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Geoffrey Stueven: December 11, 2011

The Ten Best Albums of … 1991

Inspired by the film blog of the great Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell, who annually attend to some year of silent cinema just as the other critics are memorializing the year just ended (see their thoughts on 1917, 1918, 1919 and 1920, and await their hopefully imminent post on 1921). Of course, I’m no historian, and would get lost if I tried to travel back ninety years and uncover the highlights of the musical year 1921. Let’s say my time machine is made of mere flesh and blood and is limited in its journey by my own corporeal existence: I aim only to revisit 1991, a year whose treasures have all been handed down to me by others as the finest the era had to offer. (Well, partly true: things get lost or overlooked all the time, even in the Internet era, and you’ll need a more skillful sleuth to help you fill those holes; also, I have very-close-to-first-hand knowledge of the early 90s, e.g. I remember how it felt when U2‘s “Mysterious Ways” was new, if not what it meant.)

The music of 1991 has been getting a lot of attention this year with the ongoing celebrations of Nevermind‘s twentieth anniversary, and a number of commentators have offered their roll calls of the year’s other masterpieces (so plentiful as to maybe mark the birth date of something as decisive as the classical continuity cinema of 1917—but what?), with this general implication: ’91 was the year musicians accepted the terrifying, liberating fact that the millennium’s final decade had begun (for the spirit of 1990, see Soul II Soul‘s Volume II – 1990 A New Decade, with closing track “Our Time Has Now Come”) and got down to making its last round of great music. If Nirvana seems to define the year, maybe they’re just the most recognizable symptom of the burgeoning realization that hair metal debauchery, etc., wouldn’t cut it as the final word. But what do I know? Omissions abound on the following list, Nevermind included. Here’s a year remembered by a four-year-old fresh out of the time machine, but only fake-remembered, since to that kid Nevermind was everything. Oh well: the past is a foreign country but these sounds are perpetually native. (Choice lyrics below further aim to capture the spirit of ’91, if such a thing exists to be captured.)



  1. SlowdiveJust For A Day


    She flies… she’s gone to ride an angel’s breath, gone to taste a dream… and every time I call her a shadow crawls away.




  2. Primal ScreamScreamadelica


    I drift in inner space, free of time – I find a higher state of grace in my mind.




  3. R.E.M.Out Of Time


    She held the child and whispered with calm, calm: belong.




  4. HeavenlyHeavenly Vs. Satan


    He looks so brilliant when he plays his twelve-string and smiles: oh pure joy.




  5. Teenage FanclubBandwagonesque


    She wears denim wherever she goes, says she’s gonna get some records by The Status Quo: oh yeah.




  6. The Wedding PresentSeamonsters


    I still want to kiss you.

    <LOUD><NOISE><WORDS></WORDS>
    I still want to kiss you.
    </LOUD></NOISE>




  7. SlintSpiderland


    I’m sorry, and I miss you – I’ve grown taller now – I want the police to be notified – I’ll make it up to you, I swear, I’ll make it up to you.




  8. SebadohIII


    Now you will be free, with no sick people tugging on your sleeve – your big head has that more room to grow (a glory I will never know).




  9. Massive AttackBlue Lines


    What happened to the niceties of my childhood days? Well I can’t do nothing ‘bout that, no.




  10. Billy BraggDon’t Try This At Home


    Just because you’re gay, I won’t turn you away – if you stick around I’m sure that we can find some common ground.