150 Best Albums of 1990/’91

Dedicated readers of this blog (all two of you) will note that the album list below suggests 1990 and 1991 were only half as good as the two previous years I’ve posted lists from — 1977 and 1983 got 150 each, while the first two years of the ’90s only get 150 total. That’s the highest round number where I started to wish I didn’t have to leave certain albums out. And while I can’t predict the future past, I have a hunch that will be the case for most ’90s years, when compared to most non-’90s years (both fore and aft).

There are a couple entirely reasonable reasons for this. In 1990 I turned 30 (half the age I turn next week!), and 30 tends to be a major road-bump in many rock critic trajectories, the age when people who write about music start to wonder whether they’re in it for the long haul or they should switch to a more grown-up profession. I clearly chose the former, but not without the usual period of generational skepticism about where music was heading. Undoubtedly, I rejected more records at the time than deserved to be rejected. Meanwhile, in 1991, my first book came out — Stairway to Hell: The 500 Best Heavy Metal Albums in the Universe, after which I figured I didn’t want to hear another album with loud guitars for a really really long time.

As a late-blooming, late-Booming pre-Generation Xer (born 1960, which I still say should make me Generation Brady), cynicism about ’90s music came naturally to me. The schtick has served me well over the decades. I was sincerely convinced, and to a certain extent still am, that alt, indie, metal, hip-hop and r&b had taken wrong turns on the way to the 20th century’s final decade. My ears may never get past all the historical baggage attached to, to pick only the most obvious culprit, Nirvana. But that doesn’t mean I’m not up for filling in gaps in my listening. Hence the tally below, which required far more catching-up and cram-sessioning than 1977’s or 1983’s did.

Biggest surprise for me is how many albums with loud guitars wound up on the list, and albums with rapping too come to think of it. In an ’80s overview essay in the January 1990 issue of Request magazine, I’d suggested rock-as-such was on its last legs, and hip-hop wasn’t all that far behind: “Rap and disco are the only musics where anything’s allowed to happen just for the hell of it anymore. Disco (you know, house or freestyle or techno) is more viable than rap; rap peaked early on, and it’s been hobbling ever since it got wind of its own self-importance.” And especially in regards to rock a year before Nevermind, I wasn’t alone either. Bill Holdship, at the end of 1990: “Within five years, there’s going to be a new generation for whom guitars, bass, and drums (sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll) aren’t going to mean much.” Gina Arnold, same time: “My roommate teaches 7th grade and tells me that her kids think of sloppy long-haired guy bands with guitar players in them like how we thought of Patti Page or Pat Boone or something.”

And yet, there were Kurdt Kobain and Ko., waiting in the wings. And all through 1990 and ’91, self-conscious if not downright pretentious hard rock, art-metal, post-hair, proto-grunge, prog-thrash, whatever-you-wanna-call-them bands turn out to have been putting out music compelling enough to still sound alive three decades down the line. My list also has plenty of entities sporting electronic instruments, approximately half aggressive enough to be considered industrial at the time, or if not that at least Belgian newbeat or sampladelic or breakbeat rave (a 1990 world Frank Kogan recently blogged about that I’m still mostly oblivious to). Not to mention a smattering of collegiate Afrocentric rappers picking colorfully aging daisies while doing the humpty hump.

Worth noting that albums from 1990 handily outnumber albums from 1991. But both years make clear the ’80s weren’t quite over yet. Latin freestyle wasn’t — Or if it was, nobody told Corina or Lisette Melendez (or maybe Exposé alumnus Sandée or Lisa M or Coro or Timmy T or Keedy or Linear or impossible Nietzsche disciples Will to Power.) Liz Torres split the difference between Chicago house and New York freestyle while C&C Music Factory and Snap! mixed house and hip-hop into chart-busting radio pop. Love/Hate, Kix, Bang Tango, Kik Tracee, Jet Circus, Warrant, Electric Angels, Slaughter, Blackeyed Susan, a slightly bluesier Cinderella, and now and then even the increasingly downright pretentious Guns N’ Roses continued to craft sufficiently glammish metal, while Celebrity Skin, Redd Kross, the Zeros, Urge Overkill, Mother Love Bone, Cycle Sluts From Hell and L7 hit their hard glitter target from the flipside of homeplate. Pre-techno-style techno-pop still had Information Society, Book of Love, Cetu Javu, Pet Shop Boys, Cause & Effect, Depeche Mode, Propaganda, the Beloved. And ’80s stalwarts L.L. Cool J, Teena Marie, Madonna and Michael Jackson were hanging in there.

(Coincidence note: Lisette Melendez’s Together Forever and Teena Marie’s Ivory both end with cuts called “The Red Zone.” The former is an instrumental, the latter starts its eight minutes with a spoken racial history lesson. Gentlemen, start your conspiracy theories.)

I actually gave a few of these albums highly ambivalent reviews when they came out — most memorably where Internet trolls are concerned, A Tribe Called Quest and Depeche Mode and Cinderella in Rolling Stone. But what strikes me more is how much music from this smack-dab center of what Alfred Soto calls the Poppy Bush Interzone has been forgotten. Perhaps it has something to do with being caught amid the just-pre-digital transition from soon-landfilling cassettes to eventually landfilling CDs, but several of my picks fell through the cracks not long after they fell from the sky.

