What a vintage year for music 1995 was: a mammoth 12 months which produced all-time classics from the likes of Radiohead, Oasis, Chemical Brothers, Tricky and loads, loads more. Here are 30 albums celebrating their 20th anniversary this year – raise your glass in salute…
Radiohead – ‘The Bends’ Radiohead’s second album was possibly the most startling of the year, a quantum leap on from the more trad indie feel of 1993 debut ‘Pablo Honey’. Late-1994 single ‘My Iron Lung’ had been a shot across the bows, showing off the band’s more muscular approach, and there was plenty more experimental rock to come in ‘Just’, ‘Planet Telex’ and the plunging title track.
Teenage Fanclub – ‘Grand Prix’ Creation Records might have been all wrapped up in Oasis by 1995, but they had another jewel in their crown – classic Belshill power-poppers Teenage Fanclub. The quartet went all-killer-no-filler for fifth album ‘Grand Prix’, a record that glows with gorgeous melodies from the subdued first single ‘Mellow Doubt’ to evergreen swooning anthem ‘Sparky’s Dream’.
Tricky – ‘Maxinquaye’ The biggest critical smash of the year came from an unexpected quarter. Ex-Massive Attack auxiliary member Tricky Kid had phoned in a couple of guest spots on 1994’s ‘Protection’, keeping his powder dry for his own debut – a brilliant, twisted take on hip-hop with torch-song accompaniment from teenager Martina Topley-Bird and a cover of Public Enemy’s ‘Black Steel’.
Spiritualized – ‘Pure Phase’ Masquerading under the name Spiritualized Electric Mainline, Jason Pierce’s frazzled space-rockers’ second album was even more fried than their 1992 debut ‘Lazer Guided Melodies’. It opened with a corker – an alternative version of spine-chilling lysergic odyssey ‘Medication’ – and never quite came down until the Eno-esque drift of ‘Sway’.
Aphex Twin – ‘…I Care Because You Do’ If you could get past the typically terrifying sleeve image, Aphex Twin’s third proper album was probably his most satisfying work to date, a kind of amalgam of his house and ambient sketches that occasionally locked into hip-hop beats or battered the bejesus out of your ear drums (step forward, endurance test ‘Ventolin’).
Massive Attack Meets The Mad Professor – ‘No Protection’ Massive Attack’s second album (1994’s ‘Protection’) was a mild letdown after the pioneering ‘Blue Lines’; too smooth, too forgettable. It took Guyanese dub producer Mad Professor to salvage something more brutal from the mix, and the Bristol trio gave him free rein for ‘No Protection’, a thunderous reimagining of the original.
Alanis Morissette – ‘Jagged Little Pill’ Whatever the qualities of 1995 albums by Tricky, Oasis, Radiohead etc, it was Canadian singer-songwriter Alanis Morissette’s breakthrough that shifted all the units that year. Led by blistering, scorchingly honest single ‘You Oughta Know’, ‘Jagged Little Pill’ was a blend of confessionals and seething observation that snared the world.
Pulp – ‘Different Class’ The defining album of 1995 was Pulp’s sometimes seedy, often fond, state of the nation address. It was Pulp’s fifth album of a 17-year struggle, but brimmed with ideas and tunes – ‘Disco 2000’, ‘Common People’, ‘Sorted For E’s & Wizz’ – that suggested a band just starting out, aching to be heard.
Blur – ‘The Great Escape’ Blur’s flawed fourth album is nevertheless too hard-wired into the “narrative of the year” (man) to ignore. It had the initial Britpop Battle winner in ‘Country House’, but the rest of the album failed to match Oasis’s ‘…Morning Glory?’ juggernaut. Still, there was an all-time classic in ‘The Universal’ and matters of a more experimental bent in ‘Yuko & Hiro’.
