Here it is, folks—the final installment of my top 50 favorite albums of the ‘90s! Here you’ll see the coveted Top 10. Make sure to check out parts one, two, three and four before you start to complain about an album that appears to be missing.
10. OK Computer by Radiohead (1997)
This is a pretty obvious choice for a ‘90s Radiohead album. While I do like The Bends (and kind of, sort of enjoy Pablo Honey), OK Computer is by far the superior album of the three. Before this album, Radiohead was just another Britpop band trying to make it big across the pond. OK Computer has a much more experimental sound (though not nearly as experimental as something like Kid A or Amnesiac, both of which came right after this album), but it’s surprisingly accessible. “Airbag” is a killer opening track, and songs like “Karma Police” and “Lucky” have the power to reach a wide audience. Since I have a thing for long, multi-part songs, my favorite song on this album (and favorite Radiohead song in general) is “Paranoid Android,” a track with so many layers that I just want to curl up and live in it. While OK Computer isn’t my favorite Radiohead album of all time (that title belongs to Hail to the Thief), it’s still a flawless record in an objective sense.
9. The Downward Spiral by Nine Inch Nails (1994)
I’ve gushed about Nine Inch Nails plenty in my NIN entry, but let me just tell you how incredible The Downward Spiral is. The first NIN song I ever heard was “Closer,” and my little pre-teen mind was fascinated by the creepiness this band exuded. The Downward Spiral was recorded in the house where Sharon Tate was murdered by the Manson family, which makes the album all the more frightening. This is supposedly a concept album following an unnamed protagonist through his descent into his own psyche--and boy, is it twisted. The lyrics are pretty dark (see “Heresy” and “Hurt,” especially), but the instrumentation is really the most menacing aspect. Listen to the clicking backbeat in “Closer,” or the swirling chorus of screams in “The Becoming.” Scary, ain’t it? If I were able to include EPs in this list, Broken would probably top this album, but The Downward Spiral is an obvious winner for best NIN album of the ‘90s.
8. The Holy Bible by Manic Street Preachers (1994)
Oddly enough, I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned Manic Street Preachers on this blog before. The Holy Bible is honestly the only Manics album I really enjoy, and I think that’s because it’s one of the darkest. Musically, it’s deceptively catchy. But lyrically, it deals with everything from British imperialism and fascism to anorexia and the Holocaust. It’s very much a politically charged album, taking on both the British and American governments. “Ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforonedayitsworldwouldfallapart” is an especially biting criticism of racism in the US (though bassist Nicky Wire has said it’s not a completely anti-American song). “4st 7lb” is a fairly intense portrait of an eating disorder. (Warning to readers who are sensitive to mentions of anorexia: DO NOT listen to “4st 7lb.”) The Holy Bible sounds a lot like a post-punk album, but it also invokes new wave, industrial, art rock and goth rock styles. It’s an unapologetic album and I really admire the band’s audacity to write about such serious subjects on a rock record.
7. The Fat of the Land by The Prodigy (1997)
I’ve always loved this album for nostalgic reasons, but now that I’m older, I can really appreciate how great of a record this is. I grew up listening to a lot of electronic music and The Prodigy eventually became one of my favorite bands. The Fat of the Land was always on repeat in my mom’s car, and I remember being so entranced with songs like “Breathe” and “Narayan.” This album has the perfect mix of pumped up tracks (“Smack My Bitch Up,” “Firestarter”) and musically layered spectacles (“Narayan,” “Climbatize”). The Fat of the Land, like The Downward Spiral and The Holy Bible, is a fairly controversial album (mostly because of “Smack My Bitch Up”), but don’t let that deter you. Even if you don’t like electronic music, you’ll probably like this.
6. Jagged Little Pill by Alanis Morissette (1995)
Angsty female singers of the ‘90s are my lifeblood. When I was younger, I wanted to be Alanis Morissette. Jagged Little Pill was Alanis’ first foray into alternative music, as her first two albums were of the dance-pop persuasion. But she sounds at home with the distorted guitars and harmonicas. The lyrical content always hits me hard, especially on tracks like “Perfect” and “Mary Jane.” There’s really a song for every mood on this album—“Mary Jane” is for those rough patches in life, “You Oughta Know” is for that awful breakup and “Head Over Feet” is for those special occasions when you find yourself in love with someone who really cares about you. So no, not all of Jagged Little Pill is endless angst, but even the slower songs have a certain intensity to them. Alanis isn’t afraid to get personal on this album and it definitely pays off.