For one thing, tastemaker memories are clearly either very selective or very short. Neither the Sisters of Mercy nor Was (Not Was), hardly obscure acts, managed an entry in either 1995’s Spin Alternative Record Guide or 1997’s The Trouser Press Guide to ’90s Rock. Nor did Information Society (too late maybe) or the Notwist (too early?) And that was a quarter century ago. Yet compared to probably at least half of the artists on the list below, including several pop and rock acts I was obsessed with at the time from Romance-language countries, those four bands qualify as household names. Elmer Foodbeat and Dog Faced Hermans never had a chance.

That said, I don’t feel particularly bad at all for leaving, say, the Almighty or Dream Warriors or 808 State or Extreme or the Family Stand or Geto Boys (amazing single, aggravating album) or Happy Mondays or Living Colour (swear I tried really hard this time) or Massive Attack (close but no trip-hop cigar) or Masta Ace or MC 900 Foot Jesus or Pop Will Eat Itself or Primal Scream or Unrest or the Wedding Present off the list. And those are only (some) candidates who struck me as promising enough to spend time with 30 years after the fact. Which is to say, I searched far and wide, and beyond some super-obscuros who don’t even show up on streaming services, I’m fairly confident I caught most of the good stuff. Certainly don’t think I have more listening gaps left than with, say, ’77 or ’83. So yeah — ’90 and ’91 were apparently only half as good after all.