Goldie – ‘Timeless’ Remember when Goldie was the hippest thing around? He shone brightly, just briefly, as drum & bass seeped into the mainstream, becoming the face – and teeth – of the most exciting dance scene in years. ‘Inner City Life’ was the majestic calling card, an epic with a scope matched by this double-album.
A Guy Called Gerald – ‘Black Secret Technology’ Goldie was beaten to the drum & bass punch by an acid house survivor. Gerald Simpson started out with 808 State before making a solo splash with 1988 classic ‘Voodoo Ray’, but by 1995 he’d changed tack as a leading light of the d&B revolution. There are traces of Detroit house minimalism here, but the rhythmic invention is something new.
Björk – ‘Post’ Two years on from her fantastic solo debut, er, ‘Debut’, former Sugarcubes singer Björk was refining her sound further, going all show-tune on old standard ‘It’s Oh So Quiet’, breaking hearts with ‘Hyperballad’ and busting ear drums with synth-bass monster ‘Army Of Me’. It would end up Björk’s last truly ‘pop’ album, a blend of her populist and avant-garde skills.
Black Grape – ‘It’s Great When You’re Straight… Yeah!’ Of all the unlikely pop triumphs of 1995, the glorious return of Shaun Ryder was the one that took the biscuit. Happy Mondays had met a messy demise but Ryder came back more deranged than ever. Lead single ‘Reverend Black Grape’, tackling Nazi gold and funky tennis, was the blinder but the whole album was a wonky pop belter.
The Chemical Brothers – ‘Exit Planet Dust’ Enter big beat. Don’t blame The Chemical Brothers for any musical crimes that ensued; their debut LP was the one that minted the new style – house mixed with hip-hop to wall-shaking effect. Single ‘Leave Home’ just seemed louder than anything else around, but they could dial it down too on ‘One Too Many Mornings’.
Leftfield – ‘Leftism’ Like The Chemical Brothers’ ‘Exit Planet Dust’, Leftfield’s debut was aimed at undermining the architectural security of any building you were in. The house skank of ‘Release The Pressure’ was the party-starter, ‘Original’ with then-indie queen Toni Halliday (of Curve) the moody excursion and the startling John Lydon-led ‘Open Up’ the single for the ages.
Nightmares On Wax – ‘Smokers Delight’ If you remember chill-out, you weren’t there, man. Frankly you should’ve been blissed out on a beanbag in the back room of a club, unsure of the whereabouts of your shoes. Nightmares On Wax, aka George Evelyn, were progenitors of the chill scene and Smokers Delight was the career apotheosis, a snaking, soothing meander through blunted beats.
Money Mark – ‘Mark’s Keyboard Repair’ The Beastie Boys’ keys player hooked up with UK label Mo’ Wax to release a curious album of demos, sketches and the odd (nearly) fully formed song. Somehow, all grouped together, it was something of a lo-fi masterpiece.
D’Angelo – ‘Brown Sugar’ D’Angelo’s debut album was so languid we shouldn’t have been surprised that he’d only bother to release records every decade or so – but it’s still a shame we couldn’t have had more of this, more often. Sweet soul smashes ‘Cruisin” and the title track unveiled a chap to rank with 70s soul greats even as the grainy hip-hop production brought the LP bang up to date.
Pavement – ‘Wowee Zowee’ Just a year on from second album ‘Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain’, Pavement were already slipping away from their vaguely straightforward indie roots, making a record that eschewed easier pop numbers to form a more experimental sound. The hits were lacking, but in ‘Serpentine Pad’ and ‘Father To A Sister Of Thought’ they could still chisel out an insidious melody.
Oasis – ‘(What’s The Story) Morning Glory?’ Oasis might have come a cropper against Blur in the big Britpop singles chart showdown, but the Gallagher bros had the last laugh with their record-breaking second album. ‘…Morning Glory?’ shifted 347,000 copies in its week of release as the UK went mad fer the band’s last gasp of greatness, before quality control went a bit shaky.
