The reviews I’ve written for music originally released in 1991.
1. Slint: Spiderland (10/10)
Full disclosure: I have never heard Slint’s debut album.
Slint’s second album seems like it came out of nowhere – as if this fully formed new style just appeared on the scene. This music sounds like music you should recognize: there are parts that sound like hardcore or alternative rock, but they have be disassembled – it’s like deconstructed hardcore punk through some lens that feels new and different.
Math rock existed before Spiderland – Blind Idiot God were playing music we could easily label math rock for years before this record came out – but never before had it sounded so fresh, so new, so unique. And unlike a band like Blind Idiot God, all Slint does here is play this weird genre they seem to have constructed out of the ether. There are no detours into reggae or classic rock or metal that Blind Idiot God might attempt. It’s just this sound, and what an incredible sound.
Sometimes the hype is exaggerated with certain records but I don’t think so here. This album forces the listener to think about the constituent parts of rock music in a new way and it opens up the possibility of doing things differently – a possibility that was clearly inspiring to loads of bands, given the huge number of math rock and mathcore bands that have appeared over the last 25 years – not to mention the post rock bands that were ostensibly influenced by this record, though let’s please accept that this record itself is not post rock.
It’s minimalism, which had been influencing rock music since The Velvets, finally fully incorporated into rock music. One of the great and essential albums of the ’90s.
1. Talk Talk: Laughing Stock (10/10)
Another chapter in the birth of Post Rock. Read the review of Laughing Stock.
3. Nirvana: Nevermind (10/10)
I wrote this in 2008:
I haven’t listened to Nevermind in forever. When I did listen to it, it was as background music, at a time when I was determined to be different by only listening to music made in the ’60s (or something like that). I was never really impressed by Nirvana, but that was partly because I never really listened to them. I still believe there were far better “grunge” bands, but it’s hard to deny the historical importance of a band that ushered in American acceptance of the “warts and all” approach. We can thank them for slightly more diversity in the mainstream, and that’s something. So, my problem was that I never listened to Cobain’s lyrics before. I realize now, as I reassess, that his lyrics are the thing. Musically, the band is one of the most straightforward and accessible of any of the bands dwelling in the American underground during that time period. But his lyrics connected to a lot of people, they expressed something nearly universal and that’s what grabs people. I never really felt this alienated myself, so I didn’t get it at the time, I guess. With age comes an appreciation of the great variety of experience, and so I can say that I finally get Nirvana. There’s no filler here and though it is far less interesting than UINY, it is still a fine and significant record.
I wrote this a few years later: “I pretty much stand by that but I would like to add this: holy shit is this thing overproduced (for how sloppy it should be). According the Wikipedia it actually happened during the mixing, which is too bad.”
I feel like it isn’t really as overproduced as I believed at the time. This is such a seminal record that I feel like my earlier issues with it were just me being contrarian. The impact this had on the US (and Canada) is hard to put into words. So even if I prefer Pearl Jam and Soundgarden to Nirvana, this is more important.
4. Massive Attack: Blue Lines (10/10)
You could argue that, with the benefit of hindsight, the birth of trip hop is more important than the popularization of grunge (above), the further birth of post rock (above) or the popularization of shoegaze (below). I’m ranking this here in part because of how much I like it in comparison to the stuff above, which it is arguably more important than. Read the review of Blue Lines.
5. My Bloody Valentine: Loveless (10/10)
For years, I’ve struggled with the idea that this – this – is a record that drastically changed music. I had read so much about it – too much – that when I heard it, I was disappointed. “It sounds like shoegaze” I thought.
But it isn’t just shoegaze, it’s a revolution in electric guitar sound and production, and the incorporation of samples as lead musical instruments is also path-breaking.
I may never love this record, but I have finally come to respect it as much as I should.
6. U2: Achtung Baby (10/10)
Years ago, I wrote the following:
U2’s best album. That’s because they actually tried to alter their sound for once. The songs are still there, but this time the arrangements at least don’t completely sound like U2. It’s still obviously U2, but there’s less of the “U2 sound” that had so completely defined them in the 1980s. I personally don’t get why the Joshua Tree is great, or why their other 80s albums can really be considered independently, they’re all pretty much the same. Here they incorporate other elements and it works very well. It’s too bad they didn’t stay this adventurous because it would have suited them. Instead they became the most overrated band ever. Anyway, the songs are quite good. In particular, there are a couple songs near the end that stand out. The Edge actually has a quite amazing guitar solo (who knew he had it in him?) on “Love is Blindness.” The two biggest singles are actually the weakest songs.
Do I agree? Well…
I think that, had you not known it was U2, and caught the first loops of “Zoo Station,” you wouldn’t have known this was U2. And you can say the same thing for so many of these songs: they start off as unrecognizable and quickly morph into U2. It’s kind of incredible that they were able to do that, to strike a balance between new and old. I think it’s pretty great.
