Thursday, December 18, 2008

Hovercraft - Been Brained (1994)

One of my favorite pop-rock albums of the 1990's, the debut ep from Minneapolis locals Hovercraft. Been Brained is very short - five songs, seventeen minutes in length - but it's a perfect album from start to finish. Each song stakes its own terrain in the grunge landscape, each song stands on its own, and pretty soon you'll be switching the CD player to replay.

This was an album I could listen to for hours. That should really tell you something. Jay Hurley, the frontman, fell on hard times, and unfortunately, Hovercraft wasn't able to reach mainstream success. A tragedy, of course. Been Brained was hailed as a triumph, and this was especially helpful because the major record labels were still scooping up indie bands right and left, hoping for the next Saint Cobain to emerge. 1994 would prove to be the peak year for the grunge era, and Hovercraft were ready for their chance.

The band was signed to a major label, which then proceeded to put their next album on a boutique, "indie" label. Then two tragedies struck.

First, it was revealed that "Hovercraft" was also the name of an experimental Seattle noise band. This wouldn't normally be an issue....but the band leader happened to be the wife of Eddie Vedder. Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam, at this time, are arguably the biggest rock band in America, so his wife won the battle of the band names. The Minneapolis Hovecraft was forced to change to Shatterproof.

Shatterproof made a couple lineup changes - a new drummer, and expansion from trio to quartet - and recorded their second CD for the Fort Apache label. "Slip it Under the Door" was a solid album, but oddly enough, it couldn't shake itself free from the mighty shadow of Been Brained. Good songs, solid songs, yes. But they mostly sounded the same, standard-issue '90s indie pop. Been Brained really was a perfect album, and I think much of that was because of its length. Perhaps if the Shatterproof CD was similarly shorter, it would have fared better. The classic sophomore slump.

Enter tragedy number two. MCA folded the Fort Apache label suddenly, almost shockingly so. Shatterproof became one of the many indie groups of the '90s to be caught in the corporate undertow. Their album became almost impossible to find. Even today, I'll wager that you could score that first, classic ep more easily among the CD shelves in the Twin Cities.

I saw Jay Hurly around Dinkytown (at the U of MN campus) for many years, working the Espresso Royale coffeeshop. Always humble, always taking my endless praises in stride. I even got his autograph for my CD once, just for kicks. He deserved it. He deserved to be one of the giants of that era. He's still making music and releasing albums.

With the age of the internet, I remain hopeful that he could finally receive his due. Somebody's going to have to work on that. But indie rock remains stubbornly cliquish, Minneapolis more so. Success is always treated with contempt, as something to apologize for. It's complete nonsense. Do you want Jay Hurley to be working coffee shops the rest of his life? Or do you want him to create music? You never see this self-richeous navel-gazing in the rap community. Success is a good thing, something to flaunt, something to celebrate.

That said, Hovercraft's Been Brained is one of the finest rock albums of the 1990's. It deserves to be in your music collection. Get it any way you can, by hook or by crook.

Here's the Amazon link.

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