1994 in Music

Reviews of music originally released in 1994.

1. Masada: Alef (10/10)

I don’t know if this is the first Klezmer Jazz record, but it has to be considered a landmark in the genre if it isn’t.

Klezmer is successfully integrated with post bop in a way that makes you think “Why did no one ever think of this before?” It’s one of those musical fusions that sound like they should have always existed, because these two forms of music together make too much sense. There had long been a drive to make some of the soloing in jazz sound more “eastern” – and to rely on “eastern” scales and the like as a means of expanding soloing. And just as much, at least to my ears, it feels like the spirit of Klezmer has a lot in common with the spirit of early jazz, even if they come from two totally disparate traditions.

And this is a top jazz band playing these pieces, skirting on the edge of the avant garde without completely going into it. (Well, until the last track, which is as free as early free jazz.)

Just an absolutely essential record.

2. Ween: Chocolate and Cheese (10/10)

This is the first “properly” produced Ween album, when the album is no longer drowning in their deliberately lo-fi sound, nor is stocked full of songs as practical jokes.

Instead, Ween’s full talent is on display and this time without a deliberately inaccessible sound to the recording. Ween tackles 16 different genres; every single song could convince you it belonged on a different record. Though all are great, a couple of them are particularly on, such as “Spinal Meningitis” (the creepiest Ween song ever), “Freedom of ’76” (where Gener makes his case for the best alternative rock singer of the ’90s), “A Tear for Eddie” and “Buenos Tardes Amigo.” These last three parodies are so on that you cannot tell any more whether it’s a parody or an homage.

This is Ween’s best album, their greatest achievement. It is also one of the great alternative rock albums of its era. I think it just doesn’t get the attention it deserves because these guys are considered a comedy act.

A classic.

3. Nas: Illmatic (9???/10)

I have no idea if this is the greatest hip hop record made up to this point. Read the confused review of Illmatic.

4. Soundgarden: Superunknown (9/10)

This is the first Soundgarden album I ever heard so maybe that’s why it remains my favourite. I know among really serious fans of the band this is often viewed as a bit of a sell-out or concession to the mainstream, but for me this is the band at the peak of their powers; their strongest set of songs – an onslaught of memorable riffs – combined with a (slight) stretching of their sound into things other than the punk-metal hybrid thing.

Maybe I need to listen to their earliest stuff, but of the Ben Sheppard-era, I take this over the other records any day.

5. Beck: Mellow Gold (9/10)

I don’t think this record was supposed to happen. If it was, it wasn’t supposed to be a hit. And that doesn’t make sense. Because the whole thing doesn’t really make sense. Deliberately lo-fi “slacker” roots music married to hip hop production (with a little rap thrown in) and bunch of other stuff thrown in. It doesn’t make any sense.

But there’s no denying it works. Even if Beck’s lyrics at this early point in his career were more than a little hipper-than-thou, everything else works wonderfully. Beck basically created his own version of alternative rock here as there really wasn’t anything else (this commercially successful) that sounded anything like it.

And it’s been incredibly influential too. Think about the number of “bedroom” records that have been released since that owe something to this record.

A classic.

6. Pavement: Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain (9/10)

Slightly more accessible than the last one, the songs are stronger and the blueprint for oh so many indie rock bands feels set.

I struggle as to whether I prefer this one to Slanted and Enchanted or vice versa, but together I think they define American indie rock in the ’90s better than anything else; the idiosyncrasy, the combination of melody and quirkiness, the willingness to present kind of kooky ideas in accessible rock songs.

And I think this is their best set of songs but the edge on Slanted and Enchanted feels more significant to me.

7. Emperor: In the Nightside Eclipse (9/10)

Probably the birth of Symphonic Black Metal. Read the review of In the Nightside Eclipse.

8. Blur: Parklife (9/10)

In 2010 I wrote the following:

This is a step forward from Modern Life is Rubbish.  It’s more consistent on the whole, while being more varied at the same time. They are getting more ambitious it seems, but they are better at being ambitious, or something like that. The whole band is in better form as well. Coxon has a couple really great solos and the arrangements are generally better.  The only thing about it I don’t particularly like is the bonus Pet Shop Boys remix, which doesn’t add anything to the original, and often sounds like a massive cliche.

I’m not sure that review does any justice at all to this pretty fantastic record, manages to actually make brit pop sound modern and ambitious, something that I do not get from most brit pop.

9. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Let Love in (9/10)

While the wildness of the early Seeds is still very much present on this record, there are also occasional hints of the sound that would emerge in the late ’90s in the ballads. Though I have yet to hear all of the ’80s Seeds records, this is probably a good candidate for having Cave’s strongest set of songs to date, with the emphasis slowly moving towards craft over pure aural experience.

