Review Summary: junkie blood..VI
Coming in as the third and fourth opening acts for indie mainstays like Sebadoh, Red Red Meat and Polvo, releasing a split 7” with Guided by Voices, and going so far as to carp about chronically unfair comparisons to Pavement in the liner notes of their LP’s; Memphis atmo-rockers the Grifters were yet another unfortunate casualty of the formidable glut of indie upstarts of the early 90’s. Signed to a subsidiary of a major label, along with a hundred others, the modest and strange outfit became another seeming letdown to the corporate music world, frantically searching for the next Nirvana, forever relegated to a long line of the decade’s also-rans.
Shame too, because as far as walking the walk goes, the Grifters had just about everything going for them. Keen ears for earworm melodies, doubled up by gruff romantic vox and jagged guitars; what distinguished them from the bulk of their peers were their heavy lean towards prolonged atmospheric acrobatics and patterns that often skirted the very edges of early post-hardcore and emo tinges.
So Happy Together
, the band’s 1992 debut, serves both as their indoctrination, and their most stubborn statement, not yet neck-deep in the indie Kool-Aid, and still thrashing in the sheer strangeness of young kids yet undecided as to whether they want to trade in stoner ambience, hardcore breakdowns or straight-up melodic college radio.
The LP gets pulled every which way on most every cut, the vocals buried in the mix, the rhythm section similarly muddy, letting layers upon layers of electric moodiness scrawl and reel across the songs’ faraway corners.Happy Together
’s original six-track set (later expanded to a dozen tunes) plaits together into a mercurial brew of brooding rock, thick with reverb and never sure which tempo it wants to proceed in. Capricious, hysteria-prone and ever-so-slightly soft at the underbelly, it was predictably slow on take-off, elbowing out a dedicated fan-base and managing little else, even as the band grew more conventionally melodic and less schizoid as their tenure went on.
The closest Grifters got to something resembling a radio-worthy single back then was the lovelorn and wretched “Wreck,” which got decent enough airplay on small niche stations, but even that small concession didn’t get them anywhere close to Slanted and Enchanted
goodwill. Dropped around the same time, the Grifters immediately receded in the eyes of both the critics, industry execs and the hanger-on fans as yet another Pavement ape act, and they would spend the rest of their short and dizzying six-year existence as sturdy support acts for the decade’s luckier, smarter and more gilded acts.