Top 10 Albums of 1995

Number 10.  –  Music for the Jilted Generation – The Prodigy

When it comes to the vast and strange world of electronic music, there is one genre, really one band that I have always enjoyed just about everything they have done that I’ve heard, and that is without a doubt – The Prodigy. Something about Big Beat works on me very well, probably the super fast-paced layer upon creative layer of beats and random effects, just brilliant madness. And that’s what we get on the first song “Break and Enter” brilliant madness – honestly the song is epically flawless. But even that’s not their masterpiece. The darkness only grows in “Their Law”, the song that first introduced me to The Prodigy, and god is it still one of my absolute favorites. Some more of the ‘beat you senseless’ kind of electronica in “Full Throttle” and then some more badass technical layering in “Voodoo”, fuck every song so far is just killer. But then it kind of almost gets ruined by “Speedway” out of all the songs that could have been the longest, a full 9 minutes, this was NOT the one that should have been, I get annoyed and bored halfway through. “The Heat” is nothing to be impressed with either, especially not after the other songs in the first half, but everything is quickly saved with the badass back and forth vocals on the odd and heavy “Poison”. “No Good” has some killer synths and sounds like hardcore Aqua, pretty damn epic. “One Love” isn’t bad, it takes the basic techno beats and applies a harder faster edge to it – pretty much The Prodigy’s calling card and how you know its one of their songs. “3 Kilos” slows things down with some wonderful flute sampling that just keeps me totally into it and relaxed at the same time.. huh, wonder if that’s really what cocaine is like, good representation of it I’d say. “Skylined” is decent but the real thing keeping this album from being 5 stars besides “Speedway” is the powerful cluster fuck that is “Ckaustrophobic Sting” which only works about half the time – the baby cries don’t work for me and I have yet to hear an electronic song of any kind where fucking whispers work at all, so yeah. At the end, this album alone proves that The Prodigy was once untouchable, I have yet to hear an album passed “Fat of the Land” and I’m sure there is a problem in them, but I’ll just have to see.

Number 9.  –  Liquid Swords – GZA

In the 90’s the Wu-Tang Clan was the biggest thing going on in the hip hop world. These guys were everywhere.  They rushed onto the scene as a crew, but after that they played a game of divide and conquer as everybody got busy with their solo albums. In 1995 GZA was ready to bless the world with Liquid Swords, which was actually his second solo album, but his first as a member of the Wu. Compared to the hip hop that gets played on television or the radio, this sounds absolutely nothing like it at all. Liquid Swords is so unique and different, that it transcends hip hop. This record opened my eyes (or ears) to what a hip hop record can sound like and this shows you can achieve when you work outside its boundaries. Not only is this is a great achievement in hip hop, but also in music in general. There is a beautiful display of great lyricism from GZA. Even the mellow delivery of his rhymes are really a great touch and perfectly suits the music. Also, got to love the guest appearances from the other members of the Wu.  But what I love about this record is the fantastic production from RZA. This is a very low key, and sparse sounding album. Even though a lot of the songs are sparse sounding, it’s somehow still has a really strong ominous atmosphere and it really keeps building up as the songs progress. The thing I love about Liquid Swords is that I feel truly immersed in the music from start to finish just like any other classic album. It is atmospheric, but in the most subtle way and any record that is able to do that is genius to me. If you have never listened to hip hop record and already have a preconceived notion of what hip hop sounds like, think again. Liquid Swords will definitely surprise you and make you regret not delving into the genre before.

