100 Best Albums of the ’90s – Rolling Stone
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100 Best Albums of the ’90s

From Moby to Nirvana, the records that defined a decade

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Rolling Stone picks the 100 greatest albums of the 1990s.

The Nineties as a musical era started late and ended early — kicked in by the scritchy-scratch power chords of “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” ushered out by the doomy piano intro of “. . . Hit Me Baby One More Time.” Anti-pop defeated by pop — full circle, all apologies. You’ve heard the story.

But the real Nineties were richer, funnier and weirder than that, with fake grunge bands writing better songs than some of the real ones, Eighties holdovers U2 and R.E.M. reaching creative peaks with Achtung Baby and Automatic for the People, Metallica and the Black Crowes co-existing on MTV, Phish tending to the Deadhead nation after Jerry’s passing — and Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer ceding their pop thrones in a few short years to Dr. Dre, Snoop and Eminem. — Brian Hiatt

This is an excerpt from the introduction to Rolling Stone‘s book The ’90s: The Inside Stories From the Decade that Rocked. Copyright © 2010 by Collins Design, an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

85

Pulp, ‘Different Class’

A Brit-pop strumpet with a heart of glass, Pulp's Jarvis Cocker minced through Different Class as a star in the classic Bowie mold. He dressed his flimsy body in an ungodly array of thrift-store frippery, he shook what Mama gave him to the band's fruity chamber rock, and he unzipped his breathy croak of a voice to sniff, "I've kissed your mother twice/And now I'm working on your dad." Different Class swipes melodic dazzle from the likes of Stereolab and Serge Gainsbourg to make hangovers sound romantic in "Bar Italia" while pining over suburban heartbreak in "Underwear," "Disco 2000" and the anthem "Common People." Jarvis Cocker: international man of mystery.

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84

Marilyn Manson, ‘Antichrist Superstar’

Suddenly armed with a strange mix of cartoon outrage and actual tunes — not to mention first-class Trent Reznor production — five Florida shock rockers go nationwide in their jockstraps. The record uses atmosphere from goth, disco from Ministry and Nine Inch Nails and ideas from that distinguished old sonic philosopher David Bowie. But what really makes it rise beyond the recherché is Manson himself, an Ohio-raised youngster who manages to graft charm, of all things, onto his bullshit.

Rolling Stone's Original 1996 Review

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83

Fiona Apple, ‘Tidal’

In the aftermath of Alanis, the airwaves were crawling with troubled ingénues singing tragic ballads about their haunted eyes, but somehow Fiona Apple stood out as a bad, bad girl. Apple's husky voice and jazzy melodies give an unexpected weight to her confessions on Tidal, as the nineteen-year-old New York art waif broods over adolescent malaise in off-kilter, insinuating piano ballads like "Never Is a Promise." She also comes up with a knockdown theme song in the anomalously hard-rocking "Criminal," the anthem of a young woman who's been careless with a delicate man and even more careless with her delicate self.

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82

The Smashing Pumpkins, ‘Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness’

"I fear that I am ordinary, just like everyone," wails master Billy Corgan on "Muzzle," from this double-disc epic. Fear can be a great motivator, and Corgan used it to build his Taj Mahal, a sonically dazzling monument to gloom and glamour. Accused of not being punk enough, Corgan showed on Mellon Collie what punk might be if Steven Spielberg got hold of it. The angry songs distend rage and alienation via beautifully ugly guitar-drum attacks, while the wistful ballads flip hate around and turn it into exquisite, unquenchable longing. Take that, hipsters: Ordinary angst can be grand.

Rolling Stone's Original 1995 Review

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81

Bjork, ‘Post’

Yeah, Björk's music is 'post' — post-rock, post-apocalyptic, flashily futuristic in tone. But it's also "pre," tapping emotions untamed by rational thought. The electronic soundscapes she creates on Post, with the help of English dance-floor stars like Nellee Hooper, Tricky and Howie B., give her lots of room to roam. And she goes everywhere, from the junk-filled cliff top of the whimsical "Hyper-Ballad" to the psychic deep forest of "Isobel," in songs that link the rhythms of early drum-and-bass to the vocal lines of Icelandic folk singing, with a dash of musical comedy thrown in for a lark. Inventing her own genre, Björk presents what she calls "an army of me" — the many battling voices inside one woman's hyperactive brain.

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79

Guided by Voices, ‘Bee Thousand’

GBV's six previous albums (released in limited editions on minuscule indies) were brilliant, but Bee Thousand was a tour de force by a good old-fashioned American basement genius. A rotating group of thirtysomethings based in Dayton, Ohio, Guided by Voices mined familiar territory: classic English pop rockers like the Who, the Kinks and the Beatles, albeit filtered through latter-day Beatlemaniacs like Cheap Trick and Robyn Hitchcock, as well as low-fi avatars like Daniel Johnston and Pavement. Recorded on a four-track machine, Bee Thousand sounds like a favorite bootleg or a beloved old LP whose worn grooves now reveal only a blurry jumble. Amp hum, sniffling musicians and creaking chairs all inhabit the mix, but the homespun production only underlines the strength of the songs — low-fi or not, there's no denying an astonishing rush of guitar-pop glory like "Tractor Rape Chain."

Rolling Stone's Original 1994 Review

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78

Oasis, ‘Definitely Maybe’

While stateside bands agonized over fame, Oasis announced, "Tonight, I'm a rock & roll star." Indeed, the title of this debut album — a blast of guitar muscle, sneering vocals, retro hooks and arrogant flash — is the only ambivalent thing about it. "You can have it all/But how much do you want it?" the brothers Gallagher ask in "Supersonic," and the answer is, a fuckin' lot. The hits came later, but this is where Oasis established a beachhead on these shores in the war to restore British rock to the throne.

Rolling Stone Original 1998 Review

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