A list of my reviews for music released originally in 1992
1. Faith No More: Angel Dust (10/10)
When I was in first year university, a friend of mine lent this record to me. I listened to it, it made barely any impression on me and I gave it back to him. Maybe it was too much for me to take. Or maybe it was too metal for my tastes at the time. I have no idea what I was thinking.
A few years later I bought it for some reason. And I gave it my customary 3 listens. Imagine my surprise. (I must not have listened to it more than once the first time I heard it. Or I was just wrong.)
This is the definitive alternative metal album of the ’90s, taking all sorts of non-metal musical ideas and influences and combining them into a loud, aggressive metal record that veers off into non-metal genres way more often than many metal heads would prefer (I suspect). It is, to quote Stephen Thomas Erlewine, “a bizarro masterpiece.” There is nothing else like it that I have ever heard. (Other FNM albums are less cohesive. Bungle is way weirder and way less metal, etc.)
It’s a record like this that ruins me for more conventional (i.e. non-alternative) metal, because its stylistic diversity sets up my ears for more. But when I listen to most other metal bands from the era I get one or two styles tops.
One of my favourite albums of all time and one of the best rock records of the ’90s.
2. Tom Waits: Bone Machine (10/10)
Somewhere in the mists of time, I wrote the following:
Waits takes his unique sound to its logical conclusion and pairs it with some of his bleakest lyrics and, conversely, some of his most perversely hopeful. The album title is kind of literal as some of the percussion sounds like I imagine bones would sound if they were played as percussion (particularly on “The Earth Died Screaming”).
I’m not sure if this is his greatest accomplishment but it’s pretty damn close: the aesthetic matches the lyrics and Waits’ delivery about as well as it ever had and this is pretty close to his best set of songs.
An absolute masterpiece and one of the essential Waits records.
I don’t know that I have much to add to that review. This is one of Waits’ best sets of songs and the extremity of the arrangements feels as appropriate as any he’s ever concocted.
3. Pavement: Slanted and Enchanted (10/10)
Pavement achieves the perfect balance between extremely accessible pop rock and noisy, deliberately difficult idiosyncrasy in a way that few bands had achieved previously. This record could be said to be the foundational document of American indie rock (as something opposed to alternative); the number of bands that have tried to sound like Pavement since is rather staggering. (Though it must be admitted that others got here first, but few, if any, were this accessible.)
Every song here is among their very best too, so that helps.
4. R.E.M.: Automatic for the People (9/10)
I said this, perhaps as recently as 2015 or 2016:
REM take their baroque pop rock first explored on Green and Out of Time to its logical conclusion and the result is their best album since Document, perhaps their best ever. (Certainly it’s their most consistent.) And this time there’s nothing else competing with the style.
For REM’s most famous album, it’s odd that it sounds pretty much nothing like their earlier records. (That’s a good thing, I think.) It’s pretty much unrecognizable from their jangle pop of the ’80s. And it’s immaculately produced too, which feels foreign, even though they’d gone down that road years earlier.
I have had a copy of this album for longer than most, so I have trouble seeing it in any kind of objective light. But I think it’s their strongest set of songs with a distinct set of arrangements that are unlike most of what they made before.
This may have been the first contemporary album I ever bought. It was this, Monster or Eric Clapton Unplugged. My relationship to it is such that it has been a “classic” record for me for as long as I have been thinking about music.
But 20-something years on, I think I might have overrated it just a tad. It’s not entirely consistent in tone (case in point “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight”) and I perhaps lean a little more towards ’80s REM in my tastes now.
Still an immaculate record with one of their best sets of songs.
5. Pantera: Vulgar Display of Power (9/10)
I have not heard Cowboys from Hell but I have a hard time imagining that it’s significantly better than this onslaught of a record. I have no idea if this was is one of the first proper groove metal records (I doubt it) but, listening to it, it’s hard to imagine one that’s more definitive: with the exception of two semi-ballads that briefly suggest we’re in for a break (but then pummel us), this is wall to wall thrash metal with a groove (at times it actually sounds like Metallica with a groove). Also, I hear so many echoes of later metal in this, it’s clear to me how seminal this is.
The only things keeping me from giving this full marks are that Anselmo’s lyrics are terrible and, on occasion, the band sounds too much like prime Metallica.
