Tuesday, February 23, 2010

That Wonderful Year in Music... 1995

It doesn't seem like 1995 was fifteen years ago. In a way, the sights and sounds of that year --with heightened emphasis on the sounds, of course-- are just a fresh in my memory then as they are now. The death of Kurt Cobain and the fadeout of the Seattle scene a year earlier threw American alternative rock into its post-grunge period; meanwhile, the Smiths-influenced "Britpop" stylings of Oasis, Blur, and Pulp threw the UK and the US into a tizzy. The punk revival was still going strong on college radio (thanks to Rancid) and the mainstream (a tip of the hat to Green Day). Gangsta rap had reached its pinnacle as 2Pac and Biggie hit it big, while the Wu-Tang Clan, two years removed from "Protect Ya Neck," sowed the seeds of their respective solo careers. The implosion of alt-country pioneers Uncle Tupelo led to the creation of two new bands, Sun Volt and Wilco, that would eventually eclipse their predecessor's influence and decidedly modest record sales. Suffice to say, that's a lot of territory to cover for one year, though if I had to honor the absolute best albums of '95, it would look something like this:

1. The Bends, Radiohead. The album that put Thom Yorke and company on the map. Sure, their debut Pablo Honey garnered some notoriety, but name a song off the disc besides the crossover hit "Creep." This sophomore effort set the blueprint for the Radiohead we know today: cerebral anthemic rock paired with tortured lyrics and a hint of social commentary. At worst, The Bends is a filling appetizer for their 1997 masterpiece OK Computer; at best, it's a memorizing companion piece and a defining album of the decade.

2. Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, Smashing Pumpkins. Initially conceived as a mid-90s answer to Pink Floyd's The Wall, the Pumpkins' third album is a two-disc tour de force. As much a concept album as it is a sonic exploration, Mellon Collie finds frontman/primary songwriter Billy Corgan saying goodbye to his youth, forcing himself to grow up while looking back wistfully at his jaded teenage years. All in all, an enjoyably challenging listen that comfortably steers clear of "double-album syndrome."

3. Different Class, Pulp. Oasis might've received more hype, but Pulp was arguably the most consistent --and cheekiest-- of all the Britpop groups. Pulp's third album blows their previous two efforts out of the water; the formula of meshing alt-pop with new wave and disco flavors didn't change much, but years of trial and error led to a more perfected product. Jarvis Cocker's songwriting has never been more catchy, nuanced or immediate.

4. 6Teen Stone, Bush
5. Wowie Zowie, Pavement
6. ...And Out Come The Wolves, Rancid
7. (What's The Story) Morning Glory?, Oasis
8. To Bring You My Love, P.J. Harvey
9. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Raekwon feat. Ghostface Killah

10. Tragic Kingdom, No Doubt. Another breakthrough album in a year that was quite gracious to new(ish) acts. If this ska-pop album plays like a hits compilation, you're not far off; seven of the 14 tracks were released as singles, as Top 40 and CHR radio stations squeezed 2 1/2 years of airplay out of Kingdom. Written as the band was on the cusp of imploding, the pure energy and versatility of Kingdom eclipses the departure of founding keyboardist Eric Stefani, a major creative force in the band's early days. The breakup of bassist Tony Kanal and vocalist Gwen Stefani inspired the hit "Don't Speak," one of the best kiss-off songs of the past 20 years.

Honorable Mentions: The Great Escape, Blur; Elastica, Elastica; Return to the 36 Chambers, Ol' Dirty Bastard; Washing Machine, Sonic Youth.


"Lump," The Presidents of the United States of America
"Mother Mother," Julianna Hatfield
"Only Happy When It Rains," Garbage
"Aeroplane," Red Hot Chili Peppers
"I'll Stick Around," Foo Fighters
"Brain Stew/Jaded," Green Day
"Need You Around," Smoking Popes
"In The Meantime," Spacehog
"Gangsta's Paradise," Coolio
"More Human Than Human," White Zombie


1. "It's Oh So Quiet," Bjork.
2. "California," Wax. Spike Jonze' mid-90s winning streak was still rolling with these top two picks. "Quiet" is a modernized interpretation of Betty Hutton's '40s hit "Blow a Fuse," while "California" is probably the most intense slo-mo clip even shown on MTV.
3. "Just," Radiohead. Wait, what did he say?
4. "I'll Be There For You," Method Man feat. Mary J. Blige.
5. "Waterfalls," TLC.

Honorable Mention: "Ironic," Alanis Morrissette.

Your thoughts?

1 comment:

  1. 15 years was half of my life ago! I remember 1995 was the last stress-free year of my life & remember enjoying it. It was also the year I got my drivers license & mainstream music didn't bother me. I only had a casual interest in it & couldn't really name anything specifically. It was also the year I discovered Led Zeppelin. And oh ya, never liked Alanis Morrissette. Annoying as hell.