1990 in Music

This page lists reviews I’ve written for music released originally in 1990

1. Public Enemy: Fear of a Black Planet (10/10)

This is the first Hip Hop album I have ever given my requisite 3 listens to. I am 33 years old. There have been a number of R and B (or “urban”) albums containing raps and Hip Hop that I have listened to, and I listened to an EP recently that might have sort of qualified, but this is absolutely the first Hip Hop album I have ever heard properly.

Read the full review.

Listen to me talk about Fear of a Black Planet

2. A Tribe Called Quest: People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (9/10)

I sort of always figured I would like the music Q-Tip made. Read the review of People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm.

3. Fugazi: Repeater (9/10)

In 2009, I wrote the following:

I guess this is seminal. It’s okay. I find later post-hardcore (that I’ve heard) to be far more interesting. I can’t help but compare these guys to Minor Threat and they just pale.

Was I in a bad mood?

Though I feel like they would improve as songwriters this is a pretty seminal record, a record that helped define the sound of post-hardcore for the decade. (Well, really a sound of post-hardcore, but most post-hardcore bands of the 1990s imitated Fugazi, not the weirder bands.) Can we imagine At The Drive-In without this album? Or numerous other lesser bands?

4. Pantera: Cowboys From Hell (9/10)

Though not as groovy as later grove metal, this is one of the definitive groove metal albums, which influenced a whole hell of a lot of people. Also, aside from the ballad parts, it’s super heavy. Read the review of Cowboys From Hell.

5. Ween: God-Ween-Satan: the Oneness (9/10)

Ween’s official debut album – and the earliest I’ve heard as I’ve still never made it to their demos – remains, for me, their best pre professional record. Everything that’s great about early Ween is here in spades: the dead-on parodies, the utterly bizarre sense of humour, the unrestrained goofiness.

Yes, there’s arguably way too much content but I think it’s curated more than we think. I still feel like this is a more consistent record than the next two, in terms of song quality overall. (Or I just like these better.)

Though I mostly prefer the professional version of the band – at least the ’90s version of that band – this is my favourite of their early records and I’d say one of the major lo fi records of its era.

6. My Bloody Valentine: Loveless (9/10)

7. Bathory: Hammerheart (9/10)

Well it invented a genre, so… Read the review of Hammerheart.

8. Marty Ehrlich: The Traveller’s Tale (9/10)

This is a really inventive and interesting album that helps develop the sound of ’80s “New York” jazz (for lack of a better term). It’s certainly as accessible as anything “avant garde” could be.

It’s interesting how there is a very faint hint of Klezmer but for the most part it is more of a tinge than an obvious reference point.

9. Ride: Nowhere (8/10)

Probably one of the fundamental documents of shoegaze. Read the review of Nowhere.

10. Slayer: Seasons in the Abyss (8/10)

Pretty close to the platonic ideal of a thrash metal album. Read the review of Seasons in the Abyss.

11. Primus: Frizzle Fry (8/10)

They basically invent their own subgenre of funk metal. Read the review of Frizzle Fry.

12. Entombed: Left Hand Path (8/10)

This might have invented a whole national death metal scene. Read the review of Left Hand Path.

13. Uncle Tupelo: No Depression (8/10)

No, they didn’t invent alt country. But they helped define the sound of ’90s alt country perhaps more than any other band. Read the review of No Depression.

14. Helmet: Strap It On (8/10)

Now this is alternative metal. Read the review of Strap It On.

15. Living Colour: Time’s Up (8/10)

Another excellent fusion of funk and metal. Read the review of Time’s up.

16. Sonic Youth: Goo (8/10)

Catchier than ever. Read the review of Goo.

17. The Flaming Lips: In a Priest Driven Ambulance (9/10)

Somewhere in the mists of time I wrote the following:

This record is the culmination of a decade or so of the Lips’ neo-psychedelic garage craziness. Every record before this one feels, at times, like a goof or joke, like they too busy having fun to make a record that would actually show off their strengths, or consistently appeal to their audience. They had made some decent records up to this point, but I’m not sure they’d ever made anything that people outside diehard Lips fans could tolerate up to this point (though it’s been a long time since I listened to ’80s Lips). To me, there’s still their willingness to be weird and crazy, but that’s reigned in and put into packages that are so much more acceptable.

