You have your whole life to write your first song, so it better be good, which Psychology have accomplished with their debut single “First Contact.” There are some very likable components to this song. You have an addictive, heavy riff, some solid drumming, and a vintage feel. It’s the first single from the band’s debut album, which was just released this past Friday. “First Contact” was inspired by the magical moment that band frontman John Atkinson met his wife.
Psychology’s new self-titled album is eleven love songs that take inspiration from the challenges of day-to-day life. Aside from being a musician, Atkinson is also an academic, earning a Master’s degree in Educational Psychology at Temple University. During his studies, he learned about the positive effects of music on the brain. These include fending off Alzheimer’s and dementia, which got him even more interested in recording. It’s all in an effort to share the power and positivity of music with the world. You can probably deduce now why the project is called Psychology!
’90s rock is arguably the last great decade of what we know as rock n’ roll. Atkinson joins us today to run down his Top 10 favourite albums of the decade that he views as “perfect.”
“A perfect album has no fat on it. Everything included on it serves its purpose to help define that album and the album would be incomplete without each particular detail. Fat on an album pulls you back out of the experience of the album, like being disturbed from a sensory deprivation chamber. This list is not a ranking other than Ritual De Lo Habitual being number one. There are probably a few more perfect albums from the ’90s but these stand out in my mind. That said, I still find them objectively perfect.”
1. Jane’s Addiction – Ritual De Lo Habitual (199o, Warner Bros.)
“Good god where do you start with this record? To me, the greatest record ever made. I defy anyone to find two songs back to back on a record like ‘Three Days’ and ‘Then She Did…’ Both as emotionally exhausting as they are exquisitely pieced together. Then you think you’re off the hook when ‘Of Course’ starts bouncing along, but it’s just not true as it’s just as challenging both lyrically and musically. As if Nietzsche was actually a bearded gypsy lady in a circus tent reading your future out of a crystal ball.
“‘No One’s Leaving’ hits like a shot to the kidneys with its angular funk metal and you desperately need the ‘my sex and my drugs and my rock n’ roll’ wasted reggae interlude before ‘Ain’t No Right,’ which is one of the most taken for granted songs ever. Dave Jerden really knew Jane’s in and out and his production bridges the gap between the best sounding glam metal (like Ratt and White Lion) of the 80’s and what was to come with bands like Alice In Chains (Jerden also produced Dirt), Soundgarden, and Tool.
“I can’t say enough great things about this record. I used to walk around the neighborhood in the middle of the night in high school listening to it just to carve out the time needed to pay it full attention. I still do that.”
2. Ween – The Mollusk (1997, Elektra Records)
“The thing about The Mollusk is it’s basically about where I live on the coast of New Jersey, so I know how perfect it is, and all the ways in which it is perfect. I’ve been waving my dick in the wind, lost in the sauce, staggering home from the same bars. I’ve been on the weird drugs and had conversations with fish-like critters who are surprisingly wise and talkative. I know how cold the wind blows here in the winter across the frozen bay. I wrote a bunch of the songs on the first Psychology record here.
“The truth is… I am ‘Ocean Man.’ Every sound on this record serves as the soundtrack to both the human life here and somehow the nonhuman life as well. Bivalves love this record too. One told me so to my face. Then I ate him with a little horseradish on top.”
3. Tool – Ænima (1994, Zoo/Volcano)
“You know the scene in Terminator 2 where LA gets nuked, and Linda Hamilton’s skeleton is hanging on the chain link fence? The soundtrack to the aftermath of that scene. Yet, my fondest memory of this record is watering my mother’s garden for her during the summer listening to it. Organically industrial? Industrially organic? Some point to the segues as unnecessary, which would render this record imperfect. They would be wrong. You need a break between ‘Ænema’ and ‘Third Eye.’ I’ve tried to skip ‘(-) Ions’ and I always end up back in therapy talking about my mother’s garden.”
