125 Best Albums of the Past 25 Years
SPIN's editors rank the top releases since the magazine's beginning in 1985.
10 Nine Inch Nails The Downward Spiral
“To me, Downward Spiral builds to a certain degree of madness, then it changes. That would be the last stage of delirium.” That’s Trent Reznor talking to SPIN in 1996, a couple years after the second Nine Inch Nails album vastly expanded the sound of an artist known at the start for his rage. As Ann Powers put it in her review at the time, “Reznor also knows the value of a caress. He understands that after the basic catharsis it offers, pure, aggressive noise numbs, and he always wants to pierce another layer.”
9 Pavement Slanted and Enchanted
Pavement had gotten critics in a lather before their full-length debut. “Their new seven-song EP, Perfect Sound Forever, bubbles over with more ideas than on the last three Sonic Youth albums combined,” SPIN wrote in 1991. But it was with the gloriously grotty LP Slanted and Enchanted that the indie-rock nation was given a new set of national anthems. The band was “an unreasonably good-looking bunch of fellows,” the magazine noted later, but the songs were a beautiful mess of fuzz, literary word games, and a sense of wandering that made Slanted and Enchanted a “masterpiece of melody and murk.”
8 PJ Harvey Rid of Me
PJ Harvey’s incomparably baring and bad-ass second album advanced the curious case of a diminutive English woman named Polly Jean, who rocked like a monster. She stared intensely, in nothing but a bra, from the cover of SPIN in May 1995, and the story inside surveyed her power as “the first important female rocker to play guitar better than she sang” and as a singer who was “no slouch either.” Indeed, Rid of Me trades well in all of Harvey’s charms — culminating, in the words of SPIN’s Joy Press, in “a truly savage record, full of torrid obsession and untethered rage.”
7 Guns N’ Roses Appetite for Destruction
Bon Jovi was on the cover, hair billowing and shades stylishly askew, when Guns N’ Roses warranted a big feature in SPIN in 1990, which says something about the state of bad-boy rock when Axl Rose and company made their name. That issue came a few years after the explosive debut of Appetite for Destruction, and the concussive charge of anthems like “Welcome to the Jungle” and “Paradise City” could still be felt. Problems within the band were already apparent, though: “Clearly these guys are fuck-ups…failures even at success,” wrote Danny Sugerman. Then in the next year came a report of a group visited by “tepid-to-torrid mood swings.” And then….
6 Public Enemy It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
Even millions wouldn’t seem to be enough. Public Enemy’s second album is one of those big-event records for which the word cataclysm doesn’t count as overblown. The group, which SPIN said “hit the stage like an alliance of shock troop and rap group,” had already made noise with their 1987 debut. But it was this follow-up, with its incendiary message-minded vocals and insane Bomb Squad production, that made Public Enemy an ensemble that, as SPIN noted in 1989, managed to “change the way hip-hop sounds.”