Monday, April 25, 2005

The Top 26 Albums of the 1990s (Part 4)

In Utero

Who: Nirvana
What: In Utero
When: September 21, 1993
Why: Nevermind was the album that launched a thousand other albums, right? In actuality, this was Nirvana’s true masterpiece. This was the one that took their sound to its furthest extremes, and the one that indicated the direction they were headed when Kurt Cobain ended it all a few months after its release. The tested Nirvana formula (brooding verse, pounding chorus, brooding verse) was still intact, but was now spread over varying tempos (most notably on “Heart Shaped Box” and “Pennyroyal Tea”) and subjects --“Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle” being one, where Kurt recounts the lurid tale of the ‘40s B-Movie actress as a possibly prophetic analogy for his own fiery end.

My Life

Who: Iris DeMent
What: My Life
When: April 12, 1994
Why: A roots record of the most realistic sort. It’s an example of that rarest breed of records, one that deals with the lives of real adult people with honesty and a minimum of insincere sentiment. Two songs stand out in this regard. “My Life” is a serious examination of the tender balance that comes with middle-age – understanding the deep joys that can come from the simplest actions, but also understanding the deep sense of loss and regret that come from opportunities lost. “No Time To Cry” is the most honest portrayal imaginable of the emotions surrounding the death of a parent – the need to hold it together in the face of being overwhelmed by the enormity of the event. I really don’t think I’ve ever heard a song as deep, honest and real as this one anywhere else.


Who: Weezer
What: Weezer
When: May 10, 1994
Why: The Blue Album. My, Nirvana really did change things quite a bit in the early ‘90s didn’t they? Just listen to “The Sweater Song” or “Say It Ain’t So” on this album to get an idea of just how much. Turn up the crunch on the guitars and then turn the volume way up on the choruses. Some do it better than others, though, and Weezer was at the front of the pack following this eponymous debut. Some sweetness and light breaks through, though, especially on “Buddy Holly” (made famous by the Spike Jonze sendup of “Happy Days” in the hilarious video for the song). Hard rock sometimes comes in small packages, and few came smaller or harder than Rivers Cuomo in 1994.


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