100 Best Records of the 90’s: 70-61

70. Fatboy Slim – You’ve Come A Long Way Baby
One of the most unexpected transformations since that whole caterpillar/butterfly saga, the bassist in English jingly-jangly-guitar-pop veterans The House Martins jumped ship to dance music and burnt a trail across every party as far as the eye can see. If you think that was surprising, his name is Norman Cook and he’s not a librarian. As well as the inescapable singles, all of which are fairly brilliant (Remember ‘The Rockerfeller Skank’, ‘Right Here Right Now’? Of course you do) the album has some overlooked dance classics, notably the profanity rich ‘F^cking In Heaven’ and the ecstatic ‘Soul Surfing’.

69. Bjork – Post
Bjork had already accomplished so much. ‘Debut’ had shown off her primal voice and brilliant songwriting, while making British dance-pop a credible art form on the way, but ‘Post’ was a very different, far more ambitious beast. This is wrapped in moody trip-hop, 30’s musicals, dizzying jazz-pop and quietly contemplative seethers. The impish pixie of ‘Debut’ hadn’t quite gone, but she had grown up, now dripping with much more confidence and much more fear. The clear highlight is the jaw-dropping ‘Hyperballad’, bursting with a frothing energy which gradually erupts from her as if she is losing control of her feelings, and she doesn’t care.

68. Aphex Twin – Richard D James
Aphex Twin drives a tank and lives in a converted bank. It’s like the start of an epic skipping rope rhyme, but somehow it’s true. Man, myth etc. Richard James is the closest thing the electronica world has to a bona fide celebrity complete with bizarre antics and downright lies. Moving away from his superb ambient experiments, Richard D James sees him (sort of) embracing drum n bass and then twisting it into his own unique mould. Glitches, twitches and clammering drum beats are married with pretty and/or just-plain-strange melodies. Think of a virus-riddled computer jumping gleefully into an earthy flowerbed. But more interesting. Why is he so renowned within electronica? Because he has somehow managed to divorce the genre entirely from pop music. He hates the stuff.

67. Orbital – In Sides
Who would’ve thought it! Techno with an agenda! Who could listen to ‘P.E.T.R.O.L’ and not think of oil spills and panicking sea birds? ‘The Girl With The Sun In Her Head’ was recorded on a Greenpeace bus using solely solar and wind power. Actually that’s where the agenda ends, come to think of it. The rest is just great techno (as per usual for Orbital) but ‘In Sides’ still sees them expanding their horizons further, especially with ‘The Box’, a two-part twelve minute epic which slowly grows from the music box equivalent of Duelling Banjos to a tense, slow-motion panic attack, losing none of its precision.

66. Nirvana – Nevermind
It didn’t really invent anything, but it did something equally amazing: without a shred of compromise (if you don’t count the odd studio effect here and there), ‘Nevermind’ single-handedly removed the “alternative” from “American alternative rock”, for better or for worse. For those of you who don’t have ‘Nevermind’ already (hello to both of you), you really are missing out. Yes there’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ (unwittingly named after a women’s deodorant) which you all know from its easy-as-pie 4-chord rock out and Cobain’s larynx-mincing yells. There’s also ‘Come As You Are’ which shimmers eerily like a syringe floating in an industrial canal; then there’s ‘Lithium’, a marble-losing anthem second only to the Pixies’ ‘Where Is My Mind’. So everyone knows those, but what about the lesser known ones? While there aren’t many songs about kidnap, none of them could be more harrowing than ‘Polly’ while ‘Something In The Way’ is an unflinching memoir of Kurt’s homelessness – when he demoed it, producer Butch Vig claimed he held his breath for its entire duration without even realising. In between however, the band rock hard as ever. I’m not sure if it’s over-rated. It’s not my favourite, but then again, no collection is complete without it.

65. Happy Mondays – Pills n Thrills and Bellyaches
Never go to Madeira. Especially around Christmas, it’s like Eastbourne in a wind-tunnel with Portuguese drivers to knock you dead at the next zebra crossing. My one consolation when I was there was hanging around in a hotel room with my sister and her boyfriend, playing cards, drinking and listening to ‘Pills N Thrill and Bellyaches’. That’s the effect this album has: stuck in a hotel with nothing to do, the rain hammering miserably on the windows and we’re more concerned about the person “twisting my melon man”. The Happy Mondays had more drugs inside them than Keith Richard’s raincoat, but ‘Pills…’ doesn’t ever give into stupid giddy highs or sluggish lows; melodically it’s all great, but lyrically it’s even better. Sean Ryder spins a tangled web of irresponsible fathers, pious policemen, drug-hunting tourists and selfish relatives and makes them seem like the coolest people in the world, all against a backdrop of ringing guitar lines and the occasional acid-house gospel choir. This is arguably Madchester’s definitive moment and in some ways sounds way too good to be made by people who are probably on first name terms with the receptionists at The Priory.

64. Belle and Sebastian – Tigermilk
No matter how old they are, Belle and Sebastian will always sound like they’re fresh out of school; the kids who hung around in the music corridors and were different because they were different, not because they wanted to be. Leader Stuart Murdoch embodies optimistic youth, clouded by adult dread. His lyrics make Morrissey seem extremely out-of-touch with the generation he thinks he speaks for, while his nervous/hopeful bookworm’s high tenor fits nicely into the so-uncool-it’s-cool category. ‘Tigermilk’ is one of those records that will always be relevant if there are teenagers in the world who can’t make sense of life. This is by no means miserable however and always finds hope in misery; ‘Expectations’ for example seems to show a catalogue of teenage social disasters but still has a chorus that says “soon you will know that you are sane, you’re on top of the world again”.

63. The Orb – U.F.Orb
Amazingly, ‘U.F.Orb’ somehow reached number one in the UK charts. How is anyone’s guess. Maybe it had something to do with the single ‘Blue Room’; or maybe not since that is the longest single ever released clocking in at just under 40 minutes. Over-blown garbage you might think? Fortunately, ‘Blue Room’ is transporting, subtle and overall brilliant and trippier than a fleet of purple hippos falling down the stairs. It’s a vague record; it’s one that you sort of put on at 4AM and drift in and out of rather than focus on, but for that purpose, few albums beat it. The “songs” build slowly and don’t really go anywhere but it’s more about the atmosphere they create. Prog-rock-ambient-house-techno… It’s near indescribable and sounds totally ridiculous on paper and yet it works so well and its over-riding tongue-in-cheek humour means it avoid pretentiousness.

62. A Tribe Called Quest – The Low-End Theory
Jazz-rap. Stop laughing, because this is great. One of the more original records of hip-hop’s golden age, ‘…Low’ pairs sly rhymes (I can’t say that in real life, I’m far too white) and warm, crackling jazz samples. The simple-but-effective music and clever-pedestrian lyrics make this a strangely homey (but not overly optimistic) sound. This came after the fame brought on by their debut and it shows since they’ve got plenty of acid to spit about “The Business”.

61. The KLF – The White Room
The lyrics in ‘The White Room’ are, most of the time, shocking. They’re not controversial or daring or anything, they’re just shockingly bad. The difference between them and most other pop lyrics is that these ones know they’re crap. After the incredible ambient album ‘Chill Out’, The KLF became a money making machine and made one of the best (and one of the few decent) house albums ever with ‘The White Room’. This is because the music has clearly been chewed over a lot, sounds genuinely great and brings to mind a freezing-cold early morning acid house party in a very small field. Unashamedly poppy, but surprisingly well written, this is the perfect balance between shamelessly dance-pop and genuinely appreciable.


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