As simple as you think it is, The Top Twenty Albums Of 1991, is err, its exactly that, each entry has accompanying video and write up, oh and it written by one of With Guitars most talented scribblers, Chris Todd, a great writer both of words and music, guess the only drawback of the now London based writer, is that he still supports his native Leeds United Football Club, but as much as we would like to say well played, instead I urge you to read, browse or otherwise cherry pick this music guide of 1991…
20. Mudhoney – ‘Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge’ (Sub Pop) (July 23)
Second album from the now legendary grunge act ended up being their best. Competing with Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and of course Nirvana to be the kings of the Seattle rock scene was never going to be easy but looking back Mudhoney were the perfect bed fellows for Nirvana, Pearl Jam were too epic, Soundgarden too hysterical but Mudhoney’s frenetic speed punk was a musical styling Nirvana were looking for with the amount of under the radar attention that Cobain subsequently craved.
Best track ‘Let It Slide’.
19. Carter USM – ‘30 Something’ (Rough Trade) (May 91)
The third album from Carter spawned a collection of classic British indie pop songs clad in a ubiquitous band t-shirt. It also kick started a period of genuine pop stardom and number 1 albums; 1992’s ‘Love album an unlikely chart topper. However it’s ’30 Something’ that remains their best, songs mainly dedicated to drinking and a genuine protest song against bullying and racism in the army in ‘Bloodsport for all’, ’30 Something’ is an album very much of its time, cheap drum machines, loud but spindly guitars and lots of shouty vocals, it’s the embodiment of indie from a time when that phrase actually meant something.
Best Track – ‘Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere’.
18. Gang Starr– ‘Step In The Arena’ (EMI) (Jan 15th)
An absolute classic album which fused jazz with hip hop, there have been many albums merging the two styles together since but this is where it begun. With a lyrical master class from rapper Guru and Premier’s slick beats and innovative use of samples, it’s a timeless album which twenty years after release holds its own amongst the very best hip hop albums of all time.
Best Track – ‘Just To Get A Rep’
17. Public Enemy – ‘Apocalypse 91 (The Empire Strikes Black)’ (Def Jam) (Oct 3rd)
When Public Enemy first appeared back in ’87 ‘Yo bum rush the show’ it was under a cloud of belligerence and indignant rage but with a very strong and well communicated message. Chuck D’s furious lyrics alongside the organised confusion of new producers The Imperial Grand Ministers of Funk marked a drastic change in sound after three albums of almost industrial production from The Bomb Squad, the two groups merging for a marriage made in hell.
The much anticipated ‘Apocalypse ‘91’ was their angriest and most mainstream release, soon after this their music became much less essential, the production tamer and Chuck D’s pro black message started to look old hat amongst the new ‘gangsta rap’ of NWA, 2 Live Crew and peaceful conscious rhyming from the likes of Tribe and De La Soul.
Best Track – ‘By The Time I Get To Arizona’
16. U2 – ‘Achtung Baby’ (Island) (19th November)
People make out ‘Achtung Baby’ to be the full stop on the derision shown for Bono and co but its nothing of the sort, it’s just that the album was such a strong one that people stopped taking the piss out of them and admitted that they’d got it absolutely right.
Criticised at the time for bandwagoneering, the influence of Kevin Shields on The Edges guitar playing or the baggy Happy Mondays style shuffling beats of tracks such as ‘Even Better than the real thing’ showed that not only were U2 fully aware of the musical surroundings at the time, they also realised that if a band took themselves so damn seriously for so long, the world would start laughing at them. You cannot argue with ‘One’ and ‘The Fly’ these are two of the greatest songs of the ‘90s on the same album.
