Known best for their radio hits in the early ’90s, “Labour of Love” and New Order cover “Bizarre Love Triangle” from their debut album Marvin the Album, Australian band Frente! actually produced a stronger, quite interesting follow-up in ’96. Shape built on Marvin’s spare, acoustic guitar-driven framework, adding psychedelic flourishes, quirky song structures, and layered vocal harmonies. The album also traded in airy folk-pop songs for darker, moodier pieces that created a nice juxtaposition with Angie Hart’s pixie voice. Unfortunately, Shape did not produce a radio-friendly single, and the band broke-up soon after its release.
If you can look past some of the very dated ’90s music video tropes in these clips, you’ll hear a band with a unique, though still maturing sound.
Today on #ThrowBackThursday we remember SoCal alt-funk band Adam Again. Led by the incomparable Gene Eugene (RIP), Adam Again released five albums between 1987-95. The lyrics to their early songs are pointedly religious, while their later albums focus more on loss, disillusionment, loneliness, and confusion. Whatever the theme, Eugene conveyed it well with strong and earnest vocals. The band likely suffered from some dismissal among potential fans as Eugene’s voice does sound rather similar to R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe’s. This comparison is only superficial, however, as Adam Again built their songs on a bedrock of funk and rock sensibilities that R.E.M. never sniffed.
Guitarist Greg Lawless, bassist Paul Valadez, and drummer John Knox provided a diverse and evolving palette for these songs – moving from blues jams to dance breakdowns to grunge riffs and beyond. In addition, vocalist Riki Michelle offered sweet harmonies to augment many of their best songs, her bittersweet accompaniment never more poignant than when singing backup on songs clearly inspired by her breakup with Eugene. In fact, the dissolution of their marriage is what gives Adam Again’s best (and last) album, Perfecta, much of its emotional weight. Hearing these two hurting ex-lovers deliver lines like “I roll around and wonder where you are” and “When I said to go I meant please stay” is nearly too painfully voyeuristic to work. But it does, again and again.
Sadly, after dissolving Adam Again in the late ’90s and earning a growing reputation as an in-demand sound engineer and producer (working with groups like Starflyer 59, Over the Rhine, The Choir, and others), Gene Eugene passed away suddenly of a brain aneurysm in 2000. Luckily for us, his five Adam Again albums and a sterling legacy of artistry and kindness survive him. I was fortunate enough to attend a Gene Eugene memorial concert at the Cornerstone festival in 2000, and it was a powerful evening. Many legendary Christian artists shared the stage, but the highlight was Karin from Over the Rhine singing backup on a few songs.
Back to the music.
There is a pretty distinct departure between the band’s third and fourth albums. On Dig, their fourth record, synths and electric drums are traded in for more guitar, and a more straightforward approach to song-writing. As such, the three albums before Dig, while possessed of some interesting and challenging work, sound impossibly dated. I’ll just share a couple here to give an idea of the sound.
The title track from debut album In a New World of Time
Tree House from Ten Songs
Dance Around in Circles from Homeboys
On the aforementioned Dig, you can instantly hear the change in approach. Here’s Songwork, Worldwide, and River on Fire:
The band reached its creative peak on 1995’s Perfecta. Not only is the production and approach stellar, the songs take on a personal and emotional urgency that matches Eugene’s hurting voice so well. Here’s Stone, It’s All Right, What’s Your Name, and Don’t Cry: