If I Were a Carpenter (1994)

This is one of my favorite albums from the last Great Year in Music, 1994. The idea of a Carpenter's tribute album might seem snarky or bizarre, but that sense of irony was absolutely perfect in the year that saw the deaths of Richard Nixon and Kurt Cobain. 1970s revisionism was at the heart of '90s rock, especially with the Seattle bands that brought us out of the dark abyss of phony hair metal and processed pop. So an album like this fit in perfectly.

That's probably why If I Were a Carpenter was the best tribute album of the '90s. These weren't merely retreads or simple cash-ins. It had a point. And it was a showcase for the sheer diversity of pop and rock of the time. History may only remember grunge, but this album lays testament to how wide and free the music was. It was a fantastic time for music, and 1994 was the fantastic peak to the decade.

Thank goodness for Bit Torrents, I say. This CD is impossibly hard to find anymore, and I've long ago sold off all of my discs (to my eternal regret, despite my devotion to vinyl LPs). Once again, the internet gives life to the Long Tails of the music world.

My favorites on this album? I really can't pick one. They're all terrific, every one of 'em. Sonic Youth did a bang-up job, as did Shonen Knife, Buffalo Springfield, Matthew Sweet, and 4 Non Blondes. Hey, even Babes in Toyland contribute a song, the goofy and carefree, "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft." You'd never expect such a fiery band to record something so silly, but it works perfectly. Just like this album.

This is the best kind of compilation album: the kind that makes you want to seek out all the bands and performers. Everyone on Carpenter were entering their glory days of success, and they all deserved their fame. Some persevered, some faded eventually, and some never got their chance. But this is the way of things. We all start out full of energy and hope when we're young. We don't yet know who will still be standing 15 years down the road. I can't believe it's been 15 years since that great, fateful year. Joy and sorrow, life and death, creating something new in the shadow of the old. And above it all, the death of Saint Cobain, whose rise and fall marked our era. Every rock album in 1994 after April 8 was a Cobain tribute album, and don't ever let anyone tell you otherwise.


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