Wednesday, 19 September 2007



When My So-Called Life emerged in the early nineties its timing was perfection. At a time when it appeared that there was an explicit weight of the world on the shoulders of the new generation (Generation X) and the rising stars of the era were making sure to point this out middle America needed a poster child to represent these most salient of gestures. In Angela Chase someone somewhere was onto something.

It wasn’t until after the event that I understood just was a multi faceted and layered TV show it was. I have to concede that I never really “got” the programme when it was first shown on Channel Four at 6PM on Wednesdays. It was only until I read an article about in Spin magazine of all places about it was a show “too good to exist” that I realised its apparent genius. For me there was nothing weird about Angela, the way she acted in an often selfish and self serving manner, such was/is a key mannerism of my generation. It was all for the good, the fabric and personality (disorder) of the time. Now some of these people are parents, influencing a new generation of potential Angelas. Sell outs.

This is the soundtrack to the show that is key is to understanding the times. The songs are diluted, soft MTV friendly versions of the raging alternative rock hits that were fuelling the generation. Regardless these grunge lite songs were still college rock friendly, only now they just had a bigger budget and stronger bargaining position.

It opens with Juliana Hatfield who in a way was the grunge rock equivalent of Angela Chase. Sounding soft and vulnerable while being notorious for addressing female issues with a different (unique sounding) slant for a while she was very popular for being both ballsy and sexy. Her contribution to this record (“Make It Home”) is not her greatest or strongest moment but having appeared on the show as an angel her attendance on this album was mandatory (it didn’t hurt her chances either that the soundtrack was released on the major label she was now signed to).

From here the names range from the great and the good to the downright obscure and alien. Roped in for the height of credibility were Sonic Youth who chipped in with “Genetic”, a b-side from the 100% single. Not that it is a band song, its just not prize stock from New York’s finest and coolest. Already there is a sense of being jipped attached to proceedings. Then by the time Afghan Whigs chip in with an album track things finally fully resemble a cash in.

Obviously the Lemonheads are on here, this was their label and this show’s audience was their fanbase. “Dawn Can’t Decide” is a track that would have sat very comfortably on It’s A Shame About Ray, a lively song with a hint of loud guitar and a dumb happy bounce attached to the sensation of being different.

Elsewhere on the record overrated never-weres Buffalo Tom put in a valiant appearance while decent nearly weres Madder Rose and Frente! drop in classic indie sounding contributions to varying degrees of satisfaction. Archers Of Loaf turn out to be the real oddballs of the piece dedicating a noisy and distorted piece that I can’t really see/hear fitting in with the world of My So-Called Life.

The most telling and interesting inclusion on this album is the appearance of Daniel Johnston with “Come See Me Tonight.” Were the compilers of this CD really so ahead of their time? I doubt so. More this is an interesting example of the happy accident and misfortune that was grunge breaking and the resulting signing of Daniel Johnston to a major. As a result it would have opened doors to him to such paydays as appearing on a television soundtrack such as this. Do you really think that Angela Chase or any of her cronies would ever listen to Daniel Johnston or even associate with his persona and legacy? For me this is the revealing point of this record, where true grunge spirit clashed with the faux grunge chic that followed. This appreciation was just not sincere.

The record comes to a close with the W.G. Snuffy Walden theme to the show, a name so square that he doesn’t even gain tracklisting credit amongst the season’s heroes. Suddenly the album is taken away from its exciting rock demeanour back to the reality of commercial television as suddenly the person that scored shows such as Thirtysomething and The Wonder Years (which I guess makes sense) is cramping the album’s style. This was just a job.

Is there any element of this record that could be attributed to the future success of 30 Seconds To Mars? In half a minute, so much good work all undone.

Thesaurus moment: time.

My So-Called Life

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