The 50 Best Australian Albums of the 90s
The 90s was one of the most exciting decades in Australian music. There were more bands than ever, all jostling for attention in a crowded but ever-so-rich music landscape.
These acts generally cut their teeth playing live. Traversing our country’s major highways to bring their best work to hungry young audiences in cities and towns across Australia. But many bands went one step further when it came to making records; crafting pieces of art that fast became the soundtracks to our lives.
The excellence of one Australian record would have a flow-on effect. Perhaps it was competition, or maybe just inspiration. But when one band made a great record, you could be sure there were plenty of their peers working hard to go one better.
Last year we celebrated the songs of our country through the 90s, this year it’s time to shine a spotlight on the albums.
After countless hours of discussion and debate among the Double J team, and the ever-valuable feedback from you, the audience, we’ve come up with this list.
There are dozens of albums that don’t appear here that easily could have. It’s not until you’re forced to start narrowing the focus to a mere 50 records that you realise the sheer volume of brilliant works that were made in this decade. We’ve all had to cut loose some of our favourite albums from this list, and some of your favourites are probably missing too. Tell us about them.
To ensure we celebrate as much great music as possible, we had to implement one small caveat. No artist was allowed more than two albums in the top 50. If they were to have more than one, there had to be a pretty damn good reason for it.
Every single one of these works stands up as a testament to the strength of Australian music throughout the 90s. These albums are more than just grab-bags of good songs, they are focused collections that stand as great works of art.
We’re counting down the Best Australian Albums of the 90s from 12pm AEST, Saturday 15 September. You can stream a playback of the countdown here.
50. Frente! – Marvin The Album
‘Accidentally Kelly Street’ remains an incredible pop song to this day, but you wouldn’t blame Frente! for having mixed feelings about their biggest hit. Because Marvin The Album, the 1992 record on which it appeared, is packed full of thoughtful and alluring indie-pop songs of easily as high quality.
Some of the songs are very much of their time – perhaps ‘Cuscatalan’ wouldn’t get a run today – but most of the album stands up as timeless folk-pop. ‘Girl’ is a gripping opener and ‘Reflect’ is solid and defiant. Most striking is Angie Hart’s vocal out the front; a sweet, wondrous force that consistently makes you want to lean in and hear more. Don’t skip the singles, but listen beyond them as well. – Dan Condon
49. Skunkhour – Feed
The music scene here in the 90s wasn’t all indie guitar rock. Funk, soul, ska, jazz, reggae, and hip hop were also represented by various acts across the country. Sydney’s Skunkhour managed to combine all these styles.
The group comprised two sets of siblings - the rhythm section of the Sutherland brothers, plus the Larkins out front. The authentic flow of rapper Del Larkin, combined with Aya’s soulful melodies, quickly won them fans here as well as an international record deal. This second album put them in the ARIA Top 50 for three months and produced their first Hottest 100 hit (‘Up To Our Necks In It’ #55). Reformations since their 2001 split demonstrates the affection still felt for them. – Richard Kingsmill
48. Vika And Linda – Vika And Linda
Vika and Linda Bull were The Black Sorrows’ greatest asset, broadening the band’s sound and appeal at its commercial peak. Going solo, the sisters’ debut album marked the beginning of an ongoing working relationship with Paul Kelly. Producing and playing on the album, he also wrote five songs especially for them.
Reflecting their Pacific Islander heritage, the sisters pose like graceful Gauguin muses on the cover. Their gospel-raised, soulful voices blend with blues, rock, reggae and country tinged sounds. Pure, clear voices – Vika’s low and gutsy, Linda’s high and bright – meld into glorious harmonies, often the case with siblings but rarely done this well. The result is catchy songs with warmth at their core, both the comforting and the fiery kind. – Dorothy Markek
47. Hunters & Collectors – Cut
Debates will forever rage as to which Hunters & Collectors album is the best, but there’s no question that Cut was the record that made them one of the biggest bands in the country.
Over half the album ended up as charting singles, its looped drums and ultra-slick production perfectly emblematic of what rock music was striving for in 1992. Let’s not forget it spawned a bona-fide Aussie anthem. ‘Holy Grail’ will forever soundtrack sports highlights packages.
It almost tore the band apart, as heavy-handed producer Don Gehman frustrated members by bringing a sheen to their songs. But through this adversity came some stunning rock songs. A dizzying combination of art-pop, Aussie pub rock and crossover indie. – Dan Condon
46. The Mark Of Cain – Ill At Ease
Have you ever closed your eyes and lost yourself in the vague beauty of ‘LMA’? Have you ever tried banging your head in time with the furious ‘Tell Me’? Listened to ‘Point Man’ really, really loud? Screamed ‘I could have been a contender’, and not even considered Marlon Brando? Then you know the power of Ill At Ease.
