Onto part four of my 90s album run-down. There is again a Spotify playlist accompaniment to it, which is again only missing a couple of entries.
This was a really, really tough list to compile – and indeed, I've still not finished the remainder of it yet. To keep it to one hundred albums, I set one simple rule – each artist would only feature once. This has, of course, meant that a few obvious albums may be missing, and indeed there are a few others I had to cull too, as even with one album per artist I still had a "shortlist" nearing 150.
While I still try and keep the broad focus of the music covered here to the wider sphere of industrial music, I also listen to other music, and thus the spread here is perhaps a bit wider than you might otherwise expect. You know what, though? Try some of this music. Especially the stuff you don’t recognise or don’t know. Go for it – I love hearing new music that someone else has enthused about, trying to understand what’s so awesome about it. Sometimes it is obvious, sometimes it will take days or weeks to click, and hopefully, something here will do that to you.
Time to cue the music. You can listen along on Spotify or Youtube. Links to the right, and as the rest of the posts are added, the navigation links below will go live.
For many, the first Rammstein album they heard in the UK, and certain songs from this have of course since become somewhat ubiquitous. But look beyond Engel and Du Hast, and you'll find a cracking album that has the big production that their big sound deserved, and track after track of fireworks that were interpreted literally on stage.
You all know the story by now, right? Three producers see a singer on TV, end up taking her on to front their band, they become an alternative sensation and sell millions of records, and somehow end up doing a Bond theme. So it's still a joy to go back to the first album, to remind us why we loved Garbage in the first place. A little bit of alt.rock, a little bit of shoegaze, a little bit of industrial rock, and a pop sensibility that made them very accessible indeed, but without losing the edge of anger that drove so many of their songs in the process.
/Around The Fur
We already knew by the time of the release of this that the Deftones were an interesting band, although their first album was a savage, slightly unfocussed turn that buried Chino Moreno's vocals under a tsunami of spiky riffs and one of the driest productions I've ever heard. Things were streamlined here, toning down the riffs a little, but more importantly allowing the vocals to take centre stage, and to finally reveal Moreno's cryptic, unusual lyrics and the sheer range of his voice, from a croon to a scream in a single beat. It's not their best album – White Pony betters it by it's sheer experimentation and the variety just into the next decade – but this was still an astounding album from a band barely finding their feet in the glare of the attention from the metal mainstream.
No ambience here – this is a storming club-bound album that was all about getting people to dance. And what fun it was, too, the success aided by some eye-popping videos and some of the catchiest dance tunes in a long, long time. What was remarkable was the depth of the album – pretty much every song was a club-bound classic, and while they went in a slightly different for the follow-up albums when they finally arrived, thirteen years on they still remain the disco kings. Even if we still only know them to look at by the shiny robot helmets.
Bass. It's all about the bass here, and so it's best enjoyed very loud indeed, in fact, much as Leftfield were legendary for live. In fact, it's important not just for it's titanic low-end, but also for it's fearless steps forward. This wasn't just house music, it was dub, techno, punk and goth, the latter thanks to the guest appearances of John Lydon and Toni Halliday that perhaps got this album an even wider audience than it might have expected. I'm still kicking myself that I'm going to miss the return of them live this summer thanks to other commitments…
/The Chemical Brothers
/Dig Your Own Hole
Bigger, brasher, and arguably better than their debut, chock-full of dancefloor slaying, pounding beats, and a psychedelic epic to close. Proof too, that "Big Beat" was not as brainless as some liked to make out at the time.
Restricting myself to one album per artist in this list led to some very, very difficult choices indeed, amongst which included which of Massive Attack's 90s albums to include. So Protection and Mezzanine don't make the cut, but only by the slenderest of margins. Why this one? Well, it's so astoundingly influential, it has a number of brilliant – nay, nearly perfect – singles, and it's beautifully constructed and executed mellow hip-hop and soul. Put simply, it's a great album from a trailblazing band.
It may have been lifted – ok, hyped – way beyond what you might expect due to Buckley's early death, much like his father, but taken on it's musical merits alone this is still a remarkable album. And while the music is, at points, little more than alt-rock, and at other times is as minimalist as possible, this album was all about Buckley's fantastic voice. Every song is imbued with a depth of emotion that many singers can only dream of attaining, with songs about love, loss, sex, death, oh, and covering Corpus Christi Carol just because he can. In some respects, that this is the only album he completed in his lifetime is a good thing – we'd only have been disappointed with whatever he wanted to follow it (Sketches…For My Sweetheart the Drunk was not the finished article).
/Twenty Twenty Sound
A long-forgotten band to most – so, umm, how many readers of this can remember them at all? For those of you that can't, here is About 3am to remind you – this has remained a much-loved and long-time favourite in my house. Dreamy, stargazing indie-rock with a pulsing rhythmic core and a love of a lot of effects pedals, lyrically they dwelt on despair, failure and relationships that don't work. So not happy, then, but they were bloody marvellous. Sadly they only survived as a band long enough to release one album.