Though this record is not their best, in my mind, it might be the most representative of the early Lips, the Lips who had not yet decided they wanted to make pure pop music, and hadn’t yet discovered programming. It’s the third best record of that part of their career, at worst, and it’s still a bit of a shocker when you go back to it, to remember that they used to like noise this much.

I lowered my rating of it because, though I really like this album, I can no longer justify giving it “near transcendent” status. But I really like it. It’s among my very favourites of theirs.

18. KMFDM: Naive (9/10)

Not my thing but hugely influential I think. Read the review of Naive.

19. Henryk Gorecki: “Good Night” (8/10)

“Good Night” is a somber, elegiac thing, at least some of the time, which I guess is some kind of attempt at a modern lullaby, though it definitely will not put you to sleep. (Well I guess it could, but it’s not exactly traditionally tonal enough, to my ears.) Interesting enough.

20. Oliver Knussen: The Way to Castle Yonder (8/10)

This is a suite of brief orchestral passages that definitely feel like they could have paintings or brief videos attached to them. Knussen has a way of conjuring images that is, for me, relatively rare among contemporary composers. This is so vivid it feels like incidental music and I guess that’s a problem as well as a good thing. But I like it.

21. Deicide (8/10)

Just relentless death metal with the craziest drummer. Read the review of Deicide’s debut album.

22. Neil Young and Crazy Horse: Ragged Glory (8*/10)

23. Pixies: Bossanova (8/10)

I wrote this in the past:

For an album that marks a little bit of a more accessible sound, it’s interesting that that it starts out with an instrumental and then a song that’s about as much of a “Fuck off bandwagoners” as I can imagine Frank Black writing (“Rock Music”).

But in retrospect, it feels like this is that point where Black had other things in mind than just what he was doing in the band. A couple of these songs could pass for the lesser tracks on Teenager of the Year, for example.

Which reminds me: not his strongest set of songs. But still Pixies enough, I guess, to make me forgive them.

This feels quite hash to me now. I like it more than I used to.

24. Depeche Mode: Violator (8/10)

I know literally zero about synth pop beyond what I’ve heard on the radio and seen on Much Music and Much More Music. I was reading an AV Club primer the other day and I knew most of the bands by name, because of a post punk book I read a few years ago, but I didn’t know most of the songs and I really wasn’t sure what they were talking about.

This is apparently very sparse for synth pop but you wouldn’t now it from listening to the record. I mean, there are usually at least three distinct synth parts per track, plus the “drums”  and the backing vocals. Sparse isn’t exactly the word I would use to describe this album. It’s certainly darker than I would expect synth pop. The little I know of it (outside of the singles from this record which, like everyone, I have heard a million times) is  lot “brighter” than his.  The lyrics are too, though I wouldn’t know how they compare to other synth pop lyrics. (They are confessional and that’s fine, but they’re hardly brilliant.)

Apparently the band completely altered their method of working in the studio for this record but I cannot comment on that. All I can say is that when you are told a million times a record is a classic, it’s really hard to hear it as a classic.

PS: Is that bass intro ever reminiscent of “One of These Days”.

Listen to me talk about Violator.

25. Sinead O’Connor: I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got (8/10)

A good singer-songwriter album dated a bit by its production. Read the review of I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got.

26. GWAR: Scumdogs of the Universe (8/10)

Very silly but pretty fun. Read the review of Scumdogs of the Universe.

27. Cocteau Twins: Heaven or Las Vegas (8/10)

A more accessible version of their dream pop. Read the review of Heaven or Las Vegas.

28. Alice in Chains: Facelift (8/10)

Not as catchy as the other grunge debuts, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Read the review of Facelift.

29. The Black Crowes: Shake Your Money Maker (8*/10)

This is an excellent blues rock album made by people who think it’s 1970. I have listened to this many times and really like it, because I like blues rock. And I believe it is likely their best set of songs, even though I’ve only ever heard two of their albums.

But, at bottom, this is still a straight-up blues rock album made in 1990. It is totally out of time and it really doesn’t matter historically. Part of me wants to drop my rating down a notch but I know that I rated the sequel one lower and so I’d then have to go listen to that again to see if it too should be downgraded and I don’t have the time right now.

As good as blues rock gets in 1990.

