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Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Flashback - November 9, 2000 - Top 30+1 of the 1990s


We originally launched back in 2000.  This is a reposting of one of the original articles - my top list of the 1990s.  Looking at it now, I don't see a single album I'd take off this list, only albums I can't believe I couldn't also fit.  But that's a whole 'nother article.

This is really just for posterity.  I pulled this from, which is amazing, but may not be around forever.  Blogger (this blog's parent site) is owned by Google (I think) and therefore will be around forever, or as close as it needs to be.

Expect full reviews of each album I never got around to completing.  I'm still collecting the vinyl versions of many of these that were never released on that medium when they came out.

  1. My Bloody Valentine - Loveless
  2. Spiritualized - Laser Guided Melodies
  3. Verve - A Storm in Heaven
  4. Tortoise - Millions Now Living Will Never Die
  5. Soul Coughing - Ruby Vroom
  6. The Orb - The Orb's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld
  7. Radiohead - OK Computer
  8. Swervedriver - Mezcal Head
  9. Afghan Whigs - Black Love
  10. Kruder & Dorfmeister - The K&D; Sessions (thus the +1)
  11. Seven Percent Solution - All About Satellites & Spaceships
  12. Mercury Rev - Yerself Is Steam
  13. Jeff Buckley - Grace
  14. Astralasia - The Seven Pointed Star
  15. NIN - The Downward Spiral
  16. Air - Moon Safari
  17. Crystal Method - Vegas
  18. Bjork - Debut
  19. Portishead - Dummy
  20. Kiln - Holo
  21. Catherine Wheel - Chrome
  22. Flaming Lips - The Soft Bulletin
  23. Beastie Boys - Check Your Head
  24. Hum - You'd Prefer an Astronaut
  25. His Name Is Alive - Home Is In Your Head
  26. Nirvana - Nevermind
  27. PJ Harvey - Is This Desire?
  28. Hayden - Everything I Long For
  29. Beck - Odelay
  30. Swervedriver - Raise

Top 30 + 1 of the 1990s - #28 - Hayden / Everything I Long For (1995)

Everything I Long For - Wikipedia

If you have never seen this artist on any other "best of" lists or even if you have never heard of Hayden, don't feel bad - you are probably in the majority. In fact, most people I know who have heard this album (both of them) would not believe that this made it onto anyone's "top picks" list. Why? Two reasons. First, Hayden is very hard to pin down. He is most easily described as a singer/songwriter from Toronto, Ontario (for those of you who didn't grow up in the Great White North, that's in Canada). Second, to say his music is an acquired taste is like saying he is obscure. Since you have probably never heard of him, I have to tell you that it this a huge understatement. Hayden's voice is scratchy, deep, and soulful, like an old bear drunk on cheap bourbon. It is not for everybody, and it's definitely not commercial.

Another thing Hayden has going against him is the loping single and video he made for MTV, the long sigh of a song, "bad as they seem," which I had the privilege of seeing on 120 minutes exactly once. After that, Hayden was never heard from again as far as I know, save the sophomore jinx "The Closer I Get," which even Music Trader, the godmother whore of CD resellers wouldn't piss on with a ten foot stolen dick if it were on fire.

So of course by now the reader wonders why the hell this album is on my top 30, let alone still in my CD collection intact. It's because it deserves to be there. Hayden's approach to music is one of the most unique takes on the one-guy-and-a-guitar thing in the entire decade. And in a ten-year spurt of MTV Unpluggeds and Indigo BoyGirl Wannabes, that's saying a Flounder-throwing-up-on-Dean-Wormer mouthful.

"Bad as they seem" is, in reality, a great song. This track starts the album and perfectly sets the theme that runs through the record - suburban boredom and monotony. While this may not sound very appealing, juxtaposed against some of the album's more intense spots, it makes for a disturbing and wonderful record.

The lyrics to "tragedy" tell the story of a pal who dies in a car accident. While not an unusual occurrence, the listener is chilled by the lack of affect in Hayden's voice as he sings "loss of my best friend I grieve / I can take this you will see." "Stem", the next song, can only be described as a silly little love song, while "skates," which immediately follows, is a haunting tale about a man whose wife has drowned. Hayden's voice transitions from his own persona of the quiet store clerk to the sorrowful voice of the widower like a car going from fifth to first gear in one step. The jump is jolting, but all the more effective because of the harsh shift.

"When this is over" is probably the most upsetting track, a retelling of the Susan Smith tragedy from the older son's point of view. Describing the car in one of the most heartbreaking verses: "filling up / dirty water / where is mom? / I miss her."

The album ends with the same theme as it began with in "lounging" - "why do I stay up 'til three? lounging, eating, watching TV. I promised you . . . that was through."

