Welcome to the first ever review series for this website. The debut album often gets lost after a follow-up release tops the charts but sometimes a band’s first album reaches platinum levels. Either way, the Debut Album Series will review the first album of various bands but with a bit of hindsight knowing what we know now.
Gin Blossoms – Dusted
Gin Blossoms exploded on the music landscape after their 1992 release New Miserable Experience but those immersed in the Tempe, AZ music scene had this band in their heads already for five years.
Formed in 1987, Gin Blossoms’ smash album New Miserable Experience, for some reason feels like a debut album, perhaps because it thoroughly overshadowed their first album Dusted, released independently in 1989. Dusted never really appeared on the radar for fans, at least in terms of filling out the rest of their Gin Blossoms record collection, and in many respects got placed into the dust bin of history.
Now out of print (I think), the 12-track Dusted features four songs that helped propel New Miserable Experience into a multi-platinum success including two radio staples still today. A core of Gin Blossoms on Dusted remain in the band that in recent years has enjoyed popularity spurt: Singer Robin Wilson, Jesse Valenzuela on guitar and Bill Leen on bass. Guitarist Doug Hopkins, a co-founder of the band, who wrote much of Dusted and also worked on New Miserable Experience was removed for alcohol abuse and later committed suicide just as New Miserable Experience began to climb the charts in 1993.
Gin Blossoms Dusted Album Review
A far different recording than New Miserable Experience, or any of their releases for that matter, Dusted sounds raw while missing some audio frequencies, and if listening on vinyl you might jump up to adjust the rpm setting. The Gin Blossoms debut album certainly sounds a few steps above a homemade release, but definitely lacks in the overall production and engineering department.
Wilson has not found his voice yet sometimes bearing down for a more aggressive effect, percussion needs a better microphone and the sometimes weepy angst, a hallmark of their breakthrough album, hasn’t broken free yet. At times, the band tries hard to be hard rock which requires an adjustment period when listening to undo their 90s alt rock style in your head.
“Lost Horizons” opens Dusted just as the song also opens New Miserable Experience but lacks in audio quality with a much faster pace. The backbone of the original melody fully exists but right away the well-produced version on NME far surpasses this offering. “Cajun Song” closely resembles the take on NME and in a similar tempo but this one feels more like a live cut. A quicker rendition of “Found Out About You” doesn’t stray far from the version that stole fans’ hearts but it comes across like the band trying to beat a deadline. Hurry up, gotta go! The slower and more methodical take for NME delivers the emotion Hopkins no doubt was trying to convey when he wrote the song.
We hit a stretch of “new” Gin Blossoms songs, at least for the uninitiated, starting with “Girls Can’t Wait” featuring a cozy Gin Blossoms melody. A re-working of the generic “Girls Can’t Wait” chorus and then re-recording would make this one a regular on playlists.
Trivia question: Who was the original Gin Blossoms lead singer? Jesse Valenzuela returns to his original position as frontman for “Something Wrong” a song he also wrote and unless you pay attention you might not even notice the subtle change in vocals. A solid song with a kind of 60s vibe.
The first half of Dusted ends with one of the Gin Blossoms’ best songs as Wilson returns to the mic for “Idiot Summer” which the band hasn’t completely forgot while touring. This song did get a makeover for the Wayne’s World 2 soundtrack sounding more like Gin Blossoms, but I prefer the faster pace of this original.
I’m not sure how “Angels Tonight” didn’t make the cut for inclusion on New Miserable Experience but this version actually needs little assistance. A somewhat slower adaptation was cut for the Up and Crumbling EP released in 1991, but the original works better, despite the remake having more of Wilson’s vocal tone. “Keli Richards” was also re-recorded for Up and Crumbling album which gave it a total different vibe and better flavor. The quicker Dusted version, in pace and time (about 30 seconds shorter), has an almost punk pop sound with a more pervasive rock guitar.
“Hey Jealousy” follows almost in lockstep with the future re-make but you can definitely hear the difference in Wilson’s vocals and how he approaches a song. Valenzuela returns as singer and songwriter for “I Can Sleep” another easy melody track that could fit right into the future Gin Blossoms mold.
“Slave Dealer’s Daughter” sounds a bit already done following a similar rhythm as “Idiot Summer” but overall a gritty guitar rock piece that eventually lends way to a pretty solid Hopkins solo. Valenzuela again takes up vocal duties to close out Dusted on “Fireworks” a fun almost dance tune along with a bit of Spanish infused guitar but Wilson would have been the better choice on the mic.
Those not used to listening to Dusted will miss the emotional tug of many of their songs as clearly the production went up and the band took a different approach to the recording and playing process once signed to A&M Records. It’s hard not to compare and contrast Dusted with future Gin Blossoms releases, however, if you just let it ride as a debut album without any preconceived hearing judgement you fully get a talent and craft ready to reach new heights.
Debut Album Grade: A-
Overall Grade: B
Gin Blossoms Dusted Track List:
- Lost Horizons
- Cajun Song
- Found Out About You
- Girls Can’t Wait
- Something Wrong
- Idiot Summer
- Angels Tonight
- Keli Richards
- Hey Jealousy
- I Can Sleep
- Slave Dealer’s Daughter