If you liked rock music that wasn’t too hard or dissonant but you still wanted to seem “alternative,” the late ’90s and early 2000s were a glorious time. After grunge but before auto-tuning, there were scores of bands—some seemingly indistinguishable from one another—who churned out accessible “adult alternative rock” (slash “power pop”) that zoomed its way up the charts.
Some acts got pretty big (Matchbox
20 Twenty, The Goo Goo Dolls). Some were one (hit) and done (Semisonic, Stroke 9). And I. Loved. ALL. Of. Them.
One of my favorites was Nine Days, based on the upbeat and guitar-rich contents of The Madding Crowd, the band’s fourth album (but the first to appear on a major label). “If I Am” was used to great effect in a Dawson’s Creek episode or two, and was wrought with emotion and catchy as hell, despite the seemingly contradictory phrase that closes out the song:
We won’t make those promises that we can’t keep…
I will never leave you!
I will not let you down!
Don’t those final lines kinda sound like promises that may not necessarily … oh, never mind. Moving on. Track 11, “Revolve,” is my favorite Nine Days song to date. The opening riff is so solid, The Goo Goo Dolls appeared to have taken inspiration when they wrote “Stay With You” five years later. I can’t find a YouTube recording of the former song, so you’ll have to take my word for it (or hit up Spotify).
But let’s revolve back to Nine Days’ biggest single. For a while, I thought the lyrics were a shout-out to Alice in Wonderland, the story of that other girl who cried so much she nearly drowned a rather literarily inclined mouse.
This is the story of a girl
Who cried a river and drowned the whole world
But some cursory research suggests “Absolutely” seems to employ hyperbole in order to tell the tale of a disenchanted girlfriend and her devoted (if puzzled) boyfriend.
Now how many lovers would stay
Just to put up with this shit day after day …
…And while she looked so sad in photographs
I absolutely love her
When she smiles
These days, Nine Days frontman John Hampson has a presumably less turbulent love life (married, two kids). He continues to write music for solo pursuits and for Nine Days. They tour occasionally as well, but any live performances are at the mercy of Hampson’s day job—teaching English at a middle school in Long Island. At least Rolling Stone gave him props for this gig in a “Where Are They Now?” feature, capturing what remains one of my favorite pictures of all time for about 17 reasons:
But what’s the best part of “Absolutely,” anyway? Well, it could be the title structure, which uses the parenthetical phrase to prominent effect, while “Absolutely” is quickly and casually tossed away in the pre-chorus … “I absolutely love her … ”
In fact, however, the best part certainly comes to light right at 2:40, when there is a slight hiccup, a syncopated pause, in the midst of a chorus that by that point has become comfortably familiar. “This is the story of a … girl.” It introduces the last chorus, actually, and readies the song for its closing drum riff and the final declaration, “when she smiles,” that brings this “Story” to a cautiously optimistic close.