The Student Playlist

Showcasing the Best New Music, Curating the Classics

The Top 200 Albums of the 1990s

  1. Foo Fighters – The Colour And The Shape (1997) (Roswell / Capitol)

After their massively successful debut album had been written and recorded almost entirely by former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl, The Colour And The Shape marked Foo Fighters’ debut as a fully-fledged band. Producer Gil Norton was recruited to instil a pop sensibility and mark it out from other post-grunge records, and anthemic hit singles like ‘My Hero’ and ‘Everlong’ made it one of the most significant American rock albums of the second half of the ‘90s. (LISTEN)

  1. Pixies – Bossanova (1990) (4AD / Elektra)

Following an indie masterpiece like Doolittle was always going to be a tall order, and with Bossanova Pixies failed to emulate their career best, but not by that much. Inspired more overtly by surf rock and space rock than previous efforts, there was a certain lightness and spaciousness to the production that made their third album frothy but very enjoyable. Always the masters of calculated incongruity, it was accessible yet retained all of Pixies’ weird characteristics and was still comfortably leftfield. (LISTEN)

  1. Nightmares On Wax – Smokers Delight (1995) (Warp)

Leeds-based trip-hop producer George Evelyn notched up one of the most characterful British electronica releases of the decade with his second album under his recording moniker Nightmares On Wax. A heady, atmospheric brew of hip-hop and soulful samples, with chunks of Latin percussion and down-tempo funk thrown into the mix, Smokers Delight was perfect for late-night chillouts and Sunday morning comedowns. (LISTEN)

  1. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Californication (1999) (Warner Bros.)

Following the wobble of One Hot Minute that coincided with Dave Navarro’s brief stint in the band, the Chilis regained their imperious form when John Frusciante re-joined to produce Californication. Yielding no fewer than five international hits over nearly 20 months – ‘Road Trippin’ was released in early 2001! – Californication had an enormous commercial shelf-life and put them back into the big leagues, where they’ve remained ever since. (LISTEN)

  1. Elliott Smith – Elliott Smith (1995) (Kill Rock Stars)

Elliott Smith’s second album, and first for the North-Western indie imprint Kill Rock Stars, shared many of the same qualities as his self-recorded debut Roman Candle. Containing one of his best-known songs, the harrowing ‘Needle In The Hay’, Elliott Smith is a fine record of carefully picked and strummed acoustic guitars, with his whispery-thin voice creating delicate and ethereal soundscapes, making for arguably the most claustrophobic effort of Smith’s tragically short career. (LISTEN)

  1. Gomez – Bring It On (1998) (Hut / Virgin)

The death of Britpop opened up new possibilities for British bands at the end of the decade, as Lancashire-based blues revivalists Gomez demonstrated. A debut LP of canny, well-observed music in love with dusty Americana and roots rock backed by three strong lead vocalists, Bring It On caused a seismic upset at the 1998 Mercury Music Prize when it beat The Verve’s Urban Hymns to the big prize, giving the album a subsequent boost in popularity that caused it to sell nearly half a million copies – an unthinkable thing just two years before. (LISTEN)

  1. Dr. Octagon – Dr. Octagonecologyst (1996) (Mo’Wax / Dreamworks)

As a member of Ultramagnetic MC’s, “Kool” Keith Thornton was already one of the most lauded rappers in the American hip-hop underground, but his debut solo album Dr. Octagonecoloygst was to grow his reputation further still. Introducing the alias of Dr. Octagon, an extra-terrestrial, time-traveling gynaecologist and deranged surgeon, it was a left-field sound collage of innovative turntable work from DJ Q-Bert, plus DJ Shadow and Dan The Automator behind the scenes, and was the perfect bedding for Thornton’s abstract, avant-garde lyrics covering insightfulness, surrealism, and puerile scatology. One of the most bizarre and rewarding albums in hip-hop history. (LISTEN)

