Funny, but entering the year 1990, grunge wasn’t everywhere, we were still living like it was still in the 1980s with the bad fads, fashion, and culture that was really dying out. Fortunately there are music that are still in the growing seeds of what the 90s are most known for. Most of the albums on this list (though its a small one) were some of the bands and artsits that managed to make the best of the late 80s in hopes that they would have a great future in this decade. Unfortunately, most of these bands lost recognition over the years because they influenced future bands that overshadowed their careers. For now, let’s just look back at the first year of music of the decade.
Number 10. – Pod – Breeders
If you know Kim Deals work with The Pixies and with The Breeders on Last Splash you will see they are both fun, Well written and adorable, Thats thanks to Kim Deal having a voice that is just one giant big hook. Theres a reason why Sonic Youth’s most poppy song has Kim Deal on it. Her voice is just so damn adorable. The reason why the Pixies worked as well as they did was that the weirdness from Francis was levelled by Deal’s weirdness. I mean who the hell doesn’t love her sexy breathing on Tame. So when I saw this album I thought, Hey cool another Surfer Rosa but this time with Kim on vocals this should be good. Well it doesn’t sound anything like Surfer Rosa. Its dark, gritty and intense. But when you look at it, It makes perfect sense. At this time Deal was nearly forced out of the Pixies by Francis. She remained in the band but her input was nothing apart from basslines and backing vocals now and then. It was Francis’s show and the power struggle ended the band less then two years later. When you talk to Pixies fans, Bossanova is usually seen as when the Pixies lost alot of what made them so great. So Pod is pretty much Kim Deal getting all her frustrations out she had at the time. There’s no Cannonball here or any hooks apart from the cover of Happiness Is a Warm Gun which is done pretty damn well. Its dark and a creepy version. Deal still sounds as great as she always has but she sounds really grungey compared to her work with the Pixies and on Last Splash. Its the songs and Steve Albini’s stripped back production, Unlike alot of Albini’s work where its raw and noisey and intense. There’s still noisey guitars but the focus is the atmosphere.
Number 9. – Fear of a Black Planet –
The Bomb Squad’s last stand, Fear of a Black Planet, is like Spike Lee hurling a trashcan through Huey Newton’s boutique. Snatches of guitar swiped from Purple Rain entwine soul-shattering shouts, tornadoes wallop 1960s R&B, obtuse DJs get smothered by their own turntables, and propulsive shards of static blanket the horizon. If you don’t like the music, you can at least use it to soundtrack Armageddon drills. Chuck D.’s flow is like shredding civil rights speeches through 50 rhyming dictionaries. He is anti-white, anti-black, anti-history, anti-government, anti-1950s rock, anti-homosexuality, and anti-self. And he still stands for more worthwhile causes than any politician since the New Deal. Here are the images that I have of each album: It Takes a Nation is Chuck and Flav running around a room, throwing chairs and turning over tables. Fear of a Black Planet has just about everything music should include: a meaningful message delivered boldly, original and artful music that is still accessible and down-to-earth, and a collective spirit spearheaded by an impassioned leader. Public Enemy–a group of heroes forever.
Number 8. – Violator – Depeche Mode
The last album of the 1980s, a lasting work of synthesizer pop that closed the book on new romanticism. One of the rare cases where I turned my back on a band only to turn my back on my back later on. With the turn of the decade 1990s there was a strong reaction against the electronic-pop groups that had reigned in the outgoing decade, and I admit that I got caught up in it. Shit, there was a group called KMFDM fer chrissakes. It definitely wasn’t cool to like DM anymore. Maybe it was a primal cry for noisy catharsis after a decade of paralytic hegemony and conformity, a time when it was a struggle to go one’s own way, and so many times proved futile in the saddest way as one’s tormentors came to usurp your freakinsense. This latter aspect fulfilled the post-modern promise, that commerce consumes all, and that the only true fashion is that of the individual. So many of those uncertain moments of youth come back to me now, flashes of my first drivings, navigating foreign streetscapes by wintry nights, disappointed by the overhyped suburbs, streetlights shining on sterile backdrops and there was nothing to do and nowhere to go but north. How the new school was different from the old school, but the kids were neither similar to nor different from, neither smarter nor dumber than anyone you’d ever be or meet at any point. How time marched on and people were left behind, and you’d never be able to freeze it and embrace it… except for Violator, because for a moment frozen in the icy castles of this album I can still see the girls in black with their Louise Brooks bobcuts and fishnet stockings, and think.
