Wednesday, 11 May 2016

The Top 10 Albums Of The 90s

The Top 10 Albums Of The 90s

The Top 10 Albums Of The 90s: 12. Tindersticks - Tindersticks [II]

12. Tindersticks - Tindersticks [II] (1995)

Chamber Pop Slowcore

If I had to get poetic about it, I’d compare Tindersticks to the aftermath of a murder, committed by yourself, gently forced upon a loved one. Not that I would know how this would go exactly, but I imagine such an affair to occur from an accidental event, perhaps where the affection or seductive intimacy got a little overbearing, and your graceful little hands carefully took control of matters for themselves. And now, here you sit, some time later in the guilt-ridden darkness of the night, moping over the passive body you have already neatly disposed of, overcome by tiredness but too melancholic to sleep, asking yourself the same question over and over: Why did you do that? You didn’t want to do that. Maybe Tindersticks made you do that? With all their mumbly storytelling and sophisticated orchestral instrumentation and audacious running time and stupid practice of naming both of their first albums the same name—this was surely their fault! Which might not hold up in a court of law, but it at least I got a review out of it.

Selected Accolades:
Nothing worth mentioning really.

The Top 10 Albums Of The 90s: 11. The Prodigy - The Fat of the Land

11. The Prodigy - The Fat of the Land (1997)

Big Beat Breakbeat Hardcore

The Fat of the Land is not the most flawless of all 90s albums, granted, but it was without a doubt the greatest representative of what the decade had to offer. The wired ravers happily ground their back molars into dust, lost within the easy-stick dance floor bangers. The gothy alternative scene found some disruptive medicine in the unapologetic violent aggressions and punky fashion sensibilities. The hip hop crews energetically bounced their appreciation to the rhythmic big beats and short spats of poetic verse. And, most importantly, they all moved together, under one same roof, complete with agitated hair styles, a fistful of drugs, and piercings shoved into just about anywhere. Who knew that the most convenient way to get these adversarial genres to play nice was to simply set the whole fucking thing on fire? Of course, such a quick assault would always have some sort of a shelf life, and in hindsight, the singles did generally fight louder than the rest—not to mention the uninspired lyrics which should only be appreciated on attitude value alone. However, even the music videos were enough to prove that this album was a force never intending to make friends, to the point that most of these offensive messages wouldn’t even get onto the television in today’s politically correct-ridden society of vaginas.

Selected Accolades:
Entered the 1999 Guinness World Records as the fastest-selling UK album.
#43 in Q magazine’s list the Best 50 Albums of Q's Lifetime.
#47 in Q magazine’s list the 100 Greatest British Albums Ever.
#9 in Q magazine readers’ voted list The Greatest Album of all Time.

The Top 10 Albums Of The 90s: 10. Manic Street Preachers - The Holy Bible

10. Manic Street Preachers - The Holy Bible (1994)

Alternative Rock

Despite hardly featuring on the album whatsoever and spending most of the recording sessions either asleep or in tears, The Holy Bible is 100% Richey Edwards in musical form. It is the frightening sound of pure mental deterioration, suffering and falling apart in front of an audience, tormented by life itself, empty and angry and on the verge of death. By this point, he was a severe alcoholic, drinking before breakfast. He was regularly self-harming, at times accidentally cutting too deep and ending up in hospital. His anorexia nervosa had spiralled, his body weighing a mere 38kg at its worst. And his only meager liberation from this painful prison of dark nihilism was to expose his disturbing pessimism through the words you find on this very album ... but even this was not enough. Six months after its release, Richey disappeared at the lucky age of 27, presumed dead but never officially found, The Holy Bible working as some sort of a cryptic suicide note, rejecting the world and confessing his inability to endure anything anymore. A true tragedy. However (and surprisingly), the Manics have since continued a very successful (albeit more commercial) career without the man, but not they nor anyone else could ever reach these depths of intensity again.

Selected Accolades:
Deemed the Darkest Album Ever by NME.
#37 in NME’s list the 500 Greatest Albums Ever Made.
#15 in Q’s list the Greatest Albums Ever.
#15 in Melody Maker’s list the Top 100 Albums of all Time.
#10 in Q’s list the Best Albums Released During Q's Lifetime.
#10 in Kerrang!’s list the Top Albums of all Time.
Deemed the Best Album Ever in a poll from BBC Newsnight viewers.

