On September 24, Nirvana’s epochal Nevermind album turns 20, a milestone that will be marked with much coverage, celebration and consternation in the media … not to mention a sundry of other events, including a high-profile benefit concert at Seattle’s Experience Music Project and a Jon Stewart-hosted Q&A with Nirvana’s surviving members.
And understandably so. After all, Nevermind was a game-changer in every sense of the term — the kind of album that brought about seismic shifts in music, fashion and culture in general, one that defined a generation and, as such, deserves to be mythologized. And, in the coming weeks, we suspect you’ll see no shortage of stories that do just that.
And while Nevermind casts an indelibly lengthy shadow, it bears mention that there was no shortage of other magical, massive and equally mythological albums that hit stores in 1991 … ones that, had Nirvana never broken through, would probably be getting the royal treatment right now. In 1991, rock truly rocked, so, in celebration of that fact, we’ve asked some of today’s biggest bands to discuss their favorite albums from that rather amazing year.
Don’t worry, we’ll give Nevermind its due … but right now, we’re paying tribute to 1991’s other indispensible albums, in the words of their biggest fans.
Dinosaur Jr., Green Mind
Sludgy, somnambulant fourth album from Amherst, Massachusetts’ premier purveyors of bad-posture rock, Green Mind represents Dino Jr. at a great divide: Not only is it their first album without original member Lou Barlow, it’s also their first for major label Sire Records. Still, neither of those factors managed to sap its power, as mastermind J Mascis shouldered the load (it’s basically a solo album) on tracks like the squalling “The Wagon” and the roiling “Puke & Cry.” Of course, the band would later reconcile, but Green Mind still stands as a high-water mark, one that, from its iconic cover image to its shambolic moments of pure grandiosity, still stands the test of time.
As remembered by Mark Hoppus, Blink-182: “I got it when it came out and I just loved it, from the second that I listened to it. And I remember going to watch them at the Hollywood Palladium, and I think, actually, Nirvana opened that show maybe, or maybe not. [Editor’s note: Nirvana did, in fact, open for Dino Jr. at the Palladium in June 1991.] But they played the Palladium, and it was the loudest show that I’d ever been to and my ears rang for three days afterwards and I was deathly afraid that I’d permanently ruined my hearing, which I probably did, but it was well worth it.”
My Bloody Valentine, Loveless
The rare album that can be summarized entirely by its cover, MBV’s Loveless is 48-odd minutes of guitars slowly corroding, collapsing and combusting into a gloriously woozy, decidedly pink hue. Then again, you should probably listen to it, if only to marvel at the sheer size of the thing: an epic sonic collage that echoes for days, full of ringing, winging chords, ruddy drum loops and ethereal, barely there vocals. It sounded like nothing else at the time and, really, that’s still true today. Recorded in 19 different studios over the course of two years, it brought the band and its label, Creation, to the brink and was so huge an endeavor (in every regard) that, 20 years later, MBV have yet to record the follow-up. But that hasn’t stopped an entire generation of musicians from taking cues from Kevin Shields’ masterful din, most notably, the rather tricky art of learning how not to play guitar.
As remembered by Brian Oblivion, Cults: “In the same vein as Nevermind, Loveless is another game-changing album. There’s that clichéd saying about the Velvet Underground, that they didn’t have many fans, but all their fans started bands, and that’s definitely the same thing with My Bloody Valentine. Like, every single one of my friends who heard that record immediately went out and bought a delay pedal and … I’m not very good at guitar at this point in my life, and that’s mostly because of My Bloody Valentine, because I’d just sit around in my basement and just make noise with loops and pedals and never learned how to actually play, like, ’Kevin Shields can’t play, he’s an artist.’ To me, that album is all about texture, it’s not about notes or melody or lyrics even … the sound of a guitar became the sound of a cello, the sound of an orchestra, anything, and it kind of opened up the possibilities for everybody to do different kinds of music.”
How is it possible that four kids from Louisville, Kentucky, could sound so preternaturally old? That’s just one of the questions raised after listening to Spiderland, the second (and last) album from Slint, a band whose legacy far outweighs their actual output. A creaking, claustrophobic collection of songs that practically seethe tension (which sort of lends credence to the rumors that, following its recording, at least one member underwent psychiatric treatment), Spiderland crashes and coils in ways few other albums do: in a downright terrifying manner. Just give “Good Morning, Captain” a spin and try to say otherwise. And they looked like such nice young men on the cover.
As remembered by Ben Gibbard and Chris Walla, Death Cab for Cutie
Gibbard: “Kids, when they kind of get into music that they think is big and powerful and scary and loud, they gravitate towards hardcore, they gravitate towards punk rock, [because] to that point, that was the biggest, scariest, most aggressive kind of sounding thing that I had heard. But when I first heard Spiderland, it was the juxtaposition between the quiet and the loud that made it even a more powerful listening experience than listening to a hardcore band, because it was so quiet and it was so loud, and kind of feeling the dynamics between the loud and the quiet … the scope between those things was really powerful.”
Walla: “Spiderland is in a handful of records from the early ’90s that are sort of recording-geek go-to’s. And that was a record, for me, that was really a testament of how you can put together and structure a rock and roll recording in a way that didn’t sound like Stone Temple Pilots. Rock and roll had gotten pretty big and pretty produced by that point and, for me, there were a handful of records that kids like me, who had a couple of microphones and an 8-track, sort of felt like, ’Oh, maybe I can do this and I should do this.’ ”
Share your favorite memories of our other seminal 1991 albums in the comments below!