10. Pearl Jam-Ten
Before Pearl Jam’s arrival, rock music seemed to have lost some excitement. Hair bands were ruling the charts with bombast rock songs about partying and playing sappy power ballads that really made them more like pussies. On the other spectrum of that world of rock n’ roll, bands were playing to drum machines and everything sounded very clean. When Pearl Jam arrived from the ashes of Mother Love Bone and Green River many years earlier, rock suddenly found a band that could give them a shot in the arm. Featuring the intense vocals of Eddie Vedder, the blazing guitar work of Stone Gossard and Mike McCready, and the heavy rhythm section of bassist Jeff Ament and original drummer Dave Krusen. Pearl Jam became not just one of the key bands of the 1990s but one of the best bands ever in the history of American music.
While Ten would be the album that is most identified with the public and set a new template for rock music in the years to come for better and for worse. The album features songs that a generation would identify with in such singles as Alive, Even Flow and Jeremy while cuts like Black, Porch, and Release showed the kind of range the band had. There didn’t offer any sappy love songs or anything that everyone was already singing about. It was rock music feeling vibrant all over again. While Pearl Jam would make better albums that saw them take some very successful risks, Ten is the album that put them on the map as far as what they’ve done for rock music.
The band’s second and final studio release saw this post-hardcore band from Louisville, Kentucky doing something very new that would help set a template for an emerging genre called post-rock. Spiderland is an album unlike anything that was out there at the time as it featured spoken-word lyrics about loneliness and despair with changing time signatures in the performance the band brings. It was beyond the parameters of what hardcore and punk could do as there was a melodic element as well as an aggression that was very unique.
From the opening cut Breadcrumb Trails to its intense closer Good Morning, Captain, the album is truly an intoxicating yet haunting experience to listen to. The music is treated very unkindly in the way David Pajo plays his guitar ranging from dissonant arpeggios to sludge-driven riffs. Britt Walford’s drumming dwells into unconventional rhythms that keeps shifting in a song like Don, Aman that he sings. Brian McMahan’s vocals are truly unsettling in the way he speaks where he sets the mood for the entire album. There is a lot to what Spiderland brings as it’s not an easy nor immediate record to get into but repeated listens make it something far more worthwhile.
8. A Tribe Called Quest-The Low End Theory
Hip-hop in 1991 was definitely going into various different places as the time by the time A Tribe Called Quest released their sophomore album. Whereas M.C. Hammer and Vanilla Ice were ruling the charts with slick, bombastic sounds while Ice-T and N.W.A. were telling a much darker tale. A Tribe Called Quest were the perfect alternative to people that wanted something that was very different and exciting. Fusing jazz with hip-hop rhythms and melodies, The Low End Theory is truly a record like no other album at the time.
From the opening cut Excursions that is driven by a standing bass jazz riff with Q-Tip’s direct yet laid-back rhymes. The Low End Theory keeps things simple in its musical presentation of just beats, samples, bass, and vocals as the lyrical content dwells into lots of themes such as the harrowing The Infamous Date Rape, the humorous yet biting Rap Promoter, and the very satirical Show Business. It’s a record that maintains this laid-back vibe while actually saying something that is overbearing. It’s also the album that gave a real proper introduction to an unknown named Busta Rhymes as his rapid-fire rhymes in Scenario is really one of a kind. The Low End Theory is probably one of the most perfect albums ever created not just in hip-hop but in all forms of music.
If Pearl Jam’s Ten gave rock music a new sense of energy and excitement, Nirvana’s second studio release Nevermind made it much more dangerous for not just rock and alternative music audiences but for pop audiences as well. With Butch Vig’s production that was raw but also engaging in the atmospheric textures it brings, Nevermind was a record that was unlike anything out there in popular music. From the opening number Smells Like Teen Spirit to the noise-laden secret closer Endless, Nameless. It’s a record that offers something that felt very new to a mainstream audience while being daring enough for the alternative/indie audience.
With Kurt Cobain’s blazing guitar and anguished yet growling vocals that features lyrics of despair and angst. Cobain’s work is complemented by Krist Novoselic’s low-key yet vibrant bass work and the thunderous drumming of Dave Grohl. Songs like Drain You, In Bloom, Stay Away, On a Plain, and Breed featured an intensity that is just very powerful. Cuts like Polly and Something in the Way show what the band could do in a ballad that were very dark while singles like the charging Lithium and the exotic Come As You Are show the range the band can do in balancing rock and pop music. It is truly one of the must-have albums in rock and pop music that music fans must own.
6. Talk Talk-Laughing Stock
A band with an interesting history as they started out in the early 80s as a New Wave synth-pop group from Britain whose biggest hit at the time was a song called It’s My Life. Then in 1986, they changed gears toward an organic sound with art-rock flourishes for The Colour of Spring and then abandoned all pop conventions for 1988’s Spirit of Eden. The band’s fifth and final album Laughing Stock takes the minimalism of Spirit of Eden to a more esoteric plateau in terms of arrangements and dynamics. While it’s a more pleasant cousin to Slint’s Spiderland where both would give ideas to the emerging post-rock genre. Laughing Stock showed a much broader influence ranging from classical to jazz.
