16. Soul Asylum, Let Your Dim Light Shine
In a fairly unique situation, know exactly where I was when I first heard Soul Asylum’s Let Your Dim Light Shine. I was crammed into a booth at The Plaza Tavern, a landmark to certain boozy souls in Madison, Wisconsin and home of the “world famous” Plazaburger, commiserating with the handful of pals who’d joined me there for a listening party sponsored by the “New Rock Alternative” commercial radio station where I was working at the time. I’d been assigned to staff this particular remote, which was supposed to be a boon to the bar in question. Soul Asylum was coming off a multi-platinum album, 1992’s Grave Dancers Union, somewhat unlikely beneficiaries of the rush to embrace any left of the dial bands that skirted anywhere near the grunge sound of Nirvana and their Seattle brethren, and they had a regional connection, hailing from Wisconsin’s neighbors to the west. Surely, the place would be packed with people anxious to get a first listen to this release. As with most radio remotes, the station’s presence didn’t cajole a single extra person into the bar that night. So I sat there with my friends who’d come to keep me company, we played Let Your Dim Light Shine three or four times, played bubble hockey, and split.
There were other reasons to believe Let Your Dim Light Shine might be an even bigger album than its direct predecessor. Butch Vig was the producer (along with the band), and this was the time when the guy who’d presided over Nirvana’s Nevermind and just launched the band Garbage had about as big of a name as a record producer can get, at least in the Non-Hip-Hop division. And radio had turned even more forcefully in their direction in the intervening years. Whatever lofty expectations were affixed to the album dissolved pretty quickly once people actually heard it. Grave Dancers Union was a flawed record, too, but it at least led off with a trio of corkers. Let Your Dim Light Shine was basically a muddled mess from start to finish, with album opener and lead single “Misery,” a song so inane it’s downright baffling, setting the tone accurately. They just sound whiny on “Promises Broken” and dopey on “Bittersweetheart” (“My mind’s gone to pieces/ I can use some peace of mind”). Really, they mostly sound like a band that’s decided they don’t want to make album anymore, that all the money they made off of having a Top 5 hit was plenty.
Despite that, they did keep making records, with the occasional hiatus but never a formal dissolution of the band. That noted, Dave Pirner is the only original member still connected with the band under its current iteration and the new album releases have long gaps between them (there have only been three since Let Your Dim Line Shine). I was prepared to add a dismissive comment about no one paying much attention to those albums anyway, but every one of them has charted on the Billboard Hot 200, albeit in the lower reaches, which is more than plenty of Soul Asylum’s peers can claim.
I think of the Tragically Hip as sort of a niche band, one that had a handful of passionate followers, but never made all that much headway, at least outside of their native Canada. That’s clear somewhat off base as far as 90FM is concerned. For one thing, their 1989 landed much higher on the station’s year-end chart than a mere cult favorite would. And then there’s this high placement of Day for Night, the band’s fourth album. Hell, this album even nabbed them a Saturday Night Live musical guest slot. I should really know better. Their music is exactly the sort of smartly polished bar band rock that always did well at my beloved broadcasting alma mater. Of course the Tragically Hip was going to do well there. The Tragically Hip are another one of those bands that has continued to grind it out. And why wouldn’t they? They’ve topped the album charts in their northern homeland eight times, doing so as recently as 2009, with the album We Are the Same.
— 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
— 69-67: Whirligig, The Basketball Diaries, and On
— 66 and 65: Alice in Chains and Frogstomp
— 64 and 63: Happy Days and Exit the Dragon
— 62-60: Lucky Dumpling, Fight for Your Mind, and Short Bus
— 59-57: Good News from the Next World, Joe Dirt Car, and Tomorrow the Green Grass
— 56 and 55: …And Out Come the Wolves and Clueless
— 54-52: We Get There When We Do, Trace, and Twisted
— 51-49: Thrak, Stoney’s Extra Stout (Pig), and You Will Be You
— 48 and 47: Shamefaced and Here’s Where the Strings Come In
— 46 and 45: 13 Unlucky Numbers and Resident Alien
— 44-42: Elastica, Private Stock, and Death to Traitors
— 41-39: Optimistic Fool, Ben Folds Five, and Above
— 38-36: Collide, Cowboys and Aliens, and Batman Forever
— 35-33: Taking the World by Donkey, One Hot Minute, and Dog Eared Dream
— 32 and 31: Straight Freak Ticket and Besides
— 30-28: Sixteen Stone, Big Dumb Face Shoe Guy, and Cascade
— 27-25: Born to Quit, King, and Hate!
— 24 and 23: Sparkle and Fade and Brown Bag LP
— 22 and 21: University and Pummel
— 20 and 19: Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and Thread
— 18 and 17: Ball-Hog or Tugboat? and Rainbow Radio