Henry Rollins produced this fifth album from the Adelaidean titans, but he can’t have had a particularly tough job. Brothers John and Kim Scott and drummer Aaron Hewson were on a roll by 1995 and Ill At Ease was the perfect distillation of both the band’s aggression and intelligence. Pummelling heavy rock songs with thoughtful, cutting lyrics. Tough guys have feelings too. – Dan Condon
45. INXS – X
It was in the backseat of mum’s Mitsubishi Colt that I got my first real introduction to music. There, legs sticking to vinyl seats in the summer heat, I was forced to confront whatever was playing on the stereo.
X, arguably INXS’ last great album, was already years old by the time I was old enough to ask who mum was belting out the half-formed harmonies to (‘Disappear’ at that particular moment). It was a simple act but was probably the first real step I ever took to willingly explore music.
They say you never forget your first and with tracks like ‘Suicide Blonde’, ‘By My Side’, ‘Bitter Tears’ and ‘Disappear’, it was a pretty memorable first step. – Stephen Goodhew
44. Deborah Conway – Bitch Epic
Deborah Conway has always been a hard artist to pin down. On her debut String Of Pearls, we got a sense of the sort of artist she was solo. It’s a gorgeous release, albeit sage. But when Bitch Epic came around – damn! Here’s something completely different. The sound of an artist getting an edge, not afraid to be confrontational. Just look at the front cover for a statement of artist intent!
You can hear similarities between the work of Tori Amos and Fiona Apple through this album, one that also serves as the starting point in what would become a life changing partnership, both musically and personally, with Willy Zygier. – Gemma Pike
43. Tumbleweed – Tumbleweed
Sick riffs and sick hair. Richie singing about mushroom clouds, Mary Jane and throwing stones. Dosed up on Sabbath, Mudhoney and early Kyuss, my teenage discman was well prepared for the sick-as debut album from Tumbleweed.
Finally, an Australian band that could combine sludgy garage-grunge riffs with the kind of melodic choruses that didn’t wear thin after repeated listening. Even a quarter century later. Even now, stand outs like ‘Acid Rain’, ‘Sundial’, ‘God’ and ‘The Healer’ are fuzz-rock classics which bring back great memories through the thick fog of time. – Ryan Egan
42. Ruby Hunter – Thoughts Within
“This is my record,” Ruby Hunter would often say of her 1994 solo album Thoughts Within, a ground-breaking piece of work that saw the stories of First Nations women shared with a mainstream audience.
This landmark album is a collection of songs that stem from sorrow, hurtful and troubled times, but told with a voice of strength, wisdom and resilience. In life, on stage and within her community, Ruby Hunter was a larger than life personality to the people that crossed paths with her.
And with songs like ‘Proud, Proud Woman’, ‘Women’s Business’ and ‘Kutjeri Lady’, she let people know how much she cherished and embraced the many vital roles that women fulfil. – Caz Tran
41. Dave Graney with The Coral Snakes – Night Of The Wolverine
No one is hipper than Dave Graney on Night of the Wolverine's memorable opener ‘You’re Just Too Hip Baby’. Dry wit, Graney’s unique theatrics and a knack for flamboyant storytelling underpin the colourful songs on their third album.
‘I’m a song and dance man’ Graney sing/speaks on the title track, as he riffs on the mysterious wolverine. The Coral Snakes – who included his wife, drummer Claire Moore – are in cracking form, providing a rich musical tapestry and balancing influences from lounge, country and ‘70s rock.
Graney has always been one of Australia’s most distinctive, unique songwriters and Night Of The Wolverine is an exceptional Australian classic which will always stand the test of time. – Karen Leng
40. Single Gun Theory – Millions, Like Stars in My Hands, Daggers in My Heart, Wage War
It was founding member Peter Rivett-Carnac’s time with Severed Heads that saw Single Gun Theory signed to a Canadian label, heralding a swift rise to international prominence. Millions, Like Stars… is the middle sister of the band’s three albums, and despite only troubling the middle reaches of the ARIA charts, stands as a significant Australian album of the era.
Its fusion of post-club beats and global instrumentation prefaced later artists such as Thievery Corporation and Zero 7, and indeed the entire genre of trip hop. Coupled with Jacqui Hunt’s understated vocals, the album sounds remarkably fresh to this day, and certainly deserves wider recognition in a rock-drenched history of Australian music. – Stu Buchanan
39. Tiddas – Sing About Life
They might not have recognised it initially, but Tiddas’ Lou Bennett, Sally Dastey and Amy Saunders could raise hairs and bring tears with their melodic folk songs. Their voices were strong, joyful, purposeful, wonderfully harmonious and, in the 90s, a breath of bloody fresh air.
