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20 Years, 20 Albums, No Trendsetting Bullshit

Spin Magazine has announced their 20 Best Albums of the Last 20 Years. The top ten shapes up like so:

1 Radiohead - OK Computer
2 Public Enemy - It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back
3 Nirvana - Nevermind
4 Pavement - Slanted And Enchanted
5 The Smiths - The Queen Is Dead
6 Pixies - Surfer Rosa
7 De La Soul - 3 Feet High And Rising
8 Prince - Sign O' The Times
9 PJ Harvey - Rid Of Me
10 NWA - Straight Outta Compton

Now, we've done the "best albums" thing before, but never in such a defined (or should I say confined) manner. Limiting the choices to the past twenty years lets out the usual suspects like the Sex Pistols, Dylan, Stones, Beatles and all those other bands I like so much to scoff at just so you can all call me a heretic.

I think when these lists are made, a distinction should be made between best and most important. The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Nevermind may be one of the most important albums since 1985, but I certainly don't think it's one of the 20 best. When one uses a word like "best" in describing music, I think it should be used to denote musical and lyrical superiority, not the impact it had on the music scene.

Editor-in-chief Sia Michel said releases from 1985 were chosen for their "basic brilliance, innovation and overall relevance".
See, that's not best. That's important, relevant, etc., but not best. Like the old Rolling Stone Most Important Albums The Critics All Masturbated To lists, the criteria is lacking in one fundamnental quality important to music lists: whether or not it's, you know, good music. Innovation is great. But just because someone discovers a new way to hit the cowbell or a new recording technique does not make their music good. Relevance?
[Ok Computer] was chosen because it "uncannily predicted our global culture of communal distress".

Excuse me but, what the fuck, mate? That's how you judge a best album?

Anyhow, I don't know what the rest of the list looks like because Spin doesn't put their content online and I'm not shelling out any money for that "We are so much cooler and hipper and punk rock than you could ever hope to be" rag.

What do I always do when a list like this comes out? Make my own, similar-but-with-better-criteria list. Which I will do soon, but not before asking, as always, for your suggestions.

The ASV criteria for including an album on the 20 Best Albums of the Last 20 Years list:

  • Obviously, had to be released in 1985 or after
  • Has to be judged musically. I don't care if the album you pick ushered in a new generation of a new kind of music, if it started the greatest trend in the world or effectively killed a terrible trend or if the lead singer offed himself or the drummer is hot or you masturbated furiously to the lyrics in tenth grade or if it sold eleventybillion records. We're talking MUSIC. Was the album(s), to you, a good album musically, lyrically, emotionally?
  • State your case. Why is the album so great?
  • I'll make up more rules as I go along, depending on the suggestions that come forth.

I'll be working on my list, which I'll post later. Remember, 1985 and ON. Best music.

*[it should be noted, to avoid confusion and angry emails, that I am not objecting to Ok Computer topping the list]

Update: I started my list, see here.


thing is, I think all of the Foo Fighters albums are better than Nirvana's but they don't get the credit they deserve.

Spin sucks. Spin wants to deconstruct everything into "cultural production" or some such bullshit. They're not into music qua music.

Joe Satriani, "Surfing with the Alien" (1987). Best use of a guitar as vocalist. Contains good driving songs, intricate harmonies, tapping (playing the guitar by tapping the strings directly over the frets), and I can still listen to it nearly 20 years later and hear something new (or at least something I haven't heard in the last fifteen times I've listened to it). Also, each side of the album was cohesive; it was like two mini-albums. This album set the bar for me for heavy metal.

Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

What happens when you have two gifted songwriters, pissing each other off in a band with little spare cash. Most people have heard the story behind this album when their record company rejected it and then the band fired one of the primary songwriters.

Wilco might be a bit tame for most people, but sonically and musically it one of the best recorded and produced albums of all time IMHO.

