Hole - Celebrity Skin: Let's start with one of my favorites from the '90s. Hole has always worn the mood and situation of Courtney Love on its sleeve. Some also say that Hole is more of a reflection of who Courtney Love is dating at the time: It was often whispered that Live Through This had significant writing help from Kurt Cobain. In Celebrity Skin, those whispers credit Billy Corgan, who produced the album and "co-wrote" (heavy use of ironic finger-quotes here) many of the tracks. That influence can be heard, but I think Celebrity Skin is a better album than anything Corgan did with Smashing Pumpkins. In many interviews, Love has described Celebrity Skin as her love letter to Los Angeles. Malibu addresses that love head on:
This is the high-water mark for Hole...they never again looked or sounded better.
Elastica - Elastica and Sleeper - The It Girl: Two albums together may seem out of place, but I look at these albums as almost interchangeable. That's not an insult to either Elastica or Sleeper - both bands had a distinct, yet similar sound, and channelled early-New Wave bands like Blondie. Elastica was the most popular of the two bands, thanks to their hit Connection.
Elastica brought a little bit of Hole-esque controversy with them as well. Lead singer Justine Frischmann was dating Blur's Daman Albarn at the time, and it's been suspected that many of the songs on this album were ghostwritten by him. Knowing Albarn's proficiency for songwriting, I wouldn't put it past him, and you can hear at minimum, his influence.
Sleeper was the brainchild of Louise Wener, an absolute brilliant talent of the Britpop era. She had a great sound and a gift with words and stories. Sleeper had three albums and each is worth keeping, but The It Girl is one of those albums that you can play over and over again for days.
Aimee Mann - I'm with Stupid: My love affair with Aimee Mann is well-documented on Musicule. This was the album that confirmed to me that she was the real deal. You knew you've arrived when one of your songs is featured on Melrose Place:
Besides, there's something special about an album whose first line is, "You fucked it up..."
Alanis Morissette - Jagged Little Pill: Here's the thing, I don't particularly love this album, but it's not on Paste's list, and it should be. For an album to be of its time, it needs to capture a particular zeitgeist, and there are few albums that came on the scene and made a statement like Jagged Little Pill did.
No Doubt - Tragic Kingdom: Gwen Stefani bugs the hell out of me. Is it the make-up shilling, her fashion label, the drastic sound change around the time she left No Doubt or is it just that her shit is bananas (b-a-n-a-n-a-s)? Probably all of the above. Despite the distain, I embrace Tragic Kingdom as an excellent album, unique to anything that had come out at the time. Of its 14 tracks, I'd say 10 of them are classics.
Oasis - What's the Story (Morning Glory): Speaking of people that bug the hell out of me, Liam Gallagher may very well be one of the most annoying people in music, but as half of Oasis, he was magical. Oasis was never a critical darling, but with Morning Glory, they managed to shake off enough of their penchant for ripping off Beatles songs, embrace their role as Britpop kingpins and put an album together that was bigger than their band and the genre they led.
Sheryl Crow - Sheryl Crow: I may be in the minority here, but Sheryl Crow is at her best when she's dark, and she was at her darkest, most cynical and most clever on her self-titled album.
Verve - Urban Hymns: This is a brilliant album best known for having the infamous hit Bittersweet Symphony. The irony is that the song is a bittersweet one for the band as they lost all royalties for it due to sampling a Rolling Stones song. This is a shame because Richard Ashcroft is a gifted songwriter whose efforts are excellently showcased here.
Neurotic Outsiders: There's something special about a "supergroup" that's in it for the music and not the fame or the money. This is at play with Neurotic Outsiders. And yes, I said no Duran Duran, but Neurotic Outsiders technically isn't Duran Duran...and I also figured it was a good album to round the list out with. The band only had one Duran member in it: John Taylor. He was joined by Sex Pistol Steve Jones and former Guns n' Roses members Matt Sorum and Duff McKagen. Their mission was a simple one...foot to the floor punk, which sounded great. I was fortunate enough to see them live in Philadelphia one night in the early '90s when Billy Idol was the guest vocalist. Fun all around.