Aside from the hits (e.g., 214), Rivermaya, with this debut, gave what fans couldn’t get from the Eraserheads: a pop-rock band with considerable skills and rockstars look and feel. (Though that’s not something they couldn’t get with either After Image or Alamid.) This idea of THE perfect band and the band’s five-hit-string that parallels that of Eheads’ Ultra (214, Bring Me Down, Ulan, Awit Ng Kabataan, 20 Million), make RiverMaya a popular choice among fans when asked about the band’s best album.
They got a rockstar vocalist with an angel’s voice and range, a kick-ass bassist, a geeky songwriter on keyboards, and a drummer who’s last name recalls the same province where the Heads’ drummer hails from. And the deciding factor it seems—since the Eraserheads sucked live and Wency Cornejo’s rock antics only reminded you of Mel Tiangco—was the addition of a virtuoso guitarist, the incidental fifth member whose contributions, including iconic guitar solos in “214” and “Awit Ng Kabataan” were never incidental. That is, later and first defector Perf de Castro puts the “original” in the “original Rivermaya”—at least according to those fans who endlessly clamor for their reunion in the comment sections.
They looked perfect together, the perfect band, partly because they were (rumored to be) factory assembled, handpicked by Chito Rono and Liza Nakpil, and partly because they weren’t, meaning they were a real band, even though they hardly toiled the underground together like the ‘Heads, After Image and other Club Dredd alums.
And the album itself? It’s hard to underrate an album that houses those aforementioned hits, but compared with Trip and other debut albums at the time (Teeth, Album Na Walang Pamagat, Ultraelectromagneticpop), RiverMaya is more like a dozen different things coming at you than a knockout punch. Outside of Bamboo’s voice and irresistible charisma, the band’s signature sound is that they don’t have one. RiverMaya is split between a band album and a really good bar band (i.e., “Gravity” is well-played but says next to nothing when compared with “Shake Yer Head”), split between blues, new wave, probably grunge, among other things.
But the band gelled really well, played really well. And the production’s really good (better than Rico Blanco’s uneven work on Trip). Which gave the songs a pinch of flow, even when the genres they take inspiration from don’t seem to mix well (i.e., imagine mixing New Wave and Razorback in one album). And that also makes it easier to let the album grow on you even if the riffs are just OK (“Revolution”) and the boogie somewhat generic (“Halik Sa Araw”), even if the lyrics, outside of the radio hits, are kind of cliche (“Revolution”, “Ground”, “Gravity”) if not downright cheesy (Daanin mo na lang sa konting rock n’ roll! Eww). Which is to say, the passable tracks are passable, because they’re interspersed with the hits—after “Revolution” comes “Bring Me Down”, after “Ground”, “20 Million” and so on.