Tangent Sunset

The History of Conscious Music by Alex Cosper

Rebirth of Rock


But the biggest musical story of the revolutionary year 1991 was Nirvana and the Seattle scene. The song "Smells Like Teen Spirit" became an instant smash that opened the door for other Seattle bands to emerge. The album Nevermind was full of heavy rock that set out to chart a new course for youth. The song seemed to point to disenfranchisement of youth. The song "Come As Your Are" sounded more inviting and down to earth, although Kurt Cobain swore in the lyrics not to have a gun, which turned out to be an ironic statement, not that songs are supposed to be autobiographical. The other bands that came out of the Seattle scene included Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains and Soundgarden.

Pearl Jam in particular had several vivid storyteller songs. "Jeremy" told the story of a boy in school who was always teased by classmates until one day he showed up with a gun and shot himself. The song "Better Man" was about someone clinging to the wrong person. "Not For You" was the ultimate slam on the corporate side of the musical industry. Even though Seattle bands were labelled "grunge" by the press, these bands actually owed much of their success to ballads and a return to the traditional rock ethic of meaningful lyrics and unique melodies. Seattle also came off as a community of close-knit friends, as many of the groups intermingled onstage and in the recording studio. One of the finest ballads to come out of this integration was "Hunger Strike" by Temple Of The Dog, featuring Eddie Vedder and Chris Cornell. Soon the Seattle sound began to shape the foundation of nineties rock, along with a handful of other bands such as Stone Temple Pilots, Counting Crows, Live, Bush, Toad The Wet Sprocket, Gin Blossoms, Cracker, Foo Fighters and Smashing Pumpkins.

The most exciting musical revolution in the nineties was definitely the alternative radio format. For about the first half of the decade, alternative radio was clearly the vanguard of new music. During this period it seemed the challenge was to be as original as possible while still projecting a pop/rock image and sound. Tori Amos sung about the haunting feelings of a rape victim in "Silent All These Years" while Toad The Wet Sprocket condemned rape in "Hold Her Down." Sublime tried to make fun of a convicted date rape offender in "Date Rape." Sublime also had a song about an old friend who became a Nazi in "Ebin." The band later had somewhat of a peace and love anthem with "What I Got." Belly had a hit with "Feed The Tree," which was about dying and getting buried. "Pets" by Porno For Pyros painted a future in which humans will be slaves to aliens.

"Creep" by Radiohead turned out to be part of a series of songs that focused on the underdog and the state of losing. Other such songs included "Basket Case" by Green Day," "Creep" by Stone Temple Pilots and "Self Esteem" by Offspring. Some of the funnier self-deprecating songs included "Loser" by Beck, "Popular" by Nada Surf and "If I Only Had A Brain" by MC 900 FT Jesus. For awhile this underdog stance was a refreshing contrast to the burned out rock god charade of the eighties. But by 1996 the underdog theme itself started to sound like an overdone marketing gimmick.

Smashing Pumpkins had a hard driving sound of layered guitars that usually drowned out their lyrics but "Bullet With Butterfly Wings" used metaphors to describe the nineties counter culture condition about being trapped, despite being full of rage. Their song "1979" was a flashback to the imagery of that year, which seemed to mark an adolescent period for many of the leading alternative artists of the nineties. One of the more disturbing songs yet beautifully melodic was "Lightning Crashes" by Live, which told the chilling story of a miscarriage. "Mr. Jones" by Counting Crows dealt with the dream of fame and the frustration from the lack of it. "Carnival" by Natalie Merchant talked about a scene of superficial people.

Continue to "Corporation Meltdown"