Nightman’s Top 15 Albums Of The 1990s

Greetings,Glancers. Jeepers, it has been an incredibly long time since I posted one of these  – in fact, my Best Albums of 2000-2010 was one of the first non-movie review posts I ever stuck on this site. I think. Have a gander at that post if you’re looking for some fairly recent ear treats, but today we’re going retro. Which seems like a bizarre thing to say. Yes, the 90s are well and truly considered retro now and I think I only truly started to appreciate this when I watch all those Teens React To 90s Music, or Do Teens Know 90s music Youtube videos. I mean, I don’t feel that I look all that different or much older than the teens in those videos, but most of them weren’t even born in the 90s. Damn, in 1999 I was ringing in the new year by getting drunk in my hometown and waking up in some weird street in Belfast the following millennium. I think. Again, it’s apparently so long ago now that myth and memory are colliding and I can’t keep track of what’s what.

Anyway, what I do remember of the 90s is the music. I was actually a DJ in the 90s. And by DJ I mean I helped my dad when we was doing the music for school discos, putting on CDs and hitting play. It’s a weird thing to say – I’ve no idea why or how my dad was doing this given that he doesn’t really like music and only listens to Irish muck. The 90s were strange, you see. There were the last two great musical movements of any significance in grunge and Britpop. Sure a lot has happened since then, but not to the cultural extent of those two, and certainly not from a sheer quality standpoint. I was a grunge and metal and hard rock kid, as I’m sure you’ve heard me say before. I was too young to traditionally ‘get it’, but I had a lot of older friends, and older siblings of friends – people who were teens in ’94 while I was 10/11. Having said that, I was still getting exposed to a lot of pop, a lot of whatever was on the radio and in the charts – I mostly remember the early 90s for being the start of manufactured boy/girl bands and the increase in popularity of rave/dance music, both of which I despised.

As grunge faded, Britpop emerged. I wasn’t a huge fan of any of the main Britpop bands, but a lot of the British bands I did love were lumped into that category, or into indie because they happened to come out around the same time and were essentially alternative to whatever was popular either in pop or rock. All of this nattering means that my favourite albums of the 90s will feature a variety of genres but won’t include many of the albums which regularly top critical lists. In preparing for my list, I went looking through a bunch of those lists and knew that the same culprits would appear over and over – Dummy, OK Computer, Nevermind, Definitely Maybe, Automatic For The People, Loveless, Odelay. Some of those I like, some of those I don’t. Maybe some will even appear in my list. What I’m getting at is that this is my list – read it, comment, make your own,try not to complain that the usual suspects may not be there. These albums each have a special place in my life, tied up with specific memories. Outside of that, I do believe each is a firmly great album and would highly recommend to any true music fan. As before, I’m only choosing one album per artist – otherwise there would be 2-3 by certain bands; there’s going to be a lot of ‘I could have chosen this but instead I went for this’.

The ordering isn’t too important, it never is, but I suspect by number 1 will always be my number 1. If you’re interested in 90s music, or if you are new to it all, you could do a lot worse by starting out with these bad boys.

15. Dangerous

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Jackson entered his third decade of making music on top of the world. If you were alive in the early nineties then you knew all about the Dangerous Tour. You heard every single one of the singles from the album almost every single day. You sat up waiting to watch the world premiere of his new video. Does that happen anymore? Maybe it does, I’ve no idea, but certainly not to this extent. Families crowded around the TV waiting for Black Or White to come on like people wait for the Superbowl. For my list, it was a toss up between including this or HIStory. Both are albums I love, but both are flawed – neither are as good as Bad or Thriller, but then what is? Both albums have their share of fillers, but it’s the sheer strength of the singles and the hidden treats which ensure they have a spot on any Best Album Of The 90s discussion. Dangerous edges it with the better singles and for pure personal nostalgia value.

Black Or White, Heal The World, Give It To Me, Remember The Time are all flawless pop hits. The you also have Who Is It, Will You Be There, and In The Closet. All underrated pop classics. The rest of the album is a mixture of New Jack noise and genre twisting ballads of varying quality – if trimmed a little or if certain songs were switched out for something else this would surely be held in as high esteem as his earlier offerings but I love it regardless.

14. Californication

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I almost didn’t include this, mostly because I always think it came out in 2000. This felt like the dawning of a new are of music, not because the band had come out of their malaise with massive renewed commercial success, but because it felt like a moment in time – both immediate and new and futuristic. The band found their peak at mixing funk, rock, and pop with Californication, and the hits kept coming – the title track, Road Trippin, Otherside, Scar Tissue were all huge hits and when they weren’t being played on radio stations they were being covered by school bands, in bedrooms, and by buskers. Other songs such as Easily and Parallel Universe ensured the hits were not confined to singles while Purple Stain retained their trademark humour and original sound.

This is an album about transcending – sound, music, and mind, and it felt at the time like a new movement was coming. It didn’t, but it was exciting all the same. The album dropped just in time for summertime, at a time when exams, parties, illegal entry into pubs and clubs and getting on top were high on the agenda of me and everyone I knew, and this felt like a unified blast of sunlight in our dreary surroundings and a statement about hope and potential and love which brought us all together – it was such a hit that the sensation carried through to the following summer. The band would unfortunately copy this template for their next releases with diminishing returns.

13. Ray Of Light

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One year before Californication, another 80s icon proved she still had it. In fact, she proved she was more relevant than ever, reinventing herself in the best way possible and unleashing her best work. Madonna’s Ray Of Light was a winter release and one which grew as the year progressed and it was another album which felt like everyone could enjoy it. I almost managed to have friends, or at least not enemies, in every school group – sports people, smart people, nerds, stoners, whatever, and pretty much everyone appreciated this one. Like essentially every album on my list it has a bunch of smash singles or hits and an equal number of strong album tracks – Frozen, The Power Of Goodbye, Skin, Drowned World, Sky Fits Heaven, are among Madonna’s finest songs. Ironically like some other entries here this can be seen as their last great work, but great is the operative word here.

