Treble’s Best Albums of the ’90s: Part One

Treble's Best Albums of the '90s: Part One

1992

11. Alice in ChainsDirt (Columbia)

Victims of geographical stereotyping, Alice in Chains will forever be remembered as a dour, flannel soaked grunge collective. But for the fans, and those blessed with a discernible set of ears, the band shall remain one of the premiere mainstream metal acts of the early ’90s. Though they lacked the hell-induced speed of Slayer or the antics of British metal maestros Iron Maiden, Alice in Chains dug deeper to hone the inner workings of forbearers Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. The gravel howls of Layne Staley and the dank and doomy guitar work of Jerry Cantrell marched the band into a conflagration of doubt, regret and depression on their sophomore effort, Dirt. A needle marked motif runs its course throughout the cries and utterances of Staley’s fluctuating delivery making Dirt a harbinger of demise as much as it is a triumph of inner demons and musicianship. – Kevin Falahee


10. PJ HarveyDry (Indigo)

I said “wow” the first time I heard “Down by the Water,” the first PJ Harvey song I ever listened to. I said “wow” when I listened to Rid of Me for the first time, but it was Dry that brought out the biggest “wow.” I marveled at her assertiveness, her intensity and her raw and naked lyrics. I imagined this tiny, elfin woman with large, intense eyes singing, crooning these songs against such aggressive, muscular arrangements. I ate up every exaggerated tone, every brutal word; was there any doubt that I adore this woman? – Jackie Im

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9. The Jesus and Mary ChainHoney’s Dead (American)

Placing one foot on the distortion pedal and the other on the dance floor, brothers Jim & William Reid spread sheets of their trademark guitar feedback over shuffling Madchester beats, resulting in their most accessible album to date. With ’90s uber-producer Alan Moulder on the mixing boards and drummer Monti (from indie cult faves Curve) on the kits, Honey produced some of the Chain’s catchiest and sharpest numbers (the celebratory death wish of “Reverence,” the sneering jangle of “Sugar Ray”) and remains their last great effort, not to mention the kind of album that Stone Roses wish Second Coming was. – Robert Huff

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8. Rage Against the MachineRage Against the Machine (Epic)

Rage Against the Machine’s self-titled debut is destined to go down as one of the greatest of all time. Without precedence or compare, it single-handedly spawned splinter genres of metal and gave new meaning to using music to politically enlighten. Each of the ten songs incredible in their own right, it is the band’s signature song, “Killing in the Name,” that captured the vision and ferocity of the Zack de la Rocha/Tom Morello fronted band. With de la Rocha’s vocals reaching untapped levels of aggression and Morello’s groundbreaking guitar solos, Rage pummels with their fusion of rap, punk and metal. Rage Against the Machine reaches levels of greatness seldom seen in a debut album, serving as more than just humble beginnings for one of the most influential bands of all time. – Tyler Weir

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7. Tom WaitsBone Machine (Island)

Bone Machine is a morbid and ominous masterpiece, spare and elegant and supremely powerful in its subtlety. It features contributions from The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards and Primus’ Les Claypool, and won a Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album. It was recorded and produced at the Prairie Sun Recordings‘ “Waiting Room” in Cotati, Calif., an old cement hatchery room in the basement – just a cement floor and a hot water heater. The bluesy nature of the songs are brought back to a more typical Waits center by their rough percussive edges. – Anna Gazdowicz

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6. Dr. DreThe Chronic (Death Row – Interscope)

It should be said that The Chronic does not mark the first time that hip-hop has ever entered the pop culture zeitgeist. For more than a decade or so, the rap world had done much to push its way into the hearts, minds and wallets of the general public. Yet in the early ’90s, if it wasn’t somehow draped in parachute pants or adding mosh parts to its beats, it was likely not to reach the widest audience. What hip-hop was in need of was a record that lacked in corniness or overt agitprop and stepped up measures of hip-hop’s realism-based narratives with something that was, in every sense, cool. To that end, The Chronic sounds cool as fuck. – Chris Morgan

