List: 20 Best Third Albums of the 90s

In Sunday’s Observer supplement The New Review, Paul Morley talked about what the third album means to bands as well as the pressures surrounding it. He framed the article by discussing the Arcade Fire’s latest, The Suburbs, and went on to list his Top 20 Third Albums of All Time. However, it seemed that the apocalypse must have happened in the late 1980s, as the majority of Morley’s selections were from before the last two decades. As a result, I’ve decided to make my own follow-up list of the Top 10 Third Albums from 1990 to 1999. I hope to do a follow-up for the 00s too. No doubt I’ve left out something really important, so feel free to flame away!

20. Silver Chair – Neon Ballroom (1999)

Australian band Silverchair were moderately impressive with their first two albums, but their third was the one that shone. It built on everything so far, and was their real breakout. Singer Daniel Johns agrees: “To me, I honestly feel like our first record was Neon Ballroom. I’ve never felt any different. I don’t feel like our first two albums were Silverchair: that’s our teenage high school band. I don’t like them at all. I listen to them and go, ‘That’s cute’, especially the first one, because Frogstomp we were 14. But the second one we’re like 16, I’m like ‘You’re getting older. You’re running out of chances’”. It’s their finest work to date, with a fantastic collection of singles.

19. Manic Street Preachers – The Holy Bible (1994)

This album would stand out if only for it was the last album recorded with Richey James Edwards. However, it’s the album’s combination of Edwards’ guitarwork and James Dean Bradfield’s vocals that really give it an edge. The lyrics were mostly Edwards (Nicky Wire and Bradfield would have writing duties on later albums). This resulted in the band’s darkest record, but also perhaps their best.

18. George Michael – Older (1996)

After a five year gap from his second solo album due to legal battles with his record company, Older, was the album where George Michael finally shook off the chains of Wham and ‘Wake Me Up Before You GoGo’. It was coldly received by many critics, but fans bought the album’s singles in droves. And what amazing singles. An album with just ‘Jesus to a Child’ would be astonishing in itself, but add in ‘Fastlove’, ‘Star People’, and ‘You Have Been Loved’, and you’ve got something momentous.

17. Blink 182 – Enema of the State (1999)

This list isn’t just a list of my favourite third albums, but also which third albums really stand out from the crowd. Particularly ones like Enema of the State, which launched Blink 182 worldwide with the massive hit ‘All the Small Things’ – look what it’s done for Jedward, if they can make it sound half-decent on the radio, you know it must be a great song to begin with. This was Travis Barker’s first album with the band, and his drumwork greatly helped the songs shine.

16. Jay-Z – Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life (1998)

Jay-Z had shown his impressive skills off on his first two albums, but it was this third album that propelled him to superstar status. Just look at the singles he released from it: ‘Can I Get A…’, ‘Hard Knock Life’, ‘Money, Cash, Hoes’, and ‘Jigga What, Jigga Who’. When he played Oxegen 2010 recently, those songs were the highlights for many. The album itself contained many inspired samples, and has been an inspiration to every wannabe hip-hop star since.

15. Sarah McLachlan – Fumbling Towards Ecstasy (1993)

A great third album builds on everything from the first two, and improves everywhere possible. This is exactly what Fumbling Towards Ecstasy did. All of the songs are gorgeous, and it still represents McLachlan’s highpoint. Forget about the fact that Surfacing topped the charts three years later. This is her essential record. It may not have as many singles, but each song is a gem.

14. Marilyn Manson – Mechanical Animals (1998)

Brian Warner’s third album was also his first glam rock album, and it marked a wonderful new direction for Marilyn Manson. A lot of people just think of Manson as that freaky looking dude, or the weirdo from Bowling for Columbine, but he’s actually just really good at promoting himself. The lyrics are just as intelligent as you’d expect, and the hits are wonderful. ‘The Dope Show’ is probably his best song to date.

13. David Gray – Sell, Sell, Sell (1996)

Every second household in Ireland owns a copy of White Ladder or some ridiculous statistic like that. However, even though it’s the one most people own, it’s not his best work. Sell, Sell, Sell, the album that came just before is much better than the multi-platinum breakout record. Most of the singles may not be as radio friendly, but they’re damn better songs. If ‘Late Night Radio’ was released now, when people know who he is, it’d be a massive smash.

12. Take That – Nobody Else (1995)

Nobody Else was Take That’s last album in their original incarnation. It was also the last release before they split following the departure of Robbie Williams. Although their first two albums had been successful, this was their best, and one of the best pop albums of the decade. It had massive hits in ‘Sure’, ‘Back for Good’, and ‘Never Forget’. Their new albums may be better, but they’re a more grown-up type of music. In the 2010s, there isn’t anyone around who could make a pop album like this.

