This where the 1990s started to grow from a seed and into a tree because everything that you remember about the 1980s is forever faded out of fashion and the new era just begun. This was an exciting, yet memorable year in music where the old takes its last breath and the new becomes a generation defining moment. We have the rise of grunge with three fantastic albums of this very movement, to brand new sound of dance music, and even innovative sounds of wave from shoegaze. How can nobody think that 1991 was at all a great year to remember? In fact, there are just so many things released in the 1991 that will forever put a special place in history and these are the albums that proves the greatness of this year.
Number 10. – Achtung Baby – U2
Regardless of what your personal thoughts are about U2 or Bono as a person, you need to give Achtung Baby a good listen for about a week. In my opinion, this is U2’s greatest work and one of the greatest albums in rock and roll history. Achtung Baby was a seemingly rash leap into the unknown. It completely ignored the grunge revolution and instead interfaced electronica and dance beats with a traditional guitar-driven, sound-albeit experiments with guitar distortion. It proved to be a bridge between the old and new and, as such, is looked back on with fondness by those long serving fans as their connection to the halcyon days. Examined with a less prejudicial eye this album was an evolutionary step. I don’t think there is a bad track on here (though “Even Better than the Real Thing” is somewhat lame, not to mention that the video used to make me dizzy). For all of his ego stroking and sanctimony, Bono once was a hell of a charismatic singer. He completely sells “One,” “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wilde Horses” and “Acrobat.” In the hands of another vocalist, the lyrics could come off as cheesy or the songs could fail all together. The Edge’s guitar parts are also great, especially the monster riff which “Mysterious Ways” is built around and the spastic sound of the guitar on “Until the End of the World.” Overall, there’s a certain tone of bleakness or darkness that runs all the way through Achtung, Baby from the hollowness of “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wilde Horses” until the quieter moments on “Acrobat” and on the last and most subdued track, “Love is Blindness.” This sort of uneasy feeling is what made Achtung, Baby such a compelling listen, and it was also a mastery in tone that U2 never replicated anywhere else.
Number 9. – Badmotorfinger – Soundgarden
After Hendrix, Soundgarden have to be the most interesting and musically exciting act to come from Seattle, and this, their third album, is simply packing power and is arguably Soundgarden’s finest hour. With the twin guitar attack of Kim Thail and Chris Cornell layered fat and heavy they riffed away on a wave of Black Sabbath inspired psychedelic hysteria, just listen to the bottom end chug of “Outshined” or the bass thump of “Rusty Cage”, or the dark tone and well structured harmony of “Jesus Christ Pose” these are some of the catchiest riffs and constantly remind me of_Master Of Reality_ era Black Sabbath. The harmony of the guitar and vocal on the chorus of “Outshined” is inspired and creates an accessible hum in a rough and rapid interior bursting through. Overall Bad Motor Finger is a strong and consistent album that wipes the floor with the more known, and lengthy, Super Unknown which followed, but that album was a more streamlined album though still containing a solid force. The Terry Date production is very clean and very idiosyncratic. The big looping riffage soundscapes give finishing touches to monster tracks like “Room A Thousand Years Wide”, complete with fantastic droning guitar from Thail, and the rapid hypnotic “Drawing Flies”. This is essential listening.
Number 8. – Screamadelica – Primal Scream
I think what makes it so different from the other attempts at crossover material before is that this doesn’t purely rely on a drum machine to give it the dancefloor feel but is heavily textured with the lush ambient sounds of the sort of house music the UK was producing at the time. This is all thanks to Andy Weatherall (who to all intents and purpose becomes an extra member of the band for this album), who produced all but three of the tracks on the album, and The Orb, who produced just one track – the psychedelic wonder that is “Higher Than The Sun”. Pulling these names to work on the album was a master stroke – Weatherall was at one of the hottest DJs on the London scene at the time and was also enjoy clubland success with his Sabres Of Paradise project (whose “Smokebelch” featured on just about every ambient compilation at the time) and The Orb were, well, The Orb. The two remaining tracks, the gospel sounding “Movin’ On Up”, which kicks the album off, and the country ballad “Damaged”, are the only ones where the old Primal Scream sound is really to the fore. You will almost certainly recognise every song on this album but the major hits were “Come Together” and the mighty “Loaded. This is some of the most experimental albums of the 1990s and it works successfully.
