Top 10 Albums of the 1990s

No other decade has thrown up more variety and diversity. You can’t look at that decade and define it by anything; there was simply too much going on. Rock and pop bestrode the entire planet like rarely before or since. With grunge, guitar music enjoyed possibly its last true innovation. The decade wins for ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ alone, but the heady college rock scene that surrounded it created one of the most glorious eras in all of pop culture; a world of Reality Bites and Generation X and My So-Called Life and even Beavis And Butthead. The vision of living in an apartment block in 1993 Seattle talking about issues with short-film-making buddies at open mic nights in coffee houses remains a fantasy me and my friends cherish to this day. Of course the Grunge movement was a short lived musical movement, however music did continue to innovate and grow as other genres began to shine like electronic, trip hop, hip-hop/rap, alternative rock and other genres of music delivered great diversity to the many. Of course with growth of music, we also had to suffer through the awful pop music, britpop, and boy bands that tries to be special. At the height of 90’s pop, there were alternatives like indie rock that was getting recognition and violent music that rebel to the garbage that the valley girls were playing. Of course, no decade is perfect, but I would so love to go back in time and relive the 1990’s again. Unlike today, back when there are songs on the charts that you absolutely hate to listen, somehow there will be another new song or album that will come to your taste. And that’s why I did a list of the best albums of each year of the 1990’s because I love this decade so damn much and you can check them all out in these links!

Now that my list of the best albums of each year of the 90’s are complete it’s time to finally rank the 10 of the best albums of the 1990’s! These are the albums that I will forever remember the 90’s for and will continue to listen to as the days of this decade go in the distance!

Number 10.  – Post – Björk

Björk is the best solo female artist of the 1990s. She was the only artist that was able to deliver otherworldly and extraordinary ideas for music and it all works. Post shows such innovation which is why it is her best album! From her first album Debut, she was able to transition to a darker, more dramatic sound that she still continues to this day. Björk’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, decades later, and achieve huge acclaim as one of freshest and most innovative albums today. Post is Bjork’s most diverse, schizophrenic, energetic album, full of surprises and quirks. Added with post-modern operatics further into electronic territory. Far from putting a limit on the comprehensive scope of her vibrating escapades, Post simply evidences that Björk has just as much control over her musical means as over her acrobatic vocals. Just about every song here is in the 4.5-5 star range, with a couple of exceptions. 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. Everything she tries is either a success or a rousing success.  It’s a schizophrenic, impossibly unique collection of songs that cemented Bjork as a force to be reckoned with and convinced a lot of people, including yours truly that she was not human. With Post, Bjork shows she is a competent singer and songwriter in multiple situations. It might be a little top-loaded, but it is one of the most well written pop albums overall and still is her greatest creation.

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Number 9.  –  Endtroducing – DJ Shadow

So a lot of people don’t like sampling. The common argument is that when you sample, you aren’t really creating anything new. You’re just reiterating something that somebody did before. Frankly, this is bullshit. It’s stupid, and anyone who holds to it is probably a massive idiot, or at least has some nasty anti-modern music biases that they’ve got to get straightened out. I therefore posit to anyone who holds that belief that every band who has ever written a song has stolen something from someone else.  Sampling was by no means 1996′s innovation, and certainly wasn’t anything new to hip-hop by the middle of the decade; one could state accurately, in fact, that sampling lies at the core of the genre’s very musical foundation. But that’s just the thing about …Endtroducing: Though Shadow still insists otherwise– to the point that he is said to have made a habit of moving this very record from the “electronic” section of his local record store to the “hip-hop” section– the album is effectively genreless. It may rely on hip-hop technique, but Shadow mined the dankest of this nation’s record bins to unearth for himself an entire sonic spectrum that melded jazz and funk loops with forgotten horror movie samples with layers of ambient noise, to create one of the most dark, foreboding, and original musical statements ever. To date, the album still sounds like no other. I truly believe that anyone who thinks that they actually enjoy music, should take a listen to Endtroducing….. It’s a magical and surreal adventure through music. DJ Shadow truly knew what he was doing when he put together this instrumental hip-hop masterpiece. I probably shouldn’t even really call it “instrumental hip-hop” I might just call it “Endtroducing….” because it’s pretty much a genre by itself.

