The end: the top twenty at last.
Countdown: 1990s: Tracks: 20-01
These final twenty songs all mean so much to me. Almost all of them I still listen to now, as I re-post this in 2017. I’ve not got tired of any of them, my now wife even likes a good proportion of them. Not all of them, mind.
[Note: This was initially written in 2009, and has been left “as is”. I’ve considered changing it and updating it, but at least for now I’m not touching it.]
The sound of a world slowly decaying and descending into the apocalypse, this was like some kind of future prophecy recorded to tape, as the three-part, sixteen minute epic took in bleak spoken word, cinematic soundscapes, quasi-orchestral movements, and the sound of the world rushing past in slow motion. This wasn’t post-rock, it was post-apocalypse rock. It needs a description of it’s own as, simply, no-one else sounds like this.
This Massive Attack album was more than a bit of a change from the mellow electronics of the previous albums – a suffocating darkness took hold of the whole album, of paranoia and fear, of which one of the few deviations from that was this – a track of after-dark, sultry tones that was clearly about sweat-drenched sex. I’m not sure I want to know how many, er, liasons this has soundtracked over the years, but I bet it’s a lot.
As the air-raid siren heralds the slow, trudging beats, and the track hauls itself into life as Rico details another song of fear and loathing, all the memories of the time around it that I went through come flooding back. This first album was one of those that became seriously personal to me, and the intense claustrophobic feel of this track more than any other.
Formed by a couple of TV presenters, as I recall, and I’m not exactly sure how serious they were, but whatever happened, this track blew up in a big way, although we in the UK were later to the party than everyone else (this was being played wall-to-wall on MTV Europe a long time before it was a hit in the UK). What they were on about, none of us ever had any idea, really, but the track ruled. Female-fronted, psuedo-rap rock with a massive, massive chaotic chorus – and a fun video – was always going to be a hit in the days when music channels actually realised that alternative music was popular. Incredibly, footage exists on Youtube of the performance of this on TOTP, although what the comedy outfits are for, I have no idea.
A song so radically different to anything that came before it that it still, eleven years hence, sounds unique, it serves as a reminder that small artists can still break through to wider success, even for a short while, with actual talent. This track, the opening track to the striking debut album by Jon Crosby (for he is VAST), introduced itself on the back of string sample that continued to weave it’s magic for longer than you’d perhaps expect, before the track proper kicked in – pounding, skyscraping rock that should really have been sung back by stadium crowds, such was it’s magnificence. That it never quite worked out like that is a testament to how short-sighted that the music industry can be.
For me Emperor’s finest single track, this is a technically astonishing whirlwind of sound that is somehow surprisingly accessible at the same time (and is also reasonably melodic, too, something you don’t always expect from Black Metal). It’s still satisfyingly extreme, though, don’t worry about that…
Has metal, really, ever got much better than this? It may be endlessly overplayed nowadays, but there is a good reason for that – it’s awesome. From the lengthy tease of the riffing opening, the bellowed chorus, the solos, and that breakdown to close…this is all but metal perfection.
Unconnected to the Placebo track of the same name (other than that the Placebo one could be suggested to be a nod to this band), one of the greatest (and unheralded) alt.rock tracks of the early nineties. But then, GVSB never did adhere to fashions, instead preferring to go for a melodic, hardcore-esque sound with Scott McCloud’s distinctive, smoky vocals and of course the twin-bass sounds. This track is from their revered Venus Luxure No.1 Baby album, a long-time live favourite and probably featuring Alexis Fleisig’s best-ever drumming, too…
The only live track I even considered for entry into this listing, this was the track that, when released on Re:boot, reminded us that 242 were indeed still very, very vital and very much alive. Much changed from the slightly-dull album version, the way this builds is a textbook lesson in how to do so and raise the tension of the crowd. Perhaps this is why a studio version of this track never materialised in this form: let’s be honest, it works best in the live arena, even if this has become a rare live track that DJs are willing to use!
