For me, this is the ultimate 90s album. As the Oasis vs Blur saga rumbled on, Pulp released this monster of a record, obliterating the two heavyweights of Britpop, and summing up the era in 12 brilliantly crafted pop songs. Lyrically sublime and melodically strong throughout, Jarvis Cocker sings about real life in the 90s, and sings it on behalf of all of us. Simply put, this album really is as its title declares. Only the over-lenghty, slightly dull F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E prevents a perfect 10 rating, here.
Looking back, the vast majority of Britpop music really wasn’t as good as we all thought it was. There are a handful of notable exceptions, though and this is definately one of them. Then again, Damon and the gang never were also-rans, and having kicked-off the Britpop era, they famously brought the curtain down upon it with the release of The Great Escape. Parklife, although not Blur’s most adventurous album (that award goes to the patchy 13), is probably their most consistent, and contains track after track of musical excellence, played and sung by a band at the peak of their powers. Graham Coxon’s frantic guitar stabs during Trouble In The Message Centre and Albarn’s vocal on To The End stand out as particular highlights on a truly great album.
Following the massive success of ‘The Blue Album’, Weezer frontman and songwriter Rivers Cuomo unleashed Pinkerton on an unsuspecting world. Abandoning the upbeat, power-pop ‘geek-rock’ of its predecessor, Rivers created a collection of songs that were dark, grimey, rough around the edges, and extremely personal and heartfelt (as he sings in El Scorcho: How stupid is it?/ I can’t talk about it/I gotta sing about it and make a record of my heart).
A critical and commercial flop when it was released, Pinkerton has gradually earned the respect it deserves, and, in my humble opinion, is one of the great Rock albums of all time.
Eels: Electro-Shock Blues (1998)
Best Tracks: 3 Speed; Last Stop: This Town; Climbing To The Moon; Dead Of Winter; P.S. You Rock My WorldAs Weezer followed up their debut album with a less radio-friendly affair, Eels, fresh from their Brit Award for 1996’s Beautiful Freak, released Electro-Shock Blues. Using his sister’s death and mother’s recent cancer diagnosis for the majority of the album’s lyrical narrative, Mark Everett (a.k.a ‘E’) was never looking to produce Beautiful Freak #2, and chose instead to completely turn his back on the mainstream success he’d found over the past couple of years. As he says himself: ‘I didn’t give a s**t any more about the MTV world that I had become a part of. I thought it would be cool but, if you saw how it all really works, it’s sickening.’
There is something extremely poignant and moving about a man, alone in the basement/studio of his childhood home, pouring his heart and soul into these songs. This is not paint by numbers studio-enhanced music; this is pure, raw, human emotion, packaged neatly within sixteen songs.
With such dark, devastating subject matter looming large over proceedings, one might expect Electro-Shock Blues to be a depressing listen, but much of the album focusses not on death, but on learning to live, as demonstrated in the song P.S. You Rock My World : “Laying in bed tonight I was thinking/ And listening to all the dogs/ And the sirens and the shots/ And how a careful man tries to dodge the bullets/ While a happy man takes a walk/ And maybe it’s time to live”.
The expression ‘achingly beautiful’ is drastically overused in reviews, but if ever it were to be applied properly, it would be to Electro-Shock Blues. An album of complete and utter brilliance.
Fun Lovin’ Criminals: Come Find Yourself (1996)
Best Tracks: The Fun Lovin’ Criminal; Scooby Snacks; King Of New YorkIn 1996, Huey Morgan epitomised the word ‘Cool’. I can still remember the first time I saw him on TV; dressed in a white suit, black shirt, and sunglasses, spitting out vocals in his rap/singing style before shredding seven shades of summer out of his shiny black Gibson Les Paul. I was suitably impressed, not only with how great he looked, but with how fantastically he played the guitar. Much of Come Find Yourself blends laid-back New York hip-hop with Rock, and Morgan’s vocal and guitar talents are utilised to the full. Great lyrics, great tunes, great fun. “Stick ‘Em up, Punk…”
I don’t consider myself an Oasis fan by any measure, and I would probably class Definitely Maybe as the band’s best album, but What’s The Story… evokes a strong feeling of period in me whenever I hear it, and that’s why it makes the list. If ever there was a Summer of Love in England, it occurred in 1996. The Beatles were huge again, courtesy of their Anthology albums, men were walking around in the baking sun dressed like mods, sporting shaggy hairdos and long sideburns, and England were going strong in Euro ’96. The Beatles were firmly back in fashion, but Oasis were 1996, and it was impossible to go anywhere that summer without hearing Don’t Look Back In Anger (or Three Lions). What’s The Story… isn’t fancy, clever, sophisticated music, but there are some great, singalong tunes on here, and it’s still worth whacking this on at full-volume, and pretending it’s 1996 again (and we weren’t beaten on pens again by the Germans).
Morrissey: Vauxhall And I (1994)
Best Tracks: Spring Heeled Jim; The More You Ignore Me The Closer I Get; Lifeguard Sleeping, Girl Drowning; SpeedwayAfter the brash, Mick Ronson-produced Your Arsenal, Morrissey drafted in Steve Lilywhite for a lighter approach on his fourth solo album, Vauxhall and I. Vocally, Morrissey hits a career high. With his deep, soulful performance on Now My Heart Is Full, and the haunting, whispered execution of Lifeguard Sleeping, Girl Drowning, the bum notes of previous albums are kept to an absolute minimum, as is his penchant for yodeling.
Brilliant production; catchy, yet sophisticated melodies; meaningful lyrics; Vauxhall and I deserves its place as Morrissey’s unofficial best album.
OK Computer gets on this list and warrants its 7.5/10 rating based entirely on 5 spectacularly brilliant songs (Paranoid Android; Exit Music (For a Film); Karma Police; No Surprises; and Lucky). The rest of the tracks on this somewhat overrated album are ordinary to say the least.
In 1997, OK Computer was everywhere, and was THE album to be playing. If you weren’t playing it, you should be talking about it. If you weren’t talking about it, you should be out buying it. And if you weren’t out buying it, you should be thinking about going out and buying it. Although it could be argued that it lacks the consistency of the excellent The Bends, OK Computer was the most talked-about album of the decade, and it’s hard to think about the late nineties without having it spring into my mind.
The Fat Of The Land is, for me, all about Breathe; the song of late 1996 – early 1997, and the dance song of the decade. I’ll never forget hearing it for the first time and being taken aback at how dang loud and dirty it was. The rest of the album doesn’t relent in its attempts to be as ear-splitting as humanly possible either, even if the other songs don’t quite have the same jaw-dropping effect as Breathe. Liam Howlett and the boys blend hip-hop into the Prodigy mix for the first time here, with the excellent Diesel Power, and we get a thrashing, snarling dose of dance-punk with Serial Thrilla. A real dank, seedy, dance album, if there ever was one, and a vital ingredient to the sound of the mid-late nineties.
One of the best openings to an album I have ever heard, It’s Great… does trail off slightly toward the end, but remains interesting and lively throughout. Popular opinion may put Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches as Shaun Ryder and Co.’s best work, but for me, it’s all about this 1995 offering. The sitar, thundering drumbeats, cool electric guitars, Kermit’s rapping, and, of course, Ryder’s hilariously goofy lyrics delivered in his inimitable northern yell. The intro to Kelly’s Heroes in particular is absolutely irresistable…