Alone? Hell, yeah, I feel alone. I’ve come into this cafe wearing flannel every day for the last three weeks. And I always stare at that brunette barista over there, who’s continually polishing the kettles, she never even turns her head around. Her? Yeah, she’s tattooed, too. Real tortured. I once tried to read her tarot cards and all she said was, “Gollum came down to earth and spread pestilence on everything!” I heard she used to buy acid from ol’ smelly Harry on 9th & Wabash. And so we inch closer to that painful truth we’re all trying to avoid… to eternity, when looking ourselves in the mirror is the hardest thing to do, where the heroes are the losers and losers are the heroes. It’s all in the liner notes.
100 Madonna – Ray of Light
I don’t think anyone who’s heard “Cherish” and “Express Yourself” would call the ‘90s Madonna’s decade, but she gets some serious points for the titled track on this one just for how bad The Edge ripped the riff off for “Elevation.”
99 PJ Harvey – Rid of Me
For a centerpiece as sadistic and gnarling as “Rub ‘til it Bleeds,” I guess it makes sense that the moments leading up to it would be so uncomfortable (and fitting since it’s Steve Albini on production), but much of this is why it took me so long to get into Rid of Me. Plus, where is this laid-back rasta-diva we see on the cover? Sure not passing a bong around.
98 Mariah Carey – Daydream
I placed this album on the list on the strength of the singles “Fantasy,” which I know made it into one major movie in the ‘90s (I thought it was Rush Hour but apparently it wasn’t), and “Always Be My Baby,” which was the most played song at our 1996 elementary school graduation roller skating party. Awwww…
97 Mudhoney – Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge
Why wasn’t Mudhoney bigger than Nirvana? Well, for one thing, they constantly did and said stupid sh**, and named their albums things like this. They clearly had no interest in success, just read the writing on the wall: “One more time is good enough for me.” But oh, what could have been.
96 Soundgarden – Down on the Upside
This seems to be the album that critics love to hate, but I guarantee if they’re soundtracking a winter drinking pregame before a Lakers or Pacers game or something, they’ll look to the monstrous, bombastic riffs and diamond-sharp human commentary of songs like “Burden in My Hand,” “Dust” and “No Attention.” And then if their team loses, of course, it’ll be “Blow up the outside World.”
95 Cracker – Kerosene Hat
Christ, Cracker, just try a little harder! Or don’t. The epitome of ‘90s slacker band: they write these incredibly simple, sarcastic and laconic rockabilly songs, and then wonder why they don’t turn into freakin’ Van Halen. On “I Want Everything,” David Lowery sounds pretty genuine, but oh so ‘90s.
94 Green Day – Dookie
I’M DISGUSTING! This chick on facebook recently called me disgusting, and I got zero likes for pointing out that this Green Day album was entirely prescient, that San Francisco would one day within our lifespan have an epidemic of human waste wafting unfortunate olfactory emanations through down, by way of the homeless problem. IT’S MY FAULT! I’M JUST DISGUSTING!
93 Stone Temple Pilots – Core
Yawn. Next album. This album is so overproduced it should come with a complimentary like airplane serving of Escargot. But a couple of the songs are there, translating really well at least to the band’s Unplugged performance: “Plush,” “Wicked Garden,” and “Crackerman” has somewhat of a groove, I guess.
92 Bjork – Debut
As far as singles themselves go, “Human Behavior” is easily Bjork’s best, and one of the best of the entire ‘90s decade — for her ability to mix hip-hop drums and lurid social implications in the lyrics. It was darkness made fun, just like so much great ‘90s music was.
91 Modest Mouse – The Lonesome Crowded West
Listening to this album it’s hard to believe that it’s only three guys playing — Isaac Brock singing and cranking out jackhammer stabs on Fender, Eric Judy treating the bass guitar like something like a voodoo buzz saw, and Jeremiah Green sort of slipping in and out of “human status,” flirting with existential territory of “machine,” pretty much the whole time.
90 MC Ren – Kizz my Black Azz (EP)
“Behind the Scenes.” Anybody who listens to this sh** and doesn’t get stoned has mental problems.
89 R.E.M. – Up
It was only 1998, but artist turmoil and frustration had already come to a boil, at least in the case of R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe. Amidst squalls of critical tepidity, Stipe complained to the press that if any other band, or any new band, had made an album like Up, it would be considered one of the best albums of the year. He’s right. But then, he said it himself: “Someone has to take the fall / Why not me?”
88 Bad Religion – Stranger than Fiction
The ‘90s were a big, good decade for pop music, alternative, obviously rap and R&B, but sort of a conduit for things like noise, punk and… Tom Waits. This is the ‘90s Bad Religion album which most closely apes their ‘80s classics like No Control, way tighter than The Offspring, hence they get the kudos.
87 RZA – RZA as Bobby Digital
Typically chided as “hubristic” or “egocentric,” Bobby Digital definitely sprays hip-hop surprise all over this album, doing stuff nobody else has ever even come close to doing as far as just illustrating the mind of the beatmaker: “All you want is weed, money, music and pu**y!” Also, his habit of coming in early and cutting off the other emcees actually becomes appropriate here, since it’s O.D.B. he’s doing that to.
86 Fugees – The Score
Somehow to me this is even more Digable Planets than Digable Planets, or Arrested Development: hard, street hip-hop with not a manifest conscious, but an AURAL conscious — beats which juxtapose cold steel texture with patience, and as always a hint of jazz.
