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…
It’s back. BACK! BACK!! (Oops, wrong magazine).
Yes, a whole year after the fifth installment took us tantalisingly close to the dawn of 1992, we’re back to finish what we started. A whistle-stop look back at the best (i.e. my favourite) 100 albums released during Q magazine’s esteemed lifetime.
In the words of the late, great Tom Hibbert and his iconic feature that kicked off every issue, “Who the HELL do Amazinglyfewdiscothequesprovidejukeboxes think they are?” (RIP Thomas).
There is one album from 1991 left to cover, released the same week (if not the same day) as U2’s Achtung Baby and reviewed by Q in the following issue (January 1992).
(Q64) January 1992, album released 21st November 1991.
Dangerous was the long-awaited follow-up to Bad, and in those 4 years the world (and mind) of Michael Jackson seemed to have become even darker and weirder than the silly tabloid stories and his own eccentric public appearances had often suggested. Yet in 1991 it was still fairly straightforward for the King Of Pop in his natural domain, with the expensive videos, crisp production and slick choreography all in place and keeping the multi-platinum juggernaut on the rails.
By the end of its traditionally epic and lengthy campaign, that lasted well into 1993 and gave us no less than NINE singles, the picture had changed dramatically. An album that started out life with the joyous simplicity of Black Or White and its overblown, Macaulay Culkin-starring short film, would eventually be associated with scandal and rumours that cast a dark shadow over the rest of his life and career.
But Dangerous is brilliant. Except for Heal The World, obviously. Which is downright unlistenable.
Now let’s move on to 1992.
(Q65) February 1992
“Disturbing, sexy and funny by turns” was the Q verdict, and it’s hard to improve on that succinct appraisal. Tori Amos had made my world stand still upon hearing Silent All These Years for the very first time, and so I was ready to embrace and digest whatever else this arresting new (well, not everyone was aware of Y Kant Tori Read, to be fair) artist had to share with the world. And boy did she share! Extremely candid reflections on love, lust and guilt, plus a harrowing account of being raped at gunpoint on Me And A Gun.
What helps Little Earthquakes maintain its status as a landmark debut album is the sheer quality of the songs, and the strength of the melodies. Which as any longtime Tori Amos fan knows, might not always be the case with her work.
(Q67) April 1992
5-Star reviews were more elusive by 1992 than in the goldrush of 1987 and 1988 when, thanks to some dubious forms of encouragement from naughty record labels, a suspiciously high number of albums were awarded the ultimate Q accolade.
If any record from 1992, or even the 1990s as a whole, deserved to have the famous at the end of its review, then Ingenue was surely the one. It’s simply sublime.
There were several other excellent releases between March and August 1992, but the unforgiving nature of this retrospective means we have no room for the likes of Diva (Annie Lennox), Doppleganger (Curve), Nonsuch (XTC), Tubular Bells II (Mike Oldfield), Change Everything (Del Amitri) or even – forgive me Father, for I have sinned – Out Of The Cradle by the genius that is Lindsey Buckingham. Gasp!
Instead we fast-forward to September 28th 1992, and two of the highest high-profile, Q-friendly new albums of that year.
(Q74) November 1992
Luckily for ol’ PG, the Q 5-star button had been located again, ready to be lavished on the very eagerly-awaited successor to 1986’s big big big big big big big big big-selling So. “Endlessly surprising and often quite stunning”, gushed the review. Now I was probably as keen to sing the praises of Us as much as the next man, with So still one of my top 5 albums of all-time, yet the general feeling emerged of an album which didn’t actually stray very far from the So formula, it just applied a less-polished veneer to the arrangements and production. Grunge was coming into fashion, of course, and the merits of dirtying your sound was already encroaching on the mainstream post-Achtung Baby.
That said, Secret World, Washing Of The Water, Digging In The Dirt and Blood Of Eden are top-drawer Gabriel efforts. Steam, the obvious Sledgehammer Part II, is also a lot of fun.
The album which kept Us from the top spot in Britain is our next stop…
(Q74) November 1992
Perhaps the full charms of Automatic For The People took a while to reveal (oops) themselves to Q, who backed the Peter Gabriel horse in the ratings face-off, but 4 stars it was for the album which went on to dominate the UK charts over the next 12 months. R.E.M. were on the up (oops) and up (oops again), while for all its multi-layered, dense beauty Us could not come anywhere near the levels of commercial success enjoyed by So.
