Pop Top 40: CMJ Radio Top 20, January 25, 1991

As ‘91 began, these were the late-’90 records that college radio was spinning

The Charlatans Some Friendly, Beggars Banquet 1990

A fascinating snapshot, just one year into the 1990s: early shoegaze salvos, industrial in full flower, Madchester making its initial mark, and some classic-sounding good ol’ American indie rock.  

[this week/last week/2 weeks ago (peak position) title — artist]


1/1/1 (1) SOME FRIENDLY — The Charlatans (10th week at #1) — Classic Madchester that’s more iconic than it is great; I like it plenty, but never really love it, except for “The Only One I Know.” I suspect US college radio types took to it so strongly because of its strong ‘60s influences, organ especially. (7/10)


2/3/4 (2) VISION THING — Sisters of Mercy — “More” is a brilliantly over-the-top Jim Steinman co-production and co-write. The remainder of the album is the sound of Andrew Eldritch getting messy and directionless, more bombast than goth and mostly just subpar hard rock. Prior album Floodland is a near-masterpiece; this is just masturbation. (3/10)


3/4/5 (3) GALA — Lush — This US/Japan comp of their first mini-album and a pair of EPs is not only a perfect introduction to Lush, but a perfect shoegaze album, period. If you love swirling guitars + dreamy, Liz Fraser-esque vocals, look no further. (10/10)


4/5/14 (4) PILLS ‘N’ THRILLS AND BELLYACHES — Happy Mondays — For my money, probably the most on-the-nose distillation of the Madchester sound and scene, though I often prefer the remixes of this album’s tracks, such as the Grid’s take on “Bob’s Yer Uncle,” and the epic “Loose Fit” 12” by the album’s producers, Paul Oakenfold and Steve Osborne (the only version of the song for me). Their cover of John Kongos’s 1971 “Step On” is, of course, brilliant, as is their own “Kinky Afro.” (9/10)


VIDEO: Happy Mondays “Kinky Afro”


5/2/2 (2) RED HOT + BLUE — Various Artists — A superb Cole Porter tribute, about which I had plenty to say here in December. (8/10)


6/6/3 (3) HELL’S DITCH — Pogues — People were still listening to the Pogues in 1991? I suppose if you like pennywhistles, mediocre Irish rock, and Shane MacGowan’s drunken caterwauling… (4/10)


7/7/8 (7) CAKE — Trash Can Sinatras — A record which doesn’t really fall into any trend or particular subgenre – just solid, strummy pop/rock, the same way the Smiths or Aztec Camera were pop/rock. This one was new to me and I’ve gotta say, these songs are really lovely, as are Francis Reader’s vocals (which are quite reminiscent of AC’s Roddy Frame). (7/10)


8/14/15 (8) NAÏVE — KMFDM — I’m generally a fan, but this overblown album sounds like a parody of industrial, starting to verge towards lunkhead metal (“Godlike”). Some of the tracks are too limp, others are too ridiculous. And yes, I know: industrial. But as others on this chart showed (see #12, below), you could still do it without sounding silly. That said, the original, “O Fortuna”-sampling version of “Liebesleid” is pretty awesome. (4/10)


9/8/10 (7) BIRDBRAIN — Buffalo Tom — Coming in cold on Buffalo Tom, I’d always assumed they were Americana-ish? But this is more in the Lemonheads/Dino Jr./Sebadoh ballpark, a surprise. “Enemy” is almost proto-Pearl Jam, but don’t hold that against it. Very much American indie rock, circa 1990, and if I’d heard this at the time, I would’ve loved it. Crunchy and loud. (7/10)


VIDEO: Buffalo Tom “Birdbrain”


10/9/9 (9) “THE HURDY GURDY MAN” (5”) — Butthole Surfers — Oh, the Surfers, who always smacked to me of “Look how weird we are!” (And also “Look how much acid we eat!”) Don’t show me how weird you are, just be weird – that’s a crucial difference (some might even call it an acid test), and one I always felt this band couldn’t pass. This Donovan cover is totally unnecessary; they add nothing of note to it. And b-side “Barking Dogs” is mostly guitar reverb, some effects, and the sound of, yep, barking dogs. Yawn. (3/10)


11/22/49 (11) 99% — Meat Beat Manifesto — Classic as industrial-techno-dance music gets from this era. Their use of samples is judicious, their beats are as hard as anything from Public Enemy, Jack Dangers’s declarations well-utilized, and there’s melody in the damn thing. This is smart, smart music, made as much for your brain as your ass. And it’s definitely effective on the dancefloor, trust. A masterpiece. (10/10)