Number 7. – Ten – Pearl Jam
Out of all of the major Seattle grunge era bands that came to occupy mainstream popularity, Pearl Jam’s music was probably the most technically/instrumentally accomplished and relied the most on a certain degree of improvisation. A testament to this are Mike McCready’s blazing solos and Dave Krusen’s crackling drum fills. McCready is something of a secret weapon as he bridges the stylistic gap between the album’s modern rock and classic rock influences. This helps to make “Ten” perhaps the most accessible out of all the breakthrough grunge albums; it strikes a good balance between Nirvana’s abrasion, Soundgarden’s cosmic sensibility, and Alice in Chains’ heady darkness. he album was so inviting to so many people that the band later regretted having such a produced sound and reissued a stripped down version of the debut in 2009. However, Parashar’s production is one of the many essential idiosyncrasies of the album that, for better or worse, made it WORK, and gained the band recognition beyond its wildest dreams. After “Ten”, Pearl Jam were arguably never so natural and unselfconscious on record ever again. There is little to no affectation in the music, which is what helps to solidify the album’s status as a true 90’s classic.
Number 6. – The Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld – The Orb
One of the first Intelligent Dance Music albums to tear through the club scene, English electronic duo The Orb’s ambitious debut, The Orb’s Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld, sounds as fresh as it did back in 1991. This may be because it’s influence is widespread, or possibly because it’s vintage portrayal of space age psychedelia is of the classic breed that forever runs parallel to the passing of time. The Orb take the kitschy concepts of movies with flying saucers and giant starfish aliens and douses them in lysergic acid diethylamide until they can’t remember what bore them. The resulting album is one that can be had fun with as much as taken seriously, and is as abrasive as it is relaxing. They capitalize on atmosphere just as much as club friendly beats. Overall, I think The Orb suceeded in releasing a ground-breaking as well as captivating double album which redefined electronic music. While not every track appeals to me personally there is enough wonderful material included to keep me returning every year to revisit the enchanting journey. It stands up particularly well 20 years later & can still influence musicians of today.
Number 5. – Human – Death
Death’s 1991 masterpiece, Human, re-wrote the book of death metal. While still maintaining the relentless brutality that made Chuck Schuldiner and co. famous in the first place, the album took death metal into previously unexplored territories and resulted in the most innovative and impressive album Death had created to date. The addition of top-notch musicians into Death’s lineup surely helped Chuck Schuldiner expand upon his innovative ideas for this album. The sheer technicality, brutality, and progressiveness of this release was groundbreaking back when Human came out. Even 20 years after its release, Human still remains a revolutionary and highly influential masterpiece – this timeless gem has lost none of its luster through the sands of time. To celebrate the album’s twentieth anniversary, Relapse Records has reissued the album fully remastered and repackaged; surely nothing to miss if you’re a Death fan. Human is a mandatory purchase for all fans of progressive death metal, and this reissue is the best way to go if you’ve been living under a rock and still haven’t heard this legendary masterwork. I’d even venture to say that the Relapse reissue may be worth a re-purchase for fans of the original album; it really is that good. Human is a masterpiece and one of the best albums in extreme metal history.
Number 4. – Blue Lines – Massive Attack
When talking about British music in the 90’s, most people remember one of two things, either Britpop or the evolution of dance music. Okay, there was that entire manufactured pop explosion going on the charts in the late 90’s but let’s just forget about that shall we? However, the city of Bristol brought about another genre into the fold; trip-hop, which would incorporate hip hop sampling, jazz, soul and guitars to make music for people crashing as dawn broke after a heavy night out. Blue Lines was the first major album release for the genre and pretty much kicked off one of the most interesting genres of the 90’s that would influence a huge amount of music for the next 20 years. Why is it so influential? Well first of all, Massive Attack manage to create an atmosphere that wasn’t really characteristic of hip-hop music at the time. It’s massively bass heavy with an industrial, urban sense to it but at the same time, deeply melodic in places. But this album remains as a great record of the peaks these guys created. The follow up album “Protection”, has a couple of possibly better individual songs, but is not as holistic, integrated and consistent as this album overall. Unlike other brand new genres or musical movements that started from the 1990’s, trip hop never lost any ounce of popularity and we have to thank Massive Attack for it!
