Which was the best, loudest, most alternative volume of the ’90s alt-rock compilation series The Trip? Craig Major listens back to all nine editions and casts his verdict.
In 1993 Sam Neill was running away from dinosaurs, Kurt Cobain was still breathing, and a compilation album released by Warner NZ thrust alternative music into the eardrums of an entire generation of Kiwi teens. The Trip series clocked up nine volumes between 1993 and 2002 and were, for many, an introduction to music that wasn’t accessible on Top 40 radio of the era – a Griffin’s Sampler of tracks that upset parents and blew pubescent minds.
In the age of music streaming, revisiting these albums doesn’t require a dig through the attic or a sojourn to Real Groovy. Just as I did with the Kickin’ and The Rhythm series, I fired up Spotify and burned through all nine volumes of The Trip saga over the course of a weekend. Does the series hold up with twenty-plus years of music history in the rear-view mirror? Let’s find out.
The debut entry in the series leans hard into fast, heavy alternative and grunge tracks. Early Soundgarden single ‘Outshined‘ sets the tone for the whole album, while classic acts Sonic Youth, Mudhoney, Red Hot Chili Peppers (when they were still good), Dinosaur Jr and Smashing Pumpkins offer a smorgasbord of blistering tracks. The album, regarded by music blogger Simon Sweetman as his favourite compilation (at least in 2012) – probably upset parents most thanks to Rage Against the Machine’s iconic-to-the-point-of-cliche teen angst anthem.
COVER ART SCORE: Label-maker font against a backdrop of what looks like Eddie Vedder’s dirty laundry pile and a ubiquitous Parental Advisory label. This image is as 1993 as a picture of Beavis and Butthead riding a skateboard through the set of Saved by the Bell. 6/10
WORST TRACK: I’ll be honest, this one is pretty solid from woah to go – hard to find any track to fault.
ALBUM SCORE: 8 ding-a-ding-dang-a-dang-a-long-ling-longs out of 10.
The sophomore entry in the chronology is the only volume with a subtitle, and due to the tagline’s inherent lameness, it’s probably for the best. The album itself is solid, with many acts from the first instalment (Pumpkins, Dinosaur Jr, RHCP etc) appearing again. Perhaps most notably, the album introduced a lot of New Zealand listeners to Radiohead (my favourite band) via their worst song (‘Creep‘).
COVER ART SCORE: A pretty uninspired construction paper on corrugated cardboard motif. No way this won any design awards. 3/10
WORST TRACK: Apart from ‘Creep’, it’s ‘Swim’ by Fishbone, a track that sounds like a collaboration between Metallica and Lil Jon recorded during a pseudoephedrine bender.
ALBUM SCORE: 6 freshly-squeezed souls out of 10
Oh boy, this one starts out strong – Soundgarden, Prime RHCP, Therapy?! Even the good song titled ‘Creep’ courtesy of Stone Temple Pilots… then, like the guy who brings Flame beer to an unveiling, along comes the abysmal ‘Shine’ by Collective Soul to ruin everything. This is alt-rock for born-again mums.
The rest of the album is decent, with more positive affirmations from Pablo Honey-era Radiohead, along with The Breeders and The Tea Party. This Trip features solid Kiwi representation for the first time with Shihad, Head Like a Hold and The 3Ds all making an appearance, and the whole thing is topped off by kick-ass Bad Seeds track ‘Jangling Jack’.
COVER ART: An artsy, over-exposed black and white pic of a bulldog that looks like a screenshot from an early Jim Jarmusch film. 5/10
WORST TRACK: Woooahhawoah heaven letcha light shine down!
ALBUM SCORE: 6.5 Divine Hammers out of 10
I’ve got a feeling that by the time The Trip 4 landed on record store shelves, grunge had been cremated along with Kurt himself. This volume is a lot more eclectic and even ‘mainstream’ than previous instalments – I can’t imagine anywhere else you’d find Nine Inch Nails slotted between Beastie Boys and Headless Chickens.
The Trip 4’s saw the definition of “alternative” stretched outward to include Britpop ‘Semisonic’ by Oasis), ’90s pop-punk (‘Basket Case’ by Green Day) and even psychobilly (‘I Can’t Surf’ by The Reverend Horton Heat)
COVER ART: A glorious clip art masterpiece of a souped-up jalopy (maybe the hot rod that Jesus built??) against a wall of red flames. I’m into it. 7.5/10
ALBUM SCORE: 5 Miss World pageants out of 10
Another patchy entry in The Trip canon, this one is less heavy on the “heavy” alternative tracks, veering towards Top 40 territory with tracks like ‘Everything Zen’ by Bush and ‘Here and Now’ by Letters to Cleo.
Volume 5 is also noteworthy for including Filter’s ‘Hey Man, Nice Shot’, a song about the televised suicide of Pennsylvania public official R. Budd Dwyer, and the Nine Inch Nails cover of Johnny Cash’s seminal track ‘Hurt’.