85 Mouse on Mars – Iaora Tahiti
Nothing epochal about this album: it could have been put out in 2015 and still considered futuristic, taking you on a sonic journey sure to induce vertigo, questions of melody’s relevance, anything but electronica-hating.
84 The Roots – Illadelph Halflife
“They burn the cross I burn the bible,” spits Malik B. on “It Just Don’t Stop,” “Because my action’s ruthless.” Sure, he’s the cornerstone of this album: when Questlove’s drums get a little jazzy, when Black Thought’s creative well gets a little dry (pretty much all of these songs are about street life), it’s Malik who sheds the darkest, most disillusioned world view with ghetto rapidity.
83 TLC – CrazySexyCool
Mixing melody, rhythm and texture as well here as ever, the group truly came into their own on this album before the creative dip of Fan Mail and “No Scrubs.” “Waterfalls” is like that song I hate myself for liking, because it’s just so maddeningly simple, but it is still pretty irresistible.
82 Blur – 13
This happens to be an especially wonky album for me, in particular, a sort of intermediate Blur listener, even aside from the song “Bugman,” as my first experiences with “Coffee and TV,” “Tender” and “No Distance Left to Run” were with the questionable but ultimately profitable Best of Blur purchase I made around 2001 or so. The songs struck me as markedly not as good as “End of a Century” and “Parklife,” but still pretty damn good. Throw on here in any order, it doesn’t really matter, and also “Trailerpark” is a standout which didn’t make that greatest hits.
81 Godspeed You! Black Emperor – f#a#infinity
Hey, Montreal! Why don’t you come out from under the rug, and show us yourself? Oh. Uh, sorry I asked, blokes. Not your average party music, that’s for sure. Interesting fact about this album: I just noticed it was released on Kranky, Deerhunter’s early label.
80 Green Day – Nimrod
Billie Joe Armstrong just won’t grow up. No, I’m talking about in 1997, when he was in his late 20’s, not in 2012, when he got blackout drunk and pi**ed onstage (makes me feel a little better for my occasional drunken habits). “The Grouch” makes fun of crotchety old men, “King for a Day” lauds and endorses cross dressing, but don’t underestimate it: the most notable measure of this group is still their head-crunching rock groove, complete with the inimitable Tre Cool.
79 Korn – Follow the Leader
This is “ICP” enough for me… I can still remember all the Jnco jeans wearing motherfu**ers in about 8th and 9th grade when this was out, they’d like you as long as you had no self esteem and did drugs (and yes, at that time we still considered weed a “drug”). I never dressed like that, but I owned this album, proud to have something my mom ruthlessly hated.
78 Stone Temple Pilots – Purple
These songs, even the singles, literally oozed into our psyches like heroin in the early and mid ’90’s, and yeah, maybe everyone was like, is this Pearl Jam? Is this R.E.M.? But somewhere around the line “Take a bath I’ll drink the water that you leave,” I’d say Scott Weiland truly made his mark. This is the album that most closely matches the underrated new Scott Weiland & the Wildabouts unit shifter aptly titled Blaster.
77 Dave Matthews Band – Under the Table and Dreaming
I couldn’t believe “Ants Marching” wasn’t Blues Traveler when I first heard it. Before I knew it, I was putting the Tim Reyonds collaborated version of “Satellite” on like every mix tape I made. A little sexual frustration, a little sexual abandon, but always cloaking their universally palatable pseudo-jazz in just enough tension and loneliness to render it a kick-a** soundtrack.
76 Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream
I’ve put this on the top 100 list, but I should mention, no Smashing Pumpkins album comes close to matching the surreal swagger of their music videos collection DVD, or as we know the epic placement of “1979” in Clerks II. Along with Soul Asylum and The Jesus Lizard they formed the trusty Midwest tandem for those East Coast movies.
75 Pearl Jam – Live on Two Legs
Sure, it’s a little campfire-singalong-y, but dammit we like it. Listen to all those fans in there, they’re even clapping stupidly and ridiculously on the excellent unreleased slow song “Untitled,” they’re even during some songs exhibiting some “pretty good singin’ there.” It’s crazy listening to the “Daughter” version on here (which has some of the best guitar sound of all time) and then noticing those lyrics in the end teaser part from “W.M.A.” off of studio album Vs.
74 Soundgarden – Superunknown
I can be like this, sometimes. A little overbearing, a little insane. So it’s good one of these songs references Native Americans: “All my friends are Indians / All my friends are brown and red,” an ethnic group which actually has every right to be angry. We get all our anger out, and then it’s one big party. Well, not really. But maybe for a second or two.
73 PJ Harvey – Is This Desire?
“Throw your pain in the river,” sings Harvey on “The River,” toward this album, and it’s a beautiful moment for several reasons, one of which is that this is a relatively ambient, poppy moment when juxtaposed with the rest of this album, and its deep, dark, unruly but slow electronica courtesy of the production of Flood.
72 Sleater-Kinney – The Hot Rock
Once again here: catharsis meets cathexis, just like in PJ Harvey, just like in Soundgarden, these slick willies are just masters of it all. Oh, well aren’t you slick!