  1. Eminem – The Slim Shady LP (1999) (Aftermath / Interscope / Web)

With his major-label debut The Slim Shady LP, the world was introduced to arguably the most charismatic and memorable personality in music of the last two decades. From the hilarious curtains-up of ‘My Name Is’, Marshall Mathers delivered his sketches of pranksta-rap with perfect modulation and meticulous storytelling ability. But amid the cartoonish ultra-violence, there were genuinely touching moments, such as his frustrations of a minimum wage existence on ‘Rock Bottom’. Menacing and comical in equal measure, rap would never quite be the same again. (LISTEN)

  1. Throwing Muses – The Real Ramona (1991) (4AD)

The group’s fourth album, and the last to feature the twin dynamics of songwriter Kristin Hersh and guitarist Tanya Donelly, saw Throwing Muses finally achieve the perfect balance between their tendencies for skewed songwriting and gleaming pop sensibility. Hersh’s dark, challenging style (‘Graffiti’, ‘Two-Step’) was beautifully offset by Donelly’s instincts for gleeful accessibility (‘Honeychain’). Donelly quit soon afterwards to form Belly, but The Real Ramona saw Throwing Muses showcase all the best parts of their surreal early sound, making it the perfect starting point for a new fan. (LISTEN)

  1. Sleater-Kinney – The Hot Rock (1999) (Kill Rock Stars)

With huge expectations on them after the critical adoration they’d received with 1997’s ferocious Dig Me Out, Sleater-Kinney wrongfooted their cult fanbase by heading into gloomier, more personal territory for their fourth album The Hot Rock. Dark and textured rather than abrasive and raucous, Roger Moutenot’s production arguably registers as the group’s most spiritual record as Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein explored failed relationships, personal uncertainty and Y2K paranoia on longer, more expressive tracks. (LISTEN)

  1. Orbital – In Sides (1996) (Internal / FFRR)

Continuing what they had started with 1994’s Snivilisation, the Hartnoll brothers moved further away from their rave scene origins and crafted intricate, mellow and emotionally expressive music that could appeal to rock fans as well as dance-heads. The claustrophobic two-part epic ‘The Box’ feels like some lost spy-movie theme. Environmental protection may have been a central concern of In Sides – transcendent opener ‘The Girl With The Sun In Her Head’ was recorded entirely using Greenpeace’s solar electricity generator; ‘Dwr Budr’ is Welsh for ‘dirty water’ – but it’s also an amazingly accessible and listener-friendly dance record. (LISTEN)

  1. Neil Young – Harvest Moon (1992) (Reprise)

The popularity of grunge in the early ‘90s saw Neil Young being rediscovered as a kind of spiritual godfather for the scene, but his 1992 album Harvest Moon was more reminiscent of the Canadian rocker’s oft-forgotten quiet side – like Comes A Time or the classic 1972 album Harvest, to which this is a kind-of sequel. Full of reflective, twilit ambience, including the gorgeous title track, Harvest Moon eventually outsold the raucous Freedom and Ragged Glory that had kickstarted Young’s critical rehabilitation. (LISTEN)

  1. David Holmes – Let’s Get Killed (1997) (Go! Beat)

Belfast DJ and electronica producer David Holmes has for a long time dealt in cinematic beauty with his music, but few of his subsequent efforts have neared the heights of his second album. Underscored with frisky percussion and gritty guitars, and embedded with fragments of taped conversations he had with prostitutes, pimps and dealers while visiting New York, Let’s Get Killed is a snapshot of the city’s nightlife and seedy underbelly, and evokes the limitless possibilities of life in a cultural hub. A soundtrack to a film that was never made. (LISTEN)

  1. Eels – Electro-Shock Blues (1998) (DreamWorks)

Mark ‘E’ Everett’s output has been uneven, to put it kindly, over the years, but Eels’ second album Electro-Shock Blues is a constant reminder that, on his day, he can be one of the most heartbreakingly poignant songwriters in the game. Full of coal-black humour and biting analysis of everything from mental health to terminal illness (“life is funny / but not ‘haha’ funny” – ‘3 Speed’), it’s an unflinching album but not unfriendly to the listener. From the aching ‘Climbing To The Moon’ to the brutal ‘Cancer For The Cure’, its message was about overcoming the most testing trials of life. (LISTEN)

