Looking back, the 90s seemed chaotically beautiful. We are regaled of tales of the Britpop wars, whose ashes birthed darker, more sombre tones from bands like Radiohead. Over in the States, the rise of Nirvana’s Gen X Grunge prompted a sonic explosion of similar results. Bands of the mid-90s were prompted to tinker with the punk and rock n’ roll that had come before and arm themselves with new styles that reflected a renewed sense of cultural rebellion. The rise of pop-punk into the mainstream with bands such as The Offspring and Green Day reflect how much music evolved in a span of fewer than ten years
Sadly, unless you’re now around your late-twenties, all of this is just history. The 90s generation, for the most part, is hugely influenced by these albums, by this history, but none of us were of a substantial age to absorb this content as it was released. It’s strange then, as someone looking back on an era they were never a part of but was so influenced by, to see that the debut album of Seattle alt-rock group Harvey Danger never gain much acclaim outside of their hometown.
1997’s Where Have All The Merrymakers Gone is a record that strikes a strange balance between three eras. It hints at what came before the group in its punk roots of yesteryear, and the band’s self-proclaimed musical inexperience and lack of a budget, this whole album was recorded on a budget of just over $3,000. This makes for somewhat of a lo-fi treat in some of the album’s construction that harkens back to seventies punk, particularly near the close of the album with “Terminal Annex” and “Old Hat”.
Of course, the album is also defined by the sounds of its own time. Frontman Sean Nelson’s reedy yet energetic vocals and guitarist Jeff J. Lin’s grunge-tinged riffs lend themselves to creating a picture-perfect display of 90s rock in “Jack the Lion”, and the chief single of the album “Flagpole Sitta”. If you’re a fan of British comedy duo Mitchell and Webb, this will sound familiar to you.
However, what truly separates Harvey Danger from the pack here is their willingness to take little risks. There are small aspects to each song that create a division between them and the rest of the genre, like a peg going into a hole that’s slightly too small for it. There’s something about the composition, both lyrically and musically, that evokes a similarity to more modern works, a sense of youthful-yet-melancholic aggression that leaks from every facet of the album’s design. This is something that would come to be the staple of future groups such as Paramore and Fall Out Boy.
Harvey Danger never rose to huge success outside their main singles and dissolved for good in 2009. However, listening back to their debut shows a criminally underrated band that strove to create a unique pop-punk sound in an era defined by musical experimentation, and helped bring a genre thirty years in the making to the forefront of American pop culture.