The Top 10 Albums Of The 90s: 09. Nas - Illmatic

09. Nas - Illmatic (1994)

Hardcore East Coast Hip Hop

In a decidedly guitar-dominated decade, one should be careful not to overlook the coexisting insurgence of a much more dangerous incarnation from the hip hop scene. And there is no rap album in history more crucial than Illmatic, which remains the go-to East Coast hip hop flavour above any other, even till this very day. Nas fired his intellectual philosophies with a confidence beyond your traditional debut, utilising sharp narratives to authentically illustrate his own daily struggles through the New York ghettos, casually flexing a sophisticated wisdom whilst name-dropping actual people and places, dodging the drug violence and gang rivalries, and simply striving to keep his head above the poverty line. The skillful rhyming flows and stream-of-consciousness poetics gelled so tightly with the old-school beats that they subsequently changed the game the very instant they were dropped, becoming the essential master frame for the black youth to follow from that point onwards, and growing into the prime hip hop album even non-hip hop fans could get into. Make no mistake, Illmatic is consistently considered the greatest rap record ever made for justifiable reasons, as Nas was quickly hailed as the saviour of hip hop—a title he could never quite sustain. Which is understandable though, because no one could follow up something like this.

Selected Accolades:
#4 in Vibe’s list the Top 10 Rap Albums.
#2 in MTV’s list The Greatest Hip Hop Albums of All Time.
#33 in Pitchfork Media’s list the Top 100 Albums of the 1990s.
#314 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list the 500 Greatest Albums of all Time.

The Top 10 Albums Of The 90s: 08. Jeff Buckley - Grace

08. Jeff Buckley - Grace (1994)

Alternative Rock

Dying young is not a particularly unique story for rockstars to tell, but the accidental drowning of 30-year-old Jeff Buckley did come with an it’s own special sob of poignancy. And it was all because of Grace. His only complete album. One of the very few records which knew how to massacre the listener’s emotions without forcing entry, rather earning its intensity with eloquent lyrics and soaring arrangements, sneaking in a soft romantic manipulation which strips you naked and leaves you exposed, covered in goosebumps for everyone to see. But above even this devastation, was the angelic vocals from Jeff’s own mouth, often hailed as the greatest rock voice of all time, sensitively seducing the high notes and then passionately tearing them down as perhaps the most overall naturally gifted person to have ever been born into our world. And then, just like that, he abandoned us when we needed him more than ever, leaving behind perhaps the most agonising tragedy in all of music’s deaths, purely in terms of the unrealised potential from the songs which could have been.

Selected Accolades:
Deemed the Greatest Modern Rock Classic of all Time by Mojo.
#303 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list the 500 Greatest Albums of all Time.
#39 in The Guardian’s list the Top 100 Albums Ever.
#23 in British Hit Singles & Albums and NME’s poll the 100 Best Albums Ever.
#13 in the Q reader’s list the Greatest Albums of all Time.

The Top 10 Albums Of The 90s: 07. DJ Shadow - Endtroducing.....

07. DJ Shadow - Endtroducing..... (1996)

Experimental Instrumental Hip Hop

Armed with nothing but a few bits of insignificant equipment and a fuckload of vinyls, DJ Shadow put his love for music knowledge to the test on his debut, and accidentally changed music production forever. The reason Endtroducing..... is perpetually hailed as such a milestone case, is because it stands as the first album to truly popularise the idea that one could create a full body of work simply by sampling other musician’s creations alone, working like a historical journal or a capsule of sounds rather than your usual over-the-counter group of compositions. And he achieved this feat like a conductor in front of an orchestra, pinpointing brief fragments of brilliance within his obscure collection, kidnapping them out from their natural habitat, weaving them into a newly borrowed family, and then looping everyone together until they assembled ideas so far removed from the originals that even their creators may have missed them upon first listen. Which not only resulted in a fusion record that somehow maintained its cohesion, but also provided a fun little game for musos, who desperately hunted the globe to find just where the hell all these tunes had initially come from. And it was around then that sampling was finally considered an authentic artform, and that whole ‘stealing’ argument died immediately afterwards.

Selected Accolades:
#71 in Rolling Stone magazine’s list the 100 Best Albums of the Nineties.
#20 in Q magazine’s list the 90 Albums of the '90s.
#10 in Spin magazine’s list the 100 Best Albums of the 1990s.
#7 in Pitchfork Media’s list the Top 100 Albums of the 1990s.

