My Bloody Valentine’s last LP Loveless was released in November 1991…
…and followed by 22 years of mounting acclaim for it and doubt for its sequel.
As previously detailed here, the band increasingly spoke over the past several months of finally issuing their third album, including just last week when frontman Kevin Sheilds teased from the stage at their Brixton concert it “might be out in two or three days.” Because of this it wasn’t a complete surprise when – on only a few hours notice – they released their long-awaited set yesterday (in their time zone anyway). But it was still shocking.
It’s not everyday fans get to hear a record after being teased by it for over two decades!
Do you remember the last time My Bloody Valentine released an album? Think of how much the world has changed between Loveless and the new mbv! Even the way the latter was released would have been incomprehensible if it had been issued sometime in the ’90s – as par typical discography schedules. My Bloody Valentine didn’t send out a press release for mbv. They weren’t required to do months of promo letting the world know it exists. Yes, they still do some interviews and are touring, but the release itself came down to posting a message on facebook, letting that get copy-and-pasted across the internet, and relaunching their website. Then – after demand was instantly so high their site crashed – streaming the full album on YouTube (listen now).
Facebook? YouTube? Full album stream?
The 1991 mind knows not what you speak of….
So let’s recall…
From late summer 1991 through around the release of Loveless in mid-autumn, the music industry didn’t just “break,” it exploded. Which is to say this stretch of about ten weeks was one of the most potent periods of pivotal music moments in pop-culture history. Does that sound like hyperbole (or worse, nostalgia)? It’s not. Check the records. Not only were several of the best-selling albums of all-time released but the very nature of how the business operated – even what it sold – were redefined.
By spring 1991 change was certainly in the air, and evident in the new albums being released: Smashing Pumpkins Gish, Massive Attack’s Blue Lines, Mercury Rev’s Yerself Is Steam, De La Soul Is Dead, Jesus Lizard’s Goat, Primus’ Sailing the Seas of Cheese, The Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld, Slint’s Spiderland, and Temple of the Dog… as well as the theatrical release of Madonna’s hugely popular Truth or Dare documentary.
The biggest change of all came on May 25th. The Billboard 200 album chart started a new, more accurate way of tracking sales: electronic Nielsen SoundScan stats. Signalling the start of a major shift in the music industry, from this point to the present day is commonly referred to as the “SoundScan era.” Below is a timeline of what followed, concluding with the release of Loveless.
On August 17, 1991, Nirvana filmed “Smells Like
Teen Spirit’s” music video in a full day shoot (twelve-plus hours) at Culver City, California’s GMT Studios. The next day they flew from Los Angeles Airport to England’s Heathrow – where they met up with Sonic Youth on August 19th and traveled together to Ireland (first passing through Wales). Sonic Youth’s two-week European tour with Nirvana kicked-off on August 20th at Sir Henry’s Pub in Cork, Ireland. Director Dave Markey followed the tour, filming both bands – as well as Dinosaur Jr, Babes in Toyland, Mudhoney, The Ramones and others – yielding the classic live rockumentary The Year Punk Broke.
Also on August 20th, The International Pop Underground Convention commenced in Olympia, Washington. Though not limited to female bands – Fugazi played for example – the six-day event is best remembered as an outing for rockers like Seven Year Bitch, L7 and Bikini Kill demanding “Love Rock Revolution Girl Style Now.”
August 20th also saw the release of Spin Doctor’s Pocket Full of Kryptonite… and Vanessa L. Williams’ The Comfort Zone (remember when “Save the Best for Last” was impossible to avoid…)
On August 27th Pearl Jam released their début album, Ten. A massive seller, as of 2013 it’s certified 13X platinum, marking it as the fourth best-selling rock album of the ’90s (behind Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill, Hootie & the Blowfish’s Cracked Rear View and Metallica’s self-titled album released earlier the same month).
On August 28th the first Lollapalooza tour – intended simply as Jane’s Addiction final tour, but soon spiralling into something much larger than that – ended in Enumclaw, Washington, after 27 stops since July 18th. Other performers included Siouxsie and the Banshees, Nine Inch Nails, Living Colour, Ice-T & Body Count, Butthole Surfers, Rollins Band, Violent Femmes and Fishbone.
Nevermind was world premiered – start to finish – by Boston’s WFNX on August 29th.
On August 31st Metallica’s self-titled “Black Album” topped the US album chart for the first of four weeks. Released on August 13th, it was certified 3x platinum on Halloween 1991, selling another million copied by the start of 1992 and totaling 6x platinum by the end of that year. To date it is 16x platinum, distinguished by the RIAA as the 25th best-seller of all-time and the third best-selling rock album of the decade. Also on August 31st, Skid Row and Nine Inch Nails played London’s Wembley Stadium, opening for Guns n’ Roses. On September 3rd the Wembley Arena hosted the first of ten nights of Whitney Houston’s I’m Your Baby Tonight World Tour.
On September 5th MTV celebrated its decade anniversary at the Video Music Awards in Los Angeles. On that night: the Video Vanguard Award was renamed the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award; Poison’s Bret Michaels and C.C. DeVille got in an infamous fist-fight after a disastrous performance; and R.E.M. achieved top honors winning six moonmen for “Losing My Religion,” including Video of the Year and Best Breakthrough Video. “Religion” lost in two categories: Viewer’s Choice award, beat by Queensryche’s “Silent Lucidity,” and a new award won by Jane’s Addiction’s “Been Caught Stealing”: “Best Alternative Video” (TRIVIA: The Replacements ‘s “When It Began” was also nominated).
