Thursday, September 8, 2016

CD Odyssey Disc 909 and 910: Green River

This next album (actually two albums on a single disc) is a new purchase and so I took my time getting to know it.

Disc 909 and 910 are….Dry as a Bone and Rehab Doll
Artist: Green River

Year of Release: 1986 (Dry as a Bone) and 1987 (Rehab Doll)

What’s up with the Cover? It’s an amalgamation cover that includes the band’s name only but not the title of the EP (Dry as a Bone) or the LP (Rehab Doll) it contains.

How I Came To Know It: I was visiting my friend Spence a couple of years ago and he put this album on. I liked it but I didn’t find it for quite a while. When a cheap used copy popped up about a month ago I pounced.

How It Stacks Up:  I have just these two Green River albums, combined onto a single disc (and into a single review). Of the two, “Rehab Doll” is my favourite.

Ratings: 2 stars (Dry as a Bone) and 3 stars (Rehab Doll)

Green River represents the seeds (headwaters?) of the band that would eventually become Pearl Jam. It features Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament and guitarist Stone Gosssard and with its mix of fuzzy melody, punk and metal it is an early example of what would become the Seattle grunge scene.

Back in 1986/87 I’m not sure that movement even had a name, and Green River is the kind of hardcore band that would reject labels anyway. However, since it is 2016 and I’m a music reviewer not an indie band, let’s resort to categories anyway, and call it grunge.

Green River is a raw band, and since they broke up shortly after these records were recorded never had a chance to evolve. Half of them didn’t want to anyway, and the half that did (Ament and Gossard) would do just that and make a fine living in the process.

Listening to these records you can hear a lot of musical influences. While I will leave it future biographers to ask exactly who, I heard vestiges of Motorhead, Cirith Ungol, Alice Cooper, The Dead Milkmen and even…Blue Oyster Cult! I like all these bands, and so it is no surprise that Green River appeals to me as well.

Vocalist Mark Arm is no Eddie Vedder or Chris Cornell, but he isn’t trying to be. His voice has heavy punk influences and on songs like “Unwind” he sounds a bit like Joe Genaro from Dead Milkmen. When Arm gets his metal on (which he does often) his punk deadpan morphs into a strangled growl similar to Cirith Ungol’s Tim Baker. Baker’s voice is an acquired taste but fortunately for me I had already required it, and I liked Arm’s delivery just fine. It is also worth noting that Arm attacks the songs on both records with an energy that feels like a live recording which holds up well even after repeat listens.

Of the two albums, “Dry As a Bone” is an EP rather than a full record. It is more unrefined, which is usually a good thing with a band like this but I found it a bit too hardcore for my tastes. When they did take time to develop the song a bit (like on “Unwind”) it caught my attention a bit more. “Searchin’” is also a good song that has a strong Motorhead vibe to it, and would fit well with the mid-eighties metal scene.

“Rehab Doll” is the full length album (their only one as it would turn out) and is a big step up with the same energy as “Dry as a Bone” but with better musicianship, production and songwriting.

The record features a fistful of simple but effective guitar riffs that don’t become tired just because they don’t develop into something more complex. This is simple music, well expressed and the guitar riffs are the structure upon which the rest of the song hangs. Around them Arm can scream and groan and the drums can crash around with delightful abandon. You get the feeling that at any moment Green River is going to smash the kit, light the guitars on fire and let the songs explode into a conflagration of feedback and static. It never quite happens, but the tension is ever-present.

The highlight for me was “Swallow My Pride.” Soundgarden does a cover of this song but I prefer the Green River original for one simple reason: Blue Oyster Cult. The song has a lot of similarities with BOC’s 1976 song “This Ain’t the Summer of Love”. That similarity is confirmed when halfway through “Swallow My Pride” Green River strips the song down and actually sings portions of the BOC track. It is a mashup – Anna Kendrick would be proud! They could perform it (to Green River’s horror) at an a capella championship!

Although appearing early on the CD version, “Queen Bitch” is a bonus track that was originally only available on cassette. This dates the year the album was released: “buy our album on the new cassette format!” Vinyl lovers would have felt rightfully cheated, because “Queen Bitch” has a driving energy that is irrepressible (and un-pressable too, as it turns out).

As is usually the case with double albums, I would have preferred these be issued on two different discs, but it is a minor quibble and while “Dry as a Bone” is the weaker partner, I still like it enough that I’m glad to own it.

Best tracks:
(Dry as a Bone): Unwind, Searchin’

(Rehab Doll): Queen Bitch, Rehab Doll, Swallow My Pride, Together We’ll Never

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