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Sunday, September 02, 2012

On the Origin and Development of Grunge

Smells like Fuzz, Angst, Growl, and Feedbacks
The Alternative Rock Explosion of the ’90s, part 1
(On the Origin and Development of Grunge)

Grunge may have started as a term some journalists made up to describe a style of Rock music that was happening in the late ’80s in the United States, particularly in Seattle, Washington, and nearby areas; but it eventually became one of the genres that best defined Alternative Rock music of the 1990s worldwide.

As always, understanding specific music genres is challenging especially to those who are not deep into music and to those who weren’t born yet or were still too young during the peak of the popularity of such genres. Considering this, what I hope to accomplish with this article is simply to give an overview of the genre that came to be known as Grunge—its basic characteristics, earlier genres that influenced it, and prominent bands whose music is widely regarded as prime examples of Grunge.

Grunge is generally characterized by a guitar sound that uses a high level of distortion, fuzz, and feedback effects (e.g., Nirvana, Melvins, Soundgarden). Although, there is also the kind of Grunge that may be placed on the other end of the musical spectrum—that which prominently features the acoustic guitar (e.g., Alice in Chains, Days of the New). It fuses the raw sound of Punk (but usually involves slower tempos) and the loudness of Metal minus the extended technical guitar adlibs. It involves also dissonant harmonies and instrumentations that are more complex than those of Punk but less complicated than those of Progressive Rock. Typically sung in a low and deep or high and shrilly growling manner, the lyrics are typically angst-filled, often addressing themes like social alienation, apathy, confinement, and a desire for freedom. Nevertheless, there are Grunge songs that are also filled with either a dark or funny sense of humor.

The sound of Grunge partly results from Seattle’s isolation from other music scenes. According to one musicologist, Seattle in the 1980s had an active music scene that was generally ignored by many members of the American media who were fixated on the music scenes of Los Angeles and New York. Many bands regarded as Grunge cite as their major influences pioneering American Punk Rock (Black Flag, Hüsker Dü, Melvins), American Alternative/Indie Rock bands originating in the late ’80s (Sonic Youth, Pixies, Dinosaur Jr.), British Postpunk bands that peaked in the early ’80s (Gang of Four, Bauhaus, The Killing Joke), and Heavy Metal bands big in the 1970s (Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Motörhead).

Prominent Grunge Bands
Among the many bands generally regarded as Grunge, the most prominent include Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and Stone Temple Pilots. The commercial breakthrough of Nirvana, particularly their album Nevermind, put Grunge in the international map of music genres, subsequently making it a worldwide phenomenon. Into the latter half of the 1990s, its popularity declined, giving way to the rise of related genres like Indie Rock and Britpop. Nonetheless, the genre exists to this day, albeit with a new name—Post-grunge—to refer to bands that emerged after the peak of Grunge and to albums that were released after the mid-’90s through the ensuing decade—like Foo Fighters, Nickelback, Creed, 3 Doors Down, and 30 Seconds to Mars.

Landmark Albums
If you were too young to listen to Grunge during its peak or simply did not pay attention and are interested in catching up, the following landmark albums (with a notable song off each) are with which you should start. Included also are extended plays (EPs) released as early as 1984 (pre-Grunge era) by bands regarded now as the precursors of the genre.  