R.E.M.’s Tour Film was nominated as well, but lost to Madonna in the “Long-form Video” category. R.E.M. also performed, as did C+C Music Factory, Metallica, Prince, EMF, LL Cool J, Guns N’ Roses, Mariah Carey, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Van Halen. Most memorable of all was Michael Stipe combining his award publicity with ever-changing T-shirts to become a human-billboard-for-activist-causes.
On September 7th Motley Crue signed a new record deal guaranteeing them $22.5 million.
On September 10th “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was released as a US single. Three days later Geffen Records threw Nirvana a launch party for the song…
…Nirvana in turn threw food. Security in turn threw the band out of their own party.
On September 14th Soundgarden played a local show (watch below) and realized they were becoming rock stars. Matt Cameron recalled three years later, “We did a show in Olympia right before Badmotorfinger came out, and people there were starting the riot grrrl Kill Rock Stars label at that point, and there were T-shirts, and they were great. I asked if I could buy one of the T-shirts, and the guy said, ‘No man, you’re a rock star.’ I thought to myself, ‘What a closed-minded idiot!’ I mean, we struggled a lot.”
September 15th As grunge was on the verge of being the “next big thing”, Color Me Badd topped the Hot 100 for the first of 2 weeks with “I Adore Mi Amore.”
September 17th Guns n Roses Use Your Illusion I and II is released at midnight. With lines down the block of countless record stores, it was a genuine event...
…a 7x platinum sales event…
Use Your Illusion II debuted at top the Billboard 200, selling 770,000 copies in the first week. The #2 album that week: Use Your Illusion I, at 685,000. Despite its success, Illusion I and II didn’t match expectations set by Guns’ début, 18x platinum Appetite For Destruction.
They weren’t the only big seller released on September 17th – Mariah Carey’s Emotions and Ozzy Osbourne’s No More Tears were also released that day.
Also out on September 17th, Uncle Tupelo’s Still Feel Gone marked alt-country coming into its own – at the exact moment pop country was becoming huge business (Garth Brookes in particular). With better song-writing and overall more ambition than predecessor debut No Depression, the sophomore set perfectly combined the bite of punk with the twang of country. Recorded in just seventeen days it nonetheless captured Uncle Tupelo expanding their sound (including help from The Jayhawk’s Gary Louris among others) and the creative peak of Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar’s partnership.
Also rising up from the underground, Hole – who’s Courtney Love had recently started flirting with Kurt Cobain – released Pretty on the Inside on September 17th.
September 23rd The Pixies release their final album, Trompe le Monde – only for the band to break-up right as they could’ve broken out. Rawer than Bossanova – its surf-poppy predecessor – Trompe le Monde balances the band’s earlier primal assaults with a more varied and widely accessible sound and yielded two Modern Rock chart hits (“Letter to Memphis” and “Head On” – both peaked at #6). It’s perhaps best remembered however for “U-Mass” – a dig track at Black Francis and Joey Santiago’s former school.
Also released September 23rd, Primal Scream’s Screamadelica. If you’ve read a U.K. music magazine at any point in the past two decades you no doubt know that this album is mightily acclaimed across the pond – resulting in twenty years of non-Brits scratching their heads and assuming, “must be lost in translation“….
September 24th Red Hot Chili Peppers expanded their sound, hooked up with Rick Rubin and released their major label début (Warner Bros.) with their fifth album, Blood Sugar Sex Magik. Their magnum opus of sex, drugs and funky rock, it not only broke the band big time (it’s sold over 15 million copies and included four of their biggest hits: “Under the Bridge”, “Give It Away”, “Suck My Kiss” and “Breaking the Girl”), it also established Rick Rubin as more than just a hip-hop producer that fancied metal.
That same day also saw the release of two of the most influential albums of the decade.
In this corner, is Nirvana with their major-label debut Nevermind turning underground cred and generational anxiety into radio-friendly unit shifters – or in Kurt Cobain’s words (from the album’s press release), “like the Knack and the Bay City Rollers being molested by Black Flag and Black Sabbath.”
… and in this corner, one of the most acclaimed hip-hop albums of all time, Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory. Back in ’91 it was championed as the masterpiece of “jazz-rap” – afterall, it sampled standards like Miles Davis’ “So What” and featured upright bass by jazz legend and former Davis sideman Ron Carter. At the same time Miles – who died the following week, on September 28th – was working on a jazz-rap fusion album of his own, Doo Bop. In hindsight, the idea (popular with critics in the early ’90s) that hip-hop was an extension of jazz is a bit of a stretch, the attempts to establish it mostly fell flat and the sub-genre never found legs with audiences. The Low End Theory however retains its freshness twenty years on for how it continues to reveal its true self: not an overintellectualized time-peice in “legitimizing” hip-hop, but rather a soulful exploration of how rap could evolve out of its 80s clichés.
But most of all The Low End Theory’s articulate rhymes and smooth vibe make it a must-listen for anyone even mildly interested in an overview of hip-hop and a crate-diggers dream for how to creatively use a variety of samples:
October 8 Soundgarden bring the grunge, release Badmotorfinger…
…Creation Records’ Primal Scream bring the acid house, release Screamadelica.