26 February 2011
TOP FIFTY ALBUMS OF THE '90s: # 30-21
30. Original Cast Recording – HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH
Avoiding the bloat and phoniness that has plagued many a rock musical, John Cameron Mitchell’s glam cabaret act drew from various recognizable influences but transformed them into something new: personal yet engaging, his songs (co-written with Stephen Trask) not only brim with a sassy wit and an earned poignancy, they also convincingly rock.
29. The Darling Buds – EROTICA
The final album from these feisty Brits had the misfortunate to come out around the same time as Madonna’s similarly-titled effort, thus dooming it to obscurity and cut-out bins across the land. Too bad--their sublime dream pop version of My Bloody Valentine wrapped layers of guitars and tart hooks around Andrea Lewis’ playful, knowing vocals.
28. Fiona Apple – WHEN THE PAWN…
Apple wears her neuroses on her sleeves but doesn’t always shy away from trying to figure them out. This can be intimidating for those looking for instant gratification from a pop song. The thing is, once you rationalize her methods with her obvious melodic talent and lyrical prowess, no matter how long it takes for a song to sink in, once it does, it’s unshakable.
27. Aimee Mann – WHATEVER
The girl with the braid from Til Tuesday surprised everyone with this solo debut: uncommonly mature, elegant and sharp, it didn’t receive a fraction of the radio airplay it deserved. Although the slick, bright production dates it more than Mann’s subsequent work, it’s also intriguingly devoid of the wry bitterness Mann would make her stock in trade.
26. Towa Tei – FUTURE LISTENING!
Formerly of Deee-Lite (whose WORLD CLIQUE just missed cracking this list), Tei promisingly kicked off a solo career with this playful set that could be summed up by the song title “Technova”: colliding electrobeats with Antonio Carlos Jobim and featuring a who’s-who of ‘90s bossa nova acolytes (including Bebel Gilberto), it’s breezy yet stimulating fun.
25. Seal – SEAL (1991)
His gradual descent into Adult Contemporary Hell makes this now 20-year-old debut all the more remarkable for its unadulterated weirdness: it’s almost as if he can’t decide whether to be a dancefloor belter, soulful crooner or enigmatic seeker, so he’s a little of all three, often on the same song.
24. Pizzicato Five – THE SOUND OF MUSIC BY
Japanese studiomeisters pillage a selection of decidedly American songs and rev it up past the postmodern mark until it resembles either a TV game show theme or a Burt Bachrach strung out on pixy stix. However, with elusive diva Maki Nomiya at their disposal, they spin ample gold out of so much sugar.
23. Jellyfish – BELLYBUTTON
Sounding like Squeeze and early Cheap Trick at possibly the least coolest time ever to do so, this admittedly silly-looking outfit made gushingly irresistible music that encompassed psych-pop, Brill Building craft, bubblegum, The Beatles and even a little bossa nova–and it remains more durable than you’d ever expect.
22. Saint Etienne - GOOD HUMOR
Varying from their usual cultivation of instrumentals, film snippets and other experimental detours, this very British trio hooks up with the producer of The Cardigans and affectionately gazes back to late '60s/early '70s AM radio heaven. Vocalist Sarah Cracknell also displays an ever deeper, more versatile tone that fully complements the songs' puppy dog warmth.
21. Ben Folds Five - WHATEVER AND EVER AMEN
Against charges of insincerity and excess cleverness, Folds initially had the talent and tunes to answer his distractors, plus the depth and finesse to prove them wrong. If a rant like "Song For the Dumped" remains a little crude (if riotously cathartic), somber, more pensive numbers like "Evaporated" and surprise hit ballad "Brick" still reveal the vulnerable soul behind the smart-ass.