Sunday, February 22, 2009

Blast From The Past Vol.4: 1990-1994

The fourth chapter of our music history course that we like to call "Blast From The Past" is here and this time the focus is on the first half of the '90s. Last year, with the first three volumes of this series of posts, we presented some of the best albums from 1975 to 1989. Each time we take a five year period and compile a list of our favorite albums from that era, allowing the inclusion of just one record per band or solo act (so that we have a greater variety in our selections).

Last time, in volume 3, we left off just as a little known band called Nirvana was releasing its debut album on a new Seattle label called Sub Pop. The press coined a name for the emerging American North West heavy and noisy guitar scene and so grunge was born. Of course this sound existed throughout the '80s (just listen to the Wipers or the Meat Puppets) and Kurt Cobain, to his credit, was always keen to acknowledge his influences and point his fans to the right direction. The fact, however, remains that thanks to Cobain's songwriting genius and the unforeseen, tremendous success of his band's era-defining major label debut "Never mind", this underground sound, however you choose to call it, suddenly took over the charts worldwide. This optimistic start of the decade for rock music didn't last long, but at least the brief rise of the so-called grunge scene gave the opportunity to new as well as older bands to reach a much wider audience than before.

Meanwhile, Sonic Youth - who one could make the case that they masterminded this whole underground rock invasion by using the modest success that came with "Daydream Nation" as the Trojan Horse that opened the doors of Major Labeldom for the likes of Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam et all to take over (making them Ulysses to Nirvana's Achilles in the great Grunge War) - continued being brilliant, as well as our other all-time Hall Of Fame heroes, Mark E. Smith's ever changing-always the same The Fall (releasing 5 excellent albums in as many years - the 3 of them on a major label for the first and only time in their career).

Other important players of the early '90s underground rock invasion force (newcomers or '80s heroes with newfound audience) included grunge godfathers Mudhoney, Afghan Whigs, Screaming Trees, Meat Puppets, Butthole Surfers, Pixies, Throwing Muses, Sugar, Sebadoh, Pavement, Girls Against Boys, L7, Babes in Toyland and last but not least Courtney Love's Hole (she got her celebrity status for all the wrong reasons but the fact is that all three Hole records simply rock).

On the other side of the pond, Madchester and the rave scene
initially took over (making for good party music but not so great rock) and when everybody's mind was finally fried, came Brit-pop with only a few memorable albums (Oasis' "Definitely maybe" being the best by far) and a lot of wind (as Mark Smith would say). There were of course a few bright exceptions operating beyond the narrow limits of the Brit-pop sound - for example My Bloody Valentine's unique "shoegazing" wall-of-sound, The Heart Throbs' and Blue Aeroplanes' underappreciated pop brilliance or Teenage Fanclub's back to basics earnest approach - but in the end, apart from The Fall, it was up to P.J. Harvey to give us something truly exciting from the British Isles. "Dry" was the first blast in '92 followed, a year later, by "Rid of me", the first masterpiece from one of the greatest talents of our time (with Steve Albini recording, but also in our Top 20 as a musician with the debut album of Shellac, his third band).

Top 50 Albums of 1990-1994

1. Never mind - NIRVANA
2. Rid of me - P.J. HARVEY
3. Live through this - HOLE
4. Extricate - THE FALL
5. Dirty - SONIC YOUTH
6. Siamese dream - SMASHING PUMPKINS
7. Fear of a black planet - PUBLIC ENEMY
8. Fontanelle - BABES IN TOYLAND
9. Trompe le monde - PIXIES
10. Every good boy deserves fudge - MUDHONEY
11. Too high to die - MEAT PUPPETS
12. Sweet oblivion - SCREAMING TREES
13. Henry’s dream - NICK CAVE AND THE BAD SEEDS
14. The real Ramona - THROWING MUSES
15. Slanted and enchanted - PAVEMENT
16. Copper blue - SUGAR
17. Definitely maybe - OASIS
18. Bakesale - SEBADOH
19. At action park - SHELLAC
20. Repeater - FUGAZI
21. Independent worm saloon - BUTTHOLE SURFERS
22. Gentlemen - THE AFGHAN WHIGS
23. New west motel - THE WALKABOUTS
24. Saturation - URGE OVERKILL
25. Cruise yourself - GIRLS AGAINST BOYS
26. Hypocrisy is the greatest luxury - DISPOSABLE HEROES OF HIPHOPRISY
27. Enter the Wu-Tang (36 chambers) - WU-TANG CLAN
28. Jehovahkill - JULIAN COPE
29. Blast the human flower - DANIELLE DAX
30. Cleopatra grip - THE HEART THROBS
32. Submarine bells - THE CHILLS
33. Sack full of silver - THIN WHITE ROPE
34. Automatic for the people - R.E.M.
35. Bandwagonesque - TEENAGE FANCLUB
37. Giant steps - THE BOO RADLEYS
39. Pills and thrills and bellyaches - HAPPY MONDAYS
41. O.G. Original Gangster - ICE T
42. The chronic - DR. DRE
43. Amerikkka's most wanted - ICE CUBE
44. Blue lines - MASSIVE ATTACK
46. Hungry for sting - L7
47. Social Distortion - SOCIAL DISTORTION
48. Ritual de lo habitual - JANE'S ADDICTION
49. Let me come over - BUFFALO TOM
50. Come on feel the Lemonheads - THE LEMONHEADS

Another 10 albums equally worthy of inclusion: Ill communication - BEASTIE BOYS, Superjudge - MONSTER MAGNET, Beet - ELEVENTH DREAM DAY, San Francisco - AMERICAN MUSIC CLUB, Center of the universe - GIANT SAND, Park life - BLUR, Blood sugar sex magic - RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS, Gold mother - JAMES, Nowhere - RIDE, The low end theory - A TRIBE CALLED QUEST
Hidden Bonus Track - 10 more records that you probably never heard before, but are well worth the effort to discover (start googling): Volume war - TRASH CAN SCHOOL, Full Isaac - LOTION, Laughing down the limehouse - ANASTASIA SCREAMED, Skiz - MUDWIMIN, Ventriloquist - VERTIGO, Perpetual motion machine - 13 ENGINES, Furthest from the sun - THE FAMILY CAT, Killing time - BLEACH, Pond - POND, Debut album - SAMMY
Coming Soon: The second half of the '90s in "Blast From The Past" Volume 5 - stay tuned.


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