It’s not quite Tender Prey in my eyes, but it’s still among the very strongest of the Seeds records before they calmed down/grew up.

PS This is the most Spaghetti Western of all Bad Seeds albums.

10. Bark Psychosis: Hex (9/10)

In 2010 I wrote the following:

So I guess this is the official beginning of post-rock (the worst named “genre” ever), even though this kind of music sort of existed before 94, and other bands were making similar music at the time (Tortoise). It’s still a bold statement that sounds like little else at the time (aside from the aforementioned Tortoise and a few other bands). The fact that the group broke up slightly after adds somewhat to this seeming import of this album. On the whole it is successful, but I think it is slightly more influential than great. Other bands would refine these ideas. But a groundbreaker is a groundbreaker is a groundbreaker. It’s hard to imagine much of “alternative” music (for lack of a better term) without this album.

So, um, a lot to unpack there. But the thing I want to focus on is how similar this is to what Talk Talk had already been doing years earlier. This album was the album for which the term “post rock” was invented (in a review) but this music didn’t come out of the ether.

It’s a pretty great record and if you’ve never heard Talk Talk’s last records, you’d think they invented the genre, or close to it. But no, they didn’t. Someone just used their review of this record to finally coin a term for a sound that had been around for some time.

11. Nirvana: Unplugged in New York (9/10)

I wrote the following in 2011:

This is far and away my favourite despite the lying title (they’re liars, the liars!). Why call it unplugged if you are going to plug in your “acoustic” guitars? Grrr. I blame the marketers. It’s far and away the finest thing they recorded. I am repeating myself. It would have helped if I listened to this recently.

Do I feel differently now? Yes, a little.

I used to struggle with Nirvana because I didn’t feel the angst (read: depression) Cobain (and numerous others) felt. As I’ve gotten older, I have been more able to empathize with his experience than I could when I was in my 20s (yes, that’s counterintuitive.) And so I like their other records more than I did.

But this still feels like a significant departure from In Utero, which is a remarkable thing to say about a live album. And, like numerous others have observed, it feels like it suggested a major change in the band’s sound which may have resulted from Cobain living.

I love live albums that don’t sound like the records. And this is one of them.

12. Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble: Officium (9/10)

I often have a hard time with “ECM” jazz. On the whole I prefer my free jazz loud and intense, not quiet and not so “cool”. In fact, ECM often just sounds to me like second wave cool; a little freer but that’s about it. Frankly, I don’t enjoy it much of the time.

That being said, I think one purpose of art is to shock us out of our comfort zones – to piss us off and make us think. And I appreciate records that do that even when I don’t like the style of music.

This is a bold and, to some, offensive musical experiment that really provokes and shatters boundaries. On the other hand, it also manages to sound, at times, like muzak.

Garbarek’s decision appears to offend jazz purists, and his playing offends jazz fans who do not like cool and whatever that fake “jazz pop” / new age shit is that cool inspired – and no doubt working with a vocal ensemble singing Gregorian chant is just way out of line for some people.

And no doubt those who think Gregorian chant must be replicated and preserved for history lost their minds when they heard Garbarek’s pseudo “smooth jazz” sax all over these compositions.

And frankly, it doesn’t always work. And I doubt I will listen to it much later on, as Garbarek really is not my kind of sax player.

But my personal feelings about whether or not this is something I would want to listen to in the future do not take away from the fact that it is great art: it is provocative, it is innovative and path-breaking and it is, at times, beautiful.

13. Oliver Knussen: Horn Concerto (9/10)

Every traditional form of music Knussen takes on, he seems to take on briefly. Such as the case with his horn concerto, which is in four movements but last just over 12 minutes total. I have no idea why he does this and I also don’t know why it bothers me. After all, if you can say something in prose in shorter sentences you should. So why not in music?

The intro is pretty bonkers for how it feels like an entrance to a mysterious place or something, rather than the intro to a concerto. But the horn comes in about 45 seconds in and it begins to sort of resemble a concerto (though not a traditional one).

And the rest of the movements follow that theme, with Knussen’s typically impressionistic and basically filmic writing dueling out with, what sounds to my ears, not a particularly virtuoso horn part but one that conjures images. It’s a neat piece.

