Big hits, no plugs: the albums of 1993: Pop and Rock

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With the album Debut, the former Sugarcube Bjork successfully elevated herself from marginal cult status to more widespread acceptance as a Nineties style object, Nellee Hooper's production showcasing the naive exultatory spirit of her voice in a variety of unusual settings - mainstream disco, ambient and techno, torch, and even the fringes of modern jazz.

More so than their previous albums, Crowded House's Together Alone brimmed with Beatley textures and harmonies, but unlike most retro-rockers, it never sounded like deliberate artifice: this just happens to be Neil Finn's natural musical language.

The burgeoning notoriety of gangsta-rap was finally matched by stratospheric sales figures in 1993. Sitting at the top of the US album charts for well over a month, the dope- and gun-drenched Black Sunday saw Cypress Hill become the most successful rap crew of all time. As the aptly named DJ Muggs did just that to his brutally infectious backing tracks, Cuban- American rapping duo Sen-Dog and B-Real slapped the words around with the irritating, catchy simplicity of playground taunts.

Eleven years after his solo debut, Donald Fagen finally got round to recording the follow-up, and it was as if no time had passed at all. Kamakiriad is what happens when the narrator of The Nightfly, instead of gazing fondly at his past, takes a peek into the future. Offhandedly optimistic despite the ominous cracks in the future facade, it's the kind of portrait that could only be painted by a sci-fi enthusiast and jazz buff turned pop sourpuss.

Fluke's Six Wheels On My Wagon represents the current high- water mark of modern ambient- groove music, showing that although this mode has effectively become the future sound of Europe, it's rarely done as well on the continent as in Britain. Though born out of the groove, the pieces on Six Wheels On My Wagon have a melodic flow which manages to combine elements of surprise and innovation with a hedonistic serenity. One to watch in 1994.

Best known for her work fronting Massive Attack, Shara Nelson's solo debut What Silence Knows stood out proudly from the usual run of soul diva offerings, with far more imagination, and more chances taken, even though it sticks to the bare soul essentials of beats, strings and voice. There's an imperiousness akin to Aretha's in the way she sweeps into the desolate 'Nobody'.

In the wake of Garth Brooks' success, the most authentic of country-music veterans got the big- budget treatment in 1993, Columbia pulling out all the stops to try and hoist Willie Nelson into the mega-celeb bracket with Across the Borderline. Star guests (Dylan, Simon, Bonnie Raitt, Mose Allison, Sinead) duetted on songs by writers both classic (Dylan, Simon) and classy (Hiatt, Lovett). The result was the country equivalent of a John Lee Hooker album, all star turns and shoulder-rubbing polishing up a legendary reputation.

Smashing Pumpkins' Siamese Dream was the latest in a line of American guitar-rock masterpieces that stretches back via The Pixies' Doolittle and REM's Murmur to the distant heyday of The Byrds' Notorious Byrd Brothers. Like many of their contemporaries, the Pumpkins offer a development of the original Husker Du grunge formula of big, noisy guitars overlaid with heartache harmonies, and in singer/songwriter Billy Corgan, they possess an enigmatic nerd frontman in the Michael Stipe / Black Francis vein.

The approach on Paul Westerberg's 14 Songs is as direct as the title, the feel rough and ready rather than deluxe. When he does tart his songs up, it's usually with the cheap glamour of classic Stones raunch or punk howl, as in the days when he fronted The Replacements: 14 Songs follows their format of rockers of a rebellious persuasion interspersed with more wistful reflections on life and love.

Though many tried, it was left to Neil Young to breathe a little real life into MTV's acoustic showcase series Unplugged, re-styling his old songs in new livery. 'Transformer Man' lost its vocoder but gained a sparkling autoharp, while the addition of wistful accordion to 'Helpless' was particularly appropriate for a song about the paralysing power of nostalgia.

(Photograph omitted)

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