30. Digital Underground: Sex Packets (7/10)

A bizarre, funny, crude and inventive concept album. Read the review of Sex Packets.

31. Lou Reed, John Cale: Songs for Drella (7/10)

Songs I don’t love are elevated by the unique arrangements. Read the review of Songs for Drella.

32. Prefab Sprout: Jordan: The Comeback (7/10)

A super adventurous sophistipop album. Read the review of Jordan: The Comeback.

33. Suicidal Tendencies: Lights…Camera…Revolution (7/10)

Pretty great crossover thrash, on the metal side. Read the review of Lights…Camera…Revolution.

34. Ice Cube: Amerikkka’s Most Wanted (7/10)

What the hell do I do with this? Well, here goes…Read the full review.

35. Crime and the City Solution: Paradise Discotheque (7/10)

When I first listened to this record in like 2007 – still the only Crime & the City record I’ve ever heard – I rated it as high as I did because I felt like I was supposed to like it. I don’t know that I ever actually loved the record, but it was a record I knew which nobody else I knew had heard of (they hadn’t even heard of the band). So, even though I never talked to anyone about it, it functioned as some kind of eternal status symbol for me.

Well, time has changed how I feel about the record in at least two ways: first, I’ve come to actually like it and, second, I no longer think I’m supposed to. The result, funnily enough, is that I rate it lower than I once did.

I like this band’s sound. Though it is perhaps a little too indebted to the sound of the Bad Seeds, for obvious reasons, it is their own sound and they sound like very few other bands. (The obvious reason: Mick Harvey is here and is credited as a co-writer on all tracks.)

Though I enjoy Bonney as a performer I can’t say I love him as a lyricist (or his wife, whoever is more responsible) and I find the suite on the second side of the album to be only effective some of the time, in part because of the lyrics. (Sometimes it feels really insightful, other times not so much.)

But this is a good example of this weird niche of post punk bands discovering roots music in the ’80s. It’s not up to the standards of the best examples of this type of music, but it’s a pretty good example.

36. The KLF: Chill Out (7/10)

It’s art, but I’m not sure it’s for me. Read the review of Chill Out.

37. Jane’s Addiction: Ritual de lo habitual (7/10)

I don’t know what I was expecting when I finally got around to listening to this record, but it wasn’t this. That is sometimes a good thing, sometimes a bad thing. But expectations always mess with our appreciation. Hopefully I can get through mine.

First of all, I finally understand why Navarro is a guitar hero to a certain generation. I had never understood why before, but had rarely heard him play. Aside from Slash – who is, by the way, much better – I can’t think of another guitar player to embrace classic rock guitar like Navarro does here. That’s pretty rare for this era.

Their diversity is a plus. And the muscle that is sometimes detectable is a plus as well. So let me try to articulate my issues.

My issues are, I think, two:

  1. First, the songs. Farrell’s lyrics – when he isn’t shouting them or being repetitive – are reasonably interesting. But the songs underlying them are not exactly memorable. Maybe a couple of them are. There is a lack of clear hooks, which wouldn’t be a problem if I was more impressed with the musicianship than I am.
  2. The second problem, for me, is the production, which is thin and muddy and sometimes unnecessarily “psychedelic” – like the echo that seems to be constantly applied to Farrell’s voice. I feel like, had this been recorded and mixed better, I might not quibble with the songs as much.

Those two quibbles being said, this is still pretty unique stuff. Far more psychedelic and proggy than the other “funk metal” at the time. These guys were very much on their own path. And maybe I just need more time to appreciate that.

2020 Update: Turns out, nope, I don’t need more time. Still not really my thing.

38. Brand Nubian: One for All (7?/10)

Political hip where the lyrics are better than the music. Read the review of One for All.

39. George Michael: Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 (7/10)

A mature singer-songwriter record which somehow underperformed by selling 8 million copies. Read the review of Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1.

40. Teenage Fanclub: A Catholic Education (7/10)

Grungy power pop. Read the review of A Catholic Education.

41. African Head Charge: Songs of Praise (7/10)

As I’ve noted many times before, I’ve been maintaining a list of music to listen to for many, many years. And some of what made it onto that list made it on when I had different interests, or didn’t know any better. Well…

There was a time I wanted to get into dub. I don’t know why I wanted to get into dub. Part of me probably wanted to get into it because it was something most other people I knew didn’t know of, so I could be hipper than them, or what have you. Also, there was that Big Sugar album I liked. (Yes, I said it. Still don’t mind it, either.) So I guess that’s how I got here.