The Top 10 Albums Of The 90s: 06. Neutral Milk Hotel - In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

06. Neutral Milk Hotel - In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (1998)

Indie Folk Rock

If you’ve had your musical ear to the ground for long enough, you will remember a time when it became impossible to escape the pitter-patter sounds of a thousand little indie puppy paws impulsively following this album wherever it went, whilst drooling their worship to anyone who even mentioned the word ‘vinyl’. I myself spent some time living amongst these creatures, taking notes, attempting to decipher the hype, and gently nudging the lo-fi acoustics into my own canals, encouraging these dreamlike lyrics to flick at my skull as much as they wanted to. Hushed rumours between the indie-dog people spoke of a concept, one focused upon the story of Anne Frank, but such specific details were difficult to clearly hear, trapped beneath a somber absurdity, or perhaps not even there at all, simply a result of these followers’ disorganised imaginations, damaged and mournfully reflecting upon their personal demons, drenching their sentimentality with dread until I suddenly and utterly understood exactly what they were getting at. It seems they have accepted me as one of their own now, and I embrace Aeroplane as my new cult leader, as well as arguably the greatest recent folk landmark that never broke the mainstream.

Selected Accolades:
#98 in NME's list of the Greatest Albums of All Time.

The Top 10 Albums Of The 90s: 05. Björk - Homogenic

05. Björk - Homogenic (1997)

Electronic Art Pop

According to Björk herself, Homogenic was intended as a ‘one flavour’ ode to her birthplace, the Nordic island country known as Iceland. She fearlessly approached this ambitious tribute from two seemingly paradoxical standpoints: the untamed yet romantic nature of the country’s landscapes, and the hi-tech yet automated progression of their modernised cities. She then directed the anxiously programmed beats to work their misshapen trip-hoppiness into the freezing cold string arrangements, whilst the primitive vocal melodies performed as bewitching instruments themselves, collectively painting detailed visualisations so euphorically vivid and profoundly dramatic that you can teleport to Iceland whenever you want to, simply by closing your eyes. Can you see it now? The moss protecting the waterfall from the sharp edges of the rocks. The photograph of a snow storm, captured in time between the breaths of the forest. The ribbons subtly unravelling themselves within each other’s heartbeats. It’s all here in one complete package, not a footprint out of place, and frequently (but, impressively, not always) cited as the peak of Björk’s perpetually evolving style—as well as occasionally baptised as the greatest electronic album of all time (and not only by me!).

Selected Accolades:
#10 in Slant Magazine’s list The Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century.
#20 in Pitchfork Media's list the Top 100 Albums of the 1990s.
Deemed the Best Album of 1990s by Slant Magazine.

The Top 10 Albums Of The 90s: 04. Nirvana - Nevermind

04. Nirvana - Nevermind (1991)


I remember it clearly. I knew it from the opening chords. The big hair, flashy videos, and convoluted compositions were dead. We had been sick of them for quite some time without even realising it. And Nevermind showed that to us. It demolished everything with a syringe into the mainstream, contaminating the overground fashion with a destructive simplicity, overpowering all trends by popularising depression and drug addiction, inventing the grunge genre and defining a generation. It was a divine intervention, immediately exploding from the arms of its makers and running away without them, an accidental success galvanised by lost teenagers discovering a rebellious power within the angsty anthems, free of gimmicks and frills, just straightforward permission to stop-giving-a-fuck. And it changed everything for me. It was the first real thing I ever felt a part of, and is still unchallenged as the album which made the biggest impact on my musical life. So, yes, perhaps it’s not the ‘cool’ Nirvana album to choose. And, yes, perhaps it has suffered from overplaying and accusations of overproduction. But now that these decades have passed, we can finally accurately and objectively appreciate this release for what it really was. It was the 90s record, and you fucking know it.

Selected Accolades:
#8 in Guitar World's list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Recordings.
#6 in Pitchfork Media's list of the Top 100 Albums of the 1990s.
#17 in Rolling Stone Magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
#10 in Entertainment Weekly's list of the Best Albums of All Time.
Included in the National Recording Registry (2005).

