Reviewed on this page:
Say What You Will, Clarence... Karl Sold The Truck - Made To Be Broken -
Hang Time -
And The Horse You Rode In On -
Grave Dancers Union - Let Your Dim Light Shine - Candy From A Stranger
Led by guitarist/frontman Dave Pirner, Soul Asylum was a respected member of the Minneapolis indie rock scene that also produced Hüsker Dü, the Replacements and Babes In Toyland.
In fact, Alroy says they sound like Hüsker Dü on the loud numbers, and like the Mats on the quiet numbers. The band lived up to the cliché of "major-label sellouts," dropping their
80s post-punk for moderate 90s roots rock, sometimes relying on ringing power chords. Almost without exception, the loud songs are
the good ones, and the only relevant distinction between one of the band's major label releases and another is the powerful rocker-to-countrified weeper ratio. Pirner's voice is whinily
sincere, but he has trouble staying on key, let alone projecting with any force.
But audiences responded more favorably to the band's melancholy than to its rage: their one smash hit was the sluggish "Runaway Train," which apparently inspired a bunch of runaway kids to
come home, or something. Pirner responded by making slower and slower albums, until the band broke up. He then released a solo album before they came back together for 2006's The Silver Lining.
David Pirner, lead vocals, guitar, songwriter; Daniel Murphy, lead guitar; Grant Young, drums; Karl Mueller, bass.
Say What You Will, Clarence... Karl Sold The Truck (1984)
Produced by Hüsker Dü's Bob Mould, and mostly it's loud, fast post-punk, just like you'd expect ("Draggin' Me Down"; "Sick Of That Song"). But there's a lot of experimentation:
their country influences poke through on the snappy "Money Talks"); the introspective "Stranger" has a prominent sax part; the unpredictable Devo-ish nerd-funk "Voodoo Doll" is a highlight. Even at this early stage, rhythm section is limber and the guitars are bracing, so the weak link is Pirner's vocals, which are moaning or yelping ("Religiavision") when they aren't raving.
Made To Be Broken (1986)
Mould again, and they're more focused on slabs of hard rock ("Ship Of Fools"), though there's still some country-punk (title track) and a couple of slower numbers ("Lone Rider"; the Joe Jackson-like "Ain't That Tough"). Professionalism has its ups and downs: Pirner's vocals are more carefully recorded, yes, but that just makes ordinary rockers like "Tied To The Tracks" sound even more so.
When the band is inspired, the results are great (the chaotic rave-up "Growing Pain"); more often, though, the tracks are just functional ("Whoa!").
While You Were Out (1986)
Produced by Chris Osgood.
Clam Dip And Other Delights (1988)
An EP produced by Tom Herbers.
Hang Time (1988)
Their first major label release was produced by Lenny Kaye and Ed Stasium, who organize everything into hook-based rock anthems ("Little Too Clean"). While there's no experimentation at all, the disc strikes a good balance between the tuneless rambling of the early records and the overcooked bathos of the late records (though "Marionette" points in that direction). Other than the tongue-in-cheek country tune "Twiddly Dee" and the unfunny joke "Put The Bone In," it's solidly entertaining ("Down On Up To Me"), and quite likely the band's best work.
And The Horse You Rode In On (1990)
A flop that got them dropped by A&M. The uptempo tunes are faster than ever, often sounding like pop-punk ("Spinnin'"), but there are a fair number of the whiny slow tunes that would eventually
consume them ("Veil Of Tears," "Grounded"). I think the reason nobody bought the record, though, was a lack of distinctive tunes: apart from the grooving "Something Out Of Nothing," there's just one 3:30 alt-rock song after another, and they all run
At least there are no gags this time out.
Produced by Steve Jordan; Bernie Worrell appears on Murphy's "Gullible's Travels."
Grave Dancers Union (1992)
Resurfacing on Columbia, the band delivered a set of no-frills rock and roll, with Pirner singing bad poetry, mostly about romance;
Murphy either crunching out loud riffs or playing gentle acoustic, and the rhythm section trying to stay out of trouble. It works best on the hard rockers: "Somebody To Shove,"
"April Fool" recalls KISS in a good way. Most of the slower tunes have a low-energy Tom Petty influence, which I guess is cool if you're into that sort of
thing ("The Sun Maid"; the hit single "Runaway Train"). The band's facile, but doesn't have a strong identity, which makes them fun to listen to but unmemorable.
Produced by Mike Beinhorn; guests include Booker T. Jones on organ, plus Gary Lourie and Kraig Johnson of the Golden Smog Choir. (DBW)
Let Your Dim Light Shine (1995)
Butch Vig got to be king of the
"alternative" producers by coaxing focused, tuneful performances out of
talented but disorganized bands. But these guys were already focused and
tuneful, so all he can think to do is compress the sound on the loud rockers
("Just Like Anyone"), get Pirner (who again wrote all the tunes) to
mumble for that real grunge attitude, and throw in some
easily-anticipated dynamics changes. Pirner comes to the rescue with
some great melodic hooks ("Misery," "Crawl," "Caged Rat"), but also
weighs in with some Neil Young-style
semi-acoustic ballads ("To My Own Devices," "Nothing To Write Home
About" - indeed) and pretentious overwrought story-songs ("String Of
Pearls," "Eyes Of A Child"). (DBW)
Candy From A Stranger (1998)
This time Pirner gave up on the hard rockers, and focused on generic midtempo tunes ("I Will Still Be Laughing") and semi-acoustic ballads ("See You Later"), with predictably boring results -
spotlighting his whiny, frequently cracking voice wasn't exactly a brilliant move. When the band does break out the power chords on "Lies Of Hate," it's almost shocking.
Murphy gets in one composition ("Blood Into Wine" - elsewhere he staves off boredom by imitating Lynyrd Skynyrd ("Draggin' The Lake," a "Freebird" clone).
Produced by Chris Kimsey.
Dave Pirner (Dave Pirner: 2002)
Billy Preston appears on single, "Never Recover." (DBW)
The Silver Lining (2006)
Mueller had died of cancer while the album was being recorded, and Tommy Stinson filled in on some tracks. The drummer is Michael Bland.