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The best since…

This Is Hardcore
Polygram; March 31, 1998

Pulp’s major breakthrough album, Different Class, is often considered the band’s best. This Is Hardcore, however, offers more maturely-themed songs concerning the day after “the party,” which can be symbolized as Different Class. The opening track, “The Fear,” premises This Is Hardcore’s perspective of a lonely bachelor who’s love life has fallen into an all too familiar pattern, with no love after “the party’s” excess. Jarvis Cocker, who was 33 while writing TIH’s songs, also emphasizes the terror of the aging process. This adds a Leonard Cohen-like dynamic to his already lounging, rock star aura.

The title track, “This Is Hardcore,” is a gritty portrayal of the courting process with the lyrics: “That goes in there … And then it’s over … What are you going to do for an encore?” What rounds the album out, though, are the mini epics, such as “Dishes,” which is a simple yet profound reminiscence while the character is doing dishes on a lonely night.(Harold Valentine)

Geffen; September 24, 1996

Just think: If it weren’t for these infamous musical dweebs, LensCrafters and Pearle Vision would have that same old supply of old black-framed glasses forever. Weezer became near legendary for its “Blue Album,” but it was the band’s follow-up that became the real classic. Pinkerton not only reinforced it as one of the best bands of the ’90s, but it also released Weezer from the chains of major label, cementing the band’s cult status once again.

This nerd-rock opera shows enigmatic frontman Rivers Cuomo lamenting lost love in the form of basslines about obsession, power chords about geriatric rump-shaking and acoustic strummings about butterfly catching. Cuomo would then sink the band into a non-productive obscurity that Weezer fanatics hoped was just a broodingly brilliant means to an end, which would equal another rock masterpiece. Instead, the band opted to just make crap music fit for TRL. But Weezer lovers will always be able to listen back to this last great bastion of pure nerd rock.(Nick Margiasso)

Emperor Tomato Ketchup
Elektra/Asylum; April 9, 1996

No other band bucked the “flannel-garde” trend more than Stereolab after Cobain’s legacy of loud, dirty-sounding grunge music.

1996’s Emperor Tomato Ketchup came along from an underground band that actually had it’s own ideas, such as singing about philosophical ideas in French (although Stereolab hails from England) and employing a retro-futuristic style with musical influences from spaghetti western movie composer Ennio Morricone.

The album employs the right pressure points with “Metronomic Underground” as the record-scratching opener to the spy music of “Percolator” and a Zen sound of the vox organ in “Anonymous Collective.”

Every Stereolab release is an avant-garde enterprise, but ETK has the right mix and sequence of memorable songs to stand above other efforts of its kind.(Harold Valentine)

The Faint
Blank Wave Arcade
Saddle Creek; November 1, 1999

The sensitive, indie-rock thing quickly got old for The Faint. The band wanted something new with vitality — something fans could dance to. Originality can be defined by making something old new again, such as using analog synthesizers from the ’80s with strip club beats. Lyrical themes highlight the psychology of flirtation, such as the confidence built by a stranger’s telephone number in “Worked Up So Sexual.”

Blank Wave Arcade pairs white noise cacophony with crisply timed beats to create an ultra-modern style not seen since My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless in ’91. BWA, though 5 years old, is still the best alternative to alternative rock ‘n’ roll.(Harold Valentine)

Jeff Buckley
Columbia; August 23, 1994

Some people just have unique talents you’ll only come across once in a million lifetimes. Hendrix played guitar like an extra-terrestrial; Dylan wrote lyrics like a weathered poet laureate; and Jeff Buckley sang like God’s personal cherub. Buckley released only this album during his life — he drowned in a Memphis Harbor soon after Grace’s release — but it was one of the most intrinsically gorgeous creations in rock history. Grace is amassed of warmly weepy vocals that caress Buckley’s guitar work like a lovers whisper. Listening to this record is a slow walk into the nuzzling aura of Buckley’s musical persona. Lyrics like: “Well maybe there’s a God above/ But all I’ve ever learned from love/ Is how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya…And love is not a victory march/ It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah,” just reaffirm Buckley’s legacy as rock ‘n’ roll’s most unheralded songwriting fallen angel. (Nick Margiasso)