71 R.E.M. – New Adventures in Hi-fi
Like a translucent but transcendent prism which keeps rolling in deliberate, measurable, perpetual motion, New Adventures in Hi-fi possesses as many sovereign identities as it does songs: always different ways of looking at what might be the nucleus of the overall project, from the giddy restlessness of “Departure,” to the bottomless rhapsody of “Be Mine,” to the brooding grunge of “Low Desert,” to the unforgettable, inimitable closeur “Electrolyte,” the perfect music for the first nice Sunday in April.
70 Blur – Parklife
Damon Albarn was billed as somewhat of a cokehead, and on the cover of this album depicts a racing dog at full speed, with a muzzle around its mouth. This is the album where Blur fully walked this walk, associating itself with all these things, running through rancorous and scathing accounts of “Magic America” and “London Loves” all around the beautiful centerpiece which declares “End of a century / Oh / It’s nothin’ special.” But that’s just a sales pitch.
69 Tyrese – Tyrese
I was thinking, like, I know for a FACT there is some R. Kelly album I like. But with this guy, there’s obviously not the creepiness surrounding his image, so when you hear these songs, which do beckon and call (he was most well known for “Sweet Lady”), there is still the ideal there, implying that maybe images feeds into art, not just vice versa.
68 U2 – Achtung Baby
On the strength of a couple songs, like say maybe “One” and “So Cruel” as well as I guess “Trying to Throw Your Arms around the World,” this album makes it in crashing the party, whereas The Joshua Tree, from the ‘80s is literally like my white boy mantra: like a “Get up Stand up” for us honkies.
67 En Vogue – Funky Divas
I happen to think En Vogue got better on their later, mid-‘90s stuff… on this they were almost like a female N.W.A., “bit**es wit’ attitude!” But it was all for a good reason, for the most part, even if it was just making Fife Dawg bust a hard-on.
66 Alice in Chains – Facelift
This is kind of the no-B.S. Alice in Chains album, their debut, with no “Redrum” or bong-ripping skit, just some of their most memorable rocking like “Bleed the Freak,” “Sea of Sorrow” and “It Ain’t Like That,” as well as the obvious commercial blockbuster “Man in the Box.” Man, could these guys get deliberate and eerie! Possibly the one leg up STYLISTICALLY they had on Metallica.
65 Nirvana – Incesticide
As far as I know, and as somewhat of a deviation from my typical anything-goes norm, I’ve got one live album on this entire list, two greatest hits’, and one odds-and-sods collection. And it’s Incesticide, every bit as weird as its despicable, repulsive cover, illustrating Kurt Cobain’s bizarre affinity for early ‘80s Brit-pop and Melvins-like dirges, all in one fell swoop. Dale Crover even plays on “Beeswax,” “Mexican Seafood” and “Hairspray Queen.”
64 Beck – Mutations
Ah, pastoral beauty. Exactly what you’d expect from the man who brought us Stereopathetic Soul Manure. Standouts are… well, all the songs, and also the rumor that the record label slipped us this caustic drink without the permission of the artist (yeah, he might have cleaned up that “Sex painted windows” line given full view of future events).
63 Ginuwine – Ginuwine… The Bachelor
This gets on the list in Blackstreet’s stead, simply for the latter’s association with Macklemore, though make no mistake, “Pony” is no less overplayed. And it should be that way.
62 Paul McCartney – Flaming Pie
In order to understand how sick I was of seeing Paul McCartney’s mug circa 1997/1998, it’s best to examine that giant mound of dinosaur feces in Jurassic Park. Well, turns out there’s a reason why he was everywhere: these songs are textural and rewarding, nestling deep within a none too infallible catalogue. Still, it’s a trend.
61 Bjork – Post
Bjork I have to say is crazily disorienting and jolting here, segueing straight from the trenchant, boisterous “march” of “Army of Me” to an excursion back out into peace, back out into nature, “Hyper-Ballad” which has one of my most prized closing minutes or so in all of pop music. Ask 10 people, you’ll probably get 10 different favorite songs on this album.
60 Stone Temple Pilots – No. 4
Ahem. Yeah, I figured I’d have some defending to do here. Well, we could start with the producer. To the greatest extent out of all the Pilots’ albums, No. 4 is the work very much OF the sound man, who piled on mass artillery of rock sustenance, almost like an autodidactic catharsis before the troubling fact that Scott Weiland’s lyrics are so weird. Still, don’t overlook ballads “Glide” and “Atlanta,” and obviously the classic single “Sour Girl.”
59 Third Eye Blind – Blue
Everybody’s different. Some people really hate Third Eye Blind. Some people have plans of, like, distending Stephen Jenkins’ head after he dies, stuffing it with a slow-burning oil and fashioning a lantern out of it for their room. Either way, I’ll tell you why I like Blue better than its predecessor: it’s a happier album. And sure, it was doomed the whole time. That’s why he made music, instead of going on some Caribbean cruise or something.
58 Big L – Lifestylez of da Poor & Dangerous
With the raw fearsomeness of gangsta rap, and the deliberate, organic sophistication of founding New York hip-hop, Big L spews like a fu**in’ Black and Decker machine on the mic: I mean, I’m pretty sure this level of raw flowing is now illegal, made only more evident by the death sentence L eventually incurred.
57 TLC – Ooooooooohhh… on the TLC Tip
Sort of like the “Everything” bagel, this was like the “everything” TLC album, from the sterile simplicity of “Baby, Baby, Baby” to elsewhere the disarming sexual funk of “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” all sort of reminding us that truth in life is really just wrong anyway.
