Digitization Finds #03 — Two Albums that Aged Remarkably Well

Many albums from the 1990s through early 2000s have aged poorly. There’s a whole bunch of grunge-wannabes, not-so-shocking-anymore shock-rockers, the many rock bands for people who hate rock music like Creed, punk-ish music with no stated rebellion, etc. If I had to pick the worst decade for music out of the 1970s-2000s period, it would probably be the 1990s despite quite a few fringe albums being masterpeices.

Here are a few from the period that I rediscovered and found to have aged quite gracefully!

Tori Amos — Little Earthquakes

Tori’s debut album released in 1992 — the same year as Nirvana’s “Nevermind”. Some might call this heresy, but “Nevermind” hasn’t aged particularly well in my opinion. Probably just a personal taste issue. “Little Earthquakes” is everything that “Nevermind” isn’t: it has a unique sound, deep and complex lyrics, and the album as a whole flows well both thematically and musically. Tori’s technical proficiency playing piano and writing, coupled with her vivid without being disgusting portrayals of rape, domestic violence, and other abuse, makes this an album that’s timeless.

“Silent All These Years” invites you into the headspace of an abuse victim, with extremely vivid lyrics. If you’ve either been a domestic violence victim or have witnessed abusive relationships of friends and acquaintances, you’ll likely relate to these. Not altogether hopeless, but brutally honest.

An excerpt from “Silent All These Years”:

“Excuse me, but can I be you for a while
My dog won’t bite if you sit real still
I got the Anti-Christ in the kitchen yellin’ at me again
Yeah, I can hear that
Been saved again by the garbage truck
I got something to say, you know, but nothing comes
Yes, I know what you think of me, you never shut up
Yeah, I can hear that

But what if I’m a mermaid, in these jeans of his with her name still on it
Hey, but I don’t care ’cause sometimes, I said sometimes I hear my voice.
And it’s been here silent all these years”

This is one of the best albums from the 1990s, yet feels as time-appropriate if it had been released today as it did back then. Perhaps one day we’ll live in a society where abuse is a thing of the past.

Aesop Rock — “Labor Days”

Mainstream hip hop / rap of the 90s, with the exception of a few artists, was mostly of the gangsta rap variety. KRS-One, A Tribe Called Quest, Wu Tang Clan and it’s various artists, and others tried to push back with more intelligent lyrics. As the 90s drew to a close, underground hip hop with a renewed focus on well-crafted beats and lyrics emerged. The a lot of hip hop became mostly meta-commentary on the state of hip hop during this period. Lots of albums lacked any sort of unifying theme.

“Labor Days” by Aesop Rock (2001) was definitely a departure from standard fair with it’s intelligent lyrics, well-crafted instrumentals / beats, and thematic coherence. Even if you despise rapping, the instrumental tracks are mostly good enough to standalone just fine without lyrics, and the lyrics hold up in written form nearly as well.

Life is often awful, so you can either complain and keep doing the things you hate, or you can live your life and do what you enjoy. I try my best to live by the latter. Interspersed within is social commentary on relating issues, including the following line that seems especially fitting for modern day American political discussions:

Bring out your dead, we can put ’em in a pile
And burn ’em with the novels for the kiddies to admire

Kill the ones that speak from a different life brew?
I’d rather kill the noisemaker that separated the two”

If only people could come together in recognition that it’s the same systems, institutions, and infrastructure working in their opposition instead of fighting each other. Life is difficult enough, as explained rather directly here:

“Life treats the peasants like
They tried to fuck his woman while he slept inside”

And some lyrics that are a bit more abstract, but still relevant to the labor theme:

“Now with my trusty paperclip
I picked locks of thoughts vault
Finding the God in barren
The harvest fruitless
Only the Tree of Life flourishing
Wanting to take a bite but I’m toothless
Is that, predestination or is it by design?”

It’s a labor critique without the arrogant superiority often present in such critiques. Blockhead’s beats are universally high quality. “Coma” seems a bit out of place, but it was produced by someone other than Aesop Rock or Blockhead. Overall, it’s one of the greatest hip hop albums of the period and likely a top 25 hip hop album of all-time

Rankings Thus Far

  1. Tori Amos — “Little Earthquakes” (1992)
  2. Tom Waits — “Real Gone”(2004)
  3. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds — “Murder Ballads” (1996)
  4. Sufjan Stevens — “Illinois” (2005)
  5. Aesop Rock — “Labor Days” (2001)
  6. Leonard Cohen — “You Want it Darker” (2016)
  7. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds — “Ghosteen” (2019)

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