To celebrate its 25th anniversary in the music-mag business, SPIN magazine has selected what it proclaims the "125 most influential albums of the last 25 years." You can begin to view the entire list here, or first take a sample taste by reading the five excerpts below.
This buzz band's second album was named after an obscure novel and recorded in a church while high on the fumes of Springsteen. "Neither a timid repeat nor a knee-jerk departure," SPIN wrote in 2007, "the bigger, bolder Neon Bible better captures what Arcade Fire achieve live." The magazine paired The Boss and Arcade Fire's Win Butler together in a dual 2007 interview. "There's a furious aspect to the performance," Springsteen said of the young Canadian band. "That's why people come out -- you're recognizing the realities of people's emotional lives and their difficulties, you're presenting these problems, and you're bringing a survival kit."
In the early '90s, Liz Phair's simultaneously bold and plainspoken songs dug deep in the context of a dude-intensive indie-rock scene. Full of searing and searching lyrics about sadness and sex, her triumphant debut "deconstructed relationships with an insight that didn't seem mortal," said SPIN's Chuck Klosterman. There was a calmness in the chaos, too, as the magazine noted in a live review at the time: "The sublime bile that's made her a goddess in guyville rises only when she finally closes her eyes, forgets about busking for the creepy guys and sensitive poetry chicks at her feet, and bares her fangs in fierce spurts like 'Divorce Song.'
Even millions wouldn't seem to be enough. Public Enemy's second album is one of those big-event records for which the word cataclysm doesn't count as overblown. The group, which SPIN said "hit the stage like an alliance of shock troop and rap group," had already made noise with their 1987 debut. But it was this follow-up, with its incendiary message-minded vocals and insane Bomb Squad production, that made Public Enemy an ensemble that, as SPIN noted in 1989, managed to "change the way hip-hop sounds."
There are certain records that disrupt the space-time continuum of musical history, issuing a pointed warning to anything that follows. Critics were shocked at Thom Yorke and company's ingenuity, as if Radiohead had simply conjured new aural ingredients from thin air. ("Completely the opposite," bassist Colin Greenwood humbly told SPIN in 1998. "To us, it's rooted in obvious things -- what we've listened to, that is.") From "Paranoid Android" to "Karma Police," "Yorke was trying to make each sound like reportage from inside 12 different brains," SPIN wrote in 1998. "Through the speakers of a stereo, OK Computer is 'conceptual,' but in a way that's difficult to quantify; somehow, it manages to sound how the future will feel," Chuck Klosterman said in 2005 of the band's electronically enhanced magnum opus.
In 1991 U2 emerged with the album -- Achtung Baby -- that would re-energize their career and genetically engineer rock music into the hybridized mutant we know today. Initially recorded at Hansa Ton Studios, a former SS ballroom near the reopened Berlin Wall (and later completed back home in Dublin), Achtung was an effort, stoked primarily by Bono and the Edge, to "deconstruct" the band and rewire it with jolts of beat-generated clutter and collage, nicked from industrial music, hip-hop, dance remixes, and the Madchester scene.
That method almost collapsed the band -- bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr., as well as coproducer Daniel Lanois, were left bewildered and cranky. But the frisson found expression in U2's most immediately dynamic music since their 1983 album War, and their most emotionally frank songs to date, capturing that particular early-'90s rub of boundless possibility and worn-down despair... Struggling to simultaneously embrace and blow up the world, U2 were never more inspirational.