This week I shall return to the multi-part blog format for a new five part series looking back on my favourite album from every year I have been alive.
It’s been interested to see what I value as making a great record. ‘Replayability’ is definitely a factor, that is to say, how many times can you play it before its no longer interesting. The great albums shouldn’t ever get tiresome and instead should still be revealing their secrets. If an album sounds amazing the first time you listen to it, it will probably get old very quickly.
However I did find not every song on an album has to be great. My entry for 1996 shows this, but somehow the completed package outweighs the odd bad song, whereas there are albums that contain twelve brilliant songs, yet I don’t really rate the album as a whole. This can only come down to viewing the album as one long musical experience, something that is becoming saturated with ability to shuffle through an entire library of songs.
I approached this not knowing which albums and artists I would pick and as a result gave myself the perfect excuse for listening to albums that have been collecting dust. If you ever find yourself with spare time, completing this exercise is definitely worthwhile.
1993: Porcupine Tree – ‘Up The Downstair’
I love Steven Wilson. This is one of his first offerings as a musician, but one of the last of his current discography I actually listened to. In 1993 Porcupine Tree were still emerging from the shadows as a joke band created by Wilson for a laugh, operating primarily as a Wilson solo project. As the first true Porcupine Tree album, it is often overlooked, seen more as a modern tribute to Pink Floyd than an album with its own musical merits.
However, given time, the album reveals itself as a surprisingly mature progressive, almost psychedelic, record. Reaching beyond the prominent and catchy hooks of ‘Synesthesia’ and ‘Always Never’, are groovy instrumentals (‘Up The Downstair’), dreamy soundscapes (‘Fadeaway’) and meandering ten plus minute epics (‘Burning Sky’). This album would prove to be the stepping stone for many more prog classics from a variety of guises and collaborations. I always find myself returning to ‘Up The Downstair’ because I am still hearing new layers and details, which as I mentioned above, is the sign of an album that will never grow old.
1994: Tool – ‘Undertow’
1994 was a hard choice. For me it came down to either Nine Inch Nail’s raw industrial masterpiece ‘The Downward Spiral’ or Tool’s full length debut ‘Undertow’. ‘Undertow’ serves as their most aggressive and probably most accessible album, with heavier guitar playing and focused song writing, giving only small glimpses of the progressive masters they would soon come to be.
This is an album where every track serves up something new and surprisingly still sound as relevant and outrageous today, as they were intended to be nineteen years ago. If ‘Undertow’ was released today, it would still be as successful. Unfortunately Tool have only released three other albums, with a fifth rumoured to be ready next year, a massive eight years after 2006’s ‘10,000 days’.
1995: Smashing Pumpkins – ‘Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness’
‘Mellon Collie…’ is universally considered to be Smashing Pumpkin’s most complete and greatest album. The record is two hours long, taking the listener on a journey through a loose concept representing a timeline of life, day and night and how human’s feel sorrow. Whether the concept comes across is irrelevant though, because through the vast range of musical styles, instrumentation and song writing ingenuity, there is bound to be something you like.
Half of the album features hard rock songs, similar to the previous works, whilst the other half took a direction towards more experimental, psychedelic and often acoustic songs. ‘Mellon Collie’ is the closest The Smashing Pumpkins ever came to making a prog rock album, echoed in frontman Billy Corgan’s own words, describing the album as “‘The Wall’ for Generation X”.
1996: Marilyn Manson – ‘Antichrist Superstar’
‘Antichrist Superstar’ is the album that signaled the arrival of the “God of F***” himself. The first part of Manson’s triptych (followed up with ‘Mechanical Animals’ and ‘Holy Wood’) was a musical statement to the world and produced arguably his most (in)famous song: ‘The Beautiful People’. Other tracks like ‘1996’ and ‘Irresponsible Hate Anthem’ are often overlooked, but can easily be grouped with his best, capturing the raw anger and band dynamics at its prime.
The album isn’t flawless; some of the latter tracks fail to shine, lost beneath the grander vision – completely understandable for a band’s second effort. Despite this, the quality found elsewhere easy eclipses the negatives, to make a record that can still produce shivers and scare overprotective parents, proving why this is one of the staple cuts of metal from the nineties.
‘Antichrist Superstar’ can be played on a loop as the ending ties in with the beginning (just like Dream Theater’s ‘Octavarium’) and elsewhere lyrics and musical ideas appear numerous times in different songs, binding the album together into one long (potentially infinite) musical opus.
Thank you for reading – if you enjoyed this blog please like, comment and subscribe to email updates. Part 2 will be available tomorrow.