6. Ministry: ΚΕΦΑΛΗΞΘ [Psalm 69] (9/10)
The prototypical industrial metal album? Read the review.
7. GWAR: America Must be Destroyed (8/10)
I must admit that my idea of GWAR and what they actually sound like were very far apart. In some ways they remind me of KISS, in the sense that they look significantly harder than they sound.
I was actually surprised to hear music that sometimes sounded like punk instead of metal and was generally surprised by the musical variety on display. I just figured I was in for an onslaught of death metal or something.
There’s humour not just to the lyrics but to the music, too, which I always appreciate.
Honestly, I am very pleasantly surprised.
8. The Jesus Lizard: Liar (8/10)
This band is amazing. Read the review.
9. Kyuss: Blues for the Red Sun (8/10)
I generally love this record, and Stoner Metal in general. But at bottom, it really is just a revival of early heavy metal with some more modern influences thrown in (and it’s certainly heavier).
This is the kind of record I’ll listen to over and over again but it’s hard to really get excited intellectually about something that is this in love with the 70s.
10. Tori Amos: Little Earthquakes (8/10)
I wrote the following in 2011:
Amos is clearly quite talented (I remember that vaguely from a glimpse of an ACL performance). For a debut, there are a lot of ideas, many of which really are surprising. There is some great stuff here, but rarely is a whole song superb (except for “Me and a Gun)”. She manages to avoid a lot of the pitfalls, there aren’t so many 80s keyboards and few 80s guitars and drums. Apparently she often sounds like Kate Bush, though I wouldn’t know. And lyrically it is obviously a huge influence on 90s music. But it’s a little overwrought. It almost – almost -borders on campy at times.
I don’t agree entirely. I kind of like how overwrought it is and it was undeniably hugely influential so I think it’s pretty good.
11. Red House Painters: Down Colorful Hill (8/10)
Pretty essential slowcore. Read there review.
12. Alice in Chains: Dirt (8/10)
Somewhere in the mists of time, I wrote the following:
I think AIC holds up less well than their contemporaries after all these years because of the general lack of songs. There are hooks but they are few and far between and the lyrics are hardly notable. (Occasionally they verge on terrible, like when Stayley tells me that if I didn’t read so much or go to school, I’d be a junkie too.) The songs are gritty but not quite as hard as I thought they would be. (I really do think Soundgarden are louder.) And certainly they can’t (or don’t) play balls out like Kyuss.
On the other hand, they are probably the most copied of the “grunge” bands after Nirvana and PJ, as the whole Stayley/Cantrell harmony thing has been done by every other post-grunge band ever. This perhaps makes them more notable than good. I don’t know. I can’t regard them as more than tier two of the “grunge” thing, despite their reputation. It’s a decent record and there are a couple really neat tricks but on the whole this pales in comparison to the other “classic” albums from this era.
I don’t think I agree with that in 2017. I still think it’s overrated but time has definitely made me like it more than I when I first heard it. I hear stronger songwriter than I used to (though, lyrically, it is indeed hit or miss) and I find that it is less important to me that they are not quite Stoner Metal loud.
Still overrated (not a masterpiece) but good enough.
13. Blind Melon (8/10)
The interlocking guitars of the Stones, the jamming and roots influences of the Allmans and the Dead, and a little tiny bit of funk, brought into the alternative era.
Yes, this music is heavily indebted to classic rock, but it is not a record that could have been recorded before the 90s. It’s the 90s aesthetic that keeps it from being derivative.
One of my favourite albums of the era (and I like it a lot more than some of the records above it on this list), even if it’s
- not particularly original and
- nowhere near as good as the sequel.
14. Alejandro Escovedo: Gravity (8/10)
I really like Escovedo’s aesthetic. It has taken me significantly longer to get into his songwriting, which is perhaps a little too straightforward for my tastes, given the aesthetic. It lacks a bit of subtlety, though I understand that’s sort of the fault of the tradition he comes from.
But that aesthetic is great. And it’s still a pretty impressive debut from a guy who wasn’t always the songwriter in his previous bands.
The expanded addition adds a live performance as a second disc, which further shows off the appealing aesthetic.
