Bjork, ‘Debut’ The mark of a classic musical vintage is when you simply can’t do a Top 20. Even a Top 30 of the best albums of 1993 has to omit such semi-classics as Teenage Fanclub’s ‘Thirteen’, Snoop’s ‘Doggystyle’ and Kate Bush’s ‘The Red Shoes’. But we start our list with NME’s Album Of 1993 and the record that caused larynxes to rupture across the nation’s dancefloors…
Tindersticks, ‘Tindersticks’ …And move swiftly on to the actual album of 1993, the whiskey-soaked, blood-in-the-kitchen-sink slasher dramas of Tindersticks’ debut. A dark, seditious, sumptuous and gory glory, this was a double-album guide to staying suave amidst a city’s squalor, all gutter-scuffed dress shoes and debonair suits stretched by bailiffs.
Suede, ‘Suede’ 1993 was the year Britpop broke, and ‘Suede’ was its Mercury-winning totem. The fastest-selling debut album in British history (until Oasis and Arctic Monkeys came along), Suede’s debut delivered every ounce of gritty glamour they had, from overdoses to animalistic sex, Valium Britain, heroin kids and trying “it” any which way you can. Number One with an anal bung.
Blur, ‘Modern Life Is Rubbish’ A few months later came that other pillar upon which Britpop would be built, the punkoid post-war rejuvenation of ‘Modern Life…’, viewing the social and cultural end-of-a-century milieu through Graham Greene-tinted spectacles. A modernist masterpiece, it might never have happened if Blur had quite liked touring America and everyone had bought ‘Popscene’.
The Auteurs, ‘New Wave’ Lurking in Britpop’s undergrowth snarling “bah, I invented this!” was Luke Haines and his Auteurs, pipping everyone to the first-Britpop-album prize but swept under by the deluge of Suede hype. Still, ‘New Wave’ was a sophisticated sneer of an album notable for graceful chamber pop like ‘Showgirl’ and ‘Junk Shop Clothes’. Britpop’s own Oscar The Grouch was born.
The Boo Radleys, ‘Giant Steps’ Meanwhile, in the aftermath of shoegazing and ‘Loveless’, a raft of acts were trying to cohere a more psychedelic new British sound. The Boo Radleys’ ‘Giant Steps’ threw pop, dub, psych-orchestrals and shoe-rock into a dazzling stew that had one reviewer gushing “for 64 minutes they were the greatest band on the planet”.
Verve, ‘A Storm In Heaven’ Likewise, ‘Mad’ Richard Ashcroft was claiming he was a flying alien demi-God shitting diamond rainbows over Wigan while, ahem, storming to Number 27 with the blustery psychedelic space rock like two Death Stars shagging that constituted The Verve’s debut album. Although they were strangers to the definite article – and a night off the acid, it seemed – back then.
Slowdive, ‘Souvlaki’ Expected to take one look at ‘Loveless’, burn their shimmer-pedals and go back to working the libraries of Reading and Oxford, Slowdive were considered a bit of a shoegaze hangover by 1993. Hence it took decades for their elegant, blissed-out and nourishing second album – co-produced with Brian Eno – to garner the cult respect it deserved.
Radiohead, ‘Pablo Honey’ Whatever happened to this lot? Y’know, that yowly great US-style rock band from Oxford with the Sigue Sigue Sputnik haircuts who did that song ‘I’m The Creep’ and bunged out this cracking bunch of radio-friendly post-grunge about vegetables, lurgees and playing guitars on the beach. You remember, they supported Kingmaker once. No? Ah well, that’s showbiz.
Manic Street Preachers, ‘Gold Against The Soul’ And The Radioheads weren’t the only band looking to emulate the US rock sound in 1993. After the politico-glam-punk of ‘Generation Terrorists’, this found the Manics mellowing into a radio-friendly groove they’d come to regret, but tracks like ‘From Despair To Where’ and ‘La Tristesse Durera (Scream To A Sigh)’ were solid ‘Gold…’.
Nirvana, ‘In Utero’ Across the pond, there was no mellowing for grunge’s leading lights. ‘In Utero’ was the bleak, intense result of Nirvana reacting against the polished aesthetic of ‘Nevermind’ and probably the most uncompromising album ever to sell 5 million worldwide. Estimates say 74% of US DJs were sacked the week it came out for taking ‘Radio-Friendly Unit Shifter’ at face value.
Smashing Pumpkins, ‘Siamese Dream’ Meanwhile, Nirvana’s peers were busy adding sophistication to the grunge blueprint. Hence Billy Corgan’s mob creating a string-bathed opus of a second album recorded in the midst of heroin addictions, nervous and romantic breakdowns and writer’s block the size of Ayers Rock. All of which sent the album $250,000 over budget. Luckily it sold 6 million. Phew.
Afghan Whigs, ‘Gentlemen’ Talking of suave grunge, on their fourth album Greg Dulli and Afghan Whigs were concocting edgy, atmospheric soul rock dramas with the feel of brutal cop movies full of bent feds shaking down LA clip joints and shooting up crack dens. Hence the track ‘What Jail Is Like’.
Frank Black, ‘Frank Black’ In the wake of the Pixies split, grunge originator Black Francis concentrated on a debut solo album of twisted, quirky pop about space maths, Fu Manchu and The Ramones. Vastly under-estimated at the time, it’s now a shining beacon of mid-90s US alt.pop genius with a closing run of jubilant melodies that’s as good a closing triptych as any album’s ever managed.