Better than "Roots"? I think so. "Roots" may have the fearless experimentation, but the groundwork was laid here, and this is a leaner, meaner, set of songs, too. Previous albums never really grabbed me – and this was where their pretty much signature sound was finally nailed. It bristles with indignant rage at the injustices of the world – both inside and out of their native Brazil, and no lyric, never mind note, is wasted in the musical attack. Oh for the day when the Cavaleras sort out their differences and reform the proper Sep once again…
Radiohead's towering achievement – even if it is run closer by The Bends than many critics would have you believe – and it's still an impressive assessment of the modern world a good many years on. The paranoia, the dark, slightly depressed visions of the world, the odd chink of light and hope. And as an antithesis to the all-pervading nostalgia of the Britpop era, this was something else.
/Nine Inch Nails
/The Downward Spiral
This was the last of this twenty that I completed the write-up for, mainly as I'm struggling to think of what else to say about it. By the time of the release of this, industrial rock was already big, big news, but this album elevated NIN well above their peers (rightly or wrongly, but that's an argument for another day). This album did deserve the plaudits it got, though – it's attention to detail in the production is extraordinary, with all kinds of effects and distortion and samples used to make a really, really dense sound, but with a flow to the album that means the really heavy and loud bits are tempered by slower, more reflective sections. You all know this album by now, right? So picking a highlight is a tad tough, although Eraser's switch from the instrumental section to the raging close is still amazing.
/Second Toughest In The Infants
/Junior Boy’s Own
The best title in this list, that's for sure (note: Born Slippy featured on the limited version of this album, on the second CD. Sadly this marvellous album – and indeed most of the Underworld back catalogue – is missing from Spotify). And it's probably one of the finest electronic albums of it's time, too. Eschewing dancefloor anthems for a more cerebral, lengthy approach – prog-electronics if you will – and taking in techno, ambient, electro and quite spectacular flirtations with breakbeats (the incomparable Pearl's Girl in particular), not to mention Karl Hyde's stream-of-consciousness vocals that added a certain level of "WTF?" to certain tracks. Best listened to as a whole, rather than picking out tracks, though.
/Girls Against Boys
/House of GVSB
/Touch & Go
The final album in a run of three pretty much flawless albums released by GVSB in the mid-90s on Touch and Go, was a lean forty minutes and eleven songs where the band managed to summarise everything that was awesome about them in one go. Hulking, brooding rock monsters like Super Fire, twisted, sleazy grooves in Disco Six Six Six, experimenting with an electronic underbelly in Vera Cruz, this album had it all. Some might say their move to Geffen was pretty disastrous – the result was an overproduced, industrial-lite album that had some recoiling in horror, but it certainly had it's moments – but the band never stopped evolving and tinkering with their sound, even if the core of an obsession with the dimly lit, sleazy side of life never went away, no matter how they changed musically.
An astonishing change of direction from her Silverfish days, Lesley Rankine's screaming, furious vocals were toned down to a croon, and the abrasive rock was toned down, too, to what I guess could only be described as industrial trip-hop. An amazing album, whose remix album that followed a year later was an interesting additional spin on the theme, but didn't work half as well as this.
/One Little Independent
In real terms, this was hardly a debut – Björk had been well-known for some years by this point, but it was her first solo album proper. And what a way to announce your solo career, with an album of playful, pretty songs that put an almost childish faith in humankind while at the same time poking gentle fun at the silliness of it (the latter best shown by the fabulous Human Behaviour). I could be all day picking out little things I love, as there is so much detail in the sound, but I'll just say that once again there is no bad song here.
Industrial from the old school. Beats, samples, electronics, and searing, seething rage. And no guitars, either, and this album was way heavier than many metal albums released around the same time. It might be a bit heavy-going for some, particularly those who like their "industrial" to be more like bad techno, but frankly, this is the real thing and an object lesson in how to do it.
/Manic Street Preachers
/The Holy Bible
Thirteen tracks of spitting, seething fury, as the last word before Richey Edwards disappeared this was really something else. Remarkably in amongst the anger, the hate, the vitriol, there are thirteen incredible songs, too, and it stands alone as a unique album. No one, not even the Manics, has come close to putting this much blood, sweat and tears into any single album ever.
Free of their chaotic earlier existence and distractions, Mercury Rev's return with this extraordinary album – and change of style – was an almighty surprise. Not only had they survived events that would have felled many others much earlier, they successfully reinvented themselves as a band taking influences from the past, and working with those ideas rather than simply trying to destroy everything, including everyone’s ears through the feedback. Their trippy, weird flights of fancy hadn't totally disappeared, they just remembered to write songs to go with them, and with songs as jaw-dropping as Holes (where Jonathan Donahue is simply marvelling in his band's survival), and the minor hit Goddess on a Hiway, it was no surprise that this album finally got them the success they had perhaps always secretly wanted all the long. Oh, and how they managed to include the melody from Silent Night into Endlessly without it sounding twee I will never know.
/Faith No More
As a way to follow the success of The Real Thing, Faith No More, in their own marvellously contrary way, apparently decided to experiment, have some fun, and make a somewhat less commercially-appealing album. Less obviously catchy it might have been, but right from the off it's stuffed with vicious humour, staggeringly brilliant songs, and pointers for a number of rock sub-genres that followed. It's clear many other bands in the nineties listened to this closely and took detailed notes – from Marilyn Manson later purloining the chorus of Be Aggressive for mOBSCENE to countless other bands following the example of Easy by doing their own "novelty" cover versions.