  1. Pulnoc City of Hysteria (Arista ’91)
  2. Will To Power Journey Home (Epic ’90)
  3. Liz Torres The Queen is in the House (Jive ’90)
  4. L.L. Cool J Mama Said Knock You Out (Def Jam ’90)
  5. Love/Hate Black Out in the Red Room (Columbia ’90)
  6. Information Society Hack (Tommy Boy ’90)
  7. Noir Désir Du Ciment Sous Les Plaines (Barclay France ’90)
  8. Amy Grant Heart in Motion (A&M ’91)
  9. Maldita Vecindad Y Los Hijos Del Quinto Patio El Circo (BMG Latin/Ariola ’91)
  10. Corina Corina (Cutting ’91)
  11. La Muerte Kustom Kar Kompetition (Play It Again Sam ’91)
  12. Sonny Sharrock Band Highlife (Enemy Germany ’90)
  13. Sandée Only Time Will Tell (Fever/RAL/Columbia ’91)
  14. Voivod Angel Rat (Mechanic/MCA ’91)
  15. Fobia Mundo Feliz (BMG International U.S. Latin ’91)
  16. Xuxa Xuxa 2 (Globo/BMG Latin ’91)
  17. Yalla: Hitlist Egypt (Mango ’90)
  18. Kix Hot Wire (Atlantic ’91)
  19. Bang Tango Dancin’ on Coals (Mechanic/MCA ’91)
  20. K.T. Oslin Love in a Small Town (RCA ’90)
  21. Caroliner Rainbow Open Wound Chorale: Rise of the Common Woodpile (Caroliner ’91)
  22. Brand Nubian One For All (Elektra ’90)
  23. The Civil War (Elektra Nonesuch ’90)
  24. Book of Love Candy Carol (Sire/I Square ’91)
  25. Cypress Hill Cypress Hill (Ruffhouse/Columbia ’91)
  26. KMFDM Naive (Wax Trax! ’90)
  27. C&C Music Factory Gonna Make You Sweat (Columbia ’90)
  28. Mariah Carey Mariah Carey (Columbia ’90)
  29. Cetu Javu Southern Lands (ZYX ’90)
  30. Sonny Sharrock Ask the Ages (Axiom ’91)
  31. Apollo Smile Apollo Smile (DGC ’91)
  32. Warrior Soul Drugs, God and the New Republic (DGC ’91)
  33. Lisette Melendez Together Forever (Columbia/Fever ’91)
  34. Pavement Perfect Sound Forever (Drag City EP ’90)
  35. Snap! World Power (Logic ’90)
  36. Die Goldenen Zitronen Punkrock  (Vieklang Germany ’91)
  37. Niagara Religion (Polydor France ’90)
  38. Madonna I’m Breathless (Sire/Warner Bros. ’90)
  39. Garth Brooks No Fences (Capitol ’90)
  40. Army of Lovers Army of Lovers (Giant ’91)
  41. Musique D’Express (Polygram ’90)
  42. Adventures of Stevie V Adventures of Stevie V (Mercury ’90)
  43. Neon Judgement Are You Real (Play It Again Sam ’91)
  44. That’s Eurobeat (Super Cassette Industries India ’90)
  45. Anacrusis Manic Impressions (Metal Blade ’91)
  46. Elmer Food Beat 30cm  (Polydor/Off the Track France ’90)
  47. The Roches We Three Kings (MCA ’90)
  48. Pauline Ester Le Monde Est Fou (Polydor France ’90)
  49. L’Trimm Groovy (Atlantic ’91)
  50. Teena Marie Ivory (Epic ’91)
  51. Pet Shop Boys Behavior (EMI ’90)
  52. Michael Jackson Dangerous (Epic ’91)
  53. The KLF White Room (Arista ’91)
  54. The Notwist The Notwist (Subway Germany ’90)
  55. The Bass That Ate Miami (Pandisc ’91)
  56. Cause and Effect Another Minute (Zoo ’91)
  57. Celebrity Skin Good Clean Fun (Triple X ’91)
  58. Naughty By Nature Naughty By Nature (Tommy Boy ’91)
  59. Ronald Shannon Jackson Red Warrior (Axiom ’90)
  60. Abbey Lincoln The World is Falling Down (Verve ’90)
  61. Caifanes El Diablito (RCA ’90)
  62. Lisa M Flavor of the Latin (Sony Discos ’90)
  63. Westbam The Roof is on Fire (TSR ’90)
  64. Kik Tracee No Rules (RCA ’91)
  65. Bobby Jimmy Erotic Psychotic (Priority EP ’90)
  66. Jet Circus Step On It (Word/Epic ’90)
  67. Fobia Fobia (Ariola ’90)
  68. Mylene Farmer L’Autre… (Polydor France ’91)
  69. V-3 Psychic Dance Hall (Ropeburn ’91) 
  70. Public Enemy Fear of a Black Planet (Def Jam/Columbia ’90)
  71. Treponem Pal Aggravation (Roadrunner ’91)
  72. Riot The Privilege of Power (CBS Associated ’90)
  73. Meat Beat Manifesto 99% (Mute ’90)
  74. Redd Kross Third Eye (Atlantic ’90) 
  75. Macka B Natural Suntan (Ariwa ’90)
  76. The Sisters of Mercy Vision Thing (Elektra ’90)
  77. Depeche Mode Violator (Sire ’90)
  78. Coroner Mental Vortex (Noise International ’91)
  79. Coro Coro (Cutting/Charisma ’91)
  80. A Split Second Kiss of Fury (Antler Subway ’90)
  81. A Tribe Called Quest People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (Jive ’90)
  82. Mekong Delta Dances of Death And Other Walking Shadows (Aaarrg Germany ’90)
  83. Big Stick Hoochie Koo Time (Blast First UK EP ’91)
  84. Digital Underground Sex Packets (Tommy Boy ’90)
  85. Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine 101 Damnations (Chrysalis ’90)
  86. Young Gods Play Kurt Weill (Play It Again Sam ’91)
  87. Propaganda 1234 (Virgin ’90)
  88. Metal Church The Human Factor (Epic ’91)
  89. Cinderella Heartbreak Station (Mercury ’90)
  90. Mind Funk Mind Funk (Epic ’91)
  91. Atheist Unquestionable Presence (Death/Metal Blade ’91)
  92. Course of Empire Course of Empire (Carpe Diem ’90)
  93. Dog Faced Hermans Mental Blocks for All Ages (Konkurrel/Project A Bomb ’91)
  94. The Zeros 4-3-2-1…Zeros (Restless ’90)
  95. Tairrie B The Power of a Woman (Comptown/MCA ’90)
  96. Celtic Frost Vanity/Nemesis (RCA Victor ’90)
  97. Warrant Cherry Pie (Columbia ’90)
  98. Electric Angels Electric Angels (Atlantic ’90)
  99. Michelle Shocked Arkansas Traveler (Mercury ’91)
  100. The Beloved Happiness (Atlantic ’90)
  101. Azalia Snail Snailbait (Albertine ’90)
  102. Sister Ray To Spite My Face (Resonance ’90)
  103. Timmy T Time After Time  (Quality ’90)
  104. Les Negresses Vertes Famile Nombreuse (Delabel France ’91)
  105. Galactic Cowboys Galactic Cowboys (Geffen ’91)
  106. Dustdevils Struggling Electric and Chemical (Matador/Teenbeat ’90)
  107. The Bogeymen There is No Such Thing As (Delicious Vinyl ’91)
  108. Wee Papa Girl Rappers Be Aware (Jive UK ’90)
  109. ZZ Hill Turn Back the Hands of Time (Tuff City ’91)
  110. Enigma MCMXC A.D. (Charisma ’90)
  111. Cut ’N’ Move Get Serious (Epic ’91)
  112. Gary Clail/On-U Sound System  Emotional Hooligan (Perfecto ’91)
  113. Joe Bocan Les Desordres (Les Disques Palmiers Canada ’91)
  114. Euro-K Euro-K (Profile ’90)
  115. Mitsou Terre Des Hommes  (Les Disques Isba Canada ’90)
  116. A’me Lorain & the Family Affair Standing in a Monkey Sea (RCA ’90)
  117. The Nomads Sonically Speaking (Sonet Sweden ’91)
  118. Beats International Let Them Eat Bingo (Elektra/Go! Beat ’90)
  119. Urge Overkill The Supersonic Storybook (Touch and Go ’91)
  120. Mother Love Bone Apple (Polydor ’90)
  121. Renegade Soundwave In Dub (Mute/Elektra ’90)
  122. Cycle Sluts From Hell Cycle Sluts From Hell (Epic ’91)
  123. Sun City Girls Torch of the Mystics (Majora ’90)
  124. Pylon Chain (Sky ’90)
  125. Was (Not Was)  Are You Okay? (Chrysalis ’90)
  126. Inner City Fire (Virgin ’90)
  127. Lawnmower Deth Oooh Crikey It’s…Kids in America (Earache/Relativity ’91)
  128. The Obsessed The Obsessed (Hellhound Germany ’90)
  129. Jane’s Addiction Ritual De Lo Habitual (Warner Bros. ’90)
  130. Guns N’ Roses Use Your Illusion I (Geffen ’91)
  131. Nirvana Nevermind (DGC ’91)
  132. Daddy Freddy Stress (Chrysalis ’91)
  133. Slaughter Stick It To Ya (Chrysalis ’90)
  134. Mecano Aidalai (Ariola/BMG Latin ’91)
  135. Midnight Oil Blue Sky Mining (Columbia/Sprint ’90)
  136. Kentucky Headhunters Electric Barnyard  (Mercury ’91)
  137. The Party The Party (Hollywood ’90)
  138. Bananarama Pop Life (London ’91)
  139. Mordred In This Life (BMG/Noise ’91)
  140. A Lighter Shade of Brown Brown & Proud (Pump ’90)
  141. Blackeyed Susan Electric Rattlebone (Mercury ’91)
  142. Last Crack Burning Time (Roadracer ’91)
  143. Keedy Chase the Clouds  (Arista ’91)
  144. Die Kreuzen Cement (Touch and Go ’91)
  145. L7 Smell the Magic (Sub Pop ’91)
  146. P.M. Dawn Of the Heart, Of the Soul and of the Cross: The Utopian Experience (Gee Street ’91)
  147. Guns N’ Roses Use Your Illusion II (Geffen ’91)
  148. Gipsy Kings Este Mundo (Elektra Musician ’91)
  149. Linear Linear (Atlantic ’90)
  150. Boredoms Soul Discharge (Shimmy-Disc EP ’90)


