We appear to be smack-gob in the middle of another golden age of music, at least for the music I like.
In 1991 I lost my virginity and got a 49cc moped. And the first Gulf War began. So, you know. A mixed bag there.
Street Fighter II hit the arcades, the Birmingham Six were released, former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated, Boris Yeltsin, Sonic the Hedgehog, TBL announced the WWW, the Soviet Union fell to bits, Linus Torvalds announced he was working on an operating system and a really old dude was found.
The fallen included Steve Clark, Leo Fender, Johnny Thunders, Dr. Seuss, Miles Davis, Gene Roddenberry, Robert Maxwell and a man from Zanzibar originally named Farrokh Bulsara, who you may have known better as Freddie Mercury.
In exchange we got Pixie Lott, Ed Sheeran, Jedward and many other no doubt wonderful people who are, I’m afraid, still far too young for me to have the tiniest inkling who they are or what they are for. (Including the delightfully-if-mystifyingly-monikered Fetty Wap.)
We’re smack bang (biff, boom, crack) in the Golden Age of Hard Rock here so the shortlist is once again impossible to whittle down as much as I’d like, though this time there is least a clear winner. Here, then, are the top 12 in the Class of ’91…
Extremely good fun, this was, and it was where I first discovered shredwizard Andy Timmons. Place tongue firmly in cheek, remove all po from your face, and enjoy it. Top track: "Beat the Bullet"
Enuff Z’Nuff’s eponymous debut was fun, but on this follow-up record Donnie Vie and Chip Z’Nuff really nailed the songwriting to the back wall. With classics like “Heaven Or Hell”, “Baby Loves You”, “Blue Island” and “The World Is A Gutter”, this is a fun, bouncy rock record that was never far from my CD player back in the day and is still in my car even in 2017, no guff. Great. Top track: "Strength"
I came to the Metallica party late, and kind of thought some of Ride the Lightning was OK, but it was the self-titled album (also known as The Black Album) that really lit the fire for me. And regardless how many times you've heard cover bands plod through "Enter Sandman", it's still one of the best metal songs of all time, no fucking doubt, and I will brook no bullshit on that. Hetfield is at the top of his game throughout this record – the songwriting, the vocals, the absolute jackhammer riffing, the man has it all. And Kirk… well, he has a wha pedal. Almost any other year, this would have won by two country miles at least. Classic. Top track: "Sad But True"
And speaking of being at the top of one's game, this is perhaps Ozzy's finest moment. This was absolutely huge in 1991, and it hasn't gotten any smaller. Not every single track is a zinger, but you can't deny the riffage when Zakk Wylde gets his shit focussed. Almost any other year, this would have won by at least one length of the pool. Classic. Top track: “No More Tears“
When I saw these freaks on Raw Power, I just had to go out and buy the album. There's been nothing like Primus before or since, and that is a good thing. Very hard to explain, so I shan't try. Go find "John the Fisherman" or "Jerry Was a Race Car Driver" on the yootoob if you want further information. Brilliant, in my opinion, though occasionally slightly chewy listening. Top track: "Jerry Was a Race Car Driver"
Dan and his Network put out some really good pop-infused rock albums back in the day, and for my money this is the best of them. Ignore the odd choice to cover Pink Floyd's "Money" and you're onto a winner. Top track: "Baby Now I"
Much to be said about this album. If you know any DLR history then you'll know that his first two solo albums after splitting with Van Halen were absolute tours de absolute force, featuring the incredible guitar and bass partnership of Steve Vai and Billy Sheehan. Well, they'd both gone their own ways after the previous album Skyscraper, so Dave needed a new band, and by cracky did he get one. Recruiting the Bissonette brothers on drums and bass is never a bad move, but the USP of this album was getting wunderkind Jason Becker to step into the shoes recently vacated by Vai. It's hard to quantify just how hard that must have been – taking over the guitar slot from the fastest rising star in the rock guitar skies, but it's testament to the chutzpah and genius of Becker that he did it, and absolutely smashed it. His guitar work on this album is nothing short of astounding, and to have knocked it that far out of the park with Vai's shadow looming over him can't have been easy. Of course, as is well documented elsewhere, it was during the recording of this album that Jason was diagnosed with ALS and given only a handful of years to live. It was the end of his guitar playing career, though he still to this day composes music using assistive technology, which is pretty amazing. Becker aside, this is quintessential Roth – indispensable rock music with tongue firmly in cheek. Almost any other year, this would have won by a lap and a half. Classic. Top track: "A Lil' Ain't Enough"
This was one of the two first CDs I ever bought, the other being Richie Kotzen's second album Fever Dream. I bought them both at the same time from PowerPlay in Eastbourne (you know, the one that was opposite the library?) then rushed home and put them in my brand new CD player. (One after the other, obv.) Unfortunately my CDs are now all in storage so I can't check for sure that the enormous guitar sound was thanks to 90s rock uberproducer Michael Wagener, but I'm sure he at least had a hand in it. Anyway, as po-faced as it is at times, this is a fucking cracking hard rock album with hooky choruses, punk overtones here and there and some spicy guitar work from Jason Bieler. Nice. Top track: "What You Say"