4. Public Enemy – Fear of a Black Planet (1990, Def Jam/Columbia)
“One of the best-sounding records ever made. Right away ‘Contract on the World Love Jam’ lets you know this is different than any other album you have ever heard. It’s just so dynamic and before you know it the snare on ‘Brothers Gonna Work It Out’ sounds like snapping tibias and it’s the tip of the iceberg on this album.
“The stories about the production work of Hank Shocklee and the Bomb Squad are legendary in the meticulous teamwork it took to make this, and what I consider part two of this record, Ice Cube’s AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted. I remember one time I was the only white kid on this AAU basketball team out of Philly that was playing in a tournament in North Jersey. I lit it up a couple games and the guys on the team grabbed my Walkman to see what I was listening to pregame. I had two tapes with me. Check Your Head and Fear of a Black Planet. The guys on the team were like, ‘Beastie Boys?!?!?’ Both of my tapes immediately went from my Walkman to the rotation on the team boombox. We won the tournament.”
5. Son Volt – Trace (1995, Warner Bros.)
“I saw the video for ‘Drown’ and thought that this was going to be a one-hit type deal, but I took a chance and bought the record anyway. There were a lot of rock country fusion acts around and they were all kind of lame so I was prepared to be disappointed. I’m glad I spent that 15 bucks. I was the only person I knew who had even heard this record for probably ten years, and each and every day of those ten years, I woke up in disbelief that I was the only person who bought this album.
“I was pretty sure they made it just for me. The closing cover of Ron Wood’s ‘Mystifies Me’ redefined the song in full country mode and is one of the most gorgeous songs ever put to record. Is it one of the greatest country records ever made? Is it one of the greatest rock albums ever made? Yes. Yes. Team Farrar.”
6. Megadeth – Rust In Peace (1990, Capitol Records)
“Is there a better guitar album? Maybe like some Pat Metheny jazz study or John McClaughlen kicking ass on a Miles Davis record or something, but I’m not so sure. Dave Mustaine is such a legend for this record… going out and finding Marty Friedman to challenge him for the title of ‘Best Player in Megadeth’ and raise his own level. People talk about Mustaine vs. Metallica all the time and like, ‘is Dave ever getting his revenge’ and stuff, but the truth is, Rust In Peace set up Metallica’s Black Album for failure with the true believers in metal.
“It came out between … And Justice For All and the Black Album and right around Slayer’s Seasons In The Abyss, so people thought the bar was raised for thrash savagery and expected more in that department. Metallica kind of decided to run a different race however, but the line was drawn for sure and Megadeth were one of a kind with that record.
“In high school I was playing in the Philly/NYC rivalry basketball game at Temple one year and dislocated all four fingers on my left hand at once. Two popped back in right away and the other two my old man had to put back. I was walking out of the gym and puked. The pain was absurd and on the way to the hospital for X-rays my dad let me blast Rust In Peace in the tape deck in the van to take my mind off the pain. It was the perfect analgesic. We tried the Black Album, but it didn’t work.”
7. Helmet – Betty (1994, Interscope Records)
“Helmet are elemental. Their three record run of Meantime, Betty, and Aftertaste established them as a genre all their own in my mind. Lots of nu-metal took their inspiration from them, but none of them ever got it right. I feel like you have to be really special to be able to apply lessons from Helmet without completely screwing it up. The jazz-metal thing. Soundgarden had ‘Tic’ on their pre-show tape and that made sense. Soundgarden obviously didn’t try to lean on them as much as some, but you can imagine them reaching a sticking point in an arrangement and saying amongst themselves, ‘here’s a quirk, what would Hamilton and Stainer do?’ and then they’d get it right because they were Soundgarden and had Ben Shepherd in the band.
“Betty is just one heavy, super-swinging tune after another and she takes a couple breaths before finishing and it’s just beautiful. I saw them in like 2004 at the Troc in Philly and while it wasn’t the classic lineup, they had Frank Bello from Anthrax on bass and they were killer. After the show I went to McGlinchey’s (best dive bar in Philly since forever) and Page Hamilton came in and sat down next to me. I asked him if I could buy him a drink and he said ‘as long as it’s whiskey.’