Also if you want an interesting view into the whole production process, grab the DVD. Well worth watching over and over and over. :-)

Powertrip by Monster Magnet is my favorite heavy metal album of the last 20 years. 'Powertrip", "Spacelord", and "Temple of Your Dreams" is the best 3-song run on any heavy metal CD ever. Each one just plays off the last one until "Temple..." becomes a driving, pounding leviathan that makes me want to slam my car into a gas-filled tanker truck at 120 mph just to see the explosions. It speaks to something reptilian at the back of my brain, and shuts off higher civilized brain functions. It makes me want to pound the ground with a giant caveman club and scream my challenge to the dinosaurs.

I really like it.

Musically best, I'd put "The Bends" over "OK Computer" and "Fear of a Black Planet" over "It Takes a Nation of Millions." Five personal favorites from half-popular bands:

(1) "Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart," Camper van Beethoven. A near-perfect of rock, pop, and eclectic Eastern European music.
(2) "The Stone Roses" (self-titled). Pure psychedelic guitar genius.
(3) "The Low End Theory," A Tribe Called Quest. Because my man Ron Carter was on the bass. A perfect fusing of jazz and rap with great old school lyrics.
(4) "Dust," Screaming Trees. The band that far predated Nirvana basically ends grunge with a mix of psychedelia, Western mythology, and the best voice from the genre, Mark Lanegan.
(5) "Emperor Tomato Ketchup," Stereolab. The best of Krautrock mixed with Burt Bacharach and French pop.

Appetite for Destruction
(Does this really require an explanation or justification?) Brilliant straightforward rock, powerful vocals, shallow but catchy lyrics.

Ditto dave's pick.

Oasis, "(What's the Story) Morning Glory." Catchy pop hooks, bracing rock guitars. Old-fashioned rock, period.

"The Joshua Tree." U2 at their best. If U2 isn't on the list, the list is not worth making.

Pretty Hate Machine and Appetite for Destruction.

Another ditto for Dave's pick

Appetite reinvigorated hard rock at a time of hair-band excess with a hard-driving and memorbale sound that was just the kick in the ass rock needed. But most importantly, the music was quality, with top-notch guitar work and well-written lyrics that spanned the "power ballad" to "pure crazy rock" line that so many other bands desperatly tried to do.

Masters of Reality -- Sunrise on the Sufferbus. Dope-fueled blues-rock with a puckish sense of humor, plus Ginger Baker's recipe for tea.

Motorhead -- Orgasmatron. Lemmy meets Bill Frisell?

American Analog Set -- From Our Living Room to Yours. The beauty of the hypnodroneeeeeeeeeasfasd wef wEW -- huh?

The Singles -- Better than Before. These guys sound like they were frozen into an iceberg in early 1966 and thawed last weekend.

New Pornographers -- Mass Romantic. Cheap Trick jams with Gary Numan and we're all better for it.

Here are 5 of mine, not necessarily in any order.

1. Sublime - 40 oz. to Freedom
2. Green Day - Dookie
3. Foo Fighters - There is Nothing Left To Lose
4. Weezer - The Blue Album
5. Smashing Pumpkins - Siamese Dream

Fear and Dulcinea by Toad the Wet Sprocket.

At least one, if not both, would make my list. Beautiful music, great vocals and backing harmonies, occasionally poingiant lyrics.

Mad Season: Above

River of Deciet- phenominal...

it's like listening to the best artists of the 90's all put together...

But that's just me.

oooh - good one kotter!

Top ten selling albums since 1985 (this list cuts out the poseur BS and shows where the money went):

Billy Joel: Greatest Hits Volume I & II
Shania Twain:Come on Over
Alanis Morissette : Jagged Little Pill
Garth Brooks: No Fences
Hootie & the Blowfish: Cracked Rear View
Guns N' Roses: Appetite for Destruction
Garth Brooks: Double Live
Garth Brooks: Ropin' the Wind
Santana: Supernatural
Backstreet Boys: Backstreet Boys

If your albums were better than these, why didn't more people buy them?

