This is how it begins. Lists of records, the significant weight of records, listening as some sort of benediction, a scratching at an itchy soul – and then 1991. Records and records and records, a pilgrimage to the turntable, and an overbearing sensation that we’re here to praise Whirlpool by Chapterhouse to the nth degree. Thousands of words, reams of superlative – because nothing else matters.
That’s not my only thought. Metallica by Metallica (aka The Black Album; aka The One With ‘Enter’ Fucking ‘Sandman’ On It) is so big you can detect its monstrous footprints from space. Leisure by Blur is far more intelligent than its often given credit for. Kill Uncle is Morrissey’s ugly child, whilst I still don’t feel guilty for buying God Fodder, the début Ned’s Atomic Dustbin album; both ‘Kill Your Television’ and ‘Happy’ are great singles, oozing pseudo-crustry charisma. There – said it.
There’s actually a significant amount of significance peeking out from under the petticoats of 1991. We have much to be getting on with – not least because Nevermind – the Subterranean Homesick Blues for the those who relate to Douglas Copeland novels – turned up like a surly teenager at their grandmother’s birthday party. There’s been so much written about Nirvana’s second album that additional commentary genuinely isn’t required. All I’ll add is that it’s a record I struggle to listen to all the way through. There’s a surprising lack of nuance for a songwriter exalted for his sensitivity; the kicking against the pricks has but a singular dimension, Butch Vig’s production is very ABC, and the overriding impression is of a record that – if thrown into a backyard swimming pool with a dollar bill on the end of a fishing line dangling before its eyes – it would all end up in a sinking.
I’ve always preferred Hole to Nirvana. Even the album that wore Billy Corgan trousers (and incidentally, Live Through This, (allegedly) written by Kurt Cobain, suffers from similar problems to Nevermind). The cartoon character that is Courtney Love is quite rightfully something that polarises, yet the emotion on display on Pretty On The Inside feels far more rough, ready, confessional, and honest in nature. I’d even go as far as to suggest that ‘Teenage Whore’ is one the finest singles of 1990’s Americana (disagreement in the comments section, please).
And whilst mentioning Billy Corgan, there’s Gish, the début Smashing Pumpkins release. Yes, Corgan has long been a figure of fun, some sharp definition of pretentious. And yes, this was also produced by Butch Vig – all of which makes this record’s subtle alt-rock tenderness a delight, D’arcy Wretzky’s hushed vocal on ‘Daydream’ grippingly ethereal.
1991 was a strange year in terms of its musical carapace. For every ubiquitous poll-winner – each Screamadelica, every Out Of Time – there arrived far more intriguing LPs that sold a small fraction of copies as those mentioned above. The refined pop psychedelia of Jellyfish and their Bellybutton album. Electric Landlady – Kirsty MacColl’s finest work outside backing vocals for a Smiths track. Beat Songs by The Blue Aeroplanes. Everclear by American Music Club – I could go on, and indeed will do, in part two of all this, ’91 being one of those years when the release schedule kinda caught fire, spitting significant albums out like so many popcorn kernels.
I’ll finish part one of this with something topical, considering that Kevin Shields has very recently confirmed that the new My Bloody Valentine album is due for a December release (I’ll believe that when I see it in my local vinyl emporium). Because if there was ever a record conceived for adoration, it’s Loveless, the last MBV long player. I happen to know a couple of adjectives, and when I need more there’s a Big Book Of Adjective sat beneath the coffee table for that specific purpose. That said, the describing word that comes to mind with this record is: fuck; an infinite sense of depth, of scope, of vision, and yet the production is light years behind the noise Shields hears in his head. Fascinating songs. Heady, enveloping songs (especially ‘I Only Said’, written about here). And yet they all sound as if recorded in a bathtub full of linseed oil, or round your gran’s house with a heavy rain falling outside. The best worst album ever released. Or maybe the worst best album – and either way, terribly, terribly significant.
In the second visit to 1991, and amongst other things: the début long player from one of the most important outfits of the last twenty years. A couple of tricky albums that reward multiple listens. And (fans of shoegaze take note), three records that define, stand testament to music’s ability to embrace in highly intoxicating configurations (yes, there might be a fuck-off big clue in the first paragraph).
Blur / Sing
Ned’s Atomic Dustbin / Kill Your Television
Hole / Teenage Whore
Smashing Pumpkins / Daydream
My Bloody Valentine / Come In Alone