These three ‘sisters’ taught me about their lives, loves and lore. I learned about the role of songlines in ‘Inanay’, about the tragedy of deaths in custody in ‘Malcolm Smith’ and the many stories of women, from a woman’s perspective.
Songwriters write about what they know, and to me it seemed these women knew a lot. It’s not only a great album, but, like a precious old photo album, it provides comfort, connection and continued insight. – Caz Tran
38. Crowded House – Together Alone
The final album before Crowded House’s momentous split is dark and experimental with a natural beauty pumping through its veins. They were one of the biggest bands in the world thanks to 1991’s Woodface. So, why not crane a recording studio into a house in the isolated locale of Karekare on New Zealand’s west coast?
“We were attracted to Karekare because it was about as far away from the music industry as you can get,” Neil Finn said at the time.
There is outstanding depth to the record. Among the monumental classics – ‘Private Universe’, ‘Locked Out’, ‘Pineapple Head’, ‘Distant Sun’ – lies the thrilling ‘Black and White Boy’, the alluring ‘Nails In My Feet’, the gorgeous ‘Catherine Wheels’ and one of drummer Paul Hester’s best songs ‘Skin Feeling’. – Dan Condon
37. Beasts Of Bourbon – The Low Road
The first line of opening track ‘Chase the Dragon’ sets The Low Road’s tone: ‘I brought back a souvenir all the way from Kampuchea, a plastic bag up my ass and soon the goods will all come to pass’. It’s straight up, brutal and bruising. And it’s one helluva ride.
I was terrified when I saw them play this live at the first Big Day Out in ’92, a teenager caught up in the mosh as Tex Perkins prowled the stage above me and spat out those words. But to this day, every time I hear this song, and this album, it makes me want to go out and make trouble. It’s the Beasts Of Bourbon at the height of their raucous, swaggering, sleazy, raw best. – Meagan Loader
36. Falling Joys – Wish List
The decade started with a rush of promising Sydney indie guitar bands jostling for that ‘next big thing’ pot of gold; Ratcat, The Hummingbirds, The Clouds, and Falling Joys. With origins dating back to Canberra in the mid-80s, Falling Joys had as good a chance as any of them for mainstream success.
This debut album set them up strongly. With the charm of vocalist Suzie Higgie, the four-piece had built a sizeable fanbase around Sydney. Main single ‘Lock It’ (‘Christ, I really like you’) and its perfect summary of an early love cracked the charts, and the rest of the LP was rich in hooks and pop gems like ‘Jennifer’, ‘Nearly A Sin’, and album closer ‘You’re In A Mess’. – Richard Kingsmill
35. Christine Anu – Stylin’ Up
I wasn’t quite old enough to be aware of Stylin’ Up when it came out in 1995, but I distinctly remember Christine Anu taking centre stage at the Sydney Olympics closing ceremony and belting out ‘My Island Home’. I was completely in awe of her. She sung that song like the future of the world depended on it. She cut right through me, straight to my heart.
Even though it was a cover of the Warumpi Band’s 1988 song, Christine made the song completely hers, and made it the central element of her debut album. Her use of traditional storytelling techniques (and some traditional stories themselves in ‘Monkey and The Turtle’), merged with contemporary dance beats thrust her culture and pride into the spotlight. – Liza Harvey
34. TISM – Machiavelli and the Four Seasons
The mid-90s: the commodification and homogenisation of 'alternative' music was well-underway but in a parallel universe in Melbourne, a bunch of balaclava-clad prankster comedians masquerading as musicians were making one of the most subversive, ridiculous and difficult to define albums in Australian music history.
TISM broke onto triple j after over ten years of underground notoriety with a pair of laugh out loud bizarro electro-punk jams – ‘(He'll Never Be An) Ol' Man River’ and unlikely earworm ‘Greg! The Stop Sign’ – confusing and gently warping a generation of minds in the process. Album cuts tell us Paul McCartney is a "boring old wanker", that "all homeboys are dickheads", give hot takes on religion, guns and racism, and, not one, but two songs about SBS. – Tim Shiel
33. Custard – We Have The Technology
‘I didn’t mean to call you a liar, except when you said you love me,’ Dave McCormack announces, as his band launches into a minute and 25 seconds of pure power pop fury. ‘Scared Of Skill’ is one of the great album openers and it heralded Custard at their most potent.
