When I initially started this blog, one idea was to use one particular year as a recurring feature. I would dedicate one post on a specific album. This was before I discovered that the A.V. Club had already beat me to the concept. Thankfully, they haven’t used my favorite year in question…yet. So I better get my list out before they do. Or before someone else does… say a blog from an ESPN staffer that wishes to be as high cultured as Vulture or the A.V. Club. (a.k.a. = my competition).
I recall a conversation I had with a friend at the time talking about Golden Ages of music. I lamented that there hadn’t been one since the 70’s. Since I had just discovered classic rock, my argument was that the last one was in the mid 70’s. My friend, who was into punk and new wave, naturally countered with the late 70’s. Little did we both realize that a new golden age was right in front of our eyes. My regret was that I didn’t have the knowledge and taste to appreciate it right then and there. My favorite year …is 1990.
The first album I wish to discuss is the first one from my list that I happened to stumble upon. Like my other future fans, I first heard of They Might Be Giants from the Tiny Toon Adventures’ episode “Tiny Toons Music Television.” TTA‘s videos for “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” and “Particle Man” are even better than the official TMBG videos. I could go on and on about the album, but here is the highest praise I can give: I love the album Flood so much that I had posted a parody on Usenet for every track on the album.
Most folks were introduced to Midnight Oil in 1987 when they heard “Beds are Burning” from the album Diesel and Dust. Even though this was their biggest hit, their best may have been on their follow-up album, 1990’s Blue Sky Mining. Besides the almost-title-track, there were three other songs that got radio play. This was the album where te band evolved musically. And lead singer Peter (Mr Clean) Garrett went from screaming to singing. I still remember when the band held a free concert outside of Exxon’s headquarters shortly after the Valdez accident and perform “River Runs Red.” In terms of post-punk, protest rock in concerned, BSM is the musical bridge between The Clash’s London Calling and Green Day’s American Idiot.
On the flip side, in terms of popularity and success, the reverse may be true for Queensryche. Critically speaking, their best album may be their 1988 concept album, Operation:Mindcrime. However, they reached the pinnacle of commercial success with their follow-up album, Empire, highlighted by their only Top-10 single, the power ballad “Silent Lucidity.” Haters loved to pint out how that song sound eerily similar to Pink Floyd’s classic, “Comfortably Numb,” and thematically similar to Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.” The former is a stretch (PF does not have exclusive rights to extend the word “I” in a chorus), and the latter is absurd (Queensryche’s album was released first). Still power ballads have rarely been the best songs on any rock album, and Empire is no exception. According to wiki, six (out of 11) singles were released off this album, and I have a deep affinity to listening to at least four of the other five. This may have been prog rock’s finest hour – too bad it was stuck in the metal power ballad era, and moments before the advent of the grunge scene.
The next album is the first one I wish I had back in 1990 was Concrete Blonde’s Bloodletting. I guess you can say that this album was ahead of its time. I’m surprised no one has covered “Bloodletting (the Vampire Song)” yet. The album’s biggest hit, “Joey” was made at the last second, and it showed. As a college project, I tried to parse the chorus of “I don’t need a hero,” (and did not succeed). It is a shame that “Darkening of the Light” was not released as a single, since it was better than the other mandolin featured song from 1990 – and Peter Buck performed on both of them!
As much as I want to forget, 1990 continued the advent of hip-hop. I confess that I had a couple of hip-hop albums in my collection. Thankfully, my developing musical taste helped my avoid pop posers M.C. Hammer and Vanilla Ice. But there are two mainstream rap albums that stood the test of time. One was LL Cool J‘s Mama Said Knock You Out. The other was A Tribe Called Quest’s People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. The former could be heard in the cul-de-sacs; the latter was only played in the projects. These two albums complement one another in their similarities, despite the wide contrast in popularity.
Even though three of the “Big 4” heavy metal bands released albums in 1990 – Slayer with Seasons in the Abyss; Megadeth with Rust in Peace; and Anthrax with Persistance in Time, the heavy metal album of 1990 was Pantera’s Cowboys from Hell. The popularity of this album amongst metal heads is only surpassed by its appreciation from the music community itself. The influence CFH possesses can not be overstated. In fact, there is nothing I could say that hasn’t already been said by fans and critics alike.
Other artists and bands that released albums that deserve mention include (in no particular order): Peter Murphy; Toad the Wet Sprocket; The Church; Primus; Depeche Mode; Robert Plant; Public Enemy; Digital Underground; Social Distortion; The Sundays; AC/DC; Warrant; INXS; Testament; The Replacements; Pet Shop Boys; The Scorpions; Tesla; School of Fish; Iggy Pop; Suicidal Tendancies; Alice in Chains; Extreme; Jane’s Addiction; Firehouse; Crosby, Stills and Nash; The Pixies; Deee-Light; and George Michael.