20 Classic Albums That Are 30 Years Old In 2020
1990 – or MCMXC, if you’re old Roman – was quite the year for world events. Here’s some of the news highlights in snack-size chunks.
Nelson Mandela was released from prison after 27 years, after being accused of plotting to overthrow the state in South Africa. We reckon that The Special A.K.A.’s song Free Nelson Mandela was what done it. That, and the threat of civil unrest.
After 11 years as the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher left Downing Street in tears after Michael Heseltine’s challenge for leadership of the Conservatives led to her downfall. Who knew she was capable of crying?
In other weeping news, skilled footballer and comedy boob enthusiast Paul Gascoigne blubbed after earning a second booking versus West Germany in the 1990 World Cup semi-final. The yellow card meant he was ineligible to play in the final. It didn’t matter though, as England lost on penalties.
Eastenders welcomed Phil and Grant Mitchell into Albert Square, whose rough-hewn charm and general thuggishness earned a place in soap opera fans’ hearts everywhere. Phil’s still there, getting up to all sorts of shenanigans.
And on September 10, The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air appeared on TV for the first time. People of a certain age will rap along to the show’s theme, if given the opportunity. Do not allow this as it makes everyone feel awkward.
1990 was also a fantastic year for rock and metal. People cut the sleeves off their T‑shirts, wore white basketball boots and, if they were brave, donned tight, snow-washed denims. It was a different time. There was a ton of albums released that year, too.
Here, then, are 20 classics that turn 30 this year…
Suicidal Tendencies – Lights… Camera… Revolution!
For their fifth studio album, Venice five-piece Suicidal Tendencies introduced a funk metal element into their crossover thrash ruckus, largely due to their new bassist Robert Trujillo. That’s not to say this 10-track effort is dominated by slap’n’pop mischief. Opening track You Can’t Bring Me Down is six minutes of pure fury, while Disco’s Out, Murder’s In is briskly truculent thrash. Three decades after its release, Lights… Camera… Revolution! remains a career highlight.
Anthrax – Persistence Of Time
New York thrashers Anthrax released Persistence Of Time two years after State Of Euphoria. It was a darker, more aggressive record, and the cool, pop culture references which informed their earlier records were shelved in favour of focusing on societal problems. Guitarist Scott Ian, however, was having trouble with frontman Joey Belladonna’s vocals. “It quickly got to the point where I couldn’t stand listening to Joey sing my words,” Scott told Loudwire. “I hated what he was doing and at the same time it was like we were pulling teeth to even get that out of him.” The band toured the record and eventually fired the vocalist in 1992. He officially rejoined the band in 2010.
Bad Religion – Against The Grain
Following their reunion in 1987, Against The Grain was Los Angeles punks Bad Religion’s third full-length album in three years. Packing 17 songs into 35 minutes, the album is notable for its breakneck pace, watertight harmonies and the track 21st Century (Digital Boy), later re-recorded for their 1994 major label debut Stranger Than Fiction. A perfect entry point into their 17-album back catalogue.
Slayer – Seasons In The Abyss
Kerry King wasn’t a fan of its predecessor South Of Heaven. In fact, late guitarist Jeff Hanneman said that his bandmate went through a “dry spell” during the writing sessions for the 1988 album. South Of Heaven, gulp, changed tempo at times. Maybe that was it. But when it came to unbridled aggression, Seasons In The Abyss cranked it up a touch. There were songs about war (War Ensemble), serial killers (Dead Skin Mask) and general carnage (Hallowed Point), further cementing Slayer’s reputation as a band who simply didn’t fuck about.
Megadeth – Rust In Peace
The first release to feature the classic line-up of Dave Mustaine, David Ellefson, Marty Friedman and Nick Menza, Rust In Peace is a dizzying display of technical thrash. Tackling themes of nuclear warfare (Rust In Peace… Polaris), alien conspiracy theories (Hangar 18) and religion (Holy Wars… The Punishment Due), Megadeth’s fourth album remains a touchstone for the thrash genre some 30 years later.
Pantera – Cowboys From Hell
After shedding their the final traces of glam on Power Metal with new vocalist Phil Anselmo, it was their major label debut which saw Pantera truly hit their stride. Produced by Terry Date at Pantego Sound Studio in Texas, Cowboys From Hell bristled with aggression and exemplary guitar work from Dimebag Darrell. The title-track boasts a relentless groove, Cemetery Gates was brooding power ballad, while Domination simply crushed.
Living Colour – Time’s Up
Following the funk metal sheen of their 1988 debut Vivid, this peerless New York four-piece further expanded their musical palette with a challenging album which bubbled with furious hardcore, soul and hip-hop. The album wasn’t short on guest appearances, either, and featured Queen Latifah, Little Richard, Mick Jagger, Doug E. Fresh and Mufasa (well, James Earl Jones). Living Colour earned a GRAMMY for their efforts and were the recipients of Best Hard Rock Performance the following year.
Primus – Frizzle Fry
San Francisco oddball trio Primus’ debut album, Suck On This, was a live recording released in 1989. Frizzle Fry, their studio debut, proudly wears an array of influences on their sleeves – Rush, Frank Zappa, Yes, Pink Floyd, and thrash – on this wilfully daft 13-track collection. There’s songs about fishing (John The Fisherman), war (Too Many Puppies) and the inevitability of growing up (The Toys Go Winding Down). Look out for Kirk Hammett in the video for John The Fisherman. Frontman Les Claypool – who met Kirk at high school – auditioned for Metallica in 1986 following the death of Cliff Burton.