From the somber opener Myrrhman to the low-key closer Runeii, the album that runs at nearly 44-minutes with six tracks is really unlike anything out there. With more guitars and a sparse yet delicate production from unofficial member Tim Friese-Greene, songs like Ascension Day and After the Flood show an intense yet atmospheric tone that is unlike anything in pop music. Mark Hollis’ vocals and spiritual-laden lyrics never sounded any better in its delivery. Laughing Stock is truly a record that deserves a wide audience to hear as it remains way ahead of its time for the groundwork laid to the post-rock genre.
5. This Mortal Coil-Blood
The third and final album, from the outfit formed by 4AD label founder Ivo Watts-Russell and producer John Fryer, shows a much more organic and ethereal sound that the outfit has done in their two previous albums. While some of the electronic beats and keyboards of John Fryer is still prevalent, Blood emphasizes more on Martin McCarrick’s string arrangements as well as guitars, bass, and drums while utilizing the help of various vocalists to sing original material as well as covers that was personally selected by Watts-Russell.
Featuring regular vocalists like Deirdre and Louise Rutkowski, Alison Limerick, and Dominic Appleton contributing to the final album. Kim Deal of Pixies/the Breeders does a stunning duet with Throwing Muses/Belly/the Breeders’ Tanya Donelly for the Chris Bell song You and Your Sister while interpretations of songs like Spirit’s Nature’s Way, Syd Barrett’s Late Night, Rain Parade’s Carolyn’s Song and another Chris Bell song in I Am the Cosmos play to the outfit’s exotic sound. It may be the last album the outfit has put out but it is among one of the great last albums any act has ever created.
4. Primal Scream-Screamadelica
The ultimate party album of the 90s has Primal Scream finally achieving their breakthrough with their third studio release. Starting out as a jangle-pop trad-rock band with indie aesthetics, a remix of one of their songs by DJ Andrew Weatherall would change everything. Screamadelica is an album that goes all over the place as it bends all sorts of genres from acid-rave dance, ambient, trad-rock, gospel, and dub. Something like that on paper shouldn’t work but with the various producers the band worked with including the Weatherall, the Orb, and legendary Rolling Stones producer Jimmy Miller somehow made it into something that could work.
From the opening trad-rock gospel of Movin’ on Up to the swooning yet low-key yed laid-back Shine Like Stars. It’s really the album that starts off as a rave album with a cover of 13th Floor Elevator’s Slip Inside This House and Don’t Fight It, Feel It and then goes into elements of trippy cuts like Higher Than the Sun, in its original and dub version, and the ambient-driven Inner Flight. Songs like Come Together and Loaded keep the party going while the reflective songs like Damaged and I’m Comin’ Down really brings it all home as it’s definitely a record that has something for everyone and giving them a great time.
3. Massive Attack-Blue Lines
Among the albums of that year that brought something new to the world and Massive Attack did that by introducing the world to trip-hop. This strange sound that combines hip-hop rhythms, smooth electronic sounds, dub, reggae, and soul music into one entire thing. The trio that featured Robert “3D” Del Naja, Grantley “Daddy G” Marshall, and Andrew “Mushroom” Vowles would create something very original with Blue Lines that featured contributions from future trip-hop artist Tricky, Shara Nelson, and Horace Andy.
From the throbbing opener Safe From Harm to the wondrous closer Hymn of the Big Wheel, Blue Lines is a perfect album from start to finish. It’s not just a record that one could chill out to but also be reflective in the state of the world in a song like Unfinished Sympathy that is the album’s centerpiece. There’s a whole lot to it in cuts like its title track and Five Man Army that really brings something new in the world of hip-hop as it has a language that is very original. Blue Lines is without a doubt, a record that anyone must have in their collection.
2. U2-Achtung Baby
If U2 hadn’t made Achtung Baby, the band would’ve ceased to exist as they would’ve been known as this post-punk Irish band that became the biggest band in the world only to become bloated. Fortunately, U2 found a way to survive with their seventh studio release by stop taking themselves seriously and make a rock record that people can dance to. Featuring the amazing production work of longtime collaborators Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno, Achtung Baby is definitely the band’s best album.
From the electro-rockers like Even Better Than the Real Thing, The Fly, and the exotic Mysterious Ways, the band also feature one of their great ballads in the reflective One. Yet, there’s a lot more to this album than its singles as its opener Zoo Station gives listeners the idea that it’s not The Joshua Tree. Cuts like So Cruel, Until the End of the World, and Ultraviolet really show U2 at their best. Particularly as it shows the band flirting with Madchester rhythms and industrial textures as U2 made an album that solidifies their legacy as one of the best.
Well, that’s the 50 best albums of 1991. Wait… what is number one? Well, check in a few days to a week into the link below that says Favorite Albums #1.
© thevoid99 2011