Grave Dancers Union

Soul Asylum

Columbia Records, 1992

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


I once read somewhere that Grave Dancers Union was a "last-gasp" effort from Dave Pirner and Soul Asylum. The decision had been made that if this album didn't take off, the band would call it a day. On the strength of the first three songs and the fanatical devotion of alternative rock radio, the album did, in fact, take off, and became the "breakthrough" album for Soul Asylum.

Now, I'm someone who, quite frankly, never did like the song "Runaway Train"; I thought it was too sappy and slow. Six years after Grave Dancers Union came out, my opinion of this song remains the same, no matter how many times I pull this tape out of the Pierce Archives (where we're still Sammy Sosa supporters) and give it a shot on the old JVC tape deck. Fact is, while Soul Asylum has become known for these slower songs, they're at their best when they pull out all the stops and rock out.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

There are traces of this in the other big radio hit "Black Gold," though even this song has gotten on my nerves thanks to the constant bombardment alternative radio has given it over the years. (Hey, program directors: lighten up. The band has put out two other albums since then... any reason you ignored Candy From A Stranger?) The "minor" of the hits, "Somebody To Shove," captures the essence of Soul Asylum much better for me.

No, wait, that actually isn't true. For of the great songs on Grave Dancers Union, the best are some of the tracks that didn't make it onto the radio. "Keep It Up" earns the title of "Single That Never Was"; if any song begged to be lifted from the album and sent out across the airwaves, this was the one. And while it wouldn't have gotten airplay due to one little word, "99%" is a feedback-laden paradise that challenges the images of Soul Asylum that the casual fan might have had.

Granted, there are some weak moments on Grave Dancers Union, such as the brief, mistaken dip into country rock on "New World" and the Sgt. Pepper influences on "The Sun Maid," a song that is far too slow. Still, these moments aren't many.

Grave Dancers Union is an album that you won't truly appreciate until you've given it a few spins. Sure, there will be some songs you'll like on the initial listen - and I'm willing to bet those are the singles. But once you've spent a little more time with the album, you'll appreciate many of the songs that weren't chosen to be singles - songs, in fact, that were better than any of the three singles themselves.

Soul Asylum could have easily packed things in after being dropped from A&M after the commercial failure of And The Horse They Rode In On, but they decided to give it one more chance with Grave Dancers Union. For that, we should be thankful.

Rating: B

User Rating: B



© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Columbia Records, and is used for informational purposes only.