Thursday, March 13, 2008

"The stage was now set for the Alan Parsons project, which I believe was some sort of hovercraft..."

Best of the Decades Project, Part 2: The 90s.

Best Albums

Honourable Mention...

(Compilations not eligible, in case you were curious...)

Good Weird Feeling by Odds
(underrated); The Slim Shady LP by Eminem (overrated); Metallica (aka The Black Album) by Metallica (it is great, but, to me, it's of a total album than three singles padded out to seventy minutes); Jagged Little Pill by Alanis Morissette ([shrugs shoulders] Probably the biggest album of the decade, but I'll be damned if I'm including more than one Alanis album--unless it's that one with "Too Hot"...I loved that tape!--and SFIJ is better. There, I said it.); Use Your Illusion I and II by GNR (Misha will kill me for not including either of these--sorry, buddy!--but while I appreciate these albums--and really like some of the tracks--these are albums that, for whatever reason, I never, ever listen to. Enough said.); The Main Ingredient by Pete Rock and CL Smooth (reminds me so much of the summer. Terrific disc.); Nevermind by Nirvana (I know, I know, but if I'm being honest, I just don't like this album that much. Is it bad? Not in the slightest. Influential? Certainly...but it's not something I find myself cueing up again and again...which is a bit of a kiss of death for this list); In Utero by Nirvana (Carrie and I heard this on FM96's "Albums That Matter" about a month ago, and it was surprisingly unimpressive. Loud, borderline incoherent, and--"Heart-Shaped Box" and "Rape Me" aside--totally forgettable. Very disappointing.); Last of the Ghetto Astronauts by the Matthew Good Band (a great album, but three MGB albums is probably excessive, so this one--the weakest/most unpolished of the bunch--just misses the cut).

What you'll see below: Killer Stretch (the best run of the album--songs must be consecutive), BEST TRACK, plus a couple of comments on why the album deserves a spot.

Bonus feature: Here's a link to a playlist I've put together based on some of the best songs listed below. That's 100 minutes of pleasure. Around here, we call that the Eliot Spitzer Special (too soon?).

The Top 25

T25. August and Everything After
by the Counting Crows (1993).
Round Here, Omaha, Mr. Jones (ANNA BEGINS). Plus let's nor forget "Raining in Baltimore" and "Rain King"--that's a lot of good tracks for a 51-minute album.

T25. Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie by Alanis Morissette (1998): Unsent, So Pure, Joining You. (ONE.) It didn't contain her best song ("Hands Clean," I'll argue) or her biggest hit ("Ironic"...I think), but it's technically her strongest album. I recall listening to this album (on repeat) more than any other when I liked feeling sorry for myself...though a mental image of that now just makes me laugh out loud. God, what a tool.

24. The Chronic
by Dr. Dre (1992): NUTHIN' BUT A G-THANG. Part of me wishes I were cooler so that I could, in good conscious, put this a dozen places higher...while another part of me thinks this shouldn't be ranked at all, as, aside from "Nuthin' But a G-Thang" (admittedly, an incredible song, and arguably, the best summer tune ever), all the other songs tend to blend into one. But crank this one out while sipping cool drinks by the pool on a hot summer day and tell me you don't feel totally pimp. A great atmospheric album.

23. Dirt by Alice in Chains (1992): Them Bones, Dam That River, Rain When I Die, Down in a Hole (WOULD?). Admittedly, it's shameful that I first heard of AIC when watching Singles, but so it goes. In their time, they were outstanding (Jar of Flies should, in fairness, probably also be on this list). From a personal standpoint, their important to me because they bound the outer limit of my interest in hard rock--this far and no further, essentially (sorry, GNR and Metallica).

22. Beautiful Midnight by the Matthew Good Band (1999): Hello Time Bomb, Strange Days, I MISS NEW WAVE, Load Me Up. They were probably never as popular they should've been (though, if you ask Matt Good, he'll say they were too popular), because, between 1995 and 2001, they released five terrific albums (this one, Last of the Ghetto Astronauts, Underdogs, The Audio of Being, and Loser Anthems) plus a five-track, seventeen minute EP (Raygun) that kicks all kinds of ass. That's...pretty damn prodigious.

