Much as I’ve groused about the bland uniformity of alternative rock radio circa 1995, dominated as it was by pallid echoes of the Seattle sound that crashed playlists a couple years earlier, largely thanks to Nirvana and Pearl Jam, there were a couple other dismal genre subsets that had secure footholds on the airwaves. The Caulfields nearly represent one of those. Hailing from Newark, the band was part of the long death rattle of A&M Records, the once prestigious imprint of Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss that had a self-destructive proclivity through the late-eighties and early-nineties of signing out-of-the-mainstream acts and then proceeding as if they had no earthly idea as to what to do with them. The Caulfields played big, brash, glossy rock, the kind of stuff that surely rattled the walls of a little club and aspired to fill a stadium, although it clearly could have done little more than adequately overpower the chatter of people milling around while they waited for the real headliner. They had a minor hit with “Devil’s Diary,” the lead single from their debut, Whirligig. There always seemed to be at least one song like this on the modern rock charts through 1995, as if programmers were trying to fill a quota of loud rock ‘n’ roll that doesn’t sound like grudge, not exactly anyway. It helped the song’s commercial prospects if there was some dopey, faux controversial, bratty gag somewhere in the lyrics. The hook of “I’m bigger than Jesus now” filled that bill nicely.
Jim Carroll’s The Basketball Diaries was released in 1978. It covered the years 1963 to 1966, when Carroll was a teenager succumbing to the myriad of unseemly temptations, especially heroin, in the heavily scuffed urban setting of New York City. The 1995 film version, the feature debut of music video director Scott Kalvert, nonsensically transfers the action to the early nineteen-nineties, although that’s probably the least of the muddled film’s sins. Regardless, the time-shift allowed for a soundtrack peppered with some hot bands of the moment and several that the label was undoubtedly hoping to parlay into greater prominence by tricking CD listeners to sit through their tracks on the way to the Soundgarden song. The soundtrack opens with a new version of one of Carroll’s best-known songs, with the singer fronting Pearl Jam, so there’s some novelty to that, I suppose. I saw this film in a nearly-empty theater shortly after it opened. By the following November, which was the next chance I had to buy a ticket for a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio (because Total Eclipse wasn’t going to play anywhere near me, or most anyone), I found myself in the middle of an opening weekend sell-out crowd for Romeo + Juliet, surrounded by high school girls who were squealing and swooning at Leo at a level that is best described as Peak Bieber. I’ve always wondered what stirred that transformation. Where did they discover him? The Basketball Diaries on home video? I like to think it was specifically the scene where he’s working as a gay hustler, getting a blow job in a public bathroom to earn a little money for smack, that really pushed him over to teen idol status. The nineties could be weird, man.
Like Jell-O, there’s always room for Britpop. In this context, I’m specifically referring to the ability of the unyielding affection that left of the dial student programmers have for chipper, catchy music from the other side of the Atlantic, even at a time when plodding, guitar-heavy endurance tests were elbowing aside many other contenders, but let’s go ahead and abuse the simile presented above. At it’s finest, Britpop is colorful, vivid, jiggly, goes does easy, and fades from the memory fairly quickly, leaving the impression of pleasure rather than any thoughts about specific qualities in each individual serving. On was the sophomore effort of Echobelly. It was a bang-up success in their homeland, peaking at #4 on the album charts and yielding a few Top 40 singles (“Great Things” climbed the highest). It’s agreeable stuff, though even more forgettable than most of the hard candy served up by their U.K. contemporaries. I suspect Echobelly’s On was overshadowed over here by the superficially similar Elastica, whose self-titled debut arrived earlier in the same year but had a reinvented post-punk edge that made it far more distinctive and just plain better. Another reason I bring up that comparison is to note my amazement and mild disappointment in those who followed me at the station that Elastica shows up nowhere on this chart.
— An Introduction
— 90-88: The Falling Wallendas, Parasite, and A.M.
— 87-85: North Avenue Wake Up Call, Live!, and Life Begins at 40 Million
— 84 and 83: Wholesale Meats and Fishes and Orange
— 82-80: (What’s the Story) Morning Glory, Fossil, and Electric Rock Music
— 79-77: Coast to Coast Motel, My Wild Life, and Life Model
— 76-74: Gag Me with a Spoon, Where I Wanna Be, and Ruby Vroom
— 73 and 72: Horsebreaker Star and Wild-Eyed and Ignorant
— 71 and 70: 500 Pounds and Jagged Little Pill