10 Best Albums From 1988
Mainstream radio finally started to recognize modern rock in 1988. In September of that year, ‘Billboard’ gave the music its own weekly airplay chart (the first No. 1? Siouxsie & the Banshees’ ‘Peek-A-Boo’). But modern rock — or indie rock or alternative rock — had been kicking around the underground for most of the decade, albeit on the left side of the dial. But 1988 is the year that indie rock began seeping into the mainstream. It would be another few years before it staged a takeover. Here are the 10 Best Albums From 1988.
Yes, My Bloody Valentine released records before they made the mythical ‘Loveless’ in 1991. Lots of EPs, in fact, and this debut album, which set the hazy template for ‘Loveless': woozy guitars, ethereal vocals, sounds that appear to be transmitting from outer space. ‘Loveless’ is My Bloody Valentine’s masterpiece, but ‘Isn’t Anything’ sets the stage for it.
Morrissey’s debut solo album pretty much picks up where the Smiths left off, right down to that wry title. Of course, Johnny Marr’s ringing guitar lines are missed throughout ‘Viva Hate,’ but the singer delivers one of his most consistent set of songs, some of them aimed at his former bandmates. But most of them are aimed at his usual subjects (see ‘Margaret on the Guillotine’).
U2’s sixth album is part concert souvenir, part chronicle of the Irish band’s digging of American roots. A handful of cuts come from the group’s world-dominating tour following the gargantuan success of ‘The Joshua Tree’ the year before. But the keepers are the new tunes, recorded in Memphis and injected with Irish soul.
The final album by the influential NYC art-punk group is one of their most organic sounding. After their genre-busting records of the early ’80s, the quartet scaled back on their world-music globetrotting as the decade progressed. By 1988, knowing their end was near, Talking Heads employed a bunch of global sounds and musicians on ‘Naked,’ a finale that sounds like a world dance party.
‘Life’s Too Good’
When the Sugarcubes released their debut album in 1988, they really didn’t sound like were from Iceland. In fact, they didn’t sound like they came from anyplace you could get to without a space shuttle. Fronted by Björk (who’d go on to have her own outer-space-pixie adventures as a solo artist) and some dude who barked something incomprehensible every 30 seconds just to be sure you were paying attention, the Sugarcubes made late-’80s indie rock safe for art-rock weirdos.
‘Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart’
Camper Van Beethoven’s fourth album marked their major-label debut, and the bigger budget led to the band’s most accessible record. Fortunately, their fuzzy mix of folk, rock, pop, psychedelia, roots and world music remained intact on this colorful collection of songs about death, ancient amulets and Patty Hearst.
Like Camper Van Beethoven (see No. 5 on our list of the 10 Best Albums From 1988), R.E.M. made their major-label debut this year. And the music sounded bigger, bolder and more assured than anything the indie-rock giants had ever recorded. It’s partly a natural progression of their five previous albums; it’s partly stepping up to the expectations of their new bosses, who reportedly signed the band to a $10 million contract. Either way, ‘Green’ was their most muscular work to date.
Jane’s Addiction’s first album scared a lot of indie fans used to mopey, jangly music (see Nos. 9 and 4 on our list of the 10 Best Albums From 1988). These Los Angeles rockers were into spazzy guitar freakouts, skeevy sex and lifestyle choices that were way closer to hair-metal excess than alt-rock pensiveness. It couldn’t last, and they predictably burned out after two great albums (the reunion records are lifeless, so we don’t count them). ‘Nothing’s Shocking’ is staggeringly great.
Before the Pixies’ debut LP, indie-rock albums sounded one way. After ‘Surfer Rosa,’ they sounded another. Working a quiet-loud-quiet dynamic in most of their songs, the quartet balanced unhinged blasts of abrasive noise with moments of true cloud-busting beauty. The whole boy-girl thing they have going on is hugely influential too.
This double-record opus by NYC’s noisiest art rockers packs a whole lotta ambition into its sprawling version of an underground uprising. The guitars, of course, cut the paths that these songs weave through, but there’s plenty of hooks soaring through this plugged-in set of disciplined chaos. Sonic Youth tightened up over the next decade, but they were never better or more aggressively tuned-in than they are here.