And it only gets better from there ‘Anatomically Correct’, ‘Piece of Shit’, ‘Nice Bird’, ‘Music Is Crap’, ‘Pinball Lez’… the wealth of brilliant pop songs on We Have The Technology is so rich, it’d be easier to highlight the very few songs that aren’t pure gold. This 1997 classic was perhaps the most perfect distillation of the band’s wit, pop-smarts and polite anarchy. – Dan Condon
32. The Superjesus – Sumo
My first taste of The Superjesus came from a mixtape given to me by a new friend when I arrived in Australia in 1999. On a playlist full of Aussie gems I’d never heard before, ‘Down Again’, with its grungy riffs, catchy melody, and Sarah McLeod’s glorious, soaring vocals hit me hard: it was love at first listen.
I bought Sumo soon after, a record I had on repeat until it was so scratched it couldn’t be played again.
The band managed to flawlessly balance 90s grunge and chunky alt-rock with a pop purity that made their signature sound so accessible, perfectly capturing the zeitgeist of the era. – Luanne Shneier
31. Alex Lloyd – Black The Sun
The success of Alex Lloyd’s second album and that song tends to overshadow his excellent debut. Frontman of indie-blues rockers Mother Hubbard, Lloyd went solo to experiment with more diverse sounds. From the get-go, the singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist had the knack for crafting radio friendly songs that straddled alternative and mainstream rock.
In another incarnation, the album could pass as introspective indie-folk. The programmed elements create space in quieter songs and bring force if required. From the Elliott Smith-like delicacy of ‘Black The Sun’, the Depeche Mode moodiness of ‘My Way Home’ to the lite-industrial of ‘Something Special’. The combination of organic and electronic gave the album a modern edge, broadening its appeal beyond that of sensitive singer-songwriter. – Dorothy Markek
30. Archie Roach – Charcoal Lane
An essential Australian album that shares tales of hardship, struggle and unspeakable pain with great wisdom and patience. To sit down with this record is to spend time with a generous storyteller who guides us through the streets he wandered and the characters he’s encountered. And just as these events have shaped Archie Roach, his stories may well change you too.
In 2015, he spoke about his own continued healing through many of these songs, in particular the remarkable ‘Took The Children Away.’ But by singing about his experiences, Archie Roach also gave voice to those who needed it, enriched others with knowledge and understanding, and provided an important historical document of resilience and survival. – Caz Tran
29. Frenzal Rhomb – A Man’s Not A Camel
A Man’s Not A Camel kept all the fast-paced lunacy of Frenzal Rhomb’s Meet The Family and Not So Tough Now. But it also added what – if we weren’t talking about a band that once wrote the chorus ‘get fucked you fucking fuckwit, you can’t move into my house’ – could be considered a more “mature” sound. ‘Never Had So Much Fun’ and ‘You Are Not My Friend’, which open the record, made Frenzal sound like a band that was not afraid to pump out 1990s triple j-style hits.
It makes me nostalgic for a period where bands didn’t take themselves too seriously; when to make raucous, care-free punk – sometime juvenile, sometimes whip-smart – was not a path to derision but recipe for success. – Paul Donoughue
28. Baby Animals – Baby Animals
Front and centre, a woman in black barely turns to show her face, electric guitar poised. In the distance the out-of-focus guys know who’s the star. In the late 80s and early 90s, the pop chart was the preferred, and acceptable, female domain. We were desperate for a homegrown rockstar, the next Chrissy. And not just one.
Baby Animals’ debut album kept Nevermind off the top of the charts. Killer singles with hooks for days, it was straight up rock with a hard edge. Suzi DeMarchi was born for the front job, with a powerful, expressive voice and a commanding presence. Best of all, she inspired girls to pick up a guitar and play. More please. – Dorothy Markek
27. Ed Kuepper – Honey Steel’s Gold
It’s impossible to overstate Ed Kuepper’s importance and talent. The first half of the 80s saw the ex-Saint throw the jazz rulebook out the window with The Laughing Clowns. Then in 1985, he started a solo career that produced nine wonderfully rich albums in a decade.
This standout dropped in the middle of that purple patch. It showed Kuepper’s masterful ability to write the conventional and heartfelt (‘Everything I’ve Got Belongs To You’, ‘The Way I Made You Feel’), but also had a spirit that touched on his avant-garde past. With Mark Dawson (drums) and Chris Abrahams (piano), the three musicians created a distinct mood right from the expansive opener ‘King Of Vice’. A truly remarkable songwriter and album. – Richard Kingsmill
26. Pnau – Sambanova
If you’re under 30, there’s a fair chance you may not have heard one of the most important Australian dance albums ever. You won’t find it on Spotify, iTunes or even a record store. It exists now only in the hands of those lucky enough to have picked it up early.
