Nineties Flashback | Music for the Masses

Culturally, we have pushed firmly into full-on 1990s revival. Be ready for it, Courtney E. Smith sagely claimed during our recent interview (LJ 11/1/11, p. 54). Techno, grunge, vocal groups, shoegaze, everything that’s old is new again. Smith was good enough to provide some pointers to get us started in our acquisitions time-traveling. Here are 16 albums that (subjectively) fit her criteria.

Bikini Kill. The Singles. Kill Rock Stars. 1998.
Revolution girl style! Kathleen Hanna’s Bikini Kill threw down a gauntlet to a generation of female musicians; their sound was a mix of freewheeling punk DIY and deadly serious feminist activism.

Chemical Brothers. Dig Your Own Hole. Astralwerks. 1997.
The Chemicals brought dance music out of the warehouses and nightclubs and into rock venues with this crossover smash.

Daft Punk. Homework. Virgin. 1997.
Dance music for the masses, cleverly made, presented with bombastic showmanship. The French duo Daft Punk is still the first name on the lips of every would-be DJ and Deadmaus when it comes to inspiration.

Lauryn Hill. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Sony. 1998.
In the aftermath of the Fugees best seller The Score, Hill emerged with a solo album grander in musical ambition than anything her previous band had attempted, melding hip-hop, R&B, and jazz into ambitious autobiography.

Hole. Live Through This. Geffen. 1994.
Courtney Love herself may be unable to recapture the passion and inspiration that culminated in Hole’s finest moment, but young women still are being galvanized by this record to grab guitars and form bands.

The Melvins. Bullhead. Boner. 1993.
The Melvins are like a patient zero for underground music. Not only did they inspire Kurt Cobain and company to grunge it up, but an infinite number of metal weirdos decided to sloooooow it down after hearing their sludgy snarl.

Nirvana. In Utero. Geffen. 1993.
Nirvana defined much of the 1990s popular music landscape, and though Nevermind is their best-known album, it’s this follow-up, recorded as the band began to crumble, that would be their true masterpiece.

Pulp. Different Class. Island. 1996.
When Pulp crashed the Britpop party, it was like Revenge of the Nerds meets Oscar Wilde. Gloriously affected, eminently hummable outsider anthems.

Ride. Nowhere. Reprise/WEA. 1990.
Oxford quartet Ride produced the finest example of the shoegazer sound herein‚ roaring guitar feedback crossed with little-boy-lost fragility. It’s a template that’s proving irresistible to today’s young guitar-abusers.

Skinny Puppy. Last Rights. Nettwerk. 1992.
Nine Inch Nails and Ministry took Skinny Puppy’s sound (distorted vocals, shattered synths, unearthly samples) all the way to the bank. SP responded with their most accessible and experimental album, had a hit, and then duly fell to pieces.

Slayer. Seasons in the Abyss.
Def American. 1990.

Mayhem. De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. Century Media. 1994.
Metal became exactly what your parents warned you about when Slayer hit the scene in the late 1980s. At the same time as Seasons‚ their most accessible album‚ was released, over in Norway, young misanthropes including groups like Mayhem, Emperor, and Barzum took Slayer’s music to its most (il)logical extreme, stripping metal to cold minimalism and delving into its darkest ideological corners to ride the crest of black metal’s second wave.

TLC. Crazysexycool. Arista. 1994.
TLC’s hip-hop/R&B crossover has set the tone for female vocal groups not in the mood to suffer fools gladly or play the blank sex kitten. Sassy and self-assured.

Tribe Called Quest. Low End Theory. Jive. 1991.
Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and Phife Dawg single-handedly created so-called conscious hip-hop with this album: music to soundtrack Afrocentrism, enlightenment, and plain ol’ messin’ around.

Various Artists. William Shakespeare’s Romeo+Juliet. Capitol. 1996.
The soundtrack to Baz Luhrman’s bombastic recasting of Shakespeare’s doomed lovers for the MTV generation featured everyone from Radiohead to Butthole Surfers and Des’ree.

Wu-Tang Clan. Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). RCA. 1993.
A hip-hop collective where every member had the potential to be a solo star, Wu-Tang Clan in this record is at their hungriest, grittiest, and most unified.

About Matthew Moyer