The Breeders, ‘The Last Splash’ More successful, though, was Frank’s old Pixies squeeze Kim Deal, hitting the Top Five with The Breeders, albeit minus Tanya Donelly. But who needs a pouting fem-pop Hit Girl for a sidekick when you’ve got dancefloor demolishers like ‘Cannonball’ and the sort of cracked fuzz ballad in ‘Do You Love Me Now?’ that could make Soundgarden go squiffy?
Belly, ‘Star’ Donelly herself was off launching her own college-pop spin-off band Belly, reaching Number Two with a debut album rich in fairy tale creepiness and a vampiric romance that, had Tanya written it as teen-lit instead of brilliant airy guitar pop, would have made her billions. And why wasn’t there a limited edition of this insidious sugar-rush of an album made out of gingerbread?
Madder Rose, ‘Bring It Down’ Likened to The Velvet Underground on this debut album, the NYC songwriting partnership of Mary Larson and Billy Coté produced a gleaming, understated collage of country, pop, surf rock and psychedelia, and even a dash of trip-hop. Check out the ultra-romantic ‘Swim’, in which Coté’s slide guitar attempts to sound like a hand-grenade to the heart.
Mazzy Star, ‘So Tonight That I Might See’ From the sweet to the sultry. On Mazzy Star’s second album Hope Sandoval and David Roback created lush depths to their glacial boudoir music, Sandoval pouting and cooing in so seductive a way that girls wanted to be her and boys wanted to be witheringly discarded by her.
Liz Phair, ‘Exile In Guyville’ Kind of a US PJ Harvey-meets-Joni Mitchell, Liz Phair burst out of Chicago with an emotionally frank indie-folk benchmark famed for its forthright sexuality and twatloads of swearing: “I’ll fuck you til your dick is blue”, Phair kindly offers while revealing “It’s fuck and run, even when I was twelve”. We dug out our copy and passed it on to Operation Yewtree.
The Lemonheads, ‘Come On Feel The Lemonheads’ There was little in the way of brutal sex and paedophilia on the sixth album from Evan Dando’s Lemonheads, but plenty of trademark strummery acoustic loveliness like ‘Into Your Arms’, ‘Being Around’ and ‘Big Gay Heart’, which has amazingly yet to be adopted as a Tory conference theme music.
The Wu-Tang Clan, ‘Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)’ Working on an ethos of “Eastern philosophy picked up from kung fu movies, watered-down Nation of Islam preaching picked up on the New York streets and comic books”, The Wu-Tang Clan’s debut rejuvenated NYC hip-hop. But when this writer applied for Wu-Tang membership, he was mercilessly blackballed and told “no, we don’t have a tree-house”.
Orbital, ‘Untitled’ The torch-eyed phase-mongers expanded their amorphotronic remit on classics like ‘Halcyon + On + On’ and ‘Planet Of The Shapes’ from their second album. Although it opened with exactly the same Star Trek sample as their debut to trick people into thinking they’d bought the same album again. E-LOL-tronica!
Trans-Global Underground, ‘Dream Of 100 Nations’ Released on the very last day of 1993, TGU’s long-awaited debut album led off with the immense global rap of ‘Temple Head’, a single from 1991 that had taken the crusty rave scene by storm and which today sounds like MIA’s birthing tape.
Depeche Mode, ‘Songs Of Faith And Devotion’ 1993 was also a prime year for rock’s old geezers. Like a sexy, smacked-up ‘Rattle And Hum’, ‘Songs…’ saw Depeche Mode guzzle desert dust and grapple gospel choirs to the ground in search of their own spiritual redemption. As if that lot weren’t going straight to hell…
New Order, ‘Republic’ The last New Order album before an eight-year hiatus, ‘Republic’ chimed in with some of their shiniest pop hits. ‘Regret’, ‘Spooky’ and ‘Ruined In A Day’ all catapulted NO’s 80s underground aesthetic into the bright new Britpop dawn. Like leather jackets and Rolf Harris, New Order fit every generation.
Pet Shop Boys, ‘Very’ You can imagine the conversation. “C’mon Chris, stop being so glum, whack on this huge silver wizard’s hat and kick this 15-foot beach ball at the Mayan chiefs…” Yes, ‘Very’ was where The Pet Shop Boys’ crazed flamboyance burst out accompanied by their best pop hooks ever in ‘I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind Of Thing’ and ‘Can You Forgive Her’.
Paul Weller, ‘Wild Wood’ Seemingly working towards a time when he would hand-carve his own instruments from the deadwood of Waltham Forest, Weller’s further foraging into nature-flecked soul produced his best album of the 90s.
James, ‘Laid’ Though the archaic-themed, cross-dressing sleeve made them look like a bad Monty Python sketch about The Levellers, James’ fifth album was their most exuberant and uplifting, roaring along on the chat-worthy choruses of ‘Sometimes (Lester Piggott)’, ‘Say Something’ and the precursor to ‘Sex On Fire’ that was the seriously horny title track.
PJ Harvey, ‘Rid Of Me’ Even more raw and raucous than her debut ‘Dry’ from the previous year, Peej’s second album wowed critics, blew John Peel’s mind and hit Number Three on the back of Albini-produced clatter classics ’50ft Queenie’, ‘Man-Size’ and the title track. Frankly, in ‘confrontational’ terms, it made Liz Phair look like Rastamouse.
Kirsty MacColl, ‘Titanic Days’ And at the other end of the fempop spectrum sat this glorious sweep of multi-tracked magnificence, blowing out speaker skins with breathtaking choirs of Kirsty on ‘Tomorrow Never Comes’ and the title track. Nice spot of co-writing from Johnny Marr on ‘Can’t Stop Killing You’ too, with wolf-howling that pre-dated Shakira’s ‘She Wolf’ by 16 years.