Ooh, Aah…. Just A Little Blog

Following on from entry #38, Don’t Stop Bloggin’ (not one of my better titles, admittedly), I have now given careful consideration to my favourite albums from the 1990s.

The initial idea was to create three ‘top 10’ lists, one for each decade that I have lived through so far, but I hadn’t appreciated how hard this would be for the ‘90s. I was ten at the start of the decade (so, for any non-mathematicians, that means I was twenty when it ended) and, as a result, it was the decade when most of my musical development took place.

It was clear from my childhood that I was going to be influenced by, and steered towards, rock music more than anything else, but the 1990s brought us the explosion of other guitar-based genres such as ‘Indie’ and grunge. Basically, the ‘90s were filled to bursting with (mostly) my kind of music, not that you would know it by looking at the top 10 best-selling singles of the decade:

  1. Candle In The Wind / The Way You Look Tonight – Elton John
  2. Unchained Melody – Robson & Jerome
  3. Love Is All Around – Wet Wet Wet
  4. Barbie Girl – Aqua
  5. Believe – Cher
  6. Perfect Day – Various Artists
  7. (Everything I Do) I Do It For You – Bryan Adams
  8. …Baby One More Time – Britney Spears
  9. I’ll Be Missing You – Puff Daddy
  10. I Will Always Love You – Whitney Houston

Jesus wept. And believe me, the next ten best-selling tracks don’t get any better (Celine Dion features twice).

What’s worse, if you ignore any of those songs which were only popular because of their association with television and film (2, 3, 7 and 10); novelty songs (4 and 6); and the fact someone important died (1); then it means the music-buying public of the 1990s really, really, liked mentally-unstable female solo artists (5, 8 and… erm… 10 again). Oh, and Puff Daddy. Remember back when he was still Puff Daddy, and we had Opal Fruits, Marathon bars and Jif? It was a simpler time.

But if we look past what sold well during the ‘90s (because the general public are, by and large, morons), there was some great music. So much so, when I tried to narrow down all my ‘90s albums into a top 10, I simply couldn’t do it. I spent a few hours going back through my collection, but ended up with an initial short-list of twenty-five albums, and it was hard enough getting this down to twenty, so I had no chance of halving what was left.

Anyway, because this is my blog and I make up the rules, I have decided to extend the 1990s countdown to a top twenty instead…

20. Nirvana – Nevermind (1991)

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Arguably the most iconic album cover of the decade, and certainly regarded as Nirvana’s best release, Nevermind set the trend for many other grunge bands who followed in their footsteps.

Best Song: Come As You Are

19. The Wannadies – Bagsy Me (1996)

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I love the simplicity, catchy riffs and daft lyrics of this album: “If my head should burst, she’d be the first to mend it. If I was a girl, she’d be the first to bend me.”

Best Song: Shorty

18. Midget – Jukebox (1998)

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Very few will have heard of this band, and I only found out about them by chance, when a friend played me the opening track Invisible Balloon on a free CD he got with NME.  I then went searching for them online in the University computer lab, naively expecting their website to be simply http://www.midget.com – which transpired to be a dwarf-based ‘specialist’ site. Embarrassing.

Best Song: On The Run

17. Sleeper – The It Girl (1996)

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In my opinion, the second best girl-fronted-band of the decade, behind Garbage. This is a great album, only let down by the fact it doesn’t feature my favourite Sleeper song, Inbetweener (which was on their debut release).

Best Song: Statuesque

16. Placebo – Placebo (1996)

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Not my favourite Placebo album, but the best of those released in the 1990s. This debut was so different to anything else around at the time (thanks largely to the girly-voiced androgynous sprite that is lead singer Brian Molko), that it instantly had me hooked, and I have been a big fan ever since.

Best Song: I Know

15. R.E.M. – Out Of Time (1991)

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I think most people would agree R.E.M. were at their best during the 1990s, and certainly the four albums released between 1991 and 1996 (Out Of Time, Automatic For The People, Monster and New Adventures In Hi-Fi) are my favourites from their extensive back-catalogue, but this just edges it above the others for me.

Best Song: Near Wild Heaven

14. Fountains of Wayne – Utopia Parkway (1999)

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I mentioned in entry #28 that my wife and I don’t have ‘a song’, but if we were asked to name an album which signifies the early stages of our relationship – around 1999 BC (Before Children) – this would be it. It just so happens to be very, very good as well.

Best Song: Red Dragon Tattoo

13. Garbage – Garbage (1995)

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Although Garbage’s second album, Version 2.0, got more media attention, it is for that very reason that I prefer their debut eponymous release (I call this the ‘Stereophonics effect’ – see below). Everything about this band really shouldn’t work (and, indeed, with later albums it didn’t), but I remember playing this CD loads during my GCSEs, because it was refreshing to have a girl-fronted rock band that wasn’t shit.

