With any list like this, I feel compelled to defend it before I even begin. I acknowledge that we all have different tastes and that one person’s favorite album of all time might be another person’s worst. That is the nature of these things. These are MY top five. The one qualification for all of them is that they aren’t well known (or well liked). Some of them are by well-known artists but they aren’t the albums you might pick. So, there is the disclaimer. Let’s do this.
Crowded House – Together Alone (1993)
These guys had a handful of hits in the Eighties, most notable are Something So Strong and Don’t Dream It’s Over. This album was their fourth (and final) studio album before disbanding. It was supposedly recorded while the band was holed up a house together. It has all the pop goodness of other Crowded House albums but there is a very noticeable air of gloom in many of the songs. It’s almost as if they knew this was their last hurray. As it turns out, the band reformed and has released two more albums (2007’s Time On Earth and 2010’s Intriguer). Unfortunately, original member Paul Hester committed suicide before the reunion so this is his final work. That only adds to the vibe that is already present.
Saigon Kick – Devil In The Details (1995)
I don’t know if it is a coincidence, but the same guy turned me on to these first two albums. I used to go hang out with Jason Williams at the guitar shop. I had heard of both of these bands but hadn’t really followed either one. Jason played me a couple of tracks from both and I was hooked. Saigon Kick may be one of the most underrated hard rock bands ever. They were originally from Florida and were signed to a now defunct record label that Michael Douglas started. Their second album (The Lizard) spawned a huge hit that pigeonholed them. The mostly acoustic ballad Love Is On The Way came out at a time when every hard rock band was releasing one. What got overlooked was the hard rocking songs that dominated their albums. These guys were as heavy as anyone but they had a sense of melody and harmony that was usually found in pop music. I really believe they were the victims of bad timing. It’s sad, because this album is brilliant.
Def Leppard – Slang (1996)
Everyone know who Def Leppard is. We have been cursed to have to hear Pour Some Sugar On Me nearly every day since it was released. There are different types of Def Leppard fans. I discussed that briefly in my post about Pyromania. I am one of the fans who pretty much likes everything they have done. I am eagerly awaiting the new album and hope it comes out before this year ends. I am also one of the fans who think that Pyromania was the height of their career. However, unlike many fans, I think Slang is probably the second best thing they ever did. It is a dark, experimental album that has some pretty deep lyrics. There are no silly Let’s Get Rocked moments on it. The music is more mature than typical Def Leppard and there are interesting things going on in nearly every song. Understandably, it lost the casual fans. For those of us who stuck around, it continues to inspire and challenge us nearly twenty years later.
Vince Neil – Carved In Stone (1995)
I am not a huge Motley Crue fan. I am not a huge fan of Vince Neil’s voice. In fact, my favorite Crue album is the self-titled one that featured John Corabi on vocals. I like a handful of Motley Crue songs but I don’t really consider myself a true fan. I liked a couple of the tunes from Vince’s first solo album. They were catchy (I think Jack Blades may have written them) bit nothing special. Imagine my surprise when I heard his second album. The first things I noticed were the subtle hip-hop and electronic flourishes. The next thing was the heavy guitar. Neal is not a great singer but it sounds as if these songs were custom written for his range. He doesn’t have to strain too hard to hit the higher notes and they play more to his mid-range.
King’s X – Ear Candy (1996)
King’s X are one of my favorite bands and I have very little to say about them that is negative. Like most fans, I have certain periods of their career that I prefer over others. To me, their first three albums are near perfect. They capture the heaviness of Sabbath, the trippy aspects of The Beatles, and the honest spirituality that is missing in most Christian music. They were labeled as a Christian band early in their career but by the time Ear Candy was released, Doug Pinnick had already expressed doubts about his faith and had openly admitted that he was gay. A lot of their Christian fans bolted for the door immediately. I personally think it is their best album outside of those first three. The psychedelic vibe is more up front and there is an organic feel to the playing. The lyrics are just as honest as anything they have ever done and are a real look at someone coming to grips with life. I can definitely relate.
Jars Of Clay – If I Left The Zoo (1999)
Jars Of Clay had a lot to live up to after their first two albums. Not only did they over run the Christian music industry, they took the secular marketplace by surprise. Everything they have released since then has been under scrutiny. It’s no wonder that some are critical of subsequent albums. I have had people tell me that If I Left The Zoo is a terrible album. It had been out for nearly two years before I finally listened to it. I was amazed when I discovered that it was a great album. Unforgetful You is a pure pop masterpiece and their cover of Rich Mullin’s If I Stand has the same forceful integrity of the original. I don’t know why so many people were down on this one but it has come to be one of my favorite releases from them.