Welcome to the Cruel World (Revisited)

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Welcome to the Cruel World (Revisited)

Post  MCTolen on Mon Mar 28, 2011 7:16 pm

Peter had a good idea about striking up a discussion and revisiting the older albums in light of the new album getting ready to drop. So how about we focus on each album (thoughts, favorite songs, personal stories, etc) starting at the beginning, each week leading up to the release of the new album that will be joining them. I think this could be a lot of fun and may get us to dust off (or click on our iPod) some albums or songs we haven't visited in a while. So here goes...

Welcome to the Cruel World (Release 2/8/1994)

This album holds a very special and singular place in my heart. In hindsight, its also so different from Ben's later albums and gives little hint of the evolution to come. Seriously, if you could go back to 1994 and hand a copy of White Lies for Dark Times to someone who had bought Welcome to the Cruel world, they'd never believe that it was the same singer. If anything you would think it would be the other way around. Most artists start out seeing how hard and fast they can rock and then later in their career they may focus inwardly and put out something more sophisticated like Welcome to the Cruel World. Not Ben, first album out of the gate and he's already well beyond his years. Heck, he even takes his own time introducing himself since the first track is a quiet (and one of his most beautiful) instrumental "Three of Us." It's like he's first introducing us (and reintroducing the world really) to the beauty of the Weissenborn slide guitar before himself. Also note his vocals, kept mostly at a near whisper. A far cry from the confident and soulful howl in recent albums. Also keep in mind that its 1994, the peak of grunge! Nobody with any major commercial hopes would think to put out a first album like this! Then you look at the foldout booklet. Who is this guy?? Part miltant, part dred, part hippy with odd homemade looking guitars? A multicolored target looking thing? Yet all the elements are right there...the everpresent folk/blues roots, the weissenborn, social/activist songs, the eclecticism and amazing songwriting. The seeds were planted, little did we know what would grow from them.

Personal Favorites:

The Three of Us - Again, such an unconventional way to begin your first album. Definitely one of his most beautiful instrumentals. I still gotta wonder where the title comes from?

Breakin' Down - I think this song was the first sign that Ben could also write something catchy and upbeat. Naturally, it was and still is one of my favorite Ben Harper songs and was one of the early songs that attracted my attention to him and made me want to explore his other songs. It's also our first taste of Ben's eclecticism with its island/reggae flavor put to a slide guitar.

Mama's got a Girlfriend Now - Confirmation of Ben's eclecticism with its obvious cajun flavor. It's funny, edgy and I love that the slide guitar solo. It's also evidence that when Ben does a different style of song, its more than just a slight influence, he commits 100% from the ground up. I'm still waiting for him to do another southern cajun song that sounds like it came right off Bourbon Street.

Forever - I played this song on my wedding day, nuff said

Pleasure and Pain - If you've seen the DVD Pleasure and Pain, then you know it was the first song Ben wrote. Proof as to how incredibly beyond his years Ben already was, musically and lyrically.

Like a King - Gotta be his best socially conscious song. So powerful, but of course, to me the live version on Live From Mars just blows it away.

Walk Away - For me, this is the best breakup song ever written. When I got into this album I had just broken up with my longtime girlfriend who I truly thought was "the one." Everytime I hear it, I'm right back in that moment and I remember how much this song helped me to heal and put that time in my life into prospective. It's such a beautiful and soulful song no matter what. Universal. If I know anyone in a broken relationship, I will tell them to listen to this song.

How many miles must we March - Great song. I first loved the sound and tempo of it. At first, I didn't connect with the lyrics because I'm a white male and it had a classic civil rights vibe to it. Yet, the more I listened the more I realized how universal the lyrics really are.

Welcome to the Cruel World/I'll Rise - What sounds like a depressing title is an anthem in classic Ben Harper style. Positive, powerful and life affirming...all elements in my favorite Ben Harper songs.

Conclusion, this album stands apart on its own. It's timeless with songs that will hold a special place in my heart all my life.


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Re: Welcome to the Cruel World (Revisited)

Post  MOJO the Moderator on Tue Mar 29, 2011 4:51 pm

I love this idea!

And your breakdown was really great... I feel the same way about many of your points, but have a difference of opinion on a couple. I'll write my own later today if I can squeeze it in.