Alice In Chains – Facelift
“When I met with the band, I told Jerry Cantrell, ‘Metallica took Tony Iommi and sped him up. What you’ve done is you’ve slowed him down again.’ And he looked at me and said, ‘You got it.’ That’s how I got the gig,” producer Dave Jerden told Music Radar about his role on the Seattle grunge four-piece’s classic debut. Released 11 months before Nirvana’s Nevermind, Alice In Chains’ Facelift – all ominous riffing and Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell’s vocal interplay – was a modest success at first. It was only until MTV added Man In The Box to their playlists that things started to really take off.
Bruce Dickinson – Tattooed Millionaire
It was Freddy Krueger who kickstarted the Iron Maiden frontman’s solo career in 1990. As the band were on hiatus following the rigours of the Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son tour, the vocalist was approached to record a song for A Nightmare On Elm Street 5: The Dream Child. Teaming up with Gillan and Fish guitarist Janick Gers, the pair recorded Bring Your Daughter… To The Slaughter. Hitting a prolific streak, they wrote and recorded Tattooed Millionaire in two weeks, but kept the Nightmare On Elm Street song off the album at the request of Steve Harris, who wanted Maiden to re-record it for their next release.
Iron Maiden – No Prayer For The Dying
That decision by Steve earned the metal legends their first and only Number One single at the end of the year, despite a ban by the BBC. It was the first album to feature Janick Gers on guitar, replacing Adrian Smith who left the band during pre-production due to musical differences. Recorded in a barn at the bassist’s Essex home, the back-to-basics album – which featured Tailgunner, Holy Smoke and Mother Russia – received mixed reviews, yet peaked at Number Two in the UK albums chart.
Danzig – II: Lucifuge
Danzig’s second album – produced by Rick Rubin – took the best part of a year to complete. Informed by a darker, melancholic sound than their debut, Kerrang!’s 1990 review suggested that the former Misfits vocalist’s creative visions fell a little short of the mark: “Gone are the latter-day Damned meets AC/DC-isms, the guttural rage, the hell-born black magic melodies. More Mountain than Motörhead, Bloodrock than Black Sabbath, Elvis than evil, [their] stylistic explorations reek of plod and pomp.”
Judas Priest – Painkiller
Prior to the release of Painkiller, Judas Priest were on trial for allegedly hiding subliminal messages on their cover of Spooky Tooth’s Better By You, Better Than Me, which incited two men from Nevada to shoot themselves five years earlier; 18 year old Raymond Belknap died, while his friend James Vance, 20, horrifically maimed himself and died three years later. The band were acquitted and delayed the release of their 12th album until after the court hearing. The record remains a career highlight; the addition of drummer Scott Travis gave the band a speedier, even more metallic edge. Painkiller would be Rob Halford’s last album with Priest until 2005’s Angel Of Retribution.
Jane’s Addiction – Ritual De Lo Habitual
Ritual De Lo Habitual is an album of two distinct halves; the first is glorious, uptempo alt.rock, featuring the aggro-funk one-two of Stop! and No One’s Leaving, plus the playful theft anthem Been Caught Stealing. The second half of the album is more experimental; there’s the hypnotic Three Days and the woozy, chiming guitars of Classic Girl, a song which mentions gunfire and dinosaur bedspreads. Not long after releasing this masterpiece, Jane’s Addiction parted ways.
Fugazi – Repeater
By 1990, Fugazi had released two EPs – Fugazi and Margin Walker – before recording their debut album with Ted Niceley at Inner Ear Studios. With songs railing against consumerism, violence and drug abuse, the Washington DC quartet imbued their thrilling post-hardcore with Ian MacKaye and Guy Picciotto’s inventive guitar and vocal interplay, paired with Joe Lally’s dub basslines. The album was ranked the 12th greatest punk album of all time by Kerrang! in 2006.
Entombed – Left Hand Path
Re-recording demos made under the name Nihilist, Stockholm’s Entombed put Swedish death metal on the map with Left Hand Path. Powered by LG Petrov’s demonic vocals, coupled with Uffe Cederlund and Alex Hellid’s buzzsaw riffing and frenzied soloing, this is a relentless debut.
Sonic Youth – Goo
For their follow-up to Daydream Nation, New York City alt.rock quartet Sonic Youth signed with Geffen subsidiary DGC. Over the course of its 11 tracks, the band tackle topics such as body image on Tonic (featuring a guest appearance by Dinosaur Jr.’s J. Mascis) and female empowerment on Kool Thing (with a spoken word segment by Chuck D). More direct than their previous albums, Goo remains their most important work and a touchstone for alternative rock.
Obituary – Cause Of Death
Obituary’s follow-up to their 1989 debut Slowly We Rot saw the addition of former Death guitarist James Murphy. His style added a new dimension to the Tampa five-piece’s signature crushing sound and was instrumental in creating a death metal classic. Fun fact: Michael Whelan’s artwork – a 1981 piece titled Lovecraft’s Nightmare B – was originally eyed by Sepultura for their Beneath The Remains sleeve, but Roadrunner set it aside for the Floridian death metallers. Iggor Cavalera was said to be “pissed off”.
Death – Spiritual Healing
James Murphy makes another appearance on this list, this time on Orlando death metal pioneers Death’s third album. Produced by their late frontman Chuck Schuldiner and manager Eric Greif, Spiritual Healing offered more complex, melodic songs than their previous two albums (Scream Bloody Gore and Leprosy); its lyrics avoided the cartoonish horror of their contemporaries, too, namely on the title track (televangelism) and a pro-choice take on abortion (Altering The Future).
Green Day – 39/Smooth
Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong and Mike Dirnt were just 17 when they recorded 39/Smooth for Lookout! Records. Spending five days with producer Andy Ernst (Rancid, AFI) at San Francisco’s Art Of Ears Studios, they recorded and mixed their 10-track debut, which included Going To Pasalacqua and At The Library. 39/Smooth initially sold 3,000 copies, but has gone on to surpass the million mark. Not bad for a few days’ work.
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