Top 20 Albums Of 1991

We've done the '80s, so we're turning our attention to the '90s!

For this week's Ranked!, we decided to rank our twenty favorite albums released in 1991. Did we get it right? Let us know in the comments.

20. Gloria Estefan, Into The Light

I remember vaguely being a really big Gloria fan when I was younger. Now, while I can't necessarily remember all of her songs, I do remember consistently feeling happy whenever they came on. This particular album resonates even later on because of the emotion she managed to put into it. Her famous and tragic accident during the Get On Your Feet Tour prompted the theme of this album: coming back from the darkness of a disaster. "Coming Out Of The Dark" is the obvious big one from it, and throughout she still stays very proud and strong in her roots of Latin music. This is a strong woman, who of course has only managed to get more admirable with time.--J-Hawke

19. KLF, The White Room

The White Room is a pretty terrific album. It was a kind of the introduction to the '90s electronic music subculture. It's part new wave, part punk rock, and all kinds of electronic party rave. It was a crazy artistic political statement album and it's pure stadium anthem sound. We still listen to this album regularly at my house.--Archphoenix

18. Teenage Fanclub, Bandwagonesque

Back in '91, I was a DJ at a small college radio station. One of the albums that received heavy play from me that year was Bandwagonesque and, in particular, "What You Do To Me," a song so awesome and Big Starish you really expect to see Alex Chilton behind the mic in the video. I loved this album so much it eventually led to the CD receiving a big "CHRIS CAN NOT PLAY THIS" sticker on the jewel case from my tiny and bossy station manager.--Chris

17. Temple Of The Dog, Temple Of The Dog

How huge was grunge in '91? So huge that a tribute album, a genre generally sent directly to the used section of the CD store, became a massive hit. Temple Of the Dog definitely benefited from its pedigree, a supergroup stitched together from Soundgarden and Pearl Jam honoring a member of Mother Love Bone. But it also had a killer tracklist easily on par with any Soundgarden or Pearl Jam album. In some ways it holds up better than the early albums of those bands, having never suffered the degree of overexposure they did (with the possible exception of "Hunger Strike"). Listening to it today can conjure up nostalgia for the glory days of grunge while still delivering the energy and raw power those bands could unleash back in the day, and rests comfortably in the Seattle pantheon next to Nevermind, Ten, and Badmotorfinger.--CroutonBoy

16. Public Enemy, Apocalypse 91... The Enemy Strikes Black

Public Enemy in the late '80s and early '90s was unstoppable. Their assault was relentless, their lyrics were raw and unapologetic, and their music and rhythm had a depth that few (if any) rap groups could approach. Apocalypse '91: The Enemy Strikes Back continued and combined the aggressive thrust of their previous two efforts, It Takes A Nation Of Millions and Fear Of A Black Planet, and further refined it for their suddenly huge, multi-colored audience. Public Enemy was a force of nature by 1991, and hard-charging songs like "Shut 'Em Down," "Can't Truss It," and "I Don't Wanna Be Called Yo Nigga" showed they were still angry and unwilling to back down from what they saw and believed. Add to that the brilliant crossover "Bring Tha Noize" featuring Anthrax, which showed that the frustration and disillusionment of urban black youth and suburban white youth had the same roots, and you've get one of the greatest rap albums of all time.--CroutonBoy

15. Mr. Bungle, Mr. Bungle

Mr. Bungle is a chaotic and schizophrenic album, sounding like deranged circus music created by serial killers. Fronted by Faith No More frontman Mike Patton, the album contains songs about having sex with food ("Squeeze Me Macaroni"), dying family pets ("Stubb (A Dub)"), carnivals ("Carousel"), and porn ("The Girls Of Porn"). Believe it or not, this album had zero Top 40 hits.--Chris

14. Mariah Carey, Emotions

This was Mariah's second studio album and she managed to have much more creative control this time around. She dove into different genres, giving us a variety of songs to get stuck in our heads, from the fun title track "Emotions" to the soulful, co-written-with-Carole King track "If It's Over." This album scored her two Billboard trophies for Top Female Album Artist and Top Female Single, as well as two Grammy nods. While the album actually sold fewer copies than her debut, it's still certainly a memorable one in the impressive Mariah catalog.--J-Hawke

