New Miserable Experience

Gin Blossoms

A & M Records, 1992

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Does stress concentrate the creative mind? Is angst the fount of all great art? Or is it just (un)happy coincidence that so many great songs and albums have been produced during times of intense personal turmoil for their creators (to name just a handful: Clapton's "Layla," Fleetwood Mac's Rumours, Bruce Springsteen's Tunnel Of Love)?

The occasion for this question popping up yet again (hey, there's nothing I can't overanalyze) is the passing into history of what I've come to believe is/was one of the 90s' best young bands, the Gin Blossoms. After an eight-year odyssey that took them from the Tempe, Arizona bar circuit to the top of the charts -- with several years of relentless touring and the suicide of a key founding member in between -- the Blossoms are by most accounts done for the moment (although to their credit they haven't formally "broken up," which these days seems mostly to be a publicity primer for the inevitable reunion). Lead vocalist Robin Wilson and drummer Philip Rhodes on the one hand, and guitarist/vocalist Jesse Valenzuela and guitarist Scott Johnson on the other are rehearsing and gigging with new bandmates, while bassist Bill Leen hasn't been heard from yet as to his plans.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

New Miserable Experience, the band's breakout album, brims with the kind of energy and propulsive guitar work that keeps the term "rock and roll" from becoming an anachronism. Yet it also puts on wide display the fundamental paradox of the Blossoms: downbeat, borderline mournful lyrics juxtaposed with rich, bouncy guitar hooks. A musical oxymoron, in other words -- one echoed in their album titles (New Miserable Experience, 1996's Congratulations, I'm Sorry and their initial 1991 EP, Up And Crumbling).

This album -- recorded before songwriter/guitarist Doug Hopkins' alcoholism and depression led to his departure (and subsequent suicide), but released after Johnson had replaced him -- now seems ready to join the ranks of albums with a dangerously high internal-chaos-to-musical-quality correlation. The band's breakout album opens with two largely autobiographical Hopkins songs, "Lost Horizons" and "Hey Jealousy," both driving, insistently catchy tunes awash in references to drinking, floundering relationships and loneliness ("If I hadn't blown the whole thing years ago / I might not be alone").

These and other tensions inside the band only seemed to fuel the creative fire, though, on both this album and its successor. Valenzuela's "Mrs. Rita" effectively alternates a driving riff with a Byrds-like jangly melody, while the lyrics offer a little more hope than most of Hopkins'. Dense rockers like "Hands Are Tied" and "Hold Me Down" are balanced nicely by more spacious numbers like "Found Out About You" and "Allison Road," the band's harmonies and Wilson's tambourine work effectively lightening things up whenever the twin-guitar assault threatens to become too heavy. Finally, "Cheatin'" shows off the band's versatility with a dead-on country sound complete with a goofy-on-the-edge-of-hilarious chorus ("You can't call it cheatin' - she reminds me of you").

So here it is -- another great album created as the house was falling down around its creators. It's enough to make you want your life to be a living hell just long enough for you to create something truly memorable.

Rating: A

User Rating: A-



© 1997 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of A & M Records, and is used for informational purposes only.