This new recurring GrungeReport.net feature is dedicated to forgotten 90s alt rock gems. It doesn’t necessarily have to be something obscure, just anything that’s been unfairly overlooked over the years.
FORGOTTEN ALBUMS OF THE 90’S: LIFTER- MELINDA
WRITTEN BY ANTH CUSUMANO
It’s an all-too-familiar tale: boy meets girl, they fall in love, girl dumps boy, boy’s band records concept album about their breakup for Interscope Records. And in the epilogue, the bassist of the band wins the third season of Project Runway.
Yes, the story of Lifter is a Shakespearean tragedy in many ways, but the saddest aspect is the fate of the band’s sole release, Melinda (Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt). One of the decade’s finest start-to-finish gems, it now survives only in the bargain bins of used record stores and, most likely, still spinning in the CD players of the few listeners lucky enough to be aware of its existence.
Melinda is filled with many of the trademarks of the 90s alternative scene—the soft/loud dynamic, the angst-ridden lyrics, the decidedly random yet oddly compelling cover art—but it elevates them with some of the strongest songwriting this side of the “big four.” Tons of long-forgotten bands released solid records piggybacking on the success of Nirvana and their peers, but Lifter is one of the few casualties that truly stings.
Indeed, what separates Lifter from the others is the fact that the label didn’t just carelessly release an album of crunchy guitar riffs and expect grunge devotees to lap it up via word of mouth. Someone who worked for Interscope back in the 90s told me that the label was very aware of the band’s talent and actually did make an effort for them to hit it big, even sending vocalist/guitarist Mike Coulter to rehab to deal with his heroin addiction before the album was recorded. They also produced a star-studded video for one of the album’s best tracks, the intense “Headshot.” (Ok, perhaps “star-studded” is going a bit far, given that Dave Navarro is its most famous participant, but still, it was enough to score some MTV airplay in 1996.) [In fairness, the label isn’t entirely blameless; they neglected to release a promised single from the album despite requesting that radio stations not play the band’s music before the single was available.]
As one could guess from listening to “Headshot,” with lines like “I’m damn glad I’m better than you are” and a reference to potential arson, Coulter specialized in bitter, phased lyrics that long for something distant that he’s either too angry or too apathetic to reach for. And really, what message could be more appealing to mid-90s teenagers? His indifferent yet agonized vocal delivery really sells what could have easily come across as pretentious, and bassist Jeff Sebelia and drummer John Rozas are strong supporting presences, never overshadowing Coulter but refusing to be overwhelmed by him either. Sebelia’s opening bass line on “Shutout” is one of the album’s best moments, calling to mind the intro to Nirvana’s “Come As You Are”—not coincidentally, Melinda was mixed by Andy Wallace, who mixed Nevermind five years earlier.
But Coulter’s songwriting is ultimately what really stands out, particularly on “402,” an anthem for anyone finding themselves wallowing in the scary depths of the real world: “I want to go back home and mow the lawn for my dad … Where is my honey-dipped life and my pretty wife? / Why can’t I leave this town and tell my mom I tried?” It’s one of the most downright depressing songs on the album, but its painful honesty is something that was beginning to disappear from rock at the time. Nothing on Melinda feels dark for the sake of being dark; there’s a purpose to the reflective anger it’s filled with.
Of course, if it’s catchy hooks you’re looking for, you’ll find them here as well. “Monkee” masterfully combines the band’s hard-edged flavor with pop sensibilities, just like Kurt Cobain so often did with Nirvana. The shimmering, optimistic—perhaps even forgiving—”Shine” is reminiscent of the Foo Fighters’ recent radio hit “Walk”—not the group’s specialty, but not uncharacteristic either.
Melinda may not have been the success it deserved to be, but if you happen to come face to face with the haunting unibrowed man on the cover when browsing the dusty corner of your local record shop, do yourself a favor and let him into your CD collection. He may not be a hot date, but Melinda is definitely a record you’ll want to settle down with…unlike its namesake.