Now is a good time to finally address an issue that’s been hovering in the background of this series from the beginning: the distinction between “cool” ’90s rock and “uncool” ’90s rock. I’ve made an effort to focus on some of the era’s biggest names and most commercially successful rock bands because 1) those are the bands I liked at the time; 2) those are the bands that millions of other people liked at the time; and 3) I find it strange that many people, including myself, don’t seem to remember it that way.
When I look back to my music-listening habits in 1995, I tend to overlook all the time I spent listening to Throwing Copper and instead think only about how I obsessed over GBV’s Alien Lanes, which I bought after reading a glowing four-star review in Rolling Stone. That summer, I tried to make heads or tails of a record that boasted 28 absentmindedly recorded songs in just 41 minutes. I was lost until I realized that the whole record was basically like the second side of The Beatles’ Abbey Road, which stitched a series of melodic fragments into an extended suite. Just like that, Alien Lanes made sense, and GBV quickly became one of my favorite bands. In hindsight, Live seems likes a footnote, despite selling millions of records and playing 25,000-seat amphitheaters in its heyday, while Guided By Voices appears a lot bigger and more important today even if it reached only a fraction of Live’s audience in the ’90s.