Starting the Decade in Style
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Part I/V: The Finest Albums of 1990
THE reason I am putting together this feature…
PHOTO CREDIT: @dmitrybayer/Unsplash
is to shine a light on the albums that started a decade with a huge deceleration. I feel it is hard to define what a decade is about and how it evolves but the first and last years are crucial – I have already looked at decade-ending albums. I am bringing to life this feature that celebrates albums that opened a decade with a mighty amount of quality and gave inspiration to those who followed - I will cover 1970, 1980; 1990, 2000 and 2010. In this first part, I am focusing on 1990 and the best ten records from the year. The 1990s was a truly biblical decade and some of the very best records from the decade were released right at the start! Have a look at these ten 1990-released albums and I am sure you will agree that the 1990s was a hugely....
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ALL ALBUM COVERS: Getty Images
Sinéad O'Connor – I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got
Release Date: 20th March, 1990
“But the album plays like a tour de force in its demonstration of everything O'Connor can do: dramatic orchestral ballads, intimate confessionals, catchy pop/rock, driving guitar rock, and protest folk, not to mention the nearly six-minute a cappella title track. What's consistent throughout is the frighteningly strong emotion O'Connor brings to bear on the material, while remaining sensitive to each piece's individual demands. Aside from being a brilliant album in its own right, I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got foreshadowed the rise of deeply introspective female singer/songwriters like Tori Amos and Sarah McLachlan, who were more traditionally feminine and connected with a wider audience. Which takes nothing away from anyone; if anything, it's evidence that, when on top of her game, O'Connor was a singular talent” – AllMusic
Standout Track: Nothing Compares 2 U
Pixies – Bossanova
Release Date: 13th August, 1990
“By now most of us have heard 'Velouria'. Not as immediate as 'Gigantic' or 'Monkey Gone To Heaven' as far as singles go, but still a delightfully wiggy window to the world of Black Francis and the maddest thing to have been seen on Top Of the Pops since The Wombles wee Top Ten regulars.
'Ana' and 'All Over The World' would not be out of place on 'Aladdin Sane', with Black Francis doing his best Bowie impersonaton. 'Ana' is a brief repetitive piece, just six lines long. The lyric book shows us the firs letter o each line spells out S-U-R-F-E-R, while on 'All Over The World' Black Francis claims "I am a derangement." And we believe him.
'Stormy weather' flirts with the kind of omnious doom The Jesus and Mary Chain use” – NME
Standout Track: Velouria
Cocteau Twins – Heaven or Las Vegas
Release Date: 17th September, 1990
“Yet, a few words do stand out, primarily that title phrase: “Heaven or Las Vegas.” The Cocteau Twins’ music has always sounded otherworldly, and their many fans would certainly describe it—and rightly so—as heavenly.
But Las Vegas? It stands out as an odd, jarring reference. Their fantastical music would seem to brook nothing quite so earthly, so garish, so thisworldly as Sin City, which hauls unlikely baggage into “Heaven or Las Vegas”: gambling, corruption, tacky tourism, and cheesy crooning. But if we forget everything we know about the city and reduce Las Vegas to its atomic elements—millions upon billions of lights—perhaps we might see heaven in the radiance. This is essentially how the Cocteau Twins’ music works: Fraser’s voice doesn’t behave the way a pop singer’s voice typically behaves, nor does Guthrie’s guitar deliver the usual melody or rhythm. Along with bass player/keyboardist Simon Raymonde, whose contributions shouldn’t be discounted, they found new ways to use old instruments in the 1980s, in the process devising a unique and wholly beguiling sound” – Pitchfork
Standout Track: Pitch the Baby
Paul Simon – The Rhythm of the Saints
Release Date: 16th October, 1990
Label: Warner Bros.
“Each new cut comes as a surprise. The first song, ”The Obvious Child,” begins with confident drums that resound with special exuberant zing because they were recorded outdoors in a resonant city square in Salvador, Brazil. Then, at the start of the second song, ”Can’t Run But,” there’s a change of emotional weather; the drumming yields to a nervous patter of marimba and percussion. Later tracks are suffused with the liquid melody of African guitar or explode with bursts of soul-music horns, vividly etched against a prancing African beat. One buoyant song, ”Proof,” also has an introspective side, and dissolves into an interlude so high and timid it seems barely able to stand on its own. Yet somehow it does.
Simon’s voice, meanwhile, floats over everything, sounding both calm and earnest, eager and detached. It’s the voice of a man who endures the workaday world of achievement and suffering but longs in his heart for perfect peace” – Entertainment Weekly
Standout Track: The Obvious Child
Sonic Youth – Goo
Release Date: 26th June, 1990
“The answer, of course, is to make the record an elaborate joke on the idea of making a commercial record, a hermetic, album-length parody that's the equivalent of putting those waggling-finger quotation marks around the whole thing.
