Modern Classic Albums Part 6: 50-41
After some severely tardy article production from this writer, part 6 of the 100 Modern Classic Albums is finally here! As we move into the second half of the list, things start getting seriously interesting. Would any of these albums make your top 10 modern classics? Let us know by grading each album with a simple click of the mouse!
Beck – Odelay
Genre: Alternative Rock, Hip Hop, Lo-Fi Indie
Description: Beck Hansen’s seminal 1996 release “Odelay” is a melting pot for a number of music genres as wide reaching as Alternative Rock, Hip Hop, Country, Lo-Fi, Electronic and Folk. On paper those styles should never be able to create a cohesive album. The fact that Beck was able to make one is exactly why “Odelay” is such a unique and ingenious album. One of the major reasons for this is the flawless production from The Dust Brothers, who were previously known for their seamless work on the Beastie Boys’ “Paul’s Boutique”. They effortlessly melt the contrasting musical genres into one another as Beck raps and sings over the top with an abundance of wit and style. “Odelay” may just be one of the most unusual albums on this list, but it is also one of the most enjoyable.
Key Track: “Devil’s Haircut” is the perfect opener to Odelay. From the moment that simple garage-y guitar riff starts blaring you know this is just going to be one chilled out, joyride of an album.
Beastie Boys – Ill Communication
Genre: East Coast Hip Hop, Funk, Rap Rock,
Description: Speaking of the Beastie Boys! The white wonder kids from NYC produced some absolutely classic albums between the mid 80s and the mid 90s. Billed as the first Caucasian Hip Hop collective, they in fact started life as a hardcore outfit in the early 80s. This shows through on the majority of their albums and particularly on “Ill Communication”; a delicious fusion of rap, hardcore, funk and jazz. What is even more remarkable about the Beastie Boys was their ability to play their own instruments, something that was largely unheard of in the hip hop world at the time. The 2012 death of founding member and major creative force Adam Yauch (AKA MCA) means that the world may never again hear the Beastie Boys’ music in the same joyous, freewheeling and party-inducing manner. It only a listen to “Ill Communication”, or indeed any of their other albums to realize what a massive loss to music that is.
Key Track: “Ill Communication’s” 1992 predecessor “Check Your Head” would also have been a worthy candidate of a spot on this list, however “Ill Communication” gets a spot almost purely because of the impact the song “Sabotage” had on alternative music. The perfect blend of raucous hardcore and aggressive rapping, it is one of the most important songs of the last two and a half decades. Few songs are able to inspire wrecking absolutely anything so very well.
Talk Talk – Laughing Stock
Genre: Post-Rock, Experimental Rock, Jazz, Art Pop
Description: Talk Talk were a hugely influential Post-Rock and Art Pop band who produced the majority of their music throughout the 1980s. 1991’s “Laughing Stock” was their final piece of work; as they disbanded soon after. Its predecessor, 1988’s “Spirit of Eden”, is cited as one of the first true records of the post-rock genre. The minimalistic and spacious arrangements, haunting vocals and experimental flourishes have all become cornerstones of the post-rock genre and “Laughing Stock” is somewhat of a gold standard. Artists such as Mogwai, Explosions in the Sky, and Sigur Ros have all borrowed aspects of the Talk Talk formula, not least the gorgeous guitar tones. These bands may have put their own spin on post-rock but Talk Talk were the first and definitely one of the best.
Key Track: With six tracks totalling 42 minutes, “Laughing Stock” contains some tastily sized tracks. However, from the first delicate guitar strum on “Myrrhman”, through to the sparse “Runeii” it holds your attention completely; the mark of a truly great post-rock album. The most captivating and possibly the most beautiful of these tracks may be “New Grass”: an almost 10 minute track that is absolutely oozing with bright but reflective sounding instrumentation and vocalist Mark Hollus’s sublimely captivating tones. It’s a wonderful, wonderful piece of music.