Sambanova by Pnau was born in a Sydney bedroom, the brainchild of two friends, clueless to what they were hatching. And despite winning an ARIA for Best Australian Dance Release, the record was pulled from shelves due to sample clearance issues. Pnau remain one of the most creative, forward thinking groups in Australian music but going back to Sambanova now shows just how far ahead of the curve they were. – Stephen Goodhew
25. Silverchair – Frogstomp
This album was pure right-of-passage stuff for me. At age 10, I was starting to find my own musical identity beyond pop charts, early morning video television, and my parents’ collections. Cue my classmate Tara and her way cooler older brother, who lent me a copy of Silverchair’s ‘Pure Massacre’ single.
I wish I could view a brain map of what happened during my first listening of those four and a half minutes – my auditory cortices, the hippocampus and the frontal lobe firing in a way that’s only happened a handful of times in my life. From that moment my life was forever changed. I purchased Frogstomp mere days later, the rest is history. – Gemma Pike
24. Paul Kelly & the Messengers – Comedy
Getting into the final record for Paul Kelly & the Messengers is a big commitment; it’s a hefty listen, but its gems are rich and plentiful. Some of Kelly’s finest power-pop moments are here, not just in singles like ‘Don’t Start Me Talking’, but in lesser known beauties like ‘It’s All Downhill From Here’ and the evocative ‘Sydney From a 727’.
It also features some of Kelly’s best storytelling; ‘I’m Leaving Her For The Last Time’ is sad but cute, ‘Wintercoat’ is both haunting and completely relatable (perhaps a little too close to the bone for some), and what more needs to be said about the beyond-brilliant Kev Carmody collab ‘From Little Things Big Things Grow’? – Dan Condon
23. Underground Lovers – Dream It Down
Dream It Down is a pure delight from Melbourne’s Underground Lovers. It kicks off with the title track, which seems to hold all the elegance and beauty that threads through the entire album. What is it about third albums? So many bands seem to hit a creative high at this point. In the Underground Lovers’ case it was through a newfound understanding of dreamy atmospherics.
Dream It Down is warm and textured, the strummy, swirling and fuzzed-out guitars tempered by gorgeous synths, strings and lush production. Stand out single ‘Losing It’ feels melancholic and euphoric simultaneously, it’s that rich emotional tapestry that makes Dream It Down such rewarding listening. – Karen Leng
22. Died Pretty – Doughboy Hollow
This album. This band. It should have all happened for Died Pretty with the release of Doughboy Hollow, their fourth album. It’s certainly got the songs – ‘D.C.’, ‘Sweetheart’, ‘Godbless’ – and a great sound courtesy of English producer Hugh Jones. Every song earns its place on the record, they’re all connected by melancholy and heart-ache, but they are essentially love songs. Albeit sad ones.
So, what went wrong? Bad luck? Wrong place, wrong time? Revisit this classic and realise it’s timeless. It still sounds fresh, it still sounds relevant. Died Pretty sounded like no other Australian band at the time and so this album is not defined by the fashion of the day. It’s a brilliant journey from start to finish. – Phil McKellar
21. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – The Boatman’s Call
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds had a seemingly unstoppable run in the 1990s, kicking off with the impeccable classic The Good Son, followed in rapid succession by Henry’s Dream, Let Love In and Murder Ballads. Whilst the latter gave Cave the greatest commercial success of his career, 1997’s The Boatman’s Call remains a critical high watermark.
Switching their full-bodied post-punk sound for a suite of piano-driven love songs, the album is stacked with frank and candid confessionals, many of which touch on the dissolution of Cave’s marriage and his brief relationship with PJ Harvey. The album’s mournful minimalism undoubtedly set the template for much of the band’s latter output and defines The Boatman’s Call as one of the most important records of their career. – Stu Buchanan
20. Kylie Minogue – Impossible Princess
The more I listen to Impossible Princess, the more I fall in love with it, and the more I fall in love with Kylie Minogue. It’s authentically Kylie and also completely unique in her repertoire. It makes me feel like I’m allowed to do anything I want, and that I shouldn’t have to be held accountable for being creative. Because I think that’s how Kylie felt making it.
