The 10 Best Albums of 1992
The 10 Best Albums of 1992

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Tom Waits, Bone Machine

Tom Waits albums always carry a certain stink of vaudevillian excess, seemingly conceived more for a broad stage performance than intimate listening. Only Bone Machine remains so staunchly dedicated to its themes, uniform in both message and tone, creating a consistently entrancing experience. A pitch-black mediation on death, racking up the highest body count this side of a Nick Cave album, the album sees Waits tilting his gruesome instrument toward sinister ends, from wholesale slaughter for sport to invocations of end-times austerity. Many artists have plumbed this kind of dark territory, but who else has contemplated mortality on songs that sound like they were played on actual bones? Jesse Cataldo

The 10 Best Albums of 1992

4

Pavement, Slanted and Enchanted

The coarse and fuzzy sound of Slanted and Enchanted resonated with every teenager furiously strumming power-chord combinations in their parents' garage, because it seemed as if Pavement was, like them, reveling in the stripped-down, lo-fi aesthetic like pigs in shit. Now, rather than emulating the über-polished rock of the 1980s, teenagers could shoot for a sound that wasn't too dissimilar to what was blaring from their own hand-me-down amplifiers. Slanted and Enchanted brought music fans closer to their idols through its grainy production and illusion of amateurism, but was stuffed with enough expert lessons in treble-heavy rock to maintain the necessary distance. Huw Jones

The 10 Best Albums of 1992

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Dr. Dre, The Chronic

Less the seminal weed-fetish album or a direct call for Eazy-E's head than a compulsive, fevered exploration of deez nuts, The Chronic cut to the core of hip-hop's male-genital obsession, with Dr. Dre at least having the pluck to admit it was all about his junk. Favoring languid atmosphere over lyrical dexterity and a devotion to ribald silliness over actual content, the album, aided by a constantly hanging-around Snoop Dogg, is nasty, brutish, and warm. It's a watershed moment and a clear dividing line in hip-hop history, separating the ruthless belligerence of NWA from a generation of MCs more fixated on their own dicks than the state of the world around them. Cataldo

The 10 Best Albums of 1992

2

Madonna, Erotica

No Madonna album was ever met with a louder backlash or was more rampantly misrepresented than this dark masterpiece, so you know it was doing something right. Released on the tail end of AIDS hysteria, Erotica is far from the opus to guiltless sexual fulfillment it—and its even more ridiculed accompanying tome Sex—was made out to be. Though there's no doubt it espouses taking joy in physical pleasure (“Let me remind you in case you don't already know/Dining out can happen down below”), no album seems more empathetically haunted by the act's countless side effects (i.e. “Bad Girl,” “Thief of Hearts,” a purposefully monotonous house cover of Peggy Lee's “Fever”). Underneath Madonna's bondage getup and Shep Pettibone's oversized drum tracks beats a truly pained heart. Henderson

The 10 Best Albums of 1992

1

R.E.M., Automatic for the People

By 1992, R.E.M. had transformed from one of the originators of the alternative rock tag into one of the biggest mainstream rock acts in the world, and Automatic for the People confronted the band's uneasy relationship with that metamorphosis head-on. Michael Stipe's imagist poetry is at its most reflective and intuitive, as songs like “Try Not to Breathe,” “Find the River,” and the extraordinary opening cut, “Drive,” all lay bare deeply personal insecurities about becoming one of rock music's elder statesmen. However twitchy R.E.M. may have felt about their massive commercial presence, Automatic for the People emerges as the band's most timeless recording for the way in which Stipe's lyrics and especially Peter Buck's guitar work translate their personal anxieties into meditations that resonated on a broad, populist level. Keefe

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