‘Member them Nineties?

I just listened to that whole Liz Phair album – you know, the one that rocks all the heartsick ‘Holden Caulfied n’ Columbia House’ tape collectors of the late Herbert Walker Bush era? I’ve switched to a righteous Joe Jackson bootleg from Kingston that’s entirely unrelated to this strain.

Anyway, I’ve decided to spend time thinking about a blog-only-comp devoted to Great Bands of the 1990s, with the major criterion bein’ you have’to’ve made at least four very-good/great records during that period. To give you a sense of from where I’m galloping, here’s some bands that maybe don’t satisfy this requirement in my book:

1) Nirvana, cuz Bleach came out in 1989. The question becomes whether or not you think the Unplugged thing is very good/great.

2) Pavement, okay so Watery Domestic, Slanted and Enchanted, Crooked Rain Crooked Rain, and…I need to wait for the fancy new take on Wowee Zowee to decide whether or not it’s great.

3) Wilco, three 90s albums only and I don’t think AM‘s really very good/great, despite some beautiful songs. Too many Stones-y lark songs.

4) Liz P. herself, natch. Things went South, it seems.

5) Bob Dylan?

Great Bands that Simply Don’t Live up to the Four-Album Quota: Gastr Del Sol, Slint, Rodan, Breeders, Strapping Fieldhands, Dinosaur, For Carnation, Ted Leo/Pharmacists, Drive Like Jehu, Rorschach, Born Against… it goes on a long time, this list.

Anyway, who’s got nominees? I understand the four album thing is all controversial and shit, but the idea is to highlight bands that survived the 90s, dig? I’m looking for bands of the 90s, rather than bands that happened to make great records during those times.

Whatever, it’s something to wank about when there’s another more pressing form of scholar-wank I shouldn’t shirk but shirk nonetheless.


32 Responses to “‘Member them Nineties?”

  1. km Says:

    That’s a lot harder than I thought. I was gonna say Jawbreaker, but I’d have a hard time defending 24-hour Revenge Therapy (dear you is good, despite what everyone says). I could make a case for the seattle bands i grew up on, Modest Mouse and Built to Spill, but i’m not convinced i’d call any four of their albums great (there are three for MM, and two, maybe three, for BtS). What about fugazi? Not quite diverse enough? not great albums, just great as an idea? Or how about Superchunk?

    wait, I get it, this is a trick question.

    i’m going to bed now.


  2. Elvira Says:

    Alright, since our move to the ATL, I’ve noticed that the radio stations here have a real attachment to the 90s. Lots of songs that I haven’t thought about since the 90s make their way into the daily shuffle. Of course, there is a loyalty to the Atlanta/Athens acts of that era. Those would be REM, the Black Crowes, Widespread Panic, and the Indigo Girls. All of those bands put out at least 4 albums in the 90s, but could not be considered top-notch bands by any standard. (The locals might argue with me.) I guess REM is the most significant out of this little group, but they really came out the 80s, and we must admit that the 90s work wasn’t so great. Then there’s Outkast and TLC. Both of them had 3 albums in the 90s, I’ve discovered. Outkast almost made it into the 4 album league, but Stankonia was Oct. 2000. Didn’t Kizer used to live across from T Boz?

  3. jordan Says:

    -Nirvana unplugged has “great” moments, but a just below “very good” average, I think.

    -Wowie Zowie should be counted as “very good”, thus making Pavement a contender.

    -Did Beck have four good albums? Was Mutations in the 90’s?”

  4. Kyle Says:

    Jordan–Mutations did come out in ’90’s, so did Midnite Vultures.

    This whole “must have 4 great albums from the 90’s” really throws a curveball. Therefore, I nominate: Barenaked Ladies, Counting Crows, The Offspring, Lenny Kravitz, and Smash Mouth.

  5. Minx Says:

    I don’t think the Nirvana Unplugged album deserves the “very good” designation either. It’s a bit sentimental and the performance isn’t that great, although I find it (or used to anyway) important in a way. I agree with Jordan that Beck might be a contender. In fact, Mutations is from ’98 and that combined with Odelay, Mellow Gold, and either of the indy releases Stereopathetic Soulmanure or One Foot in the Grave should give him credentials enough. Midnite Vultures is also from November ’99 although I don’t think it’s held up that well over time.