7. Mr. Bungle (9/10)
I spent most of my young life listening to one very specific era of music, and it was to my detriment. As I got older, I got a little more adventurous, which mostly meant prog rock.
At some point I bought this record. I’m not sure why I did exactly – it might have been recommended by a friend as I knew at least one Bungle fan in first year university, or it might have been something I read about on All Music. In any case, at first I loved “The Girls of Porn” and couldn’t really be bothered with the rest of the album, as it was too weird and too metal for me. (I didn’t listen to metal.)
At some point, I did begin to listen to the entire thing, on occasion – much to the annoyance of the people on my floor in residence – and came to love it.
This is absolutely the least focused and least mature Bungle album. But that being said, it’s still a rather remarkable achievement – Fisbhone on crack, you might call it.
It’s not that nobody had ever made music like this before – Fishbone definitely made music somewhat like this, albeit far more restrained and with far less metal. But the particular combination of elements (Zappa, ska, metal, Fishbone, Camper Van Beethoven, video games, carnival music) was pretty unique. And the commitment to this style – no concessions to commercial viability here – is admirable.
This is Bungle’s least good official record [Note: until their reunion record] but it’s still one of the best albums of 1991, in my mind, and it’s an ear-opening experience to a young music fan.
A personal favourite, even if it’s not as good as their later records.
8. Atheist: Unquestionable Presence (9/10)
Possibly the best “technical” metal record I’ve ever heard. Read the review of Unquestionable Presence.
9. Philip Glass: “String Quartet No. 5” (9/10)
The 5th quartet is an interesting one in that it seems to me to be a clear attempt to bridge Glass’ own very identifiable style with some other ideas, and as a result I think it is probably his second most successful, behind his first. It’s still very recognizable as Glass’ work, but it feels more mature than the middle quartets, which all feel as if they are just Glass’ music in quartet form – nothing wrong with that, just less interesting than this one.
10. Sofia Gubaidulina: “In croce” (9/10)
“In croce” is a duet for cello and bayan, and ranges from almost horror-movie film score intensity to a sort of meandering exploration of space. And then that builds back – there is a really strong use of dynamics. And the cello really gets into its upper register.
11. The Jesus Lizard: Goat (9/10)
In 2005, I wrote the following lazy “review”:
A little Fall, a little Dead Kennedys. My kind of thing.
Aside from missing what I now think is a clear Pere Ubu influence, I feel like I really sold this record short. Goat is everything I want from rock music: it’s loud, it’s well-played but sloppy – Denison regularly sounds like he’s about to fall out of time with the rest of the band – it’s “dangerous,” it’s unconventional. Even though it’s not the best, it definitely challenges the other records here for my favourite rock record of 1991, and it’s one of my favourites of the first half of the decade.
Honestly, I can only think of one criticism: it’s a little top heavy in terms of the songs. But beyond that, this is classic alternative rock (don’t fully understand the classification of it as “noise rock” or post-hardcore).
12. Soundgarden: Badmotorfinger (9/10)
Superunknown was the record that introduced me to Soundgarden so, for years, it was my favourite, and I refused to fully see the virtues of this record.
But this record is a pretty near-perfect combination of the things that made made Soundgarden and grunge in general so compelling: an alternative aesthetic, but with the conventions of classic rock (in this case, old school metal, for the most part).
The older I get, the more I think this is probably their best record, and certainly one of the main documents of grunge and early 90s American alternative rock. It’s maybe not their very best set of songs (it might be, though…) but it’s a little more “alternative” than their world-conquering follow up.
13. Nation of Ulysses: 13 Point Program to Destroy America (9/10)
Nation of Ulysses takes post hardcore and imbues it with art, humour, other genres of music and even more passion than other post hardcore bands of their era (and some terrible brass!). This is one of those records that is everything I wanted it to be. And I’d rather listen to this – where there is more imagination – than a lot of other post hardcore, a genre I quite like.
Pretty great stuff.
Also, that’s a fantastic title.
14. Morbid Angel: Blessed Are the Sick (9/10)
A shockingly diverse death metal record. Read the review of Blessed Are the Sick.
15. Swans: White Light From the Mouth of Infinity (9/10)
16. Eleventh Dream Day: Lived to Tell (9/10)
We all have records that we connect with at just the right time in our lives, that mean more to us than maybe they should, that resonate with us more than “greater” art, art that actually changes the world.
This is one of those for me. I know other bands do this whole alternative rock blues thing. I know other alternative rock bands worshiped Neil Young. I know the songwriting on this record isn’t quite as strong as I would like to believe it is.
But I don’t really care. This is probably my favourite record from 1991, the one that resonates with me the most, the one that I choose to listen to more than the others.
Everything about it works for me; the songs and the aesthetic.
17. Pearl Jam: Ten (8/10)
You could forgive someone who isn’t a Pearl Jam fan for believing this is the only Pearl Jam album to own. Though the band has now been releasing music for a quarter century, most of the songs that the general public knows are from the first three albums, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that half of those songs (if not more) come from this record. When Pearl Jam is played on “Classic Rock” radio now (or whatever they call it), it’s most often songs from this record that you hear.