21. Ten by Pearl Jam (1991): BLACK, Jeremy, Oceans. They covered this one on "Albums That Matter" a few weeks back and it was fascinating, largely because Vedder appears batshit crazy--check out the wikipedia entry if you don't know much about the stories behind the lyrics. It's also kind of startling when you think about song like "Why Go?", assume the lyrics are nonsense, then discover that's it's actually about a girl Vedder knew who was institutionalized against her will. Um.

Anyway, there's no disputing this album's greatness--I'm just a bit tired of it.

20. Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness by Smashing Pumpkins (1995): 1979. I'll be honest, I wasn't that big of a Pumpkins fan, plus I always thought this would've worked better as one awesome CD instead of two pretty good ones, so that's why it's not any higher. (I'm willing to bet you can't name more than five of the albums twenty-eight (!) tracks without googling it.). But, if you can listen to "Bullet with Butterfly Wings" without getting pumped up, you're probably dead. And "1979" is just wonderful.

19. CrazySexyCool by TLC (1994): CREEP, Kick Your Game, Digging on You or Red Light Special, Waterfalls. The TLC thing confuses me, because they were hugggggge back in the day and now they're more or less forgotten, aren't they? Is it because there really aren't girl groups anymore, particularly of the R&B variety? Because Left Eye died? Because, even before Left Eye's death, the band had sort of disintegrated? CrazySexyCool sold fifteen million copies worldwide, nearly had three #1 hits ("Creep" and "Waterfalls" both made it, but "Red Light Special" peaked at #2)...and it kind of boggles my mind that it's a bit of an afterthought now.

18. Core by Stone Temple Pilots (1992): Dead & Bloated, Wicked Garden, Sex Type Thing (great car song or greatest car song? Those are your only choices) or CREEP, Piece of Pie, Plush. Definitely a little more on the fringe than their follow up (see #15), including the abso-fucking-lutely insane "Wet My Bed" which no one can convince me Scott Weiland did not create and record while all kinds of messed up on heroin.

17. Pinkerton
by Weezer (1996): The Good Life, El Scorcho, PINK TRIANGLE. Sure, the knee-jerk reaction would be to include their self-titled debut (aka "The Blue Album") instead, but I do believe this one--a total commercial bomb--to be superior. "I'm done/she's a lesbian/I though I had found the one"? Too good.

16. Purple
by Stone Temple Pilots (1994): Meatplow, Vasoline, Lounge Fly, INTERSTATE LOVE SONG. This could easily be flipped with Core--frankly, it depends almost entirely on your mood, with this one being more polished than Core. While we're here, was anyone else made fun of in school for liking STP more than Pearl Jam when they were clearly just aping PJ? Wasn't this just so infuriating? No? Just me? Oh.

15. New Adventures in HiFi
by REM (1996): E-BOW THE LETTER...because it's a stronger album from start to finish than either Automatic for the People or Out of Time, even if it lacks the standout tracks of the other two (note the lack of a killer stretch here.)

14. Vs.
by Pearl Jam (1993): Go, Animal, DAUGHTER. Why? Because it's grittier than Ten. And because: when I'm itching to listen to some Pearl Jam, this is the first album I think of. It could be because I've heard Ten approximately a thousand times, but I prefer to think it's because Vs. is just better.

13. Day for Night by the Tragically Hip (1994): So Hard Done By (which my buddy Eric saw a stripper dance to years ago...and swears it was life-altering), NAUTICAL DISASTER (one of my five favorite songs ever), Thugs, Inevitability of Death, Scared. With apologies to Fully, Completely, Up to Here, and Trouble in the Henhouse, this is pretty clearly their Sgt. Pepper's. Instead of me writing anything, go listen to "Nautical Disaster" three times in a row and listen to the lyrics. So dark...and yet so wonderful.

12. Mezzanine
by Massive Attack (1998): Teardrop, Inertia Creeps, Exchange, Dissolved Girl, Man Next Door (ANGEL). You may remember Massive Attack from every movie soundtrack for the past six years (yikes!). Mezzanine is arguably ineligible, since I didn't actually listen to this in the 90s, but it's my list dammit! I saw Massive Attack perform at Creamfields in Prague in the summer of 2003 and it was...mind blowing. This album seems to get 5% better every year, and, at least for me, it's weird to think that it's ten years old.

