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!
- Top 10 Albums of 1990
- Top 10 Albums of 1991
- Top 10 Albums of 1992
- Top 10 Albums of 1993
- Top 10 Albums of 1994
- Top 10 Albums of 1995
- Top 10 Albums of 1996
- Top 10 Albums of 1997
- Top 10 Albums of 1998
- Top 10 Albums of 1999
Now that’s 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 picks are not just the best albums from January 1, 1990 all the way to December 31, 1999. Instead these ten picks are the absolute best of its kind that you won’t find any better in any other era. These are the albums that I will forever remember the 90’s for and will continue to listen no matter how much older they get!
Number 10. – 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.
Number 9. – 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, despite the band loathes its own success. 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) strive to accomplish what Nirvana succeeded. Kurt and the band 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 whether you hate it to shit, are indifferent, or love it like a child with his/her lullabies. Nevermind still is 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 8. – 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, 1995′s brilliant Bee Thousand, it is relatively forgotten. Yet another strength of the album is its sloppy lo-fi production that feels like all the songs was released years prior. 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. Ultimately, the main appeal to Alien Lanes is that it manages to make tremendous short songs that other musicians struggles in doing the same. That’s where the magic of this album is.
Number 7. – 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 an original LP since the 90s. I certainly love Battle For Los Angelas & Evil Empire, but their self-entitled debut album is their definitive work. There have been rap mixed with rock/metal before this one, but nothing was quite like this before and even after. 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!
Number 6. – 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.
Number 5. – 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.
Number 4. – Siamese Dream –
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 transcendent 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 music’s true delights. 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, thus I am perfectly content with this one.
Number 3. – Keasbey Nights – Catch 22
In the late ’90s, it is said (I was actually busy being 5 at the time), there were just too many ska-punk bands. On top of this, a lot of the bands were not particularly good, sticking to the formula and possessing inferior musical and lyrical skills to their predecessors. But not Catch 22, they were a ska band that had purpose, not just possessing talent and music knowledge. Oh, but In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is a cult classic, you say? It’s got an intriguing backstory, does it? Okay. You want an intriguing backstory? How about a ska album being released through hardcore label Victory Records? That do anything for ya? How about Catch-22 splintering off into two separate bands, one of which re-recorded the entire album song for song as Streetlight Manifesto eight years later to prevent their label from re-releasing it against their will? How about an ensuing million-dollar lawsuit from said label? Anything intriguing there, pal? Your journalistic senses tingling yet? Keasbey Nights is a dark album filled with songs about the two things Tomas Kalnoky writes extremely well; femme fatales and mafia violence. Given that most of the band members were barely out of high school when this album was cut, its honesty and depth are striking in a way that many older artists could only dream of achieving. Even when Tomas Kalnoky left Catch 22 to form Streetlight Manifesto, the band’s sophomore album was remaking Keasbey Nights because it really was the great of an album. Even though that was a great remake was, the original cannot be tamed. Catchy songs that combine jazzy ska with power punk. All the songs are great to listen to, with awesome horns, and amazing bass lines. While many other ska bands have more of a poppy sound, where the horns just follow the faster guitar riffs, Catch 22’s horn section takes on a life of it’s own. Keasbey Nights stays far from the poppy-ness of Reel Big Fish or Less Than Jake, and pulls off more of a bluesy, jazzy type sound. This uniqueness, makes Keasbey Nights of the definitive ska album ever. Fine. I suppose there’s just no room in our vast spectrum of cultural retrospection for anyone to celebrate their appreciation for Catch-22’s Keasbey Nights. Maybe in another 20 years, time will prove its worth and you’ll all say to yourselves “my, my, my how the time does fly” and finally come around on this crowning jewel of the third-wave ska movement. And in the end maybe I’ll see you there.
Number 2. – Soundtracks for the Blind – Swans
You can approach this album’s concept as the movie that was never made because throughout the whole experience you can just imagine a visual context and an album that enhances your imagination truly is something to behold! Swans took their time with long songs, yet nothing goes to waste. If this really is the way Swans wants to disband after making multiple masterpieces since the start of the band, then it’s perhaps the best way to finish in a high note. I don’t know any album that’s worthy to be the grand finale of any discography since its been all too common to see bands end their time together in shams. Instead of going out in a whimper, Swans used everything they used everything they learned from their previous albums and made a triumph in every sense of the word. Making a double album that’s more of ambient than a traditional album is all too ambitious and could make the listener not make it all the way through two disks, but in some magical way Michael Gira, Jarboe, and the rest of Swans managed to create one of the most immersive experience in music history. Like many Swans albums, Soundtrack for the Blind is filled with cerebral atmospheres, deep intensity, contrary emotions, and touching beauty. The whole experience is almost like everything Swans built up upon since the start thus made such an embracing album. Combining ambient loops and samples, filtered noise and organic drone, field-recordings and samples, musique concrete, live recordings, lullabies, near-techno bursts of electronica, and left-handed passages of guitar-driven post-rock that get as big as anything Godspeed You! Black Emperor would do, Gira had assembled one of the most complex, audacious records ever made (more or less by himself) right before he killed the band. With the band’s last hurrah before it’s end (and a decade later when they reform) they’ve made something completely different than anything they’ve ever made. Rather than just saying this album is full of left-turns & departures than what you normally expect from Swans, it’s an avant-garde of emotions; every single human emotion is somewhere in the double album, you just need to witness it for yourself in order to rediscover yourself as a music fan! Sometimes when you let Soundtracks play, you get yourself drifted into a perfect meditative state where it could last as long. This level of awe displays so many best moments of Swans catalog that is eventful.
Number 1. – Loveless –
My Bloody Valentine
Funny that I put some of the most calm, slow, and relaxing album above all of the wildest and most fun albums of the 90s decade, but it shows that subtlety wins it all. This is the prime reason why I love shoegaze with a mighty passion and this started it all. At this point, after diving into shoegaze, I can’t find a better album. I have over-anylized Loveless for decades now trying to understand why it’s considered the shoegaze album and why so many who have been influenced by this entity can’t be top it. My final conclusion is while so many other indie acts of today had repeatedly over-blown their own sound by over-utilizing its shoegazing effects to convey fake emotion, somehow (despite its multiple layers of “off-the-wall” sound) Loveless remained simplistic to uphold pure love. It must have been a disaster just knowing that the making of this album was a two year development-hell for My Bloody Valentine just to come out as slow & boring to many first impressions that missed the point entirely. My Bloody Valentine would have been left to obscurity if it weren’t for journalism and the immense level of re-listenability that created such a cult following that made Kevin Shields feel proud that he didn’t fail after all. Loveless is spaced out, ethereal tone and gliding reverb drenched wall of guitar sound have been admired and copied since it’s release past it’s 20 year mark. 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 beautiful as heaven itself. Some considers Loveless the [only] album about love; not ideas of romanticism nor experiences of being in a relationship. With each re-listen of My Bloody Valentine‘s magnum opus, my mind is overflows with thoughts about listening to Loveless and even more thoughts come in after each time I’m finished listening.
The Top Listed Albums of the 1990s
10. 9. 8.
7. 6. 5.
4. 3. 2.