14. Disco Inferno: D.I. Go Pop (9/10)

I wrote the following in 2010:

Sort of like a less funny but far more musical Throbbing Gristle. No not really, that’s just the title. Combines the sample usage of Dark Side of the Moon with krautrock… some of the time, and only with the samples persisting throughout the songs. An early piece of so-called “post-rock” I guess. Totally trend-bucking, which I always enjoy. Unlike a lot of “low fi” stuff, the samples aren’t turned up so loud so as to drown out the real music, which is nice.

I can’t say I love that comment. Anyway…

It’s interesting to think that it’s Hex that got the press for “inventing” post rock when this record was far more radical and original. I have never heard their EPs, on which they were already replacing instruments with samples, but this is still just utterly unique in its rejection of conventional rock instruments most of the time, while still trying to sound (sort of) like a pop rock band with a singer-songwriter. (That’s what really differentiates it from early Industrial.)

It’s a landmark record that I have trouble loving as much as the other records above, because it’s so radical.

15. Portishead: Dummy (9/10)

I wrote this in 2011:

I can’t claim to be a huge trip hop fan but I have long been aware of it and I generally have had respect for it (I can handle it a lot more than hip hop). I guess this is sort of trip hop balladry – balladry in the modern not the traditional sense. As such it is very effective and well done, though I think to really get it under your skin, you have to be in a given mood or state of mind. I can’t say much beyond that in terms of criticism: it is well made and likable, though I guess if I can say one other thing it is a little one-note in the mood, if not in the arrangements.

I think that severely undersells how great this album is. I guess it just took me some time.

16. Korn (8/10)

The birth of one of the biggest genres of the era.

Read the review of Korn’s debut.

17. Soul Coughing: Ruby Vroom (8/10)

Utterly distinct. Read the review of Ruby Vroom.

18. Drive Like Jehu: Yank Crime (8/10)

Excellent mathy post hardcore which is perhaps just not quite original enough for me to give it a 9/10. Read the review of Yank Crime.

19. Frank Black: Teenager of the Year (8/10)

Though I haven’t listened to the vast majority of Frank Black’s solo career, I feel pretty strongly that you could make the case that this is Black’s best set of songs ever, including any Pixies record. So many of these songs combine the best of Black – idiosyncratic lyrics and little regard for songwriting conventions – with really strong melodies and a little more reverence for traditional arrangements than with the Pixies.

What Black sacrifices is aggression and overall sound – there are some really cheesy keyboards on this record, for example, which would not have made it onto a Pixies record (I’m pretty sure) and likely wouldn’t have made it onto this record had it been recorded a few years later. But to me, the songs are so strong that the odd cheesy keyboard can be forgiven.

Where the record struggles, and why I have slightly downgraded my rating over the years, is that it is too damn long and front-heavy, which should be a brutal combination. It’s too damn long, something that is often really hard to forgive unless there are good enough songs. I’d argue the songs are strong enough but it’s sequenced wrong – the best ones are in the first half to 2/3rds of the cord, for the most part. That’s not to say that the songs near the end of the record as bad, but rather than many of them are not up to the standard of the best songs. The first 12 tracks here are all among Black’s best work, and it’s significantly less consistent from 13 to 22. That is what is keeping me from rating it even higher, because I love this record. (I used to rate it 9/10 and I still sort of want to.)

20. Nine Inch Nails: The Downward Spiral (8/10)

It’s hard to approach something that is seminal having never heard it the first time around: there is the distinct possibility that you may overrate it because of its influence or underrate it because it was over-hyped.

Certainly this is one of the seminal albums of the first half of the ’90s. So, is that deserved?

It’s clear that whatever else he is, Reznor is a great producer. He has somehow managed to commercialize a seemingly uncommercializable genre, making something that is abrasive but catchy. I guess some people probably hate him for that. Not being a fan of industrial in general, I have no problem with it. Besides, this is what happens to “out there” music: eventually someone brings it into the mainstream.

Reznor has a gift for hooks and arrangements, though he is a pretty weak lyricist. I mean, two songs about pigs? But it doesn’t matter since what he puts around the words is so compelling.

21. Bedhead: WhatFunLifeWas (8/10)

I wanted to write about how this band is the missing link between Slint and Luna, as much as such a thing seems kind of odd. But lo and behold, Luna beat these guys to the punch, so I was wrong about that.

But I feel like that musical description is as good as I can get: this record sounds like what Luna would sound like if they liked Slint a lot more than, say, Loaded-era Velvet Underground. That’s not to say Bedhead sounds at all like Slint; it’s just there’s a tinge of that weird post-hardcore/math rock vibe overhanging what is otherwise the same kind of indie “rock” (really indie power pop) that might associate with Luna. The difference with Bedhead is they do sound like a rock band, a lot more of the time than Luna. Which is why I like Bedhead more.

