10 Best Albums From 1989
Nineteen eighty-nine was the year that college rock started inching closer toward indie rock. ‘Billboard’ began acknowledging modern rock the previous year with a weekly airplay chart of alternative songs. That’s the moment the music started its transformation. The distinctions are fine, sure, but they’re nonetheless obvious. In 1989 alt-rock, for the first time, eyed the mainstream. Our list of the 10 Best Albums From 1989 features a mix of the old and new schools.
New Order expanded their dance-rock palette on their fifth album, incorporating some harder beats into their electronic mix. Two of ‘Technique”s singles made it to the modern-rock Top 10 and grabbed a substantial amount of airplay. The underground’s best dance band made its most commercial move.
Nine Inch Nails’ debut album sounded nothing like most industrial music, which was noisy, abrasive, brutal and devoid of any melody whatsoever. Trent Reznor brought some subtle pop moves to his music, injecting Nine Inch Nails’ songs with massive hooks that drove the tracks as much as all the rattle and hums.
The second album by this Massachusetts trio is all woozy dreamscapes and slowly churning guitar noise swathed in warm, fuzzy tones that come really close to shoegaze bliss at times. Frontman Dean Wareham would go on to front another another cult alt-rock band, Luna, but Galaxie 500 got there first, and ‘On Fire’ is their best album.
‘The Real Thing’
For their third album, these San Francisco rockers got a new singer, a more expansive sound and their breakthrough hit. ‘The Real Thing”s lead single, ‘Epic,’ hit the Top 10 (No. 2 on modern rock), and the album itself just missed the Top 10. The album features punk, metal, hip-hop and experimental noise — sometimes all in the same song. Epic indeed.
The punk godfather’s best album in years is a street-smart concept record that storms through sociopolitical issues, pop and political figures and a nod to his own storied past in one tightly packed hour. After years of messing with his music, Reed gets real here. ‘Dirty Blvd.’ topped the modern-rock chart for four weeks.
The Replacements were all set to be rock’s next big thing when they signed a major-label record deal in 1985. But they fooled around on a couple of albums, not wanting to compromise their punk cred. They finally got serious on their sixth album, hiring a producer who kept them in line, tossing out the goofy songs and even making a straightforward video. It didn’t pay off, although ‘I’ll Be You’ hit No. 1 on the modern and mainstream rock charts.
The debut album by the British indie rockers changed the way British music sounded in the early ’90s. Part retro psych-rock haze, part space-age freakout music and part underground movement wrapped in shimmering pop melodies, ‘The Stone Roses’ remains one of the era’s most significant works. Its influence can still be heard today.
The Cure’s eighth album proved to be its breakthrough LP, just missing the Top 10 and spawning four hit singles (including ‘Lovesong,’ which made it to No. 2). It’s still their best record, a massive-sounding work that crawls through many moods, many grooves and an instrumental assault that hints at the prog rocker buried deep in Robert Smith’s soul.
‘Surfer Rosa’ gets all the attention these days, but its followup was the band’s breakthrough album, an alt-rock milestone stuffed with an inventive blend of pop and noise. The Pixies tightened the music on their second album, slipping from off-the-rails punk (‘Crackity Jones’) to a super-catchy number about dying hobos (‘Here Comes Your Man’). An essential listen.
The Beasties’ sampledelic followup to the great ‘Licence to Ill’ is one of the greatest record ever assembled in the studio. Combining hundreds of audio snippets, both dialogue and music, and quickly rapped rhymes about whatever popped into the NYC trio’s heads, ‘Paul’s Boutique’ didn’t sound like any other record at the time. And it still doesn’t sound like anything else out there, partly because there’s no way any artist could get all those samples cleared these days. One of the all-time greats.