13. Seal, Seal

It's been twenty years since Seal's debut album was released, and in that time he's mostly been known for being Mr. Heidi Klum and that song from the Batman Forever soundtrack. His musical output in the intervening years hasn't been all that special, so one can be forgiven forgetting how truly striking Seal (the 1991 version) really was. A delicate but impeccably crafted piece of moody dance-pop, the album was a crossover success thanks largely to the single "Crazy," an undulating masterpiece that borrowed effortlessly from African rhythms, William Orbit, and British soul. I knew people who only listened to country or hard rock but found Seal mesmerizing, and not just the single but also atmospheric tunes like "Killer," "Future Love Paradise," and "Show Me." It's the music that made him and international superstar, and for good reason.--CroutonBoy

12. PM Dawn, Of The Heart, Of The Soul And Of The Cross: The Utopian Experience

I've never really liked rap that much, but you could certainly argue that PM Dawn's Utopian Experience doesn't even really count as rap anyway. I absolutely love everything about this album. It sounds nothing like its contemporaries, a brilliant fusion of hip-hop and soul that replaces bombast with ethereal lyrics and danceable grooves. "Set Adrift On Memory Bliss," with its distinctive sampling of Spandau Ballet's "True," is what most people remember, but the album is full of stunning vignettes like that. Personally, I've always loved "Paper Doll," "Reality Used To Be A Friend Of Mine," "On A Clear Day," and "A Watcher's Point Of View," all of which weave beautiful soundscapes out of complex lyrics and smooth rhythms. I can't always tell if the Utopian Experience is fully of its time or years beyond it, but it never ceases to amaze me when I stop to listen to it, and consider it one of the great alternative rap classics of the '90s.--CroutonBoy

11. Ned's Atomic Dustbin, God Fodder

I had no idea what the hell they were going on about in "Grey Cell Green" (You're tellin' me it's in disguise, well, use your eyes / It's not, it's inside me now / You're tellin' me it's mother Earth, some sign of birth / It's not, it's inside me.). Hell, not even the title of the song made sense to me. But I knew it was catchy. And life was a little better every time the video popped up on MTV. And it led me to purchase Godfodder and discover the album's other great tracks, like "Until You Find Out," "Less Than Useful," and "Kill Your Television."--Chris

10. Too Much Joy, Cereal Killers

Are you a fan of They Might Be Giants? Then do yourself a favor and discover Too Much Joy. They were the better band, the funnier band, but only got a fraction of the love. While They Might Be Giants had their videos showcased on 120 Minutes, Too Much Joy had to resort to getting arrested for 2 Live Crew covers to garner publicity. Cereal Killers was Too Much Joy's crown jewel. KRS-One guested on one track, the album boasted the band's theme song, and it also contained one of the best songs about drinking ever recorded ("King Of Beers"). This is just a great album with no filler at all. Besides, how can you not love an album that begins "So she said, 'Fuck this town. Nothing's ever goin' down.'" It's like we lived in the same place.--Chris

9. Big Audio Dynamite II, The Globe

I kind of love this album. When I was dating my now husband,we used to play this on road trips because it's just a nice uptempo good time.--Archphoenix

8. Metallica, Metallica

Often referred to as The Black Album, this album was a monster success for Metallica. With "Enter the Sandman," "The Unforgiven," "Wherever I May Roam," and "Nothing Else Matters," the thing reads like a greatest hits album. Musically, the album is a step away from their earlier albums. It's less thrash metal and more melodic, refined, and accessible than previous Metallica albums. It's truly one of the great rock albums of the '90s and, unlike some albums from the decade, has held up well over time.--Archphoenix

7. Red Hot Chili Peppers, Blood Sugar Sex Magik

I'm not 100% sure why, but I think this is my favorite Chili Pepper album. Musically, it's just this intense and fun album in the way your mother would not be okay with. Of course, she'd have to actually hear the lyrics clearly to really know, which is next to impossible if you've ever listened to RHCP (nothing against them for that though - love it). Everything just worked this time around for them, and hugely popular hits like "Suck My Kiss" and "Under The Bridge" came off of it. "Give It Away" is an easy RHCP identifier song any day, even 20+ years later. If you want to say anything negative about the album, go ahead and try, but I'm pretty sure the music itself will swing back and kick your ass.--J-Hawke