22. Pearl Jam: Vitalogy (8/10)

This is another strong set of songs from Peal Jam, the best of which (mostly on the a-side) rank up their with their very best.

The problem is that this album is kind of derailed by the band’s conscious decision to be difficult, to be arty just for the sake of it. The nadir of the artiness is the last track, which is hardly original enough to be interesting as experimental music, and goes on forever.

Fortunately, the other arty experiments work much better, but are still not as good as regular Pearl Jam songs (those here, or on other records).

All that being said, I’d rather listen to this record than lots of other records, so there’s that…

23. Koenji Hyakkei: Hundred Sights of Koenji (8/10)

I was completely unaware of Zeuhl when I first heard this record. I still remain ignorant of its history. And I guess that’s why I still have unabashed love for this record when lots of people feel its just reviving old music.

This is probably my favourite prog rock album of the ’90s, even if that’s due to my ignorance of both Zeuhl and if there’s any good (actually progressive) ’90s prog. (Not neo-prog!…Never neo-prog!) It’s just so bonkers with the chanting and the frantic but repetitive riffs. This is my catnip, to steal a phrase from my girlfriend.

So I really need to learn more about Zeuhl so I can put this record in its proper place.

Until that time, however…this is awesome.

24. Built to Spill: There’s Nothing Wrong with Love (8/10)

Some time in the aughts I wrote a two sentence “review” saying I didn’t like this as much as Perfect from Now On but that I still liked it. Perfect from Now On is my favourite Built to Spill record so I guess that was praise.

I really like this band and I really like this album. It has most of the things you would want from this band including strong songs from Martsch and his distinctive guitar playing.

The only thing missing, really, is the ambition of later records. But it’s not fair to hold that against this record, especially given that this record existed first.

It’s not my favourite but I still like it fine. More than fine. I like it a lot.

25. R.E.M.: Monster (8/10)

This was the first “contemporary” album I ever bought. What I mean by that was it was the first album I ever bought that had been released recently. I probably bought it in 1994. Every other CD or tape I owned had originally been released on vinyl back in the 60s. So I have had a long relationship with this record. It’s one that has seen me change my mind on it multiple times: from liking it enough to eventually buy Automatic for the People to thinking it was their second worst record before Berry left to thinking it was not great but underrated. But I’ve once again changed my mind.

Fans were demanding a rock album and REM went all weird and delivered their loudest and densest record yet. They don’t sound like REM sounded before this record. They mess around with stuff they’ve never tried; not just the down-tuned guitars and weird contemporary production but other genres like with those soul songs. And Stipe often steps out of his comfort range.

It’s a weird rather difficult record despite its commercial success. And I like it. I particularly like “Let Me In,” which is one of my favourite REM songs.


26. Kyuss: Welcome to Sky Valley (8/10)

My initial disappointment will eventually give way to really liking this. I just need to give it time. Read the review of Welcome to Sky Valley.

27. Sloan: Twice Removed (8/10)

In 2009, I wrote this “review”:

Some of their lyrics aren’t great.  But otherwise this is pretty solid.

Listen, I don’t like power pop. It is not my thing. But if I were to try to conjure up the perfect ’90s power pop record, which balanced sugariness with muscle, and which boasted intelligent, albeit sometimes kind of obscure lyrics, about the kinds of things power pop bands are concerned with (romance, adolescence), it would probably be this record. Having listened to it many, many times now, I must give in and say that it is just insanely catchy.

28. Eric Clapton: From the Cradle (8?/10)

The most traditional blues record Clapton released in years – I guess it’s a pretty strong candidate for the most traditional blues record he ever released, right? – this is a refreshing departure from Clapton’s R and B and pop leanings for the decade and a half prior.

Yes, this is revivalism, but it’s revivalism at its very best: Clapton is on fire on every track (at least on the guitar…) and the band is excellent. If you’re going to attempt to make a record that celebrates a certain style and era, this is a pretty good blueprint.

It would be better if sang like Eric Clapton on every track, though. That’s my one complaint.

29. Lisa Germano: Geek the Girl (7/10)

A pretty great bedroom record. Read the review of Geek the Girl.

30. The Cranberries: No Need to Argue (7/10)

A solid set of songs. Read the review of No Need to Argue.

31. Beastie Boys: Ill Communication (7/10)

If it was a little shorter, and if I liked their rapping styles a little more, this might actually be the rare hip hop record I want to listen to more. Read the review.

32. OutKast: Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik (7/10)

This record, which ostensibly started southern hip hop, is a little too long. They need an editor. Read the review of OutKast’s debut album.

