1991 was an incredible year for albums ranging from pop, rock, electronic, indie, and hip-hop. It was definitely a year where there was something for everyone in the genres they loved while the albums themselves proved to be timeless more than 20 years since its release. There was a lot that came out that really gave music lovers something more than just an album that either defined a genre or was an artist/band that showed that they still got it or they were about to arrive. Here are the 50 Essential Albums of 1991:
50. Michael Jackson-Dangerous
Probably the last great album Michael Jackson would make in his illustrious career yet what a way for the King of Pop to prove that he’s still the man. While the schmaltzy Heal the World was just a hilarious attempt at re-writing We Are the World. There’s a lot of material that has Jackson take on the New Jack Swing sound to new heights in songs like the title track, Jam, Remember the Time, In the Closet, and the rocking Black or White that featured Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash. It’s an album that the late Michael Jackson proved that he won’t go away quietly.
49. Ween-The Pod
Probably one of the weirdest albums ever made yet Ween is a band that is always weird and refuses to compromise themselves. The Pod is often stated to be their most challenging record of their career at that time. Yet, there’s an amazing array of songs that really defines what Dean and Gene Ween are. A couple of drugged-out dudes that will go into any kind of song with distorted vocals with a lo-fi production that really makes it more difficult to listen to. Yet, it’s an album that really proves you can make music out of just being weird and not giving a fuck what people think.
48. Dinosaur Jr.-Green Mind
While it’s a record that may not live up to the energy of earlier albums that featured the original trio of J. Mascis, Murph, and Lou Barlow. Mascis was able to make something that was still very solid and lively proving that the band can still go on without Barlow. Yet, there’s also more reflective material such as the acoustic Flying Cloud and the slow-burn of the woodwind-driven Thumb amidst a barrage of blazing rock songs.
47. Type O Negative-Slow, Deep, & Hard
The debut album for the Gothic-metal band showed something that was very different from the world of Goth and metal. Led by the low yet scary vocals of the late Peter Steele, it’s a record that is truly menacing that goes all over the place from fast-paced rockers with a punk rock energy to slow yet exotic material that displays the Goth sound they’ve been known for. While subsequent albums would show a more refined sound, this record is definitely one of the key debut albums of the 1990s as well as an intense metal album.
46. Van Halen-For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge
The band’s third studio album with second vocalist Sammy Hagar has the band going for a more straightforward rock sound. Yet, it’s a record that does deliver what Van Halen does best which is just good rocking tunes that is loud and catchy. Singles like Poundcake, Top of the World, and Runaround show what Van Halen can do with just being a rock band while the single for Right Now is a power ballad that definitely shows the band saying something about the world. While it’s not the best record of the Hagar period, it is certainly the kind of rock album that was still cool to listen to when grunge was starting to emerge.
The debut album from one of Britain’s great bands has Blur just starting out with a sound that was reflective of what was going on Britain through Madchester romps like There’s No Other Way and Bang to the shoe gaze-inspired She’s So High and Sing. Still, there is something that is unique about the album from four young guys that were just trying to find their identity that would lead to landmark albums like 1994’s Parklife and 1995’s The Great Escape.
The alternative-dance side project formed by Joy Division/New Order’s Bernard Sumner and the Smiths’ Johnny Marr has the duo taking on the dance trend of the time. With Marr’s guitar playing and Sumner’s familiarity with electronic rhythms and textures, it’s a record that expresses what was going on musically and with the state of the world. The highlight of the album is a collaboration with the Pet Shop Boys on the song The Patience of a Saint that combines four of the best in British music of the 1980s.
43. Leaders of the New School-A Future Without a Past…
The album that introduces the world to Busta Rhymes as a member of Leaders of the New School. The album is definitely a fun and exciting album that really was an alternative to the more brash, gangsta-rap music of the times. Filled with a much more optimistic feel with a display of innocence about what it was like to be young and having fun. It’s also a record that is also raucous but in a very enjoyable way with a rapid-fire flow of rhymes from Busta Rhymes and his cohorts.
