The 20 best albums of 1989

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As the 80s drew to a close, rock with a twist took hold: Nirvana arrived and The Pixies tightened their grip. From jangly indie to dark, sexy alt-rock, the 80s was the decade when there really was an alternative to the mainstream. Oh, and Aerosmith continued their resurrection.

Here, as the final chapter in our best of 80s series, we take a look back through the best albums of 1989.

Aerosmith - Pump

Pump continues the unlikely career revival that began with 1987’s Permanent Vacation, and ramps it up another few notches. Collaborators Bruce Fairbairn, Jim Vallance and Desmond Child are still in evidence, although the album’s standout tracks, such as Love In An Elevator, are resolutely all Aerosmith. All in all it’s a compulsive record. 

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Beastie Boys - Paul’s Boutique

Marking the Rubicon-crossing moment when record producers became collage artists, curators of ‘found sound’, Paul’s Boutique mystified critics and punters. The Dust Brothers cut-and-paste over 400 samples from the likes of Johnny Cash, Curtis Mayfield plus the Boys’ own back catalogue, to create a post-modern tour de force

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The Cult - Sonic Temple

The making of Sonic Temple saw The Cult relocate Stateside, hook up with producer Bob Rock in Vancouver and embrace a more streamlined rock sound in favour of the psychedelic leanings of their earlier releases. The goths were disgusted but US rock fans took the band to their hearts and the release of the single Fire Woman earned them their first mainstream success across the pond. 

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The Cure - Disintegration

The mood of Disintegration is neatly encapsulated in its opening line: ‘I think it’s dark and it looks like rain’. The Cure take heartbreak, desolation and melancholy and shape them into a series of shimmering, stately epics such as Pictures Of You and the opening Plainsong. Genuinely beautiful and dripping with emotion, this is in short, The Cure’s finest hour. 

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Bob Dylan - Oh Mercy

Oh Mercy sees the 60s’ most iconic singer-songwriter team up with one of the most important 80s producers. Daniel Lanois coaxes some amazing performances out of Dylan and, at the end of a decade in which even his most loyal apostles would admit he had lost his creative way, the result is a timeless classic that stands up against Bob’s best. 

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Faith No More - The Real Thing

It’s difficult to imagine what this album would sound like without vocalist Mike Patton (the eleventh-hour replacement for Chuck Mosley), such is the extent to which he imposes his personality on proceedings. Patton’s quirky vocal mannerisms of (not to mention his colourful persona) provide the perfect foil for Jim Martin’s crunching guitar work and Roddy Bottum’s Fisher Price keyboards, and helps to make The Real Thing an absolute joy to listen to from start to finish. 

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Don Henley - The End Of The Innocence

For the recording of this, his Grammy-winning and best-selling solo album, former Eagle Don Henley recruited a band of musicians and singers that reads like a Who’s Who of rock’n’roll: members of the Heartbreakers and Toto, Sheryl Crow, Axl Rose, Melissa Etheridge, Edie Brickell and most notably, Bruce Hornsby, who adds some classy piano touches to the sincere balladry of the title track.

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Lenny Kravitz - Let Love Rule

Lenny Kravitz seemed to emerge fully formed into the limelight as a ready-made rock star. His retro stylings and vintage sensibilities might have made him an easy target for critics, but this debut, on which he plays almost everything, sounds amazingly confident. The title track’s frenzied climax may make you wish you had your own dreads to shake. 

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Mötley Crüe - Dr Feelgood

Nikki Sixx’s overdose (the subject matter of Kickstart My Heart here) prompted Mötley Crüe to pull back from the precipice and go into collective rehab. In fact this album is in many ways the last hurrah for the excesses of big-haired, tattooed 80s metal. And what a send off it is: packed with hits, it is – quite rightly –regularly hailed as the Crüe’s best.

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Nirvana - Bleach

The prototype album from these soon-to-be megastars was famously recorded for just $600 in a garage. Rough edges are everywhere, then, but there are plenty of pointers to their huge potential here; the original version of About A Girl (made famous on their Unplugged album) is a fantastic tune that wouldn’t sound out of place on an early Beatles record. 