56 Metallica – Metallica
Lots of images stand out when our thoughts conjure up this album: it might be Metallica’s archetypal drummer who seemed to always have a lit cigarette in his mouth while playing, it might be that dark and ominous “Enter Sandman” video… either way, if you don’t have “giving birth to Alice in Chains” on this list, then something’s missing.
55 Eve 6 – Eve 6
I feel roughly about Eve 6 today the way I used to feel about Everclear, and not surprisingly, I’m older and more sarcastic so basically I make fun of people more: both myself, and people who pour hot wax on their nips. “Leech” and “Tongue Tied” are basically just obstinately, awful, but the rhythmically bombastic vocals in “How Much Longer” along with the classic “Inside-out,” “Showerhead” and “There’s a Face” more than make up for it.
54 Beck – Mellow Gold
I know for a fact I used to listen to this album, and not the “Loser” single (though I have no idea why), because I remember that crazy skit with the glass bottle being thrown and breaking, an actual argument between his two apartment neighbors, that he recorded on whatever device he used to record many of the guitar/vox trax on this album… again, all in his living room. “Steal My Body Home” and “Blackhole” are extra trippy.
53 Inspectah Deck – Uncontrolled Substance
A hectic album for a hectic life: a stress killer, probably a little less metaphorical than most Wu-Tang albums, with probably a little less slang, but packed to the brim with Wu mantras like “Be the first to set off sh** / Last to run”; “This is not an act this is actual fact / Nothin’ but experience placed upon tracks”; “The older god put me on I had to rock this / Maintain 360 lord live prosperous.”
52 Blues Traveler – IV
“The Mountains Win Again” is one of the best songs on this singles-peppered album, and in a way it’s those mountains you hear all along — things John Popper is overcoming whether it’s “Hollywood callin’ for the movie rights” or just love and loss, so he can spew even these plain, conventional blues chords and structures and still make ‘em sound groovy.
51 R.E.M. – Out of Time
HAUNTING is definitely not an inapplicable word to R.E.M.’s expansive followup to the poppy Green (“Stand”; “Orange Crush”), and the band’s minute delicateness and attention to detail is what pushes ballads like “Low” and “Half a World away” into transcendence. Also, like Automatic for the People, this album has the perfect closeur, in this case the kiss-off “Me in Honey” with the B-52’s’ Kate Pierson helping out on vocals.
50 Elliott Smith – Either/Or
Either/Or, like really most Elliott Smith’s albums, is a model of not letting your style get in the way of your substance: and although every little turn of melody and chord progression is measured and calculated, the effect is never stultifying — it’s all feeding the larger family of pain and emotion. “No Name No. 5” and “Rose Parade” are standouts.
49 Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth – Good Life (Best of Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth)
Ok, after all these years, I’ll admit it: that first song DOES throw me off. And then there’s one wannabe gangsta one toward the end (I think it’s called “Death Becomes You”)… so this is not a perfect album. But you know what, “Skinz” still ain’t that bad of a song to me: it’s humorous to me, not alienating and creepy the way say the Dr. Dre skits are. Look elsewhere on the album for, you know, a buncha classics, like “Anger in the Nation,” “T.R.O.Y. (They Reminisce over You)” and “Take You There.”
48 At the Drive-in – In/Casino/Out
I still remember the first time I heard At the Drive-in: I wanted to pi** on the CD and throw it out the window. Well, half of me wanted to. The other half never forgot it. And the thing that saved the band from excessive earnestness, from the realm of taking themselves too seriously, so to speak, was that this music was the exact opposite of poppy: it was riddled with disruptive noise frills, the chords were minor and frantic, and the band even knew their way around an off-kilter chorus count. Or had the band just sniffed too much glue to remember how to count? But I digress.
47 Marcy Playground – Marcy Playground
I have the weirdest thing about Marcy Playground: for the longest time I thought they were from New York, when they’re actually from Minnesota… calling to mind the favorite critic Deerhunter quip: that “If you found out this band was from Brooklyn you would not bat an eyelash.” And here I am, probably placing the ‘Playground too low on this list. Am I giving in to certain sociological biases here? How much of a band’s genius is actually mythmaking? What is Marcy Playground’s continuing myth, being not really the progenitors of zeitgeist pervert slackers, OR the apotheosis? Consider, and drift away…
46 Chumbawamba – Tubthumper
These European bands knew what was up: they were all electro way before we were, like Prodigy, Jamiroquai, Bjork, and a whole bevy of others. Credit Chumbawamba with having the guts to play the frat-boy beer-pong-rock card more heavily than others, hence giving us one of the more hummable anthems of the ’90s, “Tubthumping.” It’s what a “tubthumper” does! How’d we not see that coming? Anyway, the top prize here might be the sublimely cantankerous closeur “Scapegoat,” which channels that same roots-rock gang of influences that caused the initial explosion.
45 A Tribe Called Quest – The Low End Theory
Oh God, you spend your whole life touting TLET as a classic, and then all of a sudden you realize that it contains the stanza “She’s not a big kahuna / Wish I met her sooner / Instead I met her later / And love is much greater.” Oh well, for every one of these it seems there’s a “Similar to Grimm / I can tell a better one / All about a kid / Who couldn’t rap and didn’t run / Love competition / It brings out the vital parts / The Abstract poetic / Majors in recital arts.” So depending on who you are, you might want to punch his teeth in when you see him, or sit back and enjoy these ethereal, plotted lyrical portraits which are yes very ABSTRACT.