Best track – ‘The Fly’
15. 808 State – ‘Ex El’ (ZTT) (May 9th)
Back in ’91 the idea of a full length electronic album hadn’t been realised, certainly a consistent one hadn’t yet been made. Since then of course Underworld, Prodigy and The Chemical Brothers have all shown that you can bang out eleven tunes and take people on a journey either at home or on the dancefloor. This fourth album by Manchester’s 808 State is probably one of the first techno albums to achieve this. Guest appearances from Bjork and Bernard Summer and two huge cross over hits in ;In yer face’ and ‘Cubik’ meant all eyes in the UK stayed on Manchester for another year after the dominance of the City’s musical output of 1990.
Best track – ‘Spanish Heart’
14. Ice T – ‘O.G.’ (Rhyme Syndicate) (May 14th)
Back in 1992 while Ice-T was in the UK with his thrash metal band Body Count, I had the opportunity to interview the ‘Ice’ backstage prior to a show in Bradford supported by Slayer of all people. Ice’s reputation was reaching its heights, not only was the ‘Original Gangster’ album was his absolute best but he had the rock audience on board with his initially impressive all black metal outfit.
I was ushered to the huge backstage area and enjoyed chicken and funny smelling cigarettes with them and all went well until I decided to ask Ice about his name, Tracey Marrow. Being eyed up (this is Ice-T…it was scary), I asked why he had a girls name, he swore a bit and said it wasn’t a fuckin’ girls name and demanded the next question, to make matters worse I said it was a girls name and if you speak to 100 people called Tracey in the UK, you’ll have just spoken to 100 women. At this point Ice got up asked “what the fuck” announced he wasn’t talking to “this dumb motherfucker who was saying stupid shit to ME!!” and he stormed off to another room, the bonhomie soon ended and I decided to leave with one last piece of chicken.
He might have outraged the world with a song about glorifying the murder of donut eating ‘cops’ but he still has a girls name.
Best Track – ‘Midnight’
13. The Pixies – ‘Trompe Le Monde’ (4AD) (23rd September)
Released on the same day as ‘Nevermind’, most eyes were on The Pixies with their fourth long player rather than Kurt and co’s second. With The Pixies being a main influence on Nirvana and one of the main rock bands of the indie scene at the time, ‘Trompe Le Monde’ was hotly anticipated but seen as a disappointment in general. It’s their hardest, angriest record, probably due to Kim Deal’s diminished role in the creation of the music, ‘Alec Eiffel’ and ‘Planet of Sound’ is the sound of The Pixies at their best.
Best track – ‘Alec Eiffel’
12. Spaceman 3 – ‘Recurring’ (Dedicated) (May)
Jason Pierce and Pete Kember’s time as space rock outfit Spacemen 3 was as fraught as you’d expect a band fronted by two drug addicts to be. Their fourth album was recorded at the height of their dysfunction, relations in the band so fractured that not only had they split up by the time this album was actually released, they had barely communicated with each other during its two year gestation period, didn’t play a note of music on the other member’s tracks and even refused to have their tracks side by side so took a side of the album each, effectively making this two solo albums merged into one.
This method worked because it contains some of their finest material, and having their songs together resulted in their most cohesive album. Kember’s ‘Big City’ is a dancey shoegaze classic while Pierce’s ‘Feel so sad’ is him at his most mournful also kick starting his subsequent band; Spiritualized and Kember’s almost immediate disappearance.
Best track – ‘Big City’
11. Ruthless Rap Assassins – ‘Think, It Aint Illegal Yet’ (Murdertone) (Aug 91)
In 1990 The Assassins crew from Manchester released their outstanding debut ‘The Killer album’. Produced by legendary electro DJ and re-edit master Greg Wilson (the first man to show the UK how to DJ on Channel 4 show The Tube back in 1983), its cut and paste nature was like listening to a sticker album, a Beatles sample up against a Paul Oakenfold beat, a stoopid rhyme about dissing your rivals against social commentary about the oppression of the first generation black community in the UK, the lyrics were mainly hard hitting and the party time music complimented that perfectly.
