Kirk Weddle

The 10 Best Albums of 1991

The 10 Best Albums of 1991


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Editor’s Note: Check out more of Kirk Weddle’s Nirvana outtakes here.

In my introduction to Slant’s list of the 100 Best Albums of the 1990s, I described nostalgia for the decade as “an idealized vision of a time when Bill Clinton was the fresh, young Democrat on the block, beepers were the hottest new tech items, and every major record label and Top 40 radio station was scrambling to discover the next big alternative to run-of-the-mill pop.” I went on to lament: “It’s human nature to look back on things with irrational fondness and nostalgia, overlooking the bad and romanticizing the good. But while the ’90s had its fair share of ’crap,’ it’s hard to deny that the ’good’ was exceptionally good.” So good, in fact, that we decided to dust off our lovingly curated list of over 400 albums to compile individual Top 10s for each year of the ’90s. Many of these titles are already widely—and rightfully—celebrated, but these lists also give us the opportunity to honor some typically overlooked gems. Sal Cinquemani

Honorable Mention: Pearl Jam, Ten; The KLF, The White Room; Slint, Spiderland; Michael Jackson, Dangerous; Metallica, Metallica; Swans, White Light from the Mouth of Infinity; Matthew Sweet, Girlfriend; Paula Abdul, Spellbound; Red Hot Chili Peppers, Blood Sugar Sex Magik; Guns N’ Roses, Use Your Illusion II

The 10 Best Albums of 1991


The Orb, Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld

What a wonderful world, but what kind of world is it? It begins in what really could pass for the English countryside, with a rooster crowing at the break of dawn, before the Orb proceeds upward, into the sky and beyond, on a space odyssey of sorts. Gods, or aliens, contemplate vineyards and Minnie Riperton gets her mousey voice pulverized to a point that it suggests a ghost in a machine, and then the rooster crows again, as if to remind us that there’s a way out of this sonic mind-melt. And just as you think you’ve landed back on Earth (the awesome warbling sound on “Perpetual Dawn” suggests someone jiggling their cheeks as if to stay awake), you’re drawn into a fourth dimension. Where other groups jump across continents, the Orb bops across galaxies, creating supernovas of dubby, sometimes trip-hoppy ambient techno loaded with nooks and crannies from which heretofore unidentified surprises continue to emerge. Ed Gonzalez

The 10 Best Albums of 1991


R.E.M., Out of Time

What would teenagers make of this album if it came out today, when radios are as obsolete as dodos? Hell, what did we make of it when it came out yesterday, when people still bought CDs? Yes, even in 1991, when this blissed-out masterwork was released by what used to be the greatest band in the world, it also felt a little out of time. A queer street preacher whose earnestness and fierce conviction to his belief system recalls that of a Flannery O’Connor cook, Michael Stipe hurts his way through 11 sterling tracks—two with an angel (Kate Pierson) sitting on his shoulder—that represent the band’s most eloquent and poignant reckoning of life, love, and the purpose of their music. The observations are sad, sometimes bitter and self-doubting, but the mood remains strangely, jarringly, beautifully happy. Gonzalez

The 10 Best Albums of 1991


Talk Talk, Laughing Stock

Talk Talk’s late albums, with their hushed tones and mystical tree covers, invoke a kind of quiet devoutness, an atmosphere that by their last album had reached a level of near-saintly purity. The songs are so quiet it’s easy to miss their bountiful movement, pieces slowly locking and unlocking, forming elaborate structures with organic precision. Laughing Stock stands as their finest work both because of the enormous variety it contains, moving from strict ambient minimalism to spooky jazz to bursts of lacerating noise, and its sense of a private sonic world springing up out of primordial nothingness. Jesse Cataldo

The 10 Best Albums of 1991


U2, Achtung Baby

U2 greeted the 1990s by casting off the proselytizing cocoon of their Reagan-era music and delivering the transformative Achtung Baby, the first and greatest of their ’90s offerings. Here is where Bono ceased being the scruffy Irish chap singing about war-torn vistas and instead adopted the seductive rock-star persona of “the Fly,” a brilliant composite of Jim Morrison and Michael Hutchence, and an undeniable poke at bombastic pop theatricality. So, too, does U2 become models of efficiency, not wasting one second of their blitz into globe-conquering arena rock: Every track is a gem, from well-known anthems like “One” and “Mysterious Ways” to lesser-known treasures like “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” and “Acrobat.” Rarely does a musical metamorphosis sound this instinctual. Kevin Liedel

The 10 Best Albums of 1991


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 weren’t hippies and that, for all their good humor, they weren’t 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. Matthew Cole