5 out of 5
Label: Turntable Kitchen
Produced by: Eric D. Johnson
I was of the grunge generation. I had the experience of witnessing Smells Like Teen Spirit on MTV; of seeing video premieres that enraptured with their hooks and edge – the weird mixing of something popular also feeling rebellious. Hearing tracks on the radio that felt like something new, and worthy of becoming an instant obsession. Are these experiences unique to my generation? No, surely not. But I do think that (as it seems now) brief period where Nirvanas and Soundgardens and Smashing Pumpkins ruled our attentions and CD collections was a notable one.
But I also moved on quickly. I owned albums by the aforementioned bands and surely listened to them enough to commit them to permanent memory, but I oddly don’t seem to have much nostalgia for them; rather, the genres these albums encouraged me to shift toward seem to have formed those deeper connections. However, I don’t think an album like Siamese Dream got stuck temporarily in my playlist only because it was cool at the time: the notability of this era is because the stuff that was hitting the tops of alternative charts was also incredibly good. The quality of the music; of the performances; of the production; of the lyrics. It stands the test of time. The testament is when an artist with appreciation for the depths of the material – like Fruit Bats – comes along and re-presents it; reformats it. Plenty of people have covered tracks from Siamese Dream and the majority come across that way: as covers. But Eric D. Johnson of the Bats hasn’t made this on a lark, rather adapting it to his band’s own lush, raw style… which happens to be a perfect parallel to the lush and raw style of the original, albeit in a much different top-down genre.
I think I was expecting this full-album remake of Dream to be rather loose – probably acoustic, solo stuff. And that’s the core sound, but it’s enhanced wholly, with backup vocals, drums, keys, and tonal layering. Johnson chose slightly different approaches (poppier; slower) appropriate to his interpretation on each song, while maintaining the recognizable spirit and vibe of the sources. It’s a Fruit Bats album that reminds of the indie-Chicago roots where the group started, sprung forward through their decades of evolution. I don’t want to mislead that things are necessarily rewritten, but there’s a consideration for how to translate this stuff so it feels personal; it is the ideal set of covers that re-present the material in a new light to give it new meaning, while also bringing fresh appreciation for the original works. It also rather humorously juxtaposes Johnson’s pretty vocal lilt with Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan’s nasal tones – I never would’ve compared the two singers, but they are actually pretty similar, suggesting the “setting” for our music can influence our opinions on certain aspects of it. (That is: because Pumpkins was seen as a grunge band, surely the singer wasn’t necessarily very good.)
Housed in a jacket with a wash of colors designed by Morgan Keys which is also evocative of the original’s color scheme, Fruit Bats’ take on Siamese Dream has much more impact than I was expecting, rendering an album that I’ve previously enjoyed but not given much weight to in my overall musical history into something beautifully fresh, emotional, and fun, and excites me to go back and re-explore that musical history.