Let’s just get right back into this thing.
Mary J. Blige – My Life (1994). It was so comforting to find an uptown diva like Ms. Blige, someone to follow the footsteps of Chaka Khan. She is THE underrated discovery of Puffy’s (or whatever name he’s using today) career. It was on this album that Coombs’ production, and wholesale use of a “sample,” wasn’t annoying and worked seamlessly. This is the modern sound of R&B in the Nineties.
Nas – Illmatic (1994). This album is considered a Nineties landmark in hip hop because it singlehandedly reestablished New York City’s presence on the scene in the aftermath of The Chronic making the West Coast the epicenter. Nas combined the tough beats of some of NYC’s finest producers with his highly literate rhymes. His bleak tales of the ghetto were tempered by his hope and his remembrance of the good times. Plus, this is where you can find “N.Y. State of Mind.”
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Let Love In (1994). Cave and company picked up right where they left off on their breakthrough Henry’s Dream. This time the album is not as raw with the rough edges being sharpened to a point. Perhaps, the most surprising theme on this album is love, though it’s still a dark version of it. This is not a bubblegum version of love, so this album is not for the weak of heart. Yet, I find it compelling and beautiful in its darkness.
Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral (1994). Trent Reznor’s reputation as transcendent voice of the industrial sound and the downtrodden was made on this album. Reznor discovered new sounds that only enhanced his angry tales of disaffection that resonated so strongly with the public. Plus, his videos were downright scary stuff in the Nineties, let alone today.
Nirvana – MTV Unplugged in New York (1994). This whole performance was captivating at the time of its airing. Throughout that show, you got the feeling that you were watching a wake for Kurt Cobain being led by the man himself. Then, this album was released after he had died, and it definitely sounded like a funeral. With the band reduced to its acoustic essence, the desolation in Kurt’s lyrics were more poignant than when filled with the rage on the original recordings. This is an eerie album yet beautiful all the same. Can you image what Nirvana could have recorded in this vein?
Oasis – Definitely Maybe (1994). What a debut! From beginning to end, Oasis were on a mission to establish themselves as the new heir to the British rock throne. Oh, sure, you can find all of their reference points: Stones, Pistols and Kinks all wrapped up in the candy coating of The Beatles with some Stone Roses, Smiths and Happy Mondays thrown in for good measure. It’s no wonder this band was the biggest band in the UK, as they translated well with the American audience.
Pearl Jam – Vitalogy (1994). After two terrific albums, Pearl Jam stripped down their sound to create one of their more original sounding albums. Throughout, the band is uncompromising in their playing, lyrics and singing. This is a band on a mission to actually become a band for the ages by taking risks to move forward. These guys proved they were way deeper than just a grunge band.
Prince – The Black Album (1994). Back in 1994, Prince was fighting Warner Bros for the right to release as much music as he wanted. He even went as far as showing up to promote his music with “SLAVE” written across his cheek and legally changing his name to that unpronounceable symbol in order to negate his contract. As part of a compromise, he allowed this fabled 1987 album to finally be released. Bootlegs had been floating around for the better part of seven years, so no one should have been surprised by the music. If taken within the context of when it was actually intended for release, The Black Album is the sound of Prince taking back is funk roots after the everything-and-the-kitchen-sink sound of Sign ‘o’ the Times. Prince said he withheld the album in ’87 because God told him it was too dark. Those close to Prince say he was taking way too much ecstasy and got scared. Whatever the reason, The Black Album‘s release is as important musical milestone as Bob Dylan and The Band’s The Basement Tapes.
We’ll finish up 1994 soon. Peace.