44 Propellerheads – Decksanddrumsandrockandroll
So this is an idea: get a singing diva for ONE SONG (“History Repeating”), release it as a single to widespread MTV video play and critical acclaim, all masking the fact that you’re basically the X-ecutioners with less shtick. Hell, it beats bad music. Or the X-ecutioners.
43 Beck – Odelay
Ok, I’ll admit: I’m placing this album too low on purpose, in my futile white boy attempt to denigrate the enterprise of Vinyl Me, Please, which showcased this album this month, and the whole enterprise of vinyl. I mean what’s next, like, re-shooting Wayne’s World so that they’re sitting around listening to “Bohemian Rhapsody” on vinyl sipping some local dry-hopped IPA? Blah. First song’s the best, last song’s the worst.
42 The Roots – Do You Want More?!!!??!
So is this album EDGY? Well yeah, probably more so than DD darling Phrenology, and this sort of makes up of course for the POSHNESS of some of the background action, the fact that the drummer is a classically trained musician who met the lead rapper in a private high school in Philly (where mind you said rapper got in trouble for making whoopie in the bathroom). Well, in a way, this unlikely opposition symbolizes the exact traction: the ordinary, reliable beat for Black Thought to “kill,” to use the terminology Del the Funky Homosapien might.
41 Beastie Boys – Ill Communication
Sometimes the Beastie Boys just seem juvenile. Churlish, childish, immature. Oh grow up! (“Got a match to my a** and I’m’a keep it lit”?) Oh, grow up! Until you realize we live in a world where women get dragged into caves and raped, where Donald Trump gives a presidency at very least a run for its money. This is your men brain on not music. So don’t deny that the immature parts are the best parts of this album, like the skit on “B-Boys Makin’ wit’ the Freak-Freak,” at which I’ve never witnessed a single human being ever fail to start laughing.
40 Pearl Jam – Yield
This was definitely the red-headed stepchild Pearl Jam album when it came out… just so disarmingly REAL…. so disarmingly honest that it was just hard to imagine this type of thing catching on in the world of “Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)” and the Bloodhound Gang. What do I think of Yield now? Watch the Pearl Jam movie Single Video Theory, you’ll get it.
39 Nirvana – MTV Unplugged in New York
Candles. Candles presaged candles. And in the meantime, we have Cobain’s cover of Leadbelly’s “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?”, a song way too good to even put on a mix tape (sorry John Cusack), we have the Meat Puppets finally granted a studio budget to belt out if not a classic album at least classic songs like “Backwater” and “Flaming Heart,” we have eerie images of Dave Grohl getting restless between songs, maybe seeing somewhere in the caverns of his mind his eminent career as a rock and roll giant in his own right. But rewind. If you dare.
38 Alice in Chains – Alice in Chains
More “plugged-in” than ever, but still, as much as I like their bludgeoning groove here (and as much as PJ Harvey liked it, seeing as “The Life and Death of Mr. Badmouth” is a “Grind” ripoff), the best songs are still probably the ballads, like “Heaven beside You,” “Over Now” and the unforgettable album centerpiece “Shame in You,” sprawling and morphing slowly and hauntingly, Layne Staley’s voice reminding you of the precious, but self-defeating, tenets of basic life. Is this still basic life? Well, it was at some point.
37 Notorious B.I.G. – Ready to Die
Eventually as you get older all the rap you used to listen to as a kid tends to seem too gay and dance-y, and so you need something harder, and folks: that’s what this is. This is not socially conscious hip-hop, and if this cat even smoked weed, it sure as hell wasn’t a communal thing. Ready to Die: for when you absolutely, positively have to envision killing every last motherfu**er in the room.
36 Common – Can I Borrow a Dollar?
I’ll admit, I just got Thisismethen: The Best of Common from the library, but it’s loaded with songs from this album from way back in ’92, when even Jay-Z was using him as a technical prowess benchmark on the mic. It seems Common had too many different hats to wear, really, which probably prevented him from both achieving commercial success and also from truly adhering to some “Mr. Nice Guy” reality, as it’s often reported that he did (apparently by people who haven’t heard “Heidi Hoe”), but listening to these songs you will find in performance a very original and unforgettable flow artist, and maybe a bunch of other crap too, that you didn’t want to.
35 Guided by Voices – Bee Thousand
Bob Pollard must have known he had some classic songs here when he deliberately neglected to amend a severe tape glitch about halfway through the opener “Hardcore U.F.O.’s,” where it sounds like some wire gets unplugged and then plugged back in, or kicked around by the dog, or something. What ARE most of these songs? I wouldn’t classify emotional integrity as their forte, necessarily, but they’re definitely catchy.
34 Sonic Youth – Washing Machine
As usual, Kim Gordon provides DYNAMIC, and amazingly her dynamic in this case is relative lightness and playfulness as compared to the thankless addiction dirge “Junkie’s Promise” a la Thurston Moore and the unflinching foray into depression by way of Lee Ronaldo “Saucer-Like.” My favorite though is undoubtedly “Unwind,” a sublime pop epic in the middle of the album that probably could have become a number one single if it hadn’t come in the same year as Better than Ezra.
33 The Wallflowers – Bringing down the Horse
The storylines abound here, and now thanks to a recent 20th anniv. Rolling Stone interview you can read all about it: how a lot of these songs were a half decade and change in the making, how Dylan considered quitting the music biz several times, but evidence of the star power is in the liner notes themselves, as well: Adam Duritz on backing vocals in “6th Avenue Heartache,” and August and Everything after’s T-Bone Burnett on production. “Bleeders” would have made a better single than “The Difference,” maybe quelled for its suicidal theme.