11. Underdogs
by the Matthew Good Band (1997): Everything is Automatic (a tree-mendous driving song), Apparitions, MY OUT OF STYLE IS COMING BACK, The Strangest One of All. OK, so I'm totally in the tank for Matt Good...except for his latest album...or his blog, so I could see how people think this is too high on the list, but, if you haven't heard it, give it a listen, because it rocks something fierce.

10. Clumsy
by Our Lady Peace (1997): SUPERMAN'S DEAD (tie), Automatic Flowers, Carnival, Big Dumb Rocket, 4 A.M. (tie). Strangely, I don't even think I own this album at this stage, which is a travesty. This will always remind me of Matt Barker (Barker, are you still alive?), Misha, and I driving to some girl's cottage at night in a blizzard in Barker's piece of shit Sunfire in late January and me thinking we had a 50-50 chance of surviving. Good times! This album--the band's high water-mark, despite the fact that their best song ever ("Naveed") was on their previous disc--serves a reminder that, before they totally fucking sucked, OLP was awesome (sadly, there's about an 85% that people my brother's age--20--won't believe this...).

9. The Bends
by Radiohead (1995): Planet Telex, The Bends, High and Dry, FAKE PLASTIC TREES or Just, My Iron Lung (awesome on Rock Band), Bulletproof...I Wish I Was. This seems low, no? I think it does....but I can't justify putting it higher than any of the next eight albums. we are. You know what? In a lot of ways, this album is superior to OK Computer. It's definitely more accessible. It has more standout tracks. And you can listen to it regardless of your mood (whereas OK requires that you be at least little depressed to get the full effect). And yet, now that I have it here, I can't think of a counter-point to all of this. Rats. I hate when this happens...let's just move on.

8. Tuesday Night Music Club
by Sheryl Crow (1993): Run Baby Run, Leaving Las Vegas, Strong Enough, Can't Cry Anymore. (I SHALL BELIEVE). TNMC aces the "can you listen to this CD from start to finish without itching to get up and skip the track" test, as, aside from "The Na-Na Song" (vaguely annoying, but mostly just forgettable) there isn't a weak cut here. It succeeds because she's able to do so many different things so well: catchy ("All I Wanna Do," "Can't Cry Anymore"), soulful ("Leaving Las Vegas," "No One Said it Would be Easy"), and flat-out gorgeous (I adore "I Shall Believe"--guaranteed to be played at the wedding).

7. Everything I Long For by Hayden (1995): Bad as They Seem, IN SEPTEMBER, We Don't Mind or Stem, Skates, I'm to Blame or When This is Over, Bunkbeds. Goddamn, I have such a soft spot in my heart for this disc...yet I almost forgot to include it. Shameful. Everything Hayden's released subsequent to this has been a little lifeless for me (though, based on Rob's recommendation, I'm warming up to In Field & Town), but it may just be that I'm holding everything else to an impossibly high standard after this one.

6. Definitely Maybe by Oasis (1994): uh...the whole thing? OK, how about Rock and Roll Star, Shakermaker, Live Forever (which I put up there with the strongest starting three songs of any album ever)?...or Columbia, SUPERSONIC, Bring it On Down, Cigarettes and Alcohol, Digsy's Diner? The album that started it all. Released late in August 1994, I got this four months later (unrequested) from my Uncle John for Christmas--making it one of the savviest presents in history. What's so strange about Definitely Maybe is that, if Morning Glory never happened, this would be talked about as one of the "great" albums, but it did, so it isn't. (Though NME putting it as their #1 album of all-time does sort of undermine this theory.) As it stands, this album, while a bit more raw (rawer?), edgier, and more uneven than it's more celebrated big brother, is still a gem, and, lavish NME praise aside, wildly underrated.

