Grave Dancers Union

Soul Asylum

Staring down their 40th year in 2021, Minneapolis's Soul Asylum gave us a great all-around alt rock album with 1992's Grave Dancers Union. Understated at times, powerful in others, richly authentic and layered. Pirner's songwriting shines on the band's sixth studio album, as evidenced by it's triple platinum status.

Grave Dancers Union is the quintessential 90s alt rock album. Maybe.

After 25+ years, Grave Dancers Union sounds no different than the first time I heard it. That’s a good great thing. An album filled with rock and roll as it should be played, slow, fast, and every tempo in between. If you want riffs, it has them. If you want solos and wailing parts, it has them too. Introspective and thoughtful lyrics? Check. Deeper grooves and bass ruts? Yup. Grave Dancers Union has something for everyone.

One thing I’ve always wondered is whether or not 1995’s Just Like Anyone (Let Your Dim Light Shine) was written during the Grave Dancers Union sessions. I suppose I could dig a bit further into this.

Grave Dancers Union album cover

One of the more visually striking album covers of its time, Grave Dancers Union features photography from Czech artist, Jan Saudek.

Rating

I give a 7.2510

The album cover to 1992's Grave Dancers Union by Soul Asylum
Just don't shove anyone on the cover, that would hurt!

Album track listing

  1. Somebody to Shove
  2. Black Gold
  3. Runaway Train
  4. Keep It Up
  5. Homesick
  6. Get On Out
  7. New World
  8. April Fool
  9. Without a Trace
  10. Growing into You
  11. 99%
  12. The Sun Maid

Album notes

Somebody to Shove

Twitchy, agitated, ripped up, and the perfect balance of anticipatory verse lyrics with power chorus. Soul Aslyum owns this space. And nowhere is that more clear than the lead track of Grave Dancers Union.

I WANT SOMEBODY TO SHOVE! I NEED SOMEBODY TO SHOVE! I WANT SOMEBODY TO SHOVE ME!!!

One of my favorite songs of the entire decade. Sure, the 90s are discounted 2-3 years, as the end of the decade was trash, but a ton of hits came out between ‘90-97’, and Somebody to Shove holds up with the best of them.

Soul Asylum unplugged on MTV Unplugged

The string section is a killer addition to Somebody to Shove. Dan Murphy’s backing vocals complement Pirner’s wonderfully, something I never recalled or took notice of back in the day.

Fun fact - ever notice how much Murphy looks like Randall from Clerks? The fun fact is that Pirner is actually friends with Clerks director Kevin Smith.

Black Gold

Not released as a single until 1993, Black Gold bridged the alt-rock street fighter sound of Somebody to Shove with the 90s power balladry of Runaway Train.

Some clever reverse delay techniques.

Runaway Train

Runaway Train never going back. Runaway Train tearing up the track. And by track, Pirner meant “the charts”.

Runaway Train is the hit off Grave Dancers Union. Also, it was the anthem to the summer of 1993, with a powerful video to match, and received a Grammy in 1994. Soul Asylum has released a fair share of singles that have gotten airtime (and screentime), including Misery, but nothing on par with Runaway Train. Though Misery was popular enough for Weird Al to parody.

Unlike the music videos for Somebody to Shove and Black Gold (Zack Snyder), the video for Runaway Train was directed by Tony Kaye. Serving as almost a PSA, the video for Runaway Train focused on real runaways, with some instances leading to not always great results in locating the individuals. I imagine that had to weigh on the band.

Keep It Up

An absolute joy to pump in the tape deck of your everyday driver, or, 90s four door sedan.

singing NAH NAH NAH NAH NAH NAH NAH NAH!

Garage rock solo. Slides, half-assed dive bombs, frantic sound. Idyllic for the times. Great choral vocals. Some sweet falsetto by Pirner before the big power outro.

Homesick

Homesick is how the 90s did balladry: guitar chime, a few overdriven power chord chugs, and an upstroke acoustic chord to round out a verse or chorus.

Is that a glockenspiel!?

Get on Out

Rock!

Get on Out is good garage rock. Which Grave Dancers Union drummer is responsible for Get on Out, is it Grant Young or Sterling Campbell?

New World

A 90s rock album wouldn’t be complete without a town and the drinking that happens there. New World is no different. Reminds me of a (every) Refreshments song of Fizzy Fuzzy

April Fool

Is this the alt-rock version Bang Tango!? Kidding.

Actually, April Fool fits nicely into 1992. Could have been an Ugly Kid Joe song.

Without a Trace

Lesson #1 of Without a Trace is don’t fall in love with a hooker. Ever.

“I tried to dance at a funeral, New Orleans style, I joined the Grave Dancers Union, I had to file”

Good bands find ways to pull an album’s title from the content or the overall theme,

Growing into You

Big 70s style opening riff, into an Empire Records half-punk, half-power pop tune, that somehow features a few country guitar bends.

A very enjoyable guitar solo. Who said they died with 80s hair metal!?

While Growing into You is a decent tune, it’s not in the same league as Growing on Me by The Darkness. But that’s a tale for another day.

99%

Pirner’s vocals on 99% predate Dombrowski’s vocals on Sponge’s sophomore effort, Wax Ecstatic by a few years. 99% and Runaway Train couldn’t be further apart. Hurray for alternative rock.

Karl Mueller’s bass up and down GDU is sturdy, rugged, and not given enough credit.

Muddled distortion outro leading us into acoustic guitar driven The Sun Maid.

The Sun Maid

Do we have confirmation as to whether or not Dave Pirner wrote The Sun Maid about the raisin box lady!?

Nice to see album producer Michael Beinhorn show up on the album.