Best Song: Vow

12. Stereophonics – Word Gets Around (1997)

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Ah, the ‘Stereophonics effect’ – where an album is played so much that you actually start to resent it. So named because of the band’s second release, Performance and Cocktails, which I heard so much (largely because most of the tracks were released as singles), that I started to go off it. Word Gets Around probably isn’t as good an album, but until such time has passed that I can listen to Performance and Cocktails again (I’m anticipating ten to fifteen years), I’m going to prefer it.

Best Song: Local Boy In The Photograph

11. The Supernaturals – It Doesn’t Matter Anymore (1997)

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Most people will recognise The Supernaturals’ biggest hit, Smile, because it has featured on a number of adverts over the years, but the whole album is excellent and, again, was played heavily during my University days.

Best Song: Dung Beetle

10. Dave Matthews Band – Crash (1996)

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This is the album that started my love affair with a band virtually unheard of in the UK, but seemingly huge everywhere else – especially in their native America where, in 2003, they played a free gig to over 100,000 people in Central Park. Inevitably, it was an American who introduced me to the band during my first year at university, and seeing them live at the Wolverhampton Civic Hall a few years ago was one of the best gigs I have ever been to.

Best Song – #41

9. The Frames – Dance The Devil (1999)

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Speaking of lesser-known bands that have been introduced to me by fellow students, The Frames, who are from Dublin, were recommended to me by an Irish girl I knew at Law School. Their lead singer, Glen Hansard, has now become slightly better known, having starred in the low-budget independent Irish film, Once, for which he also co-wrote the soundtrack – and won an Oscar and a Grammy for his troubles.

Best Song: Perfect Opening Line

8. Symposium – One Day At A Time (1997)

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This is actually an 8-track mini-album, and due to the punk-pop nature of the songs, it is less than half an hour in length. However, each and every song is fantastic, and it is far superior to the full album they released a year later. Like this mini-album, the band was sadly over all-too-soon, as they had split up by the end of 2000.

Best Song: Fear of Flying

7. Lit – A Place In The Sun (1999)

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I was fortunate enough to meet this band at the Leeds Festival in 1999, shortly after A Place In The Sun had been released, and the single My Own Worst Enemy had gone global (spending eleven weeks atop the US charts, and featuring quite highly over here too from recollection).

Best Song: My Own Worst Enemy

6. Counting Crows – August And Everything After (1993)

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Like many bands, Counting Crows haven’t ever topped their debut release in my opinion, but they have come mighty close. This is another album that I can happily listen to without skipping any tracks: just brilliant.

Best Song: Sullivan Street

5. Gun – Gallas (1992)

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As with Icehouse’s Man of Colours (see the ‘80s countdown in entry #38), this album also formed an important part of my childhood, albeit later on. The best thing to come out of Scotland since shortbread.

Best Song: Steal Your Fire

4. Silversun – Silversun (1997)

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If we pretend the Beach Boys don’t exist for a second, then there is no finer album to blast out of your car on a hot summer’s day than this. The lyrics may just be random words and phrases strung together without any real thought (“You’re in, so late, and I am so happy. Just looking, so sorry, for being so sad. That worm pie, you made me, you made me eat for the butcher. To paint a little, a little pig”) but it doesn’t matter, as it is pop-rock genius from start to finish. You cannot help but smile listening to this album.

Best Song: Lava

3. Feeder – Yesterday Went Too Soon (1999)

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Feeder’s first full-length album, Polythene, initially passed me by (although I have since gone back, bought a copy, and fallen in love with it), so the first I was aware of this band was when Insomnia, from this follow-up album, was played on the radio. It was one of those songs you instantly connect with and find yourself singing along to by the second chorus, and since it was released well before the album came out, I don’t think I have ever anticipated (and been ultimately delighted by) an album as much as this one.

Best Song: Yesterday Went Too Soon

2. Terrorvision – Regular Urban Survivors (1996)

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I have seen Terrorvision live more than any other band (I have lost count of the precise number of times, but it is certainly into double figures), and this is primarily because they are just so much fun. Their lyrics are often a little daft, but this is part of the charm, and the tunes they accompany are catchier than syphilis. On top of this, their energy in concert (particularly lead singer Tony Wright, who is like a newly-released monkey on speed) is unparalleled.

Regular Urban Survivors was the first Terrorvision album I purchased – on cassette no less – and I instantly loved the fake ‘film soundtrack’ theme to it. Great artwork too (and my copy is signed!)

Best Song: Celebrity Hit List

1. Mansun – Attack Of The Grey Lantern (1996)

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Perhaps an unusual choice for my number one album of the 1990s (certainly as far as my wife is concerned, who looked at me with utter disbelief when I told her), but there is not a single bad thing I can say about it. All 11 tracks are fantastic, and they run together to tell a (admittedly unusual) story about the Grey Lantern (who I believe is meant to be lead singer Paul Draper) and the characters he encounters – including Mavis and a stripping vicar. It’s like a musical version of The League Of Gentlemen, only much, much better.

This album has everything I love – strings, clever lyrics, beautiful harmonies and the best hidden bonus track of any CD I own. Perfect.

Best song: Dark Mavis

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So there you have it, my personal Top 20 of the 1990s – and not a single Oasis or Blur album in sight.

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