Hey, Remember the '90s?
It was Frank Zappa, I believe, who warned that the world would not end in fire or ice, but rather in nostalgia. With the rapid acceleration of nostalgic revivalism, at a certain point, the world would start feeling nostalgic about the present moment and at that point the world would come to a complete standstill. If you look at the signs, there’s plenty of warning that Zappa’s prophecy may be coming true sooner than even he expected. I wasn’t the only one who noticed I Loved the ‘90s, right? I wasn’t the only one who noticed that Green Day, Nine Inch Nails, Garbage, Beck, and Weezer all just had major modern rock radio hits in the last few months? I didn’t hallucinate the news that Rhino Records had already compiled its ‘90s box set compilation? Just a few days ago, Billy Corgan announced that he wanted to reform the Smashing Pumpkins, the same day that Vanilla Ice performed a Destiny’s Child song on network television! Do I really need to say any more to convince people that the end is nigh?
Even if I am overreacting, just a tad, it seems shocking that labels are now trying to revive bands from the ‘90s already. Not to be confused with the aforementioned Pumpkins, Smashing Orange was an American shoegaze band that went unnoticed in here but received some notice in the notoriously short-attention span world of the British music press. 1991 is a collection of their 1991 singles, most of which were never released in the States. I suppose Elephant Stone Records decided, with Kevin Shields’s nominal return to the public sphere via Lost in Translation and the relative success of electro-shoegaze project M83, now is as good time as any to attempt to bring back shoegaze, that would-be “next big genre” of a decade past. However, Smashing Orange’s singles, simply put, are not exciting enough to really revitalize interest in a genre that was never popular in America in the first place.
Shoegaze, for those too young to remember, was an attempt at mixing the feedback and noise experiments of White Light/White Heat-era Velvet Underground with the strong melodic core of power-pop. My Bloody Valentine, by all modern accounts, began the trend with their early EPs and Isn’t Anything, and also effectively ended the genre with 1991’s Loveless, which pretty much pushed the genre to its utmost limits. In fact, most of the shoegaze bands such as Lush, Ride, and even Smashing Orange changed their sound following the impossible-to-top Loveless.
The problem with Smashing Orange’s 1991 is that the songs were out of date shortly after they were released. Smashing Orange was, at best, a second-tier shoegaze band, who had the sound down to a formula but lacked that real creative spark that would allow them to breakthrough the mob of likeminded bands. It’s not like the band doesn’t have a firm grasp on the genre. The guitars swoop in and out in glorious layers of feedback, as the vocalists, siblings Rob and Sara Montejo, coo and croon somewhere in the bottom of the mix, obscure by the wall of noise. Occasionally the rush of noise suggests romance and sex, like in the woozy “Only Complete in You”, and occasionally the band channels the fuzz into a more garage-punk context, like in the album highlights-by-default “Felt Like Nothing” and “Sugar”. Smashing Orange knows all the little sonic tricks, but lacks the songwriting skills to compensate for the band’s lack of originality.
Maybe Smashing Orange was just unlucky enough to find itself accomplished in a genre that turned out to be too limiting. The shoegaze sound found itself bound by its own rules, something that is evident on “Sidewinder”, one of Smashing Orange’s more interesting failures. On “Sidewinder”, the conflict between the experimental noise factor and the pop song factor ends in a mutual loss, with the pop song approach preventing the song from going into potentially interesting fractured noise-rock bliss and the experimental feedback and unconventional structure preventing the song from being the strong pop song it could have been. Smashing Orange ultimately sounds like a group of fence-sitters, and their music suffers from this lack of commitment.
While a relatively easy listen, nothing can beat the sheer ear-ringing bliss of feedback-laden music when the volume’s cranked up, there’s nothing even remotely essential on 1991. I’m still confidant that the upcoming, world-ending, way too early ‘90s revival will result in the discovery of countless forgotten gems, but Smashing Orange’s 1991 is not one of them. No need to wait long. By my calculations, the Britpop revival should be here towards the beginning of October.
// Notes from the Road
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