The Best CDs of the 1990s
Below is my Best CDs of the 1990s list. I never kidded myself for a second that I could produce a definitive review – if I can’t even convince myself that the list is as good as I’d like it, I can hardly fault others for disagreeing here and there, can I?
In the end I wound up deciding on a Top 25 list, and I also offered comments on 25 more honorable mentions. The whole thing, top to bottom, is something like 10 pages worth of reviewing, analysis, and self-defense. I even employed multiple methodologies. First, I tried laying it out by a “connoisseurship” model – that is, I made my own estimates based on my own sense of how things qualitatively met the criteria I established for the project. Then I played a little game where I weighted each criterion and then rated each entry mathematically, thereby generating a quantitative estimate. This had the effect of making me seriously reconsider my initial rankings (for instance, it forced me to give Pearl Jam more credit than I really wanted to – see below for more on that).
Then I sent the list to some friends whose opinions I respect and invited criticism (which I got, in spades – thanks, Greg). That forced some more noodling. Then I set about writing and justifying my picks, and that ALSO led to some revision (if I have a hard time justifying its place in the Top 25, that could mean I’m over-relying on my “like” reflex).
Anyway, I spent some time on it. I figure that even if people think my picks are nuts, at least they can’t call me lazy.
One last note. This list is what I’ll call “artist-centric.” I have always resisted the one-hit-wondermongering of corporate radio, believing that we’re better served by focusing on the longer and deeper contexts of artists who have proven to have some longevity. I’ve said a number of times that if I were to become a radio programmer I would never play a one-hit wonder – if the artist can’t generate at least two or three things worthy of airplay we should play something else instead.
For this reason, the Top 25 + 25 here features 50 different artists, even though I could easily have made a case for multiple entries by some artists.
So, with this all said, here’s my Best of the 1990s. A brief list of who’s included is followed by explanations and details.
Nirvana – Nevermind : U2 – Achtung, Baby! : REM – Automatic for the People : Sarah McLachlan – Fumbling Toward Ecstasy : Tori Amos – Little Earthquakes : White Zombie – Astro Creep: 2000 : Catherine Wheel – Ferment : Pearl Jam – Ten : Liz Phair – Exile in Guyville : Green Day – Dookie : Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral : Peter Gabriel – Us : The Verve – Storm in Heaven : Godspeed You Black Emperor! – F#A#Infinity : World Party – Goodbye Jumbo : Graham Parker – The Last Rock ‘n’ Roll Tour : Lush – Lovelife : Sugar – Copper Blue : Metallica – Metallica : Bad Religion – Recipe for Hate : Fish – Sunsets on Empire : Delerium – Karma : Apples (in Stereo) – Funtricknoisemaker : Garbage – Garbage : Van Morrison – Hymns to the Silence
1. Nirvana, Nevermind (1991)
I’ve actually heard a couple of famous hairspray metal bands from the late ‘80s say that Nirvana killed their careers, and for this we’re eternally grateful. I won’t engage in too much “voice of a generation” hyperbole about Kurt Cobain, but this much seems clear: he was a (the?) central figure in one of the decade’s major musical transformations and looking back across the years it’s hard to identify any single artist whose arc better reflected the decade’s hip dip into the pre-Millennial darkness. His music itself – a boot in the teeth for an American musical scene grown stale waiting for the next big thing – helped open the door for bands like Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Stone Temple Pilots and Soundgarden, each of whom would make their own significant contributions to the soundtrack of the decade. While Cobain’s suicide was perhaps stupid and contagious, it provided a tragic symmetry that makes perfect sense in retrospect.
2. U2, Achtung, Baby! (1991)
By the end of the 1980s U2 felt it had exhausted the creative possibilities of its “old” sound, a conviction that resulted in the much-hated Rattle & Hum (but what do I know? – I LIKED R&H). When that journey failed to produce a fresh direction for the band they almost called it quits. But in giving it one more try they tripped across a big new sound and successfully remade themselves into the brilliantly ironic anti-U2 of ZooTV fame (which still stands as the best concert I have ever seen, by the way). Achtung, Baby! struck many as a sell-out, a renunciation of the political fervency that propelled the band to glory a decade earlier, but nothing could have been further from the truth. The values were still there, but they had turned inward in a sometimes scathing process of self-examination – Bono and company were all too aware of how big they had gotten and they were clearly disturbed by how little their “new” (Joshua Tree) audience understood about the media culture that had spawned them all. So they embraced the misperception and confronted the industry, the media hype, the image from the inside. Perhaps some critics would have been more satisfied if they had donated all their money to Greenpeace and launched a quiet little acoustic coffeehouse tour instead, but a close reading of Achtung, Baby! and the ZooTV tour will reveal it for a brutal and ironic critique of Big Music, Inc. And unlike some others who badmouthed the establishment, at least U2 had the decency to admit their part in it. Love them or hate them, but give them credit for being willing to walk away before becoming a stale derivative milking the old formula for all it was worth.