42. Elvis Costello-Mighty Like a Rose
One of the darkest albums that Elvis Costello has recorded in his career, the album has Costello delving into various musical styles from baroque pop to angry folk rock. With lyrics delving on disappointments and heartbreak, it’s a record that is often considered to be one Costello’s underrated recordings. While it’s all over the place that features some sunnier material like The Other Side of Summer and So Like Candy, it’s a record that exemplifies why Elvis Costello is among one of the greats.
One of the key metal bands of the 1990s, Sepultura brought a new energy to the world of thrash and aggressive metal with elements of polyrhythmic beats into the sound. Arise would be among one of the key albums through cuts like Altered State, Meaningless Movements, and Desperate Cry. It’s a very heavy yet groove-laden album that features the growling vocals of Max Calvera which is truly one of the band’s best albums of the Calvera era.
40. Uncle Tupelo-Still Feel Gone
One of alt-country’s great bands to emerge in the early 90s would show those who were disillusioned with the polished sound of the country music of the late 80s and early 90s something very different and direct. Still Feel Gone is an album where the group was in transition where they had a love for punk that is the track D. Boon that was dedicated to late Minuteman vocalist/guitarist. Yet, cuts like Still Be Around and True to Life show a maturity from the group as they move away from punk to a more direct country sound.
39. Fugazi-Steady Diet of Nothing
The second full-length album from the post-hardcore band show a far more intense yet sparser sound from the band as they also delve into more political-driven lyrics. Yet, the band’s minimalist sound with just guitars, bass, and drums show that the band progressing into something much simpler but also complex in its performance. Even as the band flirts with all sorts of genres like dub and pop melodies to exemplify their willingness to move further away from hardcore.
One of the key albums of the shoe gaze sub-genre, Chapterhouse’s debut album Whirlpool is a rich yet evocative album that is filled with a rhythmic sound and layers of noisy yet flourishing guitars. It’s a record that is features such amazing singles as Pearl and Falling Down while cuts like Treasure and April play to the dreamy tone of the record. While the band’s subsequent output hasn’t been memorable, at least they have this record to be proud of.
The band’s final album before Freddie Mercury’s death in November of 1991 may not live up to their great period of the 1970s to 1980’s The Game. Yet, the album saw the band return to their hard rock roots with such cuts as its opening title cut, Headlong, and The Hitman proving the band was going to deliver the rock music in a very grand way. Yet, the real standouts include the heartbreaking ballad These Are the Days of Our Lives and the closing song The Show Must Go On where Mercury was able to go out with a bang.
36. Throwing Muses-The Real Ramona
The band’s fourth and final studio album to feature co-founder Tanya Donelly as The Real Ramona is a record that really shows what the band is all about. While describing their music isn’t easy as it tends to go into elements of pop with dabbles of jangle-pop, folk, and alternative rock. It’s a record that really showcase what the band is about as it’s definitely one of the key albums of the alternative rock scene.
35. Natalie Cole-Unforgettable… with Love
Natalie Cole’s award-winning album has the singer paying tribute to her later father Nat King Cole by performing the standards that he’s sung. Featuring the same musicians that had played on her father’s records, Cole creates a spellbinding record that transcends the idea of pop and soul with her amazing vocal talent. Also being very faithful to these songs, the album’s great highlight is a miraculous duet between herself and her father on the song Unforgettable through the interactive digital recordings of the time which serves as a real breakthrough for pop music.
34. R.E.M.-Out of Time
The band’s seventh studio album shows the band straying away from their defining jangle-pop sound for a more dreamier sound filled with a lot of orchestral textures and taking on different genres ranging from folk and country. While the album does feature the much-maligned Shiny Happy People, there is a lot of great material in the album such as cuts like Country Feedback and Texarkana. Yet, it’s singles like Radio Song, Near Wild Heaven, and the classic Losing My Religion that has made the album one of the band’s finest of their 31-year career.
