There was one morning I woke up in 1992 and I felt like I’d been asleep for a couple of years.
Right here, right now, at this very moment, I think the 1001 Albums list should end and start over. The book and list should be split into two volumes. It’s got nothing to do with me being a lazy dirt bag, which is also debatable.
This is the end of 1001 Albums Released Between 1956-1992 That You Must Hear Before You Die…Or Not.
Clearly, it’s a cumbersome title and a moot observation, but my point is very simple. We are leaving (and in some ways, have already left) the analog era of popular music. That’s incredibly important, in two somewhat related ways.
First, without dumbing it down too much, computer technology had been used in music as soon as it could be developed. Early digital recording in the 1970s and 80s was hella expensive and super inconvenient. In 1978, Soundstream built what could be considered the first digital audio workstation (DAW) using some of the most current computer hardware of the time.
By the late 1980s, a number of consumer level computers such as the Apple Macintosh began to have enough power to handle digital audio editing. Engineers used Macromedia’s Soundedit, with Microdeal’s Replay Professional and Digidesign’s Sound Tools and Sound Designer to edit audio samples for sampling keyboards like the E-mu Emulator II and the Akai S900. Soon, people began to use these tools for simple two-track audio editing and CD mastering.
In the early to mid 90s, many major recording studios went digital after Digidesign introduced its Pro Tools software, modeled after the traditional method and signal flow in most analog recording devices. At this time, most DAWs were Apple Mac based. Around 1992, the first Windows based DAWs started to emerge.
The prominent debate over analog versus digital recording centers on sound quality, which, beyond a certain threshold of scientific measurement, every argument from every angle becomes subjective. How does it sound? I don’t know.
“Yes, it is good,” you say.
“No. Maybe. I don’t know. I like it. I think Chips Ahoy has a better texture than Pepperidge Farm.”
The argument won’t ever be settled over this matter, mainly because it’s impossible.
On top of DAWs, you have MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) which simulates a wide variety of electronic musical instruments, at the same time, allowing computers and other related devices to connect and communicate with one another. MIDI carries event messages that specify notation, pitch and velocity, control signals for parameters such as volume, vibrato, audio panning, cues, and clock signals that set and synchronize tempo between multiple devices. These messages are sent via a MIDI cable to other devices where they control sound generation and other features. This data can also be recorded into a hardware or software device called a sequencer, which can be used to edit the data and to play it back at a later time.
In a nutshell, digital recording made it possible for anybody to create music using a cut and paste formula. Now you have guys who never even learned how to play an instrument sitting behind a console, composing mediocre symphonic ambient trance music with an eight-key MIDI controller and a wireless mouse.
Look, if I haven’t made sense yet, keep reading.
When the actual musician part is taken out of the musical equation, you get bullshit. You get freshly manicured electronic noise. You get techno music by some guy who’s really good at programming and playing a computer, and isn’t shy about being seen in public wearing giant earmuffs and some kind of silly suit. Hand that guy a Gibson Les Paul and he’d start looking for a suitable place to put it down. By the way, DJ Clown Shoes, it’s called a guitar stand.
Moreover, digital recording enables even the most ham-fisted musician to sound competent on their instrument. We’ve been overdubbing since the beginning of recorded sound, and the old “punch-in/punch-out” routine has saved many recordings from being trashed. Digital takes overdubbing and turns it inside out. Is the guitar player incapable of playing a jam all the way through without fucking up? Get the riff right one time and loop that shit, brother. Can’t get the drummer to stay consistent with the click track? That’s OK, we can chop it up and move it around a little bit, make that shit tight, son.
Now you can modify waveforms with unlimited precision. Cut, copy, paste, sync, loop, import, export, align, trim, sample rate, plot spectrum, file size, hardware buffer, and zero crossings are computer terms that generally have nothing to do with music. And now, with less computer aptitude than a toddler, you could open the music editing software that’s most likely on your computer, and record a song without ever getting up from your seat.
Perhaps my argument tends toward elitism on some level, but music needs to be exceedingly discerning. And so, this is where the Internet plays an important role in the big picture. Consider this: In August 1991, Tim Berners-Lee published a short summary of the World Wide Web project on the newsgroup alt.hypertext. This date also marked the debut of the Web as a publicly available service on the Internet, and for this reason August 23 is considered Internaut’s Day, i.e. the birthday of the Internet.
Now, take that song you just recorded on your computer, rip it to MP3, and send it off into the world. Put it on MySpace, YouTube, Bandcamp, Soundcloud, and Jango, and promote the shit out of it on Facebook. Congratulations, you have just released your first single! But think for a moment if art museums started opening their doors to unsolicited submissions, and upheld a promise to exhibit any and all works of fine art, just imagine what kind of thrift store menagerie you’d be walking into.