  1. Daisy Chainsaw – Eleventeen (1992) (One Little Indian)

Before ‘riot grrrl’ was generally a thing in the States, London-based noise-rock band Daisy Chainsaw pretty much nailed all of its key tenets – intense proto-punk aggression combined with ideological subversion and an ear for subtle melody. Their only full-length album to feature the cult icon of KatieJane Garside as lead vocalist, Eleventeen is the best studio reflection of the chaos that characterised their wild live gigs, which featured Garside thrashing around a stage strewn with rag dolls drinking juice from a baby bottle. Featuring a clutch of minor hit singles like ‘Love Your Money’, Eleventeen is one of the lost gems of the era and has aged incredibly well. (LISTEN)

  1. Raekwon – Only Built 4 Cuban Linx (1995) (Loud / RCA)

The mid-nineties saw the influential Wu-Tang Clan splintering off into its component parts, with each member producing solo work ranging from solid to dazzling. Raekwon’s debut solo effort Only Built 4 Cuban Linx was among the very best on offer. Boasting a wealth of well-written, complex lyrics of street violence vividly told by an immensely talented rapper, the listener truly saw things through Raekwon’s eyes, and the album became seen as a pioneer of the ‘mafioso rap’ subgenre of hip-hop on the East Coast. (LISTEN)

  1. Spiritualized – Lazer Guided Melodies (1992) (Dedicated)

Following the acrimonious disintegration of Spacemen 3 the previous year, Jason Pierce plotted his next move carefully. Mixing the repetitive, drone-rock elements of his former band with his personal fondness for gospel and orchestral music, he laid down a foundation for Spiritualized that has lasted them through a 25-year career. Soaring melodic riffs manifest themselves in the eerie, amorphous mixes like the radiant spectres of the album’s front cover, as Pierce sighs lyrics that appeal to the most fundamental human desires – to escape the world (‘Run’) or lust and obsession (‘I Want You’), as well as imitating the drug-taking experience (‘Take Your Time’). Unspeakably beautiful. (LISTEN)

  1. Pet Shop Boys – Very (1993) (Parlophone)

As befitting an album called Very that came encased in orange rubber, Pet Shop Boys cranked everything up to 11 for their fifth studio album. But though it was full of energetic and spectacularly ornate dance arrangements, in comparison to the subdued, cinematic minimalism of 1990’s Behaviour, there was a dark undertow to the hedonism, and Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe touched on the HIV epidemic and the difficulties of coming out in a suffocatingly straight society. Selling millions around the world and home to five UK Top 20 singles, Very is arguably the most imperiously pop PSB album in their catalogue. (LISTEN)

  1. Nitin Sawhney – Beyond Skin (1999) (Outcaste)

British-Indian musician Nitin Sawhney served a great deal time in a variety of different musical outfits, ranging from rock to jazz and funk to worldbeat, and all this experience went into the creation of this compelling fusion. His breakthrough record Beyond Skin had a certain fin-de-siècle anxiety about it, political both implicitly in exploring themes of identity and nationhood, and explicitly in decrying nuclear weaponry and fundamentalism. A work of cinematic scope and precise detail, it wasn’t surprising to see Sawhney being commissioned to create Hollywood film soundtracks after this. (LISTEN)

  1. Snoop Doggy Dogg – Doggystyle (1993) (Death Row / Interscope)

Snoop Dogg might be a faintly comical figure in the 2010s, but back in 1993 he was a notorious cultural phenomenon that had Middle-American parents shitting themselves. Having made a number of integral guest appearances on Dr Dre’s seminal unit-shifter The Chronic the previous year, the hype around Snoop was so huge that Doggystyle became the fastest-selling debut album in U.S. history, and the first album ever to enter the Billboard charts at no.1. For a man then embroiled in a murder case, the impression was that Snoop was the real deal, and like a revival of Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly for the grim early ‘90s, Doggystyle was an album of hard-edged G-funk stuffed with contemporary classics. (LISTEN)

