April 24th 2005 Top Ten Albums of the 90s

With the 1990s a distant memory, I thought that it was time for Monkey Robot to release its definitive list of the top ten albums on the 1990s. Rest assured that the decision to credit these albums with such a prestigious award did not come easy. In fact, it took weeks of careful consideration and sampling to produce such a quality list of albums. However, Monkey Robot believes that the following ten albums are the must-have albums for any fan of 1990s music. So without further ado, may I present to you The Top 10 Albums of the 1990s:

10. Weezer, Blue Album
Released in 1994, Weezer’s Blue Album launched nerdy punk rock into the forefront of American mainstream music. Well, not really. But it was a nice try, and a nice departure from traditional punk rock, as well as the guitar-thrashing punk of bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Mudhoney. Besides, who else would combine a glasses-wearing dork named Rivers with a Tom Cruise-lookalike on guitar and make a successful band? Weezer did just that, to great success. To be honest, I didn’t listen to Weezer much until 2001, after they performed on SNL’s final show of the season. (Some of you might remember 2001 as “The Year Before SNL Started to Suck”.) I enjoyed the sound, as it was a nice blend of punk riffs with fun melodies. Of course, that was the Green Album. Travel back in time to the Blue Album, and you’ll find an even more melodic-mixed-with-punk sound; it was released in the wake of the grunge movement, after all. It’s a pretty good pick for any fan of 90s rock.
9. Smashing Pumpkins, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness is a great blend of varied sounds that, overall, makes for very engaging, yet easy, listening. Anyone who wasn’t living in a cave during the 90s will know that the Smashing Pumpkins had one of the definitive sounds of the decade. Who doesn’t remember their epic Mellon Collie tour? Who doesn’t remember their various performances at the ill-fated Lollapalooza tour? And who can forget their guest appearance on The Simpsons? As a kid, Mellon Collie was one of my favorite albums, from “Zero” to “1979” to “Tonight, Tonight”. Overall, it was a great album—and as a double album, it was well worth the extra few dollars. (No comment on whether From Dusk to Dawn or Twilight to Starlight was the better disc, though. Even I can’t decide that.)
8. Pearl Jam, Ten
Believe it or not, Ten was one of the first albums I ever bought. The fact that I bought it years after its release has little to no bearing on that fact. It’s so old that I only have Ten on cassette tape, and as such, I only listen to it in my car, on my broken tape drive. That’s a rare occasion, but when I do, I’m still impressed by Stone Gossard’s amazing lead riffs, or Eddie Vedder’s awesome vocals. The haunting bass riff of “Jeremy” produced on a luscious twelve-string bass, still echoes in my head from time to time. As far as grunge bands go, Pearl Jam was much unlike its brethren, and deserves some credit for its originality. I have still have a special affinity for Pearl Jam, as the residence hall I live in was clearly named after Eddie Vedder.
7. Silverchair, Frogstomp
My first experience with Silverchair was with “Israel’s Son”, the second track off of Frogstomp. The grungy, distorted bass riff is still one of my favorites, and was in fact the first thing I learned to play on bass guitar, way back in 1999. Even now, I still listen to Silverchair with respect and admiration. The music, made in the post-grunge era, has a sort of uniqueness that really makes Silverchair stand out as a band. Couple that with their raw talent, and it’s no surprise that this band has been so successful. Still, I think it’s hard for Silverchair to top Frogstomp; while Neon Ballroom was a very good album, as were their other ones, Frogstomp has a certain feel and raw emotion that is hard to capture a second time. It definitely deserves a nod as one of the most valuable albums of the 90s.
6. Nirvana, Nevermind
No list of the greatest music of the 1990s would be complete without a nod to Nirvana’s Nevermind. Like it or not, Nirvana is the band that defined the sound of the 90s, and greatly shaped the direction of music for that decade. I often times wonder what would’ve happened had Kurt Cobain not met his untimely demise in 1994. I must say that I am not ashamed to admit that Nirvana was the band that got me into music in the first place. I still fondly remember the days when I was a long-haired, Kurt Cobain-worshipping kid who blasted Nirvana and Pearl Jam and played “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on his cheap guitar over and over again. Times don’t change a whole lot, as I still (almost) have the hair and the guitar, but my musical tastes have improved greatly from the heady days of worshipping Nirvana. Sure, it’s good music, but let’s be honest—Cobain was arguably a good poet, but not much of a guitarist or singer. The real musicians of Nirvana were Novoselic, who later went on to form such failures as Sweet 75 and Eyes Adrift, and Grohl, who of course went on to front the Foo Fighters, another great band of the 90s. Even so, Nirvana certainly deserves some credit, and Nevermind is still an album I love listening to from time to time.
