125 Best Albums of the Past 25 Years
SPIN's editors rank the top releases since the magazine's beginning in 1985.
35 R.E.M. Automatic for the People
By 1992, R.E.M. had already come a long way from what SPIN called an “alcohol and Quaalude-nourished party” at which they first played together in Athens, Georgia, more than a decade before. After the mosaic hit Out of Time in 1991, the band returned with a mellow, moody, languid, and very beautiful album named in mind of a down-South soul food restaurant and full of what Michael Stipe called “chamber music.” Courtney Love also happened to call Automatic her favorite R.E.M. album, which is no small thing.
34 Beck Odelay
Before he was a celebrated genre-smashing, Charlotte Gainsbourg-collaborating Scientologist, Beck Hansen was a lo-fi misfit with a dream. He got a leg up from SPIN in 1996 when the magazine dubbed his second album a perfect 10, hailing its mix of rap, country, and general oddness: “In the Beck universe, hip-hop is hoedown is funky-fresh slumber party.” In a ’96 interview, Beck said that the place where he cut Odelay was between two other recording studios — one hosting Black Sabbath, the other the Muppets. Whether that’s true or not, it sounds about right.
33 Björk Debut
It’s hard to imagine a world without Björk, but such was once the case. During her name-making stint with the Sugarcubes, SPIN said she had “the wisdom and eloquence of an elder and the uninhibited mannerisms of a child.” And then came a solo career that only upped the stakes, beginning with a debut whose success shocked pretty much everyone. “I had absolutely no clue this would happen,” Björk told SPIN in 1995, after Debut had sold 2.5 million copies. “But at the same time, I was on an almost religious mission to fight for my songs.”
32 Wu-Tang Clan Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
Has there ever been an album, of any kind, as heady and dense as the Wu-Tang Clan’s debut? Everything about it proved improbably welcoming, especially for something so hermetic and arcane — not to mention something made by a disorderly group who, as SPIN put it, “decentered hip-hop in most every way possible.” It was a stone-cold classic that was also fluid and warm. Or, as Chris Ryan put it in a 2007 survey of the Wu’s discography: “The kung fu samples, the goofy nicknames…the gnomic rhyme styles, the chaotic nine-man posse cuts, the RZA’s thorax-snapping beats — it all seems commonplace now, but then?”
31 Massive Attack Blue Lines
“Massive Attack likes to keep everything semifocused,” a member of the so-called “sound system” group told SPIN in 1991. The focus there should go on “semi,” especially as it applies to the miasmic classic debut Blue Lines. The magazine’s review the following month praised the way the English electronic-music act combined “dark dance rhythms with an undertow of melodic strings and…creamy, multitracked vocal pinings.” Without all that there probably wouldn’t have been trip-hop — not to mention a certain wispy dystopian poet named Tricky, who left his mark on Blue Lines in a big and haunting way.