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The albums turning 25 this year, you need to hear

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24th September, 2016 marked 25 years since the release of Nirvana’s breakthrough album Nevermind, a release that launched the grunge legends into the stratosphere instantly cementing their name in music history.

But it Nevermind wasn’t the only significant album released in 1991, it was an amazing year for music with incredible releases, and some all time classics, coming from genres.

Here are some of the albums released in 1991 that shaped the era following it; all of which need to be on your playlist immediately: 

Throwing Muses - The Real Ramona  

Musical cousins to Pixies, Throwing Muses were a staple of the emerging alternative rock genre in the late 80s and early 90s, known for their unique song structures and chord progressions. The fusion of Kristin Hersh’s candid songwriting, Tanya Donelly’s pop enthused harmonies and David Narcizo’s unusual drumming techniques set them apart from similar acts at the time.

The Real Ramona was their fourth record, and is arguably their most accessible. It is the last before the departure of founding member Donelly (who went on to the Breeders and Belly) and prominently features her penchant for melody and pop vocal harmonies.

 

The KLF - The White Room 

One of the most bizarre and notorious groups ascending from the late 80s and early 90s, The KLF (also known as The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu), were rave-pop terrorists of the highest order (and also the biggest selling singles act in the world in 1991.

The duo are renowned for taking sampling technology into the charts and the pure anarchy they caused - defacing billboard adverts, posting cryptic adverts in magazines (especially NME) and extremely unusual performances on Top of the Pops.

The strangest (and coolest) performance being at the 1992 BRIT Awards. Collaborating with the grindcore metal band Extreme Noise Terror to hijack the event; the musicians preceded to perform a death metal version of ‘3 a.m. Eternal’, with the band firing machine gun blanks into the audience. They also caused a scene at the afterparty, dumping a dead sheep outside the venue with a message wrapped around its waist: “I died for you – bon appetit’ and went on to bury the Brit Award in a field near Stonehenge where it was reportedly found in 1993.

The White Room itself was the fourth and final studio album by the band. It was supposed to be a soundtrack to a film of the same name in 1989, but the film and the original soundtrack were eventually cancelled – leading to KLF having to change the album’s original direction. The film was to be a road movie following KLF’s search for the mysterious White Room; to enable them to be released from their contract with Eternity.

  

R.E.M - Out of Time

Out of Time pushed R.E.M to mainstream success.

The album topped both the American and British charts, spending nearly 300 weeks on both combined. It earned R.E.M three Grammy Awards in 1992; one for Best Alternative Music Album and two for the lead single ‘Losing My Religion’.

The record marked an expansion of the bands musical landscape, incorporating the elements of alternative rock of the time and combining them with the likes of pop, folk, classical and country elements; combinations that would continue onto their 1992 record Automatic for the People.

Through their breakthrough into the mainstream with Out of Time, R.E.M showed other soon-to-be alternative rock bands how to become successful but still maintain their post-punk, underground ideals.

Slint - Spiderland  

With their emergence in the late 80s teenagers Slint subsequently re-wrote the rock rulebook influencing the post-rock, math-rock and emo scenes to follow.

Only releasing two albums, Slint’s impact is colossal with their second and final album Spiderland often being cited as not only one of the best of the 1990s; but one of the greatest records of all time.

Slint’s Spiderland is heralded for its use of irregular time signatures, the combination of singing, spoken word and strained shouting and the lyrics being written in a more so narrative style compared to similar bands of the time. It has since gone on to become an extremely influential record, with PJ Harvey citing Spiderland as one of her favourite albums, and Lou Barlow (Dinosaur Jr, Sebadoh) stating that, “It was quite-to-loud without sound like grunge and indie rock. It sound more like a new kind of music.”  

  

The Orb - The Orb’s Adventure Beyond the Ultraworld

Formed by Alex Paterson and Jimmy Cauty (also of The KLF) in 1988, The Orb were pioneers of ambient house and amassed a cult following amongst clubbers due to their trippy, often drug-related themes, listening to the duo’s music when ‘coming down’ from drug-induced highs.

Paterson and Cauty were influenced heavily from pioneering experimental electronic artists of 70s and 80s, namely Brian Eno and Kraftwerk. In their live shows, they were often compared to early Pink Floyd due to the nature of their ‘light shows’; harnessing the use of colourful lights and psychedelic imagery and projections in their performances.