This album is bursting with autonomy and Girl Power; the ultimate 90s pop movement. Sonically, it’s evocative and challenging (‘Too Far’), and earnest and human (‘Breathe’). Impossible Princess was an unexpected step, but a necessary diversion and exploration for Kylie to deliver the pure pop on follow up album Light Years. Long Live Kylie! – Liza Harvey
19. Yothu Yindi – Tribal Voice
It’s hard to imagine how we can understand Australia without understanding Yothu Yindi’s Tribal Voice. Its potent messages, the questions it asks, the way it frames the sacred within the modern. The way ‘Treaty’ changed everything: “Words are easy, words are cheap” M Yunupingu sings. Words will never do that song, or this record, enough justice.
This album helped me think about how I listen, with an open mind. It’s a reminder to act and judge other people on their actions. And it continues to remind me of unfinished business, or unrealised opportunities. But also of beauty, and mystery and hope. And of good times, and what it means to be Australian. What a thing for just one album to be able to do. – Ryan Egan
18. Something For Kate – Beautiful Sharks
That this album holds my two of my all-time favourite songs – 'Hallways' and 'Whatever You Want' – is part of why I love it so. It also signalled a shift that would change who Something For Kate became. This is where bass player Stephanie Ashworth joins the band, creating an incredible chemistry in this power trio, and bringing a new beauty in tones.
This record is Something For Kate taking apart who they are, and rebuilding. The off-kilter discord is still there, but growing are the heartbreak chords, and piercing hooks that dig in under the skin, and linger. Beautiful Sharks slays me to this day. – Zan Rowe
17. The Whitlams – Eternal Nightcap
‘No Aphrodisiac’, the hottest song of 1997 and the 90s’ horniest expression of melancholy, is the perfect microcosm for the appeal and unlikely success of The Whitlams’ third album. A collection of brilliantly drawn, beautifully executed songs that envelope you with their honesty and detail.
Recorded on a tight budget with a revolving cast of musicians, Eternal Nightcap is very much Tim Freedman’s vehicle. Reeling from the death of co-founder Stevie Plunder, he stepped up to deliver a stunning collection that weaved heartbreaking sincerity (the ‘Charlie’ trilogy) with wit (‘You Sound Like Louis Burdett’), and another major event: his long-distance relationship with a Melburnian (‘In love with this girl/and with her town as well’).
An independent, piano-driven success in an era dominated by blockbuster alt-rock. – Al Newstead
16. Kasey Chambers – The Captain
In the 90s, mentioning you liked country music was social suicide. Fast forward a couple of decades and we live in a time when those same people that gave you grief own at least one cheeky rose embroidered, button-down shirt. Kasey Chambers played a huge part in making country music translate in the perfect way in Australia with The Captain.
To many people, country music was bland American dudes with two first names, stiff hats, cowboy boots and garish shirts. Kasey had a reality, an immediacy, that we could approach. Most importantly, with tunes like the title track, ‘These Pines’ and ‘Cry Like a Baby’, it had some incredibly catchy, classic songwriting, with choruses you could shout while dropping a tear into your beer. – Henry Wagons
15. Dirty Three – Ocean Songs
Dirty Three dispensed with the explosives and distortion for their sprawling and atmospheric masterpiece Ocean Songs.
The visceral, tempestuous and ragged energy of their previous albums gives way to languid odes to the might and mystery of the sea.
Every song is light, lyrical and beautiful. Jim, Mick and Warren somehow create a feeling of never ending momentum.
This is Dirty Three at their most cohesive, affecting, enigmatic. And it’s a record worth revisiting. Time and time again. Forever. – Ryan Egan
14. You Am I – Hourly, Daily
History probably judges Hourly, Daily as the least You Am I album of You Am I albums.
It's melodic where we expected crunch, relaxed where we expected attack, and reflective where we expected wrath. It's almost a perfect mixture of Beatles and Stones, a uniquely Australian version of a Kinks record.
It might be the only You Am I album you'd enjoy more the morning after than the evening before. And despite the unexpected shift of gears it still rocks, it still rolls, and there's no better introduction to the pleasures of You Am I. – Christian McGregor
13. The Cruel Sea – The Honeymoon Is Over
Get ready for a wild ride! The title track of The Honeymoon Is Over sets the tone of this enduring Aussie album, with ultimate rock’n’roll front man Tex Perkins unleashing rabid vocals, interspersed with driving instrumental tracks.
Buckle up for an album filled with crunchy guitar, disgruntled lyrics and The Cruel Sea’s trademark riffs.
The Sydney band bring together a mix of influences – rock’n’roll, blues and roots with a hint of reggae.
Stand out tracks include ‘Black Stick’, ‘Woman With Soul’ and ‘Let’s Lay Down Here and Make Love’. Turn it up! – Wendy Saunders
12. Jebediah – Slightly Odway
Have you ever really moved out if you haven’t hummed ‘Leaving Home’ to yourself while cramming all your possessions into the back of a Corolla in your folks’ driveway? That classic isn’t the only anthem from Jebediah’s 1997 debut album – there’s the big chorus of ‘Jerks of Attention’, that opening riff on ‘Teflon’, teenage tearjerker ‘Harpoon’ and so much more.
