It’s an interesting career trajectory; you have to admit. Your debut album is a charming indie-folk hybrid. Album two is a little bit pop-psychedelic. Number three – the breakthrough – is the Hollies go grunge, which leads us neatly to album four. Amazing Disgrace is the angry divorce record.
Frosting on the Beater saw the Posies in the right place (downwind of Seattle) at the right time (the year after Nevermind changed the music industry forever). Hair metal was out and loud, but tuneful guitars in weird tunings were the order of the day, and all it took was the Posies to hit the fuzz pedal to surf the zeitgeist. The world (not all of it, but a fair old chunk of it) was now aware of the band, so the follow-up, as long as it was broadly similar to Frosting on the Beater should have thrust them up there, equidistant between Mudhoney and Pearl Jam. Sadly, in spite of Amazing Disgrace being full to bursting with a knockout punch of noisy pop rock, it was released to an audience still in shock from Kurt Cobain’s death, and it quietly slunk away and licked its wounds. It deserves a better fate than that.
The key word of Amazing Disgrace is turmoil. The band had lost its rhythm section (drummer Mike Musburger famously quitting after a physical altercation with founder member and future Big Star/R.E.M. alumnus Ken Stringfellow) and things were less than rosy in the camp. The mood is angry. Well, let’s face it, if you record a tune called “Everybody Is a Fucking Liar”, it’s safe to assume you aren’t a happy bunny. And the opening track is cheerfully entitled “Daily Mutilation”. Jinkies. No one seems to be having a good time, but the 14 songs that make up the albums’ original release are all, without exception, exceptional. Especially “Everybody Is a Fucking Liar”.
The formula, such as it is, is close to the one used on Frosting on the Beater The guitars are loud and dirty. The tunes are well written and memorable. The vocals are pitch perfect and when Stringfellow and Jon Auer harmonize it’s a beautiful, beautiful thing. Why Auer’s name isn’t mentioned in the same breath as Eric Carmen and Robin Zander when the conversation turns to the finest pop-rock vocalists ever, is a mystery. No rock and roll band have a right to be this good, especially when they’re supposed to be so pissed off. There are three lovely ballads on the record, just to sweeten the deal – “Precious Moments”, “World”, and “The Certainty” are loaded with an ache that’s almost tangible.
It’s that ache which gives Amazing Disgrace its (serrated) edge. Even tunes which sound quite happy most certainly aren’t. The lead single “Please Return It”, in spite of its poptastic tune, has an undertone of genuine angst, “There’s an upside” goes the coda. “There has to be an upside.” Well, for the Posies, there wasn’t. The single, along with the album didn’t get close to the lofty heights of the album previous to it, although it fared better in the UK and Europe and has since become their biggest selling record. However, in 1996, it clogged up the remaindered sections of record stores from sea to shining sea.
The 2018 version of Amazing Disgrace has been given a loving makeover by Omnivore Records and looks and sounds incredible. The original album is reproduced in all its feral glory, and you get 23 additional tunes – demos, B sides, blah blah. Best of the bunch are “Sad to Be Aware” and “Terrorized” which are just as good as anything on the record. The other tunes are great if you’re one of those people who want to forensically analyze albums, and a vast number of Posies fans are exactly that sort of people. The liner notes are comprehensive and insightful, too.
On Bizarro World, Amazing Disgrace outsold every other record made in the 1990s. It propelled the Posies to international megastardom, and all the band members bought their own islands and lived happily ever after. Instead, the band continue, bloody but unbowed and have just finished their 30th-anniversary tour. They probably haven’t got their own islands, though, which is a shame. We have a lot to learn from Bizarro World.