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.

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Nightman Listens To – The Verve – Urban Hymns (Top 1000 Albums Series)

When I started writing this series of Listens To! posts, my idea was to:

A: Listen to the tonnes of albums I have acquired over the years that I hadn’t bothered to actually listen to yet and give my thoughts as I listened for the first time.

B: Catch up on those artists that I was aware of/liked certain songs by, but whose albums I had never listened to in their entirety.

C: Potentially get some new favourites based off what I heard or by recommendations from my billions of readers.

D: Because there are a tonne of albums which always appear on best of lists which I have never heard.

As a musician, music fan, and human with working ears, I feel that I should give these a go. To get some focus, I decided to go to 2000 Edition of ‘Colin Larkin’s All Time Top 1000 Albums’ because it looks fairly comprehensive (and there are a few extra sections listing top 100 albums by genre which cover selections left out of the main 1000 which I will also try to cover).

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Greetings, Glancers! Today we go back to the height of Britpop, the time when a younger Nightman was in school, playing N64, drinking beer between classes, and carving lyrics into school desks with a compass.

No, the other type
No, the other type

Today’s album is an odd one in that I don’t really understand how I missed it, given that I’ve liked every song from it that I’ve heard, and with two of them being two of my favourite songs of the decade. I may well have heard it all, as chances are that it would have been played in the background at a house party or shared on a school bus trip, but I can’t confirm this one way or the other so here we are.

What I Know About The Verve: After a number of unsuccessful albums (which I believe had quite a different sound from the one they converted to on Urban Hymns), The Verve struck gold and became one of the biggest acts in Britain. it didn’t last and they split up shortly after their biggest success with singer Richard Ashcroft going to a solo career (though they returned a decade later with another album). Incidentally, Ashcroft’s Song For The Lovers was one of my favourite songs of that decade too. The had a number of big singles in the late Nineties, and though lumped in with other Britpop acts, they didn’t truly fit that genre.

What I Know About Urban Hymns: Most of my friends had it, and I almost bought it myself a few times. With songs like Bittersweet Symphony and The Drugs Don’t Work, the album was a monster hit winning several awards and becoming a staple of indie house parties and school bus trips all around the country.

Bitter Sweet Symphony: Hmm, you know I never really enjoyed this one, possibly because it was overplayed to ridiculous levels and appeared on everything from TV Ads to movie soundtracks to probably political campaign messages and sports broadcasts. Maybe it’s because I preferred the similar The Chad Who Loved Me by Mansun. Maybe the video was also endlessly played and irritated me. It’s clearly a good song, but I find it way too repetitive and a good minute, if not two minutes too long.

Sonnet: This is more like it – even though this was a single I don’t think it got the recognition it deserved. This is one of my aformentioned favourite songs – not only because it is brimming with personal nostalgia, but I remember absolutely loving it at the time too. The mixing between the weird, almost country bass, the acoustic and electic guitars, Ashcroft’s gorgeous vocals, but most importantly that epic chorus all blend to make four minutes of bliss. Unlike the first track, I have a a feeling I could listen to this multiple times every day and never tire of it. It’s filled with so many moments I savour – the repetition of ‘my head is gone’, the twinkly piano after the first chorus, the middle section, and of course the strings. Give me strings and there’s a 90% chance I’ll love you.

The Rolling People: Funky intro, with wacka wacka guitars. This sounds more like your typical Britpop song. I don’t recall hearing this one before. Ashcroft sounds like a much deeper vocal version of Robert Harvey here. Sounds like a fairly standard plodding rocker. Spacey middle section, only half way through. Becoming a little like an Oasis track, and sounding a little like Liam. Groovy extended ending for dance purposes only. Pretty average album track – I’m looking for lost gems, remember!

The Drugs Don’t Work: Well, what can we say about this one? Brooding, heart-breaking, addictive, beautiful perfection. It’s obvious I adore everything about this song, one of the finest songs of the decade. Give me haunting melodies, strings, and emotive lyrics and performance and I’m yours.

Catching The Butterfly: Swirly guitar distortion. Uppy downy vocals. Fluttery. Lucid dreams. Another loose, trippy song which hovers along without any major hook but decent enough to cruise or sleep to. Unnecessarily long.

Neon Wilderness: Fading in with guitar effects. Spacey, distant, near spoken vocals. Drums. Nothing in time with anything else. Fine. Overlapping vocal bits. Is this going to turn into a more traditional song or continue in this vein, as this sort of thing gets boring after a couple of minutes. Fading out. At least it was short.

Space And Time: Acoustics. Interesting. Nice verse. Nice chours. Yay, it’s a song I don’t know which I love! And it manages to take me back to the mid-nineties even though I haven’t heard it. Give off an Oasis vibe. Melodies are good, nothing overly emotional but still good stuff. Changes subtly enough over the running time to keep from going stale.