11. Paul Weller – Stanley Road (1995)

Paul Weller’s discography is amazing. The Jam and the Style Council have a marvellous back catalogue, but his third album is his best solo effort. Weller himself considers it to be his best work, and it’s hard to argue otherwise. The 10th Anniversary version adds heaps to the album, and if you haven’t got yourself a copy of this already, I suggest you pick that release up. On a side note, this is the only record on here to feature Noel Gallagher, as Oasis’s third, Be Here Now is probably one of the most disappointing releases ever.

10. Soundgarden – Badmotorfinger (1991)

Forget Nirvana, Chris Cornell’s Soundgarden were the essential grunge band, and this was one of its highpoints. Nominated for a Best Metal Album Grammy, it’s an album filled with dirty bombastic riffs and clever lyrics, and unleashed the fantastic singles ‘Outshined’, ‘Jesus Christ Pose’, and ‘Rusty Cage’. It may not have a song as good as ‘Black Hole Sun’, but on the whole, it’s amazing.

9. Bjork – Post (1995)

Second album syndrome (the sophomore slump) is something that happens to a lot of artists. However, for others, their second album is the breakthrough record. This was the case with Bjork, whose second album Debut won huge acclaim. Thus a lot of pressure was on her to make a worthy follow-up. Post is that album. She branched out from the electro-pop of the previous record, and created a gorgeous collection of songs. Unfortunately, for many, it is ‘It’s Oh So Quiet’ that she’s best known for – by far the worst single on here.

8. Massive Attack – Mezzanine (1998)

Forget In Rainbows, Massive Attack’s third release, Mezzanine, was a really groundbreaking album – available as a download for two months before it was released physically into shops. Much darker than their first two albums, it’s also a much better, consistent album. The songs out Mobyed Moby, and anyone who doesn’t own the album will probably have heard the clever tunes thousands of times before. Gregory House fans especially.

7. Matthew Sweet – Girlfriend (1991)

Matthew Sweet knows his way around a pop-hook, and every minute of his third long-player Girlfriend is full of them. The opening three songs are among the best pop tunes of the 1990s, and I dare anyone to find a better opening three song run on any pop-rock album.

6. The Verve – Urban Hymns (1997)

Richard Ashcroft has had a mixed career. Everything he does now seems tainted, and even the Verve’s comeback album was a disappointment. However, there’s great singles on his solo albums, and each of the first three Verve albums has merit. None more so than this one though, which is perfect from start to finish. ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ may be a rip-off, but what a rip-off.

5. Hole – Celebrity Skin (1998)

Nirvana’s In Utero was never going to stand up against Nevermind, but Kurt’s other half followed up Live Through This with an album just as good as its predecessor. With Melissa Auf Der Maur on bass, Courtney Love found a kindred spirit, whose co-writes added a beautiful funk to the Hole thing.

4. Dave Matthews Band – Before These Crowded Streets (1998)

Dave Matthews Band fans are impossible to please, but there’s only one setlist that would make everyone happy:
PNP > Rapunzel, The Last Stop, Don’t Drink the Water, Stay, Halloween, The Stone, Crush, The Dreaming Tree, Pig, Spoon.

3. The Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (1995)

Double albums are tricky beasts. Far trickier than second or third records. With double albums, one disc always gets priority over the other. However, both Mellon Collie‘s halves are splendid, with the singles split almost evenly between the two. Even better? The vinyl version has a side called ‘Tea Time’. How un-rock is that?

2. Blur – Parklife (1994)

Blur started off strong, hit a road-bump with their second album, and then came out with this: their masterpiece. Forget the Blur vs. Oasis crap of the following years, it was Parklife that stood out from the crowd with its impressive singles. The title track was a standout, as was opener ‘Girls and Boys’ but the lesser known songs and the non-singles were all essential 90s listening.

1. Radiohead – OK Computer (1997)

No list of 1990s albums would be complete without OK Computer, and luckily it qualifies for this list too. The follow-up to The Bends is regarded by many as the best album of all time, and it may well be. Only one song ‘Fitter Happier’ has not stood the test of time. The fact that jazz musicians like Brad Mehldau have covered many of the album’s songs tells you how many layers this album has. Each listen brings a new favourite, and it has been a touchstone for brilliance ever since.