I have never believed that music is for everyone, nor is painting for everyone. Learning an instrument, playing in a band, facing and accepting failure time and time again are trials and tribulations that are part of the natural selective process. That’s why there are so few half-assed trumpet players in music. You gotta be committed to playing that horn.
Though I don’t believe in it, I understand the idea that music can and should be for everyone, and the point of making music is not to make money, but to express something through the music, and that’s fine. Artists are free to express themselves in the digital format; it’s just that the bulk of it isn’t music. It’s something else now.
You can say such-and-such contemporary pop record is a great work of art, but it cannot be compared to a pop record made in 1966. Indeed, this has less to do with the music of the era than the way music will be made from here on out. And this is the first reason I think the list should stop and start over here.
I’m not saying that digital music doesn’t sound great – it does. If I’ve missed anything, I certainly don’t know about it. And this is not to say that great music hasn’t been made since 1992 – it has. I can think of at least a dozen post-analog albums that are very near and dear to my heart. Many of those albums were recorded on analog tape, but somewhere along the way, in order to get them on to CD, they had to go through some sort of digital manipulation. In conclusion, I may never come around to the idea of computer music, and that’s also fine. I’m content to chill out in my cave of analog rock antiquity, mainly because I’ve given up on my own aspirations.
A recent article on CNN.com (Is rap the most important music since 1960? Scientists say they have proof by Jethro Mullen) described a study published recently in the journal Royal Society Open Science, which says the most important development in pop music in the past 50 years is hip-hop.
In the study, the researchers employed scientific severity and discounted “musical lore and aesthetic judgment”, citing a lack of empirical evidence in discussion of popular music. Using music recognition technology – similar to the apps SoundHound and Shazam – they analyzed more than 17,000 songs; 86% of the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 between 1960 and 2010.
Taking 30-second clips of each song, researchers further categorized these samples into topics relating to harmony and timbre, like “major chords without changes” and “guitar, loud, energetic.” Teaming up with the Internet music site Last.fm, the researchers then studied how the different topics fit into different genres and styles, and how their popularity rose and fell over the decades.
Here are some of the most interesting findings of the study:
The rise of rap music and related genres appears to be “the single most important event that has shaped the musical structure of the American charts” in the period the research covered.
Despite talk of a “British invasion,” bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones didn’t set off the revolution in American music in 1964. But they did benefit from it and “fanned its flames.”
Although many people complain that pop music has gotten more and more samey, diversity actually increased in the ’80s and ’90s as hip-hop emerged and flourished. The researchers said they found “no evidence for the progressive homogenization of music in the charts.”
The low point for variety was in the early 1980s, when genres like new wave, disco and hard rock dominated.
The impact of hip-hop cannot be under-estimated, said music journalist Dorian Lynskey. “It redefines what counts as a pop song and what elements you can use: the rapping on one level takes you away from the need for vocal melodies, while the production on the other is more about loops than chords and sampling.
“Hip-hop us a realization of how James Brown saw music, which is that it’s about the beats and grooves rather than chords and harmonies. It’s the realization of the innovations of funk.”
The study by the researchers also identified three key years in which music evolved the most: 1964, 1983 and 1991. Lynskey said that for him, the last of these three years was the most exciting. “I think 1991 was such a diverse year for albums: You have Achtung Baby by U2, which is the sound of a big mainstream stadium act radically overhauling its sound, you’ve got Nevermind by Nirvana which sees alternative underground music suddenly becoming a big seller, continuing to this day.
“Then there are these genre-mixing albums, Screamadelica (Primal Scream), Foxbase Alpha (St. Etienne) and Blue Lines (Massive Attack) which are all empowered by sampling and new technology, and the idea that your record collection can be edited and merged to form something new. Along with Loveless by My Bloody Valentine – these albums are not just collections of classic songs, they’re about experiments and expanding the parameters – those records spawned so much.”
The mainstream success of alternative rock was a decade in the making and should not have taken anyone by surprise, but nobody really saw the hip-hop revolution coming except for the artists themselves.
Strikethrough indicates what you probably think it does
Green indicates highly recommended listening
Underlined indicates questionable but ultimately acceptable record
Blue bold italic indicates ABSOLUTELY MUST HEAR BEFORE YOU DIE
Note: Suggested alternatives are from the same year as the contested entry unless otherwise indicated
Also, anything in Red generally indicates hazardous material
The hardest thing in writing about music is that often times you’re trying to write about something that can’t be put into words.
Crowded House – Woodface (1991)
On the other hand, some artists make it real easy for you, especially when they put out innocuous, middle of the road albums consisting entirely of borderline adult contemporary rock.
