Furry little raver backpacks, grungy flannel shirts, and platform tennis shoes fill the tables of garage sales around the country. Look closer and you’re likely to find a shoebox filled with CDs by nineties acts like Luscious Jackson, Smashing Pumpkins, and Everything but the Girl. An era that sparkled with breakout musical acts has now been discounted and marked down. A recent interview with a bloated and disconnected Lady Miss Kier, former front woman of Deee-Lite, suggests that the groove is no longer in the heart. The groove now resides exclusively at weddings and bar mitzvahs. Still, a few artists from the era have emerged recently with formidable solo projects.
Luscious Jackson may have been discovered by the Beastie Boys and beloved by critics for their mix of hip-hop and downtown chic harmonies. But ex-lead singer Jill Cunniff’s debut album City Beach is a reflective and thoughtful record with a breezy tropical beat. Songs like “NYC Boy”, “Eye Candy”, and “Lazy Girls” are a perfect fit for springtime patio cocktails. Cunniff’s voice has evolved into a richer instrument while her lyrics tell tales of love and misadventure in the big city.
Another musician who’s no stranger to survival is Tracey Thorn. Her old band, Everything But the Girl, evolved from dorm room mix tape favorite to dance floor darlings. In 1994,the band hit the jackpot with the radio hit “Missing”. Gaps between records were due in large part to her band mate Ben Watt’s struggle with a rare disease. With Watt moving toward producing and deejaying house music, Thorn was left to fend for herself. Twenty some odd years since her first solo record, Out of the Woods is a mix of both sounds that made her famous. Longing ballads and electronic dance numbers are each given equal time. Atmospheric, gorgeous, and infectious tracks prove that Thorn is still an artist with something to say.
Sure, last year Thom Yorke of Radiohead fame, made a musical ripple with his sparse electro solo record The Eraser. It could be argued however that Billy Corgan paved this road first back in 2005 with his debut TheFutureEmbrace. The deconstructed synths and fuzzy guitars that made The Smashing Pumpkins heroes to sullen teens everywhere are still present but a maturity and a lack of pretense make this record worth a revisit. A cover of the Bee Gees hit “To Love Somebody” featuring Robert Smith on backing vocals is just one of the curiosities to be found on TheFutureEmbrace.
While it currently remains unknown if his gig as producer on Courtney Love’s upcoming album will help catapult her back into the public’s good graces, it’s undeniable that Corgan is a major musical force to be reckoned with, regardless of decade. Also, Zeitgeist, a new album by the recently re-formed Pumpkins will be released on July 7th.
So does this mean we should look out for an EMF reunion tour or a new single by SoHo? I wouldn’t count on it. But in the post-Nirvana era, long after the glow sticks have burned out, it’s fascinating to see who’s survived.