Their debut record The Orb’s Adventure’s Beyond the Ultraworld is a two-hour, self-professed psychedelic trip through music genres. The record itself is a continuous progressive journey through the Ultraworld. It was released to critical acclaim in the UK and Europe, rising to No. 29 on the UK album charts. 

 

Temple of the Dog – Temple of the Dog 

This is the grunge supergroup before grunge even hit the mainstream! After the tragic death of Andrew Wood (Malfunkshun, Mother Love Bone), friend and roommate Chris Cornell of Soundgarden approached former Mother Love Bone members Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament about recording some material he had written prior to Wood’s death.  The only two songs on the album that are explicitly about Wood are ‘Reach Down’ and ‘Say Hello 2 Heaven’.

At the time, Pearl Jam was non-existent. Gossard and Ament were unsure about carrying on Mother Love Bone without Wood. A few months later, Gossard began practicing with Seattle guitarist Mike McCready – and eventually Ament. The trio then recorded a five-song demo tape in order to find a singer and drummer. The tape made its way to former Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Jeremy Irons, who passed on the invitation but gave the demo to his friend Eddie Vedder.

Vedder eventually sent the tape back with his vocals and the rest is history. Before becoming any sort of band, Vedder also contributed to the Temple of the Dog album with backing vocals; also performing a duet with Cornell on ‘Hunger Strike’.

The line-up eventually consisted of Cornell, Ament, Gossard, Vedder, McCready and Matt Cameron; Soundgarden’s drummer who would also eventually become Pearl Jam’s drummer.

  

De La Soul - De La Soul is Dead 

Following their groundbreaking debut and the misconceptions they were levelled with around their ‘D.A.I.S.Y’ (Da Inner Sound, Y’all) age philosophy (namely the ‘hippie’ tag) De La Soul returned with this gem of an album.

The title is a jokey nod to them distancing themselves from their debut 3 Feet High and Rising, and their edgier, funkier sound. The album took on darker and more realist subject matter conceptualised around reoccurring skits and social commentary (also prominent on the first record), such as ‘Afro Connections at a Hi-5 (In the Eyes of a Hoodlum), directed at the gangster rap movement of the early 1990s.

  

Seal - Seal

Providing the vocals for Adamski’s mega techno-pop hit ‘Killer’ in 1991, Seal was thrust into the public consciousness as a great soul voice. His own breakthrough with a self-titled debut album topping the charts came in 1991.

A re-recorded version of ‘Killer’ lead the album and also featured other hits including ‘Crazy’ – all capitalising on the style that he had hit on with Adamski at the helm but bringing a further pop edge through the production of Trevor Horn.

In the end it was ‘Crazy’ that garnered the most attention becoming an international hit in 1991 reaching number 2 on the UK Singles Chart.

Seal also went on to perform ‘Who Wants to Live Forever’ with the surviving members of Queen in 1992, in tribute to the recently passed Freddie Mercury at Wembley Stadium.

The Smashing Pumpkins - Gish

Gish was the first full-length statement from one of alternative rock’s most influential bands: The Smashing Pumpkins. Even though the record didn’t chart as high as the band’s second record Siamese Dream, it is one of the Pumpkins most well-critically received albums.

Gish channels pain and spiritual ascension, according to front-man Billy Corgan.

First single ‘Siva’ is probably the most recognisable track; fraught with a guttural melody via a distorted guitar, Corgan sings of the break-up of a relationship referring to the tantric concepts of opposing masculine and feminine aspects which is also referenced through the songs title.

 Gish ushered in one of the 90s most inventive rock bands.

 

N.W.A - Niggaz4Life

Also known as EFIL4ZAGGIN, N.W.A.’s second and final studio album before the group disbanded later in 1991 due to the departure of Dr. Dre and The D.O.C. is the final statement from one of raps most controversial groups.

The departure of Ice Cube in 1989 doesn’t hugely diminish the power of the remaining four members musical output with Dre on top production form.

Compared to N.W.A’s debut album Straight Outta Compton, has been criticised for its sexist lyrics making the record extremely infamous. Especially on the second half of the album, through the likes of ‘One Less Bitch’, ‘Findum, Fuckum & Flee’, ‘She Swallowed It’ and ‘I’d Rather Fuck You’.