To say something horribly uninformed: this is like the dub version of Moby’s Play, albeit with far more reverence for the sourced samples and considerably less interest in getting on the radio.

If that description sounds bad to you…well, it shouldn’t. It’s just that I have no frame of reference for this – it’s fairly serious (I assume) dub based around field recordings of African music (and the odd other thing). And since I have no field of reference, I have no idea how this compares to other African Head Charge recordings, or other dub recordings from the era.

42. They Might Be Giants: Flood (7/10)

Not for me, but well done. Read the review of Flood.

43. Death: Spiritual Healing (7/10)

Pretty decent death metal. Read the review of Spiritual Healing.

44. Nick Cave and The Band Seeds: The Good Son (7/10)

A stylistic left turn that lacks the songs to support it fully. Read the review of The Good Son.

45. LL Cool J: Mama Said Knock You Out (7/10)

This is pretty good, as far as I know. Read the review of Mama Said Knock You Out.

46. Blue Rodeo: Casino (7/1)

A pretty good alt country/country rock record. Read the review of Casino.

47. Anthrax: Persistence of Time (7/10)

This is well done but, in 1990, I’m not sure why I should care a lot about straight-ahead thrash metal. Read the review of Persistence of Time.

48. Deee-Lite: World Clique (7/10)

I definitely liked this more than I thought I would. Read the review of World Clique.

49. New Music Consort: Pulse (7/10)

Decent Survey of modern “high art” percussion music.

50. The Breeders: Pod (6/10)

This is way too quiet. Read the review of Pod.

51. Happy Mondays: Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches (6/10)

I do not get Madchester. Read the review of Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches.

52. Inspiral Carpets: Life (6/10)

This Madchester band has an organ! Read the review of Life.

53. The Sundays: Reading, Writing and Arithmetic (6/10)

Jangle pop with not enough quirk or passion, but especially not enough dynamism in the recording. Read the review of Reading, Writing and Arithmetic.

54. Oliver Knussen: Secret Psalm (6/10)

This is a nice, pretty, diverting solo violin piece that adds pretty much nothing to the storied history of the instrument, in my mind. I feel like I’ve heard stuff like this many times before. And like so much of Knussen’s work, it’s so brief as to make you wonder why anyone would single it out for performance.

55. En Vogue: Born to Sing (6/10)

A little lacking in material. Read the review of Born to Sing.

56. Salt ‘n’ Pepa: Blacks’ Magic (6/10)

Good for manufactured hip hop. Read the review of Blacks’ Magic.

57. Mariah Carey (6/10)

An incredible voice singing mediocre material on an album which sounds like it was produced for Whitney Houston. Read the review of Mariah Carey’s debut album.

58. Garth Brooks: No Fences (6/10)

Is this the beginning of the death of country music? Maybe, but it’s more country than you think it is. Read the review of No Fences.

59. Travelling Wilburries: Vol. 3 (5/10)

Lacking Orbison is one problem. The production is another. It can’t help feeling like an excuse for them to play together regardless of whether they had the songs.

60. MC Hammer: Please Hammer Don’t Hurt’Em (5/10)

Pop as rap gets. Read the review of Please Hammer Don’t Hurt’Em.

61. Wilson Phillips (5/10)

Pablum. Read the review of Wilson Phillilps’ debut album.

62. C+C Music Factory: Gonna Make You Sweat (5/10)

This is better than the Wilson Phillips record but it has an icky side to it. Read the review of Gonna Make You Sweat.

63. Vanilla Ice: To the Extreme (4/10)

So extreme. Read the review of To the Extreme.

64. New Kids on the Block: Step by Step (2/10)

One of the worst albums you’ll ever hear. Read the review of Step by Step.

Not ranked:

Bo Didley: Chess Box (9/10)

This gives a better summary of his career with Chess than His Best. Read the rest of the review.

Alicia de Larrocha: Goyescas; Allegro de concierto; Danza lenta by Enrique Granados (8/10)

A great set. Read the review.

The Grateful Dead: Spring 1990: So Glad You Made It (7/10)

Not released until over 20 years later. Read the review.

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