COVER ART SCORE: A sassy-yet-approachable looking devil woman and her cleavage in a very orange environment. Pretty sure I saw this picture tattooed on some guy in a Hamilton dive bar once. 5/10
ALBUM SCORE: 6 Big Brown Beavers out of 10
After absorbing myself in the series I feel like Trip Ono might be the most “fun” entry in the series. It’s a compilation that divides its songs into clusters – all the Brit-Alt tracks (‘Just’ / ‘Cigarettes and Alcohol‘ / ‘Mansize Rooster’) are clumped together, as are the headbanger anthems (‘7 Words’ / ‘N.W.O’).
But it’s a five-song streak of standout tracks in the middle of the album that that instantly transports listeners back to a mid-’90s garage party…
COVER ART: A lurid Warhol-esque pop-art-meets-Orient-themed work featuring a woman either in the throes of ecstasy or tearing the arm off some poor sap beneath her. 8/10
WORST TRACKS: Another bland entry from divorced dad rock superstars R.E.M. but in an absolutely ghastly move by some sadist at the record label, the penultimate song in this volume is ‘Name’ by the fucking Goo Goo Dolls.
ALBUM SCORE: 7.5 silently smashed pumpkins out of 10
The Trip 7 is a fairly patchy effort and one that exemplifies that weird point in alternative music history when the genre was slinking away from grunge and edging towards nu-metal – quite literally in fact, with opening and closing tracks by Stone Temple Pilots and Korn respectively.
It’s a fairly mediocre collection all in all, definitely one of the weaker entries despite a couple of decent tracks.
COVER ART SCORE: Taking a leaf from later-period The Rhythm school of cover art design, this features the lower half of a women’s face and prominent use of a push-up bra. If this volume didn’t sell the most copies among the pimply-schoolboy-in-1996 demographic I’ll eat my Starter cap. 3/10
ALBUM SCORE: 4 big ol’ bowls of Brain Stew out of 10.
After a 3 year hiatus, The Trip returned with the most eclectic entry in the whole series. The Trip 8’s definition of alternative is looser than Keith Richards’ face, opening with redneck royalty and (overall terrible human) Kid Rock and closing with alt-electronica weirdo Aphex Twin.
Also in the mix are Oz-rockers Jebediah, Regurgitator and (ugh) 28 Days. Sugar Ray sit alongside Sugar Ray’s younger brothers Citizen King and angry whistling Germans Rammstein do their best angry whistling with ‘Engel’.
The most baffling inclusion on this album (and perhaps the whole series) is ‘Bodyrock’ by Moby – I can only assume that it’s on here because his music was contractually obligated to appear on every single album released between 1998 and 2000.
COVER ART SCORE: Continuing the two-album trend of hot babe cover art, this features a model barrelling the camera while awkwardly reclining in a weird space swimsuit. 4/10
WORST TRACKS: Apologies to local music fans but ‘Let it Go’ by Weta and ‘Friend’ by Kiwi Nickelback the Feelers just aren’t good. ‘Denise’ by Fountains of Wayne features the album’s worst lyric: “She drives a lot in her Lexus, she lives in Queens but her dad is from Texas”.
ALBUM SCORE: 5 licked windows out of 10
After another three-year break came the final instalment in our series and woah mama this was a bleak listen from start to finish. The Trip 9 is a veritable who’s-who of shitty ’00s rock: P.O.D, Staind, Disturbed – the whole terrible gang’s here.
COVER ART SCORE: A pretty uninspiring cartoon panther head that looks more like a sports team logo than an album cover. 4/10
STANDOUT TRACKS: Oof this was a tall order. ‘Squash That Fly’ by Fu Manchu is okay I guess, and Bad Religion is always good – their track ‘Can’t Stop It’ would comfortably fit in a Tony Hawk Pro Skater sequel at least.
WORST TRACKS: Honestly this whole experience is pretty dire, but the lowest low point has to be ‘Crawling in the Dark’ by Hoobastank, a band that cornered the rock-music-for-13-year-old-girls-from-Remuera market in ‘02.
ALBUM SCORE: 2 speeding demons out of 10
Just look at this shit:
Everyone that I spoke to about The Trip series – either online or IRL – has fond memories of the albums. For some, it was an introduction to music that was different from what mainstream radio was peddling, for others the CDs and tapes were an act of rebellion – a physical totem of their teenage angst.
I guess it’s not unusual that the nature of an entire subgenre changes over the course of nine years, but it is still jarring that the last volume of The Trip is a complete 180 from the first. Perhaps the nature of alternative music was more fixed in the early-’90s and morphed over time. Maybe the tastes of album-buying fans changed with the times. Maybe it’s neither. Maybe it’s both.
Is there a point to all this philosophising? Barely. What is clear is that these albums are a time capsule. And by the very nature of the compilation format, they present a record company’s view of what they think a demographic will enjoy enough to spend their pocket money on. It’s hit-and-miss at best and Steve-Buscemi-in-30-Rock at worst.
Whatever the case, it was mostly fun to spend a few days dissolving these albums on my tongue and revisiting The Trip.
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