12. Unreleased Susanna Hoffs Album

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Ah ha! You didn’t see this one coming, did ya? Hoffs released her debut in 1991, but as a whole it’s naff. She released a better follow up in 1996, but still it had problems with consistency. In between these though, she recorded a second album with some of the songs appearing on the 1996 release, albeit in slightly different forms. While the debut was a miscalculated, dated mess, the unreleased one showcases Hoffs’ talents – her songwriting, vocals, guitar playing, and mostly her ear for melody. It moves from mellow to doom laden to shimmering pop to energetic rock, but it is held together by an overall sense of, if not death, then fading away. I’ve felt this for such a long time that I actually have an outline for a story based or inspired by the album – the names of each song essentially write the story for you. If this had become a concept album I wouldn’t have been surprised – Catch The Wind, Without You, Go, Sleep, Ghost, Turning Over – the second half of the album in particular evoking that sense of departure and loss. Every song is terrific and it’s a shame that so many will never get to hear it. Even the reworked songs for what became her 1996 album will go unheard by most – do yourself a favour and find both albums now for the sheer majesty of songs like Darling One, Sunshine, and Right By You. 

11. Grace – Jeff Buckley

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Well, you probably saw this coming. I came to the Jeff Buckley party later than most. Plenty of friends had and played me Grace and his live offerings in the late 90s but it wasn’t until probably 2003 roughly that I bought it myself. There was no looking back. Every positive thing you’ve heard about the album is true, from Jeff’s lyrics and voice to the cauldron of genres he blasts through, often in a single song. There is melancholy, there is anger, there are heavenly odes, but mostly there is grace.

10. The Black Album – Metallica

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Spoiler alert – there won’t be a lot of metal on this list. Many people in the know will agree that the 90s wasn’t the best decade for metal, at least from a commercial standpoint. Most of the big bands from the previous decade fell on hard times. A lot of idiots will blame grunge for this but the fact is that Grunge simply raised the bar for heavy music – forcing it to become more intelligent, raw, and visceral. Gone were the stadium pleasing anthems and performances, gone was the cheese. Gone was the need for a Rock God and a twiddly solo. However, a lot of new acts were coming out of the woodwork, particularly in Europe and the best of the rest learned to adapt quickly. Pantera, Megadeth, Emperor, Sepultura and others brought out their best work in the early to middle of the decade, and every one of them was in some way influenced by the changing musical landscape. Metallica’s Black Album is the pinnacle of these, throwing them into the limelight like no other metal band had been before.

The Black Album saw the band streamlining themselves after their opus And Justice For All. The complexity was replaced with hard-edged hits yet none of the ferocity was lost. The production was noticeably better, and the songs noticeably more radio-friendly. If the band lost fans with their previous album due to accusations of selling out, they lost a lot more with this one. Their reply was to sell over thirty million copies of this, not bad as middle fingers go. With singles such as the eternal Enter Sandman, the plaintive Nothing Else Matters, and hidden delights like My Friend Of Misery it’s the perfect album for introducing people to metal. The riffs are still there, the anger, the melody, but it’s a much smarter album with the lyrics tortured and poetic instead of a series of attempts to rhyme ‘death’, ‘war’, and ‘blood’.

9. Jagged Little Pill – Alanis Morissette

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I’ve harped on about this album in other posts plenty of times, but it all holds true; it’s as fine a slice of the 90s musical landscape as any – hits like Ironic and One Hand In My Pocket as timeless as another US rock song as far back as Born In The USA or Jailhouse Rock. More than anything this album reminds me of early Secondary School days – not school itself of course, but the friends and the fun times we had. It was one of the first albums which felt ‘ours’ as a collective whole – this was my generation and the songs spoke to our experiences and feelings, even if (again) I was a few years younger than those it was truly for. There was a bit of grunge, a bit of the riot gurl, a bit of optimism, and a shot of realism. Where other artists sought to emulate Alanis, or Nirvana, or whoever, Jagged Little Pill was a pinnacle which few have equaled since in terms of sheer quality and cultural impact.

8. Little Earthquakes – Tori Amos

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Long before Jagged Little Pill, Tori Amos came out swinging with a collection of songs which seemed a world away from the distortion and rage spewing out of Seattle. Little Earthquakes is equally as earth-shattering, but coming from a place of pianos, high-heels, and OMG vaginas. It’s a near perfect album (it does feature Happy Phantom which is just silly and Mother which is too long) with songs like Crucify, Winter, and Precious Things as deserving of the praise and airplay it didn’t receive as a thousand songs from the era which did. The aforementioned, bracketed songs? Switch those out for Sugar and her Smells Like Teen Spirit – then you have a perfect album. Tori would never be as consistent and restrained again.

7. Dirt – Alice In Chains

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We finally land on some authentic grunge, with the appropriately named Dirt. Alice In Chains were always closer to the metal side of things, while Nirvana were decidedly punk (Pearl Jam were blues or traditional US rock and Soundgarden did whatever they pleased in case you were wondering). Dirt is both soulful and ugly, a stripping back of the American, human psyche, and set to a swirling storm of shrieks, distortion, and riffs. Jerry Cantrell and Layne Staley are one of the most underrated songwriting duets of all time and on Dirt both are at their peak, not to mention Mike Starr and Sean Kinney. We have some of the finest examples of grunge hits in Would?, Angry Chair, and Down In A Hole, along with the introspective Rain When I Die, epic Rooster, and the opening bombast of Them Bones and Dam That River. Staley’s voice wavers between anguish and ecstasy, the riffs offer sludge, speed, and the lyrics are dark and cynical looks at drug use, the impact of war on families and the individual, religion, life and death, and much more – dirt has never been so appealing and easy to wallow in.