“I already had a Maker’s and ginger ale in front of me so we got along just fine shooting the shit for an hour. I’ll leave you to guess what band he was referring to when he said, ‘they’re the nicest guys in the world, but they don’t know shit about music.’
“Then I went to my local bar and my friends and I ended the night in a massive bar brawl that spilled out into the street and lasted 45 minutes. Of course I kicked some ass, I had just seen Helmet and they played ‘Milquetoast!’ The term ‘milquetoast’ was my old man’s absolute most dire term of hatred for another person. If he referred to anyone by that, you knew they fucked up. I still feel funny saying it like it’s a really dirty word, but Helmet nailed it so they get a pass.”
8. Radiohead – The Bends (1995, Parlophone/Capital Records)
“Yes, The Bends and not OK Computer. OK Computer might be better, but it’s not perfect and there’s a difference. I don’t know a lot about how The Bends was made, but after Radiohead’s debut, Pablo Honey, you can hear that it’s the product of a ton of hard work. I don’t mean like woodshedding and getting shredder chops, I mean looking at what you’re writing realistically and critically, and being ok with saying you can do better, and throwing the bullshit you’ve done away, and replacing it with something better. That is hard.
“That’s especially hard when a song you basically wrote in your sleep (‘Creep’) is everywhere overnight. Album to album, I don’t know of a band who has successfully made all the right difficult choices, or maybe it’s that they made all the difficult choices RIGHT like Radiohead has done. That all started with The Bends.”
9. U2 – Achtung Baby (1991, Island Records)
“Oh the humanity… of SEPTA (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority), Philadelphia’s public transportation provider. ‘Provider’ sounds like they do it for free. Not true! I vividly remember watching this humanity while taking SEPTA home from a high school way too far away from where I lived while listening to Achtung Baby. At the time, I was just obsessed with the music, but in hindsight it was a perfect soundtrack to taking the subway to the L to the bus to the mile walk home.
“I liked U2 just fine up to this point. Their humanity was their strength and was almost violently represented in their music like a loud neon sign hanging across the street making your room too bright to sleep because you live in the woods and some asshole decided to hang a neon sign as if he lived in the city. The irony is that on Achtung Baby, U2 turned the music to neon and it effectively framed their humanity. That emotional thing that you hear with them, and raised it while adding subtlety.
“It didn’t hurt that the songs were immaculately written either. It was the first U2 album to sound urban, and it worked wonders for me on that long commute home. It’s also a very romantic album, and it was easy to romanticize the lives getting on and off the 67 bus.”
10. Soundgarden – Down on the Upside (1996, A&M Records)
“I know people immediately gravitate to Badmotorfinger and Superunknown when talking about Soundgarden, and that makes sense. They’re both incredible, and perhaps Badmotorfinger is the perfect one here. I get it.
“But to me, Down on the Upside is what Soundgarden was building towards all along. A more eclectic sound like their name implies. Not the one note-ness of Badmotorfinger or the doom-with-flowers sound of Superunknown, but a truly weird album with twists and turns and different tones and timbres. It’s not like they still weren’t wielding the hammer, but instead of bashing you with it, they just put it down on top of you like Mjolnir and they know you can’t move, so they go about their business around you knowing you just have to listen and absorb what they’re doing.
“I was packed and on the train, moving to the beach for the summer after high school graduation, wondering what this surfing thing was all about and eager to get out of the city and move on, and I was listening to ‘Dusty.’ ‘Nothing’s gonna put me out… I think it’s comin’ on the wind, and I’m gonna let it.’ C’mon, what a pep talk! From a prince of darkness who wrote ‘Slaves and Bulldozers!’ By the way, Ben Shepherd is an absolute legend, and his writing on this record really shows where the road lay for them if they hadn’t parted ways. ‘Switch Opens’ is his and is such a wonderful complete piece of music, and Chris Cornell totally did it justice.”