New Miserable Experience (A&M ’92) Rating: A-
Spurred by a trio of great singles, New Miserable Experience became a surprise smash, proving that melodic guitar pop still had an audience in a marketplace watered down by angst ridden “grunge” and generic “alternative rock.” That the Gin Blossoms were inaccurately labeled an alternative band probably didn't hurt their cause, but it was the band’s stong songwriting and performances that made them successful artistically as well as commercially. Byrdsy guitars carry the upbeat melodies of “Lost Horizons” and “Mrs. Rita,” while “Hey Jealousy” (a huge hit) has catchy hooks and a driving rhythmic kick along with bittersweet lyrics like “if I hadn't blown the whole thing years ago I might not be alone.” “Until I Fall Away” showcases a gorgeous melody and singer Robin Wilson's yearning vocals (which some people find irritating but which I like), and “Found Out About You” again nods to The Byrds by matching some scathing lyrics (“the love I thought I won you give for free”) to a delightfully melancholic melody. Granted, the band can sound bland when not backed by strong songs, but this is rarely the case as the Gin Blossoms deliver consistent quality while showing just enough variety. For example, “Hold Me Down” and “Hands Are Tied” both rock pretty hard, “Allison Road” is lightly upbeat and catchy, “29” and “Pieces Of The Night” are pretty ballads, and “Cheatin’” delivers a winning country melody and the album’s most memorable line: “you can’t call it cheatin’ because she reminds me of you.” Above all else, this impressive debut album proved that well written songs and Byrdsy guitars will never go out of style.
Congratulations I’m Sorry (A&M ’96) Rating: B
Released four years after their debut, on Congratulations I’m Sorry the Gin Blossoms had to make a go of it without their most accomplished songwriter, Doug Hopkins, who was ousted from the band after the completion of their first album due to excessive alcoholism. In a tragic turn of events, Hopkins then watched his former band rise to surprising commercial success in large part due to his songs. It was more than he could bear, and his resulting suicide in late 1993 brought about widespread criticism of his former bandmates. This, along with the changing tides of commerce, helped make Congratulations I’m Sorry a comparative commercial stiff, as the band was unfairly tossed aside by fan and critic alike. Although Hopkins wasn’t the only talented songwriter in the band, this album is less memorable largely because it misses his deft lyrical touch, though the band can still surprise with lines like “this night never happened if it’s alright with you.” While the band still shows a knack for the catchy chorus, they often trade in their jangly guitars for a harder hitting roots rock approach, and though they’re solid at this style it’s simply not as appealing as when they indulge their mid-tempo Byrds fixation. “Memphis Time” is probably the album’s most inventive track, with a pedal steel guitar and accordion predating the obligatory catchy chorus, but “As Long As It Matters,” “I Can’t Figure You Out,” and especially “Follow You Down” (the album’s lone hit this time) also show off the band at their best. Actually, the whole album is consistently accomplished, and though it lacked the lofty peaks of New Miserable Experience this was still a solid follow up that was unjustly ignored. Then again, it should be noted that the band didn’t help their own cause by not including their excellent previously released hit single “Till I Hear It From You,” which was co-written with Marshall Crenshaw and can be found on the Empire Records soundtrack.