33. Ozzy Osbourne-No More Tears
Ozzy Osbourne’s sixth solo release is also one of his most successful as it’s a record that has the Prince of Darkness maintaining a heavy sound. Featuring the blazing guitar work of Zakk Wylde, it’s also one of Ozzy’s more accessible recordings in terms of vocal performance and musicianship. Plus, the production is definitely powerful on what is expected in a metal album in songs like I Don’t Want to Change the World and Zombie Stomp while the title track is one of Ozzy’s best cuts.
32. Public Enemy-Apocalypse ‘91... The Enemy Strikes Back
Often considered to be the last great album Public Enemy put out, it’s also one of their most intense in terms of its production and in the themes the band talks about. Always direct in what they had to say, the group delves into various subjects while being uncompromising in songs like Shut ‘Em Down and Can’t Truss It while By the Time I Get to Arizona is an intense attack on the state’s refusal to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Yet, the album also includes a very groundbreaking collaboration with the thrash-metal band Anthrax on a remake of the song Bring the Noise.
31. Matthew Sweet-Girlfriend
Power-pop at its finest, Matthew Sweet’s third album is also his breakthrough as it’s an album that delves into various style from folk and country while a lot of is all in the form of catchy power-pop. Inspired by his own divorce, the album is definitely reflective in its tone while also allowing Sweet to be vulnerable. Heartbreak doesn’t get any better than this as it remains the best thing Sweet has done in his career.
30. Pixies-Trompe Le Monde
The fourth and final album by the influential alternative rock band, Pixies made this record at a time when things weren’t going so well. Despite the turmoil that was going on, the album is still abrasive in its performance while adding Captain Beefheart keyboardist Eric Drew Feldman added a new dynamic to their sound. Featuring a fiery cover of the Jesus & Mary Chain’s Head On, it is an album where Pixies were at least able to go out with a bang.
29. Guns N’ Roses-Use Your Illusion I & II
The third and fourth release from one of hard rock’s unsung heroes, Guns N’ Roses’ extravagant double album showcased a major shift in the band’s sound following the aggressive nature of their 1987 debut Appetite for Destruction. With Use Your Illusion I being a more varied album with elements of country, blues, and long, epic ballads in songs like Don’t Cry, November Rain, and The Garden along with an intense cover of Paul McCartney & Wings’ Live & Let Die. Use Your Illusion II was a heavier album that featured the ballad Civil War, the biting Get in the Ring, a soulful cover of Bob Dylan’s Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, the intense You Could Be Mine, and the epic ballad Estranged. Still, the Use Your Illusion albums represent the band at their best.
28. Metallica-The Black Album
The band’s fifth release represented a major change for the thrash metal band. Following the intense and complex …And Justice for All back in 1988, Metallica decided to simplify their sound to something more direct. While it’s an album that continues to divide fans, there’s no denying that band manages to create something that is still heavy and loud with songs like Enter Sandman, Whenever I May Roam, and Sad But True while ballads like Nothing Else Matters and The Unforgiven show the range of what they could as it is the best output Metallica would release in the 1990s.
Though it’s essentially a re-recording of the band’s demo album with a few additional cuts, Wretch would represent a more refined sound to Kyuss that would help set the wave for the stoner-metal sound that would be an underground sensation. While the raw production adds to the way the instruments sound, there is also a lot of grooves and atmospheric textures that would define that sub-genre as well as some of the music that co-founder Josh Homme would put into the band he would later form in Queens of the Stone Age.
The second and final full-length release from the gangsta rap legends, Niggaz4Life really showed a far more intense and broader production due to the talents of Dr. Dre whose work on the song Alwayz Into Somethin would show what he would do in his solo career. While the album lacks the strong political content of Ice Cube, who left in late 1989 for a solo career, that was prevalent in the classic Straight Outta Compton. There is still a lot of material that is very strong in terms of nihilism and chaos with some disses towards Cube while the only drawback of the album is some of the misogynistic content in its second half despite the amazing production that Dre and DJ Yella made for the record.
© thevoid99 2011