Their career has spanned three decades and Soul Asylum has experienced many ups and downs, the most recent low being the death of founding member and bassist Karl Mueller. It’s in the shadow of his passing that they are now riding the high of their recent release, The Silver Lining.
Mueller, along with Dan Murphy and Dave Pirner, started out in the ’80s as the punk band Loud Fast Rules but in ’84 shifted their sound as well as their name to Soul Asylum. With the release of Say What You Will Clarence…Karl Sold The Truck they began their ascent into stardom, the pinnacle being ’92 release of Grave Dancers and the Grammy nominated “Runaway Train.”
What follows is a look at the large collection of music that is the Soul Asylum catalog. This discography contains the recognized albums as listed on the band's website; EPs are mentioned in context and any unofficial or compilation CDs are not included.
Say What You Will Clarence…Karl Sold the Truck: The album was released in 1989 and included the 1984 EP Say What You Will…Anything Can Happen plus five tracks from what were recent recording sessions. Those tracks appeared on a separate EP Time's Incinerator (only available on cassette). Songs like "Dragging Me Down" and "Broken Glass" are prime examples of the trio’s punk roots.
Made to Be Broken: This album was released in January of 1986 on the Twin/Tone label. 10,206 vinyl copies and 4,920 cassettes of this album were sold before it was reissued on CD in 1989. Currently it is out of print in the vinyl and cassette formats. It has the distinction of being the first original LP length album put out (and not a combination of EPs).
"Tied to the Tracks" and "Another World Another Day" are just two of the notable tracks from this album and they demonstrate the evolution of the band’s sound. In "Another World Another Day," only 1:27 long, their sound is clearly reaching and bending from the discombobulated and erratic punk to hard rock.
While You Were Out: This album came out in November of 1986, and if you include the EP Time's Incinerator, it marked the third release for the band that year. They changed up the production, using Chris Osgood this time around. "No Man's Land" is the track you're most likely to remember from this CD, but "Miracle Mile" and "Closer to the Stars" are better examples of where the band is going melodically.
Clam Dip And Other Delights: Actually a six-song EP in the states, the album contained two additional covers on the original release in England. Foreigner's "Juke Box Hero" and Janis Joplin's "Move Over" were dropped from American release. "Chains," which is a cover from little known Minneapolis band Wad, made it onto both versions of Clam Dip And Other Delights. "P-9" is a tribute to striking meat plant workers from Austin, Minnesota (the name of their union was P-9).
Both the title and the album cover were parodies of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass's Whipped Cream and Other Delights.
Hang Time: It was with this album, released in 1993, that Soul Asylum would make the move to the A&M label. Add a new producer at the helm, Lenny Kaye, and it's a huge surprise this album wasn't the one to break them out.
With "Cartoon," a standout track that is still played live today; "Some Time to Return;" and "Beggars and Choosers" you see a definite maturity beginning to form in Pirner's songwriting. Any Internet search will find it is the most critically hailed as well as the fan favorite of their releases.
And the Horse They Rode In On: "Be on Your Way," "Bitter Pill," and "Gullible's Travels" are three reasons to check out this piece of Soul Asylum's history if you haven't listened to this, their second A&M release. Because of sales that were dismal at best, it would be their last effort for the label.
With yet another producer change (this time it was Steve Jordan and Joe Blaney at the helm), their sound continues to shift, making a large leap from the hard-core punk to the more mainstream. "We 3" was included in the Chasing Amy soundtrack.
In a bit of trivia, the vinyl, cassette, and CD versions all have slightly different, but similar, cover art.
Grave Dancers Union: The most successful of all of their releases, it topped Billboard's charts for 76 weeks and was certified double-platinum. Riding that success, Soul Asylum performed at the first inauguration of President Bill Clinton in 1993. Grave Dancers Union comes from lyrics of the song "Without a Trace," "I tried to dance at a funeral, New Orleans style, I joined the Grave Dancers Union …"
The album was released in 1992 on the Columbia label. "Somebody to Shove," "Black Gold," and "Runaway Train," were the three singles, in order, from this album, without a doubt the last being the biggest hit of the band's career. Notably, in a recent interview Murphy confided he finds the song more an atypical example of their music than the norm. (See the full interview here at Blogcritics next week.)
Midway through the recording of the CD, drummer Grant Young was replaced by Sterling Campbell. Each drummer played on approximately half the tracks on the album.
Let Your Dim Light Shine: Released in 1995, this album suffered in comparison to the previous one, and Soul Asylum lists it as its least favorite because of Columbia's constant interference. On this album Sterling Campbell was the drummer of credit. "Just Like Anyone," "Misery" and "Promises Broken" were the released singles from Let Your Dim Light Shine. All did moderately well on the US charts.
The transformation is complete and there are little of the punk influences left to the sound, which ranges from introspective ballads to weighty hard-rock tunes with a message. Especially on "Misery" and "Promises Broken" Pirner shows exactly how talented he is as a songwriter.
Black Gold: The Best of Soul Asylum was released next and is one of a handful of "Greatest Hits" CDs in circulation.
After The Flood: Live From The Grand Forks Prom: This CD is exactly what it says it is, a live album recorded at the Grand Fork's High School Prom. The community had been devastated by floods which had destroyed two area high schools. Soul Asylum answered a plea to perform at their combined prom held at a Grand Forks airbase hangar. Commentary from Pirner is interwoven with the chosen selections from the band.
Reviews from the band’s current release, The Silver Lining, have been previously published on Blogcritics by Rebecca Wright and myself.
These albums span three decades of music for Soul Asylum and its members. Listening to them, you can see a growth in the music and the maturing process of the members; not only in their talent, but in the topics they write and sing about. Point your browser back to Blogcritics next week, for continuing coverage of our featured artist for July, Soul Asylum, in the form of an interview with Dan Murphy.