3. REM, Automatic for the People (1992)
Prior to releasing Automatic REM had slipped into the doldrums and fans had reason to wonder if they’d ever emerge again. Green and Out of Time had been lackluster efforts despite the commercial success of songs like “Stand,” “Shiny Happy People,” and their biggest hit to date, “Losing My Religion.” But on AftP the band left their comparatively up mood behind and waded unafraid into the darkness. The disc is most remarkable for the wrenching beauty it finds in aging, pain, death and loneliness, as songs like “Everybody Hurts” and “Drive” lure the listener into a melancholy catharsis of release and affirmation. “Nightswimming” is simply one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard, and the video for “Man on the Moon” is as profound a celebration of ordinary people as we are like to see. I’m still not sure I think Automatic is a better effort than Reckoning, but it’s easily the best thing since.
4. Sarah McLachlan, Fumbling Toward Ecstasy (1994)
One of the most important themes of the decade is the increased autonomy of female performers. While women still don’t have the power they should have, their standing in the industry is substantially better than what it was ten years ago, and Sarah McLachlan deserves significant credit. Fumbling was the CD that took her career over the top and which provided her the platform from which to launch the Lilith Fair project, which helped dozens of female artists reach out to a larger audience than they could have found otherwise. And the CD itself would be worthy of inclusion here on its own merits (especially if we factor in The Freedom Sessions, a marvelous extension of Fumbling). McLachlan’s music is deceptively sweet, but there’s an uneasy darkness in songs like “Possession,” which many radio listeners took for a passionate love song. It’s not. And of course it helps to have a voice like hers, too – McLachlan is one of the most emotive and intuitive vocalists performing today, and she could probably melt an audience singing a note to the power company.
5. Tori Amos, Little Earthquakes (1991)
If McLachlan constructed a stage for women in the ‘90s, Tori Amos built a confessional. Spare and haunting, her music helped create a much needed safe space for the popular examination of dirty little secrets like rape and domestic abuse. Little Earthquakes, her breakthrough CD, wasn’t much concerned in soothing or comforting the listener, especially in songs like the confrontational a capella rendition of “Me and a Gun,” which recounted her own real-life rape. Amos made it personal – she gave rape a name and a face and a voice that were far more difficult to ignore than the “objective” stories and statistics her listeners saw in their newspapers. A number of artists followed her lead (with varying levels of honesty, credibility and commercial success, admittedly) and in doing so cemented her status as one of the most influential figures of the decade.
6. White Zombie, Astro Creep: 2000 (1995)
Metal was in crisis early in the decade: hairspray was dead, Metallica’s most innovative days were behind them, and rebellious rage had been appropriated by industrial artists like Nine Inch Nails. Enter White Zombie. The band helped revise metal for the ‘90s by importing rawer grunge sensibilities and hip-hop/techno-minded sampling and sequencing techniques, but they did so without sacrificing the genre’s fun side. After the success of La Sexorcisto: Devil Music, Vol. 1, some critics accused the band of playing it safe on Astro Creep, which was dismissed as camp and placed alongside other famous “tongue-in-cheek heavy metal bands” like Alice Cooper and Kiss (All-Music Guide). But that’s too simplistic. Sure, Rob Zombie loves comic-book horror, but Astro Creep: 2000 played with deeper themes, focusing on the role of technology in the dehumanization (posthumanization?) of the culture. Without presuming too much about what Zombie was thinking, it seems that “Electric Head” is a manifestation of what Andrew Ross has termed the “technocolonization” of the human body: the cyberpunk classic Blade Runner is referenced directly (“I am the Nexus One/I want more life fucker/I ain’t done”) and the landscape of the horror depicted is technological, not fantastic. While it’s unlikely Zombie intended Astro Creep as a treatise on the subject, we shouldn’t dismiss these themes too quickly.