6. UYI 1 and II – G’n’R

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If an unreleased album was a cheat inclusion, then I’ll go the extra mile and include two albums in one. Come on – they’re basically one long album and ask most people to name a song from one and they won’t remember which album is which. Not super fans like me of course. There’s the eternal argument that had the band trimmed away the rough stuff from each album then they could have had a single album with the best from both. While that’s true, you’d also end up cutting some greats. And seriously, while both albums are massive and have a few middling songs, the only thing that should be cut is My World. I think a single album would have ended up too bloated – you’d need November Rain, Estranged, Coma, Civil War – all songs over six minutes long, and then you’d need (one version of) Don’t Cry, You Could Be Mine, Back Off Bitch, Get In The Ring and you’re at around 50 minutes long already, and that’s before you add in Knockin On Heaven’s Door and Live And Let Die. There is already a US only release single album, but it adds in some odd choices which most fans would consider the filler. There’s no point arguing about it – these are two albums which act as two parts of the same whole.

These albums have probably been played by me more than 95% of anything else I’ve owned or heard – I had them at release, or near enough, and I listen to elements of them every week. I remember sitting up to watch the UYI tours on TV, trying to play every song when I got my first guitar, and ever since, and hiding My World on any mixtapes I made for friends. There are few albums I know as inside out as these ones, as anyone who has seen me requesting, then air-guitaring and singing along to Breakdown in The Venue can attest to (pro-tip – The Venue was Northern Ireland’s premier (only) rock and metal club for years and where I spent most Saturday nights from 17 onwards).

5. Hey Stoopid – Alice Cooper

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We’re at that point where the ordering doesn’t really matter anymore. Hey Stoopid I got around the same time as UYI and it subsequently became one of, if not my most favourite Alice Cooper albums. Most of the cheese of the 80s has been abandoned, meaning all that is left is pure unfiltered Alice Cooper goodness, albeit with a new, more metal edge. While Alice appeared on G’n’R’s album, Slash appears on this one along with Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, and Vinnie Moore; it’s a guitar fan’s dream. Ozzy, Nikki Sixx, and Elvira among others also pop up. Ignoring the guest stars we have one of Alice’s biggest hits in Feed My Frankenstein but the genius is in songs like Burning Our Bed, Dangerous Tonight, Die For You, and one of the greatest songs ever in Wind Up Toy. Ballads, blistering rock, Cooper’s madness, ideas, and brilliant lyrics all flow together meaning that even the slight dud Dirty Dreams doesn’t harm the whole. This one needs to be heard by many more people, including the metal and rock fans who should already be familiar with it but likely are not.

4. How To Measure A Planet?

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It could have been Mandylion, but I feel this is still their best. Another album you’re not likely to see on any other critic’s list, yet one which is more deserving of a place than most, How To Measure A Planet? was The Gathering’s first shift away from metal into parts unknown. If there is any album on my list which needs more exposure, it is this one. It’s an epic double album covering space and time and features should-be-classics in Travel, Marooned, Frail, Rescue Me, Great Ocean Road. If you like rock, dance, shoe-gaze, trip-hop, prog, pop, guitars, soundscapes, angelic vocals, ethereal melodies, then you will undoubtedly love this album.

3. In Utero

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It was this or Nevermind. In fact, it was this or Incesticide. Nevermind gets all the credit and acclaim, while Incesticide most reminds me of that time, but In Utero is the best Nirvana album. The best way to follow up the album which defined a generation is to break it all down again in the most brutal, anti-commercial way you can. If Nevermind was an unexpected hit, then this is even moreso – songs with titles and content like Rape Me, Radio-Friendly Unit Shifter, Tourette’s, Heart Shaped Box, Very Ape are not the stuff of radio. And yet they are. They should be. We should listen to music not because it’s popular, or easily packaged, or nice, or sounds like everything else. We should listen to it for our own reasons, to be moved, to be destroyed, to be challenged, to be inspired. In Utero will inspire, move, challenge, and destroy you, Cobain’s lyrics childlike, incisive, insightful, angst-ridden, world-weary, obsessed with the body, corruption, failure, success, and every note he hits powerfully delivered with maximum feeling. Grohl and Novoselic as always are in perfect tune reminding us that the band were the finest cohesive unit since Led Zeppelin, even as Kurt increasingly abandoned structure and played with form. The best grunge album ever isn’t even grunge, but an unholy descent into hell.

2. The Bends

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It’s this or OK Computer. I’d happily argue that Pablo Honey deserves a spot on any 90s list too – that album is highly underrated purely by the fact that the other two came next. But Pablo Honey is to The Bends as Help is to Revolver. While I appreciate what OK Computer was and is and does, The Bends has always been my personal favourite. It tugs at the emotions more, it has more variety, it isn’t so calculated, and it’s obviously the more emotional of the two. You don’t even need me to list the hits do you? Fine – Street Spirit, Just, My Iron Lung, High And Dry, Fake Plastic Trees. Any album which contains a song as good as any of those songs is alright by me, but to have them all and also feature the title track, Nice Dream, Bullet Proof, and my own favourite Black Star means you have an album for the ages and one deserving of being mentioned as one of the best ever. The strange this about it is, I don’t have any specific memories associating the album to the time and to me. It feels like it’s always been there. In fact, it wasn’t until much later that I found people who appreciated the band but by that point Kid A and Amnesiac were being released. If you think Radiohead are overrated, you’re doing it wrong. Doing what? Existing.

Before we get to Number One, lets look at some who could have made it on:

Talk On Corners – The Corrs

Ten- Pearl Jam

Superunknown – Soundgarden

Fear Of A Black Planet – Public Enemy

Suede – Suede

Dummy – Portishead

Rust In Peace – Megadeth

Imaginations From The Other Side – Blind Guardian

Showbiz – Muse

Still Life – Opeth

Oceanborn – Nightwish

Drum rolls please – my number one pick for the Best Album of the 90s is:

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  1. The Holy Bible – Manic Street Preachers

My number 1 spot was always going to be my number 1 spot. Sure you can pick Everything Must Go as a better album, certainly a more palatable option and maybe one more symbolic of the decade, but The Holy Bible is THE ONE. I made some Beatles comparisons above, but what the hell do you compare this to? Sure there were dark albums before and there have been since – the 90s were full of them, but none of them come close to this. This is pain not commercialized, romanticized, or glorified. It’s like unnecessary eye surgery. It’s darker than any metal album, and unquestionably more authentic in its horror. While the 90s were known for certain artists paving new ways with sampling The Holy Bible offered the following soundbite samples:

‘I wanted to rub the human face in its own vomit, and then force it too look in the mirror’

‘I knew that someday I was gonna die. And I knew before I died Two things would happen to me – That number one I would regret my entire life. And number two I would want to live my life over again’

‘I wonder who you think you are. You damn well think you’re God or something. God give life, God taketh it away, not you. I think you are the devil itself’ (Mother of one of the victims of Peter Sutcliffe).

