Saturday 15 August 2020

50 Albums For 50 Years - 1990 to 1999

 PART 3 - 1990 to 1999

The 90s marked some big shifts in life - Apprenticeship finished, I was now earning good money and no responsibilities,  Records and Gigs (and Beer) were the main expenses in the early part of the decade.
This spendthriftness ground to halt when (in relatively quick succession) I bought my first house, got married, and had my first child.
A second house and a second daughter soon followed.  Unfortunately, so did a second girlfriend, and a divorce.
Was it a golden decade?
I have carefree memories of the early years, most of the later years I was up to my eyeballs in debt and dirty nappies, and the latter part spent living back at my parents.
I maybe didn't get the same depth of music in the 90s as perhaps I would've done in normal circumstances. I never really "got" grunge for example, but with loud guitars and anguished lyrics, I probably should've done.  And I sort of watched Britpop happen (certainly at the beginning), making do with those 'Shine' or 'Best Albums ... Ever' compilations.

1990 They Might Be Giants – Flood
They Might Be Giants mixed Indie with American Vaudeville, a dose of college intellect, and an element of the absurd,  and arrived at a pop formula so infectious they're hard to ignore.
This album arrived off the back of their first hit single - 'Birdhouse In Your Soul', and almost makes music produced on an accordion cool.
The album has no distinct style or genre - oompah, 70s power pop, Country and Western, a story of life  death from the perspective of a vegetable on a Supermarket shelf, even samples of a self-improvement tape - rather throwing all the elements at it.  Every track is different in approach, yet all part of the bizarre whole that is "They Might Be Giants brand new album ... Flood" (as the intro track tells us)

1991 Carter USM – 30 Something
When an album opens with a sample from Red Dwarf, there is no way the following 40 minutes can be bad.  OK, the stories unfolded on this album are from the down on their luck grimy side of South London, but all delivered with great gusto and a dash of humour in the lyrics and wordplay.
Sometimes derided at the time for "every song sounds the same" and "it's just two blokes and a drum machine", but I don't recall much doubt being thrown at Echo & The Bunnymen of The Sisters Of Mercy and their electronic percussionist.
Their moment at the top may have been brief, but they were instrumental in popularising the Long Sleeve T-Shirt and baggy shorts look.

1992 Levellers – Levelling The Land
After the Grebo came the New Age Hippy.  A band of unkempt looking hordes with an eye on the environment, Vegan diets and living in Volkswagen Camper Vans.  The acoustic guitar was brought to the fore, primarily because it was easier to bring to the Twyford Down campfire than a Grand Piano or a Tuba.  Mixing the energy of Punk, New Wave and Indie with the acoustic-ness of Folk, The Levellers brought a slightly cerebral, slightly historic tone to this collection mixing anger, protest, and wistfulness.  Great album, but I can't help wondering what a low point 1992 must've been.  There weer many other albums that year, but not many with a British accent.

1993 Blur – Modern Life Is Rubbish
"Music without a British accent" - here comes Blur to rectify that.
By all accounts Blur were at something of a low in 1992 - their debut album had sold relatively well, but their stock was low, the debts were high, and the US tour had failed.
Back to the drawing board then, and produce a collection of songs to invoke a home land forgotten, and a style with a cleaner edge than the collection of Grebos, Hippies, and Grungers doing the rounds.
Where did Britpop start? this album is very likely to be the early rumblings, followed soon enough by Suede, Blur's own "Popscene" and a rabid press draping everything in Union Jacks.
The baggy sound of their debut album never really suited Blur, this was closer to the band, and a formula they stuck to and refined for the next album (a little thing called 'Parklife')

1994 Oasis – Definitely Maybe
Three things (apparently) popular in the early 90s: Football, drinking and swearing - Oasis were connected with all 3 (certainly the last 2) - they may have had the image, but they also had the songs.
Big, brash, anthemic, an almost perfect mix of new and old in each chord change.
OK, there may have been nothing new or particularly clever about Oasis's music, but it doesn't need to be.  It just is.  It's not trying to pass a message, propose a philosophy, or even invent a genre.
The press managed that, Oasis just got on with doing what they do best - grinding out the tunes and placing relatable lyrics over the top.  Granted there was a lessening in Quality Control as time went on, but when you play Side 1, Track 1 and hear "Tonight, I'm a Rock n Roll Star" - Yes you are, and do you know what.  You're just an ordinary looking bloke, so I could be too.

