Lincoln, Nebraska’s The Millions NE might have been borne out of the ashes of For Against, but one should not expect to find that band’s post-punk grooves in this new project. The Millions NE took on a sound that was dark, but was definitely more accessible and palpable to the masses; sonically, they tread the same sort of territory as R.E.M. and 10,000 Maniacs–slightly folk-influenced rock that was occasionally dark yet always literate and well-read. Poison Fish was to have been the band’s debut album, but thanks to contractual problems and label bankruptcy, it would not see the light of day–which, sadly, would prove to be the first of a series of label hassles. For a debut album, it’s not a bad start; lead singer Lori Allison has a pleasing if not initially off-putting voice; it’s husky, and clearly capable of belting out strong numbers, but with a quirky nature that’s quite reminiscent of Throwing Muses leader Kristin Hersh, especially on “Dust And Blood” and “Poison Fish.” “Instrumental 2” sounds like a Queensryche outtake, while the college-radio friendly songs “#6” and “Everything’s Been Said” show the band’s appeal. Poison Fish is a document of a young band with great potential, with only the occasional lapse into a dated sound; one gets the feeling that they’re trying a little too hard to impress. The albums “bonus tracks” consist of demo recordings, are rough and raw, and probably more accurately depict the band’s live appeal, especially “Something For Nothing” and “When I Get There.” These two songs, recorded after Poison Fish’s completion, are much more engaging than the material recorded before it.
M for Millions is a two-disc collection of the band’s proper debut release–which would then be remixed and remastered for an ill-fated major label reissue–as well as session outtakes and other then-contemporary recordings. Gone is Poison Fish‘s stifling debut nervousness, but the roughness of the demo recordings is gone as well. Instead, what one finds is a band that’s polished up its sound thanks in part to its growing maturity. The Kristin Hersh influence is still there, but Allison has refined her influence to where it doesn’t distract the listener. The band’s sound had also evolved into heavier, somewhat traditional rock. While the album itself occasionally feels dated, once again it’s the collection of demos and unreleased sessions that show the band at its prime–rough, raw numbers that don’t feel quite as earnest as the album proper.
It’s easy to forget that in the years before Nevermind,a quiet musical movement was fomenting; “college rock” had started to produce interesting bands and artists, laying the ground for what was soon to take over the music scene. These two collections document an obscure but worthy band from that time.