Ocean of Confusion: Songs of Screaming Trees, 1990–1996
First Appeared in The Music Box, June 2005, Volume 12, #6
Written by John Metzger
While Screaming Trees never received the recognition that it deserved, it also never managed to parlay completely its potential into a perfect album. Born in the fertile Seattle music scene of the mid-’80s, the band forged its hard-driving sound out of a blend of thunderous blues, rampaging punk, and ’60s psychedelia. However, despite the fact that it was the first act from the region’s burgeoning grunge scene to sign with a major label, its peers — Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden, among them — quickly achieved far greater commercial success. As alternative rock became increasingly corporatized, the group, which had always been prone to infighting, disbanded. Providing an overview of this turbulent era is Ocean of Confusion: Songs of Screaming Trees, 1990–1996, a 19-track collection that augments material from each of the collective’s outings for Epic with a pair of previously unreleased recordings. Although the set does an adequate job of capturing Screaming Trees’ essence, it unfortunately also places too much emphasis upon the ensemble’s popular breakthrough Sweet Oblivion as well as the somewhat better but nonetheless overrated Dust. In the process, it short-changes the vastly underappreciated Uncle Anesthesia.
Indeed, there’s an intensity to the manner in which Mark Lanegan’s aching vocals collide with the springing guitar assault of Gary Lee Conner on Alice Said that is largely missing from the later material contained on Ocean of Confusion. On Screaming Trees’ sophomore outing Sweet Oblivion, for example, the band attempted to reach a more mainstream audience by streamlining its sonic reverberations, and it lost part of its edge in the process. By the time it regained its adventurous nature on Dust, it lacked the exuberance to make it succeed. Of course, as Ocean of Confusion illustrates there were exceptions — such as the dark, mesmerizing groove of Julie Paradise; the ominous, heady swirl of Shadow of the Season; and the hazy folk of Traveler — sprinkled throughout each of the band’s endeavors. Interestingly, it’s the non-album tracks — the EP-only Who Lies in Darkness, the Japanese B-side E.S.K., and the previously unreleased tunes Watchpocket Blues and Paperback Bible — that provide the crucial links to bind together the outfit’s seemingly disparate efforts. In the end, however, Ocean of Confusion is an interesting, if flawed, collection that takes its title literally and frequently feels as frustratingly uneven and unfulfilled as Screaming Trees’ career. ½
Ocean of Confusion: Songs of Screaming Trees, 1990–1996 is
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2005 The Music Box