This week’s NME steps back in time to 1994, investigating how big releases by Hole, Morrissey, Blur, Portishead and more shaped not just the following 20 years of music but pop culture as a whole. Oasis’s ‘Definitely Maybe’ topped our Album of the Year poll in ’94 – but which records from that rollercoaster 12 months do NME writers remember dearly?
TLC – ‘CrazySexyCool’
By 1994, TLC needed no introduction, but Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest gave them one anyway. He kicks off their second album ‘CrazySexyCool’ with an introductory rap over siren sounds and low-slung beats, presenting the three stars of the show, saving his favourite till last (“But Left-Eye’s the dime piece”). Before the Spice Girls were even a kernel of an idea, Left-Eye, Chilli and T-Boz had nicknamed themselves ‘Crazy’, ‘Sexy’ and ‘Cool’ respectively, pointing at the three facets that contributed to their overall winning formula. What comes next is the blueprint for R&B slow-jams – ‘Creep’, a pop classic in ‘Waterfalls’ challenging drug-dealing and HIV/AIDS (“Three letters took him to his final resting place”), and a cover of Prince’s ‘If I Was Your Girlfriend’, among innuendo-laden love songs like ‘Let’s Do It Again’ and ‘Red Light Special’. The piece de la resistance, however, is the final track ‘Sumthin’ Wicked This Way Comes’ featuring a killer rap from Andre 3000 (then billed as ‘Dre’) about the undercurrent of gang culture in 1994: “What da cuff is goin’ on?”. World domination, that’s what.
Eve Barlow, Deputy Editor
Oasis – Definitely Maybe
‘Definitely Maybe’ wasn’t the first Oasis album I heard (I was in 11 in 1994, and preoccupied with Roberto Baggio), but after being sucked into the band’s world a year later by ‘(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?’ it didn’t take me long to work out their debut was my favourite. As a teenager growing up in Devon who wasn’t sure about what the holy fucking hell I was supposed to be doing with my life, I found that there was something incredibly reassuring about Liam Gallagher. I love Noel too, but Liam’s my guy. When I was sad or confused about girls or parents or school, I’d just stick on ‘Cigarettes & Alcohol’ or ‘Slide Away’, listen to this Mancunian wild man raging away, and think “fuck ‘em”. Not the most sophisticated response ever, but it worked for me at that time. It didn’t matter that he didn’t write the lyrics, what mattered was his attitude. He did his own thing. He didn’t care if you hated him. He made me feel cool. And these days, now that I actually am cool, I just like the tunes. It’s by far and away the band’s best work, and I’ve probably listened to it more times than any other album I’ve owned. Every song is a giant. And yeah, I’m including ‘Digsy’s Dinner’ in that.
Tom Howard, Reviews Editor
Nas – ‘Illmatic’
In 94 ‘Illmatic’ dropped and raised the bar. Nas established himself as a poet of the streets, his gritty tales of life in Queens defined by visceral imagery so graphic you can almost smell the trash cans and exhaust pipes and people “pissing in your elevator.” From the first moment he “wipes the sweat off his dome and spits the phlegm on the streets” as he puts it in ‘The World Is Yours’, his raps are expressive and crafted with economy. Still relevant today, his debut remains arguably the greatest hip-hop album of all time. I listen to it at least once a month.
Lucy Jones, Deputy Editor, NME.com
Pavement – ‘Crooked Rain Crooked Rain’
‘Crooked Rain Crooked Rain’ isn’t just my favourite record of 1994, but one of my all time favourites – a slacker rock explosion that refuses to slack in the wit and imagination stakes. ‘Cut Your Hair’ satirised the group’s MTV peers’ posing with meaty hooks and a free-noise guitar solo, while ‘Newark Wilder’ is freight train pop-punk that feels like it could fall apart at the seams at any second. Even at its most melancholy, on ballad ‘Range Life’, frontman Stephen Malkmus can’t resist a snarly Billy Corgan diss (“Out on tour with the Smashing Pumpkins… I don’t understand what they mean and I could really give a fuck”). It’s the joyous ‘Gold Soundz’ that makes ‘Crooked Rain’, though – sun-kissed guitar pop perfection with the decade’s most strangely affecting lyrics: “so drunk in the August sun/and you’re the kind of girl I like/because you’re empty and I’m empty/and you can never quarantine the past.”
Al Horner, Assistant Editor, NME.com
Weezer – ‘Weezer’ (aka Blue Album)
Purists and hipsters prefer ‘Pinkerton’ but for me, ‘Weezer’ is by far the best album by Rivers Cuomo and co. Better known as The Blue Album, the record kicks off with the crunchy intro to ‘My Name Is Jonas’ and doesn’t take it’s foot off the pedal throughout. Be it the speedy ‘Surf Wax America’ or loser’s anthem ‘Undone – The Sweater Song’, this is an album which sounds as good today as it did twenty years ago. You don’t need a Happy Days spoofing video to tell you that.
David Renshaw, News Reporter
Shampoo – ‘We Are Shampoo’
There was nothing more appealing to the pre-teen me than two loud-mouthed girls from Plumstead with home bleached hair, candyfloss coloured plastic jewerly and big stompy shiny Dr Martins. ‘We Are Shampoo’ might not have been the most technically proficient album of 1994, the slickest or the most soul-searching, but it was definitely the most fun. A kind of Manga styled, comic book cockney version of riot grrrl, they mixed Beastie Boys rowdiness with a girl power far
superior to the Spice Girls version which was to follow a few years down the line.
Leonie Cooper, writer
Aaliyah – ‘Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number’
From falsetto-filled ‘Down with the Clique’ to its sultry title track, Aaliyah’s debut album is sun-streaming-through-the-window Saturday-morning lie-in music. With production by controversially-rumoured partner R Kelly, it’s so ’90s it hurts, yet it laid the groundwork for R&B as we know it – both Drake and Chris Brown have been angling for posthumous collabs recently. Plus, the laid-back-sexy ‘Back & Forth’ would have revellers slow-dancing like it’s their sixth-form prom at even the coolest party.
Kate Lloyd, writer
Blur – ‘Parklife’
It might not be Blur’s best album (that’s ‘Modern Life Is Rubbish’, obviously) but ‘Parklife’ is the gem in the crown of 1994. ‘Girls And Boys’ showed off Damon and the group’s satirical side, poking fun at loose-loving Club 18-30 holidays while ‘End Of A Century’ took a more poetic look at everyday life and love. Then there’s the elegant ‘To The End’, shipping forecast-focused ‘This Is A Low’ and the knees-up, Phil Daniels-starring title track itself, all adding up to make a record that resembled a rosy patchwork of British life in the mid-90s.
Rhian Daly, Assistant Reviews Editor
Suede – Dog Man Star
We already knew from ‘Pantomime Horse’, ‘Sleeping Pills’ and ‘Stay Together’ that Suede had the blood of Byron, the brains of Wren and the balls of Zeus, but ‘Dog Man Star’ was a – literally – awe-inspiring sprawl of power, poise and sheer stately pop magnificence. ‘Introducing The Band’ was its dizzying narcotic intro, ‘Still Life’ its symphonic coda and inbetween came Britpop pumped full of majestic filth (‘Heroine’, ‘New Generation’, ‘We Are The Pigs’, ‘This Hollywood Life’) and the biggest, brashest ballads in decades, resembling the sweet mating calls of Krakens (‘The 2 Of Us’, ‘The Wild Ones’, ‘The Asphalt World’). Monumental, in every possible way.
Mark Beaumont, writer