8 comments

  1. Here’s my 1990 list. I got to about 120 when I started reaching so I pared it back to 100 — you win!

    First 20 are yours. (*) means I heard it when it came out or soon after (1990-1991) as opposed to going back and “discovering” it years or decades later.

    L.L. Cool J Mama Said Knock You Out (Def Jam ’90) *
    Information Society Hack (Tommy Boy ’90) *
    Brand Nubian One For All (Elektra ’90)
    C&C Music Factory Gonna Make You Sweat (Columbia ’90) *
    Mariah Carey Mariah Carey (Columbia ’90) *
    Pavement Perfect Sound Forever (Drag City EP ’90)
    Madonna I’m Breathless (Sire/Warner Bros. ’90) *
    Garth Brooks No Fences (Capitol ’90) *
    Pet Shop Boys Behavior (EMI ’90) *
    Public Enemy Fear of a Black Planet (Def Jam/Columbia ’90) *
    Redd Kross Third Eye (Atlantic ’90)
    Depeche Mode Violator (Sire ’90) *
    Slaughter Stick It to Ya *
    A Tribe Called Quest People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (Jive ’90) *
    Digital Underground Sex Packets (Tommy Boy ’90) *
    Warrant Cherry Pie (Columbia ’90) *
    Mother Love Bone Apple (Polydor ’90) *
    Jane’s Addiction Ritual De Lo Habitual (Warner Bros. ’90) *
    Midnight Oil Blue Sky Mining (Columbia/Sprint ’90) *
    Boredoms Soul Discharge (Shimmy-Disc EP ’90)
    Black Box Dreamland *
    Bell Biv Devoe Poison *
    MC Hammer Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em *
    The Black Crowes Shake Your Money Maker*
    Ice Cube AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted *
    Happy Mondays Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches
    Queensrÿche Empire *
    INXS X *
    Megadeth Rust in Peace *
    Neil Young & Crazy Horse Ragged Glory *
    ]Pixies Bossanova
    GWAR Scumdogs of the Universe
    Daniel Johnston 1990
    Vanilla Ice To the Extreme *
    Morrissey Bona Drag *
    Slayer Seasons in the Abyss
    Inner City Fire *
    Concrete Blonde Bloodletting *
    Yo La Tengo Fakebook
    Urge Overkill Americruiser *
    Bad Religion Against the Grain
    Scorpions Crazy World *
    The Replacements All Shook Down *
    They Might Be Giants Flood
    The Jesus Lizard Head *
    Andrew Dice Clay The Day the Laughter Died
    The La’s The La’s *
    The Breeders Pod
    Monie Love Down to Earth *
    Sinéad O’Connor I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got *
    World Party Goodbye Jumbo *
    2 Live Crew Banned in the U.S.A.: The Luke LP *
    Galaxie 500 This Is Our Music
    Deee-Lite World Clique *
    Ruins Stonehenge
    Fastbacks Very, Very Powerful Motor
    L7 L7 *
    Sun City Girls Torch of the Mystics
    Alice in Chains Facelift *
    American Music Club United Kingdom *
    Dwarves Blood Guts & Pussy *
    Royal Trux Twin Infinitives
    Soul Asylum And the Horse They Rode in On *
    Shonen Knife Shonen Knife
    Naked Raygun Raygun…Naked Raygun
    Fugazi Repeater
    Paul Simon The Rhythm of the Saints *
    The Silos The Silos
    The Sundays Reading, Writing and Arithmetic *
    Superchunk Superchunk
    Guided by Voices Same Place the Fly Got Smashed
    Dead Milkmen Metaphysical Graffiti *
    Revolting Cocks Beers, Steers + Queers
    Sonic Boom Spectrum
    Jive Bunny & the Mastermixers Jive Bunny: The Album
    K.K. Null Sonicfuck U.S.A.
    Extreme Extreme II: Pornograffitti *
    The Afghan Whigs Up in It *
    King Missile Mystical Shit
    The Fluid Glue *
    Spanic Boys Spanic Boys *
    Souled American Around the Horn
    The Magnetic Fields Distant Plastic Trees
    Zoviet France Shadow, Thief of the Sun
    George Michael Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1
    Unrest Kustom Karnal Blackxploitation
    Uncle Tupelo No Depression
    The Lemonheads Lovey *
    Sonic Youth Goo
    Half Japanese We Are They Who Ache With Amorous Love
    Judas Priest Painkiller
    The Clean Vehicle
    Dead Moon Defiance
    Prince Graffiti Bridge *
    Too $hort Short Dog’s in the House
    Ween God Ween Satan *
    Teenage Fanclub A Catholic Education *
    Merzbow Rainbow Electronics II
    Lubricated Goat Psychedelicatessen
    Poster Children Daisychain Reaction