And that should come as no surprise. This is one of their best sets of songs to this day, and it is almost entirely free of the artsy fartsy stuff they started to pursue, the kind of stuff that turned them into a cult band, that made it so that their most famous songs come from their first four records.
But for fans, it really isn’t that representative of the band. And I personally believe that they have become better songwriters over the years, for the most part, while at the same time getting a little less prone to writing anthems.
But it’s not the songs that make me like this album less than some of their later records (including the sequel). It’s the production. Band members have gone on record complaining about the mix, so maybe it’s just the mix that is at fault, but this is one of only a few of their albums that sounds so utterly of its time. The production is rather terrible, dating the record but also making the whole thing sound kind of “cheesy” in a way that no other Pearl Jam record sounds.
It’s too bad, because this should be one of the classic Grunge records. It almost is. But it really needs to get remixed.
18. Smashing Pumpkins: Gish (8/10)
A remarkable debut, possibly the best-produced rock album of 1991. Read the review of Gish.
19. The Wedding Present: Seamonsters (8/10)
A really rough, noisy record with pretty decent songs and an aesthetic I just adore. Read the review of Seamonsters.
20. Cypress Hill (8/10)
Apparently this is a pretty big deal. Read the review of Cypress Hill’s debut album.
21. Mercury Rev: Yerself is Steam (8/10)
Mercury Rev combine recent goings on in Shoegaze with psychedelia – to a greater extent than the British Shoegaze bands that inclined that way – and a knack for poppy hooks. The result is a bizarre, perhaps too ambitious, crazy record that is better than anything the Lips had managed up till that point. (Why compare them? Sorry…)
To me this stuff is more interesting than the straight Shoegaze; it connects with me more for whatever reason. It does feel like there are more ideas, for one thing.
Even if that last track is way too long, this is great stuff.
22. American Music Club: Everclear (8/10)
These guys are the Kings of Slowcore, so I’ve been told. Not being the biggest devotee of the genre, I have no idea if that’s true. And if I get obsessed about influence and such, I’ll ignore the music here and focus on the fact that slowcore already existed when this came out. (Because, of course it did. These guys supposedly invented it six years earlier.)
Ahem. Sorry about that.
This set of songs takes a while to ingratiate, which is shocking for a slowcore record. (Kidding, obviously.) But once you listen to it a few times, you realize this is a good set of songs. And, not only that, the band has achieved the sometimes difficult objective of seamlessly blending multiple American roots genres into their thing.
This album gets attacked for being overproduced. I’m not sure it is – I more think it’s oddly produced. There’s a echo-y quality to it. Maybe that’s a post-production trick, but it could also just be the space, right? It is an odd choice but I don’t think it hurts the record. And with nearly everything but his voice and one or two rhythm instruments buried in the mix, it gives the record a kind of ethereal quality.
Anyway, as first experiences of iconic bands go, I’d say this is a pretty good one. I prefer more energy in my music in general, but this is slowcore after all.
23. Primus: Sailing the Seas of Cheese (8/10)
Les Claypool is probably the closest rock music has ever come to a “Jimi Hendrix of the bass,” but he will forever be under-known because of his desire to play in his own band and follow his own whims. And those whims are…weird.
As others have noted, this is Funk Metal meets Frank Zappa (and other art rock). There are numerous things that might put you off: Claypool’s voice, the sense of humour, the unwillingness to make anything resembling earnest, straightforward rock music – and yet, somehow, this album spawned two minor hit singles…
But these things are actually virtues if you are willing to see them that way. Nobody else really sounds like Primus. They own the bizarre funk metal niche, and Claypool really is a god, if you are into musicianship. (The rest of the band are excellent too…I mean they need to be…)
Take the time to give this the listens it deserves. Eventually it will make sense.
24. Fugazi: Steady Diet of Nothing (8/10)
It has been literally ages (a decade or more) since I heard Repeater but, from my poor memory, I think this is musically much more interesting. (Who knows if that’s true.) I can’t help but liking later records more, though; to my ears they hadn’t quite found that thing, whatever it is, that made them great. Most of the elements are here, but something is missing, and I can’t quite put my finger on it.
That’s not to say it’s just okay – it’s quite good and relatively diverse for the genre. I just feel like they improved later, in terms of both their sound and their songs.
25. Uncle Tupelo: Still Feel Gone (8/10)
Before Uncle Tupelo, I feel like alt country (such as it was) was so much cleaner. Despite the ostensible punk influence on the genre, the alt country records I’ve heard from the last ’80s are all pretty much straight up country rock. There’s more of an edge here, even if it isn’t much of one compared to some later alt country bands.
It’s a strong set of songs and one reason I prefer these guys to Son Volt is because I like the two competing songwriters, I think it made them better.