7. Catherine Wheel, Ferment (1992)
Maybe it’s just me, but the single most innovative and interesting development of the 1990s was the emergence of “dreampop” (or “shoegazing,” as some prefer to call it), an atmospheric pop/rock style that relies heavily on sonic textures and ethereal melodies (and which usually eschews synthesizers in favor of processed and distorted guitars). Ferment, the debut CD from Britain’s Catherine Wheel, stands as one of the landmarks of the genre, and has been especially important for subsequent bands working the “noisy” side of the dreampop street (other bands, such as Lush and Cocteau Twins, are far less dissonant in their approach). While “Black Metallic” received minor airplay in the U.S., the release garnered the band a solid following in the U.K. For the record, this is one of those cases where I was really torn – a lot of people would argue that the follow-up, Chrome, was better, and I could also make a case for their most recent (Adam and Eve), but in the end it was the breakthrough/innovative consideration that moved me toward Ferment for this list.
8. Pearl Jam, Ten (1991)
I’ve never seen a band devote so much energy to avoiding greatness. Ten was brilliant by any standard, but Pearl Jam’s subsequent work has been a masturbatory crusade of pointlessness. Still, no matter what I might think of their more recent work, the simple fact is that their debut succeeded as a great rock album in its own right, and it exerted a powerful influence on that which followed. It’s hard to imagine how different the 1990s might have been musically without the one-two punch of Nevermind and Ten.
9. Liz Phair, Exile in Guyville (1993)
I suspect that 20 years from now we’ll look back and conclude that Phair’s third CD, whitechocolatespaceegg (1998) was her best effort of the ‘90s. However, Exile (allegedly a track-by-track rebuttal to the Rolling Stones’ classic Exile on Main Street) was a breakout indie-rock success that set the critics a-gushing and struck yet another blow for women artists struggling to gain autonomy in the recording industry. It was also a strong moral boost for independent labels. As the big labels grew less and less concerned with developing new talent, indies like Matador (which has released all three of Phair’s CDs to date) became ever more important for younger artists, especially those who showed too little commercial promise to interest the majors.
10. Green Day, Dookie (1994)
Although Punk never really went away, Green Day led a major comeback for the style in the middle of the decade. They weren’t doing anything especially new or complicated (if you think about it, no punk band ever did anything new or complicated), but strong songwriting and entertaining performances added up to huge commercial success, and in the process opened the door for more critic-friendly artists like Rancid. Of course, Green Day was accused of selling out and of not being “real punk” by lots of self-serious types who apparently never paid any attention to The Ramones or Sex Pistols. In a lively Denver concert, Billie Joe came clean: “We’re not punk rockers. We do melodic California pop.”
11. Nine Inch Nails, The Downward Spiral (1994)
The Downward Spiral probably won’t be remembered as Trent Reznor’s best work – that distinction will be reserved for 1989’s Pretty Hate Machine – but it was nonetheless a substantial achievement. While it was less aggressive (and dare I say more reflective?) than PHM, it was no less dark or intense, and if self-loathing and nihilism can be more mature, that’s what Spiral was.
12. Peter Gabriel, Us (1992)
PG spent most of the decade focusing on his record label, which is devoted to promoting “World Music,” but he did manage to find the time to record Us, an up-close study of the dynamics of love and sex. Its thematic unity and depth is striking, and the songs are often suffused with the kind of good-natured humor we usually find present in successful relationships. Us isn’t Gabriel’s greatest album – that would be his third self-titled (“Games Without Frontiers”) – or his most commercially successful (So), but he’s so essentially brilliant that even his average efforts are better than most artists’ best.
13. The Verve, Storm in Heaven (1993)
The hugely successful Urban Hymns (1997) is regarded as The Verve’s highwater mark, but on SiH we see a far more interesting and innovative band producing perhaps the decade’s single best-kept secret (at least in the U.S.) Whereas Hymns has much in common with Brit-Pop acts like Radiohead and Oasis, SiH owed more to shoegazing pioneers My Bloody Valentine. Somehow it manages to be big, loud and dissonant at the same time it’s dreamy and melodic. When I did my Best of 1997 list I admitted that I’d probably have rated Urban Hymns a lot higher if I’d never heard Storm in Heaven. That’s still true.