Number 3. – Whirlpool – Chapterhouse
From its title to its curled-up-cat cover art, the debut LP for Reading quintet Chapterhouse is an album of circular sound: repeating guitar patterns turning pirouettes of whitewashed noise. With three guitars and banks of effects pedals, Chapterhouse created a guitar sound that felt spinning; their dosed-up set-up sending strums into eternal circles of trailing feedback and delay. The band then applied this dizzying sound to four-minute pop-songs, delivered with the genre’s requisite fey mumbles and unintelligible incantations. On its release, Whirlpool found a lukewarm reception; the band themselves were, after all, generally maligned. But years have been kind to Chapterhouse: 20+ years on, this sounds like classic, vintage shoegaze. There are just multiple songs that sounds so unordinary where you listen to instruments and sound waves that sounds so out of this world. Because of its amazing original effect, it deserve to be high on the list.
Number 2. – Nevermind – Nirvana
I love this, love this, love this album. I remember going to a jukebox looking at album covers and was shocked as hell to have an album cover of a drowning baby. I did all I could to finally get the name of the album years later and wouldn’t you know, it turned out to be some of the best albums I’ve ever experienced! Sure, hearing another person praise this album is like a cliche, but who cares, that’s why this album still sounds great! The thing that sucks is when I became a fan of this album, Kurt Cobain already killed himself which is why it sucks to be born too late and never experience them live or get into subjects of his fame when he was alive. Here we are now, twenty years later and it still entertains the living hell out of us. I memorize all the lyrics on each song and sing them out loud time after time again like a la-la-by. I really can’t say the same with any other song list out there. Nevermind is a great album, but not because Kurt Cobain or the media or a combination of both, the music is great without the hype as well as the ego that follow. Nevermind will always remain on a high belt of music wether you hate it to shit, are indifferent, or love it like a fanatic. Nevermind was revolutionary for what it did with the music industry at the time, but as far as the music goes itself, it’s great, and that’s final.
Number 1. – Loveless – My Bloody Valentine
Funny that I put some of the most calm, slow, and relaxing album ahead of the wildest and most fun album of all time, but it shows that subtlety wins it all. This is the prime reason why I love shoegaze with a mighty passion. There are so many little sonic details that can be gleaned over if you listen to this at a low volume. So crank it up. This isn’t background music, either. You must immerse yourself in it. If you want to get high before you listen, go for it (I am not condoning this, but if it’s what you have to do to stay focused on this, do what you gotta do); just give it your undivided attention. This album was hugely influential on alternative rock in the 1990’s and even today. It’s spaced out, ethereal tone and gliding reverb drenched wall of guitar sound have been admired and copied since it’s release almost 20 years ago. It opens up with the best song opener “Only Swallow” and to the end song “Soon” it leave you speechless. Whenever I listen to Loveless it reminds me of all the possibilities of human existence. The first half of the album has its distinct songs, but they seem more focused on images and intricacy. The second half goes further, arousing even more of those ineffable moods that you experience once in a long while in life, in a certain place, a certain situation, at a certain time of day, and think you’ll never feel again. The rest of the album completes this journey through the inner depths of human emotion, and as the closing track rambles on with no real elaboration on the songwriting, you don’t even care. Its repetition assumes an incredible power based solely on the context of all that preceded it and as the fadeout finally approaches, all you feel, despite the album title, is love, pure love. I still can’t believe that mortal human beings could create anything this beautiful. As your jaw is still on the floor during the former’s several-second outro, as you think there’s no way they could possibly follow that song, the latter kicks in and successfully sustains that entrancement, not with a salvo of almost percussive sounds, but with a simple, melancholy drone, soon to be synergized by the perfect cathartic melody as accompaniment. My mind is overflowing just thinking about it. If that’s not a good enough reason for it to be number 1, then I don’t know what will.
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