15. Aphex Twin: Selected Ambient Works 85-92 (8/10)
I am familiar with electronic music up until a point – that point is somewhere in the very early ’80s. I have no idea what happened between then and the music we have today, save for the odd track that gets played too much or turned into stadium music.
So I am at an absolute loss as to where this record sits in the history of electronic music. To me it sounds like Eno plus rhythm (and samples) a lot of the time. I know Eno has done stuff somewhat similar to this but this is, to my knowledge, much closer to music you could (conceivably) dance to than anything Eno ever did on his Ambient series.
I have read that this record had a huge impact upon later electronic music but I have no idea. I will have to listen to more to find out.
16. Ween: Pure Guava (8/10)
On some level, Ween must be commended for sticking to their aesthetic on their major label debut. The temptation to use a professional studio would have caused most other bands to significantly professionalize their sound. In fact, that did happen with Ween, only an album later. I suspect that early fans of Ween were relieved when they didn’t “sell out.”
But I am a fan of the professional Ween. I like their early stuff but I think they got better when they started spending as much time being professional (musicians and recording artists) as they did as parodists. I don’t see this record as the last “pure” Ween record (pardon the pun) but, if anything, a bit of a misstep on a trajectory from their amateurish, deliberately bad early music to their career apex as possibly the bests parodists in the history of rock music.
If I’m going to listen to early Ween, I’d rather listen to The Oneness or The Pod. This just isn’t among my favourites of their earlier stuff.
That being said, this was my first Ween record and does have a special place in my heart. When I heard “Mourning Glory” for the first time, it was probably the noisiest, most difficult piece of music I have ever heard. And so I am happy about its eye-opening affect on me. (Also, “Don’t Get 2 Close (2 My Fantasy)” is one of my favourite Ween songs.)
17. Leonard Cohen: The Future (7/10)
I like the songs more than I like the sound. Read the review.
18. Sonic Youth: Dirty (7/10)
They sold out! They sold out! Read the review.
19. Rage Against the Machine (7/10)
It’s good, but it’s one-note. Read the review.
20. Stone Temple Pilots: Core (7/10)
Certainly this is a little more obviously accessible than the bands that managed to get their debuts out in the years before. And it owes a lot to those bands. (Weiland in particular sounds way too much like Staley a lot of the time – though at other times he sounds like Axl, which is a little weird.)
But this is still solid stuff. If it is post-grunge, and I sincerely doubt it, it is very well disguised post-grunge. Simply compare STP’s debut to Collective Soul’s and see what I mean.
Anyway, it’s solid. But like all other lesser lights of this genre it is lacking in strong songwriting. The aesthetic is nearly right on, and there’s enough unconventional thinking to keep it from truly being the “arena grunge” that so many accuse it of, but the songs could be better.
21. Ride: Going Blank Again (7/10)
I thought I was getting shoegaze, and I do. But there’s a lot of other stuff going on here that isn’t strict shoegaze. One of the things that I don’t love about some shoegaze is the relentless commitment to one particular style. But there’s enough variety here that I’m kept interested. Also, the songs are pretty good so it’s not just the wall of sound that is appealing.
22. Danzig III: How the Gods Kill (7/10)
A weird amalgam of the old and the almost new. Read the review.
23. The Tragically Hip: Fully Completely (7/10)
This is the point where, for me, the Hip overcame their bar band origins and evolved into something a little more contemporary, a little more relevant.
They were an always an excellent band with way-better-than-they-should-be lyrics but, here, they sound like The Hip, emblematic Canadian institution, rather than just a band full of talented musicians, playing blues rock with a poet for a lead singer.
Also, here they sound at least a little more like an alternative rock band, rather than a band that really did love classic rock.
Yes, there were some great songs on the firs two records but this record feels like they’re a unique beast, rather than just another rock band.
24. Annie Lennox: Diva (7/10)
I am generally opposed to albums dominated by “modern” (read: contemporary) instrumentation. I hate bad ’80s (and ’90s!) synthesizers and generally do not like music that is made primarily by these instruments. Things that sound modern once do not normally sound modern later and that is a huge issue with so much of the pop music that was made between the late ’70s and early ’90s.