Number 8.  –  Me Against The World – 2Pac

I’ve always thought a great poet is defined by how honest he is with himself.  If he writes things he does not believe, if he writes vacuous maxims that fail to resonate with himself, then he will never reach out to others with his words.  This straw-poet denies himself a voice.  When listening to 2Pac, one can tell that he is being honest.  He always comes forward with his feelings.  It may be called “Gangsta Rap,” but the thug life was more than just being a G.  It’s about being true to the one’s who matter..your mother (Dear Mama), the ones who inspired you (Old School), a girlfriend (Can U Get Away)…Pac reminisces to feel good about where he is today.  You can tell the guy has a lot of love for those close to him.  He’ll treat you with respect.  Someone so involved with others can hardly be convinced to be worry-free.  Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Pac’s songs is his preoccupation with death.  Death is something many poets through the ages have explored, and for Pac it was more than a fear, it was a fact.  “Death Around the Corner” and “If I Die 2Nite” encapsulate this theme, and the former especially is one of my favorite Pac songs.  The final verse of that song has Pac literally bursting, as if he’s talking DIRECTLY to the people who he knows will kill him.  It gets my blood boiling.  The entire record is exciting in that way, Pac feels a lot of shit and he articulates it in a way that we instantly know what he’s talking about.  It helps immensley that Pac is one of the clearest rappers of all time, with each word spoken loudly and clearly without an excessive gangster drawl.  It’s easy sometimes when listening to Hip Hop to have lazy ears and not absorb a lot of the lyrics, but Pac entices our attention.  It’s never demanding listening to Pac, it’s easy.   The beats are really good too; I would describe the production as slick. Pac has a genuine feel for the music he creates, this is his most engrossing diary entry.

Number 7.  –  Clouds Taste Metallic – The Flaming Lips

A fantastic achievement! Shiny and jolly on the outside but has a sad and frightening core within. And the sound of the album is so clear and powerful.  This is demonstrated right from Track 1: “The Abandoned Hospital Ship”. It starts with a simple piano figure playing under some quiet vocals about how it feels to have finished the album. Then after you think the song is over there is a ringing guitar playing the same figure as the piano had been and it sounds so loud and then without warning the drums thunder in and THEN the bass guitar and the sheer loudness of it knocks you back in your seat and then there’s feedback and bells and the whole thing is just a glorious riot of sound and you realise that you are in for a sonic treat. The Flaming Lips are now fully playing the studio like an instrument and every one of these thirteen songs is polished to perfection. But even better than the production is the songwriting. Jammed full of hooks and off-kilter pop smarts, every song is different and there are no weak tracks.  Not only that but the songs get better and better, in the second half of the album the band enters the zone and each song tops the last as they sock it to you and bounce your emotions around while you just try to hang on and take it all in. This album epitomizes the best of The Flaming Lips: Bright cheerfulness and escapism as a front for uncertainty and depression.

Number 6.  –  Jagged Little Pill –
Alanis Morissette

This album is one of those unusual cases of a young girl doing throwaway teen Pop and then maturing into something quite different. 90’s Radio Rock is the best way to describe it, except Morissette’s glorious vocals and the excellent instrumental backing give these songs a much needed boost. veryone’s heard the huge hits IronicYou Oughta Know and Hand in my Pocket, and they should because they’re decade defining songs! That time has been unjust it seems to Jagged Little Pill.  For all the crap that Alanis made before and after this, somehow, someway – for one brief period in her life she managed to sing her little heart out over some solid song construction, solid songwriting, good production, and performance. Jagged Little Pill came out of nowhere in 1995 and most of us were like, “who is this chick!?”  Enormous attitude in her vocals, big emotion, honesty, integrity…at times super feminine & others the leading rocker chick singer of her age.  The lyrics aren’t profound & the instruments are firmly background.  But somehow all the pieces come together to form a great alternative sound, and just rock & roll enough.  Its hard to say what is so special about it, there are no real great hooks or riffs just a really nice collection of songs by a very unique woman at the time.  It’s very good Pop/Rock album, and one of the most important of the 90’s especially for women in Rock circles. Alanis showed that woman could be successful in that Rock game without being sex kitten or depending on men’s musical ideas. Kudos for Alanis!

