Christgau’s Consumer Guide: Albums of the ’90s – The A Lists (2000)

The entire text of critic Robert Christgau’s Consumer Guide: Albums of the ’90s is available on his website. It is my favorite book; you should read it. In the back of the book are his A Lists, in which the author provides, in order of preference, the best albums of each year–albums which he has graded A- or higher. Most of the albums listed collect new recordings, though some are single- and multi-artist compilations which contain previously released material.

I love those compilations–do not skip them. But including them in a list makes it hard to compare Christgau to his peers, who tend to make separate lists for new and old music. Comparing lists is fun; therefore, below I have excerpted from Christgau’s book top 10 lists which remove compilations of previously released material and feature only albums of newly recorded music. Though this takes many terrific collections of African music out of each list–an important feature of his criticism–several still remain, and balance is kept in the universe.

Christgau scholars will notice that these top 10s are similar to his Pazz & Jop ballots. You’re right, they are. However, if you’re like me, you will enjoy the subtle differences between the two, especially given that the ballots were completed at the end of each year, and the A Lists were completed at the end of the decade. This difference makes the excerpted top 10s functionally similar to other retrospective ’90s lists, and facilitates easier comparison. Did you know Nevermind leaped from #13 to #1? See for yourself!

Jump to a year: 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, and 1999.

See also this Online Exchange with Robert Christgau from 2002.

1990

  1. Public Enemy, Fear of a Black Planet (Def Jam)
  2. The Chills, Submarine Bells (Slash/Warner Bros.)
  3. L.L. Cool J, Mama Said Knock You Out (Def Jam)
  4. Red Hot + Blue (Chrysalis)
  5. Pixies, Bossanova (4AD/Elektra)
  6. L7, Smell the Magic (Sub Pop)
  7. Madonna, I’m Breathless (Sire/Warner Bros.)
  8. Beats International, Let Them Eat Bingo (Elektra)
  9. Ice Cube, Kill at Will (Priority)
  10. Macka-B, Natural Suntan (Ariwa)

1991

  1. Nirvana, Nevermind (DGC)
  2. Linton Kwesi Johnson, Tings an’ Times (Shanachie)
  3. Public Enemy, Apocalypse ’91: The Empire Strikes Black (Def Jam)
  4. Loketo, Extra Ball (Shanachie)
  5. Sonny Sharrock Band, Highlife (Enemy)
  6. R.E.M., Out of Time (Warner Bros.)
  7. Bonnie Raitt, Luck of the Draw (Capitol)
  8. The Feelies, Time for a Witness (A&M)
  9. P.M. Dawn, Of the Heart, of the Soul and of the Cross: The Utopian Experience (Gee Street)
  10. Ice-T, O.G.: Original Gangster (Sire/Warner Bros.)

1992

  1. Freedy Johnston, Can You Fly (Bar/None)
  2. Ya Ntesa Dalienst & Le Maquisard, Belalo (Sango Music import)
  3. Mzwakhe Mbuli, Resistance Is Defence (Earthworks)
  4. David Murray, Shakill’s Warrior (DIW/Columbia)
  5. Lucinda Williams, Sweet Old World (Chameleon)
  6. L7, Bricks Are Heavy (Slash)
  7. Tom Zé, Brazil 5: The Return of Tom Zé: The Hips of Tradition (Luaka Bop/Warner Bros.)
  8. Madonna, Erotica (Maverick/Reprise)
  9. Sonic Youth, Dirty (DGC)
  10. Pavement, Slanted and Enchanted (Matador)

1993

  1. Liz Phair, Exile in Guyville (Matador)
  2. Nirvana, In Utero (DGC)
  3. Loudon Wainwright III, Career Moves (Charisma)
  4. Pet Shop Boys, Very  (EMI)
  5. Archers of Loaf, Icky Mettle (Alias)
  6. PJ Harvey, Rid of Me (Island)
  7. De La Soul, Buhloone Mindstate (Tommy Boy)
  8. Digable Planets, Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space) (Pendulum)
  9. P.M. Dawn, The Bliss Album . . . ? (Gee Street)
  10. Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Spinning Around the Sun (Elektra)

