79. G. Love & Special Sauce, Coast to Coast Motel
I don’t have very many distinct memories relating to the Philadelphia act G. Love & Special Sauce, which makes it all the more clear which one is my favorite. I was having a spirited conversation with a friend of mine about the state of radio, particularly the quality of the student broadcasters stewarding the airwaves at our shared alma mater. While acknowledging that we were all novices once and generosity is called for, he shared that one deejay caused him special dismay whenever she was on the air. As an example, he noted she once introduced a song by saying, “And now here’s Glove and Special Sauce.” Given the timing of the conversation, it entirely possible the infraction in question led directly into a track from Coast to Coast Motel, the band’s second proper release. Assuming the deejay had a lack of playlist imagination, there’s a decent chance the song was “Kiss and Tell,” the lead single from the album, which is indicative of the record’s shift from the white guy hip hop of their debut to a more roots rock influence. I’m not sure what further turns in the road happened for G. Love and the gang, but they kept cranking out albums, including as recently as last year, which saw the release of Sugar.
78. Grover, My Wild Life
Grover had a petty nice pedigree as a band, even if the experience of its chief member was built almost by happenstance. Angie Carlson interviewed the band Let’s Active when she was writing for the Minneapolis alternative newspaper City Pages in the mid-nineteen-eighties. She struck up a relationship with the band’s frontman, Mitch Easter, which led to marriage and a place in the group’s line-up. As Carlson reported it, original Let’s Active member Faye Hunter departed the band shortly thereafter “and all of a sudden I had to sing the ‘girl parts.'” As it turns out, the band and the marriage were both doomed. By the mid-nineties, Carlson was looking for a new outlet for her musical creativity, assembling a group that included Chris Phillips, drummer for the Squirrel Nut Zippers. They dubbed the band Grover, partially because they were looking for a name that conjured up no natural preconceptions (the greatest Muppet ever may have also shared inspiration on the band name). There’s not a lot of Grover music readily available out there, but what I could put my ears on sounds like an attempt to mate eighties tunefulness with nineties grunge power. Yes, that’s as messy as it the description implies. My Wild Life was the sole album by Grover. Carlson reportedly went back to the world of independent weekly journalism.
77. The Blue Aeroplanes, Life Model
The Blue Aeroplanes were a band that sorta snuck up on me. While they had a couple earlier releases, I first heard of them when the album Friendloverplane was added to 90FM’s rotation in the late fall of 1988, as I was still deep into learning mode. Given the likely timing of its arrival in our library, it was overshadowed by far more prominent releases. As I recall, it got only the most cursory attention. I returned to it occasionally, intrigued and satisfied but not exactly wowed, either. My handwriting was fairly lonely on the sheet taped to the front cover that tracked plays. Two years later, the Blue Aeroplanes came out with the album Swagger, which included the single “Jacket Hangs.” That song became a respectable college radio hit, and seemed to do even a little better at our station. Just like that, they were a band that demanded our attention.
That rapidly-built prominence clearly lasted for a bit, as Life Model, an album that I don’t recall getting invoked all that much as a must-listen by anyone in the music press, did well enough at the station to chart on the year-end list. The album is a solid extension of the music that helped the Blue Aeroplanes to their breakthrough, but it also sounds a little worn out, even generic. “Broken & Mended,” — a single the yielded a video playing some of the same tricks as the Cars’ “You Might Think,” but a decade later, making it seem dopey and dated — is punchy, and guitar-driven, and hooky in an almost offhand way. It’s also lacking in the band’s dark-tinged charm, a little edge of hidden menace that shaded the best of their earlier music. Too often, the attempts at enticing gloom come across as Nick Cave Lite. “Ghost-Nets” has a practiced spookiness and spoken lyrics that almost immediately shift from intriguing to ponderous (“Leaving is hard/ Arriving is, too/ There’s a gate and a fence/ The fence is you”). Later track “Daughter Movie” fares better, thanks to a more casual approach to the writing (“This is very sloppy writing today,” Gerard Langley says at one point). Fuller, fiercer backing music also helps, providing a sharper contrast between the words and the sonic ground they trod upon.
Elsewhere, Life Model roves without coming up with anything all that inspired. “Frightened at Night” comes across as a less hyper-articulate version of the gentle calypso crooning Mark Eitzel was playing around with at the same time, and “Honey I” has extensive lyrics in French, which is a gummy dollop of pretension that even the mightiest bands can’t extricate themselves from without looking foolish. “Vade Mecum Gunslinger” is one of the stronger tracks, succeeding despite despite playing like a parody of the Godfathers. Then again, maybe that’s exactly why it works. Maybe what the Blue Aeroplanes really needed at this point was an excuse to escape from their own reputation and self-regard with a big ol’ helping of willfully dumb rock ‘n’ roll.
— 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