Q: The Music, Part 5 (1990-91)


Q Magazine – “the modern guide to music and more” – first appeared in September 1986, and published its final issue in July 2020. Here’s a personal and highly subjective look back at the best music released in that period…

The 1990s had arrived, but as part four revealed, my tastes were yet to undergo any radical change; it was mainly still about The Blue Nile and Depeche Mode, with Wilson Phillips added into the mix.



(Q48) August 1990

And, come August, Prefab Sprout of course. The Further Adventures Of Paddy MacAloon gave us a double album, no less, and some typically off-the-wall lyrical conceits.

It was commercial enough to make the Top 10, even though none of its many singles rose higher than #35. It was also a work of genius, though I usually say that about Prefab Sprout.



(Q49) September 1990

Somehow I’d forgotten that Q greeted the second solo George Michael album with a glowing 5-star review. They were correct to do so, just as they’d been rightly critical of Faith in 1987, although the 2-stars awarded to that record was slightly harsh (I would have gone with 3).



(Q49) September 1990

Heaven Or Las Vegas marked the end of Cocteau Twins’ association with 4AD, but their final album for the label proved to be a high watermark both commercially (debuting at #7 in the UK) and artistically (this is no longer indie, shoegazing music stranded on the fringes).

Liz Frazer had even….shock horror!….started to sing actual words that belonged to the English language, which might suggest a loss of otherness and a not-so-ethereal result. Happily this wasn’t the case. Fifty-Fifty Clown would inspire Prince to create Love…Thy Will Be Done for Martika, I Wear Your Ring was one of several songs that evoked the recent Kate Bush album The Sensual World, while Frou Frou Foxes In Midsummer Fires added a reassuringly Cocteau Twins-esque title to their repertoire.

I’ve been playing this album for 30 years, and can never come to rest on a single favourite track….the title cut swoops and soars in a way that seems to please me much more than it used to, and Ice Blink Luck is the cracking Top 40 hit that briefly got them back in the charts after endless EPs that peaked at #53 or thereabouts.



(Q51) November 1990

David Lynch was all the rage in 1990. His Wild At Heart film was one of the year’s cult classics, and the soundtrack helped Chris Isaak to finally break into the mainstream via Wicked Game. On the small screen, the first series of Twin Peaks (which I have still somehow never seen) was achieving a similar level of kudos.

Twin Peaks‘ soundtrack spawned a major hit single – Falling by Julee Cruise – and patented a distinctive style of its own. This is the bit where I have to try and describe Angelo Badalamenti’s gorgeously spooky, romantic soundscapes and, frankly, come up short. But you’ll know the music to Falling, even if you might not still remember the song that was created from it.

Julee Cruise’s own album from 1990, Floating Into The Night was more of this same sublime, delicate beauty. Neither album made much commercial impact (the failure of Floating… to even crack the Top 75 was completely baffling), but the Twin Peaks OST did achieve a kind of low-key omnipresence in the lower half of the UK charts well into 1991.



(Q55) April 1991, album released February 1991

Ditching most of the synths and flashy studio trickery of her 80s work was always going to gain approval from Q. Night Ride Home also became Joni Mitchell’s highest-charting album in Britain since the 1970s.

Its 10 flawless songs also represent quite possibly the perfect balance between classic Joni and post-1970s Joni. Anyone unfamiliar with her work could do worse than start with Night Ride Home.



(Q57) June 1991

Arguably the first definitive Nineties album in this list, and an enduring classic that’s proved to be just the start of a pretty special career for Massive/Massive Attack. Q had the good sense, and good taste, to recognise its brilliance from the get-go.



(Q58) July 1991, album released May 1991.

An unknown when Adamski teamed up with him in early 1990 for the surprise UK #1 single Killer, 12 months later Seal had quickly made enough of a mark to debut at #1 with his own self-titled solo album.

Seal is a triumph of getting everything right. Trevor Horn was brought in to produce. Wendy & Lisa helped with some of the songwriting. The marketing department came up with the simple yet brilliant idea of positioning Seal as a benevolent, insightful force of nature, full of mystical power and radiating good vibes. The sleeve for Seal is simple but powerfully effective.

He also had some songs….Crazy, Killer (re-recorded in his own image), Future Love Paradise….and a bruised but defiant vocal style, that could rage one moment and be tender the next.

(Followers of late ’80s pop might recognise some similarities in image and outlook between Seal and two promising but ultimately flop Black British male artists, Hollywood Beyond and Stan Campbell. Intriguingly, both acts were on WEA. The same label group that launched Seal.)



(Q58) July 1991, album released May 1991

Supergroup ahoy! Yes, the combined might of members from New Order, The Smiths and (originally, at least) The Pet Shop Boys decided they weren’t making enough amazing music with their other bands, and it was time they collaborated on something.

That something was Getting Away With It (December 1989), and then over a year later the Electronic album. Neil and Chris had moved into the background by this point, although Neil is still on lead vocals for Patience Of A Saint. Most of Electronic was the Marr and Sumner show. And what a show it is. Q figuratively wet their pants!



(Q61) October 1991, album released September 1991

Come their traditional retrospective at the end of 1991, Q put 24 Years Of Hunger in the Top 50 albums of the year, but I can’t remember the original review…[UPDATE: I eventually found it!]

If you haven’t heard this album, investigate online forthwith. As I wrote in 2017, 24 Years Of Hunger is impossible not to love!



(Q63) December 1991, album released November 1991

Oh Achtung Baby, you blew my mind. What times we shared.

It was, in so many ways, my album of the 1990s.

Of course Q fell over themselves to praise it, but what else could they do?

We’re now exactly halfway through our 100 albums of the Q era, and it’s not even 1992 yet! 

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