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by Justin Farrar

February 28, 2014

Greatest Slacker Anthems of the '90s

by Justin Farrar  |  February 28, 2014

Since Superchunk's "Slack Motherf*cker" is disqualified (for coming out in 1989), the single greatest slacker anthem of the '90s has to be either "Loser" or "Smells Like Teen Spirit." That said, it really is impossible to pick one tune over the other. After all, they complement one another so well. Each is a side of the same coin: "Loser" represents the irreverent and ironic qualities of the slacker ethos; "Teen Spirit," its angst and anxiety. This dichotomy played itself out throughout the '90s: Pavement's "Cut Your Hair" was goofy and fun, while Elliott Smith's "Miss Misery" was grim and depressing.

Even in the pop punk scene — silly and lighthearted to begin with — this split held true. On Green Day's “Longview," Billie Joe sounded so consumed by boredom he bordered on the neurotic, whereas on "What's My Age Again?" the naked pranksters in blink-182 tossed their immaturity and loafing in folks’ faces, as if pelting cars with snowballs. "No one should take themselves so seriously/ With many years ahead to fall in line/ Why would you wish that on me?/ I never want to act my age," reasons Mark Hoppus. He has a valid point.

Maybe the most underrated slacker anthem of the decade is Gin Blossoms' "Hey Jealousy." Though in many respects a straightforward, power-pop love song, it was one written by a slacker crippled by self-doubt, inertia and booze. When Robin Wilson's deadpan voice mutters, "If you don't expect too much from me/ You might not be let down," he's peering into the lethargic heart of the slacker condition as insightfully as Kurt Cobain or Beck.

Another key artifact, though largely forgotten two decades later, is "Strange Days," School of Fish's modern rock hit from 1991 (it came out several months before Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit"). The opening verse is more or less the thesis for director Richard Linklater's defining cult hit Slacker (also released in '91). "For three strange days/ I had no obligations," moans late singer Josh Clayton-Felt. "My mind was a blur/ I did not know what to do/ And I think I lost myself/ When I lost my motivation. Now I'm walking 'round the city, just waiting to come to." Clayton-Felt perfectly nails the one specific aspect of slackerdom I remember most, from growing up in the early '90s, and that's all the endless wandering. Entire days were devoted to walking aimlessly around town. Sometimes, the walking around town was enhanced thanks to psychedelics. (They helped make the days strange.) But more often than not, the wandering consisted of nothing more than gradual yet persistent movement (friend's house, record store, coffeehouse, on to another friend's house...) and brief intersections with fellow slackers.

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