    Like

    1. from facebook

      Chuck Eddy
      Gosh, not sure how I missed Shonen Knife (still have it on vinyl, interviewed them around then, they even drew pictures of animals for my now grown kids) — Only thing I can think of is that I was classifying it as a reissue, which it technically is I guess but I didn’t include Burning Farm on my 1983 list either. Reviewed the Unrest album ambivalently for Spin when it came out; should still maybe revisit that one and Urge Overkill (reviewed both earlier and later albums by those guys, and have relied on a promo-only Touch & Go best-of for the in-between stuff, which I like okay.) I considered revisiting Monie Love but didn’t get around to it. Listened to the Extreme album last week and was surprised how much it made me cringe. My dislike of Deee-Lite is a quirk of nature I’ve explained before but I’d rather not go into. Ween make me irrationally cranky (more at their fans than them I think, but whatever.) Had long given up on the Replacements and Bad Religion (first band I ever got paid to write about — Into the Unknown, the album they disowned and only one I ever liked much) before the ’80s ended. Liked Jesus Lizard more when they were called Scratch Acid. Could not make sense of the Fugazi cassette I found for a dollar at a garage sale a few years back, same reaction I had to them when they existed. They Might Be Giants are for the children (literally — the tween here likes their album of science songs, and the Malcolm in the Middle theme was bearable.) No, just no: Andrew Dice Clay. Bands I’ve never consciously heard a note of, though I’m pretty sure I know where several of are coming from: Galaxie 500, Sun City Girls (might check them out), American Music Club, Dwarves, Silos, the Sundays, Sonic Boom, K.K. Null, King Missile, the Fluid, Spanic Boys, Souled American, Zoviet France (might check them out too — guess I just like their name), Uncle Tupelo, Merzbow, Lubricated Goat, Poster Children. Many others on the list, I’ve heard so little or so long ago that it might as well be none. Anyway, nothing is stopping me from listening to a few of these, and adjusting my list accordingly. Doubt anybody will notice, though.
      · Reply · 6h
      Chuck Eddy
      Also reviewed the 2 Live Crew album non-negatively for Rolling Stone when it came out — even voted for “Banned in the U.S.A.” on my Pazz & Jop singles ballot. Have been too embarrassed by my overrating of both ever since to go back and see whether I might have been right in the first place.
      · Reply · 5h
      Mike Freedberg
      Some good ones —Shonen Knife, Black Box, Alice in Chains, Redd Kross — but any list with Depeche in it pushes me away. And I am rarely a fan of indie punk.
      I must add that in the 1990s I pretty much moved away from albums. It was, for me, a 12-inch single, often remixed decade and pretty much remains so except for music from French variete’
      · Reply · 5h · Edited
      Chuck Eddy
      I like Depeche Mode more now than I did at the time. And Redd Kross also made my list, though I prefer any of their ’80s albums and EPs to their 1990 one. Mike, am I correct in remembering that you didn’t like Deee-Lite either? Did you ever write about why? That’s something I’d love to read.
      · Reply · 5h
      Chuck Eddy
      My problem with Black Box probably isn’t fair — I’d much rather listen to almost any ’80s Italo-disco (or any ’80s Chicago house for that matter) to almost any early ’90s Italo-house. It all just grew too reined in for me.
      · Reply · 5h
      Chuck Eddy
      And Alice in Chains always just struck me as a dreary slog. Also unfair maybe, given certain dreary grungy heavy-rock slogs that made my list.
      · Reply · 5h
      Mike Freedberg
      Dee-Lite had that one great hit, and they did give usSatoshi Tomiie, who remains a creative track maker; but I did not like that they were an intentionally devised group in the vein of what was then still very much a street corner, bootleg tape mixed, improvisational party scene. Bootleg mix tapes from 1989-92 remain some of the most exciting “Turntable jazz” I have ever heard. Many of the makers of it became top level house music stars : Todd Terry, Kerri Chandler, DJ Romain, Jon Cutler, Joe Clausell, Hippy Torrales, Tony Humphries. Tee Scott, Ron Carroll, Tony Smith, Razor n Guido etc
      · Reply · 5h · Edited
      Mike Freedberg
      Dreary, yes. Look at Lyn Staley’s life …
      · Reply · 5h
      Mike Freedberg
      You turned off house when it moved from Chicago to New York, but thise early years of New York – Niorth Jersey mix tapes and parties were house’s most creative & influential scene avd continue as such. In fact there’s now a big neo-1990s house music tread happening.
      · Reply · 5h · Edited
      Jake Alrich
      Didn’t realize the Shonen Knife was a reish. Would have dropped it had I realized. (I dropped Fugazi’s “13 songs” for the same reason.)
      · Reply · 5h
      Jake Alrich
      ADC should have had an asterisk as I heard it in early high school. A lot of the asterisks are albums that I am owning up to liking at age 13-15 but have since disavowed and Day the Laughter Died is certainly in that catagory. I think I thought he was doing something postmodern by being purposefully unfunny (e.g. deliberately screwing up his nursery rhymes to the obvious disappointment of his audience).
      · Reply · 5h · Edited
      Jake Alrich
      Of the bands you list as simply not tracking Sun City Girls is probably the only one that is essential.
      · Reply · 5h
      Jake Alrich
      I love Deee-Lite to this day and unconditionally. They were a principal gateway for me to dance music along with the outstanding Chicago house station B86 (where I first heard Black Box among others) and so are forgiven any unoriginality or contrivance in my ledger.
      · Reply · 5h · Edited
      Mike Freedberg
      Jake : that’s your right.
      PS : Lady Miss Kier is still doing stuff.
      · Reply · 5h
      Jake Alrich
      And I just noticed that you did indeed have Inner City so mea culpa.
      · Reply · 5h
      Jake Alrich
      I am aware. A friend of mine opened for her back when shows and clubs were a thing. She still looks and sounds great.