This release the year following continued in the same vein but didn’t quite reach the highs of its predecessor (hard to do when it’s the best hip hop album the UK has produced) but tracks such as ‘What did you say your name was’ and ‘Why me’ showed off a new, pleasing funk aspect to their music but it’s the hard hitting electro rap of tracks such as ‘Hard and direct’ and the sleazy rock on ‘I got no time’ which showed much promise but went unrealised due to them splitting up the same year, the only member who resurfaced albeit briefly was Kermit alongside Shaun Ryder in the mid 90’s in Black Grape.
Best track – ‘Hard And Direct’
10. Tribe Called Quest – ‘Low End Theory’ (Jive records) (Sep 23rd)
Tribes second album (alongside De La’ De La Soul is dead album of the same year) is direct reaction to being bunched in with ‘The Daisy Age’ rappers. The Daisy age was a media created scene to bunch together all the non aggressive rappers into one socially acceptable group of artists (i.e – anyone who wasn’t Public Enemy, Ice Cube or Ice T). After the huge breakthrough hit of ‘Can I kick it?’ it would have been easy to continue down that pop route, black consciousness and sex rhymes alongside some genius sampling ensured they bettered their debut and many other notable hip hop releases of the year.
Best Track – ‘Butter’
9. Metallica ‘Black album’ (Elektra) (Aug 12th)
These days Metallica are beyond a joke, mutual therapy sessions, trying to sue anyone who’s even thought of downloading a Metallica track, two truly awful albums in a row – 2003’s ‘St Anger’ and ‘Death Magnetic’ and a truly bizarre collaboration with Lou Reed, one of the most overrated artists of all time.
Back in 1991 they were a hard drinking, drugging headfuck of a metal band whose album sales were about to dwarf almost everything that came near it. More measured and slower than the thrash of their earlier material, ‘Metallica’s strength was in drastically slowing down the tempo of the songs within but managing to stay as heavy and at times even heavier than previous releases. Guns n Roses’ preposterous two release set ‘Use your illusion’ is usually referred to as the hard rock album of choice for this era but anyone who has damaged their neck dancing to ‘Wherever I may roam’ or ‘Enter Sandman’ knows this is utter bullshit.
Best track – ‘Sad But True’
8. Massive Attack – ‘Blue Lines’ (Virgin) (8th April)
With the Gulf war happening at the time, the government didn’t want us to listen to acts like Bomb the Bass and Massive Attack, the words bomb and attack being way too upsetting for our sensitive ears. How can a stone cold classic like ‘Unfinished sympathy be ignored? This was hip hop in a way that had never been done before, using the sounds of hip hop to envelope future soul classics. 3D, Mushroom and Daddy G have never reached these heights since and let’s face it, how could you?
Best Track – ‘Daydreaming’
7. Saint Etienne – ‘Foxbase Alpha’ (Heavenly) (23rd Sep)
Many people quote the axis of Suede, Denim, Pulp and The Auteurs as the seeds of Britpop but it actually began two years prior with this album. Crammed with love songs to a London long gone, St Etienne used hid their references to 60’s kitchen sink dramas, early 70’s Beach Boys b-sides, 80’s indie pop within a 90’s dance beat. The way Pete Wiggs and Bob Stanley condensed their influences into a modern dance music sound was totally original and while some may say very much of their time, they continued to do this throughout the following two decade inadvertently making the best pop song of all time with 1994’s ‘Like a motorway’.
Best Track – ‘She’s The One’
6. KLF – ‘The White Room’, (KLF communications) (March 1991)
The JAMMS, KLF’s previous incarnation were little more than an annoyance, the constant attention seeking came first, the music an afterthought. The transformation into an electronic super group was effective and seemingly easy. ‘What time is love?’ and ‘3am Eternal’ are trance influenced classics but it’s the more introspective tracks such as Twin Peaks sampling ‘Build a fire’ which show that this pony was made of many more tricks than just the one.
Best Track – ‘What Time Is Love?’
