THE list that was drawn up for "best albums of 1992" was one of the best single-year lists the Musicology Brains Trust has seen for some time.
It was so good, picking just five records was too difficult. Here are five more amazing albums celebrating their 20th anniversary this year (and here's a link to part one in case you missed it):
Dirt - Alice In Chains
THERE are few bleaker grunge albums than this one. This was the alternative scene's proper dark side, beyond all the Gen X apathy and "my life sucks" sulking - this was music from "down in a hole", to quote a track title. Singer Layne Staley led the way into the darkness as his soul-bearing croon and scream evoked addiction, self-loathing, mortality, war and depression over guitarist Jerry Cantrell's metal-to-meloncholy riffing. Spin magazine likened Dirt's lyrics, written by both Staley and Cantrell, to "cutting yourself open and letting the listener look inside" and it's not surprising to learn Staley was in the midst of a heroin problem that would claim his life 10 years later. In fact, the subject of heroin and addiction pops up in a large number of songs. The album was a tough listen at the time of its release, but it's even harder now considering Staley's demise, particularly when you hear the song Junkhead, in which Staley notes that being a junkie "ain't so bad", practically celebrating his problems in a harrowing howl over plunging riffs.
But there is much more to this album than it's smack addiction - musically it's constantly intriguing and demonstrates the fact Alice In Chains spent three years as a metal band until Columbia signed them and slowly repositioned AIC alongside their fellow Seattle-ites Nirvana, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam (there's your Big Four of grunge right there). Sickman starts as thrash metal before diving into a deathly waltz, surging opener Them Bones boasts a powerful riff and the band shows off it chops by tackling non-traditional timings in the first three tracks. God Smack has a peculiar vocal style and Cantrell's love of distorted wah sounds (see also the title track), while Intro/Iron Gland shows a sense of humour at play amid the darkness. The album yielded five singles, including Would?, which rolls along on Mike Starr's down-tuned bass, Dirt's longest track Rooster, which featured great melodies and the album's strongest hook, and the awesome Them Bones. The album is rightly hailed as a classic of the '90s, thanks primarily to its confessional and hard-hitting nature. Allmusic.com called it "the closest they ever came to recording a flat-out masterpiece", Popmatters.com labelled it "one of the greatest records ever made", and Kerrang named it the best album of 1992.
Henry's Dream - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
IT'S amazing to think that it took until this album before Australia started to take notice of Nick Cave. The Warracknabeal-born frontman had led his Bad Seeds through six records before Henry's Dream and built up a steady following in the UK and Europe. But back home, he'd been largely ignored. Henry's Dream changed all that. Cave was initially dismissive of the album, feeling it didn't capture the live power of The Bad Seeds. The public disagreed and it remains a fan favourite. Bookended by the harrowing imagery of Papa Won't Leave You, Henry and the disturbing domestic scene of Jack The Ripper, Henry's Dream is mooted to be a loose concept album about life and death in a lawless frontier town. You can practically hear the tumbleweeds rolling through the songs as the characters fall in love, experience apocalyptic visions, and ultimately die (this is Nick Cave after all).
But amid the death and decay, there is beauty. Lead single Straight To You is one of his greatest ballads, while in Loom Of The Land, two lovers walk through the wintry night hand in hand (although one of them has a knife). These two sides to Henry's Dream make it something of a cross between the vengeance-filled Tender Prey and the more polished and occasionally tender The Good Son (1990), the latter of which contains the stunningly gorgeous ballad The Ship Song. The album went to #41 in Australia and was his first to break the ARIA top 50. His reverence in the UK was far greater, as this was his third top 50 record there. Perhaps that higher level of regard was behind Cave's move to England after Henry's Dream.
Check Your Head - The Beastie Boys
LICENCE To Ill was a frat-boy joke and Paul's Boutique was unfairly ignored upon release, but The Beastie Boys finally got the respect they deserved on Check Your Head. The record was still rife with the samples that provided the backbone to Paul's Boutique, but this time they were accessories, layered even more intricately over their own dirty grooves after the band returned to their instruments for the first time since their hardcore punk days pre-Licensed To Ill (although they did play live on a couple of Paul's Boutique songs). The live instrumentation helped reposition the band to catch the rising alt-rock wave, and saw them become a hit with the Gen X-college crowd. In many ways, it makes Check Your Head even more sonically dense than Paul's Boutique. Every song is a winner and the album throbs with raw jams, distorted low end and slamming funk-rock beats while interweaving their increasingly intelligent rhymes and experimental sampling.
They also knew when to leave the rapping aside and let the music do the talking - the arrival of Money Mark on keys boosted the underlying funkiness and saw them produce great vocal-light tracks such as Lighten' Up, Groove Holmes and Pow. Elsewhere they rediscovered their punk rock roots (Time For Livin'), while still busting out rhymes on dirty funk-rocker Gratitude, the super-smooth Professor Booty, and hit single So What'cha Want. Ill Communication and Paul's Boutique get the big attention when 'best ever' lists are compiled, at the expense of Check Your Head, but this is a great album that demonstrated hip hop albums didn't have to be all samples or singular grooves. It also showed the B-Boys were more than just MCs - they were "real" musicians.