I don't get where you're going with this, Skillzy. I'm asking for people's opinions on what they THINK are the best albums of the last 20 years.

Oh, I see what you're doing. You're snarkily pissing on my survey because you can never come in here with just a comment, you have to find some way to use your sarcasm and wit to take away from whatever I'm talking about. Kudos. Well done, as usual.

Also maybes: Metallica Master of Puppets, Smashing Pumpkins Siamese Dream, Soundgarden Superunknown, Alice in ChainsDirt.

Aw, come on, I was just injecting some objectivity to the conversation. Frankly, I don't think there have been too many good albums released since 1985, and my list supports that hypothesis.

I'm sorry that you feel that I'm attacking you, that certainly isn't my intention. Sure, I might be trying for cheap laughs, but not at your expense. You're not the one who put three Garth Brooks albums in the top ten, after all. At least not single-handedly.

Eh, I adore you, Skillzy. I just like yanking your chain.

You're not the one who put three Garth Brooks albums in the top ten, after all. At least not single-handedly.


I don't expect it to make your list, but I would put Vapor Trails by Rush on my list. Why? Honestly, I thought they would never record again after Peart lost his daughter and wife in the mid-1990s. Groups that old don't survive 5-year hiatuses under the best of circumstances. So there's the emotional attachment to a successful comeback album like this one.

But there's more to it now, too. I'm at an age now where I've lost friends to cancer, a cousin to AIDS, and have friends who have lost children. So the raw lyrical power of this album talks to the late-30s me in a similar way that their older material talked to the unhip geeky teenager I once was.

Check out the lyrics to the song Vapor Trails. What a powerful metaphor for fragile and transient life.

Musically, the album was also a radical departure from their previous work -- for the first time in 30 years, they recorded an album without any keyboards or guitar solos. The stripped-down, raw, almost angry sound perfectly suited the lyrical content.

(Oh, and they had a great anti-idiotarian song reacting to 9/11 - "Peaceable Kingdom." Check out its lyrics, if you haven't heard it before.)

Looking forward to your final list.

My Bloody Valentine, Loveless.

I think that to be on the 'best' list, an album should not have any 'bad' songs on it, i.e. songs that you skip. On that note:
I have to agree with the others on Appetite for Destruction. Just great, straightforward rock- no cliches, no screwing around. I'm surprised that I can still hear, with the way that I used to crank that album. One of the few that I never get tired of.
I also think Master of Puppets is way up there. Finally, Audioslave's debut album was also very good. Chris Cornell has an extremely unique voice, and every song on the album is good. Oh, and I'm still listening to David Lee Roth's Eat 'em and Smile.

My nominees: All of these are great albums. You can pop in a CD (or record) and listen from beginning to end.

Appetite for Destruction - G'n'R
This seems to be a consensus pick. The intro riff for "Welcome to the Jungle" picks you up and forcefully lets you know that this isnt yet another "hair band album". Definately one of my top 5 albums of all time under any critera set.

Straight Outta Compton - NWA
Fierce lyrics. The godfather of all gangsta rap albums. All songs are very catchy and invite you to sing/rap along with them. They day I lost my vinyl LP was truly sad. I shold have made a backup cassette dub at the time.

Ten - Pearl Jam
No one has mentioned this yet. Perhaps I am overrating the quality of this album (or contrating it to other infinately more sucky PJ lps), but every song on this album just fits like a puzzle. Chock full of agnsty goodness.

It's nice too see an album like OK computer and Nervermind at the top of the list...but how come no one has mention Illmatic by Nas...It's clearly without a doubt the greatest hip-hop album of all time. Nas raised the standard of hip hop to a level that no one has yet to reach.

My Top 5
1 - Nas - Illmatic
2 - Radiohead - OK Computer or The Bends
3 - Bob Marley - Legend
4 - Nirvana - In Utero
5 - Phil Collins - Face Value