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“Soul Asylum’s 1998 Professional Undoing Candy from a Stranger: Is it Their Best Album?”

I can no longer contain myself… this Soul Asylum album from ’98 is GREAT. It’s everything ’90’s rock was at its best — it’s powerful, gritty and honest, it wields trenchant tension pitted by one scale against another (major/minor), it’s got snuff juice in its joints, limbs swirlin’ and whirlin’.

And as many know, and as, yes, I’ve past detailed on this site, it did get them dropped from their label (Columbia). [1] Now, in order to avoid actually knowing the label’s reasoning behind this, [2] I’ve abstained from doing too much research on it, but I have a feeling their offices are like one big beer-bonging frat party… they probably wanted bands like Lit’s “The car is in the front yard” juvenility or Eve 6’s concentrated confrontation. [3]
So all of these cultural accoutrements, with rap/rock and boy bands to follow in addition to Eminem’s much-excused outright weirdness, clearly occlude what was happening in rock and roll, a baton I think would be picked up most worthily down the line by the Asylum’s Midwest brethren The White Stripes, with deliberate rondos like “I Want to Be the Boy” and then the raucous party “Girl, You Have No Faith in Medicine.” The Stripes, that is to say, were not a THROWBACK the way The Strokes and definitely Franz Ferdinand were (The Libertines were fine but somewhat ephemeral) — it struck the listener as music irreplaceable that when absent, should have been there, to fit in as a piece of a larger puzzle, one possibly likewise contributed to by forerunners from Zeppelin to the Meat Puppets and Sebadoh.
But songs in the mainstream in the late ’90’s were almost like little mini-reality shows: even Everclear, who I have to say rock with ear-splitting abandon, definitely had a penchant for melodrama, taking pot shots frequently at kissups and hypocrites, or people THEY SAW as hypocrites. [4] What’s an old sh**-kicker with nothin’ to lose to do these days? Soul Asylum seemed destined for indie rock all the way, though I guess this didn’t work out, the way it maybe did for Jawbox’s J. Robbins who would go on to not only start his own label (De Soto), but belt out some timeless post-rock in the indie sphere with newly assumed outfit Burning Airlines.
Soul Asylum always had a knack for what I’d like to call creative dissection — copying, in other words, ripping off a riff from another song and using it in their song (the guitar intro for Rush’s “Fly by Night” for their own intro in the still excellent “Black Gold” being a case in point), and I detect a hint of this also on Candy’s second track “I Will Still Be Laughing” which mind you made it worthily onto the band’s closely subsequent greatest hits. That is, I think I hear a strain from the song by Seal “Prayer for the Dying,” but again, the effect is positive and altogether uplifting — that is to say, no listener would assume the position of denial toward Dave Pirner’s worthiness of the position. It’d be like disrupting an old person who’s playing bingo, or watching his or her grandson or granddaughter playing in the sandbox, and really having a good time. I mean, he seems to be a genuine muse relaying a celestial cluster family of rock vocal, and the whole band is locked in a tight groove throughout this whole album, with kinetic energy breaking and crumbling out of their very joints like phosphorous. What I’m saying is, let’s not overestimate how cool the ’90’s were. This muse had to come from a certain snowballing of feeling, a certain introspection to create the fermented stew of outpour.
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[1] In my opinion, it’s all the fault of those organized crime goons Smash Mouth and all their intimidating boorishness.
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[2] For anyone who doesn’t remember, the late ’90’s actually kinda sucked, I mean Celebrity Deathmatch was one of the most popular shows, for Christ’s sake. Also there was that whole “swing” revival thing.
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[3] I once saw Eve 6 in Chicago and to my eye Max Collins was deliberately attempting to appear homosexual, traipsing around in a tight white shirt and red leather pants and asking something like “Does this outfit showcase my figure well?” Anyway, they definitely make for more DRAMA, with the unsettled semantic specificity of “Tongue Tied” and “Leech.”
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[4] As Nirvana had already proved, bashing public figures in high-profile interviews is a readily demonstrated Northwesterner’s habit.

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