1995 Paul Weller - Stanley Road
After The Style Council's demise in 1989, Paul Weller fell out of public view, until the relatively low key return as the Paul Weller Movement in 1991.  And then came his first solo album proper ('Paul Weller') in 1992 - a mix of soulful jazz combining with Traffic and bits of 60s psychadelia, and a little bit of bite in places.  He followed this with the pastoral 'Wild Wood' in 1993.
With renewed confidence, and many citations as an influence, this 1995 outing sat seamlessly in the Britpop oeuvre (right down to the Peter Blake designed cover).  This album cemented his place in history, and allowed him to explore whichever avenue he fancied for the next 15 years (and hopefully more to come).  The Changingman indeed

1996 Ocean Colour Scene – Moseley Shoals
Britpop gave rise to a mini-Mod Revival, as can be seen by Blur's 'Modern Life Is Rubbish', the sharp look of Oasis (at least in the early days) and the scooters in the inner cover of 'Definitely Maybe'.  Paul Weller became recognised as the leading influence, and hence christened The Modfather.
And this lot had the look and the sound, and support from Weller and Noel Gallagher added to the equation.
They floundered in their early days - their first album being a sort of sub-Madchester affair with little redeeming features.  This one though was an entirely different affair.  Their profile raised a couple of notches by having "The Riverboat Song" used in TFI Friday, but unlike many of Chris Evans' enthusiasms, this band had some deeper substance.

1997 Stereophonics – Word Gets Around
Rasping vocals and guitar and drum at full attack - it's a fine debut.  But it's not all full pelt, The Stereophonics were also capable of lighter moments as the slower paced "Traffic" proves.
In truth, this album's tone is primarily the view of an insider stuck in a small town looking for an escape route. "More Life in a Tramps Vest" and "Local Boy in the Photograph" capture this frustration.  And there are moments when they sound ready to explode on a larger stage.  They would do soon, but personally I think they ran out of real inspiration (save for the odd song) halfway through their second album.  This one though is a stormer from 0:00 to 42:02

1998 David Gray - White Ladder
I've done the Heavy Metal "Turn it up to 11" bit,  I've gone backwards and discovered the Beatles and a wealth of Classic Rock.  Bit of Mod?  The Who and The Jam will cover that.  And I lived through (albeit on the edges) of New Laddism and Britpop.  So why is this near-MOR album my choice?
Because it's a bloody good album, that's why.  It's not challenging, it's not demanding, it's just 40 odd minutes of soothing and relaxing.  It really is an exercise in synergy - the whole of this album is greater than the sum of it's parts suggests.
And it convinced me to buy a copy of Van Morrison's 'Astral Weeks'.  Is that a good thing?

1999 Blur – 13
From Baggy also rans to Britpop leaders, Blur's rise was probably unexpected.  What was also unexpected was the way they confounded expectations by not merely following the formula with 1995s 'Great Escape', but effectively leaving Britpop behind.
1997s 'Blur' was another re-invention - even with the single "Beetlebum" going to Number 1 and the album doing the same, it looked like Blur's star was fading.
2 years later. '13' marked another change in sound, but this time not an easy one to pigeon-hole.  This was Blur sounding like Blur.  The songs here are some of the strongest - and most personal in the case of 'Tender' and certainly 'No Distance Left To Run'.  They really sound closer and tighter as a band, even if personal relationships and tensions in the band were at their height (culminating in Graham Coxon's eventual departure)

And that's my summary of the 90s  - as Blur suggest in that last track:"Come on, Come on.  Get through it"
And I did ...


  1. I loved most of the albums you selected here... with one obvious exception. ;-) White Ladder was OK too, if a bit weighed down by Babylon, which none of the other tracks could quite compete with. I'm glad to see Moseley Shoals feature. It wouldn't be my favourite record of 96, but it would certainly be in the Top Ten.

  2. Three great albums in there; one I'd run back into a burning building for.

    1. Which one John?
      13 would be the essential for me

    2. As good as Stanley Road and Definitely Maybe are, and they are, they both absolutely pale into insignificance when placed on the same podium as Moseley Shoals. I can't believe how good this album still sounds today; it is staggeringly brilliant. A new hidden gem and delight to be found around every corner. Even now.

  3. Sometime back in the day, the late lamented Q magazine did some kind of "best X albums of Y" feature, and a parallel competition for readers to pen 250 words about an album they thought should be added to the list. I submitted an entry for Modern Life is Rubbish, the gist of my 250 words being that rarely had the sound of a band reinventing themselves been so good.

    I didn't win. Terrific album though.