26. Type O Negative: Slow, Deep and Hard (8/10)
A really unique fusion of a bunch of different things, spoiled by bad production and some lyrics that might be hard to take. Read the review of Slow, Deep and Hard.
27. Leaders of the New School: A Future Without a Past… (8/10)
I might be overrated this. I might be underrating it. I don’t know. Read the review of A Future Without a Past…
28. Hole: Pretty on the Inside (8/10)
This is a noisy, abrasive set of songs which manages to be significantly more noisy than most of the other grunge bands of the era, at least on record.. That feels like even more of an accomplishment given the expectations around a female-fronted band at the time.
I can’t say that I love the songs all that much, but I appreciate the seeming unwillingness to compromise (which seems to have been revealed as something very different through interviews). Pretty great stuff.
29. Dinosaur Jr.: Green Mind (8/10)
I wrote the following in 2011:
I’m gonna say I miss Barlow even though I can’t place why. It’s probably more consistent than You’re Living All Over Me, but it’s also far less crazy. It’s lacking the incredible noise of Bug, which I must say is a bit of a disappointment. But things change. I have definitely warmed up to it. As ego trips go, it still sounds like “the band” (at least more than most ego trips) – it is recognizable as Dinosaur Jr. as such – and it has its share of gems.
I kind of feel the same way still. I think the songs are extremely strong and it really is hard to tell Barlow isn’t there. I wanted to dislike it and I can’t.
30. Sofia Gubaidulina: “Silenzio” (8/10)
I have always had a thing against pieces being named “Silence” but “Silenzio” is a fascinating exploration of this unusual instrumentation (bayan, cello, violin), though it is considerably milder (relatively speaking) than “In croce.”
31. Sebadoh III (8/10)
32. Mudhoney: Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge (8/10)
This is a strong, particularly grungy grunge record, with a bit more of a roots feel than some of the other grunge records from the period.
I really like the aesthetic – especially because it is a little more musically diverse than I was expecting – but I find the songs not quite up to par compared to some of the other major grunge bands. (For example, Ten has way better songs but has dated horribly compared to this record.) Maybe I’ll come to like the songs more in time, but I still like the record a lot and I can see why it’s considered a staple of the genre.
33. Ween: The Pod (8/10)
Ween’s second proper studio album is an onslaught of lo-fi weirdness touching on more genres than you can count, but unified in its deliberately inaccessible production and its self-contained world of in-jokes and references. Honestly, there’s nothing else like it… except for other Ween records.
I’d probably give this one higher marks if it didn’t come after The Oneness, which is the best of the their lo-fi records in my mind.
34. Guns n’ Roses: Use Your Illusion I (8/10)
This record was one of the earliest hard rock albums I owned that wasn’t “Classic Rock” and, because of that, I am way too damn fond of it. Even the filler I like. But I acknowledge it’s filler and, when I’m thinking clearly, I recognize that a better record could have easily been made from the two combined, had anyone been willing to edit.
But given that this is the rootsier of the two records, and it doesn’t have the worst filler, I still like it more than part 2. Scroll down for Part 2.
It’s still one of my favourite albums though.
35. Dismember: Like an Ever Flowing Stream (8/10)
Mostly straight ahead death metal, with a couple of deviations. And relentless. Read the review of Like an Ever Flowing Stream.
36. Coroner: Mental Vortex (8/10)
Slower but technical thrash metal with great solos, and some weird vaguely arty touches that make it sound at least vaguely ambitious. Read the review of Mental Vortex.
37. Bolt Thrower: War Master (8/10)
Solid death metal with a tiny bit of groove metal on a couple of tracks. Read the review of War Master.
38. Sepultura: Arise (8/10)
In 2012, I wrote the following:
This is a solid Thrash record. It’s got some great playing and it’s pretty relentless.
But I struggle to love it as much as I would like to knowing that they would go on to better things very shortly. And there are only brief hints of their expansive palette of later records that make this kind of samey, which is too its detriment.
But I don’t actually dislike it – it’s great stuff, it’s just not quite as good as their later stuff.
I like it a little bit more than that, actually.
39. Pixies: Trompe le Monde (7/10)
With hindsight this feels like a step between the earlier Pixies records and Frank Black’s solo career, which would make sense. To me, though, it suffers in that sense, lacking the strongest songs of either earlier Pixies records or Black’s early solo albums, but produced almost if it was one of his solo records.
That’s not to say I dislike it – it’s still the Pixies doing what they do best pretty well. I just feel like it’s their weakest record and it very much feels like a transitional one for their main songwriter.
40. Swervedriver: Raise (7/10)
This is a strong shoegaze set with roots a little more on the rock side of things (there’s a CCR riff in the opening track…) than what I’m used to, and I must say that endears this to me more than the more famous shoegaze bands I’ve heard previously.
There’s still the sort of laconic thing vocal thing that irks me when I don’t love the music, but enjoying the music more than other shoegaze helps.