5. Rage Against the Machine, Evil Empire
Evil Empire is the definitive RATM album, and the record that encouraged me to listen to the band, which eventually became one of my favorites. The wah-wah of “Bulls on Parade” is forever imprinted in my mind. As one person I talked to so eloquently put it, “That song is fucking tight.” Fucking tight, it is—and fucking good, too. The great thing about Rage was that they actually said something. They stood for something. The music was about more important ideas than lost love or other such nonsense. The only mistake was in de la Rocha’s being a bit too much of an activist; his constant exploitation of the law gave RATM a public image that eventually led to their downfall. Still, Tim Commerford’s scaling of a scaffolding at the MTV Video Music Awards will forever stick in my mind’s eye. My mention of this great band is an homage to their creativity and originality in a decade dominated by conformity.
4. The Presidents of the United States of America, The Presidents of the United States of America
I nominated these guys because they put the fun back into music. You won’t find mopey lyrics or depressing guitar riffs with The Presidents—just raw, unadulterated good times. Who else could mix peaches and ninjas into a single music video so well? Who else could write songs about boll weevils or ants driving dune buggies? No one. Only these guys could. The Presidents are the sort of band you listen to when you just want to have fun, and end up with a smile on your face. I think it’s impossible to be in a grumpy mood after listening to them, no matter how much your life sucks. And for that, they certainly deserve a place in the Hall of Fame of 90s Rock Music.
3. The Offspring, Smash
An oldie but goodie, from the days when The Offspring were still good and pure, before their image was tarnished by the release of the sub-par record Americana. Smash is just one of those albums that is filled to the brim with good songs. Of course, the defining track on that record was “Self-Esteem”. From the opening “La la lalala la la lalala” to the provocative lyrics, from the bouncy bass line to the catchy guitar riff, that song is almost irresistible. It’s no wonder that Smash rocketed to the top of the charts, and put The Offspring on the musical map. Smash was one of the first albums I ever bought, and like Ten, I only have the damn thing on tape. As such, I generally only listen to it in my car, but it’s a real treat when I can get the tape deck working long enough to let me listen to at least one side.
2. Lit, A Place in the Sun
I often think of Lit as one of the most underrated bands of the 1990s. I still get giddy when I hear these guys. Although they’ve largely disappeared from the music scene as of late, Lit is still one of the most memorable bands of the 1990s. From the wonderful “My Own Worst Enemy” to the opening-line ambiguity of “Miserable”, these guys know a think or two about rocking an audience. I got into these guys after hearing “My Own Worst Enemy” on the radio so many times that it got permanently lodged into my skull. Still, it took me years to really listen to their album, but when I did, A Place in the Sun became one of my all-time favorites.
1. The Toadies, Rubberneck
The #1 slot goes to a band you’ve probably never heard of, but should definitely take a listen to. Borne out of the very beginnings of emo rock, The Toadies exhibit a combination of originality and talent that is not often seen in rock music today. Todd Lewis’s engaging lyrics and melodic voice, combined with the guitar riffs of Clark Vogeler and the bass riffs of Lisa Umbarger, help drive this band. And hell, even Mark Reznicek’s drum beats rock. I first became interested in The Toadies back in 1999, when a local band covered “Tyler”. To this day, that song is still my favorite song. Maybe it’s the bass riff, maybe it’s the vocal line, or maybe it’s everything put together, but that song is, in my opinion, the sweetest song in all of 90s rock music. All in all, Rubberneck is definitely one of those albums that you should own, but probably don’t. Luckily, I do.

So there you have it—the Top 10 Greatest Albums of the 1990s. Certainly some of my picks are controversial, and certainly I’ve probably overlooked some great bands; however, after careful consideration, these remain my top ten choices. That’s not to say there aren’t other great bands of the 90s out there, but let’s be honest, it was a good decade for music, and only ten albums could make the top ten list. Of course, it’s a pretty opinionated list, so if you have any ideas on improvements, feel free to argue. Let the discussion begin!