The 90s are hip again- well the TRL era of the 90s are hip again but at any rate I thought this would be a good excuse to review an early 90s rock album that seems lost in the shadow of 90s grunge, pseudo punk, and Lilith Fair ladies. Well OK, that is not really why I’m doing this… I’m doing this because my music was on shuffle and the song, “Sinking Like A Sunset” came on and I thought, “Damn! I like vibe of this tune. I need to listen to this whole album again”. So here we are at the on ramp to Tom Cochrane’s, “Mad Mad Mad World” an album that turned 30 this year. And it is that rare occasion that in terms of chart success I get to say that rarely heard phrase, “Bigger in Canada”.
Even his original group Red Rocker was bigger in Canada by a lot. But enough of that. Let’s put some pedal to some metal and dissect an album that dominated the Juno Awards in 1991 winning every major category that year; album, single, male vocalist, and songwriter of the year.
To set the scene, 1991 was about the time the glam metal bad-boy-rogue-drifter-shtick was being put out to pasture. Videos of guitarists standing on mountains or in the middle of desert prairies were making way for unkempt hair, ripped jeans, flannel and high school gyms or hazily lit high school theater stages. Still despite the shift in tone, Gun and Roses, “November Rain” released the same year would go on to be the longest (in length) top 10 hit in history. Being a kind of swan song to the whole scene and lifestyle and the bands who by then would to try and get more “mature” in the new decade but in many cases clearly did not know how.
Tom Cochrane was never glam metal or hard rock by the genre label slapped onto his solo work but some of these songs on this record they could easily fake ID their way into such an arena even without Aqua Net. This is not a slight against Cochrane (or glam metal for that matter) but just a fact that genre labels can get really fuzzy when you drop your hard-line fandom thinking and just listen to the damn song. A song like, “No Regrets” has the same bass drum bombast as a song like Aerosmith’s “Rag Doll” or Poison’s “Un-skinny Bop”. Or maybe it is that those songs sound more straight-aheadtheir rock than metal. Maybe the problem around the albums success in the states was Tom Cochrane was a solo act and so without the entire band image it was harder to sell EVEN THOUGH Bryan Adams was about to make some of his biggest hits ever. Though by then hadn’t rock fans disowned Adams if they ever accepted him all?
OK. OK. OKAY, Mad Mad World is not Metal and is sort of mildly Hard Rock in fact it has more in common with that 90s country than anything rock or metal. The early 90s saw mainstream country utilizing a lot of upfront piano riffs like Suzy Boggus’ “Outbound Plane” and many of the songs on Mad Mad World, would gel well right next to songs like that or even Reba McEntire’s cover of “Fancy”. This production sound added not so much a lost lonesome drifter aesthetic but a feeling of, I am outta here and hitting the highway into the unknown on my own terms. Not so much the piano but because that sort of hollow guitar sound that carries you on a your solo adventure. Similar sounds can be found on Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers’, album Into The Great Wide Open. And then you have the sounds Bonnie Raitt and John Hiatt were putting on record at that time that were bluesy but in a sort of dusty roadside bar where you meet your secret lover way. And lastly on some of the more politically leaning songs like, “Brave and Crazy” and “Mad Mad World” he takes on a more Don Henley “Dirty Laundry” or ”Sunset Grill” approach.
All of these sounds coverage on this album to the point they might teeter on cliché, so it sound less like Tom Cochrane and more like 1991. Maybe that was bound to happen as the 80s wore on and people all pulled from each other. But this convergence of sonic ideas and production was a HUGE part of my youth and so often hits that sweet spot for me. So while that sound is all over this record… the album is top heavy, assuming you listen in track order. The biggest hit, “Life Is A Highway” certainly sets a strong opening tone. And grooves are pretty well maintained up through, “Sinking Like A Sunset” one of the great, get the hell out of Dodge songs, I’ve ever heard. Perfect for a Midwest long interstate four wheel stroll. But after that the catchy hooks seem to lose steam and the record seems to take an off ramp and run out of gas. They are not bad songs but the grooves just don’t inspire the same sort of joyous stomp and hands in the air excitement of a song like, “No Regrets”. After the songs, “Everything Comes Around” and “Bigger Man”, “Friendly Advice” refuels the album and you start to barrel down the highway again but it is a slower groove for the wind in your hair. It is a great song and my favorite of the second half of the record. This is followed by, “Get Back Up” giving the drums some real front and center action that helps propel the later half of the record to go off into the horizon especially the guitar flamin’ solo near the end. Not quiet the hook driven explosion of, “Life Is A Highway” but the defiance in the song is clear and catchy. I just wish there had been one or two more unabashed hooks to help me shift gears and go. The record ends with “All The King’s Men” right in the lane of the most classic late 80s/early 90s rock lonesome drifter songs. And as I am prone to say on PopOff!, closes it out “tastefully”. It actually, kind of makes you forget those few songs you forgot about.
For as the album goes on I found myself no longer concerned with what one might label, “filler” but with clearly remembering the great hooks that front loaded the record. Is this because I played those out the most in my life? I can’t say. I have so much music now I’ve lost track of what I’ve listened to the most over the years. But when all is said and heard, what we end up with a solid rock record that I think with a little trimming in the middle could have been a GREAT rock record. There are several cuts here that I think should be classic by now and that I think could find new audiences on classic rock radio if given the chance. Maybe not with the Green Day/Nirvana/ Third Eye Blind 90s nostalgia crowd. But with the Tom Petty, Poison, Aerosmith crowd… And even though it feels little light on the meat in the middle the top and bottom have some of the choicest grade A Rock ‘n’ Roll prime cuts of the era.
Sinking Like A Sunset
Life Is A Highway
Get Back Up
All The King’s Men