Cypress Hill – Cypress Hill (1991)
Gang Starr – Step In The Arena (1991)
I’m not sold on these cats. They were influential on the East Coast rap scene, and in some ways, directly responsible for Wu-Tang Clan. There is a hardcore thread running through this record that definitely shows up in future artists. They had some sick rhymes with lyrical substance, but it never really gets cooking on Step. It’s reminiscent of ATCQ, but with none of the excitement or verve. It’s just kind of…there.
Ice Cube – Death Certificate
While Fear of a Black Planet may be the best hip-hop record ever made, Death Certificate is by far my favorite hip-hop record, and I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my brother Ronnie Kwasman of Bob and Ron’s Record Club for turning me on to this, and a shit load of other records that I probably wouldn’t have heard if not for him.
Ice T – OG: Original Gangster (1991)
You could have knocked me over with a wave of your hand the first time I heard this record.
Jah Wobble & The Invaders Of The Heart – Rising Above Bedlam (1991)
You seriously do not need to hear any more of this world music stuff than necessary. The application of “world music” heard here on Rising Above Bedlam is false. World music is bastardized, adulterated ethnic music under a convenient, marketable name. And so I bristle at the idea of taking, for instance, Senegalese folk music, and trying to dress it up in Western clothing. There’s a big difference between appreciation and Cosplay, and that’s one of the main reasons that Japanese noise punk bands are not considered world music, even though the genre is specific and endemic to Japan, and not a Western country.
The term world music arrived in the 80s as a marketing category for non-Western traditional music, and has grown to include hybrid subgenres such as world fusion, global fusion, ethnic fusion and worldbeat. Anything with the word “fusion” that doesn’t involve Miles Davis is not going on my turntable. End of.
Here’s what you need to know about Jah Wooble: He was in Public Image Ltd., thus, you’ve heard most of his good ideas.
Fishbone – The Reality of My Surroundings
These cats knew how to put on A SHOW. After seeing them on this tour, I thought to myself, “How could our measly suburban rock outfit even share the same stage with those guys?” Google it. Anyway, I was so impressed by The Reality of My Surroundings that my abovementioned rock band immediately starting covering “Sunless Saturday”, and would continue to play it for the duration of the band’s existence.
Julian Cope – Peggy Suicide (1991)
Unhappy with the over-produced My Nation Underground (1990) Cope changed directions, and unfortunately, headed for double LP territory. Seventy-five minutes of post-punk Julian Cope is completely unnecessary. One critic described this album as Iggy Pop doing Syd Barrett. I’d be into hearing that – if it were actually Iggy Pop doing Syd Barrett covers. I don’t know about Julian Cope’s talent for impressionism. How’s his Bill Cosby? Can he do the “Jell-O Pudding Pops” routine? “Froofie the Dog” is a classic hit, too.
But you gotta give J-Co credit for trying to keep Peggy Suicide interesting. We’ll hear about his hatred of organized religion and his interest in women’s rights, the occult, alternative spirituality (including paganism and Goddess worship), animal rights, and ecology. Halfway through the record, he sits down for an interview on NPR with Terri Gross, and he talks about John Sinclair and the White Panther Party. Riveting stuff.
Julian Cope is most definitely a best-of collection artist. He’s got a single LP’s worth of tasty cuts. A couple of them are on Peggy Suicide.
Experimental neo-psych noise pop at its finest.
Koffi Olomide – Haut De Gamme: Koweit, Rive Gauche (1991)
Congolese soukous singer, dancer, producer, and composer, also known by a multitude of other names and aliases. Soukous is a genre of dance music that originated from Cuban Rumba music in the Belgian Congo and French Congo during the 1940s and gained popularity throughout Africa.
I didn’t like it as much as I thought I wouldn’t. Rumba is bossa nova’s next door neighbor. Tango lives down the street.
Massive Attack – Blue Lines (1991)
Holy fucking shit! How lucky am I to have never heard “Teardrop” before today? I swear to God that I have never, ever, not once ever listened to Massive Attack on purpose. If I am ever in a joint that starts playing music even slightly similar to this, I will leave. Period. Seriously, I’m listening to this shit and it’s UNBELIEVABLE you would consider this music. Two DJs and a graffiti artist, for shit’s sake.
Fuck. You know what? For two years right after I moved to Asia, I spent a lot of time in bars, dance clubs, and KTVs. There’s a fairly good chance that I have shaken my ass to Massive Attack at some point. But look, I wasn’t there to dance; I was there to meet women. Where’s the number one place to meet women? On the dance floor. And it worked, man. It fucking worked. Still, this is not music.
