125 Best Albums of the Past 25 Years
SPIN's editors rank the top releases since the magazine's beginning in 1985.
15 Hüsker Dü New Day Rising
More melodic than their early hardcore records and less scrambled than their manically experimental double-album Zen Arcade, New Day Rising established Hüsker Dü as makers of rousing rock anthems that could be hummed after all the heaving was done. “The album has everything going for it,” raved SPIN’s John Leland, who thought New Day “affirms everything that was good about punk in the first place and sums up all the variants that have developed in the years since the Sex Pistols.” Its propulsive angst and distorted textures also had an effect going forward: As Dennis Cooper wrote of Hüsker Dü in 1995: “The list of admirers and protégés is as long and varied as that of any band’s in rock.”
14 Beastie Boys Paul’s Boutique
The Beastie Boys’ second album went way beyond what they’d done on Licensed to Ill, which rates as a classic of an almost entirely different kind. In 1989, SPIN writer Frank Owen chronicled the “bitter legal battle” with their label Def Jam that had kept the Beastie Boys off the scene for a while. But their return release, with its thick, infectious grooves and delirious collage flow, introduced the Beastie Boys as far more than a novelty act — enough so that they landed a SPIN cover story called “Living X-tra Large” just a few years later in 1992.
13 Sonic Youth Daydream Nation
SPIN’s Erik Davis, trying to tell the story of a new underground album called Daydream Nation: “There are just fragments of some grand cabal, after-images, bits of torn messages, patches of infection, arrows pointing in a thousand directions: genetic engineering, Walt Disney, the Illuminati, Madonna, the dog-star Sirius, compact discs, Thomas Pynchon, guitar rock, video games, LSD.” The list of ideas and images evoked goes on, as suits a sprawling and rich double-album that announced Sonic Youth as a major force. They were more than just a scuzzy downtown noise-rock band — they were a group that, as SPIN said in 1992, “played a major formative role in the alternative scene now coming, kicking and screaming, into the big time.”
12 OutKast Stankonia
“Sunk deep in the funk, Atlanta ‘hood cats Big Boi and Andre 3000 memorized a decade of East and West Coast hip-hop before they were old enough to sneak a snifter of Hennessy,” SPIN wrote in 2002, giving props to this “future-gangsta-leanin’ masterpiece.” The sound was exciting and inclusive; as SPIN mentioned in a March cover story: “A lot more white brothers and sisters” were visiting Stankonia. “As long as we’re making music that is true to ourselves,” Big Boi said, “we want as many people to hear it as possible.”
11 The Replacements Tim
The famously ragtag Replacements moved to a major label and cleaned up, comparatively speaking, for Tim, an album that melded the band’s early punk raucousness — “which doesn’t sound half-bad when you’ve got a stomach full of bourbon and Spaghetti-O’s,” we wrote in 1989 — with some gloriously searching ballads by tussle-haired bard Paul Westerberg. The sharp songwriter proved adept with both “no-future punk lyrics” and sentiments as nuanced as “wondering if ‘growing old in a bar’ is a waste of talent or a sign of underground purity.” While doing all that, he also happened to write arguably the greatest last-call song of all time in the doleful outro ballad “Here Comes a Regular.”