Let’s face it, most of us have no idea what Kevin Mitchell is saying most of the time, but we sing along anyway. Because those melodies are so irresistible. This album perfectly captures the energy of being in your early 20s in Australia: crappy part-time jobs, breakups, long summers and that feeling of not knowing, or caring, what’s around the corner. – Caitlin Nienaber
11. Midnight Oil – Blue Sky Mining
Looking back, it’s funny the quiet ways in which music, quite early on in our lives, can begin to inform our politics.
As a kid I had no idea about asbestos contamination, the conflict in Burma or even the ins and outs of Australian politics. But Blue Sky Mining gave me an important sense of these things.
One of Midnight Oil’s most overtly political albums in a career full of them, it taught me that music could have a purpose and it could persuade.
It also taught me that, to this day, there are few albums that do it quite so well. – Stephen Goodhew
10. The Clouds – Penny Century
‘I recall, in my childhood, you aroused in me, thoughts of no good’
I was seeing The Clouds play live when I came of age. They were my guides into adulthood and the world of indie rock. The brilliant harmonies of Jodi Phillis and Trish Young corrupted me, as they sung lyrics that were evocative, sexual, lyrical and literary.
Their confidence was mesmerising live, the seriously cool frontwomen commanding with their trademark sway. And their debut album Penny Century, is an absolute classic of the time. A perfect showcase of the lush shoegaze pop that they made their own, with songs that are off kilter, intricate, beautiful and tough. – Meagan Loader
9. Spiderbait – Ivy and the Big Apples
A total head rush from start to finish, Ivy and the Big Apples marked new confidence, pop skills and whip smart musicianship from Spiderbait.
It’s a total blast from start to finish. The tunes rocket along with giddying abandon, alternating thrashy punk, occasional sweet pop and fuzzy dance grooves on ‘Joyce’s Hut’.
‘Calypso’ is simply irresistible – a sparkling singalong classic – while ‘Buy Me A Pony’ was seemingly built for the classic 90s mosh pit. Trios don’t come much better than Spiderbait on this outstanding album. – Karen Leng
8. Grinspoon – Guide To Better Living
Twenty years later, I’m still not really sure why Phil Jamieson was singing about a dead cat. Or why the cat was dead three times. I guess cats have nine lives?
When I was 11, though, it didn’t really matter. He sounded like he’d be one of my cool older brother’s friends and the guitar riff was cruising and dirty.
There are heaps of gems on Grinspoon’s debut album. ‘Bad Funk Stripe’ still stands up as a stoner’s tribute to Oasis. And show me a better Australian rock song of the 90s than ‘Just Ace’. I’ll wait. – Paul Donoughue
7. Silverchair – Neon Ballroom
Frogstomp and Freak Show established them as Australia’s chief grunge exports, but it was Neon Ballroom that cemented Silverchair as one of the country’s biggest and best rock bands. It’s a marquee work, containing some of the band’s most mature and memorable songs (‘Ana’s Song’, ‘Miss You Love’, ‘Anthem For The Year 2000’) as Daniel Johns flourished as a visionary songwriter and arranger, baring all on savage yet sweet anthems about his eating disorder, politics, views on animal cruelty, and heartache.
Signalling its ambition from the moment those symphonic stabs open ‘Emotion Sickness’, featuring genius Australian ivory-acrobat David Helfgott, Neon Ballroom decimated the cynical ‘Nirvana in Pyjamas’ tag and furthered Silverchair’s international success and chart-busting impact. An astonishing musical benchmark from a trio who’d only just hit their 20s. – Al Newstead
6. Crowded House – Woodface
As a ten-year-old, I was completely oblivious to the various narratives around Crowded House's Woodface. I had no idea how momentous it was to have the Finn brothers sing in unison on a Crowded House album, and how weird it was to have Tim Finn join his little brother's band some 13 years after Tim asked Neil to join Split Enz.
I had no idea what a ‘lounge room lizard’ was, and who the hell was Tammy Baker? All I knew was that songs, like ‘Weather With You’, ‘Four Seasons in One Day’ and ‘It's Only Natural’ were precious, and that Woodface was the perfect soundtrack to happy family afternoons, climbing over cousins and chasing them around tables, scoffing potato chips and cordial at Aunty Jane's place in Broadford. – Tim Shiel
5. You Am I – Hi Fi Way
You Am I cut like a triple-hulled catamaran through the sea of grunge in the mid-90s. Songs like ‘Punkarella’ and ‘Jewels and Bullets’ had enough bruising force for 90s alt-rock fans, while ‘Purple Sneakers’ and ‘Ken (The Mother Nature’s Son)’ showed a tender side to the band, steeped in a more throwback, British songwriting tradition.