5. Porno for Pyros by Porno for Pyros (1993)
I said this in my Jane’s Addiction entry, but I’ve always preferred Porno for Pyros over Jane’s Addiction. Perry Farrell is an entertainer, and Porno for Pyros always seemed like a better outlet for all that creativity than his first project. Of course, I still enjoy Jane’s Addiction (though not the more recent stuff), but this album just blows me away. When I went through my Woodstock ’94 phase (which I guess I’m still going through), I watched Porno for Pyros’ performance of “Cursed Female” and “Blood Rag” for the first time on YouTube. Both songs included a bit of performance art and I thought that was so rad. This band was edgy and psychedelic without trying too hard. Porno for Pyros is a fairly chill album compared to a typical Jane’s Addiction album, but the laid-back atmosphere is perfectly executed. The band’s second album is good, but not nearly as fantastic as this one. But apparently Perry and the gang are reuniting for a new PFP album soon. Fingers crossed.
4. In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel (1998)
Let me just crack open a PBR and put on my hipster glasses for this one. But in all seriousness, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is life-changing. I discovered this album during my senior year in high school, and I shit you not, it changed my life. Senior year was a really weird time for me and this album helped me get through it. I know it’s the quintessential “hipster” record (and yes, before you ask, I have it on vinyl), but that doesn’t make it any less amazing. Sure, Neutral Milk Hotel is not everyone’s cup of tea. I can understand why some people just don’t dig anything this band has every done. Jeff Mangum’s voice isn’t always pitch-perfect and the instrumentation is sometimes off. But the first time I heard the title track, I was somehow able to ignore all those minor issues. It’s very rare for me to fall in love with an album upon first listen, but In the Aeroplane Over the Sea won me over on the first try. I love the strange instrumentation (the band used everything from a singing saw to a shortwave radio) and I adore Jeff’s cracking voice. And yes, I still cry every time I listen to “Oh Comely” and “Two-Headed Boy Part 2.”
3. Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness by Smashing Pumpkins (1996)
This album is 100% nostalgia for me. I mean, a track like “1979” just sounds like how nostalgia feels. It’s so comforting. I feel like I could wrap Mellon Collie around me like a big fluffy blanket and just sleep in it. And if I haven’t already mentioned this about a million times already, I really love concept albums. According to Billy Corgan, this isn’t really a concept album, though—the two halves (Dawn to Dusk and Twilight to Starlight) represent day and night. Nevertheless, the musical diversity on Mellon Collie is impressive. The Smashing Pumpkins go from moody, hard rock riffs on “Zero” to string arrangements on “Tonight, Tonight” to playful electronic effects on “Lily (My One and Only).” Mellon Collie was the last really great Pumpkins album, in my opinion. This record, along with Siamese Dream, really defines the band.
2. In Utero by Nirvana (1993)
Yes, I’m one of those people who likes In Utero more than Nevermind. But that’s not because I think I’m too cool to like Nevermind (if you recall, it still made my Top 20). I prefer In Utero because it’s so much darker and definitely more personal than its predecessor. I like dark things—who knew? This album kind of hearkens back to Nirvana’s Bleach days, but it’s not as sludgy. There are some delicate tracks on here (see “Dumb” and “All Apologies”), but the majority of the album is a heavily distorted punch in the face. The opening track, “Serve the Servants,” uses a droning guitar riff that’s almost hypnotizing, “Tourette’s” is one big feedback fest and “Scentless Apprentice” features some of the dirtiest drum work (and gnarliest screams) I’ve ever heard. Whether we know the true meanings of these songs or not, I still believe Kurt Cobain bared his soul on this record.
1. Dookie by Green Day (1994)
Was there anyone out there who didn’t see this one coming? As I have mentioned countless times on this blog, Green Day is my favorite band, so of course Dookie is my favorite album of the ‘90s. Sorry that I’m just too predictable (but I’m not really sorry). But come on—Dookie is a really fun record. Even if you hate everything Green Day’s ever done, you probably still have a soft spot for this album. It’s snotty and brash while still being radio friendly. It has a song with one of the best bass lines I’ve ever heard (that would be “Longview”). It just makes me really happy, okay? “When I Come Around” was one of the first songs I ever remember hearing on the radio, and I would make up words to sing just so I could sing along. While Dookie isn’t necessarily the one album that truly defines me (if I had to choose one, it would probably be American Idiot), it’s still an amazing album. I can listen to every song about a million more times and I would still never get sick of any of them.