Top 5 Albums Of The 1990’s
Grunge was a scene I never fully appreciated. I hated Pearl Jam, The Screaming Trees and most of the rest, although I had a sort of respect for Nirvana. It just all seemed too retro. I craved the modern, went to every concert I could and, most importantly had a blast. It was the decade I decided I’d had enough of Canada and, with $2,000 in my pockets, a suitcase of clothes and a duffle bag of CD’s I boarded a plane and moved to sunny San Diego. My favorite haunt was a little hippie/stoner beach community called Ocean Beach. I was introduced to the more subversive sounds of the 60’s there, but had to be brought kicking and screaming to a Jerry Garcia concert. I ended up enjoying it very much. Some would say too much. But musically it was the first and last parts of the decade that made the biggest impact for me with the middle bit being a bit of a wasteland.
This was a tough one for me to pin down to just 5 albums, and truthfully any of the runners up could be substituted. Out of all these albums the top 5 are the ones I continue to listen to the most.
The Flaming Lips, The Soft Bulletin: Yoshimi was my first real Lips purchase, this was my second. It took me a couple of listens to really see the beauty, but once I did I was hooked. From the opener Race For The Prize all the way through Waiting For A Superman and Sleeping On The Roof, this is a stone cold classic than redefined a band and an era. It’s an emotionally raw and honest record, tackling such varied topics as heroin addiction, car crashes, spider bites and loneliness. Quite possibly THE BEST album of the 1990’s and directly responsible for the critical and commercial success of The Flaming Lips.
Mercury Rev, Deserter’s Songs: This is the “new kid on the block”, a band and an album I didn’t totally get until I put this on the stereo while driving through a lightning storm. Weird Americana is the only way I can describe this album. Well, I guess I could use words such as melancholy, inventive, roots rock, bow saw and Band member participation (one song is even called Hudson Line in honor of one Band member). This album was a complete departure from the nerve gas squelching of their debut album and it’s all the better for it. Beautiful.
Primal Sceram, Screamadelica: The other album released in 1991 that would change the face of music. Before this Primal Scream were MC5 wannabe’s with a dim future. Singer Bobby Gillespie was already immortalized by being the guy who played drums on The Jesus and Mary Chain’s debut Psychocandy, but his band’s legacy was in serious trouble. Enter Andrew Weatherall, a young DJ and friend of the band who took one of their earlier songs (I’m Losing More Than I Ever Have) and created a club classic in Loaded. The rest of the album holds up even better, with the Steven Stills inspired Movin’ On Up, a reinvention of the 13th Floor Elevator’s Step Inside This House, and the moody Higher Than The Sun. They would crash and burn, come back for a few years and then crash and burn again, but to be a fan of the “scream is to go along with their genre dalliances secure in the knowledge that eventually they’ll create another record as good as Screamadelica.
The Happy Mondays, Pills, Thrills and Bellyaches: It’s sexy, dirty and best of all it’s funky. Sean Ryder’s intensely bizarre and nonsensical hooligan lyrics (“Son, I’m 30; I only went with your mother ’cause she’s dirty”) combined with house beats and feedback drenched guitars make this a psychedelic Madchester classic for the ages. They would burn out directly following this release, but so what? They deserved a little cocaine and heroin induced “me time” for creating such a cool-as-f*&k album.
The Boo Radleys, Giant Steps: There should be a website entirely dedicated to the virtues of this album. It should be dissected, debated and poured over constantly. It is a brilliant hybrid of the Jesus and Mary Chain, The Beatles and the Beach Boys. It is a record that demands total immersion to uncover it’s many sonic wonders. It also blends in elements of dub quite masterfully. One listen to Lazarus and you’ll know what I mean.*
Way back yonder to the crusty old nineties, amidst the dreary shoe gazers and bland indie schmindie open E chorders, a miniature marvelous masterpiece surfaced. Bubbling up from seemingly nowhere was an inspirational soundclash of Beatlesque chime, Sonic Youth scratchiness and a heap big dose of Scratch Perry Dubness. Emanating from somewhere grim up north, it knocked me for six. I was a restless, questing funclebod who found little of interest within the lame confines of the UK alternative rock scene. It all seemed so dreadfully unadventurous. Austere and sincere, it appeared to be preoccupied with being wistful and arty, fun seemed to be left out of the equation let alone imagination. I’d almost given up hope until a good friend slipped on Lazarus. Wow. It seemed the perfect marriage of melodic indie rock with huge great slabs of tuff dub. Why had’nt we heard this before? We had been losing ground to the surge of US led grunge yet here was our clarion call. The Boo Radleys carried the Great British tradition of tune smithery welded with invention, a smorgasbord of colour, humour and warmth, a kaleidoscopic vision which looked both forward and backwards simultaneously. Giant Steps, the album, had it all. Rock music had lost direction with the emergence of dance culture. A second coming of punk wrapped up in techno bleeps and smiley yellow faces. In an instant, rock music ceased to matter. Following an ecstatically enhanced warehouse knees up, the ‘all back to mine’ brigade would find no comfort in Rock’s platter, maybe the Stone Roses would get a look in or possibly Primal Scream but in the most, Rock had nothing to offer those heady come down days. Giant Steps, however, fitted the bill. Within its tumbling aural vistas and sonic shakedowns lay the answer, buried deep in its near cacophonous swirls there it was. The ‘answer’ lay in the very heart of the dance music movement and here for the first time it could be found in Indie. Unfortunately the ‘question’ was never known. Call it delerious drug rabbiting or potato mash mongtin, it all made perfect beautiful sense. Even within the near impenetrable Run My Way Runaway Giant Steps pulled you into a better place. It was’nt all narcotic musings, Wish I was skinny and Barney (…And Me) were skip along sing-along to rival the best of them whilst Butterfly McQueen and Upon 9th And Fairchild continued the unlikely dub alliance. Navigating through Giant Steps’ 17 tracks took a brave soul, lesser mortals may have given up after being Spun Around but the intrepid trippers plunged deeper and after signing off with The White Noise Revisited (do you remember?) would lay down and let their frazzled brains quietly sizzle. Aah 1993. Giant Steps was my soundtrack to the summer (the true second summer of love?) and upon hearing it again recently, I rejoiced in its ability to recall those halcyon days and marveled at how fresh (and still inventive) it sounded. Giant Steps indeed. Gaz Willums