5. Achtung Baby by U2: Even Better Than a Real Thing, One, Until the End of the World, WHO'S GOING TO RIDE YOUR WILD HORSES? (That, or ULTRAVIOLET). ..Were you getting worried, Shuk? I eagerly await an 800-word comment on why Zooropa was unfairly snubbed (my preemptive response: aside from "Lemon" and "Stay"--and maybe "Numb"--it was simply experimental for the sake of being experimental...and don't even get me started on Pop...). I think it's a tribute to this album that I bought it (on tape!) for "Mysterious Ways," which I listened to over and over and over again (to the exclusion of all other tracks) and now I think it's probably only the fifth best song on the album. Tremendous.

Fun fact: I'd never heard this before, but, apparently, the title (along with "verboten," the only German I know) is a nod to The Producers.

4. Doggystyle by Snoop Doggy Dogg (1993): Gin and Juice, The Shiznit, Lodi Dodi, Murder was the Case. (PUMP PUMP.) ooooo, look how hip I am! Seriously, though, this album will forever remind me of the summer of 1994 (it wasn't released until November '93), which coincided with the first time I ever got drunk...which coincided with me thinking I was hella cool. More so than anyone else on this list (though a case can be made for OLP), Snoop never came within sniffing distance of anything coming close to the artistry of this album (see especially the unfortunately named and sounding Doggfather), but whatever, it's just so much fun to listen to, and still allows me to feel like a gangster (while remaining completely pussified--yay, cognitive dissonance!)

3. Urban Hymns by The Verve (1997): Bittersweet Symphony, Sonnet, The Rolling People, The Drugs Don't Work (but see also: Space and Time, WEEPING WILLOW, Lucky Man, This Time). Arguably, the only reason this album isn't one spot higher is because thinking about bums me out a bit, since The Verve, in my memory, broke up approximately nine seconds after releasing this album (it was actually closer to 20 months, but they released nothing between October '97 and April '99, so it might as well have been nine seconds). Simply put, it's terrific, and I've been listening to it at least once month for the past, oh, ten years.

A couple of fun facts about Urban Hymns (I feel so much like Alan Cross!):

1. "Bitter Sweet Symphony," despite premiering at #2 on the UK charts, amazingly never hit #1, meaning that the Verve's only #1 hit was "The Drugs Don't Work," the second single off the album.
2. I was going to talk about the writing credit dispute with the Stones on "BSS," but since everyone knows that The Verve ended up never making a penny off their iconic tune, I thought I'd go with a Richie Ashcroft (lead singer/colossal douche/kinda awesome) quote upon hearing that the Rolling Stones would retain the composing credit on the song: "This is the best song [Mick] Jagger and [Keith] Richards have written in 20 years." Bam!
3. Just for the hell of it, here's the YouTube link to the "BSS" video--by virtue of its geniously simply concept, probably among the best videos ever made.

2. OK Computer by Radiohead (1997): Airbag, PARANOID ANDROID (though you can make a case for "Electioneering"), Subterranean Homesick Alien, Exit Music (For a Film). For a time, there was a story (I think Jon started it) circulating that I didn't go out for a month because I'd locked myself in my bedroom to listen to this disc, and while it's not true (I was actually masturbating--just kidding!), it makes a lot of sense (the music part, people!) and I almost wish it were true (if I'd seen The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, I'd reference it here, but I haven't, so I don't want to be a poseur), because this CD is phenomenal.

1. What's the Story Morning Glory?
by Oasis (1996):
Hello, Roll With It, WONDERWALL, Down Look Back in Anger. Now, did this album eventually ruin the band? Undeniably: yes. Don't believe me? Three points. 1. To quote Noel Gallagher back in '96: "we were bigger than, dare I say it, fucking God"--thankfully, hubris has never, ever undermined a band. Oh, wait. 2. Put on Be Here Now and give it a listen. (Go on, I'll wait.) No, it's nowhere near terrible (and, given that it was released in '97, is probably worthy of honorable mention status), but it did signal the beginning of the end...and paled in comparison to Morning Glory. 3. and let's never lose sight of the fact that 18 million (yes, that's how many copies of this album were sold worldwide--truly staggering) times, say, the $2.50 they probably got for each album buys you a lot of coke.