33. dEUS: Worst Case Scenario (7/10)

The Dutch take on alternative is fun and fascinating. Read the review of Worst Case Scenario.

34. Jeff Buckley: Grace (7/10)

Years ago I listened to this record maybe once or twice and dismissed outright (though still giving it a decent enough rating). I did this probably out of spite, because I was and continue to be a very big fan of Jeff Buckley’s father, and yet almost everyone I know has heard of Jeff but not Tim. (One explanation is because Jeff died while these people were alive whereas Tim died before most of them were born.) We all know hype is rarely if ever in proportion to any reality, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying that a person who produced a single studio album in his lifetime (plus one he almost finished) is more famous than his father, who produced far more music, which was arguably far more original (not to say better, as that is a matter of perspective and taste). That annoyance has kept me from giving this album its due for some time. But I might finally be over it.

Jeff is a pretty compelling performer and an excellent singer. I am not sure he was quite the singer his father was – as I consider Tim to be one of the best male “rock” singers of all time – but that might be only because he doesn’t have enough material to really make his case. He is still among the top tier of male singers of his generation.

I am less sold on him as a songwriter, as I find the covers on this record are often the most compelling tracks. That being said, he’s still a pretty decent songwriter and there isn’t a song that I can think of that really stands out as not being up to par with the rest. Given the relative lack of material – and how little of his extant material I’ve listened to – it’s kind of hard for me to assess him as a songwriter, beyond thinking he is fine.

So I think this is good. But I don’t think it remotely stands up to its reputation, in part because it’s just not anywhere as musically interesting as its made out to be. So much of the writing on Jeff makes a big deal about his diverse influences, but this is a relatively conservative, middle of the road album. Sure, it’s relatively diverse for mainstream, vaguely rootsy pop rock, but it isn’t stylistically diverse in the sense of the diverse listening habits that his fans always bring up. That’s not a criticism, but rather just one of the things keeping me from rating it higher than I do. It’s a good record, but it’s hardly a great one and to the extent people insist it is, I think that resides primarily in the apparent lost potential, in common need for fans to imagine what he could have done if he had only lived longer.

35. Ani DiFranco: Out of Range (7/10)

In 2011 I wrote the following:

This is the apex of the stuff I’ve heard of hers, despite the repeated song. Her songs are stronger and she hasn’t yet become obsessed with sounding funky.  She also avoids much of the vocal noodling that sometimes grates on me.

But listening to it for its anniversary in 2019 I find myself liking it less and sort of missing (my memory of) those first albums where things were maybe a little more stripped down. I no longer know if this is her best album, as I thought at the time. Maybe everything is a little inconsistent.

36. Hole: Live Through This (7/10)

In 2011, I wrote the following, having never heard another Hole record:

Surprisingly Love can’t write songs.  Shocking.  I would have thought drugs made her a great songwriter.

Perhaps the actual shocking thing is how accessible this is.  Some idiots decided it would be better to let us here this band clearly and I think that was a mistake.  Except when Love is screaming, or when there is the occasional blast of feedback, everything is crystal clear.

Also, the YMG cover sucks.  Totally over the top.  Excessive.  Etc.

I gave it a 5/10. Later, I heard Pretty on the Inside and really liked it.

Now I feel like Love has maybe gotten slightly better at the melody part of songwriting on this record but, in doing so, it’s clear the band has lost a bit of its edge. (Also, the production.) But I like this a lot more than the first time I heard it and I think it mostly succeeds at what it sets out to do – find a more accessible version of their sound, with a little more diversity and polish, but the same righteous anger.

I still don’t like the Young Marble Giants cover, though.

37. Weezer (7/10)

It’s pretty much impossible to judge this in any kind of “objective” light nearly 20 years later. If you’re of my generation (i.e. born between ’75 and ’85) chances are you have heard 60%-70% of the songs on Weezer’s debut a million times, courtesy of your friends and the radio. This album is basically ubiquitous. So these songs are in my brain regardless of what I may think of them. And so it’s a lot harder for me to get mad about the things I don’t like about it than if I had never heard it – see their second self-titled album, review coming soon).

If I had approached it out of nowhere (somehow) – I would have expected a new wave album. Why? Because of the Feelies cover and Ocasek’s name on the back. But there’s no new wave here. That must have been an interesting curve ball in ’94.


The good:

  • Cuomo is reasonably idiosyncratic for someone so obsessed with hooks.
  • The lyrics are definitely above average for this kind of band.