  6. lexdexter Says:

    let’s face it. Midnight Vultures was astounding backwhen we were all ingesting WAY, WAY more drugs than we presently gobble.

    point taken about beck’s overall consistency, though. i don’t know _mellow gold_ as well, but i do remember dave kennedy liking it quite a bit.

    i’m surprised kyle hasn’t mentioned the radiohead. i slapped a burnt copy of _Kid A_ the other day and found myself quite pleased. it’s better than i remmeber thinking it was, actually. but then again i recall _pablo honey_ being crap.

    maybe a good sub-topic would be: which 90s band went from the highest relative high to the lowest relative low? yknow? like, who really turded out?

  7. wobs Says:

    Gotta throw the Lips in there. In a Priest Driven Ambulance, Transmissions from the Satellite Heart, Clouds Taste Metallic,Zaireka, and The Soft Bulletin – that’s quite a run of (consecutive) high quality albums, and if you toss 2002’s Yoshimi in there… you get the point.

    Biggest flameout? Fishbone: going from The Reality of My Surroundings to Give a Monkey a Brain… and Chim Chim’s Badass Revenge? Ugh.

  8. km Says:

    drugs or no drugs, I think the word is in on Beck:


    and it’s crap

    (I’d add: save for “Sea Change”)

  9. Minx Says:

    I checked the Radiohead. They don’t have enough ’90s albums to qualify, if we agree that Pablo Honey sucks. Here’s an example of a band that sounded promising to my ears as a 16 year old in ’91, but then went far into the turdlands: Smashing Pumpkins. Sure, even their first album was a derivative blend of My Bloody Valentine and a couple others, but it sounded good to me at the time.

    Here are some bands that masses of people seem to think qualify for the “great” category with four albums (or so), but I don’t: Pearl Jam, Nine Inch Nails, Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots.

    I do honestly think Sonic Youth might be a real contender, to continue in the nerddom we’ve established. Even though their key efforts are from ’80s their ’90s stuff was more “available.”

  10. lexdexter Says:

    cards on the table: i definitely think sonic youth is ‘in’ for this canon, even before considering the array of instrumental eps, side projects and experimentation. i also have found that _Washing Machine_ and _1,000 Leaves_ still stand way the eff up. but it’s also important to remember that i was seeing them live on a semi-regular basis at this point. they were really ‘bringing it’ in the live context, at that point, cuz thurston and lee were regularly still rocking regular noise sets on the downtown scene at that stage. thurston/nels cline duos were so commonplace that they became a sort of joke.

    i’m sorry goff, but it seems like this assembly is lukewarm for the lips. beck seems to be on the fence, with radiohead up against the wall.

    as far as flameouts, i’d be remiss not to mention Helmet. starting with that _Betty_ albums, shit got all “Warped Tour” and shit, all of a sudden.

    Kevin, i cannot believe you said what you said about Jawbreaker’s quintessential _24-hour Revenge Therapy_. that record is amazing, and has been equalled by none of its million acolytes. i think Jawbreaker get my vote for our canon, come to think of it. have the rest of y’all heard this band Jawbreaker? they’re from Oakland, early 90s.

    Tom Waits, anybody? Anybody wanna argue for Frank Black?

  11. lexdexter Says:

    that last post was brought to you by Vayne Industries. – Bernard

  12. km Says:

    I should’ve done my homework first:


    under this jawbreaker thread, segerandpriest said:

    “another great band doomed to be remembered mostly for the 1,000s of horrid imitators they inspired. in particular i like _24 hour revenge therapy_. i’ve even got a soft spot for the first jets to brazil record, though admitting it feels a lot like pouring spaghetti sauce on my pants and face.”

    OK, OK, patrick, so I’m willing to stand corrected on 24-hour-revenge. I’ve never owned it; and I only heard it once on a long car trip through montana, so perhaps I’m misinformed? I happen to like both the first and second jets to brazil albums, tho’ blake does throw down some crappy song lyrics on that second one. if you add these into the mix, jawbreaker/jets is a solid fit for the 4-album canon.

    What about jersey’s own Yo La Tengo? They put out like 48 albums in the 90s, surely 4 of them must be good? “the heart beating as one” certainly earns a resounding Not Crap in my book.

