(Don't You) Forget About Gin Blossoms... Snow Patrol Sure Didn't
Back in 1993, while you were listening to “Hey Jealousy” as you and your friends drove at breakneck speed to try that new “Schlotsky’s” sandwich everyone was talking about, did you know that Gin Blossoms were going to sound so awesome in thirteen years? Because they really do. Especially if you consider other songs that were popular then. “Informer”? “I’ll Never Get Over You (Getting Over Me)? Aural reminders that the sainted grunge era still found room for embarrassing crap.
Even great tacks like “Mr. Wendal” or “Two Princes” now sound rooted to their era. There’s something naïve about early nineties music—like people were just discovering dance remixes and hipster posing—and the artists seem sort of cute as they stumble along.
And it’s easy to understand how Gin Blossoms singles fit right in. There’s a breezy innocence to “Alison Road” and the aforementioned “Hey Jealousy” that make them sound like simple good fun. The melodies are pretty, and lead singer Robin Wilson has that supple white man’s voice that lets him belt out a power chorus without a drop of sweat Alongside the goofy, alterna-rock fun of The Proclaimers and The Cranberries (before they became insufferably self-serious), Gin Blossoms seemed like another part of the fizzy picture.
However, they sound at home next to plenty of current acts, too. Unlike so many of their contemporaries, Gin Blossoms don’t seem to have aged. If anything, there’s an entire movement of pale white rockers who seem to be aping the best of “New Miserable Experience.” Irish act Snow Patrol, for instance, just released an excellent new album called “Eyes Open,” and damn if the first song—“You’re All I Have”—doesn’t sound exactly like the follow-up to “Follow You Down” (did you note the clever wordplay there?). Those layered harmonies! Those jangly guitars! Those depressing lyrics set to up-tempo rhythms! Why, they owe Gin Blossoms a thank you note, if not a guest spot in their video! The same goes for Keane, Travis, Coldplay, and even the New Wave-style Killers. “Hey Jealousy” was the harbinger of a musical movement.
Or if not a movement, at least a fascinating coincidence. Because while everyone has been off anointing emo and garage and whatever the hell else, an entire phalanx of Blossoms-bands have emerged. All the abovementioned groups are notable for being mopers who wrap their ache in a pop blanket. They craft lush, beautiful arrangements for songs that follow a pleasing “verse-chorus-verse” format, yet their themes almost always involve heartbreak and inward-looking sadness. This is depression at its most hummable.
And, sure, you have to give credit to The Smiths and The Cure for pioneering such tuneful gloom. But it was Gin Blossoms who polished the technique of their forbears into a format that was as suitable for the radio as it was for the blacklit recesses of your oh-so-private bedroom. What’s clearer now than in 1993 is that they had excellent songcraft. They were not cashing in on a gimmick (like Snow), nor did they ever sound self-consciously cool (like Spin Doctors). They were just good musicians with distressing thoughts.
Granted, you could also draw lines from, say, Snow Patrol to R.E.M or from The Killers to Duran Duran (Don’t laugh. It’s true). But Gin Blossoms—despite only releasing two studio albums—seem the most direct and recent ancestor of these pasty white boys. (Are women making this type of music? Besides Texas in 1997? Please let me know if they are.)
And good for all of us, really. Snow Patrol’s new album is astonishing. Every song has a grandeur that evokes a vivid emotion in me. Specifically, songs like “It’s Beginning to Get to Me” an “Counting Cars” make me feel like I’m running down, say, Twin Peaks in San Francisco, and looking over the city with the wind rushing in my face. It’s an electrifying, living sensation, and it’s only made deeper because all that energy comes from the purging of pain. For me, this is music that goes great in the background but also rewards me for paying close attention. That's also true of Keane's “Hopes and Fears” and the middle discs from Travis, “The Imaginary Band” and “The Man Who.” If this is what we get from the legacy of 1993, then we are lucky indeed.
Plus, listening to all this new music is the perfect reason to rediscover Gin Blossoms. You can make a mix of all these songs, old and new, and take it with you while you’re walking along in slightly gray, slightly rainy weather. Or while you’re cleaning up after a party that you wish hadn’t ended. Melancholy will sound beautiful.
And best of all, it will leave you with a chorus you can still remember when you’re in a better mood.