Despite its controversy, Niggaz4Life debuted at number 2 on the US Billboard Top LPs chart, and sold over 954,000 copies.

  

Fugazi - Steady Diet of Nothing

 Fugazi were the obvious end point for DC hardcore and the development of Dischord records taking elements of the hardcore punk, emo and math rock genres they help pioneer to make the most compelling rock music of the late 80s and early 90s.

Steady Diet of Nothing is Fugazi’s second record, and even though it is thought highly of by fans of the band, it is often overlooked by critics and journalists who focus on other records from their discography such as 1989’s 13 Songs and 1993’s In on the Kill Taker.

The thing about Steady Diet of Nothing is it was the band’s first self-produced record, and as a result the recording and mixing sessions were extremely tough setting for the band. The result is an album that can be seen as relatively conservative by the bands own standards, and one that is seeing them finding their feet.

But many see it as their best album and it is as great a listen as the rest of their discography.

  

LFO - Frequencies

 Electronic duo LF0 pioneered (and dominated) bass-heavy techno, and helped to start to take dance music from the dancefloor into more ‘intelligent’ realms.

Their debut record Frequencies in 1991 gave them the exposure that made them innovators of their respective genres as one of the early groups on the groundbreaking Warp record label.

Metallica – Metallica  

Already titans of heavy metal in the 80s, nothing could prepare for just how big the release of ‘The Black Album’ would make Metallica. The band’s album Master of Puppets (1986) has been regarded as one of thrash metal’s most important records, but it’s through the Metallica’s eponymous fifth album that they received more mainstream success through the expansion of their sound.

The album debuted at number one in ten countries and spending four consecutive weeks on the Billboard 200. It is also one of the best-selling albums worldwide, certifying 16x platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in 2012, and has sold over sixteen million copies.

The album is home to some of Metallica’s best-known songs, including ‘Enter Sandman’, ‘Nothing Else Matters’, ‘The Unforgiven’, ‘Wherever I May Roam’ and ‘Sad But True’.

The band’s shift to a more compact sound, leaving the thrash behind is often a talking point in of the record, with the band opting for a simpler approach rather than continuing with long and complex songs in regards to the songs on …And Justice for All.

It also enabled fans to create a distinction between Metallica’s two distinct styles, before the rest of 90s where the band’s further changes in direction led to them losing favour with fans.

  

Cypress Hill – Cypress Hill

 In a cloud of pot-smoke Cypress Hill emerged with their debut album in 1991, selling well over two million copies.

Cypress Hill were the first Latino American hip hop group to platinum and multi-platinum records; with their debut being one of them. They are often associated with West Coast Rap and early 1990s hip hop, being regarded as one of the main pioneers of the genre.

  

Mr Bungle - Mr Bungle

Few rock bands are weirder than Mr Bungle! Before he joined Faith No More this was (and continued to be until 1999) a direct line into the dark parts Mike Patton’s mind.

Known for their unconventional writing style and mashing as many ideas and styles into a short period of time as possible, they remain one of the most compelling and original acts ever.

Their debut self-titled studio record gained them a cult following, due to their uniqueness in the already emerging alternative rock climate. The genres varied widely, spanning from: ska and carnival music to heavy metal, free jazz and funk.

And if it wasn’t strange enough, quotes from David Lynch’s 1986 film Blue Velvet are littered throughout the record.

 

Spin Doctors - Pocket Full of Kryptonite 

Spin Doctors are probably best known for their songs ‘Two Princes’ and ‘Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong’; both of which appeared on the band’s first studio album Pocket Full of Kryptonite. It was Spin Doctor’s best-selling record, also earning the certifying as 5x Platinum by the RIAA.

The album didn’t pick up commercial popularity straight away, only after the radio and MTV began playing ‘Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong’ and ‘Two Princes’. The album eventually went gold in September of 1992, leading up to its platinum status in June 1993.

  

Pearl Jam - Ten

Alongside Nirvana’s Nevermind, Pearl Jam’s debut album Ten was THE album to define the Seattle grunge-scape in 1991.

