When I was an impressionable youth working in college radio, I know I was supposed to be learning to love the arch, indie abstractions of bands like Pavement and Guided by Voices. They were releasing their first records then and provoking genuflections from much of the music press, small and eager as it was. Authenticity was always a major criteria for those of us playing music on the left end of the dial, especially as we saw bands that used to operate solely in our territory achieve significant crossover success, a group led by U2 and R.E.M., but also including far less likely hit-makers such as the Cure, Love and Rockets and, maybe most shockingly, the Divinyls. These upstarts proved how genuine they were through defiantly, deliberately lo-fi production and even eschewing the basics of songcraft. There was a newfound pride in sounding half-assed. I never really bought into that, though (Pavement remains one of the bands with which I’m mostly dramatically out of step with the effusive consensus). Instead, I wasn’t able to quite shake my instinctual affection for bands that strove to for songs anthemic enough for the dreamed-for day when they’d fill a stadium.
Nuclear Valdez was a Miami band that released their debut album, I Am I, on Epic Records in 1989. With a line-up comprised of Latinos, it’s entirely possible that the label saw the group as a natural partner to Living Colour, a hard rock band with fulfilled a similar diversity requirement within the artist roster. After a year of slow-build effort, Living Colour had just blown up, and it’s not hard to imagine the record company bigwigs sitting around envisioning a crassly thematic package tour. I can retroactively judge all I want, but whatever the motivation, that probably would have been a good show. (They instead spent a lot of time opening for fellow Columbia employees the Hooters.) Nuclear Valdez made music with an evident go-big-or-go-home approach and their label gave them a corresponding forceful push.
Despite a minor radio hit and an invite to the hot new MTV show Unplugged, the band never really took off. I don’t even remember the follow-up album from a couple years later. I Am I was still a nice little rock album for those who knew to look for it, though.
(Disclaimer: It appears to me that I Am I is out of print as a physical item that you can go to your favorite local, independently-owned record store and order. It’s available for digital purpose, but the Sony corporation seems like one of the least likely business monoliths to be interested in sharing revenue with bygone artists, so the hell with that. However, my soapbox crowing aside, if anyone from the previously mentioned business monolith contacts me with a request, demand or strongly worded suggestion regarding the removal of this track from the digital wonderland of the internet, I will gladly comply. I’ll do it even more quickly and happily if someone from the band makes the same request.)