18 Years Ago: Hum’s ‘You’d Prefer an Astronaut’ Album Released
When a scrappy looking quartet from Champaign, Ill., fresh off a stop on the Lollapalooza tour, made their national television debut on the then-two-year-old ‘Late Night with Conan O’Brien,’ their instruments were pretty out of tune. But the song they ripped through from their third album, ‘You’d Prefer an Astronaut,’ was something new — something that sounded otherworldly compared to what the Nirvana knockoffs of the time were doing. Its soft opening was just a cover, as the song disintegrated into a torrent of pure, unadulterated noise. This was Hum. This was the sound of the future.
A whole lot has been written about the drum strike at the beginning of Bob Dylan’s ‘Like a Rolling Stone,’ and famed music critic and Dylan biographer Greil Marcus wrote an entire book about the song. We’d argue that the drum fill barreling in at the 1:07 mark in ‘Stars’ ushered in the post-grunge era, which would see a proliferation of noise rock on the radio.
It’s hard to believe that the album, ‘You’d Prefer an Astronaut,’ is 18 years old today. One of the true forgotten gems of the 1990s, it is a loosely knit concept album — a ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ mish-mash of lyrics about aliens, suicide machines, birds flying upside down and the future — a subtle nod to its own forward-thinking. Sure, bands like the Smashing Pumpkins and My Bloody Valentine had been curating giant tapestries of distortion around the same time, but Hum’s brand of songwriting was already five years old by the time they launched ‘Astronaut.’
By no means overlooked at the time, ‘Stars’ reached No. 11 on Billboard’s Modern Rock singles chart, and the album peaked at No. 105. But what seems almost impossible is that the other eight songs on the album, which comes in at just 45 minutes and 53 seconds (proudly displayed on the album’s cover), were all but lost in the shuffle. ‘The Pod,’ a second single that went nowhere, is an interstellar maelstrom of sound, while ‘I Like Your Hair Long,’ from which the band got the album’s title, is sludgy pop, with a bridge only a serious songwriting band could muster.
In the years since the success of ‘Astronaut,’ new fans have discovered the band through word of mouth, e-ink from the indie blog world and even the advertising world (Cadillac featured ‘Stars’ in a 2008 ad campaign). And given the new interest, the band has reunited a handful of times between 2003 and 2012. We’re keep our fingers crossed that the album gets the Legacy Edition it deserves a few years from now.
Watch Hum’s video for ‘Stars’