The songs revolve around catchy, nonsensical choruses--things like "My friend Goo / Just says, 'P.U.' " or "I don't wanna / I don't think so"--that stick with you as insistently as anything ABBA ever came up with. Great swaths of dissonant guitar noise move the way radio hooks are supposed to, and they become radio hooks themselves. There's always a beat to grab on to, sometimes tribal, sometimes poppy, but always danceable, and "Goo" rocks as hard as Mudhoney, while working on about half a dozen more levels. Call "Goo" the "Exile on Main Street" of the snide generation” – Los Angeles Times
Standout Track: Kool Thing
Deee-Lite – World Clique
Release Date: 7th August, 1990
“Groove Is in the Heart" defined the summer of 1990 on radio and MTV with its delicious combination of funk, modern dance sheen, and Lady Miss Kier's smart, sharp diva ways. Add in guest vocals and bass from Bootsy Collins (a pity his hilarious video cameo wasn't represented here), brass from the original Horny Horns duo of Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker, and a smooth mid-song rap from A Tribe Called Quest's Q-Tip, and the results sounded good then and now. The rest of World Clique offers variations on the song's theme, with Kier's sweet, light vocals and DJs Dimitri and Towa Tei making it work in various ways. It's still a bit surprising that Kier didn't go on to greater fame on her own, because she definitely has not merely the pipes but the personality to carry something on her own -- compared to the dog-whistle vocal calisthenics of someone like Mariah Carey, there's no contest. Check out her work on songs like "Good Beat" and the amusing sass of such numbers as "Try Me on, I'm Very You." The two musicians come up with a seamless, adept flow throughout, merrily raiding whatever they so choose in the past for their own purposes. Disco is the heart of it all, with everything from hip-hop breaks to bubble-salsa piano -- even early Depeche Mode! -- taking a bow; hints of the future genre-mashing Towa Tei would make his own trademark are already plentiful. Bootsy and the Horny Horns crop up at other points as well, adding just enough classic funk to blend with the crisper electronic pulses and arrangements” – AllMusic
Standout Track: Groove Is in the Heart
Public Enemy – Fear of a Black Planet
Release Date: 10th April, 1990
Labels: Def Jam/Columbia
“Fear of a Black Planet from 1990 made kindling of the previous summer’s anti-Public Enemy sentiment, quoting the group’s biggest critics in interludes and ribbing them in the songs. “Contract on the World Love Jam” weaves negative news reports into a scene-setting intro; later “Incident at 66.6 FM” sets outraged calls from a Chuck D squareoff with New York political radio host Alan Colmes over sedate keys and drums, playing the grumps for squares without even responding to their charges. A late album Terminator X showcase snarkily titled “Leave This Off Your Fuckin Charts” is a tenacious dare. Elsewhere, Fear pulls the camera off P.E. to speak to community issues. “Anti-Nigger Machine” and “Who Stole the Soul?” levied heavy accusations of censorship while “911 Is a Joke” explored black community police mistrust and “Fear of a Black Planet” tackled apprehension about interracial dating. Sourcing Public Enemy’s media struggles back to age-old racial strife was a brash, heavy-handed play, but Fear’s genius trick was coating its righteous rage in music that aimed to groove where earlier songs seemed to want to maim” – Pitchfork
Standout Track: 911 Is a Joke
Eric B. & Rakim – Let the Rhythm Hit ’Em
Release Date: 19th June, 1990
Label: MCA Records
“Eric B. mixes beats and snatches of melody with a be-bop drummer’s sure, steadily swinging hand; he’s the Max Roach of the twin turntables. Listen to how he echoes and comments on Rakim’s lines throughout “Keep ‘Em Eager to Listen” without ever stopping the groove. And on “Untouchables” these two take hip-hop straight to the astral plane. Whether scratching up the late-Sixties sound of freedom jazz or matching a walking acoustic bass and a wailing trumpet to the call of the funky drummer, this bold attempt at cross-generational fusion says more about the Afro-American cultural continuum than a truckload of medallions and dashikis. A lot of rappers talk about “dropping science” these days; Eric B. and Rakim just do it” – Rolling Stone
Standout Track: Run for Cover
The Breeders – Pod
Release Date: 29th May, 1990
Labels: 4AD, Elektra Records
“Though the album doesn't feature as many of Donelly's contributions as was originally planned -- which was part of the reason she formed Belly a few years later -- songs like "Iris" and "Lime House" blend the best of the Pixies' elliptical punk and the Muses' angular pop. Pod reaffirms what a distinctive songwriter Deal is, and how much the Pixies missed out on by not including more of her material on their albums. With their unusual subjects -- "Hellbound" is about a living abortion -- and quirky-but-direct sound, songs like "Opened" and "When I Was a Painter" could have easily fit on Doolittle or Bossanova. But the spare, sensual "Doe," "Fortunately Gone," and "Only in Threes" are more lighthearted and good-natured than the work of Deal's other band, pointing the way to the sexy, clever alternative pop she'd craft on Last Splash. A vibrantly creative debut, Pod remains the Breeders' most genuine moment” – AllMusic
Standout Track: Glorious
Depeche Mode – Violator
Release Date: 19th March, 1990
“Then "Enjoy the Silence," a nothing-else-remains-but-us ballad pumped up into a huge, dramatic romance/dance number, commanding in its mock orchestral/choir scope. Follow-up single "Policy of Truth" did just fine as well, a low-key Motown funk number for the modern day with a sharp love/hate lyric to boot. To top it all off, the album itself scored on song after song, from the shuffling beat of "Sweetest Perfection" (well sung by Gore) and the ethereal "Waiting for the Night" to the guilt-ridden-and-loving-it "Halo" building into a string-swept pounder. "Clean" wraps up Violator on an eerie note, all ominous bass notes and odd atmospherics carrying the song. Goth without ever being stupidly hammy, synth without sounding like the clinical stereotype of synth music, rock without ever sounding like a "rock" band, Depeche here reach astounding heights indeed” – AllMusic
Standout Track: Enjoy the Silence