By way of self-punishment for this appalling misjudgement, Q would dedicate approximately one front cover every third issue to R.E.M. for the next decade.
(Q75) December 1992
Short shrift was given to Madonna’s most controversial album to date; “simultaneous brilliance and baloney” Q sneered. I can hear the brilliance (quite often), but not the baloney. Like A Prayer gets all the kudos, but really Erotica was Madonna at her most fascinating and surprising. Nevermind the title track, there are countless gems crammed into its 70+ minutes. In the month when Prince also unleashed a wayward opus that split critics and fans, you have to feel for the Warner Bros. execs; thankfully, R.E.M. would more than compensate for the struggles of its two biggest 80s icons as the 90s kicked in.
(Q75) December 1992, album released October 1992
Yes, that’s correct. 2 stars for Sade’s 1992 album. The one which is now regularly hailed as among their very best. As much as they are regarded as a sort of national treasure in the 2020s, the epitome of a less-is-more approach in both sound and frequency of new material, at the time of Love Deluxe‘s arrival there was not a whole lot of love for what they were doing.
The ubiquitous presence of Diamond Life in mid-80s popular culture had long since faded, with its follow-up Promise doing okay in the UK but much better in America. Promise yielded no notable UK hit single, a pattern largely repeated by 1988’s gorgeous Stronger Than Pride set. Each album was spending significantly less time on the UK chart, a worrying trend that continued with Love Deluxe. Its initial entry position of #10 was also much lower than its predecessors.
So, Q‘s attitude can be partly explained away by this general downturn in fortunes and profile. However, they could have tried listening to the record properly. Ahead of its time (and clearly an influence on late-90s George Michael), Love Deluxe is sleek, stripped down and sexy. It’s sophisticated and gorgeous, it’s one of the most luscious albums I’ve ever heard.
Thankfully, the inclusion of No Ordinary Love (the lead single which failed to make much impact in September 1992) in the 1993 film Indecent Proposal propelled the song to a new peak of #14 that summer, dragging the parent album along in its slipstream and giving it the commercial Kiss Of Life.
(Q79) April 1993, album released March 1993
1993 proved an agreeable year for many 80s favourites; Duran Duran returned with arguably their best-ever single (Ordinary World), Billy Joel had the most-played hit on British Radio with River Of Dreams, both New Order and Pet Shop Boys scored #1 albums, hell even Terence Trent D’Arby (as was) managed to put the disastrous Neither Fish Nor Flesh debacle behind him and get an instant Top 5 hit with Symphony or Damn after a near 4-year hiatus.
For others, it was a less auspicious time. The schedules in early 1993 were notably filled with the bigger names in Rock, indeed the veritable aristocracy: Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, Jimmy Page (in league with David Coverdale), Bryan Ferry….but not all of them fared too well. Jagger bombed (despite his best reviews yet), Macca’s Off The Ground never became airborne and departed the Top 75 after a pitiful month, Coverdale Page went Top 5 but didn’t fool anyone that it was anything other than Zeppelin Lite. As for Baron Ferrari, the covers album Taxi only came about because his writers block and studio incarceration trying to finish a first solo album since 1987 had forced him into getting something released for his own sanity.
(If you’re wondering why we’re not talking much about Sting, well…thanks to the very long piece about Ten Summoner’s Tales recently posted to this blog, I think I’ve done more than enough of that for a while!).
(Q79) April 1993, album released March 1993
Just three weeks after Sting dropped the year’s finest long-player thus far, along came perennial AFDPJ faves Depeche Mode with their most extraordinary record, a full-on leap into rock excess and all the cliched trappings that came with it. Long hair, beards, drug overdoses….and that’s just Dave Gahan.
Goodness me, this blew my mind, still reeling from Achtung Baby altering my musical world and expectations. Black Celebration had been a massive album for me in 1986, and the following year’s Music For The Masses had two of their most monstrous singles, but nothing…not even Personal Jesus from Violator, had prepared me for Songs Of Faith And Devotion. Okay, so it maybe hasn’t aged as well as those other albums, but it was exactly the right record at the right time.
More 1993 classics to follow in Part 7…