14. Godspeed You Black Emperor!, F#A#Infinity (1999)
It’s hard to explain Godspeed You Black Emperor! The All-Music Guide says they’re “as much avant-classical as they are rock & roll, and the band has a achieved a true synthesis of the two forms, expanding them to new boundaries”; that’s as good a description as any, I guess. F#A#Infinity paints a bleak picture of our culture as postapocalyptic landscape – a spoken-word segment says, “We are trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death.” With luck this will become one of the most influential works of the next ten years.
15. World Party, Goodbye Jumbo (1990)
Karl Wallinger’s sense of rock’s history is never more evident than on Goodbye Jumbo, which playfully plunders and juxtaposes artists as diverse as John Lennon and Supertramp, Queen and Prince, ELO and the Marvellettes, weaving it all into a clever and challenging comment on everything from social activism to personal loss. Some day I’d like to hand a copy of the CD to a rock history class and tell them that their final exam assignment is to identify every musical and lyrical reference on it. This was my #1 for 1990.
16. Graham Parker, The Last Rock ‘n’ Roll Tour (1997)
Most icons of the British New Wave did their best work in the late ‘70s, but Graham Parker has been the most notable exception. While CDs like Struck by Lightning (1991) acknowledged that he wasn’t a kid anymore (“and the words came out/Not twist and shout/’Cause that’s not what a grown man writes about”), Parker managed to maintain the edge that powered early successes like Howlin’ Wind and Squeezing Out Sparks. On the 1997 Acid Bubblegum tour Parker was backed by The Figgs, and the results were stunning. As good as Parker’s studio work can be, nothing quite matches the verve of his live shows. This CD is a must-own.
17. Lush, Lovelife (1996)
Lush produced four full-length CDs this decade, and I could have made a case for including three of them in this list. In a sense they always seemed to be two different bands – one a pure practitioner of Cocteau Twins-style dreampop, the other a more straight-ahead Power Pop combo (put another way, they alternated between the “dream” and the “pop” moreso than any of their shoegazing contemporaries). I settled on Lovelife because this was where the pop side was most fully realized (“Ladykillers,” a hilarious slam at meat-market pick-up artists, is one of the finest singles of the decade). Lovelife was Lush’s last studio release (the band split after drummer Chris Acland’s 1996 suicide).
18. Enigma, MCMXC A.D. (1990)
This disc first gained attention for its seductive fusion of Gregorian chants and dance music. However, its greatest strength lies in the unity of its narrative, which brilliantly traces a spiritual path from sexual degeneracy (“Sadeness”) through responsibility (“Mea Culpa”) and finally into redemption (“The Rivers of Belief”). That this can be accomplished so powerfully primarily through sampling techniques makes it all the more remarkable.
19. Metallica, Metallica (1991)
Most of the band’s pioneering moments were behind them by the turn of the decade, and “The Black Album” doesn’t do a lot in the way of innovation. Instead, they worked on developing shorter, simpler, more conventional song structures and largely parted ways with their speed metal past. The mainstream was impressed, to the tune of over seven million copies in the U.S. alone. Some might have smelled a sell-out, but the sheer quality of the songs and performances short-circuited most criticism. Sadly, Metallica’s subsequent efforts failed on both commercial and artistic criteria.
20. Bad Religion, Recipe for Hate (1993)
While Green Day was having fun with Punk, Bad Religion was taking a more serious and socially-aware approach, using the genre to lash out against all the usual suspects. Recipe landed especially hard on organized religion as the wicked-yet-catchy “American Jesus” even scored airtime on MTV.
21. Fish, Sunsets on Empire (1997)
Progressive (Prog-Rock) might be a dead issue for all but its cult followers, but that hasn’t stopped former the Marillion frontman from producing a series of vital and intelligent CDs. Sunsets is almost disturbing in its willingness to question conventional wisdom – the horrors of war and life on the fringe become personal, denying the listener an easy retreat into political correctness.
22. Delerium, Karma (1997)
Delerium is one of several aliases under which the highly prolific Bill Leeb and Rhys Fulber (Frontline Assembly, Intermix, Synaesthesia, Noise Unit) operate. These projects exhibit none of the aggressiveness of the duo’s better-known Frontline Assembly CDs, instead relying on lush techno/ambient soundscapes and trance-influenced rhythms. Karma features guest vocals from Sarah McLachlan, Jacqui Hunt from Single Gun Theory, Kirsty Thirsk of Rose Chronicles and Lisa Gerrard of Dead Can Dance. The McLachlan track (“Silence”) makes me long for an extended collaboration with Leeb and Fulber.
