Geffen Records

The 100 Best Albums of the 1990s
The 100 Best Albums of the 1990s


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 Pavement was, like them, revelling 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. Jones

The 100 Best Albums of the 1990s


De La Soul, De La Soul Is Dead

Surreal and witty founders of what would eventually be called “alternative rap,” De La Soul always insisted that they were not hippies and that, for all their good humor, they were not to be dismissed. I’m glad no one listened, because it wasn’t until they set out to prove exactly how serious they were that De La Soul created their wickedly funny masterpiece, De La Soul Is Dead. They mock hip-hop’s gangsta contingent on “Pease Porridge,” take on the rap-radio establishment on “Rap de Rap Show,” and reserve plenty of ammunition for their fans and even themselves. But the album’s best pop songs, “A Rollerskating Jam Named ’Saturdays’” and “Talkin’ Bout Hey Love,” are genuinely endearing, demonstrating that De La Soul were masters of songcraft as well as satire. Cole

The 100 Best Albums of the 1990s


Hole, Live Through This

Released one week after Kurt Cobain’s suicide, Live Through This is an advertisement of Courtney Love’s bald-faced punk ambition—which explains, though only in part, the offensive, still-persisting rumors that Cobain co-wrote the songs. It didn’t help that he was a remarkably allusive and sensitive lyricist, and that the songs on Live Through This are among punk’s, well, most allusive and sensitive. But these are not the rants of a self-proclaimed feminist, but those of an actual woman, voraciously hungry for attention, impossibly obsessed with her image, unbearably self-doubting, and capable of unexpected compassion. The album’s fabulously deranged tapestry of metaphors and similes are inextricably tied to a very female-centic sense of suffering, and their meaning is made lucid not by Love’s less-than-surprising guitaring, but by her beyond-exceptional range of feeling. This harpy will fuck you, kill you, cut herself, then cry over the pieces of flesh she holds in her hands, but she will never lie to you. Gonzalez

The 100 Best Albums of the 1990s


Depeche Mode, Violator

Just three months after the ’90s officially began, Depeche Mode dropped Violator, effectively bringing their dark, decidedly ’80s new wave brand into the young decade. What came to ultimately define the record were three tracks that went on to become the group’s biggest hits: the drumming, droning “Personal Jesus,” the climb-up, climb-down pop song “Enjoy the Silence,” and the sliding, seductive “Policy of Truth.” What all three clearly demonstrated is that Depeche Mode’s synth-pop thrusts reached well beyond the genre’s usual limitations: The triumphant Violator is gothic, jazzy, beguiling, and most of all, a nuanced marriage of pop, rock, electronica, and dance. Liedel

The 100 Best Albums of the 1990s


Erykah Badu, Baduizm

“Most intellects do not believe in God, but they fear us just the same.” Hubris much? Damned straight, and served with a gunshot-rimshot. One of the most confident debut albums of, well, ever, Baduizm doesn’t mince words, it gifts them. And if you still seriously resent her Soulquarian arrogance (“Who gave you permission to rearrange me?”), then you need to pick your Afro, daddy. She’d go on to flex her sense of humor and shake the tweeters later on. In the thick of a very-Diddy 1997, Badu’s humorless tribal overtures, earthy wisdom, and neo-Billie Holiday vocals were their own reward, but Baduizm continues to endure thanks to its uncluttered neo-soul elegance and a low end hefty enough to give A Tribe Called Quest pause. Henderson

The 100 Best Albums of the 1990s


Weezer, Weezer

“My name is Jonas,” Rivers Cuomo chokes out in the first few seconds of the so-called “Blue Album,” and hence begins our dive into the lovably nerdy, garage-dwelling world of Weezer. Before Cuomo the Creep fantasized about underage Japanese girls writing him fan letters or Cuomo the Hack recycled old ideas into paeans to Hollywood, Cuomo the Geek was crooning in quirky self-deprecation about his 12-sided die, his love of surfing, and of course, his Buddy Holly glasses. Backing him was an equally endearing dork fellowship that somehow managed to deftly channel influences as disparate as the Beach Boys, KISS, and the Cars into one of the most fascinating and catchy rock debuts of the decade. The Blue Album turned out to be Weezer’s best moment, wonderfully capturing geeky, escapist memes years before the Internet ever got its hands on nerd-dom. Liedel

The 100 Best Albums of the 1990s


Primal Scream, Screamadelica

“Tomorrow Never Knows” was the big bang that opened up the rock universe to the quasars of electronic dance music, but for decades, rock resisted its gravitational pull. By the time proto-Britpoppers Primal Scream dipped their toes into the sampleslaya asteroid belt with their third album, Screamadelica, the evolutionary process had clearly run its course. A massive, dubby, sunny, downtempo masterpiece, Screamadelica’s elasticity is formidable and forms its own solar system where Mars the Bringer of War (“Loaded,” a twangy spin on Soul II Soul’s steeze) knocks boots with Venus the Bringer of Peace (“Don’t Fight It, Feel It”) and the spirit of Neptune the Mystic hangs over all. Henderson

The 100 Best Albums of the 1990s


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 100 Best Albums of the 1990s


The Roots, Things Fall Apart

The participation of Erykah Badu helped turn “You Got Me” into a surprise sleeper hit, securing the Roots their rightful place in the limelight of a particularly abundant era for hip-hop. But you’d be hard pressed to say they “arrived” in ’99. They’d been doing “What They Do” (which is to say, what no one else was doing) for most of the ’90s, but it was the tightness of Things Fall Apart that busted through like a stick of “Dynamite.” Anchored by drummer Questlove’s machine-gunning snare riffs and set adrift by MC Black Thought’s consciousness-raising couplets, the Roots offered up an album that was at once explosive and meditative, apocalyptic and reassuring. Henderson

The 100 Best Albums of the 1990s


OutKast, Aquemini

The first time I put on Aquemini, it took me four or five listens just to get past “Return of the ’G.’” At that time, I knew André 3000 as the hyperactive jester behind “B.O.B” and “Hey Ya.” On the first track of Aquemini, though, he’s out the gates with a blistering attack on self-styled gangstas, the intensity of his anger and his rapid-fire flow contributing to what I still consider one of the greatest rap verses ever delivered. Having dispatched their detractors, Andre and Big Boi spend the next hour creating worlds: “SpottieOttieDopaliscious” and “Da Art of Storytellin’ Pt. 1” are novelistic and emotionally subtle, and “Aquemini,” “Liberation,” and “Storytellin’ Pt. 2” are cosmic in scope. Name anything you liked about hip-hop in the ’90s and you can find it on Aquemini. Cole