5. Nirvana – ‘Nevermind’ (DGC Records) (23rd Nov)
No point writing anything about this album, it’s all been said, although its influence is overshadowed by other releases of this year, its importance way outshines everything else on this list.
Best Track – ‘Polly’
4. Teenage Fanclub – ‘Bandwagonesque’ (Creation records) (4th Nov)
The boys from Bellshill hit pure indie gold on this second album. The lush 4 part harmonies, chiming Byrdsian guitars and self deprecating Scottish charm were never as well executed as it was on ‘Bandwagonesque’. Laying an unfortunate blueprint for bands such as Travis at the other end of the decade, this album was the sweetest of the incredible four album whammy Creation released this year and although it’s also the most conventional, it’s just as impressive, an innocent antidote to the drugginess of ‘Screamdelica’, the headache tablet to relieve the whirling headaches of ‘Loveless’.
Best Track – ‘Alcoholiday’
3. Swervedriver – Raise (Creation records) 30th Sep
Oxford four piece Swervedriver never really received the acclaim they deserved, their odes to fast cars and long roads more suited to American audiences where they commanded much more attention. The guitar solos and pounding drums of ‘Raise’ were at odds with the heady shoegaze tendencies they also had. The two styles– hard bolshy American rock and sexless, egoless swirling shoegaze were two genres that were meant to never be together but on ‘Raise’, it was as if they were made for each other. A total lost classic of an album which improves with each listen.
Best Track – ‘Rave Down’
2. My Bloody Valentine – ‘Loveless’ (Creation Records) 4th Nov
History has been very kind towards My Bloody Valentine’s first album ‘Isn’t anything’, it’s tinny, badly produced, at times the music is slapdash at best and neither Billinda or Kevin knew what to do with their limited vocal skills.
Their material prior to the ‘You made me realise’ and ‘Feed me with your kiss’ eps had occasional glimmers of brilliance from ’85 onwards and once they got rid of their original singer and stopped being a Cramps covers act they started to find their feet, it took a long time though. ‘Isn’t anything’ was their feet finding moment, ‘Loveless’ released three years later was their stunning year zero.
Much has been made of the unconventional recording techniques of Shields and his blatant disregard towards other people’s money when in the studio (Shields recently admitted to taking half a million of Universal’s cash after they signed the band in 1992) but when the result of this is an album of breathtaking originality and beauty as ‘Loveless’, it’s worth it.
Shields failed to top this, he failed to follow it up and even though the band reformed in 2007 with the promise that new material was forthcoming, nothing has emerged as yet. The indie world has their eye on Shields’ next move but if he continues to be unable or unwilling to follow this album up, he has given us a timeless piece of art, the importance of which will never diminish.
Best Track – ‘Blown A Wish’
1. Primal Scream – ‘Screamadelica’ (Creation records) 23rd Sep
People were only vaguely aware of Primal Scream prior to Loaded, at the time they were known loser rockers with greasy hair and low album sales, to see them go from leather jackets and sneers to white jeans and gurns was genuinely shocking as was the euphoria cribbed from acid house and liberal ecstasy use for the tracks on this third album, these are dirty rockers, right? Where’s the dirty rock?
The true power of the album is by minimising Bobby Gillespie’s vocal output, using Denise Johnson on the pounding house classic ‘Don’t fight it, feel it’, the wordless Beach Boysian coos of ‘Inner Flight’ and the epic ten minute ambient psychedelia of ‘Come together’ are still jaw dropping digressions from typically Scream like fodder such as ‘Movin’ on up’, the astounding ‘I’m coming down’ the purring ‘Higher than the sun’.
‘Screamdelica’ still plays like the best compilation you’ll ever make, the biggest trip you’ll ever take and just when you think you’ve got everything you can possibly get from this album, you’ll go back to it and marvel at the never ending revelations that are contained within.
Best Track – ‘Higher Than The Sun’