All of that said, this album is disgustingly good (I didn't even mention "The Swamp Song," the title track, "Champagne Supernova," or the fact that the B-sides off this album were themselves spun off into one of the better forgotten gems of the decade--The Masterplan--though see here for a hilariously bad Pitchfork review), my favorite ever, and as listenable to now as it was 12 years ago. I remember every second of the first time I listened to it (in my basement the day it came out) with Misha. Soaking in every note. Hearing "Wonderwall" for the first time and saying "this is going to be a fucking humongous hit." And just being in total awe. I still feel that way.

I have nothing else to say...and you stopped reading ages ago.


The R.O.B. said...

I'm not a big 90s music guy, but I think omitting both:

Fugees - The Score
Nas - Illmatic (the greatest rap album of all time)

and depending on where you go Tom Petty's Full Moon Fever was a 1989/1990 release.

Tribe Called Quest's Midnight Marauders would probably be on my list also.

Mark P said...

I can understand omitting Zooropa since it's not everyone's cup of tea, though I do enjoy how you say it's "experimental for experimental's sake," and then mention you liked Lemon and Numb, arguably the two most unusual tracks on the album. And Pop was a great disc! I will go to my grave arguing this. p.s. this presumes we'll still be having these same arguments when we're 80, which, of course, we will.

Just for comparison's sake, here's the top 26 of my top 40 of the 90's post from a year back. Thankfully it cuts off at 26 before we get to my inclusion of the New Radicals and the Spice Girls. I think your Sheryl Crow at #8 is your answer to my Jewel at #16.

26. Weezer (blue album), Weezer
25. Fully Completely, The Tragically Hip
24. Tiny Music, Stone Temple Pilots
23. White Ladder, David Gray
22. Collective Soul, Collective Soul
21. Exile in Guyville, Liz Phair
20. Garbage, Garbage
19. Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, Smashing Pumpkins
18. Gordon, Barenaked Ladies
17. Day for Night, Tragically Hip
16. Pieces of You, Jewel
15. Phantom Power, Tragically Hip
14. The Masterplan, Oasis
13. OK Computer, Radiohead
12. Monster, REM
11. Vs., Pearl Jam
9(tie). American Recordings, Johnny Cash
9(tie). Unchained, Johnny Cash
8. Zooropa, U2
7. What's The Story Morning Glory, Oasis
6. Pinkerton, Weezer
5. The Bends, Radiohead
4. Pop, U2
3. Yield, Pearl Jam
2. Common People, Pulp
1. Achtung Baby, U2

Kyle Wasko said...

Sorry for the late reply.

Rob: could call with Tom Petty, though FMF came out in April ' I'd have to go with Into the Great Wide Open or Wildflowers, neither of which I enjoyed nearly as much as Fever.

Omitting the Fugees is pretty much indefensible. Nas and Tribe I never really got into that much--goddamit, I'm so white.

Shuk: I'm definitely saving one of my slaps for the day after your 80th birthday (because slapping on your birthday would be cruel/fatal).

For fun, I dug up my comment from your original list:

Albums I find almost impossible that you left off:

Definitely Maybe, Oasis
Purple, Stone Temple Pilots
Urban Hymns, The Verve
Clumsy, Our Lady Peace
Everything I Long For, Hayden

(I could even make a pretty convincing case for Be Here Now--even though it's pretty uneven--the first 30 seconds alone of D'Yer Know What I Mean should
be enough to crack the top 30).

Great list (...but: Collective Soul? Fucking Collective Soul?? And: The New Radicals?? I defy you to name another song--aside from the single--from that album without consulting the liner notes. Not possible.)

Good to see I'm relying on the same rherotical tactic ("I defy you to name...without looking") a full year later.

I'm also quite pleased that we both had Pinkerton so high, since I really feel that it's a(n unjustifiably) forgotten album.

Of your top 26, I feel the worst about leaving off Phantom Power (which I really, really like) and the best about Liz Phair (who liked more as a concept than in reality--believe me, I wanted to love Exhile in Guyville but I just...didn't) and Pulp (a group that, I will openly admit, I never understood).

And, for the record, the Definitely Maybe snub gets approximately 5% more galling every year. By 2017, I may break a monocle over it.