Nine Inch Nails (1994)
It’s dark, it’s brooding, and it’s responsible for two tracks that will forever hold their own unique distinctions in the history of music : “Closer” is undeniably the best strip-club song of all time, and “Hurt” provided the basis for the best cover song of all time, courtesy of Johnny Cash. Aside from the peculiar fascination Trent Reznor had with pigs at this point, the album is without notable weaknesses. Virtually every note and word has a purpose, usually sinister.
Ben Folds Five (1997)
The funny thing about Whatever and Ever, Amen is that it isn’t what two sizable chunks of the music world think it is. Most followers of popular music only know “Brick”, the wildly successful pensive single about struggling with the emotions of an abortion. Those familiar with the group’s first album might assume it’s more of the kitschy silliness pervasive on the their debut. Like most everything in life, the truth is somewhere in between. This album bounces like many of Folds’ melodies, from the ridiculous to the sublime, and back again.
Take the most passive, friendly, proper, dainty person you know. Wait until they get dumped by their significant other. Lock them in a room. Play “This Love” for them, three times. That room will be destroyed.
That’s what the blistering, dirty, boiling raw anger of this album can do to a person. God knows it’s not for all occasions, but when it’s time to purge some ugly feelings, there’s nary a better sonic conduit for them. Vulgar Display of Power is definitely a contender for music’s most descriptively perfect album title.
Master of Puppets could very well be #1 on this list if the criteria was strictly the music. If all you hear is loudness when you listen to Puppets, you’re missing the brilliance. Here, maybe this will help. The album is a cornucopia of time signatures and tempos. Alas, the criteria reaches into areas this album falters in, primarily cohesiveness as a collection of songs and timelessness. Still, the layered beauty of “Orion” begs for a listen at least once per season.
A Tribe Called Quest (1991)
Any person invested in the rap scene in the Nineties can rattle off at least a dozen bars from this album. There’s not one track of filler, and just like the Black Star effort earlier in this list, the album shows off two elite emcees doing what they do best with an effortless interplay. The Low End Theory takes the formula a step further, though, with beats that are classics in their own right slithering under the flow. Tribe was even nice enough to mix two trademark styles into one music video back in the day. Oh yeah, and “Scenario”, sporting a awesomely dated Mac-based video.
Yeah, it’s a better album than Nevermind. Unplugged in New York didn’t pack the culture-shifting punch of Nevermind, but it stands as a snapshot of a legendary band at the peak of their creative powers. Not only did the band resurface existing tracks from their catalog (avoiding most of their hits), they ventured out to obscure covers as the basis for beautifully warm renditions. Start to finish, it’s a more satisfying listen than Nevermind.