Number 5.  –  The Bends – Radiohead

It’s amazing to think about, really. The step up from Pablo Honey to The Bends is just incredible. In just two years, Radiohead went from being just a run of the mill, generic, throwaway alternative rock band to being one of the best bands on the planet. I always thought of this as being quite a run of the mill alternative rock album in the mold of their debut, but after getting it off the shelf for the first time in a long time to give it a listen, it’s anything but run of the mill. I think it’s easy to look at this and compare it to something like Kid Awhich is full of experimentation, innovative sounds, atmosphere, soundscapes and when you look at them side by side, The Bends may look more basic and primitive. Not that there’s anything wrong with basic, but I love listening to Radiohead because of the boundaries they pushed. If Radiohead had stopped making music at The Bends, it’d get a whole lot more love and respect than it does. It really did bridge the gap between a very dull by the book sound to a sound that’d end up revitalising and redefining the genre as well as the decade, there’s early traces of them beginning to push themselves as well as the boundaries and you can see their experimental side on here. The shift in aesthetic is really quite apparent. It’s a gigantic leap forward artistically, it’s multi-layered and the ideas are just bigger and better. Thematically, it’s on a whole other level. As is the music. Everything about it is just great, the sounds the guitar made in particular but also the songwriting. This is where they started to hit their stride. This was the start of an unbelievable run of amazing albums, they never made a bad album after Pablo Honey and The Bends stands out as one of their best. Their third best, behind Ok Computer and Kid A. An album that should be on everyone’s shelves.

Number 4.  –  Symbolic – Death

Inside crystal mountain, MUSIC takes its form

I always think within myself (yeah, that’s pun intended, the title-track rules) how long could’ve continued Death releasing masterpieces after each other? This is the third one in a row, and Sound of Perseverance will be the next one, Control Denied being the last. Chuck’s guitar playing is exemplary, so is Bobby Koelble’s, and the rhythm section is fearsome: newcomer Kelly Conlon on bass and drummer extraordinaire Gene Hoglan. That said, this is not just another masterpiece in their discography, but Symbolic may be their best album ever. There are some defining moments of originality and brilliance spread throughout the whole album. The intros and melodies of pretty much every song are mesmerizing, “Without Judgement” comes to mind. The first part of the opener “Symbolic” is quite brilliant, but tends to drag on for too long. Also amazing is “Sacred Serenity” (That did-in-did-da riff, in particular). Everybody’s favorite Death track “Crystal Mountain” and “1000 Eyes” is sublime, the incredibly technical melodic break is almost face meltingly awesome. Death’s rhythm section may very well be one of the best rhythm sections, if not the very best. The drumming is immaculate, some of the guitarwork is in fact, Visionary and above everything else in this genre. Symbolic is one of the most popular death metal albums of all time, and it’s classic status is justified and so is the endless praise showered upon it. Undeniably, There’s some challenging, visionary musicianship at display which is mind blowing but also very accessible, which I’m sure has inspired a lot of people to pick up their guitars and start their own bands. And yet, Death continues to get better as they’re nearing to the last album!

Number 3.  –  Post – Björk

Most fans and critics would tend to say that Bjork’s first two solo albums are similar and basically of the same style. This is a crass misunderstanding, it must be known. 1995’s Post is a gigantic leap forward from Debut. Bjork’s second international solo album, Post was produced only two years after Debut but the move forward is remarkable. The electronic elements on this album have not dated at all, and this album could quite easily be released today, a decade later, and achieve huge acclaim as one of 2005’s freshest and most innovative albums. Post is Bjork’s most diverse, schizophrenic, energetic album, full of surprises and quirks. Her voice is incredibly elastic and far more powerful and interesting than on Debut. The songwriting and production is first-rate, innovative and frequently interesting and fresh. It perhaps loses points because it’s not as cohesive or thematic as her later works, but this really needs to be investigated as a beacon of ’90s innovation. The critics always favour Debut, but Post is by far the better album of the two.