It’s interesting; they straddle this line between shogegaze and more American alternative that I never really imagined.
41. Red Hot Chili Peppers: Blood Sugar Sex Magick (7/10)
In 2011, I wrote the following:
I’ve never paid much attention to these guys. I was too young when this came out (I heard the singles but I wasn’t into modern music at the time) and then they went very poppy and I never paid attention. I’ve always sort of thought of them as way overrated. But I like this. Aside from Kiedis’s often ridiculous lyrics, it’s pretty great. It’s extremely well performed and it really grows on you. Really, the only thing I can hold against them is that not everyone wants to listen to tons of songs about having sex with their supposedly ridiculously sexy lead singer.
Without realizing that, I then wrote this in 2016:
Though this is one of the seminal alternative rock albums of 1991, and one that helped provide the soundtrack to the lives of my friends (and my life, when I was around my friends) at the time, I haven’t given it much time. I knew the hits – more than I thought – but I only ever listened to the whole thing at parties or in cars. All of this convinced me that if I was going to ever listen to one RHCP album, I figured it would be this one. (Though I have always been interested in checking out their 80s stuff.)
But now that I’ve got to listen to it for the podcast I’m…underwhelmed. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been spending too much time listening to Funkadelic recently, or perhaps it’s because, the older I get, the higher my standards get for lyrics I don’t already know, but it feels like Anthony Kiedis has taken a hug page out of George Clinton’s book and decided that some really half-assed social comment and lots of stuff about sex is basically all you need to write about if you’re in a funk band. Most of Kiedis’ lyrics aren’t necessarily awful (though some are) but they are way too sex-obsessed and they are sometimes really dumb.
Occasionally they’re not bad, such as with “Under the Bridge,” but most of the time they are way below average and way too reminiscent of Funkadelic.
The other problem I have with the record is that it is way too long. This is a long-ass album. It never ever ends. There’s not enough material to make this run-time work.
But the band is excellent. Just excellent. And so I wished I had listened to this as a teenager when my standards were lower, because I’d probably regard it as a classic, rather than just their big commercial breakthrough.
So I have less of a tolerance for the lyrics than I used to.
42. Fishbone: The Reality of My Surroundings (7/10)
43. Metallica (7/10)
I wrote the following in 2009:
I really don’t know what they were thinking. Bob Rock isn’t the guy to produce a metal record. And he seems to encourage Hetfield in “nah-nah-nah” type vocalizations. But whatever. It could have been so much worse, I guess, that we should all feel good about that. It’s not that the songs are particularly bad, at all, it’s just that some of them are, well, kind of wussy for this band. As my friend’s joke goes, Metallica ballads are all rewrites of “Behind Blue Eyes.” Maybe they felt pressure during this age of power ballads to write some of their own. Now a Metallica ballad clearly destroys all the cough “hair metal” cough power ballads out there, but they’re still ballads. In a way this seems to be Metallica for the masses, diluted enough to sell more records. That’s kind of lame. What part of “Nothing Else Matters” did Ulrich write exactly?
Do I agree with that? I guess.
I was 10 when this record came out. For years, the only Metallica songs I knew were “Enter Sandman,” “The Unforgiven” “Nothing Else Matters.” And I thought that’s what metal was, I guess. And then I went and listened to Apocalyptica before I ever listened to Metallica.
As I’ve become a fan of 80s Metallica, I fully understand the derision heaped upon this album, as it’s clearly a blatant attempt to sell more records (and a successful one – this is the best selling metal album, ever right?). What I don’t understand is why Lars tries to defend this record as Metallica “growing.” Lots of bands do that when they “sell out” but they could have grown in another, more interesting direction.
That being said, it’s not a bad record and holds up rather well 25 years later. Still, ’80s Metallica is what we all should listen to.
44. Melvins: Bullhead (7/10)
I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to like Melvins. They make loud music, I like loud music. They have charted their own course regardless of record industry trends. They have collaborated with members of one of my favourite bands.
But this, my introduction to the band, and likely one of their most seminal albums, strikes me as quite one note. I get that this is sort of the point (at least at this stage) but I don’t like my metal one-note.
I get that this is likely an important record, and I hope that I can give it a little more time, in time, and maybe appreciate it more. But at the moment, it’s a little too much of a good thing for me.
45. Guns ‘n Roses: Use Your Illusion II (7/10)
Sometime in the mists of time I wrote this:
If this had been released as a double album, I might have been a little kinder. I know that sounds unfair, but it’s true. If it were a double album, I could look at the thing as a big sprawling mess and celebrate it. As two separate albums, the listener is forced to compare. And when you compare, the second doesn’t hold up well. There are still some good songs here. McKagan’s tribute to Johnny Thunders is a better song than he ever wrote, and now I have pissed off the music nerds of the word. They’re coming for me as we speak. But there are more Axl epics. For some reason, they seemed to save this album for the more dubious stuff. It feels like the leftovers. Axl’s lyrics are worse here than they are on I. Then there’s “Don’t Cry.” Repeating a song is inexcusable. They could have at least recorded a different version. They could have recorded an acoustic version, they could have recorded a louder version. But they don’t even change the backing vocals (listen to them, they are repeating lines from the first set of lyrics). The only thing different is the lead vocal. That is such a joke. It is the ultimate definition of filler. And then there’s the last track. This is a big “fuck you” to Gunners fans. It says, now you know whose band this is, and this is where “we’re” going. It’s enough for me to stop listening.