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Number 8.  –  Dummy – Portishead 

A genre-defining album as well as a collection of great songs – every single one of them a gem. And the revelation of one of the greatest singers of the last 20 years… ‘Dummy’ is outstanding in many ways, the kind of album that leaves an indelible mark on the listener and is bound to be influential on many different levels. From a stylistic point of view, on Portishead’s debut the musical elements absorbed from hip hop play a fundamental role, a feature their later albums would try to avoid for the most part. The use of samples from old records as central thematic material, the slow syncopated breakbeats and scratching are techniques that the band uses proficiently across the album, but it’s the remarkable songwriting and Beth Gibbons’ wonderfully expressive voice that ensure that this becomes an unforgettable experience. Another crucial aspect of the music is its rather ambivalent emotional nature. Though there’s an undeniable melancholy underlying most songs, they rarely come across as  openly depressive – there’s a sensuality here, even a hint of playfulness, that prevent low spirits from taking over. The secret lies in the stimulating arrangements shaped by the band and even more in the vocalist’s performance: here Gibbons is as much a torch singer as she is a seductress, and ultimately it’s more likely that she will lift you up than submerge you in a wave of sorrow and despondency. This album’s seismic blast rippled across the globe from a Bristol epicenter, influencing a legion of leaders and followers to spin their own dark webs; that it’s one of the few trip-hop statements that still shatters preconceptions today merely proves how forward thinking it really was.

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Number 7.  – In The Aeroplane Over
the Sea – Neutral Milk Hotel

Without a doubt this is one of the more immediately weird albums I’ve heard in a while, and yet oddly enough, it’s one of my favorites that 1990s had to offer. I haven’t completely gotten the chance to get used to it, but I can see why it’s a favorite, and given enough time, I think it could be a favorite of mine as well. I’ve really never heard anything like it at all. If I could liken it into one thing… Shit, this is going to be funny. Pretend that during a dream, life and all of it’s highs and lows was compressed into a compact city from either the very late nineteenth century or very early twentieth century, and you were just jacked up on some kind of happy drug and told to run across the whole damn city in forty minutes. You would probably hear something like this. That may sound pretentious, but there is definitely some kind of powerful, moving feel to this music. It definitely has a weird old fashioned thing going on. The album is spread full with powerful drums and frequent horns, and even the cover art is kind of old fashioned. The liner notes are the same, very antique. By no means is it an easy album to understand; I’m still having a hard time getting at ease with it even months later, but there really isn’t a weak track on the album, and every song does something to contribute to the whole.  This was clearly intended to be the band coup de grace, considering they never actually followed it up and there is enough of a momentous, concluding atmosphere to merit this being the end of the band.  You’ve never heard something dealing with issues such as life, death, love, and sexuality with as much contrasting tenderness and fun.  If  you haven’t heard it, give it a shot.  You will probably either love it or hate it, but that’s a risk you should be willing to take.

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Number 6.  –  Sound of Perseverance – Death

And so we come to Death’s last, and during their run in the 1990s from Human, to Individual Thought Patterns, to Symbolic, to finally their last album, was the best 4 consecutive albums that a single band has ever had! Death’s 1995 album Symbolic had been an astounding release and Chuck had evolved each album in a fairly linear direction away from straight forward death metal, and with that album appearing to take the sound as far as it could go without falling out of the genre altogether. With only the occasional riff or lead reminding you that this is the same “band” that released albums like Human and Symbolic. The progressive element has been amped up to much higher levels and the more traditional death metal riffs are far less prominent, none of which is surprising when you consider the members of the band were never hired to play to death metal in the first place. The more progressive metal style of The Sound of Perseverance is not the only thing that makes this album stand out from the rest of the Death discography. Chuck’s vocals have a much higher tone than on previous releases, approaching black metal-like screams while remaining completely intelligible. The new vocals somehow create such a passionate roar as we simultaneously hear many of the high-pitched riffs that’s out for blood. The musicianship is truly impressive and from a purely technical perspective, there are not too many albums out there that could match it. Every track has moments of sheer brilliance with crushing riffs, exquisite leads and some fantastic drumming from the very impressive Richard Christy. The majority of the album’s highlights occur in the first half with Scavenger of Human Sorrow, Bite the Pain, Voice of the Soul, and the wonderful Story to Tell containing the most fluent and consistently enjoyable structures overall. It’s not surprising to me that there are many out there that consider this the finest Death album, as it would undoubtedly have drawn a whole new crowd to the band. Everything just comes together here, and sounds better than ever, from the mystic atmosphere to the driving grooves that had come to define Schulidner’s guitar wizardry.  Not to mention the fantastic songwriting, filled with memorable hooks and powerful vocals, with what is probably the best riffing the band had done up to this point. This is a culmination of all of Death’s previous works, and their ultimate album that left the metal world a huge bang to remember.

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Number 5.  –  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.