Weeping Willow: Piano and swirls. Drums and the rest. Indie vocals. Another promising one which I don’t think I’ve heard. I have vague memories of people talking about this one. Slight Stone Roses vibe. A bit grittier and heavier, whilst retaining that overall swirling trippy tone. Catchy enough chorus. Last vocal part is exactly same melody as part of Champagne Supernova. 

Lucky Man: I was never overly in love with this one, when up against the two biggies it always felt a little too plain. Still a good song though. It’s the same feeling I have for Karma Police – I am aware it’s a great song, I just don’t get the feels for it the same as I do for others.

One Day: Organ. Gospel. Pleasant, very nice. With a stronger melody in the chorus this would be a classic, but they choose a more dreamy approach then going all out for something with an obvious hook. It works in the verses as I expect a glorious pay off in the chorus after all the build up.

This Time: Wibble wobble. Rapping. Regret. A different sound. Nice chorus melody, if only it had some strings or a bit more force behind. Wah wah. Should have ended it after the second chorus or gone in a different direction, as it stretches off too much into nothingness, but again this is short-lived.

Velvet Morning: Country. Another soothing ambient song merged with the more obvious Indie angst guitars. Soft, and yawning, and always seems just on the verge of getting louder. It breaks into a more traditional section a couple of minutes in with good vocals to offset the dreamy parts. Good stuff, good ending.

Come On: Drums. Higher pitched vocals. Sounds like what many Indie bands of the time were putting out. It’s an okay rock song, but not exactly inspired. Possibly the heaviest, most energetic song on the album, but that isn’t saying a lot. Of course the album isn’t going for that sound, but this song clearly is yet it still feels a little lethargic or over produced rather than simply letting loose and playing. A bit of shrieking and swearing at the end to spice things up, feels a little silly, but whatever. It’s a foot-tapper.

Deep Freeze: Oh, it’s a good old hidden track. The previous song was a decent enough way to close the album, but lets see what this one is all about. Noises. Sounds. Baby crying. So, standard extra track fare then – pointless.

Colin Larkin’s Ranking: 213/1000

What I Learned: That it’s good to catch up on history; this missing piece of my teenage years has finally been filled in. I expected the album to be more akin to the rest of the Britpop scene, and while much of it does fit in to that ilk, The Verve have retained their own sound throughout. The better songs are still the singles, and there are a few fillers for my ears – songs which meander too much and go nowhere. Likewise there are a few strong tracks which I has not previously heard which I enjoyed and will gladly listen to again. I can’t recall if any of the other The Verve albums appear on Larkin’s list, but I’ve always wanted to hear those too, so I’ll search them out.

Does It Deserve Its Place In The Top 1000 Albums Of All Time: It’s obviously an integral part of the closing stages of Britpop and was one of the most commercially and critically successful albums of the year, with a host of singles which spanned the globe. On that basis, as well as the fact that it did a lot to influence later artists who wanted that looser, baggier indie rock feel, it feels justified to see this in Top 1000 albums of all time. However, I can’t commit to saying that it would be high on my personal list given that only two of the songs truly resonate with me. I was never a huge fan of the Britpop scene, finding an awful lot of it too samey and reeking of tramps, and instead went for the bands who were either on the fringe, offered a little more, or went in a completely opposing direction. If I listen to the album a few more times I know that a couple of other songs would continue to grow on me, which may make me rethink my ranking.

Let us know in the comments if you feel this deserves a place in the Top 100 Albums Of All Time – is it one of your all time favourites, or did you despise it upon release. Feel free to share your opinions on the album and the review below!

Nightman Listens To – Blur – Blur (Top 1000 Albums Series)

When I started writing this series of Listens To! posts, my idea was to: A: Listen to the tonnes of albums I have acquired over the years that I hadn’t bothered to actually listen to yet and give my thoughts as I listened for the first time. B: Catch up on those artists that I was aware of/liked certain songs by, but whose albums I had never listened to in their entirety. C: Potentially get some new favourites based off what I heard or by recommendations from my billions of readers. D: Because there are a tonne of albums which always appear on best of lists which I have never heard. As a musician, music fan, and human with working ears, I feel that I should give these a go. To get some focus, I decided to go to 2000 Edition of ‘Colin Larkin’s All Time Top 1000 Albums’ because it looks fairly comprehensive (and there are a few extra sections listing top 100 albums by genre which cover selections left out of the main 1000 which I will also try to cover).

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Greetings, glancers. Today we return to Colin Larkin’s Top 1000 albums and our first Blur entry. I’m hopeful that I’ll enjoy this one as by and large I’ve liked what I’ve heard over the years from Blur and they are a pretty large missing piece from my musical knowledge, outside of their biggest songs. I just hope the accents don’t annoy me.