Initially, Ten was not an immediate commercial success, it is now regarded as a classic.

Similar to The Smashing Pumpkins conception on Gish, Ten began as a collection of instrumental jams, which Vedder then added lyrics to focusing on topics such as depression, abuse and suicide.

Ten is Pearl Jam’s most commercially successful album and is often regarded as both Pearl Jam’s best record.

By late 1992, Ten reached number 2 on the Billboard 200 and has been certified 13x platinum by the RIAA. It contains 3 of the band’s seminal songs: ‘Alive’, ‘Even Flow’, ‘Jeremy’, ‘Black’ and ‘Porch’.

  

Hole - Pretty on the Inside

Before Cobain, Courtney Love was already producing great music(doing away with the myth her husband wrote all her songs! 

Produced by Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon and Gumball’s Don Fleming, Pretty on the Inside marked Hole’s first record since singer-songwriter Courtney Love and guitarist Eric Erlandson formed the band in 1989.

Hole’s debut is a stark contrast to what the band would eventually produce, opting for a more abrasive punk sound alongside screaming vocals compared to the alternative rock/grunge stylings of their later albums: namely Live Through This (1994) and Celebrity Skin (1998).

Love focussed her songwriting on issues and themes that affected women such as violence, feminism, abuse and womanhood.

Even though Love doesn’t think much of the album, Pretty on the Inside was well-received by critics and influenced countless musicians from the likes of Brody Dalle (Spinnerette, The Distillers), Scout Niblett and Nince Black Alps. Its lead single ‘Teenage Whore’ also gained popularity, entering the UK Indie Chart at number one in September of 1991.

 

Guns N’ Roses - Use Your Illusion I & II 

The Use Your Illusion records served as a stylistic turning point for Guns N’ Roses, but were also fraught with band relations going sour and are often credited as the starting point of the bands ultimate demise.

The two records are classics within the Guns N’ Roses pantheon, incorporating blues, heavy metal and classical music into their original hard rock sound. Both records shared their fare of hits, including: ‘Live and Let Die’ (a Paul McCartney and Wings cover), ‘Don’t Cry’ and ‘November Rain’ on the first record, and ‘Civil War’, ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’ (Bob Dylan cover), ‘Estranged’ and ‘You Could Be Mine’ on the second.

However, the process of recording the records were halted somewhat by drummer Steven Adler’s heroin addiction – leading to Adler being fired from the band and replaced with Cult drummer Matt Sorum.

 

Primal Scream - Screamadelica

 The perfect embodiment of when indie bands found ecstasy and embraced acid house culture Screamadelica changed the fortunes of Primal Scream and music forever.

The record was a commercial and critical success, reaching number 8 on the UK Albums Chart, and later became certified gold by the British Phonographic Industry. Many critics were blown away Primal Scream’s material on the album, often regarding it as unclassifiable.

Producer Andrew Weatherall took elements of the Primals rock sound and mixed it together with a massive array of samples and styles producing a trippy but accessible blend.

Primal Scream also drew inspiration from the associated drugs of the house music scene, even with the album cover. The cover was painted by artist Paul Cannell, who was inspired by a damp water spot he’d seen after taking LSD.

Indie music learnt how to party, and the party was great.

 

 

Red Hot Chili Peppers - Blood Sugar Sex Magik

Leaving the comical funk-punk stylings of their 80s output the Chili’s fifth record set them on course to becoming one of the biggest rock bands in the world.

Now on a major label the band matured with songs like ‘Give It Away’, ‘Under The Bridge’, ‘Suck My Kiss’ and ‘Breaking The Girl’ giving them success and critical acclaim.

Even though the album saw the departure of the Chili’s use of heavy metal guitar riffs, it still incorporated their staple funk rock sound and marked the beginning of the alternative rock explosion of the 1990s.

The record also sadly saw the departure of guitarist Josh Frusciante. Frusciante quit the band during their 1992 tour, due to his inability to cope with the worldwide popularity that the album brought to the band. He would not return until 1999’s Californication, being replaced with guitarist Dave Navarro (Jane’s Addiction) for their sixth studio album One Hot Minute

  

A Tribe Called Quest - The Low End Theory

 The Tribe’s second album helped cultivate the hip hop alternative to the prominent gangster style. After their debut album People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, the group aimed to expand their sound from the alternative hip hop community to a wider audience.

