125 Best Albums of the Past 25 Years
SPIN's editors rank the top releases since the magazine's beginning in 1985.
45 Pixies Surfer Rosa
“When I first heard people talking about this group of white kids from Boston who can’t sing, dance, or play their instruments, I naturally assumed it was the Pixies.” That’s Jim Greer writing in SPIN about…um, New Kids on the Block, whom he went on to compare to the Pixies at length. Needless to say, this many years later, his take on the Pixies and their nervy, natty, and altogether unique art-rock sound would rank as a minority opinion. As for Surfer Rosa, it’s a blast of a debut with songs about, as SPIN noted at the time, “bones breaking, bodies falling apart, and minds free-floating through surreality.”
44 Beastie Boys Licensed to Ill
It’s one thing for a group to flash a license to ill and another thing for a group to go ahead and issue that license itself, which is what the Beastie Boys did when they barreled into the burgeoning realm of hip-hop as a trio of ballsy, brassy, and altogether brash upstarts. SPIN first met up with the group of former hardcore-punk dudes when their headquarters was the NYU dorm room of Rick Rubin: “Rick’s had more noise complaints than anyone in the history of the dorm.” All the clatter was worth it, as the foursome created this bright debut that both goosed hip-hop and took it on its own terms.
43 The Notorious B.I.G. Ready to Die
Notorious B.I.G. didn’t need a lot of help seeming larger than life, but Ready to Die certainly didn’t hurt. The Brooklyn rapper’s rich debut established him as a huge figure in hip-hop — as well as the kind of contemplative artist whom SPIN, in 1995, found “on the cellular mixing business with pleasure: cussing then laughing, breathing blunt smoke, then suddenly hush-voiced, asking for a pen so he can make sure and remember to visit an old girlfriend on lockdown.” Later, when he made the cover after his murder, the magazine summed it up this way: “Before his death became an occasion for iron-on T-shirts and Police covers, Biggie Smalls was the life of the hip-hop party.”
42 Green Day Dookie
Green Day was still just a snide, snotty punk band when they made Dookie. But that doesn’t mean Green Day wasn’t good — or grand. “A free lunchtime concert in Boston was cut short when roughly 40,000 more fans than expected showed up,” wrote SPIN’s Craig Marks, in a 1995 cover story about the band’s surprising rise. And much of that rise came on the strength of Dookie, which ranted and bounced with the kind of spirit that Billie Joe Armstrong displayed in his SPIN interview: “Billie Joe doesn’t say anything. He just grabs my glass mug, takes one more deep gulp, and then spits the whole thing out high up the window.”
41 Pulp Different Class
Jarvis Cocker proved himself the bard of Britain’s alternative nation with his band’s fifth album. In 1996, SPIN’s Barry Walters put the Pulp frontman in the lyrical company of Morrissey, and celebrated these “songs about naughty infidelities, sexless marriages, grown-up teenage crushes, twisted revenge fantasies, obsessive voyeurism, and useless raves.” Cocker was as surprised as anyone that Different Class was a hit among the “common people.” “Suddenly we were allowed to do something for mass audience,” he told SPIN in 1999. “I was thrilled to force people to listen to all these mundane details of life.”