Modern Classic Albums Part 5: 60 - 51
PULP – DIFFERENT CLASS
Description: Bands like Oasis and Blur may have been the pinups for the Britpop genre in the mid nineties but Pulp were undoubtedly the most musically eccentric and creative of the lot. “Different Class” is their greatest achievement. Led by frontman Jarvis Cocker (often incorrectly linked with Joe Cocker) they produced a set of tunes that are instantly catchy but also slightly weird and creepy in parts. “Pencil Skirt”, “I Spy” and “Underwear” are essentially a soundtrack for all sexual predators but they are written with Cocker’s trademark wit and song writing nous, as is the rest of the album.
Key Track: “Common People” is another classic 90s tune and is regularly cited as Pulp’s best and most famous song. The eeriness of “I Spy” and the beauty of “F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E” also make them stand out.
SUNNY DAY REAL ESTATE - DIARY
Genre: Emo, Indie Rock, Post-Hardcore
Description: One of the most successful and musically competent acts of the second wave of Emo in the mid 90s, Sunny Day Real Estate produced arguably the best record the genre has ever seen with their 1994 debut release “Diary”. It’s a great example of an Emo record that stays true to its hardcore roots whilst still dealing with personal and heartfelt themes. Jeremy Enigk is just about the perfect Emo vocalist; his lullaby voice can change to a gut-wrenching snarl at the drop of a hat. Songs like “Seven”, “48” and “Shadows” are excellent displays of this. Special mention must also be given to the rhythm section of the group. William Goldsmith and Nate Mendel would go on to become founding members of the Foo Fighters in the mid 90s. Nate remains their bassist.
Key Track: Opening song “Seven” is one of the best examples of SDRE’s signature sound. In parts the song sounds as sweet as a Sigur Ros cut; in others it is as heavy as any hardcore band’s jam. A gem of a track.
BUILT TO SPILL – PERFECT FROM NOW ON
Genre: Indie Rock, Alternative Rock
Description: Built to spill could lay a serious claim to the most underrated rock band of the 90s. “Perfect from Now On” is clearly their standout album and in a back catalogue littered with pieces of indie gold that is no mean feat. The eight tracks constructed by Doug Martsch and friends are so scarily close to perfect (as the title implies), that had this album reached more people it would be much much higher on this list. Special mention must also go to the stunning guitar work throughout the record; it is well above the norm for the indie rock genre.
Key Track: Of all the albums on this list, “Perfect from Now On” provides the biggest challenge when trying to pick a key track. “Randy Described Eternity”, “I Would Hurt a Fly”, “Velvet Waltz”, “Out of Site” and “Kicked it in the Sun” could all tie for the title but the rest of the tracks are only a bee’s-dick behind. With a gun to my head though I’d probably go with “I Would Hurt a Fly”, as it was the first track I really fell in love with. The cello gives it a wonderful brooding quality before it crashes into a guitar solo the likes of which are usually only heard in classic hard rock albums.
JAY-Z – THE BLUEPRINT
Genre: East Coast Hip Hop, Hardcore Hip Hop
Description: Arguably Jay-Z’s best album, “The Blueprint” straddled the line of street-cred and accessibility perfectly. It hits hard lyrically but the instrumentation and choruses are unashamedly poppy. The production contributions from Kanye West helped announce him to the world in a big way. The album may lack consistency but Jay-Z knows his way around a hip-hop jam too well to make even the filler too cringe-worthy and when all the pieces do fall into place, this iconic hip hop album well and truly lives up to its considerable reputation.
Key Track: “The Ruler’s Back” is over the top, cocky, and flashy but holy crap is it some catchy shit! The trumpets just add the icing on an already scrumptiously excessive piece of hip hop.
THE WHITE STRIPES - ELEPHANT
Genre: Alternative Rock, Blues Rock, Garage Rock Revival
Description: How much noise can one man’s guitar make? A lot, according to Jack White on “Elephant”, The White Stripes’ most successful and arguably the loudest of their six LPs. Constantly cited as one of the best rock albums of the decade, it’s a throwback to an era of organic rock sounds and production quality (no computers or digital recording equipment was used in the making of the album). Jack’s strongly blues influenced guitar playing is complemented by Meg’s understated but steadfast drumming. The combination leads to a collection of blazing, memorable rock songs, none better than the seminal track “Seven Nation Army”.
Extra Trivia: Every White Stripes studio album has a song that contains the word “Little”.
Key Track: “Seven Nation Army” contains probably THE most recognizable riff from the last 23 years. It’s a classic song and one of the first conquests of many beginner guitarists. Their scorching cover of “I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself” also deserves an honourable mention.