The Top 10 Albums Of The 90s: 03. Radiohead - OK Computer

03. Radiohead - OK Computer (1997)

Alternative Art Rock

As much as the accolades for OK Computer have constructed an immovable pedestal beneath the album and risen it beyond the stature of almost every other landmark 90s masterpiece, I have always considered it to be more of a bridge release, of sorts. After the substantial success of The Bends, the band had built a reputation for themselves as a bleak, intellectual indie rock band, most publications exclusively harassing Yorke’s gloomy dispositions and sardonic sense of self-deprecation as the music’s focal point. Radiohead themselves grew despondent of this notoriety, and (as we already know) have spent the majority of their career rebelling against it by challenging audiences with electronic studio mischief and the isolation of their complex ideas beneath multilayered piles of abstractness. And it was on OK Computer specifically that the transition had begun but was not yet complete, exhausting the previously dispirited (sometimes aggressive) guitar riffs, with the polished alienation and dystopian foreboding only the apathy of technology could deliver. Which, as it turns out, was the final bullet needed to put Britpop out of its misery and bring art-rock back to the masses, cementing Radiohead as the most ambitious and important band of the last three decades.

Selected Accolades:
#3 in Rolling Stone Magazine's list the 100 Best Albums of the Nineties.
Deemed the Top Album of the 1990s by Pitchfork Media (in 2009).
#2 in Q’s list The 100 Greatest British Albums Ever.
#171 in Guitar Magazine's list Album Of The Millennium.
#162 in Rolling Stone Magazine's list the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
#111 in Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list The Definitive 200: Top 200 Albums of All-Time.
#20 in NME’s list the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Won the Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album in 1998.

The Top 10 Albums Of The 90s: 02. My Bloody Valentine

02. My Bloody Valentine - Loveless (1991)

Shoegaze Noise Pop

In a rare accomplishment of conceptual design, this album cover describes the musical content much more accurately than I ever could. Essentially, it’s a guitar record (featuring a large quantity of my favourite riffs ever written) except with the performances blurred out of sight, drenched in a pink euphoria, drowning in a harsh fuzziness, and absorbed by a wet candyfloss. In fact, the washed-out distortion of this album is so extreme and overly-textured, that the instruments are all but lost, swamped into one thick puddle of mess, each sound completely inseparable, buried and suffocating whilst fighting one another just to stay afloat and breathe. Which, during the early 90s, was a style unlike anything the world had ever heard, the shoegaze prototype, never paralleled yet imitated repeatedly, and still so ageless that it could have easily been released today. Hell, some have even suggested that Loveless was perhaps too good, as the band’s key mastermind (Kevin Shields) struggled to write a follow-up, his genius slowly crumbling into madness, shelving at least two fully recorded products and turning into a recluse, until he eventually got the job done 22 fucking years later.

Selected Accolades:
Deemed the Top Album the 1990s by Pitchfork Media (in 1999).
#22 in Spin's list the 100 Greatest Albums 1985–2005.
#20 in The Observer's list the 100 Greatest British Albums of All Time.
#219 in Rolling Stone Magazine's list the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
#18 in NME’s list the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

The Top 10 Albums Of The 90s: 01. Slint - Spiderland

01. Slint - Spiderland (1991)

Post-Hardcore Math Rock

When you learn that the four day recording sessions of Spiderland were so traumatic that at least one member checked into a mental institute directly afterwards and then the band broke up five seconds later, the jittery restlessness and detached tension of this record makes a lot more sense. Upon first listen, do not be alarmed if you find yourself abandoned, floating aimlessly in the middle of a calm open ocean with nothing to hold onto but your own thoughts. And then the claustrophobia closes in. Your hysterical urgency for rescue amplifies. Hushed whispers turn into scarcely audible mumbles turn into spoken word narratives turn into strained screams for help, performing an outright panic attack through agitated time signatures and manic dynamics—all very hopeless and terrifyingly quiet within the chaotic disorder of your looming respiratory failure. And once the record has played out and you are gasping for air, unable to make eye contact with your usually trusted bottle of water, you will understand why this technical progressive complex masterpiece is lauded as a pinnacle of the 1990s, often considered the primary catalyst for the whole post-rock genre, as well as the most essential math rock album ever made.

Selected Accolades:
#12 in Pitchfork Media's list the Top 100 Albums of the 1990s.
#6 in Alternative Press' list The 90 Greatest Albums of the 90s.
#94 in Spin Magazine's list the 100 Greatest Albums, 1985–2005.
#55 in Melody Maker's list the All Time Top 100 Albums.
#53 in NME's list the 100 Best Albums.

But wait, there's more!

The Top 10 Albums Of The 00s
The Top 10 Albums Of The 80s

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