  1. R.E.M. – New Adventures In Hi-Fi (1996) (Warner Bros.)

Briefly reversing the otherwise downward trend in the quality of R.E.M.’s output in the 1990s that followed Automatic For The People, their 10th studio album is a bit of an oddity in their catalogue. Pieced together from demos, soundchecks and live recordings from the Monster world tour, New Adventures In Hi-Fi is a road album. Deliberately fractured and eclectic in mood to reflect the jet-lagged, nomadic circumstances of its creation, the primary theme is of travel, and never staying in the same place long enough to make an emotional connection, and it contains some of the hidden gems of R.E.M.’s career. (LISTEN)

  1. The Fall – Extricate (1990) (Fontana)

Exiting their golden period of the 1980s, Mark E Smith and The Fall began the new decade with one of their strongest and most varied collections to date. ’Telephone Thing’ saw them collaborate with Coldcut; ‘And Therein…’ a retro piece of rockabilly-punk; ‘Sing! Harpy’ with its odd instrumentation… Extricate has that adventure-playground feel where no song is sounds the same but is strangely in keeping with the collection. But it is most notable for the beautiful ‘Bill Is Dead’, about the death of his father, on which the grizzled Smith ACTUALLY SINGS – and bloody good he is too. Stunning. (LISTEN)

  1. Cypress Hill – Black Sunday (1993) (Ruffhouse / Columbia)

After the purer hip-hop thrills of their self-titled debut, Black Sunday moved Cypress Hill more explicitly towards rock’n’roll. Noisier samples from the likes of Sabbath, big choruses aimed at crossover success, and a more explicit emphasis on their weed and violence fantasies made for an engaging listen that attracted the rock kids to the band as B-Real and Sen Dog fleshed out their ideas into fully-fledged songs. Everything went downhill from here as Cypress Hill’s inspiration flagged on subsequent albums, but Black Sunday remains one of the most accessible rap albums of the decade. (LISTEN)

  1. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Murder Ballads (1996) (Mute)

Nearly two decades into his reign as rock’s foremost authority on all things death and destruction, an entire album of songs about murder was almost ‘meta’-Nick Cave – the record he was born to make. All the gloomy and macabre aspects of The Bad Seeds’ work were turned up to 11, with sordid, blood-stained epics and violently dark emotional confessionals being the order of the day, as Cave brought in a dazzling cast of musical fellow travellers from PJ Harvey to Shane MacGowan and even Kylie Minogue. And thus it was that a song about bashing in Kylie’s head with a rock came to be performed on ‘Top of the Pops’, boys and girls. (LISTEN)

  1. The Breeders – Last Splash (1993) (4AD / Elektra)

As Pixies disintegrated in the early part of the decade, their bassist Kim Deal had the perfect helicopter out of the situation with her side-project The Breeders, formed with her identical twin sister Kelley. Recorded on and off over three years, their second LP Last Splash contained the deliriously elastic indie anthem ‘Cannonball’ which fuelled their crossover, MTV-fuelled success. This combination of kooky, spiky alternative rock ideas, great singles and brilliant timing made Deal into the proper alternative rock star she had always threatened to be. (LISTEN)

  1. Ride – Nowhere (1990) (Creation)

The briefly popular ‘shoegaze’ movement, comprised of shaggy-haired students shuffling about and making swirly, ethereal guitar rock with effects pedals, quickly became cruelly derided after Britpop swept away everything that had come before it, but the scene did deliver a couple of stone-cold classics. Oxford four-piece Ride’s debut album Nowhere, for example, was one of the best. Its sweeping, open and bright vistas of shimmering guitars and laconic rhythms seemed to chime with the optimism of the times perfectly – the end of the Cold War, the freeing of Nelson Mandela – making it one of the most fondly remembered British guitar albums of the early part of the ‘90s. (LISTEN)

  1. Death In Vegas – The Contino Sessions (1999) (Concrete)

One of the in-crowd during the 1990s as a result of his DJ sets at the Heavenly Social bar, producer Richard Fearless cut off his associations with the boozy crowd with his second Death In Vegas album. The Contino Sessions stood out like a sore thumb in the barren post-Britpop landscape, full of sinister and cold-blooded soundscapes of analogue synths and wiry guitar that bridged the gap between modern rock and experimental electronica. Iggy Pop’s portrayal of a serial killer on ‘Aisha’ is the highlight, but guests like Jim Reid (‘Broken Little Sister’) and Bobby Gillespie (‘Soul Auctioneer’) brought these memorable and macabre productions to life. (LISTEN)