Let's keep this going!!!
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Re: Welcome to the Cruel World (Revisited)

Post  MCTolen on Tue Mar 29, 2011 5:40 pm

Yes let's keep it going!! Thought I'd mention also that last night I listened to Welcome to the Cruel World from start to finish on the home surround system and it sounded AMAZING!! Listening to Whipping Boy was like hearing again for the first time. The slide guitar sounded incredible. So nice to hear an album before mp3's and iPod's that isn't all condensed and mixed for being bought on iTunes. The sound was so clear and warm with all the intruments and vocals given plenty of space to be heard they way they were ment to be heard. Also I TOTALLY FORGOT about the hidden bonus track "By and By I'm going to See the King." It totally took me by surprise when it came on!

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Re: Welcome to the Cruel World (Revisited)

Post  Peter on Tue Mar 29, 2011 9:33 pm

I'd like to have a go at this myself but I think I should really go back and listen to it again first. When I have time I might do that!

Edit: and btw that was a great write up MC Smile
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Re: Welcome to the Cruel World (Revisited)

Post  MOJO the Moderator on Fri Apr 01, 2011 6:44 am

1. The Three of Us

From the very first time I heard the very first few notes of this song it became an all-time favourite. This is the instrumental I listen to the most. Sometimes it makes me smile, sometimes it makes me cry tears. What an incredible, daring way to open a debut record. Only Ben. And I love the placement of this song in the Pleasure and Pain documentary.

I've speculated that the "three" of them are Ben, Joel, and Peter... but ya never know with Ben. He could just have likely been thinking about the Three Wise Men or The Three Muskateers.

2. Whipping Boy

Slide guitar to open this song too, but a contrast from the calming, pleasant-sounding melody of The Three of Us. Ben debuts his voice with a slightly raspy sound, barely above speaking volume. As the song goes on he demonstrates great control and falsetto. But still, its the unique slide style (and the rarity or slide in general in modern rock) that grabs my attention most in this song.

3. Breakin' Down

I've always really liked the guitar in this song a lot, and the island sound (at least to me its an island sound). But I'm kind of torn with the vocals.... he's doing this technique that kind of reminds me of Aaron Neville, and I don't particularly like it, so I don't actually listen to this song very much. However, as I listen to the song on headphones as I write this, I think it's kind of... interesting. So, maybe I was too quick to pass judgment on the singing. The highlight of the song though, is the slide solo. In three very different songs Ben has really established himself as a brilliant, and very unique man and musician.

4. Don't Take That Attitude to Your Grave

An a capella intro, then the addition of a djembe (or similar percussion?), make you really pay attention to the lyrics before the full band kicks in. This is the first hint at Ben's social conscience and activist side that he later becomes known for. He gives such an intelligent point of view for such a young guy. And he's not afraid to say what he thinks.

5. Waiting on an Angel

A beautiful waltz where Ben gets to do a little finger picking. The most poetic song so far, lyrically speaking. A very sweet song and Ben sings in a very soothing voice.

6. Mama's Got a Girlfriend Now

I'll say it- I've never cared for this song. I think the lyrics are pretty poor (your stinky damn ways? really?), the drums are kinda cheesy, I don't know why he decided to write a song after seeing "My wife left me for another woman" on Geraldo, and the only redeeming quality for me is some cool weissenborn.

7. Forever

Great rebound! The acoustic guitar and minimal hand drumming could not be more perfectly put together. Smart, romantic lyrics. An obvious choice for a beautiful wedding song.

8. Like a King

What can I say about this song that hasn't been said? Who is this guy that is not afraid to say anything, not afraid to speak the truth, not afraid to write a song like this. I love everything about this song except the drum kit. I think they should have just stuck with the hand drums and percussion. Would have given the song more of a roots music, protest feel. But really, that's the most minimal criticism. This song was revolutionary. Best done live along with I'll Rise, as I'm sure you would all agree.

9. Pleasure and Pain

Mind blowing. Mind blowing that this is the first song he ever wrote. I'll never write a song this good! The cello is very complimenting and doesn't distract from the gorgeous slide. Listening on headphones, this is the first time I really noticed the deep, double drum hit in the background of the entire song. My favourite lyric, which is one of my favourite Ben lyrics ever is "And if someday I find my peace of mind, I will share my wealth with all of humankind." Amen.

