Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2008

Milwaukee Discount CD Round-Up (Redux)

By Evan Rytlewski
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On the old Shepherd-Express.com site, I used to run a semi-regular Discount CD Round-Up feature, but I’ve cut back in recent months, mostly because I made a resolution not to buy CDs I don’t need. Does it matter that I can snag the Tommy Boy soundtrack for 99 cents if I won’t even spin the thing once? After buying one too many MTV Party to Go compilations just because I could afford them, I began to realize I had a problem.

But this weekend I cracked and raided the discount shelf at Half Price Books, 5032 S. 74th St., walking away with a stack of a dozen CDs for a dollar each. Like most used CD stocks, Half Price Books’ is a clearinghouse for ’90s music, so I relished the chance to pick up some albums I was too cheap to purchase at full-price a decade ago. Here’s what a buck will get you these days:

Bush – Razorblade Suitcase (1996)

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Any student of ’90s alternative rock can name about four of five singles from Bush’s debut album off the top of their head (“Everything Zen,” “Little Things,” “Comedown,” “Machinehead,” and “Glycerine,” all of which still clock considerable time on alternative radio), but most would be hard-pressed to name even one from Bush’s unloved follow-up, Razorblade Suitcase. A “difficult,” Steve Albini-produced follow-up to their hit album, it earned quick comparisons to In Utero, Nirvana’s “difficult,” Steve Albini-produced follow-up to their own hit album. In Utero is a difficult disc to live up to, and in hindsight, this is the album that killed Bush’s seemingly unstoppable career. Listening to it 12 years after its release, however, I’m struck by how good it is. It’s not actually difficult so much as it is raw. Albini stripped the band down to just their primal, on/off riffs and Gavin Rosedale’s disoriented vocals, and in doing so showed that there was some substance underneath Sixteen Stone’s high-gloss production.

Veruca Salt – Eight Arms to Hold You (1997)

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By the time Veruca Salt released the full-length follow-up to their 1994 hit American Thighs, their Breeders-inspired, little girl/big guitar aesthetic was no longer a coveted novelty, but the band adapted gracefully, freshening up their exhausted sound with brawny, glam-metal riffs and flirtatious anger. Like the meteorite crash that killed the dinosaurs, the great alternative-rock fallout of the late ’90s was so monumental that even the craftiest species couldn’t survive it, but at least Veruca Salt went down fighting.

Better Than Ezra – Deluxe (1995)

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The wobbly, wound-up guitar riff on Better Than Exra’s breakthrough single “Good” still makes me perk up every time I hear it. It’s a shame, though, that the band couldn’t make lightning strike twice. This limp, buzz-kill album is woefully short on “Good”-ish quirk and way too heavy on sleepy, R.E.M. rip-offs.

Tripping Daisy – I Am An Elastic Firecracker (1995)

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Like its breakthrough single, “I Got a Girl,” Tripping Daisy’s best known album is obnoxious as hell, but unlike its lone hit, not in a good way.

Chris Isaak – Heart Shaped World (1989)

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Before he released Christmas albums and played casino concerts, Chris Isaak was the coolest guy ever, a broken-hearted rockabilly badass endorsed by David Lynch that could give Roy Orbison a run for his money.

The Prodigy – Music For The Jilted Generation (1994)

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Most early ’90s electronic music was timid and detached, but Prodigy challenged those conventions. They were spit-in-your-face mean, and they threw down tracks every bit as hard and threatening as the industrial and rap music of the time. More than any other group, they proved that dance music could be scary.

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