      Like

  2. From facebook:

    Steve Pick
    Considering 1990 and 91 were prime years for me in terms of writing – my official Post-Dispatch column debuted in late 89 – and I was getting promos from that, the record store, and the radio station, it’s astounding how many of these records I never even heard. Maybe a dozen of these I listened to from start to finish, maybe another dozen had singles I liked a lot. I’m pretty sure Highlife was the Sonny Sharrock record I was very disappointed by. Information Society – I saw them in 1984 when they were called Insoc and were decidedly more arty than when they started having hits. Pavement remains a bete noire for me only slightly below Nirvana. I listened to Heartbreak Station a year or so ago – still like it a lot, and it’s one of the very few albums you list here that I even reviewed at the time. P.M. Dawn is interesting – I loved them at the time, haven’t played them in 25 years. After I saw them live in ’93, a show astounding in its breadth and depth, the records never sounded as good to me.

    Steve Pick
    I just checked my best of list for 1991 – you didn’t pick any of these, all of which hold up for me, a couple of which – the John Prine and the Willie Nile – are in contention for any list I’d make for the whole decade.
    Image may contain: 8 people, text that says ‘STEVE PICK Pick’s Picks: Not The 10 Best But The 20 Best Of1991
    [Here Steve posted a column featuring albums by Elvis Costello, Marshall Crenshaw, Get a Life, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Peter Holsapple and Chis Stamey, John Lee Hooker, the La’s, John Mellencamp, Van Morrison, Aaron Neville, Willie Nile, Graham Parker, Pere Ubu, John Prine, Public Enemy, Chris Smither, Matthew Sweet, Richard Thompson, Voice of the Beehive, and Neil Young.]

    Mike Freedberg
    Any list with John Lee Hooker in it deserves a salute

    Like

  3. from facebook:

    Chuck Eddy
    Interesting, Steve. Guess I never had much taste for what I’d call Adult Alternative music (NPR music? WXPN music, since I lived in Philly at the time?) in the ’90s. I’m sure there are exceptions (hey, a Roches Xmas album *and* the soundtrack to a Ken Burns Civil War documentary both made my top 50!), but they’re admittedly few and far between. Most tended to strike me as staid, stodgy, genteel, whatever. And I know I’m speaking in generalities. But for example, I LOVE early John Cougar way more than any sane person should, but I can probably count the post-Lonesome Jubilee Mellencamp songs I care about on one hand. And I’ve never really connected with Elvis Costello since, like, Trust. P.M. Dawn, just about as Adult Alternative as hip-hop ever got unless Arrested Development count, only just barely hold up for me — Which is why they’re so low on the list. Several rap albums ranked higher. Mainly, I like their pretty singles I guess, and the sweetness of their ambition. And apparently I feel about Pere Ubu (whose mid ’70s singles and first two albums rank with my favorite music ever) and Pavement (who I basically stop having a use for after their first few singing-through-a-broken-Burger-King-drivethrough-intercom EPs) the way you feel about Inscoc. Who are a weird case: Their first album, which was their big one, never meant much to me. But the flop-selling followup, which I suspect is more arty than you’d expect though maybe not the way their early indie stuff was, is to me their great one. I’ll try to track down what I wrote about it in Spin a few years ago (Google isn’t helping), but suffice it to say it goes every which way dance-genre-wise (house, freestyle, etc.) way more cleverly than most such patchworks.
    · Reply · 1d · Edited
    Jaz Jacobi
    I keep trying to explain to people how much, maybe before “adult alternative” was a commonplace marketing term, watching VH1 around 1989 made me wonder if there really was a big market for “NPR/genteel” rock for grown-ups, kind of a window of yuppification maybe before the Garth Brooks-era wave of country being so big with that demographic. I remember seeing seeing so many music videos in rotation that seemed to have almost zero radio presence in the rural Midwest, anyway: Julia Fordham, Syd Straw, pre-hit Chris Isaak, Julee Cruise, Tuck & Patti, Richard Thompson, stuff like that–once I ever saw pre-Mazzy Star obscuro-indie act Opal’s video on a Sunday afternoon. This was right around when Alannah Myles and Marc Cohen hit pay dirt with semi-AOR big-production power ballad-ish tunes, and Hair Club for Men candidates like Paul Simon or Mark Knopfler were still credible hitmakers on a certain level, so maybe someone figured the moment was ripe for a sort of post-“rawk” rock for middle-aged audiences–funny, since years down the road I stopped seeing much distinction between MTV being “for the kids” and VH1 being for their parents, in terms of musical selection, i.e. both were playing Metallica [maybe not hip-hop?]. This also was around when “world beat” was being pushed in a significant manner, perhaps post-GRACELAND being the prime moment for that; VH1 had a show hosted by Nile Rodgers that was on five times a week, each day focusing on a different genre [world, jazz, etc.].
    · Reply · 23h
    Steve Pick
    Chuck Eddy, since I’m two years older than you (and thus was a worldly 33 when I wrote the piece I shared), I of course was always more mature than you. Seriously, though, I remember very much thinking that rock music (and its associated offshoots) was growing up, and that it would be for adults from then on. This was largely the reason Nirvana hit me like a ton of bricks falling on my head – when I saw 13-year-old girls reenacting their SNL appearance the morning after it aired, I kind of knew that all my favorite music was never going to be popular. I kept on pursuing the dream for a while, trying to convince people through what I wrote – within two years, though, I was much more interested in Betty Boo, Dee-Lite, Janet Jackson, and TLC. Over the years, I managed to come to the conclusion that I’m interested in a wide range of music without worrying about its popularity, which I suppose is part of the reason there’s no market out there for me as a critic any more. I do know, though, that you and I have similar tastes in music from 1977, and I like more things you recommend in recent years, so the wide disparity in our 90s interests doesn’t seem as important as it maybe did back then.
    · Reply · 23h
    Chuck Eddy
    Jaz, there was even adult alternative mainstream country marketed to a yuppie-type demographic: Lyle Lovett, k.d. lang, K.T. Oslin (who has the highest country album on my list), Mary Chapin Carpenter, Steve Earle, Dwight Yoakam, the Mavericks. Those all got played on country stations! And I’m sure I’m forgetting others. Then Garth and Shania came around, I guess, and proved there were more profitable ways to define the genre.
    · Reply · 22h
    Steve Pick
    Chuck Eddy and I loved all the artists you name here and hated Garth Brooks for wiping them off the radio. However, once Shania came along I was and remain completely on board