What I Know About Blur (Band): Britpop darlings, massively successful, one half of the infamous Oasis versus Blur Civil War in the 90s, built around Coxon, James, Albarn, and probably another one. I know most of their singles pretty well, but I’ve never owned or heard any of their albums in full. I was always on the Oasis side of the argument. Something about Blur in the early days seemed too cheery, too happy and silly, and Damon’s face and singing style/voice annoyed me. Later songs I enjoyed more and the band grew on me, but still I never actually went back to listen to any albums.

What I Know About Blur (Album): Nothing, I wasn’t even aware they had a self-titled album. I would have assumed this was their debut, until I saw that it wasn’t. Looking down the track list I recognise, and like, two of the songs, but aside from that I don’t know anything else about the album.

Beetlebum: Has a short scratchy intro before the famous distorted riff comes in. The vocals and melodies have a Beatles feel, a drowsy post-grunge appeal with an exuberant melancholy pop chorus. I’ve always liked this one.

Song 2: This one everyone knows. I remember mocking and appreciating the Smells Like Teen Spirit stylings of the song when it was first released, and the song has continued to hold worldwide popularity, always popping up some movie or TV show. Good start to the album, but that’s the two songs I recognise out of the way.

Country Sad Ballad Man: Another scratchy opening. Twangs and drums. Eventual tune. Distant vocals. Weirdo vocals. More droopy, sleepy vibes. Interesting enough. Solo with unrelated string bending. Alien noises. Explosion. Wasp trapped in an eye socket. Flipping a pancake into a toilet.

MOR: Nice guitars. Building. Bowie vocals. Chorus. It’s certainly loud and bouncy. The vocals and singing accent don’t do it for me. Chorus is okay, I’d say after a few listens of this this would either completely piss me off or finally click with me, not sure which but I’m veering towards being pissed off.

On Your Own: Spaceman intro. WipEout. Robots eating and crapping guitars. More Bowie vocals. ‘Ooooh-ooooh’ harmonies. It’s all a bit too drunken and chanty for my liking, one to sway about to with ‘the lads’ as you fall out of ‘the’ pub. ”.

Theme From Retro: Throb in. Drums. Circus funeral. Ghosts bobbing for apples. This is just one big Bowie wank fest, innit?

You’re So Great: Better start. Basic stuff at a pleasing tempo. Vocals not quite right of course. Nice bonus guitar. Rinse and repeat.

Death Of A Party: More distortion and organ mishaps. Okay verses, more drowsiness. Chorus is better but misses a trick by not going on for another few moments, another line and another progression from ‘gently on the shelf’. It goes on for another verse, then goes on a bit more, then stops.

Chinese Bombs: Faster guitars. Drum disaster. Clearly a joke song, but it’s better than most of their serious ones on this album.

I’m Just A Killer For Your Love: Funk. Drum mess. Scratchy guitars, why not. More drowsy verses and chorus. Getting sleepy. More noises for the second half of the song. Sounds like a bunch of knobs let loose in a studio for a few hours with no idea what they’re doing.

Look Inside America: Another acoustic start. Big vocals. Strings bonus. Rest of band appears. Bowie chorus. Can’t shake off those drowsy tones and melodies. There are a few good moments here, but outweighed by the guff. Surprise harp and guitar ending. Because we haven’t had a song with a harp on it yet.

Strange news From Another Star: Continuing the loose tonal theme. Change to acoustic, much better. Good verses, lets hope it doesn’t get thrown away. Much better chorus, still drowsy, still Bowie, but keeps the best moments of both. Easily the best song since the 2nd track. Even gets the ending right.

Movin On: Good intro. Jaunty riffs. Fun enough, doesn’t go anywhere but not too offensive. Comedy ending.

Essex Dogs: Apparently this includes ‘Interlude’. That should be good. Throbbing. Tin cans. Like an old Spectrum racing game. Words. Is it about Essex? I’ve no idea, but I know I never want to go there. Guitars and lasers. More words. Distant singing and bass. Robot orgy. Bits and pieces. It’s fine, works well as an experimental piece. Here come Interlude. It’s okay too, repeating the same weirdo sounds.

Colin Larkin’s Ranking: 271/1000

What I Learned: That the first Blur album I listened to contained far fewer pop and commercial songs than I was expecting. That singing in your speaking accent will always annoy me, especially when it’s wanky posh English. That Blur tried to experiment and, well, failed.

Does It Deserve A Place In The Top 1000 Albums Of All Time: Not in my opinion, no. I understand now, after reading some of the album’s wiki page that this was a departure for the band in almost all departments. It seems like a strained attempt at a magnum opus, of being something they were not, or at least had not been. They tried, but it doesn’t work for me. There are maybe three or four songs here I’d gladly hear again, with another one or two being passable, but the rest is pretension by a group who don’t appear to have the skills to be pretentious.

Is this your favourite album? Do you think it deserves a place in the Top 1000 Albums of all time? Let us know in the comments!