32 Soul Asylum – Grave Dancers Union
It hits you, on about your 100th listen: when Dave Pirner mutters the words in “New World” “I’d really like to take out your daughter / Down in the water / Down by the lake,” he’s really not fu**ing around. This is not a man, song, band or album to be taken lightly, as many imitators over the years have discovered, handling an album so rich in genuine human experience that they ineptly attempt to mimic ‘60s pop, and successfully mimic Rush’s “Fly by Night,” and none of this even hurts them. In fact, you’re actually glad to get a break from all the plangent originality infesting this thing.
31 Pearl Jam – Vitalogy
Any examination of a Pearl Jam album should come complete with considerations of those beings immediately surrounding it, the LP projects before and after, like cells which grow and mature by osmosis. Vitalogy was where the Brendan O’Brien factor really picked up some steam to some astonishing results, the getting “interlude crazy” spawned “Pry, to” and the beautiful “Aye Davanita,” and the singles “Nothingman” and “Better Man” bely the blistering speed most of the album takes, a fearsome and intimidating rocker which is many things, but never “cool.”
30 Bjork – Homogenic
Infinitely more cohesive than Post, probably darker, probably more marking of technical beatmaking skill on the part of the reigning cyber-diva, Homogenic also specializes in love more so than its predecessor did, all those tense, zoomed-in moments when we become more than we were, and we hope it’s in a good way that we’re doing this. Well, now, it’s not only set to beautiful melody, but some pretty wicked beats too.
29 Pavement – Brighten the Corners
What would the 1992 Stephen Malkmus say to the 1997 Stephen Malkmus? Nothing. What would the 1997 Stephen Malkmus say to the 1992 Stephen Malkmus? Nothing. They’d just rock.
28 Soul Coughing – Irresistible Bliss
For all of the strengths of the genus of the three Soul Coughing albums, neither of the other two seems actually to perfectly soundtrack a natural phenomenon, like the first thawing of the snow in March, or a girl looking amused down at a CD in a record store. The first fives songs are classic, culminating in the dark and divinity-wresting “Lazybones,” and then the rest of the album pretty much plays as a goof-off… there’s even a song about smoking weed.
27 Weezer – Pinkerton
This is another album where the musical and emotional statements just hit you so hard there’s no denying them: there’s really nothing cute or humorous about this whole album. In this way, it’s intrinsically American, the angry white dude love struck but knowing that somewhere out there exists at least the CONCEPT of inner peace, and almost more resigned to never finding it than on the search for it. Well, closeur “Butterfly” is still beautiful.
26 Wu-Tang Clan – Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
I was very surprised that O.D.B. died 10 years ago. That is to say, I’m surprised that he didn’t die immediately following the recording of “Raw Hide,” from his 1995 album, given the way he sounds on there. Before they’d start bringing Deck in as the “closeur” on every song following his rap laser war Uncontrolled Substance, they’d bring his dirt-ness to finish these songs up, and he’s still the only emcee I can’t read during.
25 Wilco – Summerteeth
Wilco to me was always one of those bands whose reputation preceded them, to the point where by the time I heard all their hype, their music didn’t make that much of an impression. Fast forward 10 years, I’ve been lured in by the ingenious lyrics in “Jesus, Etc.,” the dizzying stylistic variety from song to song on YHF, and the trippiness, of “Spiders (Kidsmoke),” in that order, and now Summerteeth is sitting at the back of their catalogue as a curiously raw slab of honest working man’s pop/rock, well produced but always still breathing, like with the gorgeous moog riff in “I’m Always in Love.”
24 Sonic Youth – Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star
Now, LOGIC would dictate that if you doubt that this album is a classic, you get your face melted instantly (“Winner’s Blues”) and repeatedly (“Bone”; “Quest for the Cup”), but logic doesn’t always dictate these poll thingies, which often apparently want Kim Gordon to make feminist statements, instead of emotional musical statements, and think that Sonic Youth maybe DESERVE to have hit singles, so should write songs that hopelessly pander to radio fluff.
23 Beastie Boys – Check Your Head
The nice thing about being the Beastie Boys after having put out Paul’s Boutique is that you can issue a blanket statement to the world to check its collective head, and it can pretty much poetically go to anyone: from the CEO’s asking them for more hit singles (of which there is ONE out of these 18 tracks, this is maybe the “funky boss”), to the “A lot of people (getting) jealous they’re talkin’ about me / But that’s just ‘cause they haven’t got a thing to say.”
22 Nirvana – In Utero
Once again, it’s basically like it’s a whole different band from Nevermind, as nobody thought the best moment would come in the form of a guitar solo (“Serve the Servants”)… where maybe Steve Albini helps the whole thing… but to be clear, Butch Vig one-ups him in areas of balladry, bringing in the nylon strings and the closeted recording of “Something in the Way,” where “Pennyroyal Tea,” which comes to life on Unplugged, on In Utero just plays as pointless, median grunge.
21 Squarepusher – Music is Rotted One Note
This is that electronica album that’s like the opposite of techno: it starts with a nothing, but which is a spatial nothing very soon to be tinged with elements of funk and jazz, rather than starting with an insipid “something” of a dance club beat, to where when you do get to the visceral musical statement, it’s more like a world-weary sound of realness, like that old comforting freight train in the middle of town you’re so used to hearing that you don’t notice it anymore.
