ICMP's Best Albums of the 90s

We celebrate National Album Day with some of the best LPs of the nineties…



Although perhaps best known for grunge and Britpop, scratch the surface of nineties music and you'll find much more than first meets the eye.

From alt-rock to hip hop classics, genre-making trip hop and French house magic, it was a seismic decade of change for the industry and will be celebrated by 2023’s National Album Day on 14th October. This year's event is extra special as the album format reaches its 75th year. 

Find out more about the 2023 celebration and get to know some of our favourite records from a huge decade for music below.

This is not a definitive list but a snapshot of some classics and less well-known gems...  

Nirvana | 'Nevermind' | 1991  


Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic redefined rock music during the nineties with their record 'Nevermind' emerging out of the Seattle scene to create the grunge movement. 

The iconic cover, inspired songwriting and huge sales, which have topped more than 30 million across the globe, have ensured this album will always be seen as a classic.

Sadly, Cobain’s tragically took his own life a few years after the release but tracks like 'In Bloom' and 'Lithium' make the record stand out for sheer ferocity and intensity. 

Daft Punk | 'Homework' | 1997 


French duo Thomas Banglater and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo are the men behind the robot masks of Daft Punk.

Initially meeting in Paris at the end of the eighties, they started working together as a guitar band known as Darlin'. They disbanded, then began experimenting with synthesisers and electronic music. 

This evolved into the raucous dancefloor energy of 'Homework', a record that not only brought French house to the main stage but transported the pair into mega stardom. Lead single 'Da Funk' still packs a crunching punch.   

Lauryn Hill | 'The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill' | 1998


American singer and songwriter Lauryn Hill’s debut solo record landed in 1998 and won over many with its inspired mix of soul, r'n'b and hip hop. 

Following her stint with the Fugees, Hill wrote and produced the record herself while she was pregnant for her and then-boyfriend Rohan Marley's first child.

The record debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 chart, selling more than 422,000 sales in its first week.

Alongside the commercial success, it was critically lauded, winning five Grammy Awards and a Billboard Music Award for Top r'n'b Album. 

My Bloody Valentine | 'Loveless' | 1991 


Released in 1991, 'Loveless' is the second album by Creation Records' My Bloody Valentine, and offers a riotous cacophony of harmony and dissonance. 

The band, led by guitarist Kevin Shields, are seen as pioneers of the shoegaze movement and received almost universal praise for the record. 

Despite the acclaim, Creation’s Alan McGee dropped the band from the label after the release, citing the huge expense of making the album and a difficult working relationship with Shields. 

The band broke up towards the end of the nineties before reuniting for more live shows and another record some ten years later. 

Portishead | 'Dummy' | 1994


Released in 1994, Bristol group’s record 'Dummy' was credited with creating the genre of trip hop, a sound associated with their home city of Bristol thanks to their music alongside albums by fellow pioneers Massive Attack and Tricky. 

The core line up of Geoff Barrow, Beth Gibbons and Adrian Utley emerged fully-formed with a uniquely unsettling sound that no one has quite captured ever since. 

Affiliated with electronic music, this is more downbeat, pulsing slowly with dub and mellow ambience. 

Le Tigre | 'Le Tigre' | 1999


Fronted by Bikini Girl frontwoman Kathleen Hanna, Le Tigre took a sidestep from riot grrrl punk into feminist electronic pop.

Using hard-hitting messages partnered with dancefloor-friendly beats and melodic hooks, they approached their record with a DIY energy. Le Tigre's music spans 1960s pop, rock, and lo-fi new wave, all bound together with a cutting edge energy. 

'My My Metrocard' criticizes the then New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, and 'Hot Topic' praises progressive activists, listing female, often LBGT icons who have inspired the band.

Leftfield | Leftism | 1995


Leftfield started out as an artist project towards the end of the eighties. Helmed by Paul Daley and Neil Barnes, they offered up heavy rave music with their self-titled debut emerging in 1995. 

The album contains guest spots from musicians not associated with dance music at the time such as John Lydon from Public Image Ltd. (and formerly of Sex Pistols) and Toni Halliday from Curve. 

The record is full of thumping dance music that touches on sound system culture and the club scene that emerged at the start of the decade. It was heralded as one of the first electronic music albums and made the group stars. 

After a lengthy hiatus, a third Leftfield album, 'Alternative Light Source', was released in 2015. In 2022, they released their fourth studio album, 'This Is What We Do'.

Dr Dre | 'The Chronic' | 1992


'The Chronic' is one of the most important albums of the decade. Not only did it announce Dr Dre's arrival as a brilliant producer but paved the way for the likes of Tupac Shakur and Snoop Dogg to break through and sparked the creation of the West Coast G-funk hip hop sound. 

It also marked Dre's departure from NWA and was a huge commercial as well as critical success. It won a Grammy, spawned three top-40 singles and peaked at number three on the Billboard 200, where it spent eight months in the chart's top 10. 

Beck | Odelay | 1996


'Odelay' is the fifth album from Beck, a record where folk and hip hop collide to glorious effect. 

Amid an array of samples, astute songwriting and melodic hooks, tracks such as 'Where It's At', 'Devil's Haircut' and 'The New Pollution' cemented his talent as a household name.

In a Rolling Stone review, they described how "Beck is among the few white-boy hip-hop wanna-be’s with a clue. He truly understands the tenuous thread that connects funk to punk, hip-hop to art rock, and jazz to country blues, and is able to cram his encyclopaedic knowledge of 20th century musical styles into three- and four-minute nuggets of pure pop".

Released in1996, it made Beck a multi-platinum artist, sold millions of copies and saw him ascend to international stardom.

The Notorious B.I.G. | 'Ready to Die' | 1994 


Hip hop icon Notorious B.I.G was in his early twenties when his debut studio album, 'Ready to Die', was released. 

Recorded in New York with studio sessions led by Sean Combs (aka Puff Daddy), the album had a huge impact on hip hop and the wider music industry. 

The partly autobiographical album tells the story of the rapper's experiences as a young criminal, and was the only studio album released during his lifetime before he was murdered in LA at the age of 24. 

Radiohead | OK Computer | 1997 


Radiohead's OK Computer may well be one of the most critically adored albums of the nineties.

The band's third studio album, produced in collaboration with Nigel Godrich, drew on electronica and progressive rock to take so-called indie guitar music to the next level when it was released in 1997. 

Much of the sound created by Thom Yorke and the band drew on the collective sense of alienation created by living in a world increasingly reliant on technology. Tracks like the ambitious 'Paranoid Android' and the haunting 'No Surprises' were among the highlights of a record that still sounds special more than 25 years later. 

Elastica | Elastica | 1995 


Elastica were the one of the spikiest Britpop bands to emerge during the nineties, capturing the punk zeitgeist in their 38 minute debut record.

Led by frontwoman and songwriter Justine Frischmann, the group were part of London's Camden scene alongside Blur and Suede.

Their first album, 'Elastica', released in 1995, became the fastest-selling debut album in UK history. The same year, the band was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize and the LP went on to sell over a million copies worldwide.

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To completely immerse yourself in your music career, chat with our friendly Admissions Team via email enquiries@icmp.ac.uk or give them a call on 020 7328 0222.

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by ICMP staff writer
October 12, 2023
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