With a less jazz-filled approach the group dropped a funkier, straight-bass sound that made a more accessible listen. In turn, the record was stripped down to the essential instruments of vocals, drums and bass.

It is often considered not only one of the best hip-hop albums, but also of all time. Rolling Stone magazine rated number 154 in their ‘500 Greatest Albums of All Time’ list, stating “people connected the dots between hip-hop and jazz – both were revolutionary forms of black music based in improvisation and flow – but A Tribe Called Quest’s second album drew the entire picture.”

  

Soundgarden - Badmotorfinger 

In conjunction with Nirvana’s breakthrough success with Nevermind, Soundgarden’s third record Badmotorfinger, alongside Pearl Jam’s Ten, achieved success due to the focus on Seattle’s emerging grunge scene.

It wasn’t until their fourth album Superunknown that the band would achieve mainstream and commercial success, mirroring what Nevermind did for Nirvana. But Badmotorfinger did provide the band with a Grammy nomination for Best Metal Performance and a twice platinum certification by the RIAA.

Badmotorfinger is home to three of Soundgarden’s most popular tracks, ‘Jesus Christ Pose’, ‘Outshined’ and ‘Rusty Cage’. In contrast to Superunknown, those tracks and the rest on the record are more deeply rooted in heavy metal rather than the emerging genre of ‘grunge’ that the band – alongside Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains – helped create. 

Badmotorfinger did also see a focus on songwriting however, especially in comparison to their previous records.

  

My Blood Valentine - Loveless

Not achieving great commercial success at the time and nearly bankrupting Creation records in the process   My Bloody Valentine’s second album Loveless is considered one of the pioneering records within the shoegaze genre.

Utilizing the signature obscured vocals, sampled feedback and distorted guitar, Loveless is one of the most meticulously constructed soundscapes ever released.

The issues with recording saw the band dropped from Creation and the perfectionism of Kevin Shields meant that another album didn’t emerge till 2013, but it never matched the sheer brilliance of this 1991 effort.

  

2Pac  - 2Pacalypse Now  

1991 was the year that legendary rapper 2Pac released his debut record 2Pacalypse Now. Even though the record performed poorly at its initial release – especially in comparison to 2Pac’s subsequent albums – it has since certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

2Pacalypse Now focused on an array of issues within American society at the time, something that 2Pac became known for. Here, he focused on racism, police brutality, black on black crime and teenage pregnancy. The album had three singles; ‘Brenda’s Got a Baby’, ‘Trapped’ and ‘If My Homie Calls’.

But it’s the track ‘I Don’t Give a Fuck’ that showcases the stylings of gangster rap and hip hop that 2Pac would become known for.

  

U2 - Achtung Baby  

U2 were already in full swing with their career at this point, but their seventh album Achtung Baby not only became one of their most successful records, but it also resulted in the pioneering Zoo TV tour that harnessed an intensive multimedia set to instil a sensory overload on their audiences.

Even though Actung Baby ended up being such a commercial success, it nearly prompted U2 to split up due to an excessive amount of arguments over the musical direction of the record and the quality that was being produced. It was mainly due to bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. preferring U2’s original sound where vocalist Bono and guitarist The Edge being inspired by European industrial and electronic dance music; of which they wanted to incorporate into the record.

Eventually the band came to their senses through the writing process of ‘One’, and so Achtung Baby was born. Inspired by the German Reunification of the late 80s and early 90s, Achtung Baby was much darker and self-deprecating than their previous work.

The record won U2 a Grammy for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal, and was also nominated for Album of the Year. It has since become certified eight times platinum in the US by the RIAA, and four times platinum in the UK.

 

Teenage Fanclub - Bandwagonesque  

Scottish alternative rock band Teenage Fanclub’s third studio album Bandwagonesque became a substantial success within late 1991, famously beating Nirvana’s Nevermind as ‘album of the year’ in Spin magazines end-of-year poll for best album.

The main reason behind the records commercial success came through stronger hooks, their guitar riffs being brought under control and a more structured approach to their writing.

Essentially Bandwagonesque is perfect indie-pop – pop for the alternative crowd, full of summery hooks and tales of love.

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