10. Walk Away

Best breakup song ever. This helped me get over many a girl in high school. Still one of my favourite Ben songs of all time. It's perfect in its simplicity.

11. How Many Miles Must We March

This song is so inspiring. Ben's mixed heritage is such a blessing and I wish everyone would see the world the way he does. Adds to the weight of Don't Take That Attitude and Like a King.

12. Welcome to the Cruel World

Such a clever contradiction- WELCOME (Yay! Great to be here!) to the CRUEL (aw shit) World. Like MC said, I've actually taken more inspiration from this song than anything else. To me it speaks of the inner strength of humanity. It's a cruel world, there's no place to run, no place to hide, it's always going to be cruel.... but don't worry, hang in there, keep going, it won't always be easy, but you can make it through. There's more good than bad in this cruel world.

13. I'll Rise

Instant classic. I really can't wrap my head around how he came up with all of this. And to close the album with a Maya Angelou poem turned into a song.... just genius. The choir really adds power and soul, but nothing beats the live rendition.

Hidden track: By and By I'm Going to See the King

Not a full song, but just a little clip. I had to research it to find out that this is part of an old song by the legend Bling Willie Johnson, considered one of the best bottleneck slide guitarists, and a legend of depression-era blues/gospel music. What a fitting way for Ben to fit his blues music roots into his debut.


I feel like I'm being repetitive, but in all these years I've never been able to get over the fact that this is a DEBUT record. I don't think Ben was ahead of his time... I think he was then, as he is now, and will always be, his own time. He doesn't follow trends, nor does he really set them. He just stays true to himself, follows his passions, and creates incredible music because it's who he is. In Pleasure and Pain, JP said they try to take eclecticism and do it justice. They didn't just do it justice, they pretty much perfected it on their first try!

I will listen to this album all the time for the rest of my life.
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Re: Welcome to the Cruel World (Revisited)

Post  Diamonds on Fri Apr 01, 2011 7:37 pm

Great reviews! I couldn't have said any of it better.
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Re: Welcome to the Cruel World (Revisited)

Post  MCTolen on Sat Apr 02, 2011 1:00 am

Mojo, I really dug your review!

That's a good call on "The Three of Us" being about Ben and his brothers. I bet your right! Funny, I get what you're saying about the Aaron Neville style on "Breakin' Down." Damn, now I'm always going to think about that! However, I have actually thought before that the vocal could be stronger and have wondered how he would sing it today. I think Ben was still searching for his voice on his first album. I'm so amazed how much range and how dynamic and confident his voice has grown to become over the years.

So, not a fan of "Mama's Got a Girlfriend?!" I get what you're saying, although I think its only meant to be a fun lighthearted song. It's such a heavy album, I think it helps to break it up a bit and shows that Ben has a less serious playful side too.

Forever - Yep, love that song. However, I usually opt for the live version on the Will to Live EP. That live version just has a subtle extra touch of percussion that seems to liven it up a bit more.

I'm right there with you on "Pleasure and Pain" and "Walk Away." A personal favorite lyric of mine on "Walk Away" that I've reflected on anytime fate seemed to have a different plan for me is "They say time will make all this go away, but it's time that has taken my tomorrow's and turned them into yesterdays."

You really nailed it about "Welcome to the Cruel World." I got to thinking more about this song the other day. I'm sure I'm just reading into it deeper than Ben intended, but, I think its interesting how Ben's vocal and even his slide guitar seems to stumble along at times in such an odd off tempo kind of way. Much like how we stumble through life and yet still manage to make a beautiful melody out of it.
Sure sounds good to me!!



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Re: Welcome to the Cruel World (Revisited)

Post  Peter on Sat Apr 02, 2011 1:09 am

I really want to have a go at this myself soon (hopefully i'll have more time!) but from what I'm reading so far (which is great work guys!) I really wish Ben was still playing some of these songs today. Something like Forever would probably sound incredible today with his more matured vocals. I agree that the vocals on this and really the first few albums were still developing a bit, which I actually really enjoy, but I would love to hear a few of these older songs revisited! It's been a little while now since he's played at least a few of them.
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Re: Welcome to the Cruel World (Revisited)

Post  MCTolen on Sat Apr 02, 2011 1:23 am

Peter, no doubt, so many of the older songs I would love to hear live. I missed out (barely) on the Lifeline tour, but I know he was regularly playing The Three of Us, Whipping Boy, Like a King and I'll Rise at that time. I've especially held a hope he'd play Forever at one my shows. One of these days...

