I like to think the 1990s had a little something for everyone. Unlike the 1980s when the mainstream bit truly hard and major 1960s icons were defeated before they tried a thing due to major label production values, the 1990s dried out those productions and suddenly even modestly-inspired music sounded better, which is a big deal since music is sound, after all.
25) Radiohead -- OK Computer: If you were young enough, this was a mind-melting experience. If you were a bit older, say nearing 30, it wasn't so clearcut. I've heard conversations regarding this album that sounded like two people talking about completely different things. No matter how I feel about this particular album, I do think it's a shame big, important rock acts can't seem to have hits like the Pink Floyd back in their day.
24) The Prodigy -- The Fat of the Land: Anyone remember when electronica was going to be the next big thing? We all read about how the industry was ready to dump grunge and salute the new regime. It says on Wikipedia, everyone's favorite source for facts that may or may not be factually correct, that the album sold over 10 million copies. So it wasn't exactly the Bosstown Sound, but it stayed in the clubs and at raves, so folks could enjoy the Eagles' Greatest Hits on the radio without interruption.
23) The Chemical Brothers -- Dig Your Own Hole: Another highly-hyped album that's been a sizable hit but not the cultural touchstone that its followers wanted it to be. Or maybe if you live in the U.K., you actually get exposed to new ideas and these things have taken on cultural heft. I liked the album cover.
22) The Notorious B.I.G. -- Life After Death: Only Ready To Die was released in his lifetime, with Life After Death being released 16 days after he was gunned down in a drive-by shooting. The career risks involved with having a Gangsta Rap career have oddly not deterred young people from attempting one. Despite Biggie's death, young people did not flee to a safer genre such as folk or bluegrass music, where violent deaths have dropped drastically in recent decades, despite the amount of death that appears in the songs.
21) Stereolab -- Dots and Loops: The Tim Gane-Laetitia Sadier Show always serves as fantastic stereo demonstration music. If you can't kick out the Hz with the 17-minute "Refractions In the Plastic Pulse," you're doing something wrong.
20) Wu-Tang Clan -- Wu-Tang Forever: With enough members to make sharing profits a depressing exercise, Wu-Tang Clan successfully impressed suburban white people enough to bring the young men a Grammy nomination and positive reviews in mainstream magazines where hip-hop albums rarely are acknowledged. Not unlike this column, admittedly, where I confess to being no Billy Johnson, Jr. when it comes to music not made by Bob Dylan.
19) Third Eye Blind -- Third Eye Blind: Oh man! Remember these guys? They, like, saved rock 'n' roll, I think! They had three top 10 hits from this album! I think I might remember one or two, if I liked music. Truth told, I'm into calculators!
18) Elliot Smith -- Either/Or: Pure happenstance led me to see Mr. Smith when he played in New York City. It was in 1995, two years before this album, and Mr. Smith's performance was better than any of his records, quite honestly. He didn't need anyone's help and was, in fact, one of the few performers who could do it all with just his voice and his little folkie guitar. Hardly no one knew that night how soon they'd be crying!
17) Van Morrison -- The Healing Game: This is a pretty swell later-period Van Morrison album. No one who hasn't bothered with his work from the 1960s and 1970s need pay attention here until they're all caught up, and even then it depends how much you enjoy what it is that Van Mo' does, which is mostly phrasing at this point, since the top end of his range is forever gone. Amazing how vital you can make a person look by having them wear a black hat and sunglasses.
16) The Hives -- Barely Legal: It's been frustrating for young bands. Whereas Crosby, Stills and Nash can tour the world and still find people rich enough to buy tickets and to buy Deluxe Expanded 37th Anniversary Reissues of even their least-noteworthy albums, groups such as The Hives and other bands not from rock's golden era pretty much end up in the "Where Are They Now?" pile even while they're still very much alive and doing stuff.
15) The Offspring -- Ixnay On the Hombre: I remember being in someone's car where this was the soundtrack to where we were going and it sounded surprisingly pleasing to my ears as we headed out to the highway. Yet, I never felt the itch to get a copy for myself. Maybe I just figured I'd always run into someone who was playing music like this in their car, so why bother?
14) Seven Mary Three -- RockCrown: "Cumbersome," from their last album, had been so incredulously awful that it was actually good. So with that in mind, I ended up reviewing this follow-up for Rolling Stone, where the editors docked it a star, down to two, which I thought was unfair since they were doling out plenty of stars for bands that sounded exactly like this but who weren't so bad they were good. Ah, politics!
13) Ivy -- Apartment Life: I reviewed this album somewhere and because Dominique Durand was applying make-up on the original album cover, I decided in my mind that she was a Parisian model. This apparently tickled the group and confused them a little, since Ms. Durand was not a model. You know, if you can't make up stuff about pop music, then what fun is it?