So there was Mr. Big, and they had the amazing Paul Gilbert on guitar. And before that, he was in a band called Racer X, which was a neo-classical shred-metal over-the-top affair. The kind of stuff they did necessitated two guitars, and that meant someone who could keep up with Pablo, and that was Bruce Bouillet. Well once Paul had a couple of years under his belt in Mr. Big, Bruce teamed up with the amazing John Corabi on vocals and formed The Scream, releasing an under-supported under-appreciated but absolutely top shelf hard rock album, and this is it. Corabi has one of the all-time best voices in hard rock, and he's still going strong (pick up The Dead Daisies 2015 album Revolucion if you want proof), and this is bloody great stuff. Almost any other year, this would beat the competition into the dust. Classic. Top track: "Tell Me Why"
Skid Row's eponymous debut was right at the pinnacle of what glammy hard rock could and should be in 1989, but the follow-up was a real landmark in terms of songwriting maturity and simple rock longevity. Yes, there's a track called "Get the Fuck Out" but as Seb says just before the solo, "Fuck you if you can't take a joke." The lyrical progression from the debut album to tracks here like "Quicksand Jesus", "Livin' On a Chain Gang" and even "Monkey Business" shows some proper growth, and the riffs are harder and tighter than they were first time out. And the production and guitar sounds are absolutely crushing. Oh look… Hi Michael! Almost any other year, this would have felled the competition before the first bell. Classic. Top track: "Quicksand Jesus"
First up, I never dug Frank Zappa. It's probably a failing in me, and I have tried on multiple occasions, but I just can't get into it. But in the early 90s when I was reading guitar magazines fanatically every month, his son Dweezil popped up here and there and was by all accounts a fabulous musician in his own right and was trying to step out of his father's shadow. (I recall an interview entitled "The Son Also Rises".) So having read a number of long in-depth interviews with Dweezil in Guitar World et al, I headed directly for PowerPlay in Eastbourne and handed over my (not particularly) hard-earned cash for a copy of Confessions. It had guest spots from Nuno Bettencourt, Zakk Wylde, Warren DeMartini and more! The magazines said it was amazing! Guess what? It is. Still. Top track: "Maybe Tonight"
And the winner is…
OK, so we touched upon the wonder of Mr. Big earlier, so here it is. Paul Gilbert had made his name and put down the miles with Racer X and was the risingest star in the shred heavens at the time. Billy Sheehan was routinely voted the best bass player of all time, including the entirety of the future, and having seen him live a handful of times I can assure you the man is not a human being, because they just can't do the stuff he does. (Billy I was already well aware of from the David Lee Roth albums.) Pat Torpey and Eric Martin were unknown quantities to me, but to be honest the guitar magazines were shouting so hard about Paul and Billy that it could have been Pat Butcher on drums and Eric Morecambe on vocals and I would have bought this.
As rabid as I am about this music, I have very few albums I would call "perfect". You know, even something as awesome as Slave to the Grind has some bullshit track like "Mudkicker" on it. Pornograffitti has "When I First Kissed You". Blackout In The Red Room has "Hell, CA". So I mean like, there's maybe three or so, and right now I can only think of two.
This is one.
Every single note, every single vocal, every single word, every single cymbal, every single key change on this album is 1991 rock crystallised into its densest and most perfect form. You know how you wish you could go back to 1970 and oil John Bonham's bass drum pedal before they recorded "Since I've Been Loving You"? You know how you wish you could go back to 1994 and tell Jeff Buckley that skinny dipping and heroin probably are probably best enjoyed on different evenings? Well if I could go back to 1991 to when these guys were recording Lean Into It I would just stay inside the time machine and hope like fuck that my very presence isn't somehow changing the riff to "My Kinda Woman" by some kind of fucked-up butterfly effect.
I got the tab book to this album and learned to play over half of it over the years, and that has destroyed none of the magic, the way it has with a lot of music I've learned. This album is magical, ethereal, and should be kept in a sealed vault somewhere under Switzerland as the ideal measure of "exactly one rock album".
I've pretty much worn out the keys that form the word "perfect" during this review, but honestly, this album does so much so well so consistently that it is absolutely perfectly justified.
This may be the best of the best. If the house was on fire, and I for some reason could only grab two CDs to spend the rest of my life listening to, this would be the second. (The first, well, it's coming. Everything starts somewhere.)
Top tracks: "Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy", "Green-Tinted Sixties Mind", "My Kinda Woman"
Turkey of the Year
For fuck's sake.
No, don't even.
Don't even start with me about "You Could Be Mine", "Civil War" or Dawkins help us "November Rain". Just cut the shit.
Are those amazing songs? Yes! Of course they are! No-one's doubting that for a moment. But shut your yap for a second… how many tracks are on the really good albums that you remember forever? Imma say 10 or 11 is ideal. 12 is OK if you have 12 really fucking good ones, but generally you could probably trim one or two.
You know what's too much, particularly when people have been waiting for four years? THIRTY. THIRTY SONGS IS TOO MUCH. Especially when at least HALF OF THEM ARE SHIT.
"Shotgun Blues"? "Get in the Ring"? Are you fucking kidding me? "Perfect Crime"? What even is that? It sounds like someone recorded Slash checking his guitar was in tune and then shat vocals on it from 20 storeys up. "Garden of Eden"? "My World"? Oh just fuck the fucking fuck the fuck off.
Look, you can make a really pretty fucking good album out of this shitshow if you throw away about 18-20 songs. Honestly, there's some great shit here. "Yesterdays", "Bad Obsession", "Dust N' Bones", "Pretty Tied Up"? All excellent.
"I know what this needs! A cover of Knockin' On Heaven's Door!"
Jesus fucking wept.