Metallica – Metallica (1991)
I can’t say I was disappointed when Metallica jumped the shark on this record aka The Black Album. To be honest, I was in the mood to see Fonzie on the water again.
Despite the weak effort of …And Justice For All (1988), there was still a glimmer of hope for these guys. As a huge fan of Master of Puppets (1986) and to a lesser degree, Ride the Lightning (1985), seeing and hearing the arguably best thrash metal band of the 80s put out a radio-oriented mainstream rock album was like watching Michael Jordan play baseball a few years later.
I mean, come on, Mike. You’ve already conquered one sport. We want to see you play basketball – NOT baseball. We don’t give a rat’s ass if you strike out and/or ground out to second base 8 out 10 times you step up to the plate in Triple-A ball. And I don’t think you have the wheels to play any infield position, so…that means you’re playing right field. Just stand out there, try to pay attention to the strike count and the number of outs, and hope nobody hits anything your way. If they do, go toward the vicinity of where you think the ball might wind up, and…never mind. Here’s your glove.
Metallica is a classic mainstream hard rock album and you are going to hear it whether you like it or not. To be honest with you, I’ve sat all the way through it once, which was one time too many. “Enter Sandman”? Exit, this guy.
This record was a personal affirmation of sorts, in that, it really was possible, in some alternate universe, for a couple of stoners to sit around with a bong, a can of Scotchguard, and a four-track, and write utterly delightful rock songs that not only thought outside the box, they took the box outside and set it on fire.
Mudhoney – Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge (1991)
Say hello to Seattle grunge. Good noisy sloppy rockin’, and I guess you should give it a spin, but be forewarned; it ain’t Nevermind.
My Bloody Valentine – Loveless (1991)
Nirvana – Nevermind (1991)
Pearl Jam – Ten (1991)
Honestly, I’ve never owned a recording by either artist, and I’m completely content to be familiar with their radio hits and maybe a deep cut or two. Now that I’ve actually sat through both of these albums, here are my thoughts.
If you own one of these records, there is a 76% chance you own both of these records.
Ten is arguably as important if not slightly more important than Nevermind. It has sold more copies in the U.S., [Ten is certified platinum 13x by the RIAA; Nevermind 10x] and everybody wanted to be Eddie Vedder. Nobody wanted to be Kurt Cobain. Most of us were alternate reality versions of K. Cobain. So we knew what to expect.
To date, Pearl Jam has sold nearly 32 million records in the U.S. and an estimated 60 million worldwide – and counting. They’ve outlasted and outsold all of their contemporaries from the alternative rock breakthrough of the early 1990s, and considered one of the most influential bands of that decade. Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic referred to Pearl Jam as “the most popular American rock & roll band of the ’90s.”
To put a finer point on it, Ten hit the G-spot for traditional mainstream hard rock fans, some of whom, as I recall, didn’t like the “grunge shit” and “alternative faggot stuff”, i.e. the Pixies, Jane’s Addiction, and Sonic Youth were far too edgy for rednecks and whatnot. Metal was over, Freddie Mercury was dead, and by this time, it was clear that Guns N’ Roses – Use Your Illusion wasn’t the answer to the question: What does the hillbilly redneck white trash world need right now?
In the grand scheme of things, PJ turned out to be a new classic rock band. You could like GN’R and PJ without losing a lot of sleep at night, or selling your Ford F-150 to buy a Vespa scooter. And they had “jam” in their name, which fans of the Grateful Dead and Ted Nugent could relate.
Musically, Ten has eleven songs plus a hidden track that I wasn’t happy about being arsed to find. Fuck you, by the way, if you put hidden tracks on your album for any other reason except to avoid copyright infringement. Otherwise, Ten contains at least three mainstream classic rock grand slams in “Even Flow”, “Alive”, and “Jeremy”. And “Black” was a huge radio hit, but I’d change the station if that shit came on.
The most recent Longest Nine Minutes of My Life happened during the listen to Track 11, “Release”. Oh my god. You fucking assholes are not Jane’s Addiction, or King Crimson, for that matter, so knock. It. Off. Already. Though I never saw PJ live, word on the street was they were pretty good. Hmmph.
Whereas these two bands have clearly different record collections – Pearl Jam loved the Who and Led Zeppelin; Nirvana were informed by the Stooges and Creedence Clearwater Revival – the main stylistic difference comes down to Eddie Veddar vs. Kurt Cobain as archetypal rock star, and it can be distilled thusly.
Cobain had a raspy thin voice with two gears: slacker drawl and tortured howl. Vedder had a far more dynamic vocal range and a much more traditional approach to singing – he actually sang, a lot, when he wasn’t shouting “Yeah!” or “Whoo!” or “Uhhhh-nngghh.” And for a while there, Vedder was a dedicated front man sans guitar, so he had the luxury of climbing on the scaffolding and shit.
