rheostatics’ Maztin Tielle). And just try to document all their musical allusions: the first part of the song “Undone — The Sweater Song” is lifted right out of Teenage Fanclub’s “The concept”. “Surf wax America” is a nifty but corny song all about the pressures of being a credible surfer in this day and age. 

While listening to their tape, one can’t help but think that these guys sound a little hungover, probably from partying too much with Ocasek during the taping sessions. What sounds loose, improvised, sloppy or written on the spot may actually be none of the above. But whatever their method, Weezer is a crunchy treat that is totally worth savouring ‘til the last bite.

The Tragically Hip: Day for Night

A couple of weeks after reviewing Weezer’s album, the Fulcrum reviewed another oddity that was released in 1994: The Tragically Hip’s, Day for Night. This record marked a departure from the Hip’s traditional bluesy sound found on previous records, replaced by lower tuned guitars and quieter drums. What hadn’t changed was Gord Downie’s dark canadiana-inspired lyrics especially on songs such as the “Inevitability of Death” and “Nautical Disaster.”

Day for Night By Claudine Parker and Joelle Kovach

Originally published on Oct. 27, 1994

Someday, K-tel Records will make a cheesy compilation titled, This is the 90’s. All those catchy dentist-office tunes on two CD’s for a low, low price. Obviously, it will exclude Tragically Hip tunes.

For fans of the Hip, Day for Night is a CD that has been a long time coming. Warning: this darker, introspective CD requires several listenings before it grows on you. While Fully Completely was consciously textured and launched such radio-friendly tunes as “Courage” (it was even “Kool” enough for a local FM station) Day for Night makes no such concessions. Far be it for the Hip to sell out, however. Indeed, Fully Completely’s glossed over studio fee; served merely as a pretty package for the band’s biting, lyrical cynicism and allowed them to appeal to a larger audience. Day for Night feels like a return to the essence for The Tragically Hip, without recycling old songs. 

Much in the same vein as postmodern-poetry, the lyrics are evocative without being straightforward. The elusive meanings of the songs are mind teasers, challenging listeners to colour them with their own interpretations. The lyrics are highlighted by bits of insight and catchphrases typical of Downie and the gang. On “So Hard Done By” Downie’s vocals brood lazily, “interested but sophisticated/refusing to be celebrated/it’s a monumental big-screen kiss it’s so deep it’s meaningless”.

With the apparent evolution of writing also comes the progression and experimentation in the music aspect. The whole feel of Day for Night is somewhat disconcerting. It’s more subdued; it lingers, sinister, and implosive. Tracks like “Thugs” and “Yawning and Snarling” experiment with more bass and foreign drums to create a mellow, throbbing beat that is eerie and lurking. While “Fire in the Hole” is harder-edged with its “pointy-teeth” riffs and echoing vocals, “Scared” takes a different approach with predominantly acoustic guitars as Downie’s vocals tip-toe through the bitter vulnerability of the lyrics. Johnny Fay’s drum work stands out on the claustrophobic “Daredevil” which is reminiscent of early Hip tunes like “Everytime You Go”.

The darkest and probably one of the best songs on this release is the “Inevitability of Death” which unleashes lyrics that collide with the music. This tune exemplifies the band’s intensity which is best experienced live but in this case, can be appreciated in a recording as well 

Day for Night confirms what we already suspected: muzak will never be made of Hip tunes. These songs need to be explored to be fully appreciated. Halt ye angst-ridden folks, and pick up Day for Night because it seems, after all, it was well worth the wait.