But the thing is that Lennox wrote a bunch of songs rooted in soul tradition – even if this is a very commercial version of that tradition – and the fundamental soulfulness of this record makes it sound far less dated than it should. Also, those songs are pretty good.
An added bonus is that Lennox treats her voice like Joni Mitchell would, using it to create this deep choir of backing vocals that add a lot to the keyboard-dominated arrangements. (This choir also shows off her range better than her lead parts.)
I like this a lot more than I thought I would.
25. Screaming Trees: Sweet Oblivion (7/10)
I don’t love this so far. Read the review.
26. Joe Henderson: Lush Life: The Music of Billy Strayhorn (7/10)
People are weird. Apparently Henderson toiled in relative obscurity for decades and then one day, in the early ’90s, people lost their shit over him, though stylistically he is, you could argue, a pre-Trane player, or a least one who never followed Trane through the door when Trane finished removing the frames around it.
So, the good: Here are some imaginative covers of Strayhorn’s work, many of which rethink the originals in new and exciting ways. The band clearly reinterpret the music; they are not content, like so many others, to replicate the tracks and just change up the solos. So that’s what makes this worth checking out.
The bad: This is still just Bop/Post Bop. Henderson gets a little skronky on a few numbers, but even then his playing is very restrained compared to most (good) young saxophonists. No wonder so many people liked this when it came out. It’s a nostalgia trip. It would have been downright notable in 1965 or so. But in 1992?
I can’t really see the acclaim. It’s a very good “covers” album in a style that has been passe for 30 years.
27. Oliver Knussen: Whitman Settings [orchestrated version] (7/10)
This is the orchestral version of four Whitman poems Knussen set to his typically colourful music. The vocals are acrobatic to the point of me not being able to hear the words so I do not know whether or not they make sense with the poetry. But I appreciate the music, as it’s typically full of ideas. Would like to hear the piano version at some point.
28. Eric Clapton: Unplugged (7/10)
Sometime in 2015 or 2016, I wrote the following:
This record was the first record I heard that remotely approached “The Blues”; it was the first Clapton record I ever heard and it was also the first live album I ever heard. You might say I didn’t have low standards (or high standards) because I didn’t even know what these things were. I was in my early teens and I had never heard an acoustic band playing music so well, let alone music from various roots genres that I would come to love. So it made a big impression.
20 years later, I can’t say that I love it. The whole thing feels rather cliche, though that’s hardly Clapton’s fault (or his band’s) as this record became the Unplugged record, the record that defined the brief period when these albums were popular. Also, it came to define Clapton in the ’90s, with the rest of his albums being practically ignored by anyone who wasn’t already a fan. It’s been played a little too much, both my myself and the media.
Listen, the performances are strong and Clapton is in fine form. It’s nice to hear something approximating the original version of “Layla” and it’s nice to hear some of these songs stripped down to less produced arrangements (though the band is still large).
But all of this stuff is good primarily in relation to how awful Clapton was in the ’80s. As someone who has become a huge fan of his work prior to his heroin-induced sabbatical from music, I can’t say that this really holds up to that early stuff.
All that being said, it’s till the best Unplugged record that I’ve heard (omitting Unplugged in New York from that list given its version of “The Man Who Sold the World”), and it’s probably Clapton’s second best record since the ’70s.
So I can’t say that I agree with that in 2017, when I am about to record a podcast about this. This is a pretty wussy, whitewashed version of The Blues and other roots musics, and it’s pretty damn poppy. The more I read actual criticism of this record – both contemporary and retrospective – the more I agree with how this really isn’t very representative of The Blues, of Clapton’s best blues music, and of anything other than an ageing, less interesting musician who has a great tone.
It actually really sounds a lot like that Allman Brothers album below, only this is even more whitewashed.
29. The Allman Brothers Band: Seven Turns 6-11-92 Radio and Records Convention [Also released as split with Indigo Girls called Club R&R & Epic Records Present an Acoustic Evening With The Allman Brothers Band & Indigo Girls] (7/10)
This is a limited edition live album of the Allman’s 1992 performance at the Radio and Records Convention (though I don’t hear a full band). It finds them performing an entirely acoustic set. (The man who lent it to me says it was their first with this material, but I have my doubts as this sounds quite well-rehearsed.)
