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

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

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. Primus: Frizzle Fry (8/10)

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

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

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

11. 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.

12. 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.

13. Crime and the City Solution: Paradise Discotheque (8/10)

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

15. Pixies: Bossanova (8/10)

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.

16. 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.

17. 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.

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

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

19. 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.

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

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

21. 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.

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

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

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

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

24. 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.

Read the full review.

25. Temple of the Dog (7/10)

26. 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.

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

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

28. Death: Spiritual Healing (7/10)

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

29. 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.

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

Decent Survey of modern “high art” percussion music.

31. The Breeders: Pod (6/10)

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

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

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

33. Inspiral Carpets: Life (6/10)

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

34. 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.

35. 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.

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

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

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

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

38. 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.

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

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

50. Wilson Phillips (5/10)

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


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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