1991 Last Year of Great Music ?

By Eric Shivers:
Music is my lifeblood. It’s a plain and simple fact. From Bowie to The Cure to Nirvana to U2 and well beyond, I listen to a very eclectic group of genres. However, I’m no longer a consumer of music like I was in my post-college years. I still “listen” to newer bands, but have not been very impressed with recent releases. The last time we had a major shift change in music was in 1991.
Call me old, but is was a vintage year. I believe it was the last great year of musical releases. R.E.M., The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nirvana and U2 all put out records that changed music and all of those works have stood the test of time.
There haven’t been too many runs since then that have made such an impact. Yes, I may be naïve to the fact that other great albums have come out, indie or otherwise, and changed the world, but these were commercial releases.
Releases that took risks, bore their soul and stood out of the crowd. Of the three, Out of Time by R.E.M. is the weakest. I would call it a filler album in R.E.M.’s catalog as they began to wander through their Warner Brothers contract. Not so with The Red Hot Chili Peppers whose work on Blood, Sex, Sugar, Magic stands tall amongst others in their catalog. It’s their brilliant masterpiece, which was aided by producer Rick Rubin. Another producer, Butch Vig, worked with a little known Seattle band, Nirvana, who would make as much of an impact on the musical world as the Sex Pistols did 14 years earlier, with their album Nevermind. Added to the mix was the debut release of Pearl Jam’s Ten, which aided in exploding the flannel wearing Seattle grunge scene into the musical landscape of America at the time. And then came Achtung Baby, U2’s long awaited release.
For this U2 fan, Achtung Baby was one of the most anticipated albums. We had no Internet back in 1991. One had to stay in touch with “someone in the know” in order to get release information. My insider worked for Rose Records here in Chicago.
I can still remember the day I bashfully set foot into her store looking for answers to my questions about U2. I had not heard news of them for a while and feared that they may have split up. I would have been heart broken if that had happened. I walked into Rose Records on Sherman Avenue, in Evanston, on a late spring day in 1991.
I asked the store clerk about U2. She asked me if I was a fan. I said yes and she proceeded to review her cluttered surroundings for a release list. Her search ended with success. She gave me the date and then introduced herself as Phyllis. She became my “someone in the know” as she settled the unease in my stomach.
I was now filled with anticipation. What I wasn’t prepared for was how much of a metamorphosis would take place in Hansa Studio where the Irish quartet initially recorded the album.
On the day of the U2 release and with a mouth full of Novocain, I bought the newly minted U2 disc and headed home with wariness and excitement. I put the CD into my player with trepidation. I turned off all the lights in my apartment and let the gray, overcast sky outside my window blanket my room. What seeped out of my stereo moments later was something so different and transformative that I asked myself if this was still U2.
I would come to learn that Bono and Edge were knee deep into the Manchester dance sound.
Those influences can be heard on Even Better Than the Real Thing and Mysterious Ways. By the end of the first run through of the disc, including a couple song repeats, I wanted to hear it again. U2, like Nirvana and all of the other releases that year, were transforming music. The likes of which have not been seen since.
You can read all about Eric’s joy for U2 in his book    I’m a Fan: How I married U2 into my life without going to the altar