Number 7. – Nowhere – Ride
It’s really hard to imagine a world of shoegaze before Loveless was even released. However, Ride is one of the backbones of the movement and I love the Nowhere for it. This is Ride’s best album because of the magical musical effects mixed in with surf rock inspiration the swirls like a whirlpool. Opener “Seagull” is the ultimate musical bloodrush, an army of guitars fanning out as the bass snaps to and the drums clear away any opposition. “Polar Bear” is a stunning climax, freezing Bell and Gardener’s everyman harmonies in a vault of ice that Colbert ultimately shatters. The real stunner, though, is “Vapour Trail”, a masterful swath of guitar condensation arcing across the pop stratosphere that simply defies gravity. Nowhere was Ride’s greatest achievement, and remains one of the greatest statements of the UK’s shoegazer movement.
Number 6. – Painkiller – Judas Priest
I can disregard every Judas Priest before it and say that this is the definitive album of their discography and nothing they’ll do after will ever top it. Bold statement, I know, but think about how this album held your hand and gave you a ride so wild that you held on for dear life. This is without a doubt the wildest experience that heavy metal ever provided. Prior to the release of Painkiller, though, 1990 was a rough year for Judas Priest. Not only were there serious doubts as to whether the band could ever regain its classic form, but the members found themselves in the middle of a farcical trial in Reno, Nevada over whether their music contained subliminal messages and compelled two misguided young men to engage in a suicide pact. It was a circus, but Halford, Tipton, Downing, and Hill all showed up, clad in tidy suits, respectfully and calmly testified, and were rightfully cleared of all charges. It’s romantic to think that Painkiller was an angry, in-your-face response to that nadir of 1980s “Satanic panic” in America, but in actuality the album was completed long before the trial began. Painkiller was one of only a handful of standouts in what was a transitional year for heavy metal, which was starting to diversify, move underground, and leave its 1980s icons scrambling to stay relevant. In one fell swoop Judas Priest had reinvented itself, but despite the critical and worldwide commercial success of the album, the band was starting to fracture internally, with Halford drifting away from his bandmates. As important an institution as Judas Priest was for heavy metal, Halford had some very valid reasons to do a little soul searching throughout the 1990s.
Number 5. – Bossanova – Pixies
During the band’s post-Doolittle hiatus, frontman Black Francis embarked on a solo tour and Kim Deal dug into side project The Breeders, whose debut, Pod, was released later that year. The band eventually settled down to record Bossanova (tellingly, the record doesn’t feature a single track written by Deal) with Doolittle producer Gil Norton. Bossanova expertly maintained the Pixies’ abrasive-but-endearing mix of boy/girl harmonies, flip-flopping structure, and freewheeling guitar jabs, while folding in bits of surf-rock , bizarre sci-fi lyrics, and some sweet, hook-heavy choruses. Bossanova ‘s agreeable sound temporarily divided Pixies fans, who questioned the band’s supposed embrace of pop formula, but the record ultimately stands as a testament to their maturity: without sacrificing the gnawing innovation of their earlier releases, Bossanova made demanding but accessible space-rock a public necessity.
Number 4. – Goo – Sonic Youth
Because most people have settled on Daydream Nation as their favorite Sonic Youth album, the more interesting question would be “What is your second favorite Sonic Youth album?” My answer’s Goo. For all the talk of Goo as Sonic Youth’s most accessible record, it’s a testament to the fact that the concept of “accessibility” is clearly relative. Personally, I think there’s a lot of pigeonholing in that statement. Sure, from the opening stretch of four tracks, we could describe it as such, but as soon as Lee Ranaldo’s “Mote” comes around with its extended noisy outro, all notions of accessibility is thrown out the window. Goo is about as accessible asDaydream Nation was, a matrimony of the melody and noise they spent a decade perfecting, and it’s certainly less accessible than Dirty to come. Now, as opposed to my review of Daydream Nation or late-90’s Sonic Youth albums, there are no observations I can make to link the music of Goo with the dullness and doodads of domestic life (though there are some moments to be sure, like how the radio-surfing intro of “Mote” and the driving-down-the-highway-at-above-the-speed-limit “Scooter + Jinx” both suggest getting out of the suburbs), obvious from the relatively straight-forward punk of “Mary-Christ” or “My Friend Goo.” It’s not an issue though, because Goo is short for Good Music, and that’s precisely what it is. In fact, I’d gladly champion this as one of the best albums of 1990, a year that seemed to be mostly for leftovers from the 80’s especially when compared to 1991, which had new ideas and the unofficial start of the new decade.