R.E.M. – Automatic for the People
Genre: Alternative Rock, Pop Rock, Jangle Pop
Description: R.E.M. were one of the great pop rock bands of the eighties and nineties. Listening to albums like “Automatic for the People” now makes you wish that current popular artists had the same levels of musicianship and songwriting talent. Pitting Bieber, LMFAO or 1D against a song like “Man on the Moon”, “Everybody Hurts” or “Drive” is nowhere near to a contest. “Automatic for the People” is a record that studies humanity and mortality in a very direct manner. It may come across as melancholic in many places but never so much so that it detracts from the music as a whole. Apart from its lyrical themes, the album also stands out because of the band’s acute sense of song structure and composition. Many of the songs build spectacularly, enhancing the album’s sense of slightly-pompous grandeur. “Automatic for the People” is one of the landmark pop albums of the last 25 years.
Key Track: “Everybody Hurts” is quite possibly THE heartbreak song of the 1990s. It’s a timeless track that fits pretty much every reflective situation.
Pavement – Slanted and Enchanted
Genre: Indie Rock, Noise Pop, Lo-Fi Indie
Description: A hugely influential band on the indie rock movement throughout the 90s, California’s Pavement helped to develop the Lo-Fi rock aesthetic that so many bands would go on to use. Pavement stood out from the pack because of their brilliant song writing and the willingness to utilise influences from a multitude of different genres. Their first album, “Slanted and Enchanted”, is rightly mentioned as one of the great debut albums from any era. It is carefree and riotous (“No Life Singed Her”, “Conduit for Sale!”) but also supremely touching and heartfelt (“Here”, “In The Mouth of a Desert”), which has led it to be adored by an entire alternative generation.
Key Track: “In The Mouth of a Desert”, “Here”, “Trigger-Cut/Wounded Kite” and “Jackals, False Grails: The Lonesome Era” are all absolutely stunning songs but it is the opener “Summer Babe (Winter Version)” that rightfully holds a place as one of the most outstanding Indie Rock songs of all time. From the fuzzy guitars and the delicate bass and drumming through to Stephen Malkmus’s wonderfully poignant vocal performance, it is a perfect song from a band that prided themselves on sounding rough, ready and full of imperfections.
Soundgarden – Superunknown
Genre: Grunge, Alternative Rock, Alternative Metal
Description: Though often neglected in discussions of the great Grunge era bands, Soundgarden had a stellar period of musical production in the early nineties, churning out albums such as “Badmotorfinger” and particularly this gem: “Superunknown”. It is absolutely teaming with knockout tracks, showcasing a wide range of influences and the band’s highly proficient musical abilities. The drumming of Matt Cameron was only topped in this period by Dave Grohl, whilst the guitar and bass of Kim Thayil and Ben Shepherd is of an unbelievably high standard. Partner this with the prodigious pipes of Chris Cornell and it’s no wonder they produced a rock album as stunning as “Superunknown”.
Key Track: “Black Hole Sun” may be their most well known song but it’s the Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath influenced behemoth “Like Suicide” that induces the biggest jaw drop of all. Not air-drumming along to the second part of the song is near-on impossible.
Nirvana – In Utero
Description: If you have any ounce of alternative music knowledge you’ll be aware this won’t be the last time Nirvana find themselves on this list. That is the catch with producing an album as groundbreaking and game-changing as “Nevermind”: it is very easy to overlook the follow up. Nonetheless, “In Utero” is rightly considered a classic in its own right. Considerably darker and more introspective than its predecessor; it is more likely to make you shift uncomfortably in your chair than jump around on top of it. Songs like “Rape Me”, “All Apologies” and “Heart-Shaped Box” all bare the weight of Kurt Cobain’s inner struggles, which would eventually prove too much for him in 1994. Thankfully, the turmoil did not stop him and his band mates from producing a set of songs that are truly memorable and engaging.
