Here we are, exactly three weeks into 2021 and this here will mark my sixth post of the year (though I consider the first one a continuation of the themes of 2020). And so far, I’ve been hanging out quite a bit in the early 1990s – happier and simpler times, in this blogger’s humble opinion. I’ve shared a couple of ‘Vinyl love’ posts on treasured pieces of my vinyl collection, albums originally released during a high point in my youth, and a few days ago, I wrapped up my Best tunes of 1992 series with Ride’s amazing “Leave them all behind“. So I thought I’d keep with the era and have another look back thirty years ago to explore my ten favourite albums from 1991.
As I mentioned when I counted down my thirty favourite songs from that year, 1991 was a big year for me in terms of musical exploration and discovery and because of this, it is one of my favourite years for music. To this day, a lot of my favourite albums ever were released in 1991. So as you can imagine, this one was another tough one for me to narrow down. Indeed, when the dust cleared, albums that I thought would be on this list, were not here. (Apparently, there can only be ten albums in a top ten.) Similarly, there are a bunch of iconic and influential albums that many of you might expect to be in this list that didn’t make the cut. Thus, I’ll forewarn you from now and spoil the twist ending in which you won’t find “Achtung baby”, “Nevermind”, nor “Loveless” anywhere in this particular series (though this last just narrowly missed the cut).
If you’ve been around these pages before, you’ll recognize today’s post as the tease, introducing the five albums that round out the latter part of my top ten. However, I’m changing things up with this series from here, and I’m not just talking about dropping the pretence that these first five albums are honourable mentions, though I’ve decided to do that too. Normally, after this one, I would lay out my five favourite albums for the year over the course of the next five Thursdays, one per week, but given that 1991 is one of my favourite years for music, I’ve decided to stretch things out and take my time with it. I will still focus on an album per post, doing my best to the paint each album’s importance to me and to music in general, but instead, will do so every other Thursday and wrap all this up by the beginning of April.
Are you excited? I am. So let’s do this. And of course, as we do, I’d love to hear your thoughts, both on my picks and what your own would be, if you had to rank your top ten albums for 1991, in the comments section provided with each post.
#10 Ned’s Atomic Dustbin “God Fodder”
The debut album by the five-piece from Stourbridge, England was just all kinds of energy and fun. Recorded when a couple of the band’s members were still just teenagers, “God fodder” and its songs are not deep lyrically, focusing instead on flashy and memorable titles and letting the rest just fall into place. Of course, it helped that their tight, Grebo sound that mixed punk thunder with electronic samples and dance floor rushing beats, had enough depth to cover off. The drumming was hectic and complex, the guitars loud, but it was the two bass players that really had Ned’s Atomic Dustbin standing out. I blasted so many of these songs at high volume when I originally purchased this album on CD. “Kill your television” is probably the track that most will remember from the album (it appeared on my Best tunes of 1991 list at #21) but I also really dug the track below.
Gateway tune: “Grey cell green”
#9 Spirit of the West “Go figure”
My introduction to the now iconic Canadian folk rock band from North Vancouver came by way of this, their fifth full length record. I caught the video for the song below, “D for democracy”, on the music video show, “Good rockin’ tonite”, and the love affair took off from there. I loved the sound but it was the depth of the lyrics that really hooked me. “Go figure” was a political record. It wasn’t that Spirit of the West didn’t venture here prior or since but there was a definite bent against the Brian Mulroney-led Conservative government at the time. This was also the point in the band’s storied history that they ‘went electric’, toying with rock, and adding drummer (gasp) Vince Ditrich to their official roster. This effectively alienated some of their previous folkie fans but drew in a larger alt-rock audience. For me, though, this is simply eleven unforgettable tunes.
Gateway tune: “D for Democracy”
#8 Chapterhouse “Whirlpool”
When people talk about the iconic shoegaze albums, the names often bandied about are “Loveless”, “Spooky”, “Souvlaki”, and “Nowhere”. I would humbly posit that “Whirlpool” should be considered as part of this same conversation. Chapterhouse’s debut was, for me, especially at the time, among the best that the genre could offer up. The five-piece from Reading, England collected for their debut nine beautiful tracks that walloped you from the inside. It was reverb-drenched washes of strobe lights, shoegazing with a danceable beat. It was organic but felt electronic, subterfuge and magic, perhaps foreshadowing their next move. But that’s a story for another day. We’ll just leave this near perfect single I’ve reference below for you to chew on.
Gateway tune: “Pearl”
#7 Blur “Leisure”
It’s funny that this album directly follows Chapterhouse’s “Whirlpool” on this list (and I swear that this wasn’t by design). I’ve mentioned before in these pages that I used to have a C90 cassette back in 1991, upon which these two albums were recorded on either side. So yeah, inextricably linked are these two albums for me. But where Chapterhouse’s debut knew exactly where its feet were planted, Blur’s wasn’t so sure. In the past, frontman Damon Albarn has called “Leisure” a bit of a mess. However, I feel that he’s being a bit hard on the album. Sure, it played both the shoegaze and baggy cards, but it played them well and there were some excellent songs that are still favourites of this big Blur fan today. You can include the one below, “Sing”, which appeared on the “Trainspotting” soundtrack”, and “There’s no other way”, which appeared on my Best tunes of 1991 list at number six.
Gateway tune: “She’s so high”
#6 Levellers “Levelling the land”
I’ve already told the story on these pages about how I discovered these guys watching MuchMusic’s City Limits when their video for “One way” was played on the show. I bought “Levelling the land” on cassette tape just based on hearing this one song. (We did such things back in those days.) And it became my Sony Walkman’s favourite cassette for a time. The fiddle/mandolin/harmonica/foot-stomping folk punk on the band’s sophomore release was great for walking around my small town, something I did a lot of in those days, because there wasn’t much else to do. It got so that I was singing along under my breath to each and every song and the many upbeat numbers put a hop in my step. Levellers are still a going concern today with many great tunes to their name but this is still quite possibly their high water mark.
Gateway tune: “Liberty song”
Check back two Thursdays from today for album #5 on this list. In the meantime, you can check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.