The performances are all pretty great and shows off much of what’s great about the band – their playing is stellar. The whole thing does feel rather sanitized though, sort of what you would think the blues would sound like as presented for old white people, albeit it with a lot of musical talent.
30. Biohazard: Urban Discipline (7/10)
Actual rap metal. Read the review.
31. Nirvana: Incesticide (7/10)
If you were one of the people who was devastated both by the end of Nirvana (and by Cobain’s death, of course), I think this compilation would be one of those things that made you feel worse. What I mean by that is, here is a pretty great rarities collection just showing how much more the band had in addition to their records. The assumption of the dedicated, devastated fan would be, I assume, that there was so much more to come.
It’s not always clear to me why some of these songs were left off the records, and that’s always a good sign of a rarities collection. But otherwise, it’s just a pretty standard rarities collection. If you like the band, you’ll like it.
32. The Jesus and Mary Chain: Honey’s Dead (7/10)
I should never read anything before I listen to a record, especially a record by a band I don’t love. I heard why they called it Honey’s Dead and suddenly my head was filled of dreams of reinvention. But no, it’s still very obviously The Jesus and Mary Chain. Only this time they’ve gone Madchester (I think).
I can’t say I love this band, nor do I love shoegaze (though I like it more than I used to), nor do I love Madchester. So I am not a person who can really assess this album fairly.
I will say that I don’t hate it like I used to hate this band. And I think diving into Madchester (or what have you) is much more daring than I’d like to believe. So I am grudgingly rating it higher than I want to.
33. Lou Reed: Magic and Loss (6/10)
A failed concept, I think. Read the review.
34. Manic Street Preachers: Generation Terrorists (6/10)
What do we do with a record like this? It’s called Generation Terrorists but sounds like it was produced by Mutt Lange or Bob Rock or someone like that. (Well, the production is maybe not that bad.) We have the bizarre amalgam of ’80s hard rock (or “cock rock” as some call it) with extremely political lyrics that belong in punk songs. Is the idea to make super accessible and conventional music but to sneak in the lyrics so that young, impressionable youth are converted? I mean, if that’s the goal here, I’m not sure how much it succeeds. How much do most people really listen to lyrics?
This is the least dangerous record I think I have ever heard with “terrorists” in the title. That doesn’t meant it’s bad, but I have a really hard time dealing with the incongruity of music and lyrics.
35. Izzy Stradlin and the Ju Ju Hounds (6/10)
I sought out this record years ago because I told myself that my favourite Gunners songs were all the ones that Izzy wrote, and so I bought this and got at least a little confused because it didn’t quite sound like the Gunners.
It’s a solid, revivalist blues rock record with a few misses but mostly decent stuff. But it’s definitely for blues rock aficionados and nobody else.
36. Weddings Parties Anything: Difficult Loves (6/10)
Canadian music is usually ignored by American and British music critics – at least prior to the recent Canadian music explosion into respectability. Music critics from the two countries which have produced the most great rock music seem genuinely surprised when something from Canada stands up their own music. Prior to the recent explosion of Canadian music, there were few Canadian groups to get recognition outside of Canada. We had the Guess Who – who may have been overrated by American critics – The Band – who everyone consistently mistakes for American – Rush and maybe a few others, excluding the one-hit wonders. I suspect the same thing has happened with Australia. They have AC / DC, Nick Cave and a few others.
I suspect music critics in the States were therefore surprised into praise when they heard this literate but pretty safe and polished record from Weddings Parties Anything. (Who have a great band name, by the way, which is probably how I found myself reading their reviews.)
There’s nothing particularly wrong with this record but there’s not a whole lot right with it either. The lyrics are definitely above average if not quite great, but the music behind the lyrics doesn’t do those justice. Safe, middle of the road, folk-rock influenced alternative rock, the kind of which was produced by countless bands during the ’80s. ‘But since it’s from Australia – who, we know, rarely makes a dent on our music – we better celebrate it excessively!’
37. Morrissey: Your Arsenal (6/10)
I don’t hate this! Read the review.
38. Soul Asylum: Grave Dancers Union (6/10)
Somewhere in the mists of time (2011), I wrote the following:
Fairly nondescript. And not very well produced. I think if they hadn’t recorded this thing in a closet (or whatever it was) it might make the only okay songs sound better.