This complex musical brew crossed over into so many subcultures, full of people who thought they were the only ones who liked You Am I, without ever realising that everyone else did too. You Am I announced themselves to a wider audience with Hi FI Way, creating their own unique tornado, spearheaded by Tim Rogers, who had a seemingly impossible mix of finely tuned glam-rock showmanship and an approachable fragility. – Henry Wagons
4. Regurgitator – Unit
Synthpop songs about blow up dolls (or, perhaps, the surgically enhanced) (‘Polyester Girl’), thrashy odes to both the modern western sewerage system (‘Everyday Formula’) and the intimate concept of male ‘stage fright’ (’I Piss Alone’), and overtly infectious pop written about video game addiction (‘Black Bugs’). Regurgitator were cheeky, profane and whip-smart on their second album Unit.
They famously aped Prince on ‘! (The Song Formerly Known As)’, their most enduring track. But less recognised is the Sgt Peppers style brilliance of ‘Just Another Beautiful Story’ that closes the record. Regurgitator’s tongue was never far from their cheek, but they backed it up with rich, respectful and often very insightful songs that belied the c-bombs and stark references to anilingus. – Dan Condon
3. The Living End – The Living End
Any album that opens with the declaration ‘well we don’t need no one to tell us what to do!’, was always going to find a place in my heart.
The Living End exploded into the charts and our hearts with a perfect blend of rockabilly licks, heavy guitar and that pitch perfect vocal of frontman Chris Cheney.
They may be raucous punks, but from the get go they’ve also been masterful pop songwriters; creating the kind of hooks that get stuck in your head and – 20 years later – are chanted back at them with as much fervour.
It was their first record, and it is still their most adored. – Zan Rowe
2. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Let Love In
After the dispiriting process of making Henry’s Dream with a producer who treated them “like children”, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds returned to their familiar ally Tony Cohen for album number eight. This was a fertile and powerful period for Cave. To place this record ahead of Murder Ballads and The Boatman’s Call is not to belittle those in any way.
With Let Love In though, the sonic breadth of the Bad Seeds shines through (Warren Ellis making his debut too). The majestic ballad ‘Nobody’s Baby Now’, the sinister swell behind ‘Do You Love Me?’, and the cowpunk thrash of ‘Thirsty Dog’ shows just some of the range. The highpoint ‘Red Right Hand’ – a song Cave says he almost wrote on the spot – remains brilliantly evocative. – Richard Kingsmill
1. Powderfinger – Internationalist
‘Keep your love forever young.’
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it’s hard to describe just how much Powderfinger means to you if you’re from Brisbane. But I won’t get insular, because the love for this band extends far beyond the Queensland border.
In 1998 Powderfinger were quickly gaining momentum. Their previous album Double Allergic had provided the breakthrough they’d been slogging away at for the better part of a decade.
With their third album, Internationalist, they stepped up from the moody guitar-based grunt of their earlier work and dabbled in classical instrumentation, blasts of brass, backing vocals by the legendary Tiddas, and subtle guitar lines.
It’s the Powderfinger equivalent of Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’. There’s something for everyone in this front-to-back classic.
There are so many heart-thumping, air-drumming, guitar-belting moments. From the sprawling slow builds to the quick, two-minute jams, it really is beautifully put together.
Bernard Fanning’s opening line in ‘Already Gone’ – ‘You’ve been working all your life…’ – paired with a single drum beat and stripped back guitar, is so simple, but so powerful.
And don’t even get me started on ‘Passenger’. There’s something beautiful about belting out the immortal line, ‘if you wanna’ be a passengaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa’ at karaoke, or at a 21st, or a 30th, or a 40th, or any backyard party for that matter.
Internationalist not only put them on the path to becoming Australian rock royalty, it was also their first number one album on the ARIA charts, a feat they would go on to replicate with their next four records. A massive five songs from this album were voted into the triple j Hottest 100 in 1999.
This album is complex in its scope and delivery. It’s political, and angry, and sad, and it sums up everything about Australia in the late 90s. But you listen to it now and it hasn’t aged a day, which is pretty impressive for an album which is now 20 years old. – Gab Burke
Hear tracks from each of the 50 Best Australian Albums of the 90s this Saturday from 12pm AEST on Double J