    And while we’re wanking on about the 90s, I saw the aforementioned Flaming Lips and the aforementioned stone temple pilots together in 1993. The Flaming Lips were in their megaphone and boombox phase then, and it was truly a bizarre set. i was so bummed that my virgin glassware got confiscated by the Tacoma Police Department thug at the door, though, that I can’t really say much else about the show.


  13. raenie Says:

    Sorry, no. I don’t really remember the 90s. Ask me about the 60s or the 80s!

  14. jordan Says:

    Tom Waits: I confess to have not heard all of his output, but I think Bone Machine and Mule Variations should be counted, eventhough it could be easily argued that early “swordfish” type albums were superior. here’s a wildcard: “Alice” was recorded in 92, but not released until 2002. I think it’s one of his best.
    And, on the popular front I want to argue that Pear jam is a good example of the flameout category. I fucking loved the first three at the time eventhough I now don’t listen to any of them. Vitology was great, Yield=weak.

  15. lexdexter Says:

    best. rock. thread.

  16. lexdexter Says:


    I’ll vote ‘not crap’ for REM’s fuzzed-up “Monster” album, but I don’t know enough about the rest of the 90s material. Where’s John Molinaro when we need him?

  17. Kyle Says:

    About Radiohead – the “4 great albums” requirement immediately expells them from competition. The Bends and OK Computer are great, as is the Airbag EP that came out a year after OK Computer. Unfortunately, their other great album, Kid A, came out in 2000, and while I vote Not Crap on Pablo Honey, I also must vote Not Great.

    Patty, I’m surprised you haven’t mentioned Guided By Voices. Certainly they have at least 4 great ones from their most complimentary decade.

    Also, what about Stereolab? They were prolific in the 90’s and I’m pretty bent on saying that most of their albums back then were great.

    Pulp were close, with three albums I think are great (this is likely to be disputed).

    Can I cheat and count the 4 proper Bill Hicks stand-up albums?

  18. lexdexter Says:

    i have this ‘thing’ about yo la tengo. i dislike them for no good reason i can figure. ah, and definitely, definitely fugazi.

    obviously gbv will be making the list. and yeah, i’ll grant you stereolab. they’re 90s as fuck, in the sense i myself am going for.

    nobody’s even mentioned unwound yet?

  19. Kyle Says:

    I was thinking about Unwound, but I felt like I’d be cheating because I’ve only listened to/owned three of their albums from the ’90’s: Repetition, Future of What, and Challenge for a Civilized Society. They rule, though, and I could imagine that they should be put on the short list.

  20. km Says:

    I’d second the stereolab nomination–and move to a vote. They more than qualify if one of the criteria is: “what i was listening to in the 90s.” Likewise unwound. there are certainly 4 good unwound albums.

    I share kyle’s problem with blonde redhead: listened to 3 albums a lot (self titled, fake can be just as good, and in an expression of the inexpressable), but don’t know any others from the 90s. those 3, though, are quintessentially 90s.

    patrick: what’samatter, Hoboken not “Jersey” enough? the trouble with yo la tengo, in my opinion, is their massive canon. they simply put out too many records to keep track of. i did just snag their latest from the interweb, and it’s pretty good.

    tortoise doesn’t qualify, unless you count the very-worthy collaboration with the ex. the sea and cake, though, might deserve a nomination. and definitely dirty three. they’ve got 4 really great albums. so do the rachel’s.

    hey this is getting easier.

    and can i also bump superchunk back into the conversation? what does the honorable board make of north carolina powerpop? I listened to them a lot then, but haven’t really come back to them like i do these other bands. does that make them less great?

    this is way more fun than the grading i should be doing. thanks for keeping it alive.


  21. The Cloaked Count Says:

    I was into Superchunk back then, too. Saw them live one time in college. It was loud as fuck. But I never owned more than one album and can only really recall taking rippers in the dorm. About Tom Waits: he didn’t manage four ’90s albums. He had Bone Machine (great), The Black Rider (pretty good), and Mule Variations (very good). I don’t think he was consistent enough in the decade. The Black Rider cracks me up but it’s kinda like a Tim Burton version of Tom Waits, which isn’t bad at all – it just isn’t as cool as the ’80s stuff, sadly.

