If there’s any doubt that 1990s nostalgia is in full swing, check this out. A number of acts who released their first albums in the 1990s, including The Rembrandts (1990), The Muffs (1993), The Dandy Warhols (1995), Sleater-Kinney (1995), Fastball (1996), Third Eye Blind (1997), and Alice Peacock (1999), have all returned with new albums.
When you hear the band name The Rembrandts, the first thing that comes to mind may be the song “I’ll Be There For You,” better-known as the theme song to the smash hit NBC series Friends. But The Rembrandts (Danny Wilde and Phil Solem) actually had a popular and successful hit single, “That’s Just The Way It Is Baby” from its self-titled 1990 debut album. Via Satellite (Blue Elan) is The Rembrandts’ first new album in 18 (!) years, and on it the band sticks to the harmony rich pop that first brought them to our attention on songs such as “Broken Toy,” “How Far Would You Go” and the Beatles-esque “Come to Californ-i-ay.”
First. the bad news. In case you hadn’t heard, Kim Shattuck, lead vocalist and guitarist for LA pop-punk trio The Muffs, died in October 2019 after a two-year battle with ALS. That’s what makes No Holiday (Omnivore), The Muffs’ first album in five years so heartbreaking. Made while Shattuck was dealing with her illness, the 18 songs were written over the course of a more than 25 year period, and are a solid representation of Shattuck’s versatility, from prettier numbers including “A Lovely Day Boo Hoo,” “Earth Below Me,” “Happier Just Being with You,” and “Sky” to modern punk rockers such as “Down Down Down,” “Late and Sorry,” “Pollyanna,” “On My Own,” “The Kids Have Gone Away,” and “Lucky Charm.” RIP Kim.
Groundbreaking, (mostly) queer female trio Sleater-Kinney parted ways with longtime drummer Janet Weiss following the release of the band’s new album The Center Won’t Hold (Mom + Pop). Original co-founding members Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker have chosen to soldier on, which is admirable. With so musical history on which to draw, it would have been a shame to lose such an important band. Produced by Saint Vincent (aka Annie Clark), The Center Won’t Hold expands Sleater-Kinney’s sound in ways that some listeners might find surprising and even a little exciting. Once you get past the abrupt stylistic shift, just try not falling in love with “Restless,” “Can I Go On,” “Reach Out,” “The Future is Here,” “Ruins,” “Broken,” and the jarring title track.
Emerging from the same fertile Pacific Northwest music scene as Sleater-Kinney, the Dandy Warhols took a decidedly different path than those tread by riot grrrls and grunge guys when its debut album was released in the mid-90s. Going for a glam-pop sound paid off for the band. Its catchy hit single “Bohemian Like You” (from its third album) was a cash cow, used in a variety of movies and commercials. You won’t find anything like that song on Why You So Crazy (Dine Alone), TDW’s first album in three years, although “Be Alright” comes close. A veritable musical smorgasbord, the album finds the band dabbling in twisted vo-dee-oh-do (“Fred N Ginger”), cow punk (“Highlife,” “Sins Are Forgiven”), electronic experimentation (“Terraform,” “Next Thing I Know,” “To the Church”), and instrumental improv (“Ondine”).
Don’t dismiss Austin’s Fastball as a one-hit wonder. In fact, the band is a two-hit wonder, with “The Way” and “Outta My Head” being its best-known songs. Produced by Steve Berlin (Los Lobos), Fastball’s new album The Help Machine (Fastballtheband.com) feels like the kind of record that could be considered a comeback. The 11 originals, including standouts “The Girl You Pretended to Be,” “White Coillar,” “Holding the Devil’s Hand,” “Friend or Foe,” and the title tune, could potentially expand on Fastball’s hits qualifications.
Third Eye Blind’s Stephan Jenkins was the kind of sexy front man that made men and women drool in equal measure. His hotness earned him high profile relationships with actress Charlize Theron and bi singer/songwriter Vanessa Carlton. Hit singles “Semi-Charmed Life,” “Never Let You Go,” and “How’s it Going to Be,” to mention a few, helped to elevate the band above the competition. Unfortunately, the band’s new album Screamer (Mega Collider), its first in four years will do little to restore it’s charmed life, semi or otherwise. “Who Am I” and “Take a Side” are a couple of exceptions, but that doesn’t amount to much on a 12-track disc.
Minnesota (Peacock Music) is singer/songwriter Alice Peacock’s first solo studio release in ten (!) years. The title is a nod to her birthplace, although some might consider her creative birthplace to be the Chicago area, which is where she was at the time of the release of her self-titled major-label release (containing the song “Leading with My Heart”) in 2002. Now a mother of three and based in Ohio, Peacock is back to recording and songs such as “Dry Spell,” “Resting in the Quiet,” “Your Own Backyard,” “Free and Wild,” and the title cut, should please fans old and new.
Gregg Shapiro is the author of Fifty Degrees (Seven Kitchens, 2016), selected by Ching-In Chen as co-winner of the Robin Becker Chapbook Prize. Other books by Shapiro include the short story collections How to Whistle (Lethe Press, 2016) and Lincoln Avenue (Squares and Rebels Press, 2014), the chapbook GREGG SHAPIRO: 77 (Souvenir Spoon Press, 2012), and the poetry collection Protection (Gival Press, 2008).
He has work forthcoming in the anthology Reading Queer: Poetry in a Time of Chaos (Anhinga Press, 2018). An entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in a variety of regional LGBT and mainstream publications and websites, Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.