SPIN's 20 Best Albums of 1991

(Photo: Getty Images; David Coreo/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty)
(Photo: Getty Images; David Coreo/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty)
WRITTEN BY
SPIN Staff

Naming Teenage Fanclub's Bandwagonesque the No. 1 album of the year in 1991 over Nirvana's Nevermind (which actually finished third behind R.E.M.'s Out of Time) was perhaps the most notorious and ironic decision in the history of SPIN ��" except for the time that weird old stoner in a purple suit (Quincy Jones) and his koo-koo friends paid Bob Guccione Jr. $42 million to buy the magazine in 1997. Regardless, the Nirvana snub and Teenage Fanclub elevation have lived on in rock lore (even being blamed for unfairly high expectations placed on the Fannies). And it is difficult for anyone under, say, 35 to appreciate how Teenage Fanclub's masterful, effortless, winking evocation of Big Star's Radio City (with healthy flourishes of Neil Young and Dinosaur Jr.) was as much of a giddy validation as Nevermind. It seemed to prove that a certain strand of power-poppy rock could finally compete riff for riff with whatever more macho, thundering iteration would soon, inevitably, rule the earth -- in this case, grunge. Remarkably, 20 years later, Yuck have released a masterful, effortless, earnest evocation of Bandwagonesque (with healthy flourishes of Pavement and Dinosaur Jr.).

But rather than focusing on the merits of Teenage Fanclub's album vs. Nirvana's or R.E.M.'s or the Pixies' or Massive Attack's or Metallica's or De La Soul's, let's just comtemplate for a moment the sheer number of game-changing records that the below crew of SPIN critics and chuckleheads (what's up with the extended Hair Club for Men shtick in the Pearl Jam entry, Alec Foege?) didn't choose to place on the Top 20 list! To mention just a handful: A Tribe Called Quest's The Low End Theory, Primal Scream's Screamadelica, Bikini Kill's Revolution Girl Style Now!, Cypress Hill's self-titled debut, U2's Achtung Baby, the Orb's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld, Slint's Spiderland, Jodeci's Forever My Lady, Mercury Rev's Yerself Is Steam, Nation of Ulysses' 13-Point Program to Destroy America, Main Source's Breaking Atoms, Sonny Sharrock's Ask the Ages, Dee-Lite's World Clique, etc.

Point being, there's a reason for all the nostalgic, early '90s musical re-examinations this year, and it wasn't just about 20-year cycles or Nevermind's volcanic, generational impact. There was simply an abundance of overwhelming, mind-rearranging, incalculably influential music released in 1991. So, like, yeah. ��" CHARLES AARON

  • 20. Hole Pretty on the Inside (Caroline)An album that starts out with a tune called "Teenage Whore" and gets louder, more brutal, and better is destined for a little corner of music history. Snarling and clawing its way ��" always prettily ��" into the a(n)nals of rockdom. (Lauren Spencer)

  • 19. Guns N' Roses Use Your Illusion I & II (Geffen)On which Axl frustratingly challenges Bob, our boss, to a brawl, something we do all the time around SPIN. But it looks like Axl's gonna back down from Bob's ready acceptance to fight, which we never . . . oh yeah, um, we do that around here, too. But anyway, these two fine records of signature G N' R tracks, come complete with all the fire and fury of Appetite and a hell of a lot more swearing. (Mark Blackwell)

  • 18. MudhoneyEvery Good Boy Deserves Fudge (Sub Pop)Always sonically rich, now Mudhoney is just plain rich. Cheers to college-rock stardom. (Alec Foege)

  • 17. De La SoulDe La Soul Is Dead (Tommy Boy)Long-winded, self-indulgent, immature, flatulent. . . But the songs were good. (Nathaniel Wice)

  • 16. SealSeal (Virgin)Sultry grooves with folky edges. A poet dressed up like an icon, Seal broke out, wry observations and oblique asides with the assured and polished flight of a pro. Lyric of the summer: "In a sky full of people / Only some want to fly / Isn't that crazy?" Indeed, indeed. (Scott Poulson-Bryant)

  • 15. Pearl Jam Ten (Epic)Not just the founders of Seattle's Long Hair Club for Men. These guys are also clients. And in Ten's groove-laden tracks you'll find hair-raising inspiration plus follicle stimulation. (Foege)

  • 14. Urge OverkillThe Supersonic Storybook(Touch and Go)If I were a major label, I'd sign these dudes tomorrow. Sartorial splendor aside, they rock. You need this. (Jim Greer)

  • 13. FugaziSteady Diet of Nothing(Dischord)A collection of beautifully constructed, tighter-than-ever songs that quake, rant, and shudder with the simple frustrations of everyday life. One of the more disparate and talented bands to emerge in recent years. (Daniel Fidler)

  • 12. Massive AttackBlue Lines (Virgin)Cascading melodies over big sexy beats; rhyme-styles in an elegant, soothing mode. Perfect balance. (Poulson-Bryant)

  • 11. MetallicaMetallica (Elektra)Heavy, heavy, rock'n'roll that packs a walloping steel-fisted punch. This sixth effort is the band's tightest, most mature, simple, and commercial (nothing wrong with that) release yet. (Blackwell)

  • 10. P.M. DawnOf the Heart, of the Soul and of the Cross: The Utopian Experience (Island)A long, pretentious title for an album long on pretensions. But the hooks hook, the samples excite, the ambition amazes. Debut of the year. (Poulson-Bryant)

  • 9. Smashing Pumpkinsgish (Caroline)Lush, textural sounds that hit hard, soft, and everywhere in between. Without a doubt the debut album of the year, and if you were smart and got it early, you're allowed to be smug and say, "I told you so." (Spencer)

  • 8. SoundgardenBadmotorfinger (A&M)You may think you've heard the riffs before, which is always comforting, but this big, churning album will blow you right away. (Spencer)

  • 7. Public EnemyApocalypse '91: The Enemy Strikes Black (Def Jam)Not as sprawling as Fear of a Black Planet, not as lean as It Takes a Nation of Millions, but tight, funky, and engaging. (Poulson-Bryant)

  • 6. Robyn HitchcockPerspex Island (A&M)Robyn's "straightest," most convincing record ever. "She Doesn't Exist" is possibly the best song he's written. (Greer)

  • 5. Pet Shop BoysDiscography (EMI)Anticipation, envy, bitterness, and longing. All the little things that make life worth living linger inside this peerless collection. Beautiful, eloquent, heartsick echoes of another England from the greatest blue-eyed soul duo since the Righteous Brothers. (Jonathan Bernstein)

  • 4. PixiesTrompe le Monde (Elektra)In the distant future, a friendless historian may well look back and select this as one of the most sublime and thorough expressions of a late-20th-century mannerist style in popular music that was known as "college rock." (Wice)

  • 3. NirvanaNevermind (DGC)What can I say? Are you tired of hearing me rant about this album yet? Well too bad, you won't get tired of listening to it. So just buy it. (Spencer)

  • 2. R.E.M.Out of Time (Warner Bros.)This disc leaves you out of breath with wonder. Understated beauty, moody eclecticism, and guest stars galore. Jefferson, I think they've found their way. (Poulson-Bryant)

  • 1. Teenage FanclubBandwagonesque (DGC)This Scottish band's last record, A Catholic Education, was a powerfully loose shot of punkish guitar pop that proved to be among 1990's finer releases. Bandwagonesque's refinements (better playing and production, more standard song structures) take a good idea even further ��" this record would be hard to equal in any year. Rock music doesn't get much better than this. (Blackwell)

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