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Re: Welcome to the Cruel World (Revisited)

Post  Peter on Sat Apr 02, 2011 3:03 am

I have decided to play the album through while I do some work and comment on each song as I go, let's begin Smile

1. The Three of Us
I have to agree with what everyone else has said. It really amazes me that this is the first track, a great opening. I seem to have this tune in my head every now and then. Especially when out for a walk or something. For a long time I wasn't even sure what this song was called as I tend to let the music flow on shuffle and not really look at names. But this one has always stuck with me even though its an instrumental. It's a very beautiful song. I always thought of it as being a mother, father and their child, that always put a smile on my face. But I like the three brothers idea too Smile

2. Whipping Boy
I first heard this song on a bootleg I think. It's always been one of my favorites, I love the slide work and I found the falsetto really unusual when I first heard it, very interesting. The lyrics are very blunt, and I like that Smile

3. Breakin' Down
It's just a fun song. It was refreshing to hear a song that still had that bluesy (or whatever you want to call it) sort of tone but that was also catchy and bright sounding. The vocal gymnastics don't bother me as such, it's part of the fun. And that slide work in the solo is real nice! And a little whistling there at the end, that's pretty unique to this song alone I think? He doesn't have a lot of whistling in his songs. I've noticed though that the back of the throat style kinda "murmurry" singing is something that Ben lost somewhere a long the way.

4. Don't Take That Attitude to Your Grave
The first thing you notice is the percussion, an important introduction to an element that if you are new to Ben Harper, you might not know how important it is to most of his work. The lyrics are powerful and again impressive for a first album from a young artist.

5. Waiting on an Angel
Easily one of the best examples of why Ben stands out from most others, a beautiful gem in the middle of a wonderful album. There's not much you can really say about this song, I think it strikes a pretty similar chord with most people. This is one of the main reasons I reach to put this album on again and again.

6. Mama's Got Girlfriend Now
Not a favorite of mine, I often skip it as it seems a little out of place on this album, especially after the last song. But there's nothing wrong with it. The accordion is nice.

7. Forever
Another signature song, distinctly Ben Harper. If you were to compile a best of this song would have to be included.

8. Like A King
Perhaps the biggest stand out of the album. For me when I think of Welcome to the Cruel World (aside from the song itself) I think of this song. So powerful and yet not aggressive at all. A masterpiece at least in terms of my own definition.

9. Pleasure & Pain
I never actually thought too much of this song until I heard Ben talk about how it was written for a teacher that he once had who had died, and how influential this person was on him. And then finding out that this was the first song he had ever wrote, I was absolutely blown away. With that in mind this song connects with me much more deeply, I appreciate it a lot more these days. I love the heartbeat like drum in the background. And as I read this as MOJO pointed out: "And if someday I find my peace of mind, I will share my wealth with all of humankind." It gave me a little shiver.

10. Walk Away
I would say about the same for this song as Waiting on An Angel. Maybe the best vocal performance of the album. Also one of the songs responsible for me learning to play the guitar!

11. How Many Miles Must we March
Part of the trio with Don't Take That Attitude and Like a King. This really is a strong album thematically. I was still very young when I first heard this album (maybe 15-16 years old) and being from Australia and not knowing all that much about the history that these songs dealt with, I could still feel the weight of these songs as something transcending music or even art.

12. Welcome To The Cruel World
Took me a while to fully appreciate this song, in fact I think it was probably a more recent live performance of this that gave me incredible shivers that allowed me to fully realize the power of this song. I always feel like this song just deserved a little more power and emotion behind it in the performance itself, (particularly in the final verse) something that Ben absolutely brings to it on the road. That's not to say the album version isn't still a wonderfully powerful recording. I really like the sound of the slide scraping on the strings on this song, it seems to add just the right amount of tension underneath the lyrics. I absolutely love the strike of the drum followed by silence, do we call this staccato perhaps? Whatever it is I love it, especially live.

