1991 was a great year.
For starters, I was 16 that year – a ripe age for absorbing all sorts of new music and discovering many bands for the first time. It is perhaps ironic then that 1991 was also the year that many landmark albums were released.
Unbelievably this year we are celebrating the 20th Anniversary release of many albums which are now considered classics. There were many more than the short list below, however the following albums are those which I bought and helped form my music tastes for years to come:
- Nirvana – Nevermind
- Metallica – Metallica (The Black Album)
- Red Hot Chili Peppers – Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magik
- Lenny Kravitz – Mama Said
- Sepultura – Arise
- Skid Row – Slave to the Grind
- Pearl Jam – Ten
- Guns N’ Roses – Use Your Illusion I & II
- Ozzy Osbourne – No More Tears
- Soundgarden – Badmotorfinger
Looking back at that list a few things stand out for me. For one it really does amaze me how that year pretty much everything I was buying was American. In the UK the music scene was saturated by rave / dance music and was mostly single-based. UK acts who would normally release albums were strangely quiet in 1991.
Personally I knew nothing of Nirvana when Nevermind was released, though I know I wasn’t in the minority. The late September release of Nirvana’s Nevermind was to however sound the death knell for 80’s Glam Rock (and much of the wider Rock scene). Within a year Nirvana and Grunge as a genre would be the music dominating the charts.
Of course it is interesting to note that Pearl Jam also introduced themselves to the world this year with Ten boasting many massive singles including ‘Alive’, ‘Jeremy’, and ‘Even Flow’. Many don’t regard Pearl Jam as Grunge today (which I would agree with) however back then, coming from Seattle meant that they were labelled Grunge.
Metallica became stratospheric, and continue to be one of the planet’s major touring artists, after the release of Metallica (or The Black Album as it was generally dubbed). Producer Bob Rock helped create an album which took the heavy elements of the band’s sound, and used it to shape songs accessible to the masses while for the most part remaining true to their history.
I quite liked Metallica up until this release, but like the majority of post-1990 Metallica fans it was this release which really set the bar for them. There are many critics of The Black Album especially from older fans, but in terms of important releases: let’s face it regardless of music tastes who doesn’t know ‘Enter Sandman’?
Skid Row released their second album, Slave To The Grind which boasted a much heavier sound than their debut. A strong album, and looking back I consider it much better than I did at the time. Of course after this release they started the decline which befell many US Rock Acts courtesy of the marching onslaught of Grunge. There was a new form of music to be heard, and Rock just didn’t feel current!
What am I doing loving the Lenny Kravitz Mama Said album? Well 16-year-old me asked that very thing. Until this point my music tastes were very much classic 80s Rock and then somebody I didn’t know anything about released this album. Sure, I was introduced to him via lead single ‘Always On The Run’ which had GNRs Slash playing on it. But that’s one song, in an album full of soulful, slow, perfectly formed songs.
There is even some jazz in here, and I always loved to play this late at night as a come down from whatever was gracing my ears during the day. I believe this is the album which started the broadening of my music tastes long before the demise of Grunge and the UKs inward focus of Britpop for the latter half of the 90s.
I’m not sure where to begin when mentioning Guns N’ Roses release of TWO DOUBLE ALBUMS on the same day. Anticipation was beyond fever point by the time this opus was let free on the world. Much is known and has been written about the history of this band, and these albums.
Little did we know that this would be the last release of new material (save a covers album) for over 17 years, and on their return the only remaining member would be Axl Rose! The albums are as grandiose, extravagant, and as schizophrenic as the band’s own rollercoaster ride through fame, and whilst not as classic as Appetite for Destruction, they are equally as essential.
My favourite album of this year (and this is a tight run thing) has to be Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magik from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I was a huge fan of the band long before this was released and I remember hungrily scouring weekly issues of Kerrang! and the now defunct RAW Magazine for updates from the recording sessions in LA. Remember, this was way before the internet and easy access to information. When it finally dropped in September 1991
I was awe-struck. 17 songs which were similarly funky to their predecessors yet way more mature and flowed naturally creating a whole. Not a collection of singles. Just like The Black Album, this was the start of a steep upward curve in popularity for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. After all it was this album which introduced their boilerplate sound and spawned tracks such as ‘Give It Away’, and ‘Under The Bridge’, not to mention 15 other absolutely stunning songs.
NB: it should be noted that knowing these albums are 20 years old makes me feel, well, put it this way…where did the last 20 years go?