The year was 1994. And for most, grunge had died back in April when Kurt Cobain tragically took his life, ending the grunge revolution that had taken hold of radio stations. In truth, this wasn’t the case. (Pre-reunion) Soundgarden and Alice In Chains each still had a few more years and grunge albums to share with the world. But beyond them, music was changing. Nirvana was no longer. Pearl Jam had moved into more experimental territory with 1994s “Vitalogy”. And a new music type was arising from the not-dead-yet embers of grunge: alternative. And again, we’re faced with a genre whose name, like punk, makes the most sense in its initial generation. Then again, alternative music was only really good for a few years.
The Smashing Pumpkins may have created modern popular alternative music with “Siamese Dream” in 1993, but Bush really solidified the sound with 1994s “Sixteen Stone”. You can argue that this was in fact not the beginning of alt-rock, but to me it was. Sadly, I don’t remember the release of “Nevermind”. I don’t remember when “Vitalogy” came out. I can’t recall hearing about “Siamese Dream” until a friend became obsessed with the Pumpkins in high school. But Bush was my alternative music. Not because they created the genre or the sound, but because they were the first alternative that I can really remember.
“Sixteen Stone” was an eye-opener for me. “You can say asshole on the radio?” I thought with wonderment while Everything Zen played on the radio on the way to school in the morning. Is Gavin Rossdale muttering “that’s why I’m not Jewish” 2:52 into Machinehead? (He’s not.) And what, pray tell, is a Glycerine, and how did these guys use that awesome-sounding word to make a beautiful song with just a guitar and violins? And am I allowed to like beautiful songs at age ten? Is that ok?
In many ways, this was a coming-of-age album for me. Not because it’s my favorite of the era. But because it’s one of the first that I can remember. From the first time they played the songs. To when each new single was released. To when we got tired of hearing Comedown 30 times per day on each of the rock stations in Baltimore.
“Sixteen Stone” was my alternative rock. I had come a year too late. I was William Miller being told by Lester Bangs that rock had just died, and I had arrived for the death rattle. Cobain was dead and music was supposed to be finished too. But that wasn’t good enough for me. It wasn’t fair that I started becoming musically conscious a year too late. So this was my alternative. My alternative to the Mix 106.5 I had been hearing on the car radio up until then. My alternative to the pop and dance music the rest of my 5th grade class was listening to. My alternative to those music critics who were lamenting the death of rock once again. This was my alternative.
Bush – Machinehead
Bush – Alien