Major kudos go to Frank for recently sharing a live clip of Hum performing "I'd Like Your Hair Long" on 120 Minutes. Merely watching this performance reminded me of how powerful this band was and why. The deal is (and sad thing as well), bands like Hum seem to fall into a weird category with people. It's a category that is filled with all sorts of '90s alt-rock bands that are not as well remembered today. It's as if they fell into a black hole.
In Hum's case, their single, "Stars," received some very nice airplay back in '95. Not only did you hear the song on modern rock radio, a portion of its video was featured on Beavis & Butt-head. Their album, You'd Prefer an Astronaut, reportedly racked up sales of 250,000 copies. It was no small feat and there was a lot of promise for its follow-up. The deal was, despite Downward is Heavenward being a better album, its sales figures were far less than Astronaut. The band quietly went away in 2000, but did a one-off reunion a few years later.
What bugs me to no end with rock history is how people tend to make light of the years between '94 and '01. A whole hell of a lot happened during that time, but to a modern, populist audience, it seems rather scatter-brained. Trends like pop-punk, ska-punk, big band swing, and electronica were just some of them. Radiohead's The Bends and OK Computer came out during this time for crying out loud. But for so many alt-rock bands that enjoyed mainstream success during the mid-'90s, they seem more or less as cult favorites. I'm talking Hum, Sponge, Veruca Salt, Tripping Daisy and even Seven Mary Three.
Why I want to make sure that people don't forget these bands is simple. Seeing what I've seen with nostalgia and how it packages history so concisely, this time is more than likely to be glossed over. In other words, the next installment of The History of Rock 'n' Roll will go from Nirvana to Green Day and then the Strokes and White Stripes. Just like how it went from the Sex Pistols to Nirvana and hip-hop, there were some crucial years seen merely as developing years. That, in my opinion, is nonsense.
No, you will not find You'd Prefer an Astronaut or Downward is Heavenward as influential as Nevermind or Dookie were to a populist audience, but that doesn't mean they were some cult flukes. In the case of Hum, they were a band that effectively used spacey atmospherics, thick and colorful guitars, busy drumming and conversational vocals. I'm firmly aware that doesn't make them easily typecast, but that's fine by me. What isn't fine by me is tossing them off and forgetting them.