We appear to be smack-gob in the middle of another golden age of music, at least for the music I like.
1993 was the last year of my teens. I'd been playing guitar long enough to think I was pretty good, although that was wrong.
In the first three days of this year alone, Czechoslovakia ceased to exist (becoming the Czech Republic and Slovakia), TV-am and TVS were replaced by GMTV and Meridian respectively (I lived in the south-east so those were the TV channels I knew), and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine began. A heady start to the year! Clinton (Mr) replaced Bush (Senior) as POTUS, James Bulger (a kid) was abducted and killed (by kids), Waco happened, there was a Great Blizzard, um… Bobbitt…, Fermat's Last Theorem was proved, the Hokkaidō earthquake and resulting tsunami killed hundreds, "Don't ask, don't tell", Windows NT 3.1, Magic: The Gathering, Linux Debian, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and the Oslo I Accord were all a thing, the Maastricht Treaty took effect establishing the EU, and a whole lot of other important and mainly depressing shit happened.
But also, Doom.
Among those getting comfortable in pine were Dizzy Gillespie, Rudolf Nureyev, Audrey Hepburn, André the Giant, Bobby Moore, Brandon Lee, Mick Ronson, Les Dawson, Criss Oliva, Vincent Price, River Phoenix, Mr. Theremin and Frank Zappa.
But this was over 20 years ago… who did we gain? With whom did the universe replace all these people? Well… To be honest, I had a look down the 1993 births list and by the time I'd got to September, the only name I had recognised was someone out of One Direction (and that only because I read too much Twitter). We'll try that again next time, maybe.
Meanwhile, in the land of rock, things had started to go very wrong indeed…
I was never into thrash or proper metal to begin with, so I was never into the early Anthrax stuff, despite no little coercion from my schoolmate Nick who was all up on it. By 1993 though, I had developed some fairly metal leanings, just in time for them to switch out their rather screechy singer for a guy with some depth. The riffs are tight, the vocals are really listenable and dynamic (no monotonous screeching or growling here), and the drumming is frankly astounding. Great stuff, and has barely aged in 23 years. Top track: "Only"
Referred to by those in the know at the time as "Britain's Satriani", Jan got some decent exposure even before that as lead guitarist in Zodiac Mindwarp and the Love Reaction under the pseudonym Flash Bastard, presumably because he could actually play. This was his second solo instrumental album and for my money it's still an absolute cracker. Top track: "Spirit"
What? I don't care. La la la, I can't hear you. This is fucking great. Yes, even now. (Hint: make music that sounds 20 years old at the time, and it won't date any further…) Top track: "Too Young to Die"
So, as documented elsewhere, the hair metal scene was collapsing like a hairspray flan in a grunge cupboard (or something). Instead of jacking it all in Poison recruited hotshot guitar wizard Richie Kotzen to replace the frankly dodgy C.C DeVille, and turned out the best thing to ever bear the Poison name. This is a stonker of an album, that could just possibly be improved by leaving a couple of the 15 tracks off. Top track: "Blind Faith"
Ah well, now. You have to realise that Vai was the biggest thing in guitar at the time. He was simply the most powerful force on 6 - and he was the one who invented 7, remember - strings and his 1990 magnificent octopus Passion & Warfare was and still is regarded as an untouchable instrumental masterpiece. So what did he do next? He recruited a dynamic 20-year-old Canadian singer with a skullet, and recorded an absolutely astonishing vocal rock album. Natch. Unfortunately this was their only full-album collaboration, with Vai himself taking up the lead vocal slot on his later work. 23 years later, there's still nothing quite like this. Top track: "Still My Bleeding Heart"
And the winner is…
So yeah, it's cool to think that Sting is a twat. So what? It's probably the norm to dismiss all his music as poncey pop garbage. With some of it I agree, but not this album. This album is sublime.
The musicianship is superb, helped along by recruiting Frank Zappa's favoured drummer Vinnie Colauita (Sting has a penchant for songs in 7/8 and 7/4, which I always like, and which you certainly never got with The Police) and excellent support from pianist David Sancious and guitarist Dominic Miller both staying on from Sting's previous album The Soul Cages.
By turns moody ("It's Probably Me"), irreverant ("Love Is Stronger Than Justice"), abstract ("Shape of My Heart"), narrative ("Something the Boy Said"), heartfelt ("Everybody Laughed But You") clever ("Seven Days") and quite simply fun ("Saint Augustine in Hell", "She's Too Good For Me"), this is an absolute classic. Like they used to make, back in the day. Proper.
Top tracks: "Saint Augustine In Hell", "Something the Boy Said", "It's Probably Me"
Turkey of the Year
Aaaargh. Don't get me wrong, I adore Love/Hate. They were the first real band I ever saw live (opening for Skid Row) and my own band has supported them twice in the last few years. Their first two albums are utter rawk classics, and the first of those – Blackout in the Red Room – has been welded into my car CD player since I had one that worked (November 2014). But… this album just fucking flopped. Remember The Dark Times were upon us, and the musical landscape had changed. I assume there was some kind of falling out as lead guitarist Jon E. Love was replaced by wunderkind Darren Householder… and somehow all the magic was just gone. Stick with the first two L/H albums, and you won't go wrong. Those are brilliant.