The Most Underrated Albums Of All Time
40. The Breeders – Title TK (2002)
This one tends to get lost in the shuffle. Maybe it’s timing? Nearly a decade on from utopian alt-rock singles ‘Cannonball’ and ‘Divine Hammer’, Title TK came long after The Breeders had faded from prominence and long before ‘90s nostalgia had set in. And next to the noisy experimentation of 1990’s Pod and the pop giddiness of 1993’s Last Splash, it comes off as slow, quiet, unpolished and stubbornly hit-free. It’s got the same rickety-as-hell minimalism of 2008’s Mountain Battles, but not the free-wheeling range. So what does it have? That priceless slacker air, for one, and, on the heartbreaking ‘Off You’, that doll-faced voice Kim Deal can pull out when she’s not shouting herself hoarse. Oh, and sneaky, earthy songs captured by Steve Albini with a sneaky, earthy trueness. Title TK showcases a no-frills band that never wanted to be megawatt rock stars. – Doug Wallen
39. Glide – Disappear Here (1996)
Recorded with the same producer and in the same Sydney studio that yielded You Am I’s much-lauded masterpiece Hourly Daily, the fortunes of Glide’s Disappear Here couldn’t be starker. “Maybe a lot of people didn’t hear it,” bassist Andy Kelly remarked before pair of one-off reunion shows in 2010, “but it seems to me that the people who liked it, really loved it.” Having a cult audience is fine if you’re into that sort of thing, but the band’s late singer William Arthur always seemed to dream bigger than a stool at the Annandale with their name on it. He certainly wrote that way. There’s a clutch of pop songs in the middle of this record – ‘What Do I Know’, ‘Wrapped In Fingers’ and the wonderful ‘Tangled’ – that demanded a wider audience. But there was a weirdness about Glide, a certain intangible mystery (perhaps Arthur’s penchant for odd chords and oblique lyrics), that kept the general public at arm’s length. Nonetheless, if you’re looking for a sound that truly encapsulates the sound of Sydney’s inner-west in the mid-1990s this is it. – Darren Levin
38. Grace Jones – Nightclubbing (1981)
Jamaican model, party animal and cocaine aficionado returns home to record an album with reggae’s greatest ever rhythm section. Cue album of deep grooves and paper-voiced platitudes, right? Not quite. Far from playing the ingÃ©nue, Jones dominates these songs, flipping between lascivious come-ons (“Pull up to the bumper, baby/In your long black limousine … park it in between”) and dead-on satire of the high life. Meanwhile, Sly and Robbie pick up the thread and run with it, laying Eurotrash disco-pop textures over sleek, reggae-derived grooves.
Upon one listen of the muzak-y title track, delivered with precisely none of the weary irony of Iggy Pop’s original, it’s easy to see how Jones was criticised for favouring style over substance. What her critics never understood, though, was that her affectless delivery was part of the whole knowing package: ‘80s pop aspired to this sort of glossy blandness, and Nightclubbing was both its greatest triumph and its greatest pisstake. – Edward Sharp-Paul
37. Ben Lee – Grandpaw Would (1995)
Nine years before he was telling us to catch his disease, Ben Lee emerged from his teenage indie rock band Noise Addict with this scrappy solo debut. Its 18 songs are purer and more unguarded than anything Lee has done since, capturing the forever-young spirit of Daniel Johnston and Jonathan Richman both. (Rightly so: Lee was still just 16 when he started the album.) Liz Phair guested on ‘Away With the Pixies’, which was a huge deal at the time, but it’s heartbreaking enough without her. There are threadbare, falling-down, one-and-two-minute tunes all over the place, although ‘I’m With the Star’ shows his preternatural wisdom and ‘My Guitar’ and ‘Love Song’ his self-aware streak. Lee doesn’t attempt the linguistic twists of The Lucksmiths, but he’s very much a kindred spirit to them here: earnest, tender and unaffected. – Doug Wallen
36. Macy Gray – The Sellout (2010)
Macy Gray spent over a decade squeezing her throaty rasp into pop tunes, but the hits were intermittent. With The Sellout she gave up, writing much of the music and lyrics herself. Earlier albums played to her freakiness, but in a “Look at me, I’m so bohemian” way. On The Sellout she sounds deranged. ‘Stalker’ is like having Prince lurking outside your house. A duet with Bobby Brown features the loving declaration: “Baby I will kiss you, even when you have the flu.” ‘Kissed It’ features Velvet Revolver minus Scott Weiland, which means Guns N’ Roses fronted by Macy Gray. They play a Schaffel beat like T. Rex while she sings about how she can’t leave her man because he gives great head. Lots of these songs are about absent lovers, but the finale, ‘The Comeback’ is about her absent audience. She admits that at some point she’ll have to stage a comeback, “sell out”, maybe do another duet with Erykah Badu. But not now. Now she gets to be herself, and if nobody notices it’s her best then screw ‘em. – Jody Macgregor
35. Dallas Crane – Dallas Crane (2004)
Recorded with Wayne Connolly (Underground Lovers, You Am I), Dallas Crane’s self-titled 2004 album has all the hallmarks of an Australian classic, transferring the vital energy of “The Crane’s” live show into 14 balls-to-the-floor rock tracks. From the grunty hooks of opener ‘Dirty Hearts’, to the seven-minute curve ball ‘Come Clean’ (recalling the boozy musings of a jealous lover), the songs stack up at such a rate it makes you wonder why Jet was our export of choice in 2004.