  1. Le Tigre – Le Tigre (1999) (Mr. Lady)

Formed by riot grrrl icon Kathleen Hanna in the wake of Bikini Kill’s collapse, Le Tigre was more multi-coloured and less didactic than her former band. Inspired by lo-fi alternative rock, classic punk and 1960s pop and recorded on cheap electronic equipment, Le Tigre sparkled with life and subversive charm as these riotously bright, confrontational punk-pop tunes propositioned the listener with thought-provoking messages. Plus, it also featured the absolutely amazing single ‘Deceptacon’, a guaranteed indie-disco floor slayer. (LISTEN)

  1. The Cardigans – First Band On The Moon (1996) (Stockholm Records)

Sweden has always had an impressive record of producing amazing pop, but The Cardigans’ rise to stardom throughout the 1990s always seems to get overlooked. Their third album, First Band On The Moon, contained ‘Lovefool’ which became the group’s breakthrough moment when it became a huge international hit, but the record itself is so much more than just that. Showcasing their fondness for skewed electronics and bucolic folk-influenced pop, as well as indulging their love for heavy riffing (the cover of Sabbath’s ‘Iron Man’ a case in point), it’s a hugely underrated album. (LISTEN)

  1. Hole – Celebrity Skin (1998) (DGC)

The ghoulish soap opera of Courtney Love that played out in the press after the death of her husband Kurt Cobain often unfairly obscured the fact that Hole were one of the most skilful operators in American alternative rock, as well as its hardiest survivors. 1998’s Celebrity Skin was their third and most commercially successful record, packing melodic poignancy with hits like ‘Malibu’ and ‘Awful’ alongside the sonic punch that had long been their trademark. (LISTEN)

  1. Underworld – Second Toughest In The Infants (1996) (Junior Boy’s Own)

Bringing techno and richly textured house music to the Britpop-loving masses in the mid-‘90s, Underworld made a triptych of exceptional dance albums while Darren Emerson was in the group. Second Toughest In The Infants was the second in that sequence, showcasing their ability to seamlessly and logically drift between the frenzy of techno and jungle and then retreat back to cool ambience. From the opening epic multi-song suite ‘Juanita / Kiteless / To Dream Of Love’, the listener is taken on a tour de force of epic dance, with the grimy, breakbeat whirlwind of ‘Pearl’s Girl’ a particular highlight. Released in conjunction with the non-album track ‘Born Slippy’, one of the defining singles of the era, the record was a significant hit. (LISTEN)

  1. Moby – Play (1999) (V2 / Mute)

Probably one of the most listened-to records in pop history because of its massive media exposure – every single one of its 18 tracks was licensed for use in adverts, TV or film – it’s hard to think of Play as a nineties record, because its slow-burning success meant that most people discovered it in 2000. A record of agreeable, accessible productions constructed from down-tempo house, lounge-friendly hip-hop beats, ambient electronica and vintage samples, Play resurrected Moby’s seemingly doomed career and made him one of the most famous musicians on the planet. (LISTEN)

  1. Suede – Coming Up (1996) (Nude)

Though they started their career as one of the most hyped bands in memory, by the height of Britpop in 1995 Suede were written off by virtually everyone: a commercial disappointment of an album in Dog Man Star; recruiting a 17-year-old kid as a replacement for the mighty Bernard Butler from their fan club. But, led by the immortal outsiders’ anthem ‘Trash’, Coming Up totally reversed Suede’s declining fortunes. Leather of jacket, sharp of cheekbone, and dealing in shiny, hard-edged guitar-pop anthems, it was an extraordinary commercial success, with a record-breaking five UK Top Ten singles coming from the album. (LISTEN)