Angel Dust - Faith No More
FAITH No More were already a genre-bending band before Mike Patton joined. Patton added the rap over the top of the already inventive funk-metal mix on their 1990 single Epic, which amazingly bumped MC Hammer from the top of the ARIA charts. It was a watershed moment for so-called alternative music in Australia, yet it was a matter of fortunate timing for the band - Patton had only joined FNM as they were finishing up the recording of The Real Thing (the album containing Epic). He bashed out all the lyrics in two weeks, sang them over the pre-recorded music, and - bam - #1 single in Australia. But on Angel Dust, Patton got a serious say in the songwriting and suddenly they're usual genre-bending was bent even further, no doubt because Patton's other band, Mr Bungle, thought nothing of cramming any and every musical genre they could think of into a single song.
Patton's range of vocal stylings is huge and his performance bursts with new-found confidence no matter what the subject matter, whether it be imitating a fat white trash American (RV) or discussing man-on-man action (Be Aggressive). Emboldened to try anything that took their fancy, Angel Dust's extremities are extreme indeed, ranging from dark, thrashy metal (Malpractice, Jizzlobber), a country waltz (RV), and cool renderings of unlikely covers (the theme from Midnight Cowboy, their hit version of Easy). In between, the highlights (Midlife Crisis, Smaller And Smaller, Be Aggressive, A Small Victory, Everything's Ruined) run the gamut of mind-boggling moments, merging Roddy Bottum's signature synth sounds with driving riffs, Patton's remarkable abilities and odd samples (cash registers in A Small Victory, Simon & Garfunkel in Midlife Crisis) to make what many critics called one of the best albums of 1992. It deservedly went top 10 around the world, yet perversely Faith No More are still regarded as a one-hit wonder in the US because of Epic and Angel Dust's comparative lack of a massive single.
Blues For The Red Sun - Kyuss
IN Seattle in the '90s, there was a lot of rain and a lot of heroin. These things helped shape grunge music. Down in Palm Desert in Southern California, the music was shaped by the heat, psychedelic drugs, and the wide open spaces. People would tow generators out into the desert and hold gigs where bands would play for free and fans would get high and drunk. From this sprang the Palm Desert scene, a loose collection of bands that reveled in big scuzzy riffs, extended heavy grooves, and a mind-expanding hybrid of rock and metal that some called stoner rock and others called desert rock. No band summed up all these things better than Kyuss, who are captured in full flight on this, their second (and some say best) album. Their talents were honed in the desert and given full life on this record thanks to the skills of Chris Goss, a fellow Palm Desert scenester from the band Masters Of Reality. He captures the low-end sounds the band felt were missing from their debut Wretch, which Kyuss hated.
The key to that bass-heavy sound is Josh Homme, future legend of such groups as Queens Of The Stone Age and Them Crooked Vultures. With his guitar tuned down to C (instead of E) and plugging into a bass amp (instead of a guitar amp), Homme created a guitar sound that was deep, fat and distinctive. The engine room of Brant Bjork (drums) and Nick Oliveri (bass) is the best the evolving line-up would have, while John Garcia's voice is now the quintessential stoner-rock vocal. It's fair to say Blues For The Red Sun didn't set the world on fire upon release - Spin magazine paid it the back-handed compliment of calling it one of the "10 best albums you didn't hear in '92" - but it did receive strong reviews and belatedly has come to be held in high regard, often appearing on 'best ever metal albums' lists. Highlights? The epics Freedom Run and the Oliveri-penned closer Mondo Generator are expansive grooves that seem to run on forever (in a good way), the one-two opening punch of Thumb and Green Machine are perfect showcases of what make Kyuss great, but really, the whole album is awesome. It flows together in one giant landscape of sound, riff, distortion and groove.
Vulgar Display Of Power - Pantera, Bricks Are Heavy - L7, Pure Guava - Ween, Psalm 69 - Ministry, Hit To Death In The Future Head - The Flaming Lips, Nonsuch - XTC, Experience - The Prodigy, Slanted & Enchanted - Pavement, Dirty - Sonic Youth, Selected Ambient Works 85-92 - Aphex Twin, Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde - The Pharcyde, Wish - The Cure, The Predator - Ice Cube, Little Earthquakes - Tori Amos, 40 Oz. To Freedom - Sublime, Images & Words - Dream Theatre, Generation Terrorists - Manic Street Preachers, The Southern Harmony & Musical Companion - The Black Crowes, Amused To Death - Roger Waters, Us - Peter Gabriel, Your Arsenal - Morrissey, Fully Completely - The Tragically Hip, It's A Shame About Ray - The Lemonheads, Dry - PJ Harvey, Harvest Moon - Neil Young, Down Colorful Hill - Red House Painters, Blind Melon - Blind Melon, Apollo 18 - They Might Be Giants, Ingenue - KD Lang, Baby Animals - Baby Animals, Hepfidelity - Diesel, Welcome To Wherever You Are - INXS, Ignition - Offspring.