I’m not sure if any record has indirectly influenced me as much as this one while simultaneously escaping my attention for so long.
This is one of the most important guitar albums to come out of the 1990s. It inspired many of the groups that inspired me. And yet, I’ve only gotten into it in the last couple months.
Why have I been wasting my time?
It’s not just me, though—HUM is chronically underrated. They had one major hit in “Stars,” but even that success was among a niche audience.
Widespread acclaim or not, You’d Prefer An Astronaut is a major statement. It sits at the intersection of the most influential 90s rock groups. There are shades of Sunny Day Real Estate, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, and Weezer scattered across the disc, without sounding like anyone but themselves.
And that sound is rooted in the most massive guitar tone you can put to tape. The guitars are tuned low and played loud, squelching with feedback (barring the charmingly clumsy clean guitar on “The Very Old Man”). Then, Matt Talbott sings just a couple shades louder than a mumble.
At times, it sounds like HUM wanted to make metal, but they couldn’t find the anger in their hearts. Most of the songs are in a major key, and there are plenty of palm muted riffs to go around (see: “Stars”). “The Pod” catches some of that anger, and even finds Talbott abandoning his slacker singing voice to scream a couple lines. But even that track subsides into a major key. Also, Chino Moreno credits this album for inspiring much of the Deftones’ sound, if that tells you anything.
Mythos and influence aside though, it’s just a great album. It’s as charming as it is loud, laced with sardonic humor, which is best displayed in the chorus of “I’d Like Your Hair Long,” which repeats the assertion, “you’re a waste of a song.” That’s pretty meta, you guys.
True, it may have taken me a few decades longer to discover this record than it should have. I should have been blasting this alongside Pinkerton and Diary and The Argument in high school. But I’ll definitely be making up for lost time now.