  1. Mansun – Attack Of The Grey Lantern (1997) (Parlophone)

Always one of the most criminally under-appreciated British bands of the ‘90s, Chester’s Mansun were one of the spate of literate, interesting bands to emerge in 1997 to put lumpen Britpop out of its misery. Their debut album Attack Of The Grey Lantern was a ‘half-concept’ album (or, as lead singer Paul Draper put it, ‘a con album’) about a moralistic superhero, but the headline was the group’s combination of experimentation with pop nous, and it went straight to no.1 in the UK and spawned five Top 40 hits. The vertiginous ‘Wide Open Space’ even got an unlikely dance makeover from Paul Oakenfold to become a global club hit. (LISTEN)

  1. Gang Starr – Step In The Arena (1990) (Chrysalis / EMI)

As hip-hop evolved and got more complex with the sample-heavy masterpieces at the turn of the decade, Gang Starr were already deciding to be ‘old skool’ before the term really took off. Keeping things to the foundational tenets of the genre, sticking to two turntables and a microphone and rejecting the bitches and bling, Step In The Arena was a purist’s paradise of hip-hop that boasted DJ Premier’s tight beats, inventive scratching, simple samples and Guru’s arch lyrics calling out fakers. (LISTEN)

  1. Elastica – Elastica (1995) (Deceptive)

Having previously been a member of Suede and going out with Damon Albarn, it seemed inevitable that Justine Frischmann would be a star in her own right one day. Elastica, formed in 1992, took their cues from post-punk and new-wave, and their classic debut was full of angular, chunky riffs, teasing melodies and punk attitude. Frischmann added extra frisson and edge to these short, spiky gems with her detached yet confrontational sexuality, and Elastica was a massive hit. The group eventually burned up, delivering a disappointing follow-up after a lengthy five-year wait before breaking up amicably, but they left behind one of Britpop’s undisputed gems. (LISTEN)

  1. Rage Against The Machine – Rage Against The Machine (1992) (Epic)

Rage Against The Machine’s woke debut was one of very first albums to successfully and credibly fuse rap with metal. With Zack de la Rocha’s politically charged and sincere lyrics, combined with Tom Morello’s razor-sharp guitar acrobatics and Zeppelin-sized riffs, plus Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk’s sturdy, dependable rhythms, RATM was one of the defining releases in the ‘90s American guitar scene and, arguably, it hasn’t been surpassed. Nobody else has managed to match the thrilling sense of insurrection in the likes of ‘Bombtrack’ and the venomous ‘Wake Up’, or the tension of tracks like ‘Bullet In The Head’. (LISTEN)

  1. The Chemical Brothers – Surrender (1999) (Virgin / Freestyle Dust)

When faced with following Dig Your Own Hole, one of the most popularly and critically celebrated dance records of the decade, Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons wisely decided not to fuck with the formula. Injecting their house and psychedelic explorations with a dash of multicolour, as on ‘The Sunshine Underground’, and a great many more guest singers (New Order’s Bernard Sumner on the rave-up ‘Out Of Control’ and Hope Sandoval’s smouldering vocals on the drowsy ‘Asleep From Day’ being the very best), Surrender comfortably extended the Chemical Brothers’ reign as the commercial heavy-hitters of British dance music. (LISTEN)

  1. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Henry’s Dream (1992) (Mute)

There was nothing particularly different about Nick Cave’s seventh album with The Bad Seeds on the surface of things: songs about suffering and sin, check; Old Testament imagery, check; clangourous, riotous noise, check… But Henry’s Dream has symbolic significance for Cave’s career, as it represents his first serious move towards courting a wider audience. With the benefits of contemporary production, the songs are hi-fi and widescreen, roaring out of the speakers where previous works sometimes sounded a little murky. Furthermore, devotional tracks like ‘Straight To You’ that expanded to fill every available space offset bloodstained epics like ‘Jack The Ripper’ or ‘John Finn’s Wife’. (LISTEN)

  1. Morrissey – Your Arsenal (1992) (HMV)

The ‘racism’ controversy that surrounded Morrissey’s gig at Finsbury Park in 1992 (we’ll leave you to decide…) caused large sections of the music press to turn against the former Smiths singer, less than five years after the disintegration of the iconic group. But the Mozfather has always courted controversy – or at least, not gone out of his way to avoid it – and the incident overshadowed what was his best solo work to date. With lyrics ambivalently discussing American cultural imperialism ‘Glamorous Glue’) to football hooligans (‘We’ll Let You Know’) set to cleanly produced, hard-edged rockabilly tracks courtesy of guitarist Alain Whyte, Your Arsenal is still arguably the most confident-sounding Morrissey solo album of the lot. (LISTEN)