My issues remain. “Get in the Ring” is also fucking ridiculous and makes me want to hate McKagan (who wrote much of it). It’s fun, but it’s flawed in so many ways. And if you put the two records together, you get over 150 minutes of music. That’s 4 LPs! That’s too much! A 70 minute record (or even 80) of the best of these two albums would have been much better. But I can’t say I don’t enjoy it.
46. Temple of the Dog (7/10)
Sometime between 2005 and 2016, I wrote the following:
I have generally liked Cornell’s songs more than not and he has a good voice. But there’s an earnestness (for lack of a better word) to his music that can be unappealing. He can, at times, sound like he should have been belting out classic rock songs instead of grunge.
When Soundgarden is around to hide his over-singing and to give a little more muscle to his songs, I have zero problem with Cornell. The problems emerge, for me, when he is backed by a softer band. For example, though I didn’t mind Audioslave’s first hit (am I the only one?) the rest of their music struck me as too polished. I have the same problem here.
The lyrics here are underwritten. If the music behind them was better, it wouldn’t matter. It’s not the music really… it’s the arrangements and the production. I think these lyrics and these melodies would be a lot more compelling if Soundgarden were playing them, or if the Pearl Jam of Vs. or Vitalogy and not Ten was backing Cornell. (I don’t mean that personnel-wise, but sound wise, production wise.)
The production is way too clean and Cornell comes off as bombastic and pseudo-profound. And when those bad ’80s keyboards show up, well… things don’t improve.
Nowhere near as good as it should be.
I think this is a little harsh but it’s not that far off base. So I upped my rating one.
47. Julian Cope: Peggy Suicide (7/10)
I don’t know what Julian Cope ever did to me but when I first heard this album I absolutely hated it. I don’t know why I had such high expectations, as I had never heard The Teardrop Explodes (I actually only ever heard them for the first time within the last year) and I knew virtually nothing about him and his many talents. But the people who love Cope absolutely love him. So my guess is I must have read too many reviews by those people and found myself utterly confused by what’s on the record.
Cope is a decent and occasionally good songwriter. This is a long record but he’s got enough melodies for that length (which is not always the case, especially in the ’90s). I’m not always a fan of every single one of them but there is definitely enough of them.
I find his lyrics generally underwritten. He wants to create impressions, not tell stories, and I’m often fine with that. (My favourite all time songwriter does that.) But too often the lyrics are sketches to my ears, as opposed to full on paintings.
The aesthetic has grown on me since I first heard it and I do appreciate that he has an edge and occasionally likes to jam (very occasionally). A Baggy influence creeps in on a couple of tracks and I’m definitely not down with that, but it’s occasional and feels more like he’s being diverse.
I think another reason why I disliked this at first is that I’m just not the biggest fan of Cope’s voice. There’s nothing wrong with it – though he does sound like so many other British post-punk singers – but it just didn’t sell me on the material at the time. I am still not a massive fan of his voice, but it’s totally fine.
And the production is fine, too. There’s certainly nothing wrong with it compared to contemporary rock albums obsessed with sounding “modern.”
So I’ve come around. I doubt I’ll ever be a fan, but I’ve been seriously underrating this album ever since I first heard it 15 years ago. Time to stop.
48. Sarah McLachlan: Solace (7/10)
I like this most of her records, I think. Read the review of Solace.
49. Seal (7/10)
Way more diverse than I ever imagined. Read the review of Seal’s debut album.
50. Superchunk: No Pocky for Kitty (7/10)
This is a set of solid songs that are uptempo and pleasantly loud. I get why this band was a big deal back then because, to my knowledge, this kind of straight-ahead abrasive power pop/pop punk was a relative rarity.
But it’s not really my thing. It’s too one note for me, as much as I appreciate what they’re doing and I think they do it well, I just don’t love this particular style of music enough to get really excited about this record.
51. The Tragically Hip: Road Apples (7/10)
The second Hip album is much like the first: competent, bluesy rock.
It’s easy to dismiss the early Hip as just a very, very good bar band but, trying to put aside how important a part of our cultural identity they were in my formative years, I think this sells them a little short.
First, this is one hell of a bar band. Not only do most bar bands not play this well but most bar band originals, if they have any, are not this strong. I mean, these guys can write hooks.
But then, of course, there’s Downie. Whether or not you like his voice, Downie is an above average lyricist at the worst.