If Nevermind has any glaring weaknesses, they are two-fold. First, it’s slick as hell. That was not the band’s intention, but that’s the final cut. The songs exploded from the speakers like the Kool-Aid Man, and I would be hard pressed to name a record from 1991 with better production values. How is that a weakness? Did you hear their first album Bleach? We’re not on Sub Pop anymore, Dorothy.
This is formulaic radio-friendly quasi-grunge, and there is everything in the world wrong with the first half of this sentence. It’s an exceedingly polished and appealing collection of punk pop songs. Nothing I can say, or do, will ever change that.
Second, it gets terribly screamy after a while. By the time we get to Track 10 “Stay Away”, I don’t think I need to hear any more screaming vocals for the next couple of days. Overall, it’s a hard-charging record, and I could easily see dialing it in during a cross-country road trip.
I don’t have anything else to say about Nevermind. It is what it is. But please note: Of the 10 million people who bought this album, yours truly is not one of them. And by “bought” I mean both purchased and fully appreciated.
Primal Scream – Screamadelica (1991)
Public Enemy – Apocalypse ‘91…The Enemy Strikes Back (1991)
Only the true greats have been able to follow up a masterpiece with something equally worthy of best-ever status. The Beatles, the Stones, Hendrix, the Who, etc. Add Public Enemy to the list. The collaboration with Anthrax (“Bring the Noize”) might be the hottest rock jam ever. E-V-E-R.
Red Hot Chili Peppers – Blood Sugar Sex Magic (1991)
Saint Etienne – Foxbase Alpha (1991)
Sophisti-pop. No dice. See Cocteau Twins and Everything About the Girl.
Sepultura – Arise (1991)
Slint – Spiderland (1991)
I used to hang out with this cat who loved Spiderland, in fact, on several occasions he called it the best album ever made. And that really didn’t bother me, since we usually hung out at my joint after the pub had closed, and I didn’t have Spiderland in stock. What used to piss me off was his attitude toward my not having the record.
“Eh,” I would shrug, “they’re not my thing.”
He would sneer dismissively, “You’re a moron.”
Now, we were good enough pals that we could call each other a moron with impunity. But it rubbed me the wrong way because his attitude symbolized the exact type of elitist, art school snobbery that just about everybody who likes this record is guilty of exhibiting at one time or another. Of course, I’m not above calling someone a moron for liking an album, but in this situation, I would take a different approach.
“Look,” I’d counter, “the fact that you call me a moron for not liking Slint doesn’t change the fact that I think it’s mediocre American shoegazing with very little substance.”
“It’s one of the most influential guitar albums ever, and probably the first post-rock album.” My friend knew his stuff.
“My point exactly. All of the succeeding bands who went on to make their own Spiderland are bands I can’t be bothered with.”
Teenage Fanclub – Bandwagonesque (1991)
Do you remember back in 1974-75, I was going on and on about how Big Star was going to be a massive influence on a new wave of bands at some indeterminate time in the future? Well, I probably should have included Badfinger and 10cc in the discussion. But the point is, have a listen to this.
Bandwagonesque is the ambition of almost every alternative rock band on the planet in 1991. Sonic Youth meets Cheap Trick and Elvis Costello at Big Star’s house. They play foosball in the basement and… Pffft. Can I say something? The majority of alternative rock bands suck balls. They put the balls in their mouths and they suck ‘em. For no good reason.
Sloan – Peppermint EP (1992)
What do you get when you cross Sonic Youth with nothing more than the Beatles? Genius! “Underwhelmed” is one of the best solid rock songs of the 90s, and Sloan might be one of the greatest Canadian rock bands ever.
U2 – Achtung Baby (1991)
If Metallica jumped the shark, U2 tried to jump the fountain at Caesar’s Palace ala Evel Knievel, and we all know how that ill-advised stunt ended. Not well.
When your lead singer starts wearing sunglasses on stage, he’s either Ray Charles or he’s a fucking dick. I got news for you, Daddy-O. That guy has to go…to the beach!
Why couldn’t Boner and the lads ‘ve simply called this record Your Attention, Please? Or Ahem, a Bit of Phlegm. Back in the day, somebody in our crew bought this album and from the opening guitar crunch of “Zoo Station”, instinctively, I knew this was the worst rock record since Dire Straits – Brothers in Arms (1985).
And I sometimes think Achtung Baby might be worse, and by worse, I mean, top to bottom sad. It’s a past-their-prime, let’s reinvent ourselves, rock band identity crisis collage of stupid shit. Dance music? Why? What was wrong with the post-punk alternative stadium rock format? You were the Irish Bon Jovi. Now you want to be played in the clubs? Hey, maybe Aphex Twin can do a remix! You want to hang with those tweakers in Primal Scream? Are you going to start rapping over 808 beats? Dope. You can’t front on that.