‘I eat too much to die and not enough to stay alive. I’m sitting in the middle waiting’ (quote from a documentary about a girl’s struggle with anorexia. She died a few months later).

‘I hate purity. Hate goodness. I don’t want virtue to exist anywhere. I want everyone corrupt’.

‘The court has come. The court of the Nations. And into the courtroom will come the martyrs of Majdanek and Oswiecim. From the ditch of Kerch the dead will rise. They will arise from the graves, they will arise from flames bringing with them the acrid smoke and the deathly odour of scorched and martyred Europe. And the children, they too will come, stern and merciless. The butchers had no pity on them; now the victims will judge the butchers. Today the tear of the child is the judge. The grief of the mother is the prosecutor’ (transcript from the Nuremberg Trials).

Lets not forget the artwork and the liner note quotations. There has rarely, if ever, been a more assured statement of art in music – the band honing their past experiments with design and quotes to a sharpened bullet tip. That’s all well and good, but in the end it is the band themselves who stand out, draped in military garb and spouting rage and vitriol and anyone and everything – this is the Holy Bible for the twentieth century – a catalogue of atrocities counted off with some of the most gut churning vocals, ferocious guitar, ungodly noise, and potent lyrics you’ll ever experience. The Holocaust, self-hate, Imperialism, anorexia (Richey, the band’s lost guitarist and lyricist was 6 stone at the time of recording), murder on an individual and massive scale, religion, banks, politicians, exploitation – the band uncover every ugly truth of the modern man and let us know precisely who’s responsible.

It is possible to separate the songs from the intent and the peripherals. Listening to songs such as Faster, PCP, This Is Yesterday and others – each a perfect song in its own right, whether it be an end of the century/world punk anthem or a mournful ballad to an idealized and lost youth. It is possible, but not easy. You can come as a virgin to the songs, but you’ll inevitably ask what the lyrics are, or what the song is about. You’ll ask why there is such a creepy, soul-darkening drone and wonder what they hell they are so angry about. You’ll get sucked in, sucked down. The opening bass riff to Archives Of Pain will haunt you for ever more. The death shrieks at the end of Mausoleum will set you on edge as if you are being stalked, while the entirety of The Intense Humming Of Evil may very well disturb you to the point of no return. And yet you’ll want to play it again, because the songs are so good, the melodies so incisive and brutal. You’ll find youself screaming along to songs with titles like Of Walking Abortion and yelling out the names of serial killers and dictators in Revol. It’s still a rock album – solos, riffs, headbanging, yells are all checked in, but it’s rock on another level – the sound of the world setting itself alight and both celebrating and screaming in agony with equal measure.

There you have it – my favourite albums of the 1990s. Rather than waiting around to hear what my favourie albums of the 2090s will be, why not share your own thoughts and albums in the comments below. I’ll get around to the 80s and 70s eventually, don’t worry.

The Top 15 Albums Of The Decade That Is Thankfully Gone

1

The Music: Welcome To The North: 2004:

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While the (awfully named) Naughties had some terrifyingly bad guitar/rock band trends a miniscule handful appeared to give some respite from the overall stagnance. The decade for music as a whole (at least in Britain and North America) was led by generic R’n’B acts, and bland, MOR reality stars. The decade saw such terrible trends as the angular guitar monotone nonsense started by The Strokes; a rise in lyrically worthless, chorus led British drival such as Franz Ferdinand and The Kaiser Chiefs; Energetic but substanceless groups more interested in how many articles they had written about themselves in Heat rather than their music such as The Arctic Monkeys and The Killers; The less said about Pete Doherty the better. Disenchanted rock fans began the fruitful search though other genres, other countries, and other times to find something worth listening to, many unaware that the (by far) best album of the decade in any country or genre was right on their doorstep.

The Music had a couple of years earlier an average amount of commercial success with their self titled debut, a mix of funk, disco, and Zeppelin-esque riffs. They were full of life, had a very strong vocalist, and a host of talented musicians, with an ear for a catchy melody to top it off. Welcome To The North was released fairly unceremoniously with some good reviews by the ‘Big Magazines’ and a couple of chart scraping singles. Listening to the album as a whole, any of the 11 tracks could have been a top ten hit with a more musically savvy audience other than the British public. From the opening strains of the title track which could easily grace any club in the land, to the high speed Cessation, from the high emotion of Guide, to the perfection of album closer Open Your Mind, Welcome To The North is a classic in every conceivable way. Like Revolver, like Thriller, like The Bends, it is a genre bending record fuelled by a pure love for music and features something for everyone. Robert Harvey’s vocals soar, his lyrics emotive but hardly anything new, but it is the intertwining melodies, the coherence, the invention, which makes the album truly special. Rather than reading this, go buy it, go listen to it. Perhaps this will be recognized for its genius in the future- it is up to you to make sure it isn’t forgotton under a dark cloud of unoriginality.

2

The Gathering: Sleepy Buildings: 2004

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As with all of these top 15 albums, if you want further exciting information go to the Music Reviews section where hopefully at some point there will be an in depth review of each. The Gathering released several good albums during the decade- every album is a big change with this band, though in this decade they endured their biggest change to date- their singer and figurehead leaving. Before that happened though they had finetuned their latest sound- minimalist rock with progressive influences. Between studio albums they released this recording of their recent semi acoustic live shows, and with it unleashed one of the greatest live albums ever recorded. They trawl through their back catalogue playing some of their biggest songs in an almost acoustic fashion. That isn’t too extraordinary- MTV Unplugged had been doing it for years. The difference is that many of the songs on show here were originally effects laden behemoths filled with a multitude of instruments and more often than not, played loud and heavy. For the group to adapt these into a soft, intimate setting is a triumph- for some of the songs to be changed beyond recognition and still be so good is a talent almost unheard of.