However, the record still exists in a different time. In 1991 I think maybe only The Black Crowes were this committed to “classic” blues-based rock, and I think most of us would agree they were a better band at the time.
52. Dream Warriors: And the Legacy Begins (7?/10)
People who know more than I do believe this is pretty overrated. Read the review of And the Legacy Begins.
53. P.M. Dawn: Of the Heart, of the Soul and of the Cross: The Utopian Experience (7?/10)
Well, it’s unique. Read the review of Of the Heart, of the Soul and of the Cross: The Utopian Experience.
54. Crowded House: Woodface (7/10)
Good songs but rather bloodless. Read the review of Woodface.
55. Black Sheep: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing (7/10)
Contains the funniest hip hop track I’ve ever heard. Read the review of A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing.
56. Geto Boys: We Can’t Be Stopped (7?/10)
So this is semi-acclaimed but I don’t know if I can appreciate it. Read the review of We Can’t Be Stopped.
57. R.E. M.: Out of Time (6/10)
REM’s biggest hit to date (biggest hit ever) is one of their most flawed records (at least pre-Berry’s departure).
- It’s got weird, failed experiments, such as their weird Hip Hop crossover with KRS-1.
- It’s got the most annoying song they ever recorded, which somehow became a hit (“Shiny Happy People”).
- It’s got two Mike Mills-led songs that wouldn’t be recognizable as REM were it not for that unmistakable jangle.
- It’s got Stipe-sung songs that don’t sound like REM (“Belong”).
- And it’s got a bunch of delicate baroque pop that shows that they could really do a whole different spin on their jangle thing.
- Finally, it contains one of my favourite REM songs of all time, “Country Feedback.”
In short, it’s a mess.
Despite being a mess, it’s still an improvement on Green, their weakest album prior to Berry’s departure. And the parts that work, well they work quite well.
But it’s a shame that the introduction that so many people get to this band is through this record. Because it’s not representative.
58. Spacemen 3: Recurring (6/10)
I understand why people like this stuff and I understand why it’s trailblazing. (Though I’m not exactly sure why some people consider this shoegaze, though that is a different story…)
But I have two problems with this record that keep me from giving it the respect a lot of people think it deserves. The first problem is that for something considered “neo-psychedelia” it’s pretty samey throughout. There’s not a lot of variation even between the two band member’s sounds. I mean, there’s some, but it’s relative and very much “on style.” (On a related note: I find it lacking a bit in songs – maybe that’s just a maturity thing as I feel like Spiritualized does a better job of this.)
The second issue I have is the length: it’s interminable. This thing is nearly 80 minutes of music that sounds too much alike for me to remember which song is which. That opening song goes on forever and barely changes. I just get bored.
That isn’t to say that this isn’t well made, or it doesn’t have some moments that are good. It’s decent. It’s just not for me.
And I suspect (and hope) that their earlier albums are better.
59. Spin Doctors: Pocket Full of Kryptonite (6/10)
Jammy alternative rock but I like the Blind Melon version better. Read the review of Pocket Full of Kryptonite.
60. Beat Happening: Dreamy (6/10)
I have tried to like this album for a long, long time. I still don’t.
It’s undeniably catchy and it’s full of ear worms.
But to me, this is just a louder, maybe a little more deliberately detached version of Young Marble Giants. And I’d rather listen to that band.
61. Primal Scream: Screamadelica (6*/10)
There are two hurdles for me with this album:
- The first one is that I do not like dance music. Actually, I kind of hate it. I hate music that appears to me to be solely created to dance to for one very simple reason: I don’t dance. And so I find music that’s made specifically to aid people in losing themselves in dancing to be mindless. And I find the dance music that has been integrated here to be particularly mind-numbing.
- The second issue I have is that I like my alternative rock loud and at least a little bit original But the rock songs on this album remind me of a lesser Black Crowes, rather than alternative rock.
But despite this, I want to understand why this record is such a big deal. Some people insist it is one of the most important albums of the 1990s. So this is something like my 7th listen to it over the years, perhaps even more. I still don’t like it and I think the only way I’ll really ever fully get it is if I listen to other dance music, which is not something I want to do.
62. Jesus Jones: Doubt (6/10)
I do not like this scene, as you know. Read the review of Doubt.
63. Lenny Kravitz: Mama Said (6/10)
Nostalgia. Very well-made nostalgia, but nostalgia nonetheless. Read the review of Mama Said.
64. Skid Row: Slave to the Grind (6/10)
The first ever #1 metal album is not really metal for 1991. Read the review of Slave to the Grind.
65. Queen: Innuendo (6/10)
In 2011, I somehow managed to listen to our tape and wrote the following:
Even though it’s totally over the top, I quite like the title track. It’s so ridiculous. There are some pretty major missteps as a few times it sounds like they are really trying to sound “current” while on the other hand they are still trying to sound like the over the top sort of hard rock band of yore. But it’s entertaining anyway.
