Five absolutely perfect albums from the 1990s

These albums stood out in an otherwise mixed decade.

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PJ HARVEY: DRY (1992)

In 1992, PJ Harvey was a band. It was a trio consisting of Steve Vaughan on bass, Rob Ellis on drums, and frontwoman Polly Jean Harvey playing guitar and violin and singing. She also wrote all the music. Their first album Dry was hard to pinpoint. Angrier than indie, more melodic than punk. I suppose it was post-punk, but it had a bluesier vibe than most post-punk that I know of. The fact that it was fronted by a woman made it all the more idiosyncratic.

The first track “Oh My Lover” is almost gothic in tone and that theatrical aura pervades even rockers like “Dress,” and “Joe.” “Sheela-Na-Gig” is the centerpiece anthem, which goes as far as quoting classic American musical theater in a totally repurposed manner. Some of the tracks rock a little harder and others might be called ballads, but they are all just varied flavors within a modern blues-rock album.

Harvey would release one more album with her trio before shifting gears. She kept the name – after all, it was hers – but went solo and has been experimenting with styles and genres ever since. Her fans pick from several landmark recordings when choosing a favorite. I think she has done some remarkable work in the intervening years, (2011’s Let England Shake is a great album), but I find myself more interested in listening to her debut more than any of the others.