1990s Gems

Warning: The following alphabetized consumer guide is plainly subjective and far from exhaustive. There are no listed soundtracks, nor any blues, country, jazz, new age/classical, rap, reggae, or world. However, one usually finds these elements at work: for example, none of the albums fall under “dance,” but one could still dance to them!

The criterion is pretty basic: Does each album “pop”/”rock”; do they meet, if not surpass previous standards and still define their separate moments in time; do they express the agony or ecstasy of pop/rock; and lastly, are they wholly and compulsively listenable.



To Bring You My Love – PJ Harvey: A

On 1995’s To Bring You My Love (Island), PJ Harvey booms chilling blues-rock from the title cut on — a lonely, Godforsaken vamp, babe at her breast, hitching electric will to the gothic ruins of dire pleasure (bad love). Seeking release through shape-shifting, her shoulders sway suggestively, an angel and a demon on each. A taut, spare album that shows less is more.

Nevermind – Nirvana: A

Also incredible is Nirvana’s Nevermind (DGC ’91). Remember rock & roll radio? Anarchy cheerleaders and the heavenly gym din? The wry, geeky tunesmith? Kurt Cobain’s got a garage band so cranked, and songs so good (e.g., “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “Come As You Are,” and “Drain You”), that I almost forgot he blew off his head. But like me, does it still hop?

Definitely Maybe – Oasis: A-

Oasis used to. For every glam hook and mod look, the U.K.’s cocky Gallagher brothers (who swill lager) pummel the Brit-pop past adoringly.  Definitely Maybe (Epic ’94) is their direct, bacchanalian debut. “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star”, “Live Forever”, “Cigarettes & Alcohol”: on these anthems, Liam’s snide vocalizing grounds songwriter-guitarist Noel’s melodic whir to exhilarating effect.

OK Computer – Radiohead: A-

Radiohead’s OK Computer (Capitol ’97) is about you and me and the sad, sleepless hereafter of sitting before a knotty circuit board.  It’s a downer, of cranium hiccups (“Paranoid Android”), twitchy handshakes (“No Surprises”), and singer-lyricist Thom Yorke’s one droopy eyelid. Apparently he wants on the first alien hovercraft out of town. Boasting “complex” guitars, mellotrons that twinkle, and other baroque sound effects, these icily beautiful songs total a timeless listening experience. (See also: Radiohead: The Bends [Capitol ’95].)

Achtung Baby – U2: A-

Achtung Baby (Island ’91). Recorded mostly in Berlin, U2’s “concrete jungle” evokes urban unrest beneath dubbed techno/funk/grunge via mood-specialist producers, Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. Media-spun, an earthy Bono toys with his ego as The Edge flickers his incandescent guitar — especially on “The Fly” and “Tryin’ To Throw Your Arms Around The World.” Their best yet.


Close Behind:

The Best Of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds (Reprise ’98); The London Suede: Suede (Nude/Columbia ’93); My Bloody Valentine: Loveless (Sire ’91); Liz Phair: Exile In Guyville (Capitol ’93); and, Pixies: Bossanova (4AD/Elektra ’90).

Of course, it is all very personal (and perhaps fickle): these are records that move me and tell me about my life. But they’ve become close friends, and they could be yours as well.

Happy listening.

About Jack Cormack

Email Jack at jackyboy916@gmail.com.