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Tom Petty - Full Moon Fever

Full Moon Fever is a remarkably consistent collection of wonderfully constructed rootsy rock songs. Petty leaves The Heartbreakers behind (on paper at least), and teams up with ELO guru and fellow Travelling Wilbury Jeff Lynne, who does an immaculate production job as well as co-writing the album’s standout tracks, Free Fallin’ and I Won’t Back Down

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Queen - The Miracle

The Miracle was the first Queen album to be made in the shadow of Freddie Mercury’s secret fight against Aids, and came after a three-year hiatus the group took following the band’s legendary 1986 tour. As a studio-only record it showcases the marvellous versatility of the four-piece, and its stand-out tracks (I Want It All and the title track) could quite easily have come from any Queen album. 

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Red Hot Chili Peppers - Mother’s Milk

A pivotal album for the sock-clad funk-rockers, Mother’s Milk laid the ground for the band’s huge breakthrough success with 1991’s Blood Sugar Sex Magik. It’s John Frusciante’s debut, joining the band after the death of previous guitarist Hillel Slovak, and it gave the Chilis their first major hit with the pulverising cover of Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground.

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Lou Reed - New York

Lou Reed’s song cycle ranks alongside Tom Wolfe’s novel Bonfire Of The Vanities as one of the definitive artistic portrayals of 1980s New York, and the album is Reed’s finest hour as a solo artist. It’s a series of character-driven snapshots, taking in homelessness, poverty, child abuse, racial violence and Aids, and on it Reed’s rage is matched by the ferocity of his band. 

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The Replacements - Don’t Tell A Soul

In many ways this record was the beginning of the end for The Replacements, and the start of the artistic journey that would lead to mainman Paul Westerberg’s solo career. Acoustically driven rather than electric, tender rather than jagged, it is an altogether more mature sound from the band, and the quality of the songwriting is superb. 

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Rush - Presto

A real return to form for the progressive trio from Canada. Rush and producer Rupert Hine retreated from the synth-heavy sound that muddied Power Windows and Hold Your Fire, and created a tighter, tougher sound that sacrifices none of the group’s trademark technical wizardry. Hard-rocking opener Show Don't Tell is a highlight and features a stellar vocal performance from Geddy Lee.

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Skid Row - Skid Row

The debut from Jon Bon Jovi’s New Jersey protégés, fronted by the ever- pouting Sebastian Bach, is uncomplicated but ambitious – ambitious in the sense that it sounds as if it was boldly recorded with huge stadium crowds in mind, and because theirs is a much heavier sound than their pop-metal image might suggest. Teen anthems 18 And Life and Youth Gone Wild are the stand-out tracks. 

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The Stone Roses - The Stone Roses

The release of this great debut album was as significant in the world of music as the fall of the Berlin Wall was to European politics. This album kicked off the 90s, Madchester, Britpop, the lot, and united clubbers and rock fans alike behind four new working-class heroes. Guitarist John Squire’s finest work comes on the record’s epic closer, I Am The Resurrection

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The Pixies - Doolittle

More polished than 1988’s abrasive Surfer Rosa but no less daring, Doolittle is another astonishing tilt at rock perfection. There’s more action in the first 10 seconds of Debaser – thudding bass, punishing drums, a barrage of guitars, then Black Francis’s inimitable absurdist shriek – than many bands manage in their careers, and Monkey Gone To Heaven is the band’s defining achievement. 

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W.A.S.P. - The Headless Children

The Headless Children was a change of direction for shock-rockers W.A.S.P. It’s all about the music, they said. And they were true to their word. They abandoned the ghoulish make-up, costumes and on-stage gimmicks, and the album didn’t disappoint either; it’s unquestionably their most accomplished. Although it bombed on release, the band’s decision to tone things down was vindicated, with eventual sales making The Headless Children W.A.S.P.’s biggest record. 

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