13. I'll Rise
A great conclusion to an amazing first album. As has been said already there really is no comparison to this song live. It's the closing anthem, the hymn and the prayer for what has been an incredible collection of songs.

Almost forgot about the hidden track:
A whole album of this please!

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Re: Welcome to the Cruel World (Revisited)

Post  Peter on Sat Apr 02, 2011 3:09 am

Now whose next? Razz
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Re: Welcome to the Cruel World (Revisited)

Post  Calcie on Mon Apr 04, 2011 6:58 pm

Night off work, just put the Welcome To The Cruel World on the stereo, couple of cold beers in the fridge, here goes. Will try and not repeat what others have said by adding in my favourite memories from seeing some of the songs live.

1. The Three Of Us
A beautiful instrumental that creates a relaxed atmosphere, and sets the tone perfectly for the rest of the album. I often listen to this album when I am in need of some quiet time. I love the simplicity of the slide guitar. I would love to see a show with this as the opener one day.

2. Whipping Boy
The best thing about this song is Ben's voice. I don't quite know how to put it into words, but the softness contrasted with the highpitched parts sends shiver down my spine. An amazing song to see live, Ben really goes to town on the slide.

3. Breakin' Down
A totally unique BH song. Husky vocals, again contrasted with sweet high pitched parts. His voice on this album is so different than on any of the others. Only a theory, but maybe he lost the croaky, husky tone (I hope you know what I mean) when he started touring more and had to develop and raise his voice for live shows. The slide solo comes in at just the right time, and livens up the pace of the album a bit.

4. Don't Take That Attitude To Your Grade
The lyrics are the first sign of Ben's positive, feel good stance on life. Instead of being wound up tight, I feel he is saying that it's important to open up, and not get weighed down by set attitudes and beliefs. Prominent drum beat that carries the whole song nicely.

5. Waiting On An Angel
A special song that is perfect for quiet night in. Like Peter said I think the lyrics strike a cord with most people, but can be related to a number of situations I'm sure. Not many musicans play music like this to 17,000 people at the Hollywood Bowl.

6. Mama's Got Girlfriend Now
Silly, fun, brave song to put on a debut album. I find the Geraldo story quite funny, and it always puts a smile of my face when I hear him impersonating a woman's voice. Not my favourite at first, but this song was definatley a grower for me.

7. Forever
Perfect song to play when your having some quiet time with a special person! I remember seeing this live in Berlin. It was a really nice surprise, a rare gem that I didn't ever expect to see live.

8. Like A king
A truely great, socially conscious song. In 1994, after the nonsense that came out in the 80s, followed by the grunge scene, I think it is a testament to Ben's unique ability that he was able to write such a powerful song during this time.

9. Pleasure and Pain
Along with Bring The Funk, this is the only Ben Harper song that I have a real difficulty listening too. I find it really depressing and dull. For me it just doesn't go anywhere, and I feel the lyrics are a bit flat. I have tried hard to give it a listen many times, and enjoy it, but it just doesn't do anything for me.

10. Walk Away
I was speaking to my boss at work the other day (who is from Canada) about her musical tastes. When I told her that I was a big BH fan, she was really suprised and she said she loved Walk Away. Along with Another Lonely Day she said it has helped her through many break ups. I laughed at this beacuse I know exactly what she meant. When in a quiet reflective mood, this track will always be in my playlist.

11. How Many Miles Must We March
A song where you really have to listen properly to understand it's meaning. I love the lyric "When I was a baby I was not prejudiced".

12. Welcome To The Cruel World
If I had to pick a favourite BH song, this would definately be in my top 5. He played this at my first show in 2004 and i'll never forget the lump I had in my throat. I love the Live from Mars version. I've thought a lot about the lyrics - "And if you get up to Heaven before I do, I'm gonna tell ya, it's gonna be cruel there too". The thought kind of makes me feel uncomfortable, but I guess that's what good lyrics do, make you think and question life. I actually had a really cool chat with Jason Yates after a show in Albany in 2006 about this song. I think I probably asked him the standard question about whether he had a good night, and he said that he really enjoyed the show because he got to play Welcome To The Cruel World. He said it's one that the band try to get Ben to play more often, and it's one of his personal favourites, but he likes keeping it for special shows.