Key Track: “All Apologies” may be the song that most associate with Cobain’s demise but it is the brooding “Heart-Shaped Box” that gives possibly the best insight into his state of mind during the construction of “In Utero”. That the guitar and chorus are completely unforgettable is also a bonus.
Queens of the Stone Age – Songs for the Deaf
Genre: Hard Rock, Stoner Rock, Alternative Rock
Description: Rising from the ashes of seminal stoner rockers “Kyuss”, the Josh Homme piloted “Queens of the Stone Age” have been a force in Alternative Rock for the last 15 years. Slightly more melodic and radio friendly than Homme’s previous band, they have become festival headliners and stadium fillers, all whilst producing music that is still edgy, heavy and effortlessly cool. The AM radio topped, “Songs for the Deaf” is the album that oozes the most swagger of their whole catalogue. Dave Grohl’s ultra-muscular drumming adds even more bite to the band (check out “Song for the Dead” for a great example), whilst Homme’s consistently brilliant song-writing reached a thrilling peak for this album. Songs like “No One Knows”, “Song for the Dead” and “Go with the Flow” have all become live favourites but there is honestly no weak track on the album. It is deservedly considered one of the best rock albums of the 2000s.
Key Track: As good as “No One Knows” is; Josh Homme has never written a more melodic and brilliantly simple song than “Go with the Flow”. It comes pouring out of the speakers just when the album threatens to get a little slow and gives the extra thrust that pushes “Songs for the Deaf” into the stratosphere.
Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds – Let Love In
Genre: Post-Punk, Alternative Rock, Punk Blues
Description: Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds are quite possibly the greatest musical act Australia has ever produced. Loved by critics and the public alike, it is true testament to Nick Cave’s ability and longevity that he legitimately has half-a-dozen albums that could have found themselves onto this list. From a young punk in The Birthday Party, through to his work with The Bad Seeds in the eighties and then into the nineties and the new century (with Grinderman as well), he has always produced music that is captivating, original and extremely emotive. Even in 2013, “Push the Sky Away” reached many critics’ top 10 lists. “Let Love In” takes the spot on this countdown because it best showcases the many faces of Nick Cave. It is tender and gentle in places, snarly and pissed-off in others but always completely enthralling. His incomparable lyrical and vocal abilities are completely on show, whilst The Bad Seeds complement his stories perfectly with equally dynamic instrumentation. Said simply, it is one of the greatest Australian albums of all time.
Key Track: The key track on “Let Love In” really depends on what flavour of Nick Cave you enjoy the most. If his ballads are your thing, then “Nobody’s Baby Now” is definitely a standout. If you enjoy his darker, more gruesome side, then “Loverman” or “Red Right Hand” will definitely float your boat. But to an unbiased listener “Do you Love Me? (Part 1)” is the outstanding song on “Let Love In”.
Weezer – Weezer (Blue Album)
Genre: Alternative Rock, Pop Punk
Description: Rivers Cuomo and Weezer are a musical enigma. With the “Blue Album” and the equally ingenious “Pinkerton”, they produced two of the most enduring and endearing alternative rock albums of the 90s. Recently they’re more likely to produce albums that come across as shitty, try-hard versions of themselves. In the mid 90s though, they managed to perfectly straddle the divide between cheesy pop punk and edgy alternative rock. Cuomo’s lyrics may be cringe worthy in many places but they somehow work against the deceptively heavy guitar tones. The result is an album you can head-bang to with headphones on but also sing along to drunkenly with a group of mates. I mean, who hasn’t sung to “Buddy Holly” or “Say it Ain’t So” after a few bevans? It’s one of the most loved pop-punk albums of all time for good reason.
Key Track: You may never be able to keep a straight face when you meet someone called Jonas after hearing “My Name is Jonas” or constantly associate “Buddy Holly” with “Homies dissin’ your girl” but “Say it Ain’t So” is the one song that has dragged millions towards the weirdness that is Weezer. That mountain of feedback before the chorus is reason enough to love them. What an epic song!