In its ongoing bid to have more sub-brands than any other media owner, Absolute Radio recently launched a new niche-station, this time one tailor-made for those of us currently experiencing the dizzying pangs that come with realising nostalgia isn’t just something that happens to your parents: Absolute 90s. And, as part of the ongoing celebrations of the launch, they’re compiling a list of the Essential 90s Albums.
Now, anyone who has ever read this blog before (Hi Mum!) will know that I love a good list and so, taking Absolute 90s compilation of such a list as a challenge, I thought I’d have a go myself. And here, after much thought, is my 20 essential albums of the 90s. It was hard enough keeping it to 20 (and they’re likely to change) so they’re in no-order other than chronological. I’ll happily admit that it tends to skew towards British music & hip-hop, but it’s not my fault that most grunge was shite.
Anyway, for anyone that cares (Hi Mum!), here’s my 20 essential albums of the 90s.
- Public Enemy – Fear Of A Black Planet (1990): Proving that rap & politics made perfect bed-fellows, the decade got off to a storming start with Public Enemy’s magnum opus.
- Happy Mondays – Pills ‘n’ Thrills And Bellyaches (1990): Whilst baggy seems like an 80s phenomenon, it’s crowning glory was released in the 1st year of the decade. A sprawling epic, the likes of which they’d never make again.
- The Sundays – Reading, Writing & Arithmetic (1990): Whilst the 90s was the decade that indie conquered (in the form of Britpop), the fey, jangling type that had ruled the 80s alternative scene was lost along the way. Which is a shame when it’s as beautiful as the début by the laziest band in rock.
- Massive Attack – Blue Lines (1991): Era defining. Genre defining. Proof that the UK could do its own blend of hip-hop as well, if not better than the US. You need to own this.
- Primal Scream – Screamadelica (1991): Indie never-weres discover house music, and drugs, and get remixed to the hilt. Genius ensues and a generation of white boys learn to dance. Almost.
- Dr. Dre – The Chronic (1992): Ex-member of NWA drops his anti-drugs message and starts dropping caps, blunts & bitches. Utterly un-PC, utterly amazing and owning a sense of humour that so much of the crap that came in its wake would lack.
- blur – Modern Life Is Rubbish (1993): Having proved that indie could top the charts, blur decided to try to kill grunge. They failed (at this attempt) but shaped a very-British type of pop that would soon sweep the nation.
- Paul Weller – Wild Wood (1993): The greatest British musical chameleon since Bowie went home, realised that growing old in Surrey wasn’t so bad, and released one of the most beautiful albums of the decade.
- Wu-Tang Clan – Enter The Wu-Tang Clan (36 Chambers) (1993): Brought rap back to its spiritual home in New York, and stripped it down to its basics. Wu-Tang Clan aint nutting ta f*ck wit’! Remember that.
- Oasis – Definitely Maybe (1994): Gave the British a band to believe in, even if the dream was to prove short-lived. Life-changing.
- Tricky – Maxinquaye (1995): Responsible for some of Massive Attack’s greatest rhymes, Tricky went solo, discovered Martina Topley-Bird, and created an album of paranoid beauty.
- Coldcut – Journeys By DJ: 70 Minutes Of Madness (1995): The greatest mix album of all time, this took eclectic to a new level. House, dub, jungle, hip-hop, Dr. Who. Impossible to explain.
- DJ Shadow – Endtroducing… (1996): Trip-hop was always dead before it was really alive, but DJ Shadow managed to make its obituary an amazing piece of work.
- Manic Street Preachers – Everything Must Go (1996): Despite originally claiming they’d split after one album, even the loss of their muse couldn’t stop them. Showed that 90s rock didn’t have to be brain-dead to sell millions.
- Radiohead – OK Computer (1997): The best album ever according to every music magazine under the sun. Not sure I agree with that, but it really is breath-taking in its ambition & execution. Made most other bands look like they minnows they were.
- Roni Size/Reprazent – New Forms (1997): Despite being doubly cursed, as a Mercury winner and that year’s choice of coffee table album, this was & is a fine catalogue of the only truly British music genre to emerge since the 1960s.