1994

  1. Latin Playboys, Latin Playboys (Slash/Warner Bros.)
  2. Iris DeMent, My Life (Warner Bros.)
  3. Sonic Youth, Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star (DGC)
  4. Nirvana, MTV Unplugged in New York (DGC)
  5. Beck, Mellow Gold (DGC)
  6. Hole, Live Through This (DGC)
  7. Pavement, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain (Matador)
  8. M People, Elegant Slumming (Epic)
  9. Soul Coughing, Ruby Vroom (Slash/Warner Bros.)
  10. Sebadoh, Bakesale (Sub Pop)

1995

  1. Tricky, Maxinquaye (Island)
  2. Luna, Penthouse (Elektra)
  3. Oruç Guvenc & Tumata, Ocean of Remembrance (Interworld)
  4. Archers of Loaf, Vee Vee (Alias)
  5. Peter Stampfel, You Must Remember This . . . (Gert Town)
  6. Pavement, Wowee Zowee (Matador)
  7. James Carter, The Real Quietstorm (Atlantic)
  8. Yo La Tengo, Electr-O-Pura (Matador)
  9. Randy Newman’s Faust (Reprise)
  10. PJ Harvey, To Bring You My Love (Island)

1996

  1. DJ Shadow, Endtroducing . . . DJ Shadow (Mo’ Wax/FFRR)
  2. Fluffy, Black Eye (The Enclave)
  3. Fugees, The Score (Ruffhouse/Columbia)
  4. Sleater-Kinney, Call the Doctor (Chainsaw)
  5. Amy Rigby, Diary of a Mod Housewife (Koch)
  6. Iris DeMent, The Way I Should (Warner Bros.)
  7. Los Lobos, Colossal Head (Warner Bros.)
  8. Ghostface Killah, Ironman (Razor Sharp/Epic Street)
  9. Nirvana, From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah (DGC)
  10. James Carter, Conversin’ With the Elders (Atlantic)

1997

  1. Arto Lindsay, Mundo Civilizado (Bar/None)
  2. Sleater-Kinney, Dig Me Out (Kill Rock Stars)
  3. Pavement, Brighten the Corners (Matador)
  4. Yo La Tengo, I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One (Matador)
  5. Spring Heel Jack, Busy Curious Thirsty (Island)
  6. The Notorious B.I.G., Life After Death (Bad Boy)
  7. Tiger, Shining in the Wood (Bar/None)
  8. Cornershop, When I Was Born for the 7th Time (Luaka Bop/Warner Bros.)
  9. The Beautiful South, Blue Is the Colour (Ark 21)
  10. Doc Cheatham & Nicholas Payton, Doc Cheatham & Nicholas Payton (Verve)

1998

  1. Lucinda Williams, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (Mercury)
  2. Sonic Youth, A Thousand Leaves (DGC)
  3. Billy Bragg & Wilco, Mermaid Avenue (Elektra)
  4. Liz Phair, Whitechocolatespaceegg (Matador/Capitol)
  5. The Plastic People of the Universe, 1997 (Globus International import)
  6. Public Enemy, He Got Game (Def Jam)
  7. Aretha Franklin, A Rose Is Still a Rose (Arista)
  8. George Clinton & the P-Funk All Stars, Dope Dogs (Dogone)
  9. The Coup, Steal This Album (Dogday)
  10. Beastie Boys, Hello Nasty (Grand Royal)

1999

  1. The Magnetic Fields, 69 Love Songs (Merge)
  2. Moby, Play (V2)
  3. Le Tigre, Le Tigre (Mr. Lady)
  4. John Prine, In Spite of Ourselves (Oh Boy)
  5. Holy Modal Rounders, Too Much Fun (Rounder)
  6. Latin Playboys, Dose (Atlantic)
  7. Sleater-Kinney, The Hot Rock (Kill Rock Stars)
  8. Handsome Boy Modeling School, So . . . How’s Your Girl? (Tommy Boy)
  9. Willie Nelson, Night and Day (Pedernales/FreeFalls)
  10. Prince Paul, Prince Paul Presents A Prince Among Thieves (Tommy Boy)