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10 albums that shaped the 90s

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The 90s threw variety and diversity at us by the bucketload. With the popularity of mainstream rock and roll diminishing, the era birthed offshoots like alternative, grunge, and Britpop to a new following – whilst genres like rap and hip-hop proved themselves as far more than just a trend.

Whether it be the iconic power chords of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, the Blur vs Oasis battle in the middle of the decade, or school girl anthem 'Hit Me Baby One More Time', the nineties were rich, funny and bold. And with that in mind, here are our 10 albums that shaped the decade.

Nirvana – Nevermind (1991)

Standalone, this album proves the 90s credibility. Altering the landscape of grunge forever, the album formed a mosh-worthy legacy to prove that rock and roll, even in its messy middle age, could still flourish. Toppling Michael Jackson off the album chart in early 1992, the ‘alternative’ tag came with some irony as a once niche market had become the market. People tapped into the cardigan-wearing aesthetic of Kurt Cobain, evidencing that people were sick of the classic leather loving rock of the previous generation, as Nirvana exhibited a less ‘showy’ way of doing things. Still, Nevermind feels explosive and alive – it’s nearly impossible to imagine a world without it.

Oasis – (What’s The Story) Morning Glory (1995)

For all their wit and energy, Manchester crew Oasis led by brother’s Noel and Liam Gallagher, stand as one of the best British bands of all time. After the release of What’s The Story as their second LP, its difficult to overstate just how popular Oasis became in the UK, with the album becoming the third-best-selling in the country’s history. Scoring huge hits with ‘Wonderwall’ and ‘Champagne Supernova’, the band’s heaviness had a coherent meaningfulness in its lyrics, whilst the album as a whole wasn’t concerned with social politics, but rather documenting a few Manchester lads who got lucky. (What’s The Story) Morning Glory’s 12 track entirety soundtracked a generation’s coming-of-age which truly changed British culture. But, unsurprisingly, the whole thing went to the Gallagher’s heads and their follow up LP, Be Here Now, slumped massively.

Radiohead – OK Computer (1997)

Chosen in 2010 by Q Magazine readers as the best album of the past 25 years, OK Computer saw Oxford group Radiohead experimenting with prog rock styles to contrast previously simpler guitar rock. Heralding a new, raw sound, OK Computer spawned an entirely undefined genre that became more than just a collection of songs - it was art. Despite not boasting any catchy, radio-worthy hits, OK Computer went platinum a year after its release – a testimony to the experimental tones that still sells to this day. Many artists, from Coldplay to Arcade Fire have attempted to emulate the tone of late 90s Radiohead, but can this ever really happen?

Dr. Dre - The Chronic (1992)

At one point, Dr. Dre was just one of the guys from N.W.A. However, come 1992, he released his solo debut album and made himself a household name, whilst turning Death Row Records into a hit label. Not only illustrating Dre’s ability as a manager (assembling a West Coast troupe featuring Snoop Dogg amongst others) The Chronic recalibrates funk, soul and rap flavours in a way which made Dre stand tall amongst the rest. No rap album had ever been a musical, with samples being cut down and replaced as much as possible with live instruments. Despite being far from perfect, The Chronic set the bar in a highly-charged Los Angeles scene.

Metallica – Metallica (1991)

Taking a creative and commercial leap from their previous underground scene, Metallica’s self-titled LP, better known as the ‘Black Album’, allowed the band to rise to the top of their game. Metalheads were roaring “sellout” from the minute this album dropped - seen by many as a betrayal to their true sound as metal bands weren’t supposed to score huge radio hits such as ‘Enter Sandman’. But still, with the few stubborn fans they lost, Metallica more than made up for it by bringing in a whole army of new ones. The Black Album is an all-time metal classic that continues to sell out new releases, regardless of softening a bit of their trash metal edge.

U2 – Achtung Baby (1991)

With daring touches of dance and industrial music, U2’s Achtung Baby reinvented Bono & Co to the successful stadium sellouts they are today. The supernova success of The Joshua Tree was alleviated by follow up album Rattle and Hum, leaving many fans disappointed in the band's direction. Becoming a victim of their own success, U2 had to create something extraordinary, and consequently, Achtung Baby became their best effort to date. Exhibited in its daring, ambitious tone, it was an album built for the 90s.

Massive Attack – Blue Lines (1991)

Spawning the transition from dance music into a milder hypnosis, Massive Attack emerged in 1991 with the pioneering trip-hop sounds of Blue Lines. Claiming to have invented a whole new genre called “minimalist lover’s hip-hop”, the group hailing from Bristol, transformed the club scene into a hypnotic dance. Blue Lines feels euphoric for all its gloominess, and by the time Massive Attack released Protection (1994), the group’s new genre had become an infectious movement. Their place as psychedelic hip-hop kings remained strong in the late 90s, influencing everything from music to graffiti – with some speculation that Banksy is a member or close friend of the group.

Red Hot Chili Peppers – Blood Sex Sugar Magik (1991)

Despite it taking seven years and four albums, the Los Angeles band scored quadruple-platinum success with Blood Sex Sugar Magik in 1991. The tracks exemplify a duality in frontman Anthony Kiedis’ swagger between the heavy bass riffs of ‘Give It Away’ and ‘Suck My Kiss’, whilst ‘Under the Bridge’ slows things down to later become the band’s most popular song. The alternating extremes launched the Chili Peppers into the stratosphere of popularity, whilst also being recognised as a pivotal component of alternative rock.

Nas – Illmatic (1994)

Possibly considered amongst hip-hop fans as the best rap album of all time, Nas changed the 90s music game with Illmatic. Alongside the critical acclaim of Wu-Tang Clan and Notorious B.I.G, Illmatic assisted in reviving the East Coast hip-hop scene. With an eye on the street, Nas raised the bar on 90s MC’ing with his lyricism through pace and rhyme patterns. Lyrical abilities were modified with many latter artists finding inspiration in Nas’ poetic language and mastery of detail, and without even knowing it, one of the most influential rap albums of all time was created.

The Prodigy – The Fat Of The Land (1997)

Oddly ignored by many when documenting the decade, The Prodigy were perhaps ahead of their innovative game with The Fat Of The Land. Combining dance with hip-hop and punk sounds, the band turned rave culture into an arena-filling affair whilst also becoming festival headliners ever since. Their unmatched diversity is balanced perfectly in this ten-track album, whether it be in the controversial ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ or punk-rave fuelled ‘Firestarter’ – together, making the best riot music in the world.

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