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5. Beastie BoysCheck Your Head (Grand Royal)

Check Your Head, the third album by the Beastie Boys, is as incredible a reinvention as any band has ever attempted. Ditching the frat-boy rap of Licensed to Ill and the inventive sample-driven insanity of Paul’s Boutique, Check Your Head found the group trying everything they could play on their instruments, touching on jazz, funk, hardcore, and just about any genre you can name. The result is a staggering mélange of just about every indie style possible, making Check Your Head both incredibly influential and a massively entertaining listen. – Tony Ling

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4. Sonic YouthDirty (DGC)

After a decade as a band, Sonic Youth had considerably warmed up to the idea of writing accessible, even radio-friendly songs. “Teen Age Riot” proved they had at the very least a college radio hit in them, and with “Kool Thing,” a commercial radio hit. So by the time they recorded Dirty, they were at their peak of accessibility, attempting an entire album of melodic, hard rocking pop songs. This was the post-Nevermind era after all. But a catchy album by Sonic Youth’s standards is still pretty weird. “Drunken Butterfly” chugs and wails with reckless abandon, “Shoot” slinks and struts, “Sugar Kane” ascends toward epic rock ‘n’ roll heroism and “100%” revealed just how to write a hit while sounding as scuzzy as possible. Sonic Youth may have still been noisy and raw, a little snotty and arty as ever, but within the constraints of a four-minute pop song, Dirty shows just how much damage they can do. – Jeff Terich


3. MorrisseyYour Arsenal (Sire)

Despite the lukewarm critical reception of 1991’s Kill Uncle, Morrissey’s ensuing tour, thanks to his new band, was a rousing success, and led him and his new mates directly into the studio with former Bowie guitarist Mick Ronson to produce his third. From the opening roaring riffs of “You’re Gonna Need Someone on Your Side,” one could easily tell that Your Arsenal was a new phase for Morrissey. Morrissey had the muscle and gang-like mentality of his new band members which included guitarists/writing collaborators Boz Boozer and Alan Whyte. Because of Ronson and Morrissey’s desire to steer his songs away from his trademark lyrical witticism, the music took center stage on Your Arsenal. – Adrian Cepeda

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2. PavementSlanted and Enchanted (Matador)

For better or for worse, every cliché and every now-commonplace characteristic of indie rock can be traced back to Pavement’s Slanted and Enchanted. There are the delightfully sloppy guitars of Scott Kannberg, a.k.a. Spiral Stairs, which have come to be celebrated by indie rockers and loathed by “serious” musicians. There are the surrealist, cut-and-paste lyrics of Stephen Malkmus, which are at times funny, frequently confusing, and always entertaining. And then there’s the lo-fi recording quality, which keeps the group’s fuzzed out slacker rock from ever getting too polished, or, truthfully, polished at all. Since the release of Slanted, thousands of bands between Walla Walla and Tallahassee have created their own pie charts balancing these three elements in differing percentages, and by now, most of those albums have gotten boring. Slanted and Enchanted, however, still sounds as exciting as ever. – Jeff Terich

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1. R.E.M.Automatic for the People (Warner Bros.)

If 1991 was a beacon of hope for music, 1992 was a disappointing follow-up. If there was one shining ray of hope in that year, it was R.E.M.’s eighth studio album, Automatic for the People. Easily voted by our writers as the best album of 1992, it was somewhat a sister album and yet the polar opposite of U2’s Achtung Baby one year prior. Like Achtung Baby, it was an album, later in a popular band’s career, that garnered more fan and critical praise than most of their predecessors. Unlike that album, R.E.M. wasn’t trying to reinvent themselves so much as rediscover what made them great in the first place, a theme that R.E.M. would visit again years later. As an answer to the excessively peppy Out of Time, R.E.M. made an album sugared with sadness, a country rock album created for crying, harmonized for healing, and recorded for repeated listens. – Terrance Terich

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