- Daft Punk – Homework (1997): French house. Never before or since would those words make so much sense together.
- Lauryn Hill – Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill (1998): Left the biggest hip-hop band in the world to release an album showing that R&B could be intelligent, and that soul still meant something.
- Presence – All Systems Gone (1999): Probably the least well-known album on this list, but also one of the best. Imagine that Massive Attack had grown up listening to house instead of hip-hop; this is what Blue Lines would have sounded like.
Now, the observant amongst you will have noticed that the list above only has 19 entries.So, I want you to make suggestions as to which album should fill that space and I’ll choose one of the suggestions and add it to the final list of the 20 Essential Albums Of The 90s.
I should probably warn you now that it’s very unlikely that I’ll add any album that had a picture of a baby chasing a dollar bill on the cover. Just thought I’d mention it.
Excellent list Ciaran, it’s made me feel the pangs for the soundtrack of my youth once again. It’s really too hard to pick just one album to fill the void left at the end of your list, so could I be so bold as to suggest my own list of albums I personally would like to see in there, and I’ll let you decide the most appropriate (alphabetically):
Air – Moon Safari
The first Air album I heard and the one that made me fall in love with them.
Cast – All Change
I don’t care what you say, I like Cast! This was a great (and somewhat overlooked) brit pop album that was full of charm for those willing to give it a go.
Gomez – Bring It On
The debut album (after a limited edition EP) of (IMO) one of the UKs most underrated bands.
The Las – The Las
Cursed to live under the shadow of *that* single, this is a spectacular album in it’s own right and well worth five of anyone’s hard earned notes.
Orbital – Insides
A defining moment for me and my love of electronica – this is one of the finest albums ever recorded by the Hartnoll brothers.
Why have I linked to Amazon you might be asking? Because if you don’t own these already you should rectify that problem right now.
P.S. Sh*t I should have dated those:
Air – Moon Safari (1998)
Cast – All Change (1995)
Gomez – Bring It On (1998)
The Las – The Las (1990)
Orbital – Insides (1996)
Cheers Stuart, some good stuff there.
I did think about Air, but decided it wasn’t quite strong enough (for me).
Cast – sorry, I can’t.
Gomez – amazing band, great album. They made it into my albums of the 00s, for the 90s I’m not sure if I’d have Bring It On or Liquid SKin.
I felt I ought to put in some more house, but I just never bought that many house albums. Orbital or Underworld are the ones I feel I’m doing a disservice too.
I can forgive your lack of love for Cast, they were a love/hate kind of band…
Liquid Skin was excellent as well, if you haven’t heard it Gomez released a great b sides and rarities album called Abandoned Shopping Trolley Hotline which has some really good stuff on (but it was 2000 otherwise it would have been in there):
I do love Underworld as well, I’d highly recommend getting either Everything Everything, an absolutely storming live album or their Singles collection, both of which are a great introduction to material spanning most of their career. For me they tailed off a bit from 100 Days Off but of course it’s just my opinion.
I was also tempted to slip my favourite Ocean Colour Scene album on there, B Sides, Seasides and Freerides but I’m not sure it quite made it.
I totally forgot one of my still all time favourite albums actually, Masun – Six (1998). Brilliant album.
Oh yes, and one final one:
Too many to choose from, but possible answers:
My Bloody Valentine – Loveless
Underworld – Second Toughest In The Infants
Afghan Whigs – Gentlemen
KLF – White Room
PJ Harvey – Rid of Me
Pulp – Different Class
Leftfield – Leftism
Orbital – Insides
Goldie – Timeless
All tremendous in their own way.
Another vote for Leftism by Leftfield, the Kind Of Blue of 90’s dance.
UF Orb by The Orb still stands up today as a fabulous album of dub, beats and ambience.
Dummy by Portishead – still sounds like it’s come from another world. Took me a long time to get into it, but it’s fabulous. Genre defining.
I have to say that Leftism is one that now seems glaring in its omission from the original list.
I love Dummy, but think that with Blue Lines & Maxinquaye on their already, it doesn’t quite stand up.
Goldie’s Timeless is an amazing feat, but something I think works slightly better in theory than practice.
And Loveless is an album I really ought to know better!