Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Nineties Nihilism With a Beat

Nineteen ninety-three was an interesting year in music for me. It was the year I realized nihilism was a mainstream concept. Songs like Beck's "Loser", Cracker's "Low" and Tool's "Sober" caught me off guard in their portrayal of self-loathing as an acceptable state of being. Sure, Trent Reznor's Pretty Hate Machine predates this party of self-hate, but that was wrapped in an industrial-pop wrapper. Fully influenced by grunge and the D.I.Y. sounds coming out of Seattle, these songs had a more organic bent to them.

"Soy un perdedor" (Spanish for "I am a loser") is how Beck begins the chanting refrain of Mellow Gold's "Loser" before continuing in English with "I'm a loser, baby, so why don't you kill me?" For me, it captures the post-college, adrift-in-your-20s feelings so many go through. But I remember hearing the song for the first time and marveling that this sentiment was being put out there for mass consumption and actually getting commercial play.

While Beck has proven relevant across decades, when David Lowery unwrapped Cracker he already had a go-round with the '80s eclecticism of Camper Van Beethoven. "Low", off Cracker's Kerosene album, may not tread in exactly the same waters as the other songs with its drug references, but thematically and aesthetically it fits right in.

Similar to these others, Tool's "Sober", off of the album Undertow, paints a dark, self-destructive picture...
Why can't we not be sober?
I just want to start this over
Why can't we drink forever?
I just want to start this over

I am just a worthless liar
I am just an imbecile
I will only complicate you
Trust in me and fall as well

I will find a center in you
I will chew it up and leave
I will work to elevate you
Just enough to bring you down

There were other songs and albums released in 1993 beyond this sad selection. Songs like Janet Jackson's sexual awakening on "If" and "That's the Way Love Goes" were both released that year. Aerosmith continued their rise from the ashes with apostrophe-heavy singles like "Livin' on the Edge" and "Cryin'". Whitney Houston was annoying people everywhere declaring "I'm Every Woman", and Salt-n-Pepa were teaching the world how to "Shoop". Grunge was in full-swing by 1993. Pearl Jam released their second album, Vs. and Nirvana released their incredible last studio album, In Utero.

But what happened with the nihilistic singles from 1993 has always stuck with me for some reason. I'm not necessarily a huge fan of any of those three songs, but for some reason they marked a turning point -- not necessarily in the world of music, but in my world and how I perceived music.