    I agree with the Stereolab nomination.

  22. lexdexter Says:

    “But I never owned more than one album and can only really recall taking rippers in the dorm.” Ah, oui.

    I have a single Superchunk 7″ that I love and adore, but I’ve barely heard anything else. As they’ve been in record stores and loved by peers since 1990, I can not explain this situation. Is “No Pocky for Kitty” the one to start with?

    As for Waits, is “Frank’s Wild Years” 1989, then? And “Mule Variations” is 2000?

    I’m listening to the Tortoise box set at the moment. They belong “way up firm and high” on this list of which we speak. Leaving aside bands with Nirvana-level media saturation, which 90s acts influenced a wider pool of musicians than Tortoise?

    Oh shit. I guess I limited this conversation to rock bands – but I want to mention Masada anyway!

  23. lexdexter Says:

    Bardo Pond.

  24. lexdexter Says:

    Flying Saucer Attack.

  25. lexdexter Says:

    Sugar miss out because the “Besides” comp is a little flat. “Copper Blue” and (particularly) “Beaster” hold up well, though. And “File Under Easy Listening” is wall-to-wall guilty pleasures. I’m glad Bob Mould’s gotten in shape and gained peace of mind since this era, but I cannot say that any of his subsequent work has even approached Sugar, who I put on a par with all Husker Du save the “Zen Arcade”/”New Day Rising” duplex.

  26. The Cloaked Count Says:

    Lex, that Labradford that you sent me is amazing. Do you you have any more where that came from? I don’t remember Flying Saucer Attack. What were they like?

    Damn, the Tortoise box set? I must get that.

    All the Masada albums are good that I’ve heard. Excellent. But are they interchangeable?

    Re: Tom Waits. “Frank’s Wild Years” is ’87, I think. “Mule Variations” is still ’90s, but I don’t recall the year.

    If the Pixies were spread across the ’90s instead of the late ’80s and early ’90s, they would deserve distinction.

  27. km Says:

    The superchunk albums “foolish” and “tossing seeds” were my favorites, tho’ “no pocky” is good too. sadly, my extensive cassette collection was stolen from my car in 1996, and I never replaced the superchunk. it’s been a really long time since I’ve heard this stuff, so it’d be interesting to see how it’d hold up to my refined 21st-century tastes.

    my relationship to sebadoh parallels yours to superchunk, patrick; that is, i know two or three songs. i really like these two or three songs, but, inexplicably, I own no albums. where should one start?

  28. The Cloaked Count Says:

    One other suggestion in the broader ’90s field: Wu-Tang Clan. If you accept that the first crop of solo albums were actually group efforts (and also acccept “hip hop” as worthwhile), then they make the cut. They certainly satisfy the “influential” and “quintessentially ’90s” criteria. Here are the classics: Enter the Wu-Tang, Tical, Liquid Swords, Return to the 36 Chambers, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, and Iron man.

    By the way, I never listen to this shit now.

  29. km Says:

    the verdict is in: superchunk holds up well.

    here are some teasers:


    “hyper enough” and “mower” just ooze 90s-ness.

  30. km Says:

    this trip down the 90s memory lane reminds me of Lync. tho’ they only released one album, “these are not fall colors,” it’s stellar. they might qualify as a flame out, as none of the subsequent bands any of these folks formed (love as laughter, 764-hero, red stars theory) rivalled this line-up. I still listen to this album often. anybody know this one?

    Perhaps I should be tarred and feathered, but I’ll also admit to a taste for The Promise Ring. I know i should think this is crap, but it was important to me in the 90s, and I still listen to it periodically, guiltily.

    i agree about wu tang. good. influential. 90s.

  31. wobs Says:

    Well shit. I’m at something of a disadvantage here, seeing as how I spent most of the ’90s listening to neo-hippie jam bands. If the thread ever comes around to “worst reason to buy a VW Bus” (String Cheese Incident) or “easiest venue to sneak a bong into” (Buckeye Lake Pavillion), let me know.

  32. coffeeblackandcigarettes Says:

    OK, here goes:
    Lazy Cowgirls
    Sleater Kinney
    The Ex
    Jonathan Richman
    Current 93 (if not all of the music, at least the cover art)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: