1. Sinead O’Connor
I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got
Her visible uneasiness — apparent every time she does anything in public other than sing — belies her album’s title. But still the record is a spiritual victory, full of wisdom wrested from audible pain. Musically, it moves from one surprise to another. There are yielding songs, angry songs, intensely quiet songs, and even one number that is almost frightening — joined together by the raw intimacy of O’Connor’s sometimes surging, sometimes half-broken singing voice.
2. Paul Simon
The Rhythm of the Saints
Sheer beauty. You can argue all you want about Simon’s relationship with the African and Brazilian styles he incorporates — Does he honor them? Does he just rip them off? — but the proof of the music is in the listening. This is gorgeous stuff, spiritually potent, with its utter integrity nowhere in doubt.
3. Youssou N’Dour
He came from Senegal, promoted to the Western world by Peter Gabriel, and, despite his urgent vocal appeal, seemed until now like a pop wanna-be. But not anymore. On this, his third album of new songs for a major American label, N’Dour left Gabriel behind and went out on his own with a multinational band, combining styles from African to salsa into some of the canniest, most gripping music of the year.
4. Jane’s Addiction
Ritual de lo Habitual
At first hearing, this L.A. band’s second album seems like a pretentious mess. But later, after the record’s wild, almost desperate passion begins to kick in, it becomes impossible to forget.
Well, it hit the charts. But Grafitti Bridge hardly made Prince king of pop again. And yet neither its success nor its failure (nor, for that matter, the amiable weakness of the film from which the music came) seems to matter. Prince may have now transcended pop; this album has a depth and a carefree complexity that make its commercial fortune completely beside the point.
6. Sonic Youth
Plenty of rock bands once deemed ”alternative” attempted to enter the mainstream in 1990, but few did it with such guitar-crunching quirkiness as this New York group. On their first album for a major label, Sonic Youth tip their hats to UFOs, Karen Carpenter, and groupies. Their music, built around the guitars of Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo, moves from lush, airy chords to brutalizing power riffing — the bristling sound of rock in the future.
7. The Silos
Although they’re based in New York, the Silos don’t sound like Manhattanites. This album, their first for a major label after a string of releases by their own independent record company, is straight from the classic-rock heartland: billowy songs, wry lyrics about everyday life and love, homey vocals from leader Walter Salas-Humara, and guitar leads straight out of the Neil Young songbook.