1991's best (and worst) music | EW.com

Music

1991's best (and worst) music

See where ''Nevermind,'' ''Metallica,'' and ''Emotions'' ended up on our list

The Best

1. Nirvana
Nevermind
What kind of world is it in which a bratty Seattle-area band can sign with a major label, go into the studio, and instead of playing the usual recycled Led Zeppelin riffs common to many Northwest rockers, pound out a hook-filled mix of alternative rock and metal? And stuff each song with lyrics about ’20s-generation malaise and deranged loners? And wrap it in a gorgeous (if somewhat twisted) album cover depicting a completely adorable baby underwater, grasping at a dollar bill on a fish hook? And actually get the whole quirky, infectious shebang into the Billboard top five, selling over a million albums in a little over a month? A pretty good world, actually.
— David Browne

2. Guns N’ Roses
Use Your Illusion I and II
The music, first of all, has real breadth. But the main thing is that Axl Rose is struggling to cure himself. The two albums are a fascinating document of someone who is really screwed up and is looking for a way to escape his persona as a rebel and be healed.
— Simon Reynolds

3. Public Enemy
Apocalypse 91…The Enemy Strikes Black
A very ambitious album that tries to do what nobody else in pop music is trying to do: figure out how to rebuild the black community and convince young people to follow through with a real political agenda. And for the first time, Public Enemy have created music that works on the feet as well as it does on the mind.
— James Bernard

5. P.M. Dawn
Of the Heart, of the Soul and of the Cross: The Utopian Experience (
This record is almost a miracle. It does everything right: the singing, the arrangements, the wordplay, and the shrewd sampling. The group takes a step forward by bringing not just funk but blues and gospel into the hip-hop mix — and somehow winding up artier than the artiest rap group so far, De La Soul.
— Dave Marsh

5. Metallica
Metallica
From these headbangers, you expect another slab of bulldozer rhythms and stern-faced rhetoric, and you get them. What you don’t expect are a surprising maturity in the lyrics and a clean, sculptured production that makes their previous records sound like worn-out cassettes.
— DB

6. Sam Phillips
Cruel Inventions
A singer-songwriter who veers on the edge of falling apart-but who knows enough to keep it in check, thanks to smart, taut arrangements that will echo in your head for months to come.
— DB

7. Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Weld
This live album captures the delicate quality of Young’s guitar, which you might not notice until you’ve recovered from his waves of feedback: It’s a sonorous sound like a cello at the bottom of the ocean. Young’s version of ”Blowin’ in the Wind” is perfect for an unsettling time: questioning, inquisitive, and uncertain.
— Stephanie Zacharek

8. Marty Brown
High and Dry
Brown’s stunning honky-tonk debut scared the hell out of Nashville and mystified radio programmers — how could they sell a genuinely mournful old country sound, devoid of pretense and guile? With deep Hank Williams roots, Brown is pure hillbilly poetry, his crying-heart vocals a sure connection to the soul.
— Alanna Nash

9. Motorhead
1916
It’s heavy metal as rock & roll — mutable, limitless, using all of the available rock lexicon. It’s also the only metal album that people who respond to the rhythm of bass and drums can dance to.
— Arion Berger

10. Beethoven
Symphonies 1-9, Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducting the Chamber Orchestra of Europe
Who would have thought that one of the toughest, tautest, and-not to stint on the praise here — most powerfully songful records of the year would be the 10 billionth recording of Beethoven’s by-now-numbingly-familiar symphonies?
— Greg Sandow

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