  1. Pavement – Wowee Zowee (1995) (Matador)

Faced with the possibility of going overground in a serious way following 1994’s masterful Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, Stephen Malkmus decided to press the ejector seat button on Pavement’s career by releasing the sprawling, spontaneous Wowee Zowee. Full of intriguing song sketches and longer, more improvisational lo-fi indie, their third album cemented their reputation as underground legends. It was different, but not directionless, and is arguably the most Pavement-y record they ever made. Initially unloved even by most of the band’s fans, it has taken the best part of two decades for Wowee Zowee to be recognised as the curious gem that it is. (LISTEN)

  1. Supergrass – I Should Coco (1995) (Parlophone)

Dealing in the kind of gleeful, bounding guitar-pop that’s impossible to listen to without breaking into a smile, Supergrass’ debut album I Should Coco is one of the most deliriously fun debuts of the decade. Jaunty, peppy pop delights come in the shape of the classic ‘Alright’, the Buzzcocks-esque ‘Caught By The Fuzz’ and the ‘60s throwback ‘Lenny’ as the Oxford trio rip through 13 tracks at the kind of breakneck speed that only youth can provide. Gaz Coombes even showcased the darker side of his songwriting on the six-minute ‘Sofa (Of My Lethargy)’. The beginning of a great career, I Should Coco is one of the definitive Britpop debuts. (LISTEN)

  1. Beth Orton – Trailer Park (1996) (Heavenly)

Fusing the sunny, Laurel Canyon folk of the early ‘70s to the cool ambience of modern trip-hop and electronica, English singer Beth Orton helped coin the term ‘folktronica’ with her classy debut album. From space-folk noodlings like ‘Tangent’, to poppier tracks such as ‘Live As You Dream’ to a haunting, sparse take on the Phil Spector standard ‘I Wish I Never Saw The Sunshine’, Trailer Park sees a confident young woman in full control of her artistic vision. (LISTEN)

  1. The Flaming Lips – Transmissions From The Satellite Heart (1993) (Warner Bros.)

The point at which The Flaming Lips’ golden period really started to pick up speed, shifting from sprawling psychedelic rock towards what would become their trademark, idiosyncratic brand of wanderlust pop, their sixth album Transmissions From The Satellite Heart was their first with their madcap drummer Steven Drozd and guitarist Ronald Jones. Sonically and structurally ambitious, it also produced the Lips’ breakthrough moment in the form of pretty left-field pop hit ‘She Don’t Use Jelly’. (LISTEN)

  1. Primal Scream – Vanishing Point (1997) (Creation)

Following the rather conservative Stones-esque Give Out But Don’t Give Up in 1994, Primal Scream went back to the genre-blending that had served them so well on Screamadelica. This time, however, the concoction would be rather darker and more sinister. The Scream’s first record to feature ex-Stone Roses bassist Gary ‘Mani’ Mounfield, Vanishing Point draws inspiration from dub, ambient electronica, krautrock and R&B, as well as classic rock reference points like The Stooges and Motörhead, to create a heady and intoxicating brew that could be both nightmarish and ecstatic, paving the way for 2000’s exceptional XTRMNTR. (LISTEN)

  1. Roni Size / Reprazent – New Forms (1997) (Talkin’ Loud)

The Roni Size / Reprazent collective of DJs and MCs had been working out of Bristol’s thriving urban music scene for years before the double-disc New Forms earned them mainstream exposure in 1997 when, against the odds, it won the Mercury Music Prize. It also helped put the drum & bass scene on the map and earned it some proper recognition – along with Goldie’s Timeless, it remains the immortal statement on the British scene. ‘Brown Paper Bag’, with its sweet acoustic refrain, elastic descending bass and gut-punching beats, and the breakbeat firestorm of ‘Share The Fall’, are worth the entry free alone, but the full experience of organic instruments and digital production is both rewarding and memorable. (LISTEN)