There are many stand out moments and songs, each member showing their abilities and passion. Anneke Van Giersbergen (who millions unfortunately have not and may not ever hear) is one of THE great vocalists and on Sleepy Buildings she puts her entire array of skills on display flawlessly. While the guitars understandably take a background seat, the drumming and pianos fill the void. For beautiful, haunting, shadow filled music you can do no better than The Gathering, and on Sleepy Buildings the band is at their most chilling, their most exquisite.

 3

Muse: Origin Of Symmetry: 2001

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The first 6 songs of Muse’s second album are the stuff of myth- note perfect, word perfect, nothing else touches them. From there the album unfortunately but understandably loses momentum and quality, but while later efforts may be more consistent overall, this remains their best. Heralded by some as the savior of guitar music and by others as (falsly) just another Radiohead clone after the success of their debut Showbiz, Muse had a lot to live up to- prove to the doubters that they were unique, and prove to fans that they could get better. Not that they cared as here they simply ploughed on, carving their own individual niche and blasting their competition away. While Radiohead were struggling through self important experimental dirges, Muse were blowing the tops off the the towers of excess and creating something new and exciting in rock music. Matt Bellamy throws off the shackles of the Thom Yorke comparison by displaying some other worldly vocal antics, shrieking about love and despair, paranoia and space age insanity like a man possessed by a demon released from a millienia of torture. While the first album had plenty of musical invention and chugging guitars, Bellamy becomes a full blown guitar hero here, casting off classic riff after classic riff before jumping on his piano for a bit of Bach twiddling. Each song has so many ideas and so much creativity squeezed in that at times it all becomes daunting, but never does it become a self indulgent mess. Classic melodies on the likes of New Born and Plug In Baby will stand the test of time, while the epic Citizen Erased makes Bohemian Rhapsody look like Basshunter. A breathless, breathtaking magnum opus.

4

Eminem: The Marshall Mathers LP: 2001

Eminem

Already America’s Most Wanted, hated by middle America, politicians, celebrities, and just about everyone else Eminem’s second album was destined to be controversial. What no-one expected was that it would be just about the greatest, and best selling rap album of all time. On The Marshall Mathers LP, Eminem bares all; his rage at hypocrites, his satirical rants at musical executives, talentless wannabees, useless celebrities, and psychotic fans. There are no lazy samples with a few commercially edgy lyrics here which poison just about every other rap and R’n’B artist of the decade. Eminem does everything his own way- the music, ideas, and most importantly the lyrics are all his own. In fact, the only major sample he uses turned out to be one of the best ideas he ever had- turning an otherwise bland Dido song into a masterpiece. In doing so he unfortunately gave Dido a career, unleashing her and a cavalcade of soulless, talentless singers onto the airwaves. Luckily for us we can drown them out with such belters as The Real Slim Shady, The Way I Am, Marshall Mathers, and the absolutely terrifying Kim. Eminem’s overall performance on that song must surely rank highly with the best vocal performances of the decade.

No punches are pulled, the melodies, music, and effects are all simple yet highly effective, and there is plenty of humour. By this point Eminem already knew what everyone thought of him, fans and haters alike, and he continues to tantalize both groups by keeping them guessing at the true nature of the mythological figure he has created. Arguably this is the album which brought the genre into the mainstream but none, not even himself have since come close to equaling the power and intelligence on display here. This remains his most personal, most inspired, best work.

5

Natalie Imbruglia: White Lillies Island: 2001

Natalie Imbruglia

No-one expected former teen actress of Neighbours to trample all over the footsteps of Kylie and Jason with the release of her hit debut album. Featuring chart toppers like Torn, Big Mistake etc it was a success she has yet to match. Aside from the hits the album was a mish mash of faux Morrisette angst and anger, big vocals and ideas, though now it all sounds not quite clichéd, but ‘we’ve heard it all before’. Rather than being left of the middle it sounds middle of the road, although surprises like Smoke and the title track help to mark it above the rest of the female singer songwriters of the time. What no-one expected was that her second album would be a flawless piece of pop perfection with all new mature lyrics leaving any notions of little angry girrrl behind. White Lillies Island is the best pop album of the decade, easily. Covering a multitude of emotions, featuring unforgettable melodies, powerful vocals it is tinged with darkness, sadness, but also filled with infectious joy for life, love, and music.

Although the singles, particularly That Day are loaded with catchy barbed wire bits and invention it is the rest of the album tracks which make this a classic. Unusually for what most would see as a simple pop album, the songs picked as singles are not the best on offer. Too often nowadays a pop album is thrown out on the basis of two or three hit singles (usually found on the first half of the album, if not the first 3 songs) while the remaining songs are an assortment of guff, rubbish, and murder inspiring drivel. Those of a similar style who have truly stood out in the decade, Lady Gaga (knows how to write a decent chorus, but falls flat on her ever so outrageously painted face in every other respect), Rhianna (needs to lose the commercial R’n’B crap and branch out), and Pink and Stefani even suffer from this to an extent. Although it has sold a million copies it is still embarrassingly overlooked, I would recommend this to any fans of the pop wailers above just as much as I would recommend it to fans of Tori Amos and Metallica. Every song is great, with only Sunlight marginally annoying me 8 years later.With all out classics such as Hurricane, Come September, and Everything Goes it is a Goddess of a record. Counting Down The Days- her third album has some damn good stuff too, and I wait for the proper release of her 4th; this though is her masterpiece.