    Like

  4. from facebook:

    Chuck Eddy
    Anyway, Steve, we were clearly approaching this era of music from different angles. In the mid ’80s I complained a LOT in my writing about the uh adultification of rock and pop music. And suggested Run DMC, Beastie Boys, Metallica, hair metal, Latin freestyle as youthful anecdotes to said plague. By the early ’90s, to be honest, I was probably almost entirely *oblivious* to the more grown-up stuff — Definitely never heard most of the albums in your 1991 top 20. Did I miss out on anything I might’ve liked? Who knows. (And by then, even Metallica actually sounded old and boring! And the Beastie Boys lost me after Paul’s Boutique. The target’s always moving.)
    · Reply · 21h
    Jaz Jacobi
    Chuck Eddy That’s an excellent addendum re: the country “adult” market at the time–I’d say 100% of the songs I know by Lang, Yoakam, Lovett et al are from watching VH1 at the time!
    [This might have been so pronounced a tendency then, I bet that Nile Rodgers show I mentioned had a country segment.]
    · Reply · 21h · Edited
    Jaz Jacobi
    “And by then, even Metallica actually sounded old and boring!”
    Nothing ages more poorly than the previous generation’s “youthful rebellion,” it seems.
    · Reply · 21h
    Chuck Eddy
    xp Upscale Country, they could have called it. I’m actually curious to what extent ads on country stations and CMT then reflected that aspirational target demographic. (That’d make for an excellent EMP paper, I bet.)

    Like

  5. from facebook:

    Jaz Jacobi
    I also wonder how much country audiences weren’t as stereotypically associated with reactionary politics yet, too, and how much these more upscale vibes appealed to yuppies in a way that Toby Keith later would not–I did wonder how much K.D. Lang’s [sorry, can’t bring myself to use the “e.e. cummings”-esque lower case thing] eventual shift to a more adult alternative/not-country sound coincided with her rejection from country radio following her anti-beef ads.
    · Reply · 21h · Edited
    Jaz Jacobi
    I have to admit I’m pretty much unaware of just WHERE the [Dixie] Chicks marketed their music after their own experience being dumped by the right-wing portion of their following.
    · Reply · 21h
    Jaz Jacobi
    [not that there AREN’T/weren’t right-wing yuppies, should be added]
    · Reply · 21h
    Jaz Jacobi
    Lyle Lovett seemed to depart from a traditionally-“country” sound as his media ubiquity advanced, as well
    · Reply · 21h
    Jaz Jacobi
    But I guess that’s also true of Shania Twain and Taylor Swift?
    · Reply · 21h
    Chuck Eddy
    Yeah, it happens all the time. (Though I doubt I could identify a single Lyle Lovett song, before or after his shift, if I heard it. And yeah, I usually avoid lowercasing Lang’s name as well. Last record I could bear by her was Angel With a Lariat, *before* she ever got picked up by country radio. Just checked its Wiki page — produced by Dave Edmunds! Which explains a lot.)
    Jaz Jacobi
    I seem to recall a sort of Randy Newman-snide Lovett song that hinged on the refrain, “she’s no lady, she’s my wife.”
    · Reply · 21h
    Steve Pick
    Chuck Eddy k. d . lang is one of the greatest singers in the world and I’ll stand on anybody’s coffee table to defend that statement
    · Reply · 20h
    Steve Pick
    I had to really fight my phone to keep her name uncapitalized