20 Weezer – Weezer (1994)
I was always toggling between different favorite songs on this album. Well, they’re different bands, aren’t they? I mean one minute they’re roughly approximating The Replacements (“Buddy Holly”) and their primary strength is power chord cheekiness, the next they’re drawing these lugubrious grunge riffs [“Undone (The Sweater Song)”], and their primary strength is awkwardness. Further down in their career, they’d take each of these poles even to a further extreme, always to regrettable results, at least comparatively speaking.
19 Wu-Tang Clan – Forever
John Barth once said “The grapes are no fewer on the tangled vine.” Yup, no doubt, Wu-Tang’s sophomore effort and first and only double album is pretty danged guilty of having some filler. That “we lost the love” bit in the first track is bad enough even if you don’t know the eventual “dog sh**” RZA verse on “Duck Seazon” where he’s talking about fu**ing all those bit**es and like wanting to be the king of the world and stuff. Still, beats are great on most of disc two, and Raekwon’s rhyme schemes on “Triumph” are stupefying.
18 Fastball – All the Pain Money Can Buy
I always found it funny that “The Way” was a bigger single than “Fire Escape” off this album, because I’ve always found the latter to be an infinitely better song (also I remember a great “Fire Escape” placement on some Real World episode, probably the season where they lived in that old fire station, I guess)… then as far as the rest of the album, it proceeds with a blatant Jesus and Mary Chain ripoff, and then a mopey song about wanting success. Why do I like this album so much? It flawlessly epitomizes the slacker ‘90s with an undeniable sense of humor (evident too in their subsequent album title Keep Your Wig on).
17 The Offspring – Smash
Smash is not an album. It’s a way of life. It’s where punk rock meets memorable songs, transcending the banal reality of just being a vegetarian and being loud and brief. It’s where lyrics become just scrutable enough to play as unmistakeable profanities, it’s where sense of humor and earnestness can “come out and play” in lashing form, because it’s all cloaked in this menacing, blistering anger… it’s not that there’s no tomorrow, it’s that today is more fu**in’ important.
16 PJ Harvey – Dry
This album has easily the worst production of any by Harvey, and it’s still her best, which should be a testament to the songwriting genius and guitar prowess of “Hair” and “Joe,” to the catechism-caliber purity in Harvey’s voice for “Victory” and “Water” (a purity which would mainly later just be replaced by visceral anger), the girlishness of the falsetto in “O Stella.” Plus, she’s not even ripping off Alice in Chains, and Soundgarden’s not even ripping off her… yet.
15 Brand Nubian – One for All
Granted, compared to Pete Rock’s “Skinz” (on which Grand Puba comes in and tears it up), anything would sound innocent, but I do believe that there is a light joviality which bespeaks an easy conscious cloaking this album, one of many bouncy early-‘90s hip-hop classics. But more focused and meaner, I think, than De La Soul or Public Enemy, and more world-weary and hard-won than A Tribe Called Quest, Brand Nubian embody that very innocence with behavioral paeans like “Slow down,” and the beats are so light that sometimes it’s hard to believe that what they’re divulging is racial tension… the reality of their surroundings.
14 Radiohead – The Bends
Is this album better or worse than thing A, or thing two? Is this album better or worse than when you first feel the sun on the back of your neck in spring, and see the trees budding, and hear the kids out playing? All valid questions. Of course, our winters here in America aren’t as gloomy as they are over in Britain. Or so I hear. I hear it on 11 tracks here.
13 Pearl Jam – Vs.
Sorry, rest of the band: it’s the drums. Dave Abbruzzese, the drummer who was soon to be ousted from the band, the butt of the joke of “Glorified G” (the band member who’d purchased a gun much to Veddie Edder’s chagrin) was the best Pearl Jammer in the joint for this album. The way this album is depicted, with the fearsome cover, the way those drums come in, and then exit, and then resound again, on the opener “Go,” is what truly killed Pearl Jam hater Kurt Cobain, put him under for the big sleep. But you can hardly blame him, Ten, with its lack of Brendan O’Brien, was so overproduced.
12 The Black Crowes – Shake Your Moneymaker
Sort of like The Mamas and the Papas’ If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears, Shake Your Moneymaker is the debut album that can more than aptly play as the band’s eventual consummate greatest hits. And there was Pearl Jam and Eddie Vedder withholding a song he wrote in high school, “Better Man,” and barely acquiescing to put it out on their third album… and look who placed higher? As if we needed any more poetic justice.
11 Del tha Funkee Homosapien – I Wish My Brother George Was Here
You know you’re playing an awesome hip-hop album in your car when more douche bags in South Bend, Indiana start glaring at you like you’re stepping on their gerbils with golf cleats. Most of the album is actually composed of disses, which I think is necessary to an extent, but isn’t really my favorite, this honor rather going to “Ahonetwo, Ahonetwo” and “Use my mental styles to eliminate apartheid.”
10 Hootie & the Blowfish – Cracked Rear View
I stopped going to this bar down the street from me, ‘cause it’s so crazy and as lewd as I can be I do get a little sick of yelling and profanity sometimes, but it seems like every other motherfu**er for a while was going up and singing “Let Her Cry” at karaoke. A pretty good tune. I usually go with “Only Wanna Be with You” for juke joints, “Hold My Hand” for winter morning car rides, “I’m Goin’ Home” for goin’ home, you get it, all that cheesy stuff.