6

Nightwish: Once: 2004

Nightwish

Nightwish had been progressing ferociously since their average but promising debut. After the success of Wishmaster and the brilliant Century Child, two albums showcasing that they band were getting heavier and incorporating more progressive elements into their music while remaining as melodic as metal can get it was a great surprise for Once to become such a commercial smash. On the back of two massive singles, Nemo and Wish I Had An Angel, Nightwish finally got recognition beyond Europe and cemented their reputation as one of the biggest European bands. The band are on top form here and achieve the production quality that they had sought long for; a band with such big ideas needs big values and big sound. The traditional mythological and literary references in the lyrics and themes are still present but they cast off the metal clichés and integrate these thoughts and ideas into the modern, real world. Toumas has greatly matured as a songwriter, not only in the lyrics but musically also- most of the songs feel short and sharp even though you won’t find any under four minutes- all the twiddly extra parts which seemed drawn out or unnecessary on previous albums have had the razor treatment- everything is urgent and precise. The two most epic songs here- Creek Mary’s Blood and the mammoth Ghost Love Score are epic in every sense, but never do they feel tired or excessive. The band have also been capable of writing songs over the 6 minute mark and with Ghost Love Score they have created possibly their best song.

Musically the band has never been so inspired up till this point, and thankfully there are non of the cheesy moments which marred past songs. The guitars are fast and furious when they need to be, and restrained for the lighter songs such as Kuolema Tekee Taiteilijian and Higher Than Hope. Tuomas keyboard and piano work is moved to the forefront of many songs, while Tarja’s vocals are as strong as ever on what would prove to be her final album with the group. Jukka’s drums are frantic and forceful while Marco give’s his trademark growling vocals when needed. The band employs what sounds like a choir and orchestra of a hundred in many of the sounds meaning every song sounds huge, and it is this addition which truly pushes the album into stardom. While Evanescene were teaching a generation of adolescents to whine and that it was ok to like sub par pop music as long as it employed guitars and dark clothing, Nightwish were breaking the boundaries of the fading symphonic metal genre, teaching jaded metal weirdos that it was ok to like female singers, and making groundbreaking, heavy music which everyone can and should appreciate.

7

JJ72: JJ72: 2000

JJ72

Early in the decade this Irish trio of youngsters with a penchant for Joy Division and melodic, quiet/heavy rock burst into the charts with a string of hits from an album which failed to start any musical revolution, a band which failed to become media darlings- all good, but unfortunately the band never lived up to their early potential and split after an equally good but ill received second album. With an ever so pretty lead vocalist and writer, his sensitive lyrics juxtaposing the often barbaric vocals and with an every so pretty female bass player the band seemed destined to become something special. It seemed though that the band were out of tune and out of time with the Zeitgeist though as a new wave of talentless American one chord guitar bands would slope into the hearts and minds of the brainless, tuneless generation. Perhaps the band will become more appreciated in the future for now the loyal fans will have to contend themselves with this, with I To Sky, and some of the great B-Sides and tracks from the unreleased 3rd album- check them out, all good stuff.

JJ72 opens in blistering style with October Swimmer an emotionally charged rocker with melodies to die for and a chorus made for moshing. This along with other singles Snow and Oxygen showcase the band’s trademarks- catchy verses building up to shout along choruses- kudos to anyone that can follow Mark’s vocal peaks on any song. The album is full of tender moments like Not Like You, Improv, but especially Willow- a beautiful song which is so fragile that it might break if you listen to it. The album at times feels bare, with an unknown record company and probably not much production behind it but all of this gives a haunting tone. Closer Bumblebee is THE gig closer, and possibly the best album ending of the decade. On record you can barely hear the verse; turn up the volume at your peril though as the chorus is loud enough to make you go blind through your ears. Played live this is a monster, band and crowd alike becoming possessed, jumping around and generally breaking stuff. For such a young band there is great innocence and maturity here- all scars are ripped open and put on display, all ghosts are released from the proton packs and held in suspense for us to witness. For whatever reasons the record company didn’t back the second album and everything collapsed. Either album could be featured here- the second is probably more complete, but the first has all the hits, and all the youthful exuberance of a band that should have been, but never were.

 8

Manic Street Preachers: Journal For Plague Lovers: 2009

Manic Street Preachers

15 years after Richey said goodbye, and possibly 3 or 4 albums past their best work according to some, the Manics returned with this beast. Choosing not to release any singles this is as much a gift to the fans as it is a tribute to Richey. It is his lyrics which are used throughout, giving Nicky a break from his writer’s block. As everyone will know the band has been on a rollercoaster of fortunes since The Holy Bible, with Everything Must Go and This Is My Truth being massive hits. Know Your Enemy remains their worst album while Lifeblood breathed some life and venom back into the band. Send Away The Tigers proved that the band still had the potential to be hitmakers, featuring some big singles and many short, sharp, punk edged songs. When 2009 came around, the furore concerned the new album of ‘Richey speak’ and rumours of a new (which has now been lauded as their greatest work) Holy Bible. True, there are many similarities between the 3rd and ninth albums- Richey’s lyrics move between stomach churning rage to lung deflating fragility, from humour to hatred, and from political to incomprehensible. If you got the special edition of the album you’ll know that many of these lyrics were edited, and once you’ve listened to the music and how everythings fits perfectly you’ll appreciate the band’s skill as songwriters all over again.

This is not an easy album, and not one which will grab you immediately. The trouble is, each fan was expecting something but in all likelihood the finished result is not what you expected. After getting over this initial shock you should see that the album is their best in years. The artwork is Bibleesque, as are the song titles, and there are many sound effects or guitar/vocal moments which recall certain songs. But the band has moved on, becoming more accomplished in most ways. Opener Peeled Apples starts with an ominous bass riff, second only in power to Archives Of Pain, closer William’s Last Words is a tear jerking Nicky vocal- don’t let that put you off as his singing style is honed in and he merely speaks the words with a 4st 7lb lump in his throat. In between we have the potential singles Jackie Collins Existential Question Time and Me And Stephen Hawking, as close to massive hits since Design For Life, angry blasts such as She Bathed Herself In A Bath Of Bleach and Marlon JD, and softer moments such as Facing Page Top Left and This Joke Sport Severed. However, my personal favourites as always come in the shape of the lessor known album tracks- Virginia State Epileptic Colony and All Is Vanity. This is as good an album for any non fan to get as an introduction (though as always you should start from the beginning) and for any jaded Manics fans- Welcome Back.