    Like

  6. from facebook:

    Mike Freedberg
    Wow
    Lotta stuff in that list that I love and have written about. And many of them unexpected — Mecano! The Beloved ! C + C Music Factory ! Inner City ! (they were awesome fir two years maybe) Neon Judgement ! Cycle Sluts ! Gipsy Kings !
    Mitsou Gelinas is now a very popular television personality.amazingly, she is 50 !
    Nice job Sir !
    · Reply · 1d · Edited
    Jake Alrich
    Such a formative year for me. I was 13 and just sucking up pop culture like a jet engine. I could easily do a list of 150 on 1990 alone.
    · Reply · 1d
    Chuck Eddy
    Jake Alrich Sooooooo….What’d I miss??
    · Reply · 1d
    Jake Alrich
    Chuck Eddy so much. But mostly just Lovegod by the Soup Dragons.
    · Reply · 1d
    Chuck Eddy
    Hmmm. Were they as “good” as Primal Scream or Happy Mondays?
    · Reply · 1d
    Jake Alrich
    Chuck Eddy The Soup Dragons thing was meant as a joke — a way of pointing out that if I made a serious list of what you “missed” this would be one long-ass sub comment.
    But it kind of speaks to my thesis about 1990: the output that year was so strong across such a variety of genres that you can drill down to the level of something like UK dance-pop and you still just have a slew of great shit, such that a band like the Soup Dragons who had a lot of success are still decidedly second-tier behind the Mondays, Stone Roses (remember when they were about to be the biggest band in the world and then Nirvana?), Charlatans UK, etc. etc. etc.
    Fuck. I might make a “what chuck missed” list. I’m sure the world waits with bated breath.
    · Reply · 1d · Edited
    Chuck Eddy
    See, fresh from revisiting alleged breakthrough danceclub crossovers by the Mondays and Primal Scream, I’m still firm in my belief that said “UK dance pop” (alt-rock bands discovering raves, basically) was never even very danceable. Stone Roses always struck me as even lamer than those two. (Barely remember Soup Dragons, but I can guess where they were coming from. Didn’t they start out as wannabe Buzzcocks or something?)
    · Reply · 1d
    Jake Alrich
    Chuck Eddy I think the Mondays were highly danceable. Soup Dragons sucked. I believe Mondays were “Madchester” whereas Soup Dragons were “Baggy”, and I think the former was highly preferable to the latter. But I would need confirmation.
    Anyway my Brit… See More
    · Reply · 21h
    Chuck Eddy
    But where did EMF fit in??
    · Reply · 21h
    Jake Alrich
    Chuck Eddy They were SO UNBELIEVABOHHHH!
    · Reply · 21h
    Jake Alrich
    Chuck Eddy By the way you missed both “X” (1990) and “Live Baby Live” (1991) by INXS both of which are way better than some of the shit on your list, EMF included. So there.

    Like

  7. from facebook:

    Jaz Jacobi
    Now before clicking I’m anticipating how much of the stuff Chuck, and seemingly ONLY Chuck, wrote about at the time will still make the list–I’m holding out for I, Napoleon and Apollo Smile.
    · Reply · 1d · Edited
    Chuck Eddy
    Apollo Smile made the list! I, Napoleon I definitely considered — except for the fact that I don’t own it, haven’t heard it for 30 years, and it doesn’t seem to be streamable anywhere. (Okay, too lazy to check youtube.)
    · Reply · 1d
    Jaz Jacobi
    I’ve been reorganizing my music lately, and I’ve been tempted to create a “stuff I only was talked into buying because of memorable record reviews” section. I would be an interesting mix!
    · Reply · 1d
    Jaz Jacobi
    I know you’re directly responsible for my Will to Power purchases…
    · Reply · 1d
    Jaz Jacobi
    You know, three decades on, I STILL have no idea what I, Napoleon actually SOUNDS like, I just remember the review appearing in my first issue of ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY or somewhere like that.
    Young folks make fun of me when I make comments like, “Yeah, I’ve wanted to hear that band for many years”–I grew up in the era when you still could merely READ about music and continue not to have the opportunity of actually HEARING it cross your path for years to come–and they are quick to say, “Dude, you’re on a computer right now, you could be listening to that in three seconds flat.” I’m still not wired to think that way, though!
    · Reply · 1d
    Chuck Eddy
    Pretty sure I, Napoleon review was in Spin? But maybe not.
    · Reply · 1d
    Jaz Jacobi
    Maybe, I was buying LOTS of magazines around then.
    · Reply · 1d
    Jaz Jacobi
    I have an eight foot stack of boxes in the closet to prove it!
    · Reply · 1d
    Jaz Jacobi
    It’s a funny feeling to have been such a “music person” in the ’90s, to the point where I probably brought at least a dozen magazines into the home per month at the time, to being the person today who casually reads people go on about how huge Taylor Swift or Beyonce are, and I can count on one hand the songs I know by both of them combined [and maybe have a finger or two left over].
    · Reply · 1d
    Jaz Jacobi
    I wonder if I ever thought I, Napoleon was a fictitious performer, like that infamous Masked Marauders review? [Yes, I do know that some nefarious soul actually hoodwinked the public by issuing a REAL Masked Marauders LP.]
    · Reply · 1d
    Chuck Eddy
    Battle of bands: I, Napoleon vs. Napoleon XIV.

    Like

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