Where this year found the artists who released blockbusters 20 years ago.

Pop Music in 2011: In With the Old

At age 14 in 1991, my record-buying budget was somewhat limited. Aside from shelling out dollar bills for used tapes at the local thrift store, I got most of my current pop albums from the good ol’ BMG Music Service. The more affordable alternative to Columbia House (which finally called it quits this year), BMG allowed me to pick out 10 CDs free, pay for one, get another free and then cancel.

So, at some point in ’91, I licked the backs of those little stickers representing the albums my parents wouldn’t buy me at Walmart, attached them to the order form and, too many weeks later, received them all in one glorious shipment. Looking back at the blockbuster albums that debuted in 1991, I’d bet most of the following titles made it into in my BMG box. Not sure how I would have ended up with them, otherwise, considering my circumstances.

REM’s ‘Out of Time’: Thanks to “Losing My Religion” and MTV, R.E.M. made its way into the bedrooms of small-town kids like me. Sadly but not shockingly, this year saw Michael Stipe and his bandmates run out of steam. After enjoying good reviews for final album ‘Collapse Into Now,’ the group announced its imminent demise, released the obligatory greatest-hits package and rode off into the sunset.

Metallica’s ‘Metallica’: The “black album” produced six hit singles that you can hear butchered on any given day by Guitar Center shoppers. Twenty years later, the band’s still huge, but chart dominance is a thing of the past. The foursome’s 2011 releases comprised a follow-up EP to ‘Death Magnetic’ and a much-maligned collaborative album with Lou Reed.

Pearl Jam’s ‘Ten’: One of grunge’s defining releases got the documentary treatment this year from super-fan Cameron Crowe. ‘Pearl Jam Twenty’ (available on Netflix already) is an extremely compelling look at the inner-workings of the band and their role inSeattle’s salad daze. Eddie Vedder and the guys are finishing up the follow-up to 2009’s ‘Backspacer,’ but the lead singer found time in 2011 to release the solo album ‘Ukulele Songs.’

Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’: The 20th anniversary box set release of this game-changer contained rawer alternate versions of all the tracks, known as the “Devonshire Mixes.” Worth it just for those, not to mention the live tracks and videos and more. As far as new stuff coming from members, well, there was a Foo Fighters album I’ve somehow managed to ignore. Not intentionally, of course.

Garth Brooks’ ‘Ropin’ the Wind’: Garth’s third album was his first as a bona fide phenomenon (thanks to the earlier success of “Friends in Low Places”). Some of his best stuff’s on this one, from “Rodeo” and “Papa Loved Mama” to the cover of Billy Joel’s “Shameless.” Late this year and next year, the singer returns to Vegas to continue his ongoing residency at the Wynn. Gotta see it one of these days.

Guns ’n’ Roses’ ‘Use Your Illusion’ albums: A double album’s one thing, but two that you have to buy separately? I was more than a little frustrated at having to choose one to buy immediately and one to buy later, whenever I could scrape together ten more bucks. I think I bought ‘Use Your Illusion II’ first because it had the ‘Terminator 2’ single on it and a Bob Dylan cover. I now return to both volumes a great deal more than ‘Appetite’. (Somewhere in a bargain bin, ‘Chinese Democracy’ weeps.)

Red Hot Chili Peppers’ ‘Blood Sugar Sex Magik’: This is one I actually convinced my dad to buy for me, despite its relatively awkward title. “What’s it called?” I remember him asking, eyes clinched. God bless him. I just couldn’t live one more day without my own copy of “Give It Away.” “Under the Bridge,” not so much. To me, that song’s almost as annoying as the Peppers’ 2011 video for latest single “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie.”

Prince & the New Power Generation’s ‘Diamonds and Pearls’: Despite its unfortunate rap breaks, Prince’s 1991 record is packed with solid pop oddities. The title track and “Gett Off” speak for themselves, but also take a minute to enjoy the skeebidy-doo-bop vibe of “Strollin’” and the falsetto ballad “Insatiable.” As for new material to come, who knows? Maybe Prince will release his next album in a cereal box or something. I’d buy that s–t.

U2’s ‘Achtung Baby’: Another 20-year-old contemporary classic got the documentary treatment this year. Director Davis Guggenheim’s ‘From the Sky Down’ (now airing on Showtime) smartly zoomed in on the band’s identity crisis that led to the making of the record. I’m not always in a Bono kind of mood. OK, I’m never in a Bono kind of mood. But the film helped me reconnect to a chapter of these guys’ musical career that I might not have appreciated fully in ’91. Good stuff. Modern day U2? I dunno. When is Jerryworld available for rental next?

Michael Jackson’s ‘Dangerous’: Not MJ’s best, not his worst. Damn good, though. And much of it (“Black or White,” “Remember the Time,” “Gone Too Soon”) has been re-imagined in the new Cirque du Soleil touring production Immortal, whose soundtrack recently hit stores. Long live the king …

4 comments on “Pop Music in 2011: In With the Old

  1. Uncanny! Two nights ago some friends and I came to the mutual conclusion that we neither knew nor had ever heard mention of anyone who still listened to anything BUT “Appetite for Destruction.” Congratulations on being a mutant!