The bad:

  • Rick Ocasek (the producer). In the words of my least favourite music critic of all time, Robert Christgau, this is “arena punk.” Yes, there are some semblances of the punk-influenced alternative rock that heavily influenced this version of Weezer (Pixies, Nirvana) but there’s way more big, shiny guitar-ness, and that is terrible. If the songs weren’t so ingrained in my head at this point, I would probably use that as a reason to trash this album.

Somehow, perhaps because of its familiarity, I am willing to weigh the songs above the production, which is often something I cannot bring myself to do. And, doing so, I think about “The Blue Album” positively.

38. The Tragically Hip: Day for Night (7/10)

The Hip get a bit of a grunge makeover here; not to say they abandon the blues rock at all, they don’t. Rather, there’s a murkiness to the production that wasn’t there previously, which feels in line with what was going on in the rock world at the time. And so this is their first record to feel contemporary rather than revivalist, even if their sound hasn’t really changed.

It may be my favourite, I can never really decide.

39. Tan Dun: The Ghost Opera (7/10)

Whether or not these five pieces were originally intended to be played together, I don’t know. But it seems as though this is how they will be remembered.

With just about zero knowledge of Chinese music, what I have long been thrown off by is the use of the term “opera.” This work strikes me as “anti-opera” if it is indeed supposed to be a comment on, or part of the tradition of, opera.

But it doesn’t really fit in the string quartet genre either, given the performances required of all five members (which asks them to make noises, among other things), though I think my brain can process it better in this genre, than as an “opera.”

The music is out there – this is not something you should listen to if you are not into avant garde chamber music or, I assume, Chinese music – and I can imagine that it is a lot more fun live, than it is via headphones.

Years after hearing it, I’m still not 100% sure of what I think of it, but it is absolutely unique (to my knowledge). You will likely never hear anything else like it.

40. Johnny Cash: American Recordings (7/10)

Though I absolutely appreciate the production for this album, I must say that I find his song selection got better as the series went on (even though they moved away from the concept of Cash by himself). At the time I guess this seemed novel, but now that we have six of these albums I think this one sort of pales in comparison.

41. Sebadoh: Bakesale (7/10)

Decent enough. Read the review of Bakesale.

42. Cannibal Corpse: The Bleeding (7/10)

Very well done death metal with virtually no variety. Read the review of The Bleeding.

43. Antietam: Rope-a-Dope (7/10)

This murky, kind of lo-fi record at times reminds me of a lo-fi Eleven. But I feel like such a comparison is a real disservice to Antietam who are, to my ears, a far more varied and capable band than Eleven, even if the husband-wife things it an easy comparison.

This is a band that’s a little too lo-fi to be considered mainstream “alternative.” And the range they show here makes me really regret my initial comparison to Eleven and how that’s sort of dominated my thinking about them.

This is one of those solid indie rock records that features semi-decent songs with a better aesthetic.

Their versatility for one of these acts is pretty broad – it’s not like they have one sound that they just pound into your brain – and that makes it stand out a little more.

44. Tsunami: The Heart’s Tremolo (7/10)

Pretty strong melodies and lyrics typical of the era paired with relaxed indie rock that occasionally boils over into something more intense.

I like this record. I recognize that it’s not particularly unique (there were a fair number of bands making music like this back then) but the it’s on the rougher-edge side of this type of early ’90s indie rock, which I like.

45. Marilyn Manson: Portrait of an American Family (7/10)

Manson is often compared to Cooper but listening to this album I think that’s not particularly fair. Manson is significantly scarier than Cooper (even if he isn’t scary) but, more importantly, the band is more musically interesting than Cooper’s. Cooper was just doing arena rock with a spooky stage show. Here, at least, the music (and the vocals) sound vaguely spooky too. In fact, at some points the guitarist sounds like he’s channeling a poor man’s Adrian Belew, which is at least interesting, if nothing else.

So yeah I was pleasantly surprised by the overall musicality of this and the general strength of the music, if not the lyrics. (The more I listen to Manson, the less intelligent I find him, whereas I always thought he was one of the better interviews in rock, before I listened to his songs.)

46. Luna: Bewitched (7/10)

This is a really solid indie pop record. I keep telling myself that this isn’t my thing but I find that, over the years, a lot of songs have stuck with me and resonate more with me than when I initially listened to the record.

It’s still just well done, straight ahead, guitar-based indie pop, but for what it is it’s very solid.

47. Rodan: Rusty (7/10)

Extremely derivative of Spiderland but I really like it. Read the review of Rusty.

48. Elliott Smith: Roman Candle (7/10)

A decent set of songs, with a nice aesthetic. Read the review of Roman Candle.