  1. Beck – Midnite Vultures (1999) (DGC)

There can be few better examples of a divisive album made by an otherwise universally beloved artist than Beck’s fourth record Midnite Vultures. Doing with funk, plastic soul and R&B what his 1996 masterpiece Odelay had done with hip-hop, easily as many felt it was groundbreaking and entertaining as detractors argued it humourless and sexless. We side with the former: a mellifluous, melodic and infectious piece of West Coast sleaze, in equal parts funky horns and sequencers, Midnite Vultures is another example of Beck Hansen doing what he does best. (LISTEN)

  1. Sebadoh – Bakesale (1994) (Domino)

Given the departure of founding member Eric Gaffney just before sessions started, one might have expected Sebadoh’s fifth album Bakesale to be a rather ramshackle affair – far from it. With totemic touchstones for the indie genre such as ‘Rebound’ and ‘Careful’ among the collection, former Dinosaur Jr. bassist Lou Barlow and guitarist Jason Loewenstein crafted what remains the most focussed and purely pleasurable effort of their career, but still retaining the lo-fi and left-field charm of previous Sebadoh records like Bubble And Scrape. (LISTEN)

  1. The Boo Radleys – Giant Steps (1993) (Creation)

Naming your most ambitious collection of music yet after a classic John Coltrane album is a bold move, but that’s precisely what the cruelly unremembered Boo Radleys did with their stupendous third album. Shaking off their ties with the shoegaze scene, they offered up a massive, kaleidoscopic album of 17 tracks spanning pop, reggae, noise rock and orchestras. While it unbelievably didn’t spawn any hits, NME and Select made it their Album of the Year, and it has long stood as a benchmark for melodic and sonic adventurism. Sadly, the dictats of Britpop meant few dared to make anything similar for a long time. A magazine in 2008 summed up Giant Steps with the quip “for 64 minutes they were the greatest band on the planet”. (LISTEN)

  1. Mudhoney – Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge (1991) (Sub Pop)

While they were one of the few bands from the Seattle area in the early ‘90s that didn’t find any real commercial success, Mudhoney were always one of the more exciting outfits from that time and place. Their confident second album Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge helped shape the ‘grunge’ sound, but was more spiritually nourishing than most of the two-dimensional complaint-rock nonsense that the scene eventually became. Balancing the angry aggression of their guitar sound with whimsical lyrics and effortless melody, including the minor anthem ‘Let It Slide’, it remains one of the essential artefacts of the early ‘90s scene in America. (LISTEN)

2 Discussions on
“The Top 200 Albums of the 1990s”
  • Fantastic list! In my eyes, the ’90s was the best decade for music, period. Some other great albums that weren’t on this list:

    Alice In Chains- Dirt
    Sunny Day Real Estate- Diary
    Jimmy Eat World- Clarity
    The Get Up Kids- Something To Write Home About
    Saves The Day- Through Being Cool
    Green Day- Insomniac (I actually prefer this to Dookie)
    Shai Hulud- Hearts Once Nourished With Hope And Compassion
    Earth Crisis- Destroy The Machines
    Blink-182- Enema Of The State
    Lifetime- Jersey’s Best Dancers
    Soundgarden- Superunknown, Badmotorfinger
    Hum- You’d Prefer An Astronaut
    Screaming Trees- Sweet Oblivion
    Love Battery- Dayglo
    All- Breaking Things
    The Dwellers- Whatever Makes You Happy (I swear I’m one of only 10 people who’s heard of this power pop gem)
    Mother Love Bone- Mother Love Bone
    Anal Cunt- It Just Gets Worse
    Talulah Gosh- Was It Just A Dream? (Okay, this one is technically from 2013, but it’s essentially just a deluxe edition of 1996’s Backwash)
    Nirvana- MTV Unplugged In New York

    The fact that you can create a list of 200 great albums and I can list off several more fantastic albums, and the fact that so many different people can have wildly differing opinions on the best ’90s albums proves how great the decade was.

    I love how you had a lot of choices that I haven’t seen on other lists, and I appreciate you ranking Pinkerton so highly, as that is probably my favorite album ever.

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