9

Mika Bomb: The Fake Fake Sound Of Mika Bomb: 2001

Mika Bomb

Most people may know the band after Lamacq called them the best band ever to come from Japan on the unlistened to destroyer of music that is Radio 1, back before it collapsed completely. Whether or not this is true (there are tones of excellent Japanese bands) this amusingly lyriced, firey debut is one of the most energetic and exciting albums of the decade. Also true is that their second and final album could have made this list, but I think the first edges it for sheer fun and unashamedness. Mika Bomb are primarily a Japanese/British girl punk band. Usually that would be enough for me to fall in love with a band, but more often than not such bands become irritating quickly. Not so here, with songs such as Super Sexy Razor Happy Girls, Garage Superstars, Contact Tokyo, and Heart Attack ripping to shreds similar American male fronted punk bands of the time. You can keep your Blink 182/Offspring/Sum 41 etc with their ‘humourous’ naked videos, ‘innovative’ blending of rap, and ‘good’ musical qualities. Even most of the song titles here are worth the money alone, but once you here the band rip into one of their million mile an hour 2 minute songs you’ll never go back. They even manage to get a soft love song in there with Don’t Speak amongst the madness of Super Honda, Underwear, Yellow Danger Babies and the rest. Song topics include computer games, superheroes, motorbike racing, playing music for the love of plying music, the Wizard Of Oz, martial arts techniques, who knows? The guitars are sublime, crashing chords and jangly riffs flying about everywhere, epileptic drums and bass, and vocals which will probably take the uninitiated a few listens to get used to. Once you absorb it all you’ll be jumping around like Yoshi after he realized he’s eaten Mario’s favourite mushroom.

10

Gemma Hayes: Night On My Side: 2002

Gemma Hayes

Gemma had been touring the pubs and clubs of Dublin some time before this was released. Although it didn’t have many hit singles (unlike Mercury Prize Winners and Nominees of today- if you don’t have a number 1 or a song covered by Winehouse, don’t bother) it nevertheless became the best Irish album of the decade. Most female artists of the time were singing of independence to convince us that they aren’t actually the empty, attention seeking, male driven harpies that we know they are. Gemma was doing and singing exactly what she wanted to, with rock songs such as Hanging Around and Let A Good Thing Go, to more gentle, emotional songs such as Ran For Miles Tear In My Hand. There is a beauty here which any folk artist would strive for, an ease of style and writing which even the best struggle to reach. Gemma’s lyrics are open and honest, singing tales of love and anguish, loss and joy. Her acoustic stylings were the perfect antedote to my daily doses and nightly blasts of metal, although she is just as passionate and at times angry as anyone. While songs such as Back of My Hand could have been big singles, Gemma has never been one to chase the spotlight as seen on subsequent albums- plenty of commercial songs, plenty which no radio would touch as they are too personal or too uncommercial. We see her humour, her influences, her skill as a writer and guitarist, and a sign of things to come. Her voice on this record sounds as if she is singing on your shoulder, as both a guardian angel and occasional imp of mischief. When I saw her in Glastonbury she frequently chatted with the crowd, eventually accepting and dowing a show of Whiskey from one screaming fan. Similar things have happened in other gigs I’ve been to. Her next two albums would also showcase her trademark charm and songwriting beauty, but it is her debut which has the rawness and the tenderness which make it her best.

11

Blind Guardian: Night At The Opera: 2002

Blind Guardian

Blind Guardian had been doing the whole European power metal thing since the 80s and had become one of Germany’s and the continents most successful bands. Their later albums had taken on a magnum opus feel with each being an attempt at a grand concept album. Most of these albums didn’t work as well as they should have and are mostly notable for a few very good stand out tracks. In 2002 though, Hansi, Andre and co. finally got it together with this blistering, over the top, ultra complex beast. Lyrically we are on familiar ground with A Night At The Opera, songs are filled with classical references as well as songs about Jesus, Neitzche, and Tolkein. Everything is on a much grander scale though and a glance at any of the lyrics is quite daunting due to the size. Most importantly though it appears that the band have found a sound which suits them best, sounding like they are thrashing around in the middle of a war with choirs and orchestras all crashing together. The whole thing is ridiculous yes, but it is also ridiculously better than every rock and metal album of the year. Vocally Hansi has never sounded better, reaching insane highs and galloping through melody after interweaving melody.

Like Origin Of Symmetry it is the first set of songs which take the breath away, the huge opener Precious Jerusalem making way for overwhelming behemoths like Under The Ice and Sadly Sings Destiny. Each of these songs progresses through several different parts reaching ominous lows and emotional highs. Remembering though that the band are seen by fans as travelling bards they reign in the mayhem for more acoustic songs like The Maiden And The Minstrel Knight and Mies Dies Dolor. There are plenty of classic riffs, faster than Linford Christie solos, apocalyptic drumming, but it is the layered vocals, string and brass sections, and the grandeur of it all which makes this most memorable. If there is one good thing about this decade it is that a new, smarter breed of metal has emerged. With bands such as Lamb Of God and Mastodon amongst many others proving that the genre isn’t just a silly pile of noise, the older bands had to catch up with the times. Metallica finally sorted themselves out with Death Magnetic and British stalwarts Iron maiden have been untouchable since Brave New World. A Night At The Opera is above all of these though for its sheer bombastic nature, and remains their best album.