49. Warren G: Regulate…G Funk Era (7?/10)

Not my thing but I know why it’s a big deal. Read the review of Regulate…G Funk Era.

50. Coolio: It Takes a Thief (7/10)

This is endearingly goofy. Read the review of It Takes a Thief.

51. Stereolab: Mars Audiac Quintet (6/10)

Too long. Read the review of Mars Audiac Quintet.

52. Oliver Knussen: 2 Organa (6/10)

This is a really brief set of two chamber pieces. It’s so brief it’s really hard for me to take super seriously even though I like the music I hear.

53. The Offspring: Smash (6/10)

Two things about this make it better than most other ’90s pop punk: the louder, hard rock guitars and the “social comment.”

The Offspring were certainly more literate than Greenday (at least at the time).

On the other hand, Dexter is a pretty terrible singer – which would be more acceptable if the music was faster – and the band lacks for hooks outside of the singles (and hooks are pretty important in pop punk).

Still, I prefer this (slightly) to early Greenday and I can’t help but finding the Offspring more interesting than most of their contemporaries, even if they never really lived up to the promise I occasionally detect.

PS I hated this when it first came out because I didn’t listen to distorted guitars.

PPS “Come Out and Play” is a near classic song but it lacks a great performance here. For me, it is still awaiting a definitive performance.

54. Dream Theater: Awake (6/10)

Dream Theater are fantastic musicians. They are extremely talented and I don’t want to be too hard on them.

But the singer doesn’t know how to restrain himself. And they can’t resist the urge to cheese out at the end of the record. (The final track is at the very top of my list for cheesiest songs I’ve ever heard, even if they include samples that try to make it seem like a joke…)

I wish this was an instrumental album, really. I think I’d like it a lot more. Why do so many super-talented bands lack taste? Why does happen?

55. Therapy?: Troublegum (6/10)

I like one song way more than the rest. Read the review of Troublegum.

56. 54-40: Smilin’ Buddha Cabaret (6/10)

Not knowing 54-40’s earlier music, beyond their hit single, I assume without basis that this is their grunge makeover album. There’s some definite murk and some arty production, and Osborne’s lyrics fit in with some grunge themes.

Unfortunately, Osborne is not a great songwriter. Sure, he’s written two famous songs but, beyond that, this first exposure to a whole 54-40 record reveals not a ton of strong melodies and some really mediocre lyrics. (Listen hard to a number of these songs and you will start wondering what they are about.)

Oh, I like the lead guitarist, I feel like he is trying to break out of convention just a little.

But there’s not a enough here beyond the singles to really recommend it.

57. Green Day: Dookie (6/10)

In 2011 I wrote the following:

I listened to this because I figured it was a pretty seminal record from the early 90s.  Oops.

The first thing that strikes me is that the only really memorable songs are the singles and the hidden masturbation joke – I love a good masturbation joke). The rest are endless samey pop punk. I read a review somewhere saying that this was an improved set of songs from Armstrong, making me think that I don’t ever want to hear any earlier Green Day.

I know there are those of you who will suggest that an album’s strongest songs being the singles is a good thing.  I disagree completely. To me the great thing about listening to a good to great album is to find all the songs that the record execs and DJs and public didn’t think were good enough but really are. The best songs usually don’t smack you in the face first listen. But here there are only the familiar singles that stand out. Too bad

Basically what I’m trying to say is this: if this is the apex of early ’90s pop punk then I don’t want to hear any more of it.

That was perhaps a little cruel. It’s very catchy.

58. Oasis: Definitely Maybe (6/10)

Ugh, Oasis suck. Read the review of Definitely Maybe.

59. Hootie & the Blowfish: Cracked Rear View (6/10)

Not the worst album to sell 14.5 million copies, despite what Gen Xers might tell you. Read the review of Cracked Rear View.

60. Jann Arden: Living Under June (6/10)

Too middle-of-the-road for me. Read the review of Living Under June.

61. TLC: CrazySexyCool (6/10)

Okay for manufactured pop R&B and hip hop. Read the review of CrazySexyCool.

62. Live: Throwing Copper (5/10)

As Creed are the post-grunge band that will berate you with Christianity, Live is the post-grunge band that will berate you with Buddhism (or a early-20s white male concept thereof).

Live are also one of the earliest post-grunge bands, along with Collective Soul. They started this whole thing.

That’s two strikes.