23. The Apples (in Stereo), Funtricknoisemaker (1995)
Power Pop, the seemingly forgotten style pioneered by The Beatles, Badfinger, Raspberries and Big Star, made a major comeback in the ‘90s. While the renaissance took many forms, the lo-fi approach of the Elephant 6 circle (Apples, Neutral Milk Hotel, Olivia Tremor Control, Dressy Bessy) and the huge L.A. pop underground (an ever-shifting scene comprising literally dozens of bands) seemed to garner the greatest critical praise. Funtricknoisemaker, the first full-length effort from Denver’s Apples, is a joyous, slightly campy hook-fest that recalls the early days of The Beatles, but avoids the derivativeness that characterizes many of the genre’s lesser talents.
24. Garbage, Garbage (1995)
Before Garbage Butch Vig was famous mostly as the brilliant producer behind Smashing Pumpkins, Sonic Youth, and Nirvana, but when he found Shirley Manson his newly-formed band really clicked (despite the fact that Manson’s creative input was limited by her late arrival on the scene). You can tell that there are a lot of producers involved in the project – the sound is unusually slick (and stands in stark contrast to the comparative rawness of Vig’s work with Nirvana), but the polish is offset by a driving sonic depth that distinguishes Garbage from its “alternative” contemporaries. The star of the show is clearly Manson, a natural frontwoman whose versatile voice and dynamic presence recall Janis Joplin and a young Grace Slick.
25. Van Morrison, Hymns to the Silence (1991)
Some critics thought Hymns was too sprawling and self-indulgent for its own good, but there’s a compelling power in its spiritual exploration. For starters, the CD is best appreciated not as a rock album, but as a meditation. Morrison longs for a simpler time, remembering the “days before rock and roll” with a dreamy nostalgia. Even if the memories are a bit rose-tinged, Hymns to the Silence nonetheless draw us into a safe harbor of reflection. By any standard, it’s the best CD of the decade for one of the greatest artists of our time.
In alphabetical order:
Aimee Mann, Whatever
Superbly written and beautifully executed. Mann, the former front for ‘Til Tuesday, overcame the death-kiss of the “critically-acclaimed singer-songwriter” label and enjoyed modest commercial success with this release.
Alice in Chains, Jar of Flies
Dirt would be the choice of most critics, and it’s especially hard to accord even honorable mention status on what was essentially an EP, but this 7-track set represents the band’s best-realized creative moment.
Big Head Todd & the Monsters, Sister Sweetly
Breakout CD for Boulder-based Blues Rock trio. Subsequent work has been quite ambitious, but hasn’t matched either the popular or critical success of SS. BHTM is another one of those bands whose studio work will never quite capture the energy of the live show.
Blues Traveler, Four
A key figure in the rise of roots-rock (Americana, Trad Rock, Jam Rock, etc.) during the ‘90s, BT continued to feature superb musicianship by John Popper and Chan Kinchla. But for all the irony of “Hook,” the CD’s catchy backhand at commercial radio, BT proved to be at its best when focusing on tighter song constructions. The video for “Runaround” was one of the true high spots of the decade – that MTV played it proved either that they were stupid or that they thought their audience was. We probably shouldn’t rule out c) all of the above.
Cracker, Kerosene Hat
KH is the best overall of the four country- and blues-influenced CDs Cracker has released to date, and also represents the bands biggest popular success. One wonders if David Lowery might not be a bit too witty for his own good at times, though….
Tight, slightly off-center harmonies and intelligent songsmithing characterize Dada’s debut release. Each of their three subsequent releases have probably deserved a lot better critical and commercial treatment than they’ve received – while the band has yet to produce a knock-your-socks off masterpiece, their work is so consistently solid that you have to think it’s only a matter of time.
Death in Vegas, Dead Elvis
A pulsing Trip-Hop/Dub release from U.K club DJ Richard Fearless; the video for “Dirt” was one of the decade’s five best.
Eels, Electro-Shock Blues
This is one of the most gut-wrenching, dark, unwelcoming discs I’ve ever heard – frontman E uses the band’s second release to work out his grief over the tragic deaths of various friends and relatives. It manages a stark beauty, but requires a serious commitment from the listener. Those who give themselves over to it are treated to one of the real masterpieces of the decade.