Seriously, Achtung Baby is bullshit more egregious than trotting out B.B. King for Rattle and Hum (1987), and directly responsible for Coldplay. And “One” is the most tepid, meandering power ballad since R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion”, meaning last week.
Boner called Achtung: “U2 at our funkiest… Sly and the Family Stone meets Madchester baggy.” The one thing everybody liked about U2 in the first place is that they had very little “funk” in ‘em. They made white people rock music, which is generally what white people do when they are given an option. Gang of Four was not funk. The Red Hot Chili Peppers are not funk. You must be joking.
Alice In Chains – Dirt (1992)
Alice In Chains were a marginal influence on the future of alternative metal, but…no. It’s a super-druggy record and not in a good way. Everybody involved in the making of this record had big problems. And it sounds like it. But overall, a fine piece of hard rockery.
Soundgarden – Badmotorfinger (1991)
People forget that Soundgarden was relatively popular as early as 1989 with Louder Than Love, and predate some of the bigger names were destined to encounter in the very near future. Plus, this is a delicious serving of alternative metal, and snuffs out Alice in Chains like a cigarette.
Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works 85-92 (1992)
I like it – no, I appreciate when artists use the title to warn me of what’s actually on an album. Bands don’t “name the genre” like they used to in the old days, and I suppose they really can’t. What would a band Soundgarden call their third album? 15 Alternative Prog Rock Jams? Too clunky.
Aphex Twin is one of the first “rock star” DJs – guys who spin dance records at dumbshit parties and call themselves artists – to emerge from the rave scene, which is now in full effect. In those days, kids who dressed in rave culture fashions are today’s equivalent to kids who wear Ed Hardy. Thank you for the advance warning.
Must Hear Suggested Alternative:
Beastie Boys – Check Your Head
We’re too far down the rabbit hole to keep complaining about obvious and egregious 1001 Albums oversights, but this one… Christ Almighty. Check Your Head is easily one of the ten best records of the 90s, if not the last 25 years, in any genre.
Arrested Development – 3 Years, 5 Months And 2 Days In The Life Of Arrested Development (1992)
And one hit single. Don’t forget to mention that, while you’re at it. But, kudos.
Ween – Pure Guava
Ween was our little secret for a couple of years, weren’t they? And then, ka-boom, “Push th’ Little Daisies” and MTV, here we come. Pure Guava is their third full-length album and first on a major label (Elektra), and considerably more polished though no less inventive than their previous work. Although “Daises” was good fun, the rest of this album is Pure Genius. But you had to be in on the joke. Things don’t get cooking until Track 3 “The Stallion, Pt.3”.
Baaba Maal – Lam Toro (1992)
Which is the better? This, or Djam Leelii? Dunno.
Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy – Hypocrisy Is The Greatest Luxury (1992)
I don’t want to hate on these cats too hard, but that’s a fucking terrible band name. Inventing your own word is gauche. Just ask Kajagoogoo, Hoobastank, and Chumbawumba. I mean, it’s clever, but clever only goes so far.
KD Lang – Ingenue (1992)
Lemonheads – It’s a Shame About Ray (1992)
Despite my tireless and striving efforts, I can’t seem to find a reason why this album should be a Must Hear.
You’re welcome to do the same.
Ray was mildly popular at the time it came out, but when the Lemonheads eventually faded back into obscurity, nobody missed them. Thanks to his good looks and boyish charm (People named him one of the “50 Most Beautiful People” in 1993), Evan Dando became something of a curiosity, particularly as he slid into drug addiction and who knows what.
But back to the album, there are maybe a couple of toe-tappers on It’s a Shame, and that’s it. Do you want me to name them? Sssssh. The cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson” which brought the Lemonheads to the mainstream was not included on the original release, but eventually tacked on the re-issue. That would make a total of four toe-tappers on here, max.
Meanwhile, I can’t find one band that names the Lemonheads as a primary influence, and I suspect that’s because nobody found this throwaway pastiche of punkish indie pop, country and metal to be substantial enough to copy. I could always be wrong and Green Day doesn’t exist without the Lemonheads. Pretty sure I’m right though.
Not a Suggested Alternative But Generally More Important as an Artifact:
Soul Asylum – Grave Dancers Union
Three big cuts on this album, including Dave Pirner’s first power ballad, the Grammy-winning “Runaway Train”, which is important because a bunch of bands are immediately going to start writing and recording “Runaway Train, Part 2”, ad infinitum. On the other hand, “Somebody to Shove” and “Black Gold” received substantial modern and mainstream rock radio airplay. All told, Grave has sold in excess of three million copies in the U.S. alone.