Perhaps the real beauty of Everything I Long For is that it starts out as a wish list, and ends up as just another crumpled piece of paper that missed the wastebasket by a few feet. The truth is that Hayden doesn't know what he longs for any more than any of us do, and somehow there is comfort to be found in this shared resignation.

Top 30 + 1 of the 1990s - #21 - Catherine Wheel / Chrome (1993)

Chrome (Catherine Wheel album) - Wikipedia

I think the first time I ever heard Catherine Wheel was back in 1993, shortly after Chrome had been released. I remember seeing the video for "Show Me Mary" on 120 Minutes and being immediately in love with Rob Dickenson's voice. It sounded to me as if he'd just smoked ten cigarettes made out of honey.

I went out and bought the album right away. It only takes one listen to decide if you really love or really hate this album. Catherine Wheel manages to do something that most other bands only try to do and fail - giving only a half-hearted attempt like a used car salesman's smile. What I'm talking about here is dynamics. The opening track on the record, "Kill Rhythm", starts with a driving, almost beer-mug-swinging ¾ power chord riff balanced by Dickenson's soft vocals, "Wanna fire a gun? Show me." This is a perfect example of the band's unique sneak attack: the vocals sound innocuous enough, until you listen to the words - a calm and disturbing scene all at once, like a child standing on a ladder reaching for something bright and shiny while the ladder teeters precariously.

It's rare for the area of an album that would be considered the middle of side two on the vinyl to contain the zenith, but that is exactly the case with Chrome. "URSA Major Space Station" kicks off with a serious 6/8 groove, and moves into a daring 7/8 before settling down in dance tempo only long enough for the vocals to break through the complex mesh of time signatures that continue to build right up to the last bars of the song. It is here where the final chords are held interminably, catapulting the listener and allowing them to drift off into "a special place in outer space."

This sets the stage perfectly for the aptly-named "Fripp" that follows, a long, slow-motion ballad marked by Brian Futter's flowing guitar. "There's a shark-shaped fin / In the water of my dreams / An alligator screams from the depths there / I could swim with you there," the ballad begin. The song builds slowly and quietly as the mantra "too much is not enough" repeats… as words whispered into a lover's ear.

Next, is "Half-Life," which starts with a danceable drum beat, cutting a groove that brings the listener back down to the floor and gets his or her blood pumping in a different direction. The song lingers in its rhythm until the chorus rips in, tearing a hole through the song that is soon sewed up by a return trip into pure groove. It's like riding in the backseat of a large car driven by a mental patient whose medication has started to fail.

Chrome affected me deeply and continues to do so with every listen. There can be little doubt about the purity of the emotions that went into creating this masterful blend of beautifully harsh words and intense music.

Top 30 + 1 of the 1990s - #18 - Bjork / Debut

 Debut (Bj√∂rk album) - Wikipedia

"Come here," Stacey said, "I want you to hear something." She pulled me into her bedroom, carefully loading up the tape player with one of those clear cassettes; probably one of the first. It was winter 1989 in Detroit, and the cold outside was no match for the play button she pressed on the deck or inside me. She was a few years younger than I was so it kinda took me by surprise that "Fucking in Rhythm and Sorrow" was what she wanted me to hear. We began clumsily pulling at each others' clothes as if we were wearing mittens. We might well have been if her bedroom hadn't been heated. Thank God her mother worked late so she could pay the bills and I could fondle her daughter and listen to her Sugarcubes tapes.

This was my introduction to the vocal styling of Iceland's only daughter. Listening to Bjork has always been a little like that afternoon in Stacey's room - exciting, a little frightening, but always pleasurable. Bjork is one of the few auteurs whose next move is as unpredictable as her last. One moment she's (presumably) sneaking into a limo during a live recording for Debut ("There's More to Life Than This"), while the next she's crooning away like Ella Fitzgerald in the harp-laden "Like Someone In Love."

While Homogenic (1997) was the album that won her a Grammy (who gives a fuck, right? still, it's nice to know that even good artists are occasionally given the thumbs-up from the status quo press (e.g., Beck)) Debut was the album that made people stand up and take notice of her individuality and diversity as an artist. It's not so much that Bjork was The Sugarcubes as much as Bjork hadn't begun to live up to her full potential before the band broke up.

If you can ever catch her MTV version of "Aeroplane" (120 Minutes Live) or the video for and alternate remix of "Big Time Sensuality", you'll see that the versions of the songs appearing on Debut are merely suggested listening arrangements. Bjork is one of the only artists who can (and did) release essentially the same album within the span of a year and not leave her fans feeling like she's just riding the remix dollar (Telegram (1996) was essentially a remix of Post (1995)).