Album Reviews: Nineteeneighties by Grant-Lee PhillipsWhen Nirvana and Pavement led their respective above-ground and underground explosions in the '90s, there was a lot of talk about how these new breeds of bands were slaying the ugly beast of the '80s. To a younger generation that wasn't there to see it up close, the decade has largely been consigned to a VH1 nostalgia world of bad hair, cheesy videos, and pop music that is only okay to enjoy from a kitsch-appreciating, guilty pleasure distance.
In those days, finding kindred spirits or against-the-grain artists wasn't as easy as clicking and downloading. It's hard not to feel, then, that discovery used to carry a greater power, and that was surely the case for Grant Lee Phillips, who had moved to L.A. to make music as bands like the Pixies, Echo and the Bunnymen, and New Order were starting to flourish. Phillips would go on to make underappreciated but not-quite-timeless albums with Shiva Burlesque, then found his first taste of crossover success with Grant Lee Buffalo -- and now, in the 21st century, as a solo artist and Gilmore Girls regular.
With nineteeneighties, he attaches himself to some extremely well-known songs from extremely well-known bands: R.E.M., The Cure, and The Smiths, along with the bands mentioned earlier and several others. It's the sort of project that would swallow up most artists, but Phillips succeeds by sticking to a singular vision -- making the songs come to him rather than stumbling in the footsteps of the originals. The result is something like the '80s underground meets MTV Unplugged, as iconic rockers like "Wave of Mutilation" and club inciters like "Age of Consent" (the album's highlight) are stripped and rebuilt around Phillips' rich vocals, mournful Americana instrumentation, and the often fragile lyrical hearts of the originals.
More than even all of those factors, the single biggest key to the success of nineteeneighties -- and it is, quietly and humbly, a success -- is that this isn't a cover album of songs admired from afar; these are songs that clearly were felt deeply at the time, songs that offered deliverance. - Adam McKibbin, The Red Alert
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