12/20/24 (7) PRETTY HATE MACHINE/“SIN” (5”) — nine inch nails — NIN’s debut album had been released over a year earlier, in October 1989 – but further extending its life, its third/final single, “Sin,” was released in October 1990 (the album was the epitome of a slow burn), featuring remixes of the song by Keith LeBlanc and Adrian Sherwood of Tackhead. As an added bonus, the 5” featured a cover of Queen’s “Get Down Make Love,” produced by Ministry’s Al Jourgenson (under his Hypo Luxa moniker). Extensive college radio play of the maxi-single helped push the album back up the CMJ chart. These remixes are great, trading in some of the synth-industrialness of the song’s album version for a much more EBM feel (think Nitzer Ebb), and the Queen cover is a hoot. As for the parent album, it’s where Trent Reznor turned industrial into synth-pop music, basically, not just clattering away, but marrying that sound to actual songcraft. Pretty Hate Machine may well be the Never Mind the Bollocks or Songs in the Key of Life of industrial; it’s that monumental and foundational. (10/10 for both album and maxi-single)


13/11/11 (9) ONE SIMPLE WORD — Connells — This might be the most aggressively generic rock album (this side of, say, Gin Blossoms) that I’ve ever heard. (5/10)


14/13/7 (1) RITUAL DE LO HABITUAL — Jane’s Addiction — Meandering, “artsy” LA rock that isn’t helped one bit by Perry Farrell’s obnoxious voice and/or personality. And those basslines: who do they think they are, the Chili Peppers? Opener “Stop!” is still a great punch in the face, but most of the rest is just limp. (2/10)


15/12/6 (3) MIXED UP — The Cure — You know why most of these 11 remixes of classic Cure singles work so well? Because their source material is so impeccable. There’s no denying the likes of “Fascination Street” and “Close to Me,” and most of the remixers involved get it. Many of these are original extended versions – like many of their brethren, the Cure were goth icons who understood the importance of the dancefloor, too – while a few are newer takes. And the album’s one new song, “Never Enough,” is a Cure anomaly, sounding like Jimi Hendrix with 1990 technology at his disposal; it soars. [Even better: seek out the 2018 triple-disc deluxe edition for more fun.] (7/10)  


VIDEO: The Cure “Never Enough”


16/32/– (16) NOWHERE — Ride — Like I said in regards to Lush’s Gala (see #3, above), this is not only the perfect intro to Oxford shoegazers Ride, but a perfect shoegaze album. They stand out from their peers in that the swirling guitars of this record deliver touches of both psychedelia and noise-rock; I can hear everything from Sonic Youth to Stone Roses on this debut full-length, but it all coalesces in a way that is unmistakably their own. (10/10)


17/15/16 (15) BLAST THE HUMAN FLOWER — Danielle Dax — A true original and weirdo in the best sense, Dax’s sole major-label album applies glossy Stephen Street production to her semi-experimental music, with solid results. “The Id Parade” is a cracker of an opener, while “King Crack” is nearly proto-Breeders. “The Living and Their Stillborn” almost sounds like a poppier version of Sinéad O’Connor. This record is a little all over the place, but never dull. (6/10)


18/36/– (18) “THIS LOVE” (12”) — Daniel Ash — Ash’s first solo single, “This Love” basically sounds like the follow-up to Love & Rockets’ 1989 smash “So Alive” – i.e., no surprises here. The 12” has two b-sides, the swoony instrumental “Heaven Is Waiting” and the gothier-than-goth “Coming Down”; both are superior to the a-side. (6/10)


VIDEO: Daniel Ash “This Love”


19/17/34 (17) SOMEWHERE SOON — The High — Including former members of both Stone Roses and Inspiral Carpets, the High inevitably sound a bit Madchester-ish on their debut album, but mix in a fair bit more psychedelia to the proceedings, which results in them sounding more ordinary. This is fine, but it’s not got the spark of their antecedent bands. (5/10)


20/21/17 (13) SUNBURN — Blake Babies — Like Buffalo Tom (see #9, above), more classic Amerindie, as Robert Christgau termed it. The term is just an abbreviation of “American indie,” so it can really encompass plenty of music, but to my ears it’s always meant a certain strain of independent guitar rock: think R.E.M., but also bands on SST and Twin/Tone. And the Blake Babies were firmly in that sweet spot, and hit it just so on this, their third LP. Juliana Hatfield’s is so strong, and her sweet singing pairs perfectly with their straightforward guitar-bass-drums; additionally, the trio’s non-masculine energy (guitarist John Strohm is the only male in the band) is a refreshing difference to most of the era’s indie rock. Except for the pair of songs written/sung by Strohm in the album’s middle, this is nonstop greatness. (9/10)



Thomas Inskeep

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Thomas Inskeep

Rock and Roll Globe contributor Thomas Inskeep tweets @thomasinskeep1, and has previously written for The Singles Jukebox, SPIN, Seattle Weekly, and Stylus. He lives in Indianapolis, IN.

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