Don’t listen to the haters out there, the nineties were a fantastic decade for music. On top of many of the albums on this very list, there are at least another five hundred I could have easily added.
But I did try to avoid adding a bunch of obvious records to this list. The ones that I have added, and that shall be coming up later, I added simply because their impact was so definitive on my meager teenage existence that they couldn’t be shuffled off to one side and ignored. And the most obvious one of all isn’t as high up as you all might think.
Don’t let this little tantrum deflect from the fact that Copper Blue is one of the best albums of the 90s.
Copper Blue was the début album from Sugar, the fantastically punky and loud band Bob Mould created after Hüsker Dü imploded. It showed off Mould’s gift for melody, and those insanely miniature vocals of his, a voice not so much a rock voice as a pleading whine. Released in the wake of the new music revolution also called “grunge”, bands who were the spiritual children of Mould’s, Copper Blue ended up being the best album Hüsker Dü never made. The tell-tale flourishes- the hooks, the melodies, the lyrics- those are classic Bob. But without the equally talented Grant Hart there to shape the underpinnings, the music sounded lighter somehow. The complex relationship between Mould and Hart was the eventual reason for the destruction of Hüsker Dü, and Mould followed that up with two very dark solo works that I find nearly unlistenable.
The complex art of balancing dark lyrical themes and sunshiny pop melodies goes back before rock even existed, but as geniuses like Brian Wilson and John Lennon proved in the sixties, it is the foundation of good rock music. Mould is an acolyte of this style, and this album, under the garage punk guitars and thrashing drums fills, is as melodically bright as a Beach Boys record.
For instance, “The Act We Act”, the album’s opener, on its surface is a song that is as tuneful as an early R.E.M. track, just layered with amazingly ferocious guitars Peter Buck could only imagine creating. But Mould sings lyrics like “The act we act is wearing thin” and “Hours slip by as you watch the worlds collide” with an impatience and a scolding tone. I have no idea what he’s pissed about, but I hum this song while doing dishes.
“If I Can’t Change Your Mind” is the band’s biggest hit, a bouncy track that sounds like what the Beatles could have written if they kept going the way of “Helter Skelter” instead of writing “The Long and Winding Road”. Tragedy struck this song when my thirteen year old daughter informed me Train had a cover of it. Fucking Train? But the original still shone like a shiny penny in the dreary landscape of 1992 music, even if it a piece of self-pity, as Bob sings about remaining faithful to a completely horrible asshole who doesn’t appreciate him.
My favourite song on the album is the propulsive “Fortune Teller”, a song awash with epic guitars and misery. I used to listen to this song in my room while drawing for my art class. The pictures would be better than the ones I’d draw while listening to any other band.
“Helpless” is the most conventional song on the record, a poppy, grunge era melody that wouldn’t sound out-of-place on a Hole record, if only the lyrics were even darker and filled with cursing.
Other tracks deal with a friend’s early death from AIDS (“The Slim”), murder (“A Good Idea”), car crashes (“Slick”), and suicide (“Hoover Dam”). Lyrically, it’s one hell of a dark record. in fact, if Bob Mould wasn’t such a genius with melody and sonic bravery, it would possibly be too much to take. There isn’t a lot of respite from the dark world view, but there is those guitars. And they are worth every single second of listening time.
Bob Mould would later denounce alternative music, the genre he helped create, and moved on to electronica, writing for the WCW, DJing, appearing in the film Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and an uneven solo career. He still remains one of my favourite people in music- I’m a guitars girl, and his were among the best.