PJ Harvey – ‘To Bring You My Love’ The sparse, brilliant opening duo of ‘Dry’ and ‘Rid Of Me’ had marked Polly Harvey out as one of the true greats of modern British rock’n’roll, and it was time to stretch those wings. ‘To Bring You My Love’ offered a more expansive, still bluesy sound, with auxiliary production from Flood deepening the PJ palette.
Genius/GZA – ‘Liquid Swords’ Hot on the heels of Method Man’s tremendous ‘Tical’, another Wu-Tang Clansman was making waves of his own. GZA’s ‘Liquid Swords’ was a sprawling beauty that didn’t stray far from the crew’s claustrophobic template – and included appearances from several band members – but confirmed the suspicion that this was a hip-hop team of rare ability, in harness or apart.
Coldcut – ’70 Minutes Of Madness’ The Coldcut duo had established their house credentials with a series of crossover hits in the late-80s, but proved they could move with the times too. Their Journeys By DJ mix is a compelling, sampladelic fusion of jungle, drum & bass and hip-hop that stands up today as one of the all-time great dance compilations.
David Holmes – ‘This Film’s Crap, Let’s Slash The Seats’ Sampling culture bled into Northern Irish DJ David Holmes’ debut LP, giving early warning of Holmes’ future as a soundtrack producer par excellence. A blend of the nascent big beat, trip-hop and bass-driven Underworld-esque house, ‘This Film’s Crap, Let’s Slash The Seats’ genre-hopped with glee, ringing in a prodigious new talent.
The Charlatans – ‘The Charlatans’ An almost unhealthy obsession with apostrophes – ‘Just Lookin”, ‘Crashin’ In’, ‘Just When You’re Thinkin’ Things Over’ – couldn’t stop The Charlatans’ fourth LP being a minor classic. Britpop might have been raging around them, but they had become pure rock’n’roll, more indebted to early 70s Rolling Stones and John Lennon than quaint, Kinksian vignettes.
War Child (Various) – ‘The Help Album’ Put together in aid of war victims in Bosnia and Herzegovina, ‘The Help Album’ was a project that saw a host of 1995’s leading artists each laying down a track in a single day. Some cheated – The Stone Roses fired off a live version of recent single ‘Love Spreads’ – but others, like Radiohead with ‘Lucky’, gave us a taste of glories yet to come.
Supergrass – ‘I Should Coco’ Britpop’s kid brothers nevertheless had a style all of their own, a tyro energy that swept away hoary old influences to sound dazzlingly fresh. ‘Alright’ was the novelty hit, but Supergrass’s true nature was in ‘Caught By The Fuzz”s hilarious tale of youthful misdemeanour, ‘Lenny”s itchy punk blast and ‘Mansize Rooster”s nutty phases.
Elastica – ‘Elastica’ As Blurmania swept the nation, Damon Albarn’s girlfriend wasn’t doing too badly either. Justine Frischmann’s band might have attracted a few sly remarks about ‘Line Up’ and ‘Connection”s purely coincidental similarities to swathes of the Wire back catalogue, but their debut album was so tight, punchy and exquisitely formed that we all let it pass.
Smashing Pumpkins – ‘Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness’ Three albums in, Billy Corgan was ready to unleash his magnum opus. From the eye-watering pun of the title to the sheer gargantuan size of the thing, ‘Mellon Collie…’ was a work of over-weening ambition. When it worked – ‘1979’, ‘Tonight, Tonight’ – it aimed for the Rock’n’Roll Hall Of Fame.
Garbage – ‘Garbage’ Former Goodbye Mr Mackenzie singer Shirley Manson and Nirvana producer Butch Vig (plus pals) were a somewhat bizarre fusion of talents to take the world by storm, but Garbage cooked up a canny pop-grunge that notched up hits on both sides of the Atlantic, with perennial indie-disco faves ‘Queer’, ‘Only Happy When It Rains’, ‘Vow’ and ‘Stupid Girl’ standing out.