‘Numb All Over’ is like the Noughties counter-point to Cold Chisel’s ode-to-partying ‘Saturday Night’, while singer Dave Larkin’s idiosyncratic husk propels the country twang of ‘Ladybird’ into classic Dark Horses territory. Perhaps if rock hadn’t been on the way out, if they hadn’t been sucked into a major label void, or if the band hadn’t gone on an indefinite hiatus Dallas Crane would today – as so many critics predicted back in 2004 – be filed under “Australian classic” alongside Cold Chisel’s East and The Angels’ Face To Face. – Sarah Smith
34. Malcolm McLaren – Duck Rock (1983)
Malcolm McLaren certainly knew how to crash a scene and make as much self-promoting noise as possible in the process. In 1983, years after The Sex Pistols had imploded and with his latest project Bow Wow Wow burning out, the great pop provocateur stole created Duck Rock. School yard ditties, country ho-down calls, the Zulu sounds of Boyoyo Boys, and The World’s Famous Supreme Team radio MCs were all thrown into a joyous mix that gave McLaren two unlikely hits – ‘Buffalo Gals’ and ‘Double Dutch’ – and two shoulda-been hits ‘Soweto’ and ‘Jive My Baby’.
Later that year Herbie Hancock scratched ‘Rockit’ into the history books. Paul Simon raided South Africa for Graceland in 1986. And in 1989 De La Soul threaded 3 Feet High and Rising together with a magpie’s sample collection, skits and jokey raps. But McLaren’s ground-breaking album is lucky to appear as a footnote in the story of pop music buried somewhere in the chapter on The Avalanches. – Tom Mann
33. Garbage – BeautifulGarbage (2001)
Shirley Manson made sexless ‘90s rock start thinking with its genitals again while Butch Vig’s production added gloss to Garbage’s grunge. After two albums, they took those elements – sex and gloss – to their logical conclusion: They went pop. In 2012 that doesn’t sound mindblowing, but at the time an alt-rock band doing un-ironic love songs that didn’t sound like they were being sung by your creepy ex or the killer in your backseat (as earlier Garbage songs had) was crazy.
Fans who wanted Version 3.0 to follow Version 2.0 were unimpressed. ‘Androgyny’ could have been a BeyoncÃ© song if you ignore the lyrics, but why ignore the lyrics? The words are important. ‘Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go!)’ is as pop a song as they ever recorded, and that’s about a transvestite hooker. ‘Shut Your Mouth’ is still raucous, but even that has scratching in it like that upstart hippity-hop music. In the decade that followed it became OK for rock fans to like pop again. BeautifulGarbage was ahead of the curve. – Jody Macgregor
32. Cornershop – When I Was Born For The Seventh Time (1997)
“Underrated” might be the wrong word: Cornershop’s 1997 opus was hugely acclaimed at the time. But while the English band have continued to make frightfully diverse records, they’re mostly known today for this album’s surprise hit ‘Brimful of Ash’. Take a chance to revisit this in its entirety, and you’ll grasp the rare stylistic breadth of the band. It’s an album that tries everything, from a country duet with Tarnation’s Paula Frazer (talk about underrated) to a Punjabi-language cover of ‘Norwegian Wood’. ‘Sleep on the Left Side’ is as perfect an opener as ‘Brimful’ is a single, and ‘Good Shit’ and ‘Funky Days are Back Again’ are winsome larks. Oh, and a pro tip: If you’re going to have spoken-word poetry on your album, why not go for broke and enlist Allen Ginsberg? – Doug Wallen
31. Billy Corgan – The Future Embrace (2005)
Billy Corgan’s had more than his share of, “Oh, he’s finally lost it” moments. In fact, since the mid-’90s, he hasn’t been flirting with hubris so much as vigorously dry-humping it at every opportunity. If Adore has its proponents though, why no love for TheFutureEmbrace? Perhaps it was because Pumpkins fans saw TheFutureEmbrace as a death knell, the point of no return for an alt-rock apostle. Perhaps it was the synths. Or perhaps it was because, in his mid-30s, Corgan finally dialled down on the teen angst that had become his increasingly restrictive calling card – if he’s grown up, does that mean we have to as well? Thing is, Billy Corgan has made his share of aesthetic mis-steps, but the guy never forgot how to write a tune (OK, maybe briefly with Zwan), and TheFutureEmbrace still has plenty of them: Put a chunky guitar behind ‘Mina Loy’, and you’ve got a Pumpkins anthem.
But TheFutureEmbrace is pilloried more for what it isn’t than what it is: A restrained, insular album from a talented man who obviously loves Depeche Mode and My Bloody Valentine. And the Bee Gees cover is ace. – Edward Sharp-Paul