There is SOME, I suppose, to be said, about this current ’90’s revival, other than the fact that this happens with every decade once it turns 20. Like its successor, though, the ’00’s made taut and paranoid by 9/11, it does wield a genus of music so ridiculously spectral, ranging as it does from grunge to the throwaway dance pop of Daft Punk and Jamiroquai, that the entire emphasis seems pointless aside from this simple mathematical bounding.
With this being, the case, I figure, we should at least do it right, try to implicitly shine SOME accolades on the time. And if Tasmin Archer, Des’ree and Dionne Farris prove anything, it’s that in this decade gone by, at least by some, quality was given a missive over quantity.
Crowd-pleasing, or culture-catering, isn’t EXACTLY what Everclear became guilty of in their disposable albums following So Much for the Afterglow, so I guess we can still take the prompt from what happens to be one of my favorite rock songs of the decade, their “Everything to Everyone.” “You jump through the big hoops,” croons Art Alexakis in his patented snarl, “You play all the right games / You try to be everything to everyone”.
Now I’m not going to name names here, but let’s just say that when a female pop musician becomes the first diva to win “Album of the Year” two times, there should be some contextualization of the achievement, especially when said “star” has a tendency to pick and borrow from a troublingly bulbous array of genres, to say nothing of “styles.” We should examine whether we actually think SHE even wrote those songs, or if she’s basically a vocalizing stand-in for some preconceived cultural message that some communications company wants to propagate.
Archer, Des’ree and Farris, as mentioned above, each had but “15 minutes” of fame, as you might say, but to me their contributions only shine and blossom with age, singles-oriented as they might be. Archer’s “Sleeping Satellite” is a near-perfect radio song that delivers the listener to a celestial place, while undoubtedly going on to influence the likes of Joan Osborne (“What if God Was One of Us”) and Paula Cole (“I Don’t Want to Wait”). “Sleeping Satellite” was the first to pipe into that almost space walking-type ambience, and deliver a constellation of melodies that seems to just oscillate comfortably into itself, with complete authority. The song, in other words, was not a STYLISTIC breakthrough — it’s not rap, there’s no bad-girl image being handed out — it rose purely on the strength of its songwriting attributes.
Des’Ree’s “You Gotta Be” is of course a prominent staple of restaurant or dentist-office radio, a glue type song somewhat like Mariah Carey’s “Hero” or Christian Aguilera’s “Beautiful.” Farris’ “I Know,” which shared the ’94 spotlight with the aforementioned, is a bit more enigmatic, replacing anthemic, expedited catchiness with a blues aesthetic (though not a blues note family, and this is important). Clearly a lover of the Mississippi Delta transmissions and their use of slide guitar, she takes on a pop musicology for her spotlighted submission more in the vein of Motown, and in the process fully cozies into a decade in which, at its best moments, the statements being made were so MUSICAL that they made you forget about all the meaningless surrounding details. Almost never, in the last half-century, was music’s LENS so clear, or its shell so scant: the stylistic hitch behind which these ladies hid for pop stardom is undetectible, or just non-existent altogether. There is no morphing of personae, just pitches and phrases.