Thursday, November 03, 2005

I Love the Nineties, Part I

Before I go into this week's entry, I want to let you know that this is the second time I'm writing it. I had planned to write my Top Ten Rock Albums of the 1990's and post it in two installments but, after completing the first installment, Blogspot effectively deleted the post. So, now due to time issues, I'm going to have to cut the entry in half, but that only means that you can finish it faster and get back to your work (or nap) sooner.

I've compiled this list based on three factors:
1) Culural significance - This includes both contemporary impact and, by implication, widespread popularity. An album can only be so significant if a very limited number of people hear it, after all.
2) Songwriting - Simply, the quality of the composition and performances.
3) Aesthetics - Basically, what I think is pretty/fun/catchy/engaging. This is much more subjective.

Onward and upward, in reverse order:

10) Red Hot Chili Peppers' Blood Sugar Sex Magik:
Although I'm not a consistent fan of the RHCP (mostly because they're not consistent fans of writing good stuff), I'm a staunch supporter of this album and its influence. BSSM proved that the Chili Peppers were more than a funky party band. With this album, they not only perfected their own funk-rock hybrid, but proved they could write a great, timeless song transcendent of any single genre's limitations.

9) Green Day's Dookie:
My brother hated this album when it came out because it seemed sophomoric and repetitive. And it was. But what Green Day did with Dookie was no simple matter: they combined Mudhoney's self-deprecating, Gen-X themes with Beach Boy-caliber pop melodies and constructed the songwriting blueprint for SoCal punk for the next ten years. They made sad happy, punk upbeat, and dumb smart.

8) Pearl Jam's Vitalogy:
Released at grunge's height but after Nirvana's demise, Vitalogy was the ultimate non-statement by the (then) "Biggest Band in the World." Eddie and the Boys placed unquestionable brilliance alongside obstinate weirdness, as if to say, "We reserve the right to be as good or as bad as we want. Don't make us Nirvana." And for every "Bugs," there's a "Nothingman." This album is both seemlessly great and maddeningly frustrating: a band both on top of its game and all too anxious to come back down.

7) Rage Against the Machine's Evil Empire:
Although it's easy to note RATM for its obvious influence on the "rap-rock" explosion (thank you, Korn and Limp Bizkit, but no thank you...), it's hard to miss what really made Rage (and Evil Empire) great: power. From Morello's breakthrough guitar-work to de la Rocha's smart, socially-aware lyrics, the album features some of the best pentatonic riffs since Zeppelin and some of the most deliberate composition of the decade. And, with Morello's imaginative and groundbreaking guitar playing, the instrument hadn't sounded so versatile since Hendrix put it down.

6) Radiohead's The Bends:
At the time of its release, as the musical and cultural landscape seemed so stale and uncertain, Thom Yorke's famous question, "Where do we go from here?" seemed on the tip of everyone's tongue. Radiohead, once feared a "one-hit wonder" after the success of "Creep" and the long hiatus before constructing The Bends, answered its critics by constructing what might be the most consistently great album of the decade. And aside from the epic power of their songwriting ("Fake Plastic Trees," "Street Spirit"), the album is, as my friend JMH once said, "just so pretty." Sometimes that's enough.

Bonus pick! Best Rap Album of the 1990's:
With all due respect to Straight Outta Compton, The Chronic, Ready to Die, Liscenced to Ill, and All Eyez on Me (and much respect is due), no other album can match Outkast's Stankonia for multi-dimensionality and consistency. At a time when rap was all bling and no substance, Outkast's genre cross-breeding and lyrical approach simply redefined rap and pop music in 1999. From the opening line of "Gasoline Dreams" ("All of my heroes did dope") to the lyrical complexity of "Miss Jackson" to the sheer perfection of "B.O.B." to the haunting beauty of "Gangsta Sh*t" and "Red Velvet," the album never lets up. It's smart enough to write from multiple perspectives, funny enough to provide some relief, and gorgeous enough to constantly engage the listener.

The Top 5 some time Friday afternoon....

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