12) Momus -- Ping Pong: I beg to differ with "A Customer" from the Amazon site, who has this to say under the heading "Don't Be A Fool": "Lyrics isn't everything. Although they (sometimes) are pretty funny and smart, they will NEVER compensate the poor, poor quality of the music. Momus must have recorded everything on a cheap $20 keyboard. Everything is so pathetic…" Personally, I think it's pretty clear that the keyboard cost at least $99.
11) The Flaming Lips -- Zaireeka: I played this album once. For it was only once that I had the four CD players required to play this 4-disc album. It also required three of us to turn the players on at the same time. It was a cool experiment but not one I found myself strongly craving afterwards. Sometimes the idea of music is enough.
10) Richard Buckner -- Devotion + Doubt: For his major label debut and his second "official" album, Lord Buckner got weird. His music has at times bordered on the somnambulant, but there is a peculiar charm to his husky burr. His albums are more like letters from a cool beatnik friend whose sense of humor and good nature saves him from whatever pretensions might scare you away from writing back.
9) Prefab Sprout -- Andromeda Heights: Considering that only Two Wheels Good ever charted on the Billboard 200 album charts, coming in at a barely-enthusiastic 180, Prefab Sprout's non-presence in the States has been enough for Paddy McAloon to say, "Well, to hell with them!" Ill-health has led McAloon to grow his beard and to ignore the world around him. I'm aware that life isn't fair, but here's an example where life really isn't fair.
8) Hoobastank -- Muffins: The always semi-reliable Wikipedia claims "Muffins is a 1997 cassette tape by Hoobastank that is a very ska and funk themed release rather than their recognized post-grunge sound." The only reason this entry is here is because I wanted to type the word Hoobastank. I'm sure they suck.
7) Son Volt -- Straightaways: As someone who never got Wilco, I may surprise you when I say I understood and enjoyed the first two Son Volt albums. While Jay Farrar would soon drown in his own drop-D tuning and turn monotony into a career path, the early Son Volt records have just enough true grit to get the job done. Or maybe there's a certain amount of boring I like having in my life.
6) Bob Dylan -- Time Out of Mind: As I stare at the extensive discography of Robert Allen Zimmerman, I am fascinated by how little I care about the albums released after Desire. I still like tracks here and there, but Oh Mercy aside there isn't a single album I need to hear in its entirety. Not even Love and Theft, which apparently is heresy, but as someone upthread said, "Lyrics isn't everything" (sic). Still, I take at least four songs here, so that's a higher batting average than most. But I do remember when Bob Dylan wasn't about the little things.
5) The Fall -- Levitate: Apparently, this is the album right before the band broke up amidst fisticuffs on stage and Mark E. Smith hired new employees. I broke it out to hear what it sounded like, silly me. It sounds like a Fall album, which means different…but the same. Not as good as some of the others, but better than a few others. For equally astounding insights about new releases in music, be sure to check in with my colleague Dave DiMartino at New This Week!
4) The Apartments -- Apart: While the entertainment business has continued to thrive on gossip and silly haircuts, musicians who sing and write music have fallen on tougher times. Sure, Adele has been acknowledged, but that still leaves a plethora of musicians who struggle to not make a living working in non-existent bookstores. If you don't own this album, your life is empty but can be quickly refilled for only $7.99! Please do so, before I lose all respect for you and myself.
3) Ron Sexsmith -- Other Songs: Elvis Costello sang his praises. Paul McCartney, Ray Davies and Elton John send him Xmas cards. Rod Stewart covered his tunes! What does it take for a mild-mannered Canadian to get some good ol' U.S.A. respect? Start here, for Sexsmith's sake. It's nearly perfect.
2) Tindersticks -- Curtains: If you're a music fan -- and by that I mean someone who likes more than the four bands everyone listened to in high school -- then you're likely running out of patience with people who tell you it was all over by (their random, self-imposed expiration date here). It's a handy coincidence that music stops mattering just when people stop mattering. I sat through the 12.12.12 concert and while I mourn the idea that there will be no one in thirty years who can bring people together at a big event like Paul McCartney or the Who, I can't say I've ever liked these big events much anyway. As long as there's a singer with a way to record their music, there is hope. Though even I must admit there is less of it these days, despite there being more of it.
1) Lori Carson -- Everything I Touch Runs Wild: Here's what I'm talking about. This amazing album received high critical praise upon its release. It can still be owned for a mere pittance and will never leave your side if you're careful. Ms. Carson continues to record her music, has begun writing books and is even playing with her old band, the Golden Palominos. You would clearly be a better human being if you owned this album and were able to speak of it with authority at your next holiday party. Happy Festivus to all!