Number 2.  –  Alien Lanes – Guided by Voices

Robert Pollard, frontman of Guided By Voices, made an excellent decision in quitting his job as an elementary school teacher and pursuing a career in music. One of the best songwriters of the 90’s, his imagination is limitless. Alien Lanes reflects this with pristine pop structures contrasting with 4 track production. The Beatles-esque shimmer of “Game Of Pricks” is a superbly written pop song, complete with musings of insecure middle-aged infidelity. “Watch Me Jumpstart” is a driving force, establishing the magnitude of the hooks very early on. While there are many short, fleeting songs which may initially be mistaken for snippets and inklings, these prove to be fully formed songs with no need to be extended when listened to repeatedly. These short songs also increase the power of the longer centerpieces of the albums, such as the poignant anthem “Motor Away.” While Alien Lanes receives some credit, compared to its predecessor, 1992’s brilliant Bee Thousand, it is relatively forgotten. Yet another strength of the album is its sloppy lo-fi production. While this may not sound like a positive thing, one trend of the 90’s was hideous over-production of decent music, effectively dating it and glossing over the true appeal of the song by trying to artificially sweeten it. The fuzz, hisses and pops of Alien Lanes ensure that it will be absolutely timeless. Music can’t get more bare than this. Essentially, all every song is, is hook. Ending before any partial imperfection can be found under the surface. That’s where the magic of this album is. 

Number 1.  –  Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness – Smashing Pumpkins

The Smashing Pumpkins became widely popular with the release of Siamese Dream in 1993, a couple of years before I started to broaden my musical horizons. I still remember seeing the release of “Bullet With Butterfly Wings.” The song had me hooked, and not long after I laid down the money to buy this double album. Listening to music was an expensive proposition back then. It’s true that there is a small handful of songs on here that don’t quite live up to the high standards set elsewhere on the record, but there is an undeniable quality to all the songwriting that makes this album stand out as one of the true greats. Lyrically, it’s far clearer than the muddy imagery that characterized Gish or Siamese Dream. Those albums had a more modernist edge, whereas Corgan gives Mellon Collie an injection of unbridled romanticism. This romantic spirit is audible, for instance, in the brilliant “Tonight, Tonight” and its call to live life in all the fullness of the moment, or the nagging anxiety of “Muzzle,” in which Corgan expresses his “fear that I am ordinary/just like everyone.” What works best about Mellon Collie, though, is that this epic mixture of pain, beauty, anger and nostalgia is reflected so cleanly in both the lyrics and the music. Corgan seems to be right on target here with his message, unfazed by the hypnotic buzz of the guitar attack. I have to wonder how much of this edge is due to the craft of producers Flood and Allan Moulder. On later albums, the Pumpkins would unlearn this focus, heading instead for the colder ambience of synthesizers, drum machines, and vibrating guitar washes. While those experiments possess some merit, it seems clear now, years later, that Billy Corgan failed to grasp fully just what it is that made Mellon Collie so great: it possessed a clarity of vision, in both words and music, that he has never even come close to recapturing. Whatever you think of him personally, Billy Corgan is surely a different breed when every virtually other singer was embracing irony and smugness. At a running time of more than two hours this is simply one of the boldest and most audacious American rock albums. Songs like Tonight, Tonight, 1979 (arguably the best song of the 1990s), Here Is No Why, and Thirty-Three are Billy at the top of his game while the rest of it as a genius marriage of confessional, personal lyrics to grandiose production. Like most double albums, you can’t help but think Mellon Collie would have been better if the band had the insight to scale things back a bit with just the best tracks from the two albums. Even if the two discs had been released as two separate albums it may have worked better, but something about this album keeps me coming back. It’s rather flawed, but in its own way it’s still a classic. Corgan and co really hit onto something original here, and though they sabotaged it, there’s enough of the brilliance shining through on Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness that you’d really be missing out if you didn’t give it a chance. It’s the rare album in which anything feels like it could happen, and in this treasure trove of sound, often does.

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