13. I'll Rise
Again, not many young dudes have the cultural awareness and ability to take the lyrics from a poem by a female civil rights activist and turn it into such a deeply moving musical statement. When I first got into Ben Harper I never really knew much about his live shows. He closed the first show I ever show by walking to the front of the stage without his mic and belting out I'll Rise. I was speachless and hooked for life!





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Re: Welcome to the Cruel World (Revisited)

Post  MCTolen on Tue Apr 05, 2011 1:25 am

Great stuff all the way around!! Very cool hearing everyone's shared and also unique perspectives and personal experiences with this album. Can't wait to hear more about the next albums!!

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Re: Welcome to the Cruel World (Revisited)

Post  Nadine on Tue Apr 05, 2011 5:06 pm

Allright, it took me a while to find the time to listen to this album and share my thoughts (and get behind a computer, writing a piece like this on my iPhone is not doable Wink ), but here I go!

First of, I have to say, I only found out about Ben Harper around 5 or 6 years ago (through his appearance on PJ's Live in the Garden) after this I started buying his albums. Can't remember the order in which I got them. Anyway, I wasn't aware of the time and place in which his albums were brought out. It's been nice reading your reviews that did regard to the time of appearence.

"The Three of Us"
I have to say, usually I prefer songs wíth lyrics, but this is a really nice exception.

"Whipping Boy"
This song is my dad's ringtone, so everytime I listen to it now I get kinda sidetracked everytime I listen to it... Needless to say, this is one of his favorite BH songs. And it's really cool to be able to share the love for an artist with my dad.
I like the way during the entire song Ben's holding himself from shouting, I can feel there's quite a bit of emotion behind this song.

"Breakin' Down"
I think 'Breaking down' is a nice break from the somewhat 'heavier' first two songs. It's actually a sad song, girlfriend broke up, and he's breaking down, but apparently there's a way to still be cheerful about it Wink

"Don't Take That Attitude to Your Grave"
I love the transition from the first few lines with just percussion to the fuller sound with the band. Also, I like the message in this song: 'it's never too late to change, and don't you tell other people what they do wrong when you've got your own things to work out too'

"Waiting on an Angel"
This is such a cute song, would like to play this on my wedding one day Smile The simplicity, just a guitar and voice, that seems to be going on a lot on this album, is lovely.
'Be kind to a stranger, 'cause you'll never know, it just might be an angel knocking on your door'

"Mama's Got a Girlfriend Now"
Sooooo... none of you seem to particularly like this song, however, this song always makes me happy! Makes me wanna dance (even now I'm bouncing on my chair)! I'll admit, the lyrics 'stinky damn ways' may not be as poetic as we're used to with Ben.. But hey Wink Also, can't help it, but I always wonder what Ben's mom thinks about the lyrics, because she's not gay right? (I know this song is written after a talkshow episode on this topic)

"Forever"
This song never really grabs my attention... I'm sure it's beautiful when I truly listen to it, however.. I never seem to notice it very much on the cd...

"Like a King"
This is one of my favorite songs on 'Welcome to the Cruel World', I like the backing vocals, the strong drums and base. Also, you can hear Ben's gospel side peeping through Smile

"Pleasure and Pain"
Ben Harper performed this song with Tom Freund during my first BH concert, and that's when the song really clicked for me. Pure and simple with strings. What more can I say?

"Walk Away"
Many of you have names this as 'the' break-up song. For me this is also the BH song that can make me cry... Also, because I can also relate to it (bending the lyrics a little) as a remembrance song for family members who've sadly past away... One of my favorite BH songs of all times.

"How Many Miles Must We March"
Another nice break from the slower songs that it follows.

"Welcome to the Cruel World"
This song comes across best for me when the volume is cranked up.

"I'll Rise"
For 'I'll Rise' I also have to put up the volume (usually it still is Wink) The choir in combination with Ben's voice gives me goosebumps Smile


As I've stated above, before I never realised the time in which this album was set. Thinking back to the other albums I have from that time (PJ, Nirvana, Soundgarden), this is indeed quite a remarkable debut album!

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