Three good reasons why it’s hard to remember a time when an album like Jeremy Enigk’s Return of the Frog Queen sounded shocking:
1) At the time of its release in 1996, there was no other album like it.
2) In the 22 years between then and now, its marriage of seemingly opposing sensibilities—English folk and American punk; orchestral chamber pop and progressive rock; surreal, pastoral, fanciful lyrics that burn to express personal, emotional, and spiritual quandary—has become the blueprint for so much great music that a young listener can be forgiven for thinking that things were always just like that.
This isn’t to claim some kind of Velvet Underground/Big Star status for the album, but it is to say that you can draw a straight line between Frog Queen and elements of Elliott Smith, Belle & Sebastian, Rufus Wainwright, Destroyer, the Decemberists, Fleet Foxes, Sufjan Stevens, Beirut, Grizzly Bear, Joanna Newsom, Bon Iver, and many, many other artists who have come to define the past two decades of indie music.
3) It’s getting harder to remember anything anymore.
But Return of the Frog Queen is worth remembering. Or discovering. And most definitely celebrating. Though you rarely see it turn up on lists of 50 Best Things of Whatever Year We Wish We Still Lived in Because the Present Is Such a Consummate Drag, the album was an indisputable innovation in the world of ‘90s indie rock, rewriting a litany of unwritten rules about sound, subject matter, and solo identity for lead singers of successful bands.