The Top 10 Albums of 1989

Because album lists shouldn’t happen only once a year. Rounding out the ’80s, music from the year America chose wrong.

In 1989, Acid House was overtaking Britain, Britain was taking acid, and the music from Manchester—the Stone Roses, the Happy Mondays, anything with a dance-y drumbeat, really—was the soundtrack. Slowly, the music made its way to the U.S., who instead chose Technotronic.

See, dance-y beats? Though the U.S. missed the rave boat (caravan?), the following year the KLF reached no. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100—though maybe we’d been had again?

10. Ministry, The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste

So all the industrial bands got together on the tour for The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste and decided to form one big nightmare. Members of Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, Skinny Puppy, and every other scary thing that ever climbed out of a suburban gutter joined forces and went on the road. The story goes there once was a friend of a friend, who so adored Skinny Puppy—especially their lead singer, Ogre—that he had a Skinny Puppy logo tattooed into the side of his head (the shaved part under the long part, you know the part). At a Pigface concert in Houston he made his way to the front of the moshpit, climbed onstage, and ran up to Ogre, who threw his arm around the shoulder of this guy, who then snagged the “Pigface” cap off Ogre’s head. When Ogre asked for it back, he socked Ogre in the face and dove back into the pit. And that is how memories are created.

9. The Wedding Present, Bizarro

Two kinds of Shakespeare plays: comedies and tragedies, the difference being that tragedies end in death and comedies end in marriage. The one that bridges the gap is “A Winter’s Tale,” where everyone dies, then they miraculously live, and then there’s a wedding. It fakes you out, just like the Wedding Present, except they go the other way. These are pop songs, right? Except they’re hate songs masquerading as love songs. Beware the day you receive one of these on a mix tape, is what I’m saying.

8. Nine Inch Nails, Pretty Hate Machine

In addition to pushing the boundaries of chastity, one activity bored Texas teenagers engage in is called “mudding”: off-roading at night through the pinewoods. If you’re mudding and you’re lucky, you’ll get a beer and a seatbelt. Though I had neither, the linebacker driver was on a mission to get in my new-wave friend’s pants, and so was blasting the new Nine Inch Nails album through his truck’s awesome bass cabinet. I still remember the thump of “Down In It” just before the bump that threw me over the backseat, into the back of the truck.

7. Nirvana, Bleach

This album marked the birth of the modern hipster, who came of age in 1991 and scoffed at the release of Nevermind and Nirvana’s growing mainstream success: “Bleach was better.” (That would make a good title for a critical-theory book on the ‘90s, by the way—or at least a good tattoo.) The remark’s success could be gauged on how bad it appeared to make its recipient feel. Which may be crappy, but being hip isn’t an absolute quality, it’s a relative one.

6. Spacemen 3, Playing With Fire

From here on out it’s going to be essentially the same song, over and over, endlessly being fiddled with, tweaked, and perfected by Spacemen 3’s primaries, Jason Pierce (later of Spiritualized) and Pete Kember (Sonic Boom, later of Spectrum and Experimental Audio Research). That drone better never end; if it does, somebody else is going to have to start pressing the button.

5. Pixies, Doolittle

It’s hard not to love this album—and so easy to hate it: at times angular for the sake of it, at other times dissonant for no good reason, with grating riffs that trade the spotlight with sweet-spot choruses. It’s pop music that’s painful—but of course it is, since it was made by students who want someone (you) to suffer for their art. There’s no real explanation for why this is so good, but there must be a research paper you can buy online that gives it a shot. The old college try, if you will.

4. Beastie Boys, Paul’s Boutique

Speaking of research papers, I once did one about sampling. (Yes, it was an accredited school.) And though I don’t remember exactly what I wrote about, I remember I got a D. Had I had Wikipedia then, I could have developed a monumental thesis off the basis that Paul’s Boutique contains samples from 105 songs; instead I think I hovered in 2 Live Crew territory. However, I would bet this person would get an A.

3. The Cure, Disintegration

Here’s what you should do: You should just let go and turn up “Plainsong” as loud as your boombox can withstand. And then you should plug a microphone into it and sing out the lyrics (lyrics sheet lying on the carpet in front of you); sing every precious, teenage emotion you’re only beginning to understand, and are only starting to amplify. You should record your song so you can hear what your bared soul sounds like to the rest of the world. Is that what you really sound like? Is anybody listening? Yes, they are, especially when, two weeks later, you record half a mix tape on the other side and give it to a friend. Add another shovelful to the emotion pile.

2. The Stone Roses, The Stone Roses

Praised as one of the greatest album of the galaxy, of all time, deservedly. Instead of disputing that it’s one of the best, ever, here’s a theory why: Baby boomers had sniffed the last of the ‘70s cocaine and were either lost throughout the ‘80s or had retired from caring about the band of the month. Along comes a new sound that wasn’t exactly new, that was making the kind of music everyone could love. Platonic music, music plucked from the forms of what we all think of as music: walking along the path of the Beatles, of Led Zeppelin, but new. Now we can all be relevant together—until that ends and Oasis begins.

Album of the Year: New Order, Technique

In 2008, it’s been 28 years since the death of Ian Curtis. But in 1989, only nine years later, New Order released its fifth album, the best of their career as either Joy Division or New Order. This puts a unique locus on Technique. Today Curtis’s death casts as heavy a shadow as ever; yet 19 years ago, when Technique was released, it was fast fading. Blame movies, blame retro fashion, blame teenagers, but mainly blame New Order for answering it with three poor albums that eroded a legacy and made fans long for the good, old, desolate days. Listen to Technique to hear what Joy Division, years later, maybe, could have become. Change history as you see fit, before the magazines beat you to it.

Originally published at The Morning News