U-Men – U-Men EP (1984, “Blight”)
Green RiverCome on Down EP (1985, “Swallow My Pride”)
Melvins – Six Songs EP (1986, “Snake Appeal”)
Skin Yard – Skin Yard (1986, “Epitaph for Yesterday”)
Tad – God’s Balls (1989, “Sex God Missy”)
Mother Love Bone – Apple (1990, “Crown of Thorns”)
Mudhoney – Superfuzz Bigmuff plus Early Singles (1990, “Touch Me, I’m Sick”)
L7 – Smell the Magic (1991, “Packin’ a Rod”)
Nirvana – Nevermind (1991, “Smells like Teen Spirit”)
Pearl Jam – Ten (1991, “Jeremy”)
Seaweed – Despised (1991, “One Out of Four”)
Soundgarden – Badmotorfinger (1991,”Outshined”)
Temple of the Dog – Temple of the Dog (1991, “Hunger Strike”)
7 Year Bitch – Sick ’Em (1992, “In Lust You Trust”)
Alice in Chains – Dirt (1992, “Would?”)
Babes in Toyland – Fontanelle (1992, “Bruise Violet”)
Flowerhead – Ka-bloom! (1992, “Everything Is Beautiful”)
Screaming Trees – Sweet Oblivion (1992, “Nearly Lost You”)
Stone Temple Pilots – Core (1992, “Plush”)
Better than Ezra – Deluxe (1993, “Rosealia”)
Bush – Sixteen Stone (1993,”Everything Zen”)
Collective Soul – Hints, Allegations & Things Left Unsaid
(1993, “Goodnight, Good Guy”)
Candlebox – Candlebox (1993, “Far Behind”) 
Dig – Dig (“Believe,” 1993)
Green Apple Quick Step – Wonderful Virus (“Dirty Water Ocean,” 1993)
Hole – Live through This (1993,”Miss World”)
Seed – Ling (1994, “Rapture”)
Sponge – Rotting Piñata (1994, “Plowed”)
Veruca Salt – American Thighs (1994, “Seether”)
Foo Fighters – Foo Fighters (1995, “This Is a Call”)
Mad Season – Above (1995, “I Don’t Know Anything”)
Silverchair – Frogstomp (1995, “Pure Massacre”)

Here are some significant bands that may be classified as Post-grunge—with their respective breakthrough albums and popular singles.

Dishwalla – Pet Your Friends (1995, “Counting Blue Cars’)

Everclear – Sparkle and Fade (1995,”Pale Green Stars”)

Hum – You’d Prefer an Astronaut (1995, “Stars”)
Seven Mary Three – American Standard (1995, “Cumbersome”)
Matchbox Twenty – Yourself or Someone like You (1996, “Push”)
Powderfinger – Double Allergic (1996, “Pick You Up”)
Days of the New – “Yellow” Days of the New (1997, “The Down Town”)
Our Lady Peace – Clumsy (1997, “Superman’s Dead”)
Creed – Human Clay (1999, “With Arms Wide Open”)
Vertical Horizon – Everything You Want (1999, “You’re a God”)
Lifehouse – No Name Face (2000, “Hanging by a Moment”)
The Calling – Camino Palmero (2001, “Wherever You Will Go”)
Hoobastank – Hoobastank (2001, “Crawling in the Dark”)
Nickelback – Silver Side Up (2001, “How You Remind Me”)
Puddle of Mudd – Come Clean (2001, “Blurry”)
3 Doors Down – Away from the Sun (2002, “Here Without You”)
Three Days Grace – Three Days Grace (2003, “I Hate Everything about You”)
Hinder – Extreme Behavior (2005, “Bliss [I Don’t Wanna Know]”)
[Revelation] Rev Theory – Truth Is Currency (2005, “Slowburn”)
Switchfoot – Nothing Is Sound (2005, “Stars”)
Theory of a Deadman – Gasoline (2005,”Santa Monica”)
30 Seconds to Mars – A Beautiful Lie (2005,”From Yesterday”)
Breaking Benjamin – Phobia (2006, “Until the End”)
Daughtry – Daughtry (2006, “Home”)
Finger Eleven – Them vs. You vs. Me (2007, “Paralyzer”)

Post-grunge is simply a continuation of Grunge or, as some observers note, “a commercial and Pop-leaning development of Grunge.” Also, many music reviewers label some Grunge bands as Post-grunge, and some the other way around. This is understandable, for the distinction between Grunge and Post-grunge can be really blurry.

Final Note
A number of pioneering Grunge bands, popular in the 1990s, are to this day still performing and releasing new albums, like Mudhoney (The Lucky Ones, 2008), Alice in Chains (Black Gives Way to Blue, 2009), Pearl Jam (Backspacer, 2009), and Stone Temple Pilots (Stone Temple Pilots, 2010). Furthermore, in mid-2000s, some prominent members of defunct Grunge bands were able to establish new high-profile groups following the breakup of their respective bands—like Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots, teaming up with former Guns n’ Roses members to form Velvet Revolver; Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell, joining members of Rage against the Machine to form Audioslave; and Dave Grohl, who successfully created his own band Foo Fighters soon after the demise of Nirvana. In early 2012, Soundgarden, one of the most crtically acclaimed pioneers of the genre, has released a new single, “Live to Rise,” its first new material since its reformation in 2010.

Additional Note
This article will be a part of a book I am soon publishing. A list of the references that I used in writing such articles is included in the said book.


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