I have written elsewhere that Monster or maybe even Unplugged (the Clapton album) was my first contemporary record purchase. And that’s likely correct, in terms of who paid for it.
But this album may be the first contemporary album that my parents (my mother in this case) bought for me. Wayne’s World had introduced my brother and I to Queen and my father had bought us first Greatest Hits. Of course, Greatest Hits (the red album) doesn’t contain “Bohemian Rhapsody” so he soon bought us Classic Queen (the blue album). To keep up, my mother took us to some store and we bought another Queen album, the latest one. This one.
I don’t know how many times we listened to it but, nearly 30 years after my mom purchased that tape, I know every song. And I haven’t listened to it since 2011. And I hadn’t listened to it in nearly 20 years before that.
As others have noted, it’s a bit ridiculous, a bit like a parody of Queen at their peak. There are some pretty impressive moments here and there, but they always lean into the camp. Of course it’s Queen, they were always campy. But they feel extra campy on this record. Maybe that has something to do with Mercury’s health. But it’s a very campy record. And because you can go through their discography and pick out better songs that sound like these ones, it makes a for a weird listen.
Of course I know that now, not then. And the importance of this album in my music-listening life, one I had entirely forgotten until this week, cannot really be understated. Because here’s the thing about Queen: they do whatever they want. This record is extremely diverse and I suspect it was an incredibly impressionable experience for me. (I don’t know whether or not I had my White Album tape yet.) For all its flaws – the camp, the cheese – it helped shape my music tastes.
66. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Into the Great Wide Open (6/10)
Basically just Full Moon Fever again, but with the band. Read the review of Into the Great Wide Open.
67. Paula Abdul: Spellbound (6/10)
Perfectly inoffensive. Read the review of Spellbound.
68. Trisha Yearwood (6/10)
People say “a star is born.” Okay. I guess. Hindsight is hindsight. Read the review of Trisha Yearwood’s self-titled debut album.
69. Boyz II Men: Cooleyhighharmony (6/10)
I have no idea why this sold so many millions of copies. Read the review of Cooleyhighharmony.
70. Steve Earle and the Dukes: Shut Up and Die Like an Aviator (5/10)
The opening radio / tv snippets make this sound like we’re about to listen to a concept album.
Of course, we’re not; it’s a live album. The songs I know sound pretty much like their studio equivalents – save for his voice which, as others have noted, is shot – and though the band shows some impressive versatility – particularly Earle himself – when they stretch out on the odd track they don’t sound much better than the average bar band. That’s not what I want out of a live album, personally.
On the other hand, because of his voice, it sounds rawer than it might have, which sort of deceives your ear into thinking the songs really are different. And most aren’t. (Also, they were doctored for sound quality afterwards, which is disappointing.)
An odd document. Recorded in London, Ontario, amazingly enough.
71. Roxette: Joyride (5/10)
A pop album that regularly tries to pretend it’s, um, blues rock. And that’s weird. Read the review of Joyride.
72. Vanessa Williams: The Comfort Zone (5/10)
Sometimes Vanessa Williams tries to be Janet Jackson. Sometimes she tries to be a much less powerfully voiced Whitney Houston, but for old people. The combination doesn’t work. Read the review of The Comfort Zone.
73. Van Halen: For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (4/10)
Van Halen continues to suck. This is supposedly the “best” Sammy Hagar record. Read the review of For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge.
Compilations, archival releases and new performances of old music.
The Juilliard String Quartet: The Four String Quartets by Elliott Carter (10/10)
The first quartet has to be considered one of the great mid century masterpieces in so-called high art music. It is an astounding combination of forwarding thinking and lyricism. The second is also pretty spectacular. The third is a revelation as it seems like finally a composer was listening to free jazz! I am less impressed by the fourth, which sort of feels like three take 2. The piano / violin duo is initially less obviously awesome than the quartets but it is actually rewarding as well. An absolutely essential piece of “modern” music. Amazing.
Ensemble 2e2m et al.: Vox Humana?, Finale, Furst Igor Strawinsky by Mauricio Kagel (8/10)
Vancouver Symphony Orchestra et al.: The Seasons; Valses de Concert by Alexander Glazunov (8/10)
The Seasons is a pretty great ballet (well, I am making an assumption about the choreography) that is helped by the fact that it predates the great, revolutionary ballets of the early 20th century. This music is absolutely Romantic, one might even call it unapologetically romantic, but that is looking at this whole thing with a great deal of hindsight, as arguably Romantic music was quite killed off as something significant until the end of the decade (at the very earliest). I don’t know my ballets at all, but it’s a nice piece. It’s certainly not among my favourite Romantic compositions (or even among my favourite Russian Romantic compositions), but I see the appeal, I really do.
The waltzes seem very traditional to me, almost classical. The second in particular sounds like something else I just cannot place. (Or perhaps I have heard it before.) They are, on the one hand, obvious filler, having little to do with the ballet in question. But I guess they have to included somewhere, and an orchestra might as well perform them as an encore or something.