Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Best Albums of the 90s: 25-21

This isn't a guilty pleasure list. We've done that before. And now is not the time. I can't put on albums I'd like to say I hate but secretly listen to occasionally (STP's Tiny Music...Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop, Green Day's Dookie). This is about what I consider the best of the 90s. This list has been much harder than I thought it would be.

It's funny how much things have changed, how many things I declared as permanent have changed. I listened to a lot of grunge rock as a kid, and not much is left. Same thing with rap. I listened to a lot of gangsta rap in middle school, and while it's a good nostalgia trip, it's not great.

Some things didn't surprise me. By my senior year of high school, I had kind of figured out that no one really liked the Stone Temple Pilots, and for good reason. But some things have surprised me. By 2002 I had fallen in love with Weezer's Pinkerton, and my love was only confirmed by the vast majority of students at college. But after two brutally bad albums, I can't with any feeling listen to them.

About half of these albums I found after the 90s had died. I thought this would be such an interesting exercise, to look back at what I remembered, and what I listen to now. We're constantly reevaluating the past, but until now the 90s always felt so close. But they are so, so far away.

I also wanted to see what other people thought. What have a forgotten about, never explored, or need vindication about. It begins now.

25. Cornershop - When I was Born for the 7th Time
Cornershop were my little secret in high school. It was hard to admit to people that "Brimful of Asha" is your favorite song of the summer, especially when it's not the Fat Boy Slim remix. It's just not many times you can become infatuated with a Indian/British hodge podge of hip hop, country, Ginsberg instrumentals, and a completely serious version of Norwegian Wood sung in Indian. And unlike a lot of my weirder loves during the time, this one still sounds just as fresh as when it first come out. I especially love "Good Shit", where he repeats the title over and over and makes it sound so darling.

24. Pearl Jam - Vitalogy
Time hasn't been that kind to Pearl Jam. I have every single one of their albums and starting at about my Junior Year in college I haven't listened to them. Except, that is, for this one. Their dour mood seems forced now. Glum might be the better word. But if someone asked me what grunge was and why it was so popular, this is what I'd hand them. Weird, dark, heavy, melodic, and just arty enough to have edge. Vs still rocks like a monster, but after 10 years, this one still sounds the best. Why? Maybe it's the deliberately stripped down production, but I think the main reason is that's its the first time they didn't take themselves so seriously. Song about bugs? Check. Jazz freak folk outs? Check. Self-loathing grunge? You betcha...

23. Wilco - Being There
I never got Wilco until Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, so imagine my surprise when I went back two albums and found out that they were a happy-go-lucky rock band. Big huge riffs? Catchy choruses? How about really great classic rock solos? In "Heavy Metal Drummer" they may have talked about watching those "heavy metal bands, I used to go see on the landing in the summer", but this album beckons for such an event. It sounds kind of silly, but the 90s had a lot of dull rockers, and this one showed me that rocking seriously didn't have to be so studied and mechanical. Playing really loud guitars could actually be a whole lot of fun.

22. Oasis - Definitely Maybe
One of my favorite past-times is defending Oasis. Especially to the people who believe Oasis only wrote weepy acoustic ballads. The first place I start is with "Supersonic", and then move to "Columbia", and end with "Cigarettes and Alcohol". Usually people either cup their ears in defense of the abrasive distortion, or admit what I always knew, that Oasis, in their infancy, were a seriously great rock band. While they'd become a boring stadium touring dinosaur so very quickly, none of these songs is plagued with the boring rock conformity that strangled Oasis later in their life. Whether they incorporated shoegaze, disco, or blues riffs, it's a marvelous debut and one that most people are surprised to hear.

21. U2 - Achtung Baby
My favorite U2 album, Achtung Baby is the only one that doesn't seem indebted to its time. As great as Joshua Tree is, the moment those reverbed guitars hit the speakers the only thing I can think is: "it's the 80s." And as much as I like Zooropa, it's buzzing dance oriented songs sound very much of the 90s. But Achtung Baby, for some crazy reason, still feels modern to me. The songs don't stray much from normal rock construction, there are still lots of verses and choruses, but the execution is detailed and infinitely pleasurable. "One" will probably never get old, but I always loved "Even Better than the Real Thing". I like the sex god Bono. But that's just me.

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