Ministry – Psalm 69 (1992)
More industrial metal from Uncle Al. Would it have killed him to give us a scrap of melody here and there? Anyway, this is probably the most relentless record of the last three years or so. I don’t know of another industrial record that reeks of amphetamine sweat like Psalm 69. Tell you what. You go on without me.
Nine Inch Nails – Pretty Hate Machine (1989)
NIN released Broken in 1992, but it’s only marginally better than Psalm 69, in the sense that punching a shark in the snout is marginally as effective as gouging it in the eye socket. The band – Trent Reznor and Friends – make a Must Hear record in 1994 (The Downward Spiral), but I think we probably should give Pretty Hate Machine (1989) a spin, that is, if we’re determined to get a bellyful of is alternative industrial rock kibble.
Morrissey – Your Arsenal (1992)
Given the vaguely homoerotic nature of his previous work (and album covers, natch), how could you not read the title of this record as some kind of gay/butt/arse innuendo? Poor old sad sack Morrissey. The one thing you could count on with this cat was at least one clever or slightly amusing song title per album, in this case, “You’re the One for Me, Fatty”.
On a positive note, critics say Your Arsenal is his hardest rocking album to date. Let’s get one thing straight. Morrissey may have crooned, swooned, posed and preened, but never, not once, ever rocked. He co-wrote some top-notch songs in the alternative rock genre, but he never once sounded happy about it. So Moz doesn’t “rock.” Not in the traditional sense of rocking. He’d have looked silly jumping up on stage during an Aerosmith encore.
The Flaming Lips – Hit to Death in the Future Head
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Henry’s Dream (1992)
Like Dire Straits, if you like Nick Cave, you’re going to listen to his music no matter what I think, and you are right to believe that my opinion should be punched in the spleen. If you are undecided about Nick Cave, this record just might change your mind either way. If you are unaware of Nick Cave, then you haven’t been paying attention; we have already heard the Birthday Party. If you don’t like Nick Cave, then you don’t like Nick Cave and that’s the end of that.
Screaming Trees – Sweet Oblivion
Sweet Oblivion is one of those records I revisit every so often and think, “Man, why wasn’t this a massive hit? Why were the airwaves clogged with Mary J. Bilge?” But I know the answers to both questions.
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – Devotional Songs (1992)
This is not world music; it’s Qawwali, the devotional music of the Sufis. And it’s incredible.
Pantera – Vulgar Display Of Power (1992)
Ladies and gentlemen of metal, I have bad news for you. This is nowhere near as good as you think it is, but then again, Metallica hasn’t touched this shit in six years. The truth is these cats have the weight of the metal world on their shoulders.
Probably the best thing Henry Rollins ever did. Shrug. Not sure what those guys in Pantera are talking about, but I’m guessing it’s along the lines of “Low Self Opinion”.
P.J. Harvey – Dry (1992)
You must hear this album before you die because if you don’t, you’re going to die thinking that Chrissie Hynde and Wendy O. Williams were the end-all-be-all of women in rock.
R.E.M. – Automatic For The People (1992)
Hey, bet you didn’t notice that R.E.M.’s attempt to jump the Grand Canyon, 1991’s Out of Time, didn’t make the official 1001 Albums list. That’s too bad. It also means I have to take time to talk about the full smorgasbord of complete bullshit they foisted upon the general public.
Honestly, we’re not getting out of here without a jawbone about the travesty that is now R.E.M. and the record that redefined the meaning of shitball, Out of Time. You’re free to skip this part and get to the actual discussion about Automatic For the People, but you never know. You might get a chuckle or two out of this.
Up until very recently, the gold standard for shitball pop songs had to be Starship’s “We Built This City (On Rock and Roll)”, but let’s not forget Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby” and basically every power metal ballad this side of Night Ranger. So, we’re dodging shitballs every time we turn on the radio in 1991-92.
R.E.M. showed flashes of fraudulence on their previous record Green (1988), notably on their first top 10 hit, “Stand”. Had anyone suspected they would allow this treachery to dominate their music, I’d like to think that someone might have tried to stop them. Out of Time opens with our first serving of shitball, “Radio Song” featuring KRS-One, which not only contains a freestyle rap section, but Michael Stipe’s first-ever recorded “Hey hey hey!” Oh, and a string section. Pffftt. Fuckin’ assholes.