Number 3. – Repeater + 3 Songs – Fugazi
This album is just simply alternative rock fun. Repeater is Fugazi’s most straight forward album and probably their strongest effort over all. The inclusion of 3 Songs ep doesn’t hurt either. But why is it the most important album of the 1990’s? Because it says what every other whiny band of the era wanted to say but without whining and with a solution offered. This is an excellent album, without or without 3 songs. Sometimes it is good in a Sonic Youth type of good. There is some of that strange sound that Sonic Youth get on this album, I think, or in that general sort of vicinity. Sometimes it is good in this is some bloody great rock drumming kind of good, way to beat the shit out of those skins, man. I will definitely pull this out again soon.
Number 2. – Rust in Peace – Megadeth
Is there any doubt in your mind that this could not be number 1? Why not? This is the prime of Megadeth and even the best songwriting I’ve ever seen from the band. Everything I said that was good about “Killing is My Business…,” “Rust in Peace” is actually twice the awesomeness. It had the most innovative and the most groundbreaking guitar-riffs ever put in singular album. There isn’t a single bad song in “Rust In Peace;” the experience from beginning to end, each time you play “Rust in Peace,” is a fulfilling Metal experience. Ever since I’ve encountered this album, I haven’t encountered another Heavy Metal album that even approached to the effectiveness of this very album. It has a great balance of being so political and be so imaginative by putting the then US President, George H.W. Bush to be in this gigantic conspiracy of extraterrestrial activities. With an insane concept like that for an album, Megadeth spared no expense with what they were capable of in making this album. Even still to this day, I wonder how did they even pull off these songs that you don’t ever hear from any other Heavy Metal band. “Rust in Peace” is a classic, it’s a phenomenon, and most of all… it’s legendary!
Number 1. – Apple – Mother Love Bone
Interesting that Mother Love Bone was at the bottom of the list of the best grunge bands and their one and only LP managed to make it as the best album of the year 1990. Despite the fact that I enjoy Pearl Jam, I do wish like hell that Andrew Wood would not have died and Mother Love Bone would have continued making music. Andy Wood is an exceptionally brilliant talent and I feel not only him but the band as a whole deserves more credit than they get. This is a truly great piece of music that anyone from an 80’s hair metal lover to a 90’s grunge fan will enjoy. Sure most people expected this album to sound like Pearl Jam or Soundgarden but what they’ve got is a more improved version of Gun n’ Roses. Really more akin to hair metal than the grungy alternative sound of most bands coming from Seattle in the late 80’s, Mother Love Bone is still a respected- even revered- band of grunge culture. Mother Love Bone will forever be remembered as the group that spawned Pearl Jam. However, there was so much more to the story of the short-lived band, that was fronted by the late Andrew Wood, who lost his battle with heroin. Mother Love Bone’s 1990 debut album, Apple, is an overlooked recording, that bridges the ’80s Hollywood big hair band scene to the Seattle grunge movement. With eventual Pearl Jam stalwarts, bassist Stone Gossard and guitarist Jeff Ament, leading the way, following their days in Green River, along with front man Wood, MLB kicked out a killer set of thirteen tracks that comprise Apple. The disc is strong from start to close, with “This is Shangrila”, “Stardog Champion”, “Holy Roller”, the acoustic “Stargazer”, “Capricorn Sister”, and “Crown of Thorns” highlighting the effort. It’s so unfair that an album as good as this one failed to achieve the recognition and success it deserved. I realize that the fact that Andrew Wood (vocalist) died before the album hit the streets was in part a major reason why Apple got so ignored. I truly believed this along with Faith No More’s The Real Thing, Apple was the most perfect transition album between ’80s and ’90s rock.