Pearl Jam, Ten
Describing how great a record is that you don’t personally even like requires a level of journalistic integrity I’m not sure I even possess. As cool as Nirvana was in 1991, they were still thrift store-combing weirdos who name-dropped shit like The Vaselines and Flipper to people who didn’t give a shit. Pearl Jam wore basketball jerseys and cross-trainers, and they were blatantly aping on Hendrix instead of the then-relatively-obscure Pixies — making for a much more inviting gateway into grunge and for some, an easier transition from Cherry Pie to Nirvana. Does it hold up as well 20 years later? Do nine of out 10 kids still prefer crayons to guns? Probably not.
My Bloody Valentine, Loveless
So how exactly do you follow up the definitive and greatest shoegaze record of all time? You don’t. Like the Velvet Underground before them and The Raveonettes after, MBV's swan song proved all that pop music in the '90s was missing was a little drone. Had Kevin Shields offed himself — or had teenagers simply been doing the kinds and quantities of drugs they should have — this record would be getting just as many props as Nevermind.
Guns n' Roses, Use Your Illusion I and II
If Nirvana in 1991 was Baby New Year, then Guns n' Roses was Father Time. This epic rock Hindenburg, bloated with cash-cow tours, million-dollar nine-minute music video trilogies, delusions of melding Hanoi Rocks with Queen, and every Behind the Music cliche conceivable, Use Your Illusion best explains why Nevermind needed to happen. Every working hard-rock band sank with this thing like the crew of the Titanic while watching Nevermind’s lifeboat coast safely to shore.
Metallica, Metallica (aka "The Black Album")
So while G’n’R OD’d on 20-piece orchestral arrangements, the other (soon-to-be) biggest rock band in the world tried the musical Atkins Diet instead, streamlining their complex arrangements, making a metal album for the masses. Granted, this may have done more harm than good by giving the OK to donkey-voiced, bro-fi pioneers like Creed and Nickelback, but it probably also got Pantera a few more gigs as well.
Hole, Pretty on the Inside.
Never mind Nevermind. More specifically, never mind Kurt Cobain and anything Courtney Love has done, said, fucked, punched, killed or given birth to since Live Through This. It’s tough, I know. This piece is already difficult enough to digest in a single sitting, much less sell to anyone familiar only with C-Love’s legacy of uninspired grrrl rock and unapologetic fame-whoring. But if you were fortunate enough to experience this brutal, art-damaged, confrontationally feminist, Kim Gordon-produced groin-kicker before all that context, it does make those jagged, squealing guitars, atonal growls, uncomfortable spoken-word diversions and tape-recorder samples go down at least a little easier.
Cypress Hill , Cypress Hill
Cypress Hill was not only glorifying ganja and murder a year before Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, they were also laying down the bombastic beats, jazzy bass lines and menacing dub sirens almost every hardcore rapper has used as a blueprint since. And while The Chronic somehow convinced suburban white kids they too could be Long Beach gangstas, Cypress Hill (alongside Beastie Boys and Public Enemy) assured alterna-teens that digging rap and rock were not mutually exclusive, and would only up your cool points.
Fugazi , Steady Diet of Nothing
Should it really take more than four words (the words that make up the title, at that) to explain why this timeless tour de force should be buzzing through your earbuds right this second? Firstly, the title is a Bill Hicks quote. Secondly, you probably think Repeater is your favorite Fugazi album, and you are wrong. Unfortunately, trying to describe the sound of this thing is reductive at the very least. Dragging tempos, dry, mangled, melodic guitars, dubby beats and the shortest, most political statement in their discography are all true descriptors that fail to do its genius any justice. So just play the stupid thing already.
2pac, 2pacalypse Now
Long before he and Biggie became the definitive twin martyrs of gangsta rap, 20-year-old Tupac Shakur shook his reputation as a Digital Underground backup dancer with politcally-charged, confrontational debut. Free yet of any outspoken haters or beef with ornery colleagues, this left him free to address considerably more urgent and topical issues such as teen pregnancy, poverty, police brutality and racism. Granted the beats are a tad dated, and Pac hadn’t quite nailed his flow, but I’ll put it toe-to-toe with anything Soulja Boy’s put out in the last five years.
Boyz II Men, Cooleyhighharmony
Have you been to a single dance party that didn’t jump through the roof within the first few beats of “Motown Philly”? Could any 1991/92 eulogy have been nearly as moving without “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday”? Can you even name another multi-platinum album from the same year that features four Top 10 R&B singles? Let’s put it this way, if you know the phrase “ABC, BBD, The East Coast Family” without having any idea the words behind those acronyms, you’ve rested my case.
Ween - The Pod
OK, so maybe this one was a sleeper. Hell, I had never heard of or even listened to The Pod until about 1998. Sonically, it’s a druggy mess of multi-fx pedals, tape hiss, heinous guitar tones, and pot-headed musical masturbation no doubt worsened by the fact both band members had mononucleosis and a penchant for huffing Scotchguard during its “production” — i.e. whenever they took a notion to turn on the 4-track. That said, it contains “Dr. Rock,” “Captain Fantasy,” “The Stallion,” “Sketches of Winkle” and ... if I don’t stop now, I’ll basically list every track on the record.