The Flaming Lips
The Soft Bulletin
Warner Brothers; June 22, 1999

In recent astronomy news, The Big Bang might be followed by the forthcoming Big Crunch. The Flaming Lips touched upon the auditory equivalent of that progression in 1999, compressing the inner beauty of music to such an extent that planets crashed together in the midst of their delightful creation.

The Soft Bulletin, the Siege Perilous of that year, is an obsidian mirror of many splendors. With the precise structures that dovetail gems such as “The Spiderbite Song” and “Race for the Prize,” lead singer Wayne Coyne seems to consciously select the bits of the listener’s soul that will be exposed to self-reflection. If only Chris Carrabba had heard this Bulletin and kept his weeping, self-pity and acid-washed foolishness to himself.–(Adrian Dowe)

Be Here Now
Sony; August 26, 1997

After ruling over the Queen’s land for the early part of the ’90s with their lauded freshman and sophomore efforts, these hard-assed Manchester rogues dropped their most anticipated record. An album of bombastic overhead, a haze of drugs and alcohol; this was subsequently considered an immense flop by the critics and especially the band.

Oh, how wrong they were. The Mancunian’s Be Here Now was an indispensably pure rock ‘n’ roll band doing Brit-pop like it was meant to be done — big, beautiful and bloody pissed. The Gallagher’s and co. mashed all the influences they were accused of lifting — The Stones, The Stone Roses, The Happy Mondays and, of course, The Beatles — and crushed them under a squall of Noel’s trademark howling guitar riffs and Liam’s seething vocals. Be Here Now is dynamic, full of classics (“Stand By Me” and “All Around the World”) and situates Oasis as England’s heirs to a rock throne empty since the end of the British invasion. (Nick Margiasso)

PJ Harvey
Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea
Island; October 16, 2000

The persona that is PJ Harvey hearkens back to Cybill Shepherd’s performance in The Last Picture Show. Both are poles of extroverted femininity that persist as beacons in an otherwise torpid and listless setting.

In 2000, PJ Harvey set herself apart from those suckling at the Caucasian troubadour teat by releasing the fifth album in her hallowed canon, Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea.

This masterwork also happened to be a most illuminating cross-section of scorn and social commentary.

Harvey invites a contrast and comparison, meanwhile taking care to vivisect the “woman-singer” stereotype. Throughout self-contained theses such as “The Whores Hustle and the Hustlers Whore,” what comes to the forefront is the truth of PJ Harvey, which is her proximity to sorting out the world.(Adrian Dowe)

OK Computer
Capitol; July 1, 1997

When a shotgun shell shredded through Kurt Cobain’s iconic status in life, making him the last great rock ‘n’ roll martyr in death, few saw anything greater in the ashes of grunge on the musical horizon — Except Radiohead. Empathizing with Cobain’s fear of celebrity and harnessing this fear along with that of an emotionally detached millennium looming just down the road, Radiohead created a masterpiece, a time capsule and a beautiful portrait of harmonious anxiety. Simply put, Thom Yorke and friends produced the best rock album … ever. From front to back, this album is irrevocably essential. “Paranoid Android” (not “Smells Like Teen Spirit”) is the best song of the ’90s, an epic in three musically dynamic parts, while “Exit Music’s” fragile lyrical delivery and dreamlike soundscape’s are almost not of this world. And OK’s final quartet of tunes are an emotional maze of near-hallucinogenic rock unparalleled even in the land of Floyd. The album ends with the ding of a bell, waking the listener from a heavenly musical frolic through the cirrus of the subconscious where no album has ever gone before, and none ever will.(Nick Margiasso)