A little over a week ago, Spin magazine honored its 30th Anniversary by trying to tick off the internet, and ranking the 300 greatest albums released since the magazine began publication. A list like this is not going to please anybody pretty much by design, but let's give them a little bit of credit: the list ain't bad.
Of course there were oversights, some of which were truly egregious. So we get to engage in the best thing about someone else's list: second guessing it.
Now, I'm not going to concerned myself with the actual rankings, because that's a fool's errand, and I'm already being indulgent anyway. I'm also giving weight to Spin's audience. It was formed as the "alternative" option to Rolling Stone, but it is still a corporate magazine. It sits somewhere in between Rolling Stone and Pitchfork on the rockcrit continuum. Now, like most alt-rock publications, it tries to be inclusive (the list is about 25% hip hop) in a way that another genre-specific publication would never be (Hit Parader would not rank Janet Jackson and The Source wouldn't rank Nirvana). Still, the oversights are primarily alt-rock for the reason that Spin is supposed to be the alt-rock magazine.
Also, if an artist already has an album on the list, I lean heavily towards not giving them another one. I call this the Hold Steady rule. I love the Hold Steady, and I wanted to see Boys and Girls in America on the list, but they already got one on the list, and it's hardly an oversight for them to only get one album on the list. There needs to be serious justification to get multiple albums on the list (and Spin capped it at three per artist). So, second guess away...
10 MCLUSKY Do Dallas
Post 9/11, pop culture joined in on a bit of a group hug. It fit the times, and sentimentality wasn't exactly unearned. Mclusky was having none of that, and in late 2001, they released a gleefully profane record. The record kicks off with "Lightsaber Cocksucker Blues" and pretty much runs from there. The band only pauses from its breakneck pace for only one ballad on the album, which is of course titled "Fuck This Band." Rock music has lost both its ability to shock and to laugh, and Mclusky, though short-lived, is one of the all-time great bands because it did both in spades. Their songs didn't mess around either, as they rarely went past three minutes, firing off hooks as ffast as they could and then moving on to the next target. This isn't just an outstanding album, it's everything that most modern rock isn't. Which explains why it's place in pop culture has been flagging so badly.
9 DIXIE CHICKS Fly
Have we just all taken on a collective amnesia on how great the Dixie Chicks were? I get country music radio turning their backs on the Chicks for criticizing the Iraq War, but the more liberal rock music press as well? And it's not like the sudden onset of Y'allternative and hundreds of bands playing banjos or fiddles isn't a trend in the mainstream that didn't start with the Dixie Chicks. People are blatantly ripping them off, only without the same level of songwriting or harmonies, and they are still effectively banned from radio. No band has been so thoroughly punished for speaking their minds which means a generation is coming up that is going to miss out a batch of really great songs. Brad Paisley has album on the list, and he can't hold the Dixie Chicks' amps.
8 THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS Mass Romantic
Power pop fared quite poorly on the list, and the exclusion of the Indie Rock Supergroup seems pretty bizarre, especially since Spin did include some of the bands' side projects. And as much as I love Neko Case's solo work, AC Newman is such a great songwriter that he deploys her voice like the band's atom bomb. It's like he can barely contain his glee at having such a great voice to write for. The album is super catchy and sounds like a bit of cross between the Beatles and Cheap Trick. It is one of the grand statements of North American indie rock, and is right next to Neutral Milk Hotel and Pavement as the godfathers of the musical underground.
7 PANTERA Vulgar Display of Power
Spin's list almost entirely ignores heavy metal, as metal and the rest of the music underground have always held each other at a distance. Still, the list managed to honor two of the Big Four, so they at least are aware metal exists. If you're including the genre, I don't see how you ignore Pantera's landmark album, which really was every bit of a game changer as Nirvana. Pantera pretty much killed the last vestiges of glam metal and wasn't so much of a passing of a torch as a raised middle finger to Metallica, who many metal fans believed turned their backs on the scene with their blockbuster Black Album. This was metal's proud return to the underground, and the coronation of Dimebag Darrell as one of the great guitarists in rock history.
6 BAD RELIGION Suffer
The holy grail of third wave punk. It's hard to pin down exactly when the great wave of American hardcore shifted into the third wave of punk that would eventually take over the radio for a decade, but the sacred text is most certainlySuffer. Despite being widely considered one of the greatest albums in punk history, it is fallen a bit out of favor recently precisely for the same reasons that made it famous: Bad Religion unironically believed in things. There's no time for naval gazing or hipster poses, Bad Religion is dedicated to pointing out just how badly everyone in authority is screwing you over right now. Not much has changed since 1988, and if anything, their criticisms are even more on point given the current state of politics. Not every album needs to be a political statement, but it would be nice if ANY of them were these days.
5 THE STREETS A Grand Don't Come For Free
It is hard to say hip hop is underrepresented on the list, but The Streets slipped through the cracks due to the fact it is a British concept album. One of my biggest barriers to getting into a lot of hip hop is that I just don't relate to the Thug Life. Tupac is talking about something completely outside my experience. Mike Skinner instead raps about bad bets, cheating on his girlfriend, and bad cell reception. The whole album centers on losing 1,000 quid, and the fallout as he starts accusing his friends of stealing from him. Like Eminem, Skinner has some really interesting phrasing as he plays around with timing a lot. It's a unique sounding album, and it's a lot of fun. It also shows that hip hop isn't just limited to our own borders.
4 R.E.M. Fables of the Reconstruction
I believe REM has a pretty solid claim to being the greatest American rock band, if we consider popularity, critical acclaim, influence, and longevity. Heck, their first albums are pretty much the point "post-punk" became "college rock". They practically invented what would later become Alternative. Their records on IRS are the gold standard of independent rock and while the bulk of that period misses the 1985 cutoff, to not include any record from the IRS years is a terrible oversight. Also, if any band deserves three records on a list from the alternative rock magazine, it is certainly REM. They are the godfathers and Fables, incidentally, is one of their best albums and was when they first started breaking into the mainstream.
3 ALICE IN CHAINS Dirt
Pretty much every Seattle band ran from the label "grunge" as fast as they possible could, but AiC lived up to the moniker more than any other. The album just sounds grungy. It was the perfect modifier. It also was the meeting point between the Second Punk Revolution and metal, allowing an underground subgenre to spill across all the other genres. There was no escape from the Seattle sound in 1991, largely because it straddled so many genres, including pop. They never got enough credit for writing really great pop hooks in songs about heroin.
2 ARCTIC MONKEYS Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not
The fastest selling debut album in history, as it sold over 350,000 copies in its first week of release. Remember, this was a debut album, it's not like anyone knew who they were. But... we sort of did, as the Monkeys tore up the internet and had already put out a few EP's. Already widely hailed as a classic, even Rolling Stone had it in their top 500 albums ever (NME, a British publication, had it #19 all-time). Seriously, Spin. WTF? Also, this album rocks your socks off.
1 PEARL JAM Ten
Are you f'n kidding me? Look, I get that Nirvana will always be cooler and I even agree that Nevermind is the better album, but... are you f'n kidding me? The "Alternative Nation" simply does not happen without Pearl Jam's more mainstream sound. Nirvana may have been the tip of the spear, but it was Pearl Jam that dominated radio and opened the floodgates. They were the gateway drug mainly because they were an arena-rock band. Sure, a punk-influenced one, but it was still something familiar in order to Trojan horse in all of the more eclectic stuff. And it's not like a corporate magazine can play the too cool for school card. Oh, and Ten is simply a great album to boot. It would've been huge in nearly any era.