I posted yesterday about a mostly-forgotten band called Failure that released a mostly forgotten album called Fantastic Planet in 1996. Poking around online for what others had said about that album, I found it made quite a few best-of lists for that year. I’ve been mulling over those lists all day. Obviously, they’re subjective, and no two are the same, but some overlapped quite a bit. Beck’s Odelay was at or near the top of most, and most included Rage Against The Machine’s Evil Empire in there somewhere.
Of those albums ranked that have a spot in my collection, here are my top four.
I was on board with Metallica in 1984 when Ride the Lightning was released, and Master of Puppets was my favorite album when it was very uncool to like metal. So yes, when the Black Album came out, my fandom was tested. And when Load came out, I was done. I turned in my card and moved on.
But look, that was eighteen years ago. I can look at Load a little more objectively today.
Holy crap, that is a great album. Yes, I said great. No, it wasn’t what anyone wanted from them at the time (and many still don’t want it even now), but time heals these wounds. The production on Load is the best of their catalogue. Let’s be honest, a lot of Metallica’s records don’t sound as good they ought to. But on Load the bass is crisp and rich, the drums are immaculate, the guitars are less dominant, and the overall texture of sound is more expansive.
And many (no, not all) of the songs are really good. It opens well with “Ain’t My Bitch” and “2×4,” both of which rock, and the trio of “Until It Sleeps,” “King Nothing,” and “Hero of the Day” feature some of Metallica’s best song-writing. Seriously, does anyone think of “Back to the Front” as a song? Avalanche maybe, but not a song. Load has some great songs. That said, the album is too long. All things are better with moderation, and Load would be better if about 20 minutes were shaved off.
And every minute should have been shaved off of Re-Load, the suckitude of which no amount of time will heal.
I like to see growth. What I liked about Pinkerton was not only that it was good, but that it represented a step forward. The first Weezer album was a great first album, and the Buddy Holly thing was funny and cool, but once you have an album like that, do you really need another one? Apparently for Weezer the answer was yes, because after Pinkerton they went right back to that, which I guess a lot of people were happy about. I wasn’t one of them. I like the rawness of the music and emotion on Pinkerton. Weezer’s best.
Wilco: Being There
Oh, boy, did I get some mileage out of this one. One of the few double albums that is justified as such by the strength of it’s songs. As I said in my post about Failure, rock was in a bad place at this time, which is largely why the alt-country scene was so satisfying, and no one did it better than Wilco. Being There features some of their best early work. “Say You Miss Me” should be required listening for anyone going through a painful break-up. Plus you’ve got more experimental pieces like “Misunderstood” and “Sunken Treasure,” which represent what? Growth. Thank you.
Cake: Fashion Nugget
Every so often something magical falls out of the sky. Sorry to say magical, but it seems to fit. How can you describe the experience of this album? You’ve got rockabilly guitar riffs, great bass lines (“The Distance!”), a trumpet player, and fantastic harmonies. I saw them in concert, thinking there was no way they could do this album on stage. But I’ll be damned if they didn’t do it just as good, if not maybe even a little bit better.
So there’s my top four. I wanted it to be a top five, but I couldn’t come up with one more that I felt was as good as these (not counting Fantastic Planet, which got a post of its own). “Bulls On Parade” does not an album make, and although I own Odelay, I don’t think I’ve listened to it since 1996. What would you say were the best albums of that year?