Honourable Mentions:
Beck – Mellow Gold (1994)
Garth Brooks – Ropin’ the Wind (1991)
The Cardigans – First Band on the Moon (1996)
Counting Crows – This Desert Life (1999)
The Divine Comedy – Promenade (1994)
Everclear – So Much for the Afterglow (1997)
Green Day – Dookie (1994)
Guns ‘N’ Roses – Use Your Illusion I (1991)
PJ Harvey – To Bring You My Love (1995)
Matthew Good Band – Beautiful Midnight (1999)
Moby – Everything is Wrong (1995)
Morrissey – Your Arsenal (1992)
Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral (1994)
Nirvana – In Utero (1993)
Palace Music – Viva Last Blues (1995)
Pearl Jam – Vitalogy (1994)
The Pixies – Bossanova (1990)
Rage Against the Machine – The Battle of Los Angeles (1999)
The Roots – Illadelph Halflife (1996)
Silver Jews – American Water (1998)
Therapy? – Nurse (1992)
Toad the Wet Sprocket – Fear (1991)
2Pac – Me Against the World (1995)
Wilco – Summerteeth (1999)

Related posts:

  1. List: Nialler9′s Top 30 Albums of the Year
  2. List: Best Albums of the Decade 10-1
  3. List: Q Magazine’s Top 50 Albums of the Year
  4. List: Best Albums of the Decade 80-71
  5. List: NME’s Top 50 Albums of the 00s


  1. Startlin’ omission is dance the devil! Good list though! I also loved tracy chapmans 3rd!

  2. Massive, massive omission that. I thought it was 2000, but now I look and it was released in 1999. Big mistake.

  3. I also agree that some of the tunes on Sell Sell Sell are excellent. ‘What Am I Doing Wrong’ is such a great tune. That album was produced by Paul Kimble who was the producer and bassist for Grant Lee Buffalo. Apparently he and David Gray hated each other by the end of the recording and therefore the production quality is poor. With Vitalogy Pearl Jam included 4 or 5 classic tunes but the album on a whole is really poor. Here’s a thought …. maybe artists should rush through the first 2 albums and keep all their best ideas for a third album!

  4. Interesting background for Sell, Sell, Sell there Peter. Makes it even better now in my eyes.

    Yeah, overall I felt Vitalogy wasn’t good enough to make my final list. Plenty of amazing third albums though. Still kicking myself at leaving out the Frames.

  5. It’s funny. The first 6 great 3rd albums I thought of were all in the Eighties.

    I’d have had Mercury Rev’s ‘See you on the other side’ in there and maybe Elliott Smith’s ‘Either/Or’ but it’s a great list all the same.

  6. I thought of Either/Or when I was starting the list, but then I forgot about it too. My first Mercury Rev was Deserter’s Songs, so never really got into See You on the Other Side. Must download it.

  7. It’s a great record, in my opinion their best.

    It’s easy to forget Either/Or as it was sandwiched between two of my favourite ever albums in ‘Elliott Smith’ and ‘XO’ but it’s still a great album.

  8. Maybe a Best Fourth Album post may be in order some time in the future…

  9. Figure 8 would be number 1 on my best 5th album list!

  10. Ah now Peter, you’re just getting out of hand. How many lists am I meant to make? :D

  11. Good call on the Bjork album. Her debut is so rare, it’s practically unknown. I do reckon, however, ‘Debut’ has its name for a reason. The Hole album is a controversial one, but I’m on your side here. Some amazing tunes, some of the best stuff she ever did. BUT… ‘Parklife’ simply isn’t one of Blur’s best, it’s just the most famous. ‘Modern Life is Rubbish’ is infinitely better in all respects (and that wasn’t the album it could/should have been). Aside from that – and the fact ‘Your Arsenal’ really should have made the proper list – a decent job sir. Look forward to your ’00s follow-up.

  12. Robster: I was sticking to specific rules for the list. Although self-titled is a release as a child, it’s still officially her first. This meant that Post could be included, but similarly the Divine Comedy’s Casanova missed out for the same reason.

    Parklife is my favourite Blur album, but I do hold a special place in my heart for Think Tank. Actually, all their albums are solid. Who am I kidding?

  13. I think you really do need rules for a project such as this. A 12-year-old Bjork is still Bjork. I suppose this is why you’ve named ‘Bossanova’ by Pixies in your honourable mentions list: you don’t consider ‘Come On Pilgrim’ to be a bonafide album, just a selection of demos (which it is). If you did, you would have had to put ‘Doolittle’ in the Top 10. No, wait a minute – you would have had to put ‘Doolittle’ at number 1. Ooooh, a tricky one. I would have made sure I fixed it just so this could be the case…

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