My girlfriend and I reckon a graph showing number of “Yeeeaaah”s uttered by Rob Zombie in each song compared to how popular/great they are would show a pretty strong correlation. And here’s proof. The skull-crushing, rampaging second track on the last White Zombie album, they never got better than this. You know the song by now, right? Surely I need say no more…
Who could have predicted that it would be Kim Deal that got the big success post-Pixies? It took a few years, and the albums never were that consistent, but when her new band got it right, the results were astonishing. And exhibit A? This immortal track, that starts slowly, before blossoming into a garage-surf-punk-sixties revival track that still brings a smile to my face every time I hear it…
The beautiful, aching lullaby that opens Jason Pierce’s tour de force of drug-infused/related space rock, this is music that really had a soul. And soul, as it turned out. A lament to lost love, or drug addiction, it’s difficult to separate them in this context, let’s be honest, but either way this is gorgeous. The “proper” version, including the Elvis lyrics so cruelly removed the first time around, has been played live this year at least (and was even better than the original at the RFH gigs), and is finally released properly on the new release of the album next week.
Probably the bleakest song about human nature that I will ever include in any list, ever, I’m not sure what this says about me that it’s in my top ten songs of the 90s. When Michael Gira reined in the extremities of the sound of Swans as the 90s dawned, he didn’t rein in the lyrical themes of darkness, despair and hate one bit. Here’s proof – this track is little more than Gira and a guitar, but emotionally is heavier and more draining than just about anything else he did, an extraordinary musing on the titular subject. Just recently, too, the astonishing power of the track has been harnessed by My Dying Bride, whose cover is equally brilliant.
The first Misery Loves Co. album was, to put it mildly, somewhat unsubtle. For the most part, it was rampaging industrial metal, with more of an emotional core than the machine-orientated themes of the like-minded Fear Factory, but it didn’t come up short on heaviness, either. Kiss Your Boots was a perfect example, made to sound all the heavier by the whispered intro before the chorus bursts into contention. Oh, and that breakdown in the middle was immense, too…
The song that started Garbage on the way to being big, big stars, and it remains their peak (and that’s not to say that the first two albums, at least, weren’t brilliant). Channeling elements from various sources (not least Curve, whose earlier style they purloined somewhat), this was a thrilling, chilling track with Shirley Manson delivering a devastating vocal performance that suggested it was, to say the least, best to stay on her good side. And that phased guitar intro still gives me the shivers.
A band that only ever gained real recognition thanks to their musical inclusion in The Crow, their material otherwise really did merit further listening – one of the many bands experimenting with industrial rock during the decade, their dark, seedy take on the genre resulted in some really interesting and unusual songs, and in particular this one – a track that I first heard thanks to the wonders of 120 Minutes on MTV Europe (oh for the days when MTV still covered real alternative music). A strange, dark but poppy(ish) track with lyrics referencing chaos theory, and something of a contempt for humanity, this was as about as commercial as the band ever got…
The final track on Dirt, and by some considerable distance the greatest song of the grunge era, I’m not really sure what else to say about this. For one, it always struck me lyrically as Layne Staley exorcising his demons in song, a plea for those criticising his lifestyle to look at things from his perspective for once. Musically, it’s chorus is chillingly moving, but it’s the sudden key shift at the end, as the track changes tack entirely, that always leaves a lump in my throat.
An album that has been far, far, too precious to me for over ten years now, there was something about Dark Star’s spaced-out and taut alt.rock that got me from the off – it may well, frankly, have “Bic” Haye’s confessional lyrics that really got their claws in. The slightly messy, confused state-of-mind that the lyrics hinted out certainly resonated with my head at the time, but in particularly the scratchy, muscular beats of Vertigo dug their claws in that little bit deeper than the rest – a track about dusting yourself down, and moving on. The final refrain, of course, became my website domain.
The single greatest electronic track ever from probably the greatest of all of the electronic acts, this is eight of the most thrilling minutes to listen to. It doesn’t initially sound like a lot – the whirling vortex of the electronics start things off, before Karl Hyde’s stream of conciousness helps the track to get going, and then the beats kick in and we’re off on a ride to the stratosphere. Even more astonishing is the live version of this – I saw them close with it late into Sunday evening at V98 and it remains one of the greatest live “moments” of my life.
The sheer oddness of this band really cannot be overstated. So far ahead of their time that they were in space before most of their so-called peers were rubbing sticks to make fire, their ascent to the top of the pile was cut short by Tim Taylor’s death – and it’s tempting to wonder exactly how much further they could have pushed the envelope. While the last EP was a curious, electronic beast, this mighty track was the robotic snarl that closed their last full-length album, with a sound somewhere in the realms of Nine Inch Nails, if they had instead been armed with a Moog and a sonic template closer to new-wave – and where Tim Taylor admits he is flawed, but frankly couldn’t give a fuck, as he was a rock star in waiting. A shame that latter bit was never realised.