Underrated Albums of the 90s -- Part 2

I started this series to shine a light on some stellar records from the 90s, now that enough time has passed to get some perspective. These are in no "Top 50" order but eventually I hope to compile a great list. Here are the next five:

6. Cafe Tacuba -- Avalancha de Exitos (1996)

The first time you hear the very first line of this album, a naked voice speaks what sounds like Spanish gibberish in a very strange rhythm. When the beat drops on "Chilanga Banda" it reveals the oddly-timed flow of singer Rubén Ortega as he spews a genius Mexican slang rap that's so strange that my Cuban friends can't quite translate it. The album's title means an 'Avalanche of Hits' and these tunes are all reworkings of classic Spanish songs reimagined through Café Tacuba's unique filter. The band moves from rocking Metallica-style acoustic guitars on "No Controles" to beautiful songs like "No Me Comprendes" and the exuberant sunny pop of "Como Te Extrano Mi Amor." There is an authenticity and rawness to the band and they gel tightly together amidst unexpected turns and a surprising amount of tenderness. Ortega's voice might be a bit of an acquired taste but it's got character and tone that are far more expressive than your average rock singer in any language. Avalancha de Exitos is a truly cool record even if you don't speak Spanish. You will sing along regardless of how sure you are of what you are singing! Café Tacuba still records and tours so check them out when they hit your town.

7. New Radicals -- Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Too (1998)

You might know the superhooky "You Get What You Give" which was ubiquitous on radio around that time, but if you haven't heard Gregg Alexander's entire masterpiece, you are really missing out. His sensibility as a songwriter, instrumentalist, arranger, producer and lead singer infuses these songs with melodic brilliancy and craft. The danceable album kick-off "Mother We Just Can't Get Enough" works like a one-two punch into "You Get What You Give," after which Alexander's genius twists further into the bizarre tale of "I Hope I Didn't Just Give Away the Ending." Through the dark humor and drugs emerges a love record, one that feels like a crush on someone you want to go on a crime spree with. Breakup songs like "I Don't Wanna Die Anymore" and the aching "Someday We'll Know" still resonate emotionally and the overall production quality on the record is great. Many records can get dated to the favored production style of the decade they were recorded in but Alexander's production has a timeless quality that translates whether you're hearing it for the first time or thousandth. His vocal production is a standout too and the instrumentation is melodically perfect in it's interweaving melodies and riffs. Alexander has since given up the performing side, choosing to remain behind the mixing board. I really hope that someday he'll reconsider and bring these songs back to the stage.

8. Masters of Reality -- Sunrise on the Sufferbus (1992)

Singer/guitarist/producer Chris Goss is the only constant in the bands history but after their debut album, Goss and bassist Googe teamed up with Cream drummer Ginger Baker as a power trio for the eternal classic Sunrise on the Sufferbus. Though all Masters of Reality albums have their moments, the inclusion of Baker and his loping, propulsive drumming moves Sunrise on the Sufferbus into timeless territory. The album begins with the upbeat rocker and minor radio hit "She Got Me (When She Got Her Dress On)" but the grooves change song to song, giving Baker a chance to stretch out in a variety of ways unique to this music and his style. There is a haunting quality songs like "100 Years" and "Rabbit One" while whimsy takes a front seat elsewhere, such as Baker's spoken-word piece about the inability to get a good cup of tea in America ("T.U.S.A.") or the thumping "Ants in the Kitchen." Sometimes Goss sings almost like a stoner rock Morissey and there is something plaintive and familiar about his voice. His guitar playing is great throughout, with every melody a memorable hook and a lot of tasty riffs. Some of the songs are simple blues tunes by nature but no matter the song structure or tempo, Baker's drumming is it's own genre and it lifts the music. Fans of air drumming love this album! Sunrise on the Sufferbus is a powerful record that sticks with you for the long haul. Masters of Reality still tours but not with Ginger Baker. Can we ever hope for a reunion of that lineup?

9. Soulhat -- Good to Be Gone (1994)

Soulhat is a rocking band hailing from Texas (Austin Music Awards: Best Rock Band 1993) and they too joined up with a classic rock drummer to record and tour with them, which in this case was Frosty Smith, a veteran rocker formerly with Lee Michaels, Rare Earth and Parliament/Funkadelic amongst other bands. Their first major label album Good to Be Gone is a rock and roll gem. Produced by Nick DiDia and executive produced by Brendan O'Brien, the guitar-heavy record grooves so hard at times it could get you a speeding ticket. The intense single "Bonecrusher" peaked at #25 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock charts and is one of the more enduring songs to get psyched up to before the adrenalized action sport of your choice. But other tunes like "Wiggin'" and "Dirty Old Man" also go for broke, while some of the medium tempo songs such as "Psychological Bone" and the title track still amp up the guitar grooves from lead singer Kevin McKinney and Bill Cassis. Your air guitar and air drumming skills will get a workout, though your real musical skills could have a ball with these grooves. Though the band is currently pretty much defunct aside from the occasional gig without Frosty, Good to Be Gone lives on and sounds as good as ever blasting out of the stereo of your choice, preferably loud!

10. Bicycle -- Bicycle (1999)

In the late 90s, the band Bicycle dropped their eponymous major label debut and as hooky and fun a record as it was, its audience eluded it. They had a minor blip on the charts with the powerpop of "Electrolux" but it just didn't catch fire at the time. Band mastermind Kurt Liebert was into sampling and beats and uses them to great effect throughout. The album freaking rocks in a smart way a la Weezer or Fountains of Wayne: lots of candy hooks, solid songwriting and some harmless weirdness thrown in the mix. The harder-edged songs like "Clean," "Bionic" and the excellent "High Plains Drifter" add fun attitude to the record while a poppier song like "View of the Valley" unfolds with layered harmonies and more intricate guitar lines. The album is a great superficial listen but there's depth to the arrangements and lyrics that soak in over time plus hooks that will grab you by the ears. All in all, a fun one to dig up and soak in! As far as I can tell, Bicycle is no longer a band but they've left an amazing record in their wake.

Read Part 1 of this series here and feel free to comment on these albums or your own personal faves from the era! Part three coming soon...