12

My Vitriol: Between The Lines: 2002

My Vitriol

Possibly the most cult band on the list with the most fervent supporters, My Vitriol released their first and only album Finelines in 2001 amid a blur of impressive live shows and a couple of average selling singles. I’ve included Between The Lines instead, basically the American cut of the album with an extra cd of B-Sides and covers. The band stopped touring and vanished off the face of the planet for about 5 years, although recently they have come back by releasing a great EP and playing something well received live shows. Their album is a mixture of jagged punk riffs, angsty lyrics, and high paced melodic rock. Highlights include Always Your Way and Losing Touch which each come with an instrumental (or distorted noise) introduction track before blasting into the song. Frantic guitar playing though pretty much solo free, emotional lyrics and delivery but without any whiney attachments, short, simple tracks which immediately get trapped in the head. Other tracks like Ode To The Red Queen and Infantile merge haunting vocals with nightmarish shrieks, while more mellow tracks like Under The Wheels provide a distraction from the rough edged, effects laden guitars. Comparisons with the Manics and Radiohead were frequent (and rather odd) and perhaps the weight of expectation was too much. With the re-release a year later we were treated to more of the same with Vapour Trails, Moodswings, and Deadlines all proving to be near perfect angry rock songs. The band showed a more mature side with All Of Me and Wait A Minute, two extremely catchy songs which could easily grace any album, while acoustic versions of favourites and a Madonna cover rounded off the eclectic mix. This was again the sign of a promising new start which never came, swiped away by less talented more Top Shop friendly bands. Signs are though that the band will finally be back soon. Yay.

13

Opeth: Ghost Reveries: 2005

Opeth

Mikael Åkerfeldt is one of the best musically creative minds of the decade, making classic album after classic album of poetic rage and structurally complex songs which you can’t believe could possibly be played live until you see it for yourself (without even the slightest mistake too). Opeth fans are known to be particularly rabid in their support with complete and utter devotion shown. Anything less and you won’t be seen as a fan. After a string of heavy albums the band began to experiment more with other sounds, other genres. Their previous album Damnation which was a soft, albeit overwhelmingly dark, rock album had been well received and it seemed that the band could do no wrong. Hearing the opening few seconds of Ghost Of Perdition and you know the band are back to their heaviest, and most epic. Fusing jazz, prog, with death meatal vocals spewing between clean, heartfelt ones it is one of the best metal songs of the decade, and each track progresses from there. Isolation Years shows the band at their softest, but the bleak, grave-like hallmark tone pf the band remains. Few bands regardless of genre are so ambitious, so experimental, and it puts to shame notions that all metal is stupid. Nothing falls into the ‘up their own ass’ category as this is the only way the band knows how to play. Mikel’s vocals are as strong as ever, though more than ever does he mix styles, his and Lindgren’s guitars are on scintillating form, crushing at one moment, silk like the next, with overlapping chords, riffs, and solos that you need a dictionary to decipher. The drums are as galaxy shattering as always- play this in a vacuum and you would still hear it. Lyrically the band follow the same path, all focused on sadness and pain though steering clear of the usual cliches which would usually follow, everything suits the mood. Next album Watershed would prove to be even more ambitious voted by many publications and fans as album of the year, but Ghost Reveries edges it for me as their return to loud, gigantic sounds.

14

Haven: Between The Senses: 2002

Haven

Haven are the band that should have been as successful as the dreary, emotionless Coldplay currently are. Now split up after an average second album each member has gone on to different things, but for a while in 2002 they had the potential to be huge. Between The Senses was heralded (and produced) by Johnny Marr as something exciting and the band had some success with grat singles like Say Something and Let It Live. However, for whatever reason even after much touring no-one seemed interested. Although the album is made up of simple, soft rock songs about love, hope, despair, it is the way they are built and performed which makes them better than they had any right to be. Gary Briggs is, hands down, the best commercial male vocalist of the decade. Give him any song, any note, and he’ll do it better than perfectly. His writing on every track here is top quality, the only let down being that there isn’t really anything new, anything experimental. When you look at pop and rock as a whole though, and what constitutes success, this doesn’t need to be a major flaw. Marr’s musical influence isn’t overly clear as the guitars are simple yet effective, there is no need for any twiddly guitar hero stuff here. It’s all about the emotion and the mood, songs such as Still Tonight, Till The End, and Lately are anthems, heartfelt ballads which deserve to be heard by more people. It is the sweeping nature of these songs which makes the follow up album look worse as it lacks any of the hooks or melodic hugeness of its daddy. I’ve always thought the band needed the confidence gained from success to spur on their imaginations and writing but sadly this never came. Luckily we still have this album, truly a gem, and probably the album on this list which would appeal to the most people.

15

Lene Marlin: Lost In A Moment: 2005

Lene Marlin

Most people will know Lene for the twee, girlish pop delight of Sitting Down Here, and the edgier sister Unforgivable Sinner from her smash hit debut album. Being from Scandanavia most music-lite music fans shoved her in the same crazy category with Aqua, Abba, and Lord Help Me, Wigfield. Closer inspection of that first album, and everything since shows that Sitting Down here is her most unusual, most offbeat, most ‘unlike her’ song. First album Playing My Game is cold, lonely, sparse, but nevertheless filled with killer melody. Lost In A Moment is Lene’s 3rd album and for those who know her features her usual mix of sadness, cautious hope all played to heart tearing music. Although her 2nd album showed bigger production and expanded musical styles it is her 3rd which shows the biggest step forward. There is greater structure, bigger and smarter instrumentation, and more varied styles and emotions. Most importantly though her voice retains the familiar tone though now sounds more world weary, more experienced, and the music is as sublimely catchy as always. Tracks like How Would It Be and What If are filled with strong guitar riffs, while Never To Know, Hope You’re Happy, and Leave My Mind have a gut wrenching string section or downbeat choir noise. As with everything she has done, once you’ve heard a snippet of any song you will want to hear the rest, and once you have it will be trapped in your head all day. It is just that on this album she has found her niche, adding pianos where needed, low bass and strings, rather than the girl and guitar nature of her other albums. Although there is nothing particularly dancy here, nothing sexy, it puts other female pop artisits to shame. Emotionally, and musically she is miles ahead of her contemporaries; in fact they don’t warrant being called contemporaries given how far ahead of them she is. She has gone past such distinctions and is in a category of her own. Her latest album’s great too.

For a terrifyng visual representation of this list, check here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mN5uvBDnYPY&feature=channel_video_title