PUBLIC ENEMY - FEAR OF A BLACK PLANET
Genre: East Coast Hip Hop, Conscious Hip Hop, Political Hip Hop
Description: “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back” may well be the most influential Hip-Hop album of all time, unfortunately it misses out on this countdown by two years. Fortunately “Fear of a Black Planet”, that album’s almost equally brilliant 1990 follow up, does scrape in! It very much stokes the already burning political fire that the previous LP started. The rhymes come thick, fast and passionately and are awesomely complimented by the ground-breaking production of “The Bomb Squad”; the production team that worked with the collective. Also worth noting is the lack of profanities in the rapping, something that would change throughout the rest of the decade. It’s not quite as ground-breaking as its predecessor but its still one of the greatest hip-hop records of all time.
Key Track: “Fight The Power” encapsulates everything that is great about Public Enemy. Scathing lyrics, effortless delivery and amazing production and instrumentation plus the song’s obvious anti-establishment message make it one of the best and most important hip hop tracks ever.
SONIC YOUTH - GOO
Genre: Alternative Rock, Noise Rock
Description: Sonic Youth are often touted as one of the major influences on the onset of the grunge explosion in the early nineties (along with Pixies in particular). The quality of their album output from the mid eighties to mid nineties is nothing short of staggering. While their big 80s albums (“EVOL”, “Sister” and the absolutely sublime “Daydream Nation”) are classified as their top few, 1990’s “Goo” certainly puts a strong claim as one of their best albums (as does 1992’s “Dirty”). They dialled back their highly experimental sound ever so slightly for the new decade but it just allows the band’s musical and hook-producing talent to shin through even more. Songs like “Dirty Boots”, “Tunic (Song for Karen)” and “Titanium Exposé” are amongst the best the band has to offer.
Key Track: “Dirty Boots” is a damn wonderful song and the perfect opening track for Goo but it is its opposite bookend, “Titanium Exposé, which gets my vote for the album’s best track. The guitars are noisy and jarring but just so incredibly perfect at the same time.
NINE INCH NAILS - THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL
Genre: Industrial Rock, Industrial Metal
Description: In a career defined by pushing boundaries and blurring lines between genres, “The Downward Spiral” has to be Trent Reznor and NIN’s most confronting and ingenious creation. Few albums can leave your skin crawling AND your ears gasping for more like this album can. If “The Downward Spiral” could be personified it would be a half machine, half demonic creation that spits fire and pillages villages, all whilst wailing on an electric guitar. This is not stuff for the faint hearted. The infamous single “Closer” proclaims Reznor wants “fuck you like an animal”, while on “Heresay” he proclaims that “God is dead and no one cares”. It’s an album that is definitely not for everyone but if you’re a fan then you’ll swear by its greatness.
Key Track: As shocking as the lead single was, “Hurt” is definitely the standout track on “The Downward Spiral”. Famously covered by Johnny Cash, it’s debatable which version is better but it should definitely be said that after listening to the brilliant clusterfuck that is the rest of “The Downward Spiral” it carries a lot more weight, sounding almost like a cathartic confession of sins from Reznor. “What have I become?/My sweetest friend/Everyone I know/Goes away in the end/You could have it all/My empire of dirt/I will let you down/I will make you hurt”. One of the most touching choruses ever written.
THE STROKES – IS THIS IT?
Genre: Indie Rock, Garage Rock Revival
Description: Along with the White Stripes, The Strokes did more for garage rock and indie rock in the 2000s with this one album than most bands have done across whole careers. Angular but simple guitars compliment sharp and nostalgic lyrics from Julian Casablancas. In many ways “Is This It?” works because it uses simple, straight-forward ideas and executes them really superbly. The nicely understated production is something that is often overlooked but its ability to place complete focus on the compositions is the other crucial component to one of the most catchy and loved indie albums of all time.
Key Track: “Last Nite” was a very successful and worthy single but there are at least a few tracks on “Is this It?” that are superior to it. “The Modern Age” and “Take it or Leave it” in particular encapsulate everything that is great about The Strokes and this album in particular.
OUTKAST - AQUEMINI
Genre: Southern Hip Hop, Conscious Hip Hop
Description: Massive single “Hey Ya” may forever be the only song that many people ever hear from Outkast, which is a complete tragedy on many levels, but mainly because Outkast are one of the most talented hip hop artists to have produced music in the last 20 years. Aquemini (the name comes from the combination of Andre 3000’s and Big Boi’s star signs) is a damn near perfect hip hop album and is desperately unlucky to miss out on the top 50 of this list. Wonderful production and a smorgasbord of badass beats support the pair’s legendary flow. The structure of the lyrics and the content they deal with ensure they stand out from just about every other hip hop album. One of the most consistently brilliant hip hop records on this list and indeed, of all time.
Key Track: “Rosa Parks” is a damn meaningful and catchy song but the sheer badassery of the mega hard-hitting “Skew it on the Bar-B” (which features Wu-Tang member Raekwon) ensures it will be the track that sticks with you the most.