Thursday, July 19, 2012

U is for Urban Dance Squad

Cross-eyed and painful
I looked through my vast subset of CDs by artists beginning with the letter U, and made the extraordinary discovery that many of my personal favorites were all released in the same year! Utopia's Oops! Wrong Planet, Uriah Heep's Innocent Victim, and Ultravox's Ha!-Ha!-Ha! were all born in 1977, and used lots of exclamation points!!! Instead of alienating the shrinking fan base this blog is very fortunate to still have, I've decided to focus on a slightly more contemporary time period...

The early '90s were a marvelous 1000+ days to be alive, especially if you weren't busy overdosing or listening to Michael Bolton. Here are some of the very best records from 1990-1993, all found in the ubiquitous U section.

Uncle Tupelo - No Depression (1990)

Most people I know felt like they'd been waiting to hear this record for most of their life. Not literally waiting for this specific release (like the new MBV?), but waiting for something to sound like this. When everyone on earth was slogging their way through Ragged Glory (myself included), these boys from Belleville took Neil somewhere completely fresh and new. The first three songs alone were responsible for thousands of drunken fights, follies, and promises in my circle of friends, and that's well before "Whiskey Bottle" and "Outdone" hit the stereo.

The first time I met these guys, I told them they reminded me of Metallica. That was the highest praise I could possibly give, but I don't believe it came across that way. In fact, I might as well have said they sounded like Michael Bolton.

Urban Dance Squad - "Deeper Shade of Soul" (1990)

Very little is known about a trip I made with two (three?) of my buddies to see Urban Dance Squad at [unknown club] in New York.
We're sure that we were forcibly removed from the club before the band began, and at least two of us were wearing "U.D.S." promotional goggles/sunglasses for the event.
We think that tequila was consumed on the LIRR trip in, and one of us puked generously at Penn Station after the event, prompting the following exchange:
Cop: "Are you sick or just drunk?"
One of us: "Both!"
We fear that the three (four?) of us ordered Chinese food somewhere near 34th St., sat at a table with our food, dumped the food out on the table, ate some food, and then spat on the floor.

Ultra Vivid Scene - "Special One" promo CD (1990)

No puking or Chinese food associated with this one. Features samples of "Funky Drummer," "When the Levee Breaks," and vocals by Kim Deal. Pure '90s.

U2 - Achtung Baby (1991)

A completely underappreciated album. Five singles, a consistent sound and concept, and just plain fun. I mean, when's the last time someone had a meaningful discussion about how great Achtung Baby is?! Wait, it sold well over twenty million copies worldwide? Still underappreciated.

I stole the CD single for "Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses" at Walt Whitman mall right before seeing Glengarry Glen Ross with a veritable drunken posse. I passed out at the beginning of the film, and woke up amongst my cackling friends, utterly confused and lonely.

Urge Overkill - The Supersonic Storybook (1991)

I wasn't right-away hip to the first two UO joints, but this one totally did it for me. Nothing more fun than indie rockers acting like megastars and pulling it off. Pretty fucking cool.

My friend Kong and I had an ecclesiastical listen to "The Candidate" on about 1/3 malt liquor, 1/2 weed, and 1/6 cough syrup. We then agreed it was as trippy a song as we could remember, and we still agree to this day.

Unrest - Imperial f.f.r.r. (1992)

Unrest was the opposite of Urge Overkill: shrewdly calculating indie rockers acting like indie rockers and pulling it off. They played their cards perfectly with well-placed 7" releases, deft steps along the indie label landscape, and finally a masterful full-length in the Imperial release. Irresistable high-energy pop ("Suki"), pretty drone songs (title track), perfect synthesis of the two ("I Do Believe You Are Blushing"), experimental/ragtag interludes ("Champion Nines," "Sugarshack"), gorgeous balladry ("Isabel"), and full-circle breakneck pop ("Cherry Cream On"). It really holds up, even if you're totally over the label hipster scene.

Uncle Tupelo - March 16-20, 1992 (1992)

No confusing this release with the label hipster scene, unless devastatingly depressing acoustic numbers about coal miners and bulldog gravy are your idea of "indie pop." The Tweedy numbers on this collection are like sprawling daydream-nightmares of America-- the musical equivalent of being crucified. That said, it's actually an enjoyable and even uplifting record ("Sandusky") that carries fond memories for me. Let's ignore the fact that we substituted the word "tussin" into key verses throughout nearly every selection on the album ("Lookin' for a sip of tussin... maybe a sip of mine..."). A nice record to pass out to with all the lights on.

Urge Overkill - Saturation (1993)

Geffen finally gave the UO their big chance, and the rockstar act became reality... for a short while. This record sounds incredible, and there's at least four picture-perfect rockers on here. "Sister Havana" and "Positive Bleeding" were everywhere, and the hipsters that Urge used to have in their hip pockets started looking elsewhere.

Maybe that's why "Dropout" was always my favorite on this record. It's a classic chillout number, kinda sounds like a demo, everyone holds up their lighters (not phones!), etc. I interpreted it as the end of the indie rock era, but that's just me.

US3 - "Cantaloop" (1993)I just couldn't escape this god-forsaken song, everywhere I went. I even pocketed a promo of the damn thing hoping it might provide some sort of protection. Commercials, MTV shows, supermarkets, aaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh!!!!!!

I went to a friend's house for dinner (he will remain nameless, for several reasons), and he fucking put this song on just as we sat down to eat! In fact, he put on the whole damn record! When it happened a second time a few months later, I knew the US3 conspiracy was terrifyingly real.

U2 - Zooropa (1993)
I was way too fucked up on several families of intoxicants during the summer this came out to say anything worthwhile about this album, but I know that I loved it to death. I had one of those 5-CD changers, and I used to sneak this one in there along with weirder instrumental stuff. Zooropa always held its own. At least, I think that's what I was listening to.

Uncle Tupelo - Anodyne (1993)

Let's close things out with this one, the swan song for our beloved UT. I told anyone that still listened to me that this was their very best record, and I became so obsessed that I allegedly demanded that a future band of mine record our only proper studio record live in deference to Anodyne (I lost the banjo argument, but did manage to get violin on a few tunes).

Once Uncle Tupelo lost the three-piece thing, they became something else. What exactly they became depends on whom you ask, but I'll just say "something else." I saw them at least four times on this tour, and I saw their very last regular set in Columbia, MO before the final pair at Mississippi Nights. Sounded like Jay was diddle-soloing over Jeff's verses, but I'll say for sure that the guys were ready to move on.

I guess I was ready to move on, too. I quit my own three-piece band a few months later, and I did it at Cicero's in St. Louis, MO.

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