I find that I am pleasantly surprised into not hating this. I vaguely remember the singles – I do not listen to the radio really, and so I haven’t been flogged to death by anything but “Lightning Crashes” – and I vaguely remember the time when this band was it. It was a funny time too, because they were hardly similar to the things that came before. Little did we know it at the time but this was the beginning of a whole new era of mediocrity in rock radio, where each listener would be forced to listen to bands that sounded vaguely like various bands from Seattle (or the few from other cities lumped in with Seattle) but had something really important missing.

The usual post-grunge problems beset this release: the production is super clean (as usual grunge era-style lyrics are set to far more accessible music), the musicianship is competent but never interesting, there is a clear desire to sell records better than those that inspired them, etc.

It is more than a little hilarious that a band this interested in Buddhism was also that interested in selling records. Kind of incompatible, don’t you think?

There’s really nothing to recommend here unless you particularly like the singles. The album is more of the same, only less catchy and (as others have noted below) way too damn long. But at least there’s a pedal steel on one song. That’s something. (Though I should point out that it’s on the obligatory acoustic final track, which is pretty funny.)

63. The Lion King Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (4/10)

I was trapped in a car with this on repeat at least once when I was 12. I have never recovered. Read the review of The Lion King.

Not Ranked:

Compilations, archival releases and new performances of old music.

Leo Smith: The Young Pioneers: The Complete Music for Solo Piano of Aaron Copland (9/10)

I am normally not a big Copland fan but this gives me a whole new appreciation of him as a composer. The only thing I find annoying is the sequencing, which doesn’t give us a good idea of his development.

Angela Hewitt: Danzas espanolas by Enrique Granados (9/10)

Read the review.

Various Artists: Miserere et al. by Henryk Gorecki (9/10)

This is a collection of Gorecki’s choral music, mostly performed by choruses from Chicago. (Yet another release where the performers differ from track to track! I really need to get over this.) Fortunately, I wouldn’t have known that, if they didn’t tell me. So that’s something.

Read the full review.

Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Adriano: Jane Eyre by Bernard Herrmann (9/10)

I have never seen the Orson Welles version of Jane Eyre – come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve seen any version of Jane Eyre – but after listening to this, I really kind of want to.

This score is awesome – at times it sounds like a horror movie and, frankly, everything about it makes me want to watch the film. But it works outside of the film, as well, as it shows a composer using virtually every known trick in the book (though not really from other books, but that’s okay) to set all sorts of different moods.

This has to be considered one of Herrmann’s great early film scores. It’s just fantastic. Can’t say enough about it.

The Complete Atomic Basie aka Basie (8/10)

I get why lots of people love this, I do. Read the review.

Hadley, Gasdia, Ramey, Mentzer, Agache, Fassbaender, Welsh National Opera conducted by Carlo Rizzi: Faust by Charles Gounod (8/10)

I keep telling myself I don’t like French opera and I keep stumbling on to operas that I kind of like. I understand (I think) why this has fallen on hard times: it’s super long, it’s over the top, and nobody knows which version to perform. (The notes claim this is close to definitive, but who the hell knows?) But honestly, I like my operas over the top, and this one feels so much less obvious than the Bizet-type thing. I know I’m a huge snob about this kind of thing, but I can’t help myself. This is idiosyncratic enough (to my ears) and gauche (?) enough to appeal to me, even though I feel like it really shouldn’t.

Symphony Nova Scotia, Georg Tintner: Violin Concerto, Opera Intermezzi, Pieces for Small Orchestra by Frederick Delius (7/10)

This concerto is the only reason to listen to this disc, as you can get the other highlights in many other places. Read the brief review.

Randy Weston: Monterey ’66 (7/10)

Read the review.

BBC Philharmonica, Fedor Glushchenko: Symphony No. 3 ‘Simfoniya-Poema’; Triumphal Poem; Caucasian Sketches (6/10)

Read the review.


1. Alice in Chains: Jar of Flies (7/10)

Alice in Chains are one of those bands I always felt like I should like more than I do. It took me a while to really enjoy Dirt and, even to this day, I still wouldn’t rank it among the classic grunge records, though everyone else seems to.

The first time I heard this record I was super underwhelmed, in part because of the hype and in part because my idea of “acoustic” implied blues or country or both. (Also, I am super nitpicky about all the “acoustic” records in the early ’90s with amplification.)

I guess I just don’t love Cantrell as a songwriter at the end of the day and I prefer it when he and the rest of the band are doing more of a rock thing. Also, I don’t love Staley’s lyrics some times.

That being said, this is at least a left turn for them, and the story of it is compelling. I guess I feel like I would find it more compelling if they had committed more to a truer or more traditional “acoustic” sound and of course I would like it better if I was just a bigger fan of their songs.

By the way: only in the CD era is a 30 minute album an “EP.”