6. Guns N' Roses, Use Your Illusion I

When Guns N' Roses released Use Your Illusion I and II, it was an event. TV stations were filming the event. Radio stations were there. Everyone you knew was at the record store that night, listening to the albums over the loudspeakers, waiting for the moment when you could finally take them home in your sweaty little hands. Pound for pound, UYI II was the better disc, but Use Your Illusion I was no slouch as it boasted the excellent cover of "Live And Let Die," "Don't Cry" (the good version; not the one with the hippy-dippy lyrics found on UYI II), "The Garden," the epic "November Rain," and "Coma," a song about overdosing which is easily the best song of either disc and possibly the best song of the band's career, nearly eleven minutes of suffocating, pounding fear and self-loathing.--Chris

5. Guns N' Roses, Use Your Illusion II

Only once in my life did I wait in line at a record store for the midnight release of an album. That album (or rather, those albums) were Use Your Illusion I and II, and my buddies and I rushed home from the record store that night and played those albums at full volume until our entire dorm hated our guts... or at least the ones who weren't rocking with us. Use Your Illusion II has the stronger batch of songs overall, opening with the spectacular trio of "Civil War," "14 Years," and "Yesterdays," and immediately declaring Guns N' Roses' intent to expand their sound and indulge themselves. Some of it gets a tad silly ("Get in the Ring" is a childish rant and "My World" is almost unlistenable) but the songwriting, musicianship, and sheer aggressiveness that we came to know and love from G'N'R were on full display throughout. It was, sadly, the last we'd see of the classic lineup playing their own songs, but it was a fantastic way to go out, leaving all of us wanting more.--CroutonBoy

4. Pearl Jam, Ten

It's funny how so many of the defining albums of the '90s came out this year and they've all got seriously different sounds. Ten is one of those albums that I didn't quite appreciate when it came out. I finally picked it up in the late '90s and you know what? Damn, it's a good album. This album is the reason that the tag "alternative" became a mainstream music term. This album, in my mind, is the reason that the '80s sound finally died.--Archphoenix

3. R.E.M., Out Of Time

This album came out when I was in high school and it was one of those albums that everyone had. One day in our government economics class, a class in which we studied neither government nor economics, the teacher brought in the video for "Losing My Religion." He wanted us to all analyze the symbolism in the video. After a week of watching it and going over the video frame by frame, he gave up and moved on because he'd forgotten the point of the exercise. To this day I have no idea what he was thinking, but for a solid week we got to rock out and listen to R.E.M. in class so it's all good.--Archphoenix

2. U2, Achtung Baby

Amongst the email conversations the Brats shared in creating this mega-list, this album was continuously brought up as one of the best. This album makes the shift in the U2 sound to what we know so well today, and I think that's what makes it so very important in the music if 1991. The lyrics got more introspective, and the music got more relatable to the non-angry. It took the 1993 Grammy for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal (1993 - yeah, I don't totally understand how the Grammy nomination process works either). The best and most provoking song is "One," filled with thoughtful words and a great message overall. While The Joshua Tree may stand out as U2's "best" album, it is hard to put Achtung Baby at any farther than an extremely close second.--J-Hawke

1. Nirvana, Nevermind

When a band can still evoke the same emotional response a generation or two later, you know they've done something very right. That's Nirvana to me, and that's why this tops the list for 1991. Kurt Cobain took his songwriting to a new place here, looking to influences outside of grunge, like the Pixies. The album is just ridiculously good in every way possible, with some great chosen singles into mainstream, including "Lithium," "Come As You Are," and of course the always and forever popular "Smells Like Teen Spirit." To this day, everyone over the age of 13 knows what those opening chords signify. This band has been a symbol of youth (even be it in revolt) for 22 years, and shows no signs of slowing in influence.--J-Hawke

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