9 2pac – Greatest Hits
Ok, Tupac was the GAYEST RAPPER EVER. I mean look at the video for “How Do You Want it?” He might as well advertise for freakin’ Chippendales. So why is it that there is still more rugged, but fun, music for tense Friday nights at work? I even skip over “Hit ‘em up,” and this is still the case. And out of all the great guest spots, from Spice One on “Me against the World” to Snoop Dogg, etc., my favorite is probably still the dark tension of “Hail Mary”: “They got an APB / Out on my thug family…”
8 Radiohead – Ok Computer
It’s very, very easy to undervalue the production on this album, especially since a lot of people who like it (hipsters) happen to be very into things DIY. Somehow this all got disjointed: and now we’re rebelling against the excessively “indie” thing there was going on for a while which apparently caused kids in Olympia to hate Nirvana solely because they were popular, and now it’s like we’re rejecting everything that’s dark and/or adventurous, either that or it just doesn’t exist anymore, at least not to this caliber. The most surprising facet of my last listen to Ok Computer: “Fitter, Happier” is a listenable, palatable and viable piece of music.
7 Eminem – Slim Shady LP
I was talking about this with someone before: it’s basically a comedy album, set to rap and Dre’s beats. Totally unlike anything we’d ever heard before, wielding, let’s be honest, an entirely messianic command over his audience, Eminem rode a sense of humor, a knack for song sequencing, and most importantly, some wicked technical flowing skill, which mind you would only improve for the followup MMLP, but the natural bounce just wasn’t there anymore. His rendition of the OJ murder scene in “Role Model” is a personal favorite moment.
6 R.E.M. – Automatic for the People
I love Michael Stipe’s reaction to the sans-lyrics music when Peter Buck and company handed it over, per the band’s ritual: that it was “pretty fu**ing weird.” So what do we get? Eh, “Candy bar fallen star / Or a reading from Dr. Seuss,” “Movies have that movie thing,” “Ready to bury your father and your mother / What did you think when you lost another?”, and basically, a bunch of other lines that seem better off aborted, but almost absorb value for their very failure to cohere into something anybody could conceivably use. This of course belies the closeur, which is basically the very epitome of inspiration on wax.
5 GZA – Liquid Swords
Partying would put me in the mood for Wu-Tang, and Wu-Tang would put me in the mood for partying. Rinse, repeat. And I ain’t goin’ anywhere NEAR Staten Island. I still remember meeting this New Yorker in Boulder, Colorado, and I was really into the Wu so I asked about Shaolin and his eyes light up and he goes “WHY WOULD YOU GO TO STATEN ISLAND?”
4 Nirvana – Nevermind
Too punk for upwardly mobiles, too poppy for the punks. Except, obviously, nobody’s ever said that. But I wonder if it crossed the minds of the band, led by Kurt Cobain who at this point had listened to the Beatles’ Please Please Me more than 1,000 times or whatever, as fabled, who with drummer Dave Grohl made more noise than ever, although the best two songs on the album, in my opinion, are still the contemplative last two… if only Kurt Cobain would have known his true strengths.
3 Counting Crows – August and Everything After
It clambers in drunk. Don’t make any sudden movements. It thinks, and your vista is teleported to “Middle America.” All of a sudden things are moving at the “pace” of America. Then comes fame, psychosis, and love. Rinse, repeat. The only album I put in on my last road trip to Pittsburgh both there AND back, spawning of the band name “Between the Buried and Me,” possessing of one of the slickest meter switches ever (“Raining in Baltimore,”) and at last the perfect album closeur, time and time again.
2 Pavement – Wowee Zowee
“There is no castration fear,” mutters Stephen Malkmus. Gee, thanks, Steve. Yeah, that really gets rid of my castration fear. It’s like in The Big Lebowski when Walter reassures the dude that “Nobody’s gonna cut your di** off. Not if I have anything to do with it.” Ahem. Whatever. “Pueblo” and re-release b-side “Easily Fooled” are awesome.
1 Beastie Boys – Hello Nasty
If I had written the Fleet Foxes song “Ragged Wood” and could dedicate it to one person on the planet, I would not dedicate it to a person at all, but rather to the Beastie Boys song “And Me,” in which Ad Rock takes us through a bad acid trip turned pop, somehow self-immolating without being androgynous or emasculating, somehow poppy without being appealing to any tool or square, or disrupting the flow of the album. Viable hip-hop, yup, we got it here (“Remote Control”; “Body Movin’”; “Intergalactic”; “The Negotion Limerick File”). Lulling mantras for the freaked out deep thinkers in all of us, yup, we got it here (“Just a Test”; “The Grasshopper Unit”; “Puttin’ Shame in Your Game”; “Flowin’ Prose”). The “Desolation Row” of generation x, yup, we got it here, in the form of one of the best songs of all time, side B centerpiece “I Don’t Know,” where guitar strumming flanks the sing-song plunge into urban quandary of enlisted singer Miho Hatori, the hopelessness before trying to be everything to everyone, and a residual success by way of this very hopelessness. Take it like a cartoon pill: don’t try to digest this whole thing at one time, and always keep in mind cancer victim MCA’s unflinching, cosmic mantra: “It’s not sad it’s just the way and the purpose of it all.”