The Figgs, Low-Fi at Society High
Neo-New Wave/Punk Pop that draws heavily on The Jam, Elvis Costello, and especially Graham Parker. In some respects the follow-up, Banda Macho, was more even and accomplished.
Gin Blossoms, New Miserable Experience
The Gin Blossoms were a key figure in the aforementioned Power Pop renaissance of the ‘90s – the huge success of NME demonstrated that there was, in fact, an audience interested in hooky guitar pop.
Indigo Girls, Nomads Indians Saints
This is the best of the duo’s 1990s offerings, although it doesn’t quite stand up to their eponymous 1989 release. They were critical figures in the ascendance of female artists during the decade, however, since they were already an established presence before people like McLachlan and Amos and Phair broke through.
L7, Hungry for Stink
Riot Grrl bands like L7, Bikini Kill, and Sleater-Kinney are too in-your-face to ever gain much mainstream attention (which is precisely how they like it, I’m sure), but L7 has achieved more notoriety than the rest, in part due to the mild popular success of “Andres” and “Stuck Here Again” from this CD. A lot of critics argue that Bricks are Heavy is the better effort.
Massive Attack, Mezzanine
Thanks to pioneers like Massive Attack Trip-Hop emerged as one of the more interesting sub-genres of techno. Mezzanine is packed with narcotic grooves, but it’s a little too tense to shove into the background – it both demands and rewards your attention, which is the standard by which the best ambient is judged.
Matthew Sweet, Girlfriend
This retro-70s-sounding disc, thanks largely to the radio success of the title track, helped fuel the comeback of Power Pop, although its production aesthetic provides a clear contrast with the lo-fi movement noted above.
Mono, Formica Blues
1998 found Trip-Hop moving in some odd directions, and bands like Mono and St. Etienne produced CDs that bordered on mid-1960s California soundtrack lounge pop (imagine a Herb Alpert comeback, if you will). This was the best of the lot, although St. Etienne’s Good Humor was also outstanding.
My Bloody Valentine, Loveless
A key influence on the development of dreampop, MBV helped pioneer the dissonant side of the genre.
New Order, Republic
Wrapping up an arc that began with the post-Punk/proto-Goth of Joy Division and peaked with the massive success of New Order’s Substance 1987 (which I think is still the best dance album ever), the group cranks out a thoughtful dance-pop disc that sounds fresh even as it remains true to the sound of Substance.
Radiohead, OK Computer
I’m still not sure I get Radiohead – it’s way too whiny to suit me – but in the end I have to acknowledge that just about everybody I know and trust thinks this CD was a masterwork.
Rancid, Let’s Go
This was real punk by any standard you wanted to use. Great Punk-Pop songs, lots of Clash-influenced playing, and an edge of seriousness which afforded them an aura of authenticity that never attached to the more popular Green Day.
Smashing Pumpkins, Siamese Dream
A much more ambitious and expansive sound than we normally associate with “alternative,” SD exhibited the influence of Prog, dreampop, even metal. A remarkable accomplishment considering Billy Corgan’s bandmates possessed less musical talent than furniture.
Kurt Cobain died and Pearl Jam went to hell, leaving Soundgarden and Stone Temple Pilots as the most prominent purveyors of grunge from the middle of the decade on. Superunknown was solid, if not necessarily inspired.
Space Team Electra, The Vortex Flower
The most obscure band on my Best of 1990s, STE produced the best CD I heard in 1998, a self-released dreampop masterpiece that assimilates and outstrips influences like the Cocteau Twins, the Catherine Wheel, and My Bloody Valentine. At the moment they remain largely unknown outside Denver, but despite their lack of broader notoriety I simply couldn’t leave a disc as brilliant as The Vortex Flower off the list.
Sugar, Copper Blue (1992)
Interestingly, Bob Mould’s most significant contribution to the ‘90s happened in the ‘80s, as his work with Husker Du (and later solo projects like Workbook) blazed a trail for the rise of grunge. It’s ironic, then, that his own creative highwater mark in the decade would come with Sugar, a band project that tended more toward pop/rock than did his earlier post-punk efforts (and which provided Mould with his biggest commercial success to date).
Teenage Fanclub, Bandwagonesque
Yet another important moment in the resurgence of Power Pop, this was the best Big Star CD of the decade.
Tool brought a heavy dose of the grotesque to metal, providing a dead-serious counterpoint to the comic book sensibility of White Zombie. Aenima, while often ugly to contemplate, was consistently compelling.