What do I think of this?
“Runaway Train” was everywhere when I was 11 and 12. It was just everywhere. I must have seen that video countless times. But somehow I know some of the other songs but only one other was a single. I figure at least one person I know (maybe a cousin) had the tape, but I think we only ever listened to “Runaway Train,” “Somebody to Shove,” “Without a Trace” and maybe one or two others which seem to ring a bell. I know these songs too well and I can’t really explain it. (Though I did listen to this in 2011 for some reason, so maybe that’s why.)
It was only the bass that was recorded in the closet and I frankly don’t really understand what I was thinking at the time. But that’s not to say I like it.
Soul Asylum are wannabe Replacements, that’s clear from this record. (I might not have known The Replacements well enough in 2011 to catch that.) But it’s like the Replacements lost their songwriter and got a grunge – or, dare I say, proto post grunge – makeover to fit in with the moment. There’s both a sheen and polish to the sound and an edge – a carefully crafted edge.
The songs are pretty damn catchy (well, some of them) and the lyrics are significantly darker than I remember (though I don’t love them) but Pirner is not Westerberg and so I’m left with this vague feeling of deja vu (both for the Mats and for actual grunge bands) and generally not much love for the record.
But it’s competent and it’s catchy, which is more than I can say for some stuff like this.
39. NOFX: White Trash, Two Heebs and a Bean (5/10)
As I am no longer a teenage boy, this has no appeal. Read the review.
40. Various Artists: The Bodyguard Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (4/10)
Well, it’s not good. Read the review.
Not Ranked: Gerard Schwarz: Y Chamber Symphony of New York: Trumpet Concerti of Haydn/Hummel (9/10)
The trumpet has always been a jazz instrument for me. I guess that’s in part because I came to jazz before I came to concertos and solo pieces from the classical repertoire and because there really aren’t many trumpet pieces out there. It’s an under-utilized instrument, for sure. The trumpet always sounds regal or martial to me in Classical and Romantic music and I don’t particularly go for that. Prior to 1770, the trumpet couldn’t hit a wide range of notes. The keyed trumpet was invented around then and allowed for the instrument to express a greater range. The result was that composers could actually write music for it! So then we got more interesting trumpet concertos. (The modern trumpet was invented in the 1930s, so very little has been written for this particular type of trumpet.)
Haydn’s smacks to me of High Classical conventions or cliches – at least the first movement does – but there is no denying the importance, as it’s the first concerto for this type of instrument. So this is basically the first time anyone ever wrote for the trumpet below the high register. And that’s kind of crazy. And if I’m being fair, the trumpet really does a lot of stuff in this piece.
The Hummel is apparently one of the few other pieces written for this particular type of trumpet (and was written for the
same guy as the Haydn, the inventor of the instrument). I feel like this work is less impressive in terms of the difficulty for the trumpet, but it feels more “modern” to me musically.
Overall this is an excellent pairing of two pieces written for a unique instrument that lost the battle with history.
Not Ranked: Dawn Upshaw; London Sinfonietta: Symphony No. 3 by Henryk Gorecki (8/10)
I think this is the ‘Adagio for Strings’ of the Polish avant garde / Holy minimalist schools, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s obvious why its popular (well, if you put aside its length) and its also obvious why so many music nerds hate its popularity or even hate it: it’s too easy to love for something written by a guy who’s supposed to be “avant”.
I really like it, but I understand why it isn’t exactly forward-thinking. As someone else commented, ‘sometimes beauty transcends reason.’ Couldn’t say it better myself.
Not Ranked: The Bill Evans Trio: The 1960 Birdland Sessions (8/10)
As much as this contains some pretty great music from one of the era’s greatest piano players, I have to think it is only worthwhile for devotees. The music is great but the sets are short – and there is a great deal of repetition between them – and there is an absolute ton of background noise. It doesn’t really take away from the pretty awesome music, but it is distracting.
Not Ranked: Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Jiri Belohlavek: Taras Bulba, The Fiddler’s Child, Jealousy (Overture), The Cunning Little Vixen Suite by Leos Janacek (8/10)
This is a collection of orchestra works by Janacek; two standalone works, one overture extracted from an opera, and a suite of instrumental pieces from one of his operas. Read the rest of the review.