Every decade has its own motifs when it comes to rock and roll. Whereas synth-pop, hair metal, and MTV-inspired excess dominated in the '80s, the '90s saw the rise of grunge, techno and a renewed interest in classic rock. The death of Kurt Cobain cast a pall, but groups such as Green Day, Oasis and Radiohead were there to pick up the torch. Below are 10 albums that represent the best of that period.
Debut albums rarely come as fully formed and confident as this one. From the brash opening chords of "Rock 'n' Roll Star" to the sublime "Live Forever," Definitely Maybe espoused the British rock tradition of mixing great songwriting with a snarling attitude. Noel Gallagher's guitar burns with a passion that lifts his brother's vocals to places it otherwise may never have gone.
It's not far-fetched to say that Radiohead's OK Computer was to the '90s what Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon was to the '70s. Sonically ambitious (frontman Thom Yorke told Q magazine the band took "the incredibly dense and terrifying sound" of Miles Davis's Bitches Brew as its starting point), the album also sported themes that ranged from technology gone awry to the encroaching alienation that stems from modern life. Jonny Greenwood's guitar, a near-constant throughout the album, was versatile beyond measure.
The term "grunge" hardly does justice to the brilliance that emanated from this landmark album. Blending a roaring, punk-inspired sound with a sense of pristine pop melody, Nirvana came off as a simmering concoction made from '80s rousers like The Replacements and The Buzzcocks, mixed with classic '70s guitar-pop bands like Alice Cooper. Kurt Cobain's guitar work was both serrated and elegant, and was filled with light and dark textures.
Though it seems to have fallen off the radar, The Black Crowes' debut album sounds as exhilarating today as it did 20 years ago. Rich Robinson's open-G guitar licks, paired with his brother Chris Robinson's white-boy blues rasp, yielded a triumphant mix of southern gospel, Stax-tinged R&B, and southern-flavored blues rock. No band distilled the essence of The Rolling Stones and Faces as effectively as the Crowes did.
PJ Harvey's third album saw her unleash all the psycho-sexual demons that had been rattling the cages of her previous work. Often employing little more than a skeletal blues riff and a dirge-like organ figure, the Dorset, England native created an ambiance laden with foreboding and tension. Engulfed in a molten, over-amped sound, Harvey sang as if her life hung in the balance, wedding the carnal-spiritual themes of the blues to the experimental inclinations of big-city rockers like the Velvet Underground.
It's not hard to understand why many view Parklife as a crash course in the history of British pop-rock. Despite its crazy-quilt synthesis of '70s-style new wave, mod-inspired nuggets, Syd Barrett-like psychedelia, and alternative power pop, the album came off as seamless and spectacularly self-assured. Graham Coxon's brilliant guitar lines punctuated melodies that, when heard today, bring to mind traditions first set forth by the likes of The Kinks, The Jam and The Who.
Neil Young kickstarted the '90s with his most raucously spirited album since his 1975 effort, Zuma. With veteran cohorts Crazy Horse in tow, Young offered up shards of guitar distortion that in the end became a thing of beauty. Several extended six-string moments most notably those on "Love To Burn" and "Love And Only Love" reached celestial heights. Small wonder the then-nascent grunge bands considered Young a hero.
Following up the monumentally successful Appetite For Destruction was no mean feat, but Guns N' Roses pulled it off nicely with their two Illusion volumes. I gets a slight nod over II, mainly because Slash and Izzy Stradlin adhere more closely to the band's original hard rock aesthetic. Some have lambasted tracks like "November Rain" and "Coma" as being overblown, but Slash's soaring solos were as good as ever.
Lots of male artists have tried to channel John Lennon, but with this under-appreciated album, Sam Phillips outdid them all. Rife with classic-worthy pop melodies, swirling psychedelic arrangements, and topical (though never preachy) lyrical themes, Martinis And Bikinis is, simply put, a masterpiece. By turns harrowing, touching and indignant, Phillips's songs dazzle, and T-Bone Burnett's guitar-work (he was Phillips's husband at the time) has never been better.
In a better world, this 1991 disc would have propelled Teenage Fanclub into the superstar stratosphere. Couching broken-glass lyrics in pristinely crafted pop songs, the British band evoked such melody maestros as Big Star, The Hollies and Badfinger. As was often the case with Big Star's Alex Chilton, Fanclub guitarist Norman Blake employed an ES-335 as his go-to guitar.
Thanks for the report to Russell Hall, Gibson.com