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Number 4.  –  Rage Against The Machine –
Rage Against The Machine

Certainly, Rage Against The Machine is one of the prime examples of 90’s musical awesomeness and they still remain the best rapcore/rap metal bands of its kind- plus one of the very few bands that haven’t released a new LP since the 90s. I certainly love Battle For Los Angelas & Evil Empire, but their self-entitled debut album is their best work. There have been rap mixed with rock/metal before this one, but nothing was quite like this before and even after it. When I was just getting into music I used to think this was the best thing out there and it really is something. In your face songwriting, explosive riffs and pure unadulterated ANGER are what Rage promises and with their self entitled they certainly deliver. The 4 angry young men who make up the band are Zach de la Rocha, a unique singer (well rapper i guess) who spits out pure hate and has some extremely strong vocal chords considering the intensity of some of his screams. Tom Morello is the guitarist and he really has a style of his own thanks to his riffs that’s one of the best things about the band, and instead of taking solos he makes awesome noises come out of his guitar. It feels totally indie for the fact that there was no limits and most of the songs on the tracks ends in a musical mess that we’re okay with. Another thing that makes this rapcore record stand out more-so than the other bands in the genre is that they have such an aggressive funk to it that makes feel like the 1970’s funk music wish they could achieve. This is RATM’s best album, basically because they had the most power and anger in them at that time. The lyrics are fairly out there, usually spreading awareness of injustices that go on all over the world. If that sort of thing gives them the fire inside to write this kind of music then good for them. Saying I understand what he really tells me is probably not true but I can relate to it. And it’s not like “relate” in Human Traffic or in other words, when you’re on pills. I do relate. Well, I guess we all relate to “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!” or “Burn, yes, you’re gonna burn” in some way, sometimes. It does not have to be about fighting for a specific purpose. Zack might say you have interpret his songs his way but there’s no one correct almighty way although I have to admit the sense of freedom is intense and dominant. All the songs are strong but not offensive, rough but not raw, (and oddly enough) beautiful!

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Number 3.  –  Nevermind – Nirvana 

The one thing that makes Nirvana as popular as they are is that they’ve managed to create alternative rock that blends tremendously well to lullabies that tackles subject matter of rambunctious spirituality & rockstar lifestyle. The song list in this very album is completely legendary and it’s hard to find another alternative rock album that manages to live up to the awesomeness contained in this very album. Sure, hearing another person praise this album is like a cliche, but who cares, that’s why this album still sounds great since 1991! 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 the band was still around. You can’t deny that Smells Like Teen Spirit is hands down the best opening song of all time that forever changed the way we listened to music and all the way to Something In The Way, it leaves you satisfied. Before Nevermind came along, Hair Metal was the most popular rock music in the mainstream, but as soon as this album hit shelves… BAM! The whole industry changed! This is the one album that changed the 1980s to the new era called the 1990s and I thank Nirvana for accomplishing that. The band had no idea how much impact they were making for the alternative rock genre that was called back then Grunge. 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 lullaby. I really can’t say the same with that many song list out there.  So many alternative rock bands throughout the 1980s (that were considered college rock) strived to accomplish what Nirvana succeeded. Kurt and the band started this musical movement called Grunge that paved the way for millions around the world to get into alternative rock as a whole, and still to this day Nevermind remains an all time great that came out of that genre! Nevermind will always remain on a high belt of music wether you hate it to shit, are indifferent, or love it like a child with his/her lullabies. 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.

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Number 2.  –  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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Number 1.  –  Siamese Dream –
Smashing Pumpkins

Sometimes, when songwriting, drama and life come together appropriately, something magnificent can happen.  One case of that is Siamese Dream. Siamese Dream is just so heavenly flawless that it makes it hard to express how great the record really is. Honestly, I am at a complete lost for words when trying to illustrate the importance of this album. It’s one I find to be the most rewarding and transcedent pieces of music ever imaginable. Siamese Dream clearly marked the separation between Smashing Pumpkins music and the Seattle’s grunge scene. While continuing their distinct guitar tone and hard rock roots, Billy Corgan added his sensitive view, creating at times an intrigue atmosphere of subtle psychological depth. Much of its uniqueness is owed also to his charismatic voice, raging from ethereal sweetness to blistering rage always in a very sincere and felt approach It could be me discovering it at such an early age and labeling it as one of the most profound experiences of my young life, but I don’t think so, because I consider this music to be timeless and no matter what age or generation that comes along can argue the fact that the Pumpkins created one of the greatest albums ever concocted. Filled to the brim with a stupendous set of songs like no other of it’s time. It’s really out of this world. Start’s off with one of the greatest album openers ever “Cherub Rock” and who cany deny that “Today” and “Disarm” are damn near perfection. “Rocket” is a fun little track and “Geek USA” is a hell of a heavy song to boost the album. My favorite has to be the enchanted “Mayonaise,” I don’t think anybody can argue the fact that that’s one of the Pumpkins finest. I could say that about every song on here, it is really that good. Shame the Pumpkins were never able to recapture this magic again, but I am perfectly content with this one. I can not recommend this enough. One of my favorite albums of all-time and it landmarked itself for being the best album of the 1990s!

 
                                    The Top Listed Albums of the 1990s

  10.        9.         8.   

    7.         6.        5.   

     4.        3.        2.   

                                                     1.   

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