Track 2 is the big smash hit, “Losing My Religion”, a maudlin power ballad reeking of homoerotica and self-loathing. I don’t know why those two go together so well, but as Morrissey can tell you, it’s like peanut butter and jelly. But instead of a glass of milk to wash it down, you get served a shitball smoothie. Holy Christ, was this a major disappointment. R.E.M. finally gets played on mainstream radio with disturbing regularity, and it’s not just probably the worst song they’ve ever done – it’s by far the worst. But wait. There’s 11 tracks on Out of Time.
Tracks 3-5 are an unremarkable slog through mediocre Beach Boy-isms, conga drums, and acoustic guitars. Shitball, for sure, but innocuously unpleasant at worst. And then we get to Track 6, “Shiny Happy People”, our new champion of Shitball – the worst song in the history of popular music. Think of all the years that we bowed and scraped before the altar of Michael Stipe, and trust that he will find the delete button of your memory.
I really don’t have to do very much here. The first time I heard this song I said, “You have got to be kidding me, R.E.M.” They weren’t. Well, not exactly, see, this is what they called an “ironic pop song”. You were supposed to think it was tongue and cheek; that they set out to write the most shitball pop song of all-time. That was the idea, the ruse, the conceit. Hearing this song on the radio or your own stereo, you might think R.E.M. had succeeded in their quest for irony. Until you saw the video.
Not a fucking whisper of irony in the video, folks. Did you see any? I saw shameless promotion of an album that will sell 18 million copies worldwide. I saw Michael Stipe wearing a stupid beanie. I saw the entire band genuinely smiling, knowing that they are about to become filthy rich.
No, if R.E.M. wanted to make the perfect video for an ironic pop song, they should have had ME direct it, cuz I’m telling you, it would have been four minutes of human sacrifice, disembowlments, decapitations, immolations, and tattoo removals gone horribly wrong. You want shiny happy people? How about if we actually coat a bunch of children in latex, surgically repair their faces to a permanent smile, and one by one, throw them from the roof of the Ed Sullivan Theater like David Letterman’s watermelon, each with a GoPro strapped to their heads.
As for the Must Hear album in question, Automatic For the People, it picks up where “Losing My Religion” left off.
And the Jesus Lizard picked up where Public Image Ltd. left off, and took it way way way beyond the threshold of pleasure. Heavens! These cats are fuckin’ top notch.
Sonic Youth – Dirty (1992)
Spiritualized – Lazer Guided Melodies (1992)
Both of these albums are OK. There’s always the off-chance that one of ‘em may have changed some kid’s life. It’s possible.
Stereo MCs – Connected (1992)
Sugar – Copper Blue (1992)
Massive, enormous, staggering props to Bob Mould for being the first guy to name a band Sugar.
Wait. Was he?
It started with watching Evel Knievel, and then Robbie Knievel, and next thing I knew, I was watching compilations of motorcycle stunts gone wrong. Look, riding a motorcycle is a personal choice. Watching video after video clip of motorcyclists making bad decisions and/or being in the wrong place at the wrong time is also a choice. Being entertained by it, I suspect, is universal. Except for motorcycle enthusiasts. And to them, I would say, “Stop trying to jump over shit and I’ll stop laughing when you fail. For real.”
One of the brilliant things about Husker Du is they had two songwriters in Bob Mould and Grant Hart, and for the most part, their records are split 50/50. Starting with his 1989 solo debut Workbook, Bob Mould stagnated as a solo artist. Workbook is a great and under-rated affair, but he wouldn’t make another influential record, ever.
Sugar is the closest thing to a hypothetical question of “What If Husker Du Had Survived?” It’s been five years though. And you can hear traces of Husker Du in Sugar, mainly because of Mould’s voice, but it’s a slower, radio-friendly mix of mid-tempo 4/4 tap-a-longs. Halfway through Copper Blue, there are no “hits.”
How many bands have a tambourine player? Then why would you feature tambourine on every track? Listen to “Helpless”, which would have been the best track on the LP if the lead instrument were something other than tambourine.
The Pharcyde – Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde (1992)
Eh…this is a stretch.
Maybe, Just Maybe, Suggested Alternative:
Primus – Sailing the Seas of Cheese
We might have slept on Frizzle Fry (1990). The jury is out, indefinitely.
Tom Waits – Bone Machine (1992)
Enough already, Tom.
Stoner rock, baby, makes real good drinkin’ music. Ho-lee-shit. This is seriously heavy rock, but I don’t know that I’d want to hear Blues when I’m sober.
Tori Amos – Little Earthquakes (1992)
No dice. You’ll hear her next record. Maybe.
And that’s it, folks. I haven’t decided whether or not to pursue 1001 Albums Released Between 1993-2015 You Must Hear Before You Die…Or Not. If more than one person shoots me an email and says, “Hey, you should keep going,” then I might entertain the idea. Anyway, let this stand as a shining example of biting off far more than you could possibly chew in one sitting.