The Top 100 Christian Albums of the 1990s: 90-81

Well, the stone's rolling, so let's see where the moss has grown. In today's edition, we look at albums ranked from 81 to 90 on my list of the Top 100 Christian albums of the 1990s.

Some might wonder, "Why the '90s? What not of all time?" Frankly, it's because the 1990s were extremely formative years for Christian music. The moral panic of the 1980s was, for the most part, over, and the business model for varied styles was opening wide to include rap, metal, alternative, industrial, electronic . . . Suddenly, record execs realized that there was an audience for every style of music in the Church, and labels began to pop up all over the place that specialized in a certain type of music. There were some trailblazers, but most labels found themselves as niche purveyors of sound, and long life wasn't guaranteed to anyone.

The independent labels had much more freedom to experiment than the corporate-owned imprints, and we find some of our most storied and well-loved bands coming from those labels. The next 10 you'll read about, however, came mostly from the larger corporate-owned imprints. For what it's worth.

90. FADED BLUES - David Mullen
I remember when Christian radio used to play all sorts of promotional spots for new albums coming out, and I remember hearing about Faded Blues, the sophomore effort from David Mullen. I had seen Mullen perform at Agape '90 in Greenville, Illinois, and they put on a good show. Not earth shattering or groundbreaking, but good. But when I heard the track "Alone" included on Myrrh Records' Cornerstone '91 festival cassette sampler, I was hooked. The production on that song was great, and the format was phenomenal. It sounded as epic as roots rock could sound, and I sought out purchasing the CD. "After the Hurricane" was an interesting 2nd track that didn't seem to go along with the standard formula for track sequencing. Good old-fashioned rhythm and blues, rock, soul, and some killer ballads make this album a pleasure to listen to from beginning to end. Also, if the first 2 tracks were completely removed, you'd still have a complete, cohesive album, as "Libby" just begged to be the opening track. Even today as I listen to this, I wonder why we don't hear music like this on the radio anymore. And it's only at number 90, guys.

89. MIDNIGHT SUN - Rick Cua
I don't know anyone that didn't find themselves singing along to "I Can I Will" without wanting to chant "weeeee wiiiilllll, weeeee wiiiilllll rock you!" if for no other reason that just the generic beat. Fire By Nite was responsible for introducing me to Rick Cua's music, and I enjoyed it for the most part. Cua's longevity in the music industry allowed him to craft great music, but didn't do much for his vocal performance. Still, this album stuck out to me, even though it fit firmly inside the CCM template for radio airplay, which is something I began to get tired of as I climbed into my teens at the beginning of the '90s. Still, Cua was gifted as a bassist, and much of the music was crafted with that virtuosity. When I ripped this album to cassette, I completely changed the track order, as I felt what was on the album just wasn't all that great, and the order I put on the cassette seemed to flow much better (I'm now a video editor and arranger, so go figure). "No Man Will Know" seemed like a lock for a closing track of an album, and I was always annoyed that it was in the #7 spot; "The Lost Can Still Be Found", although wholly appropriate, just seemed too on the nose to close out the album. It's worth a look, but in retrospect, I should have swapped this with the previous entry.

88. REDEMPTION - WhiteHeart 
Possibly their most overlooked album, Redemption also contains some of WhiteHeart's most mature and solid offerings in their career. The album feels less like a few event songs with filler in betwee (something that has plagued MANY of their records), and gives the impression of being more cohesive altogether than any of their previous works. The individual songs themselves aren't the best of their career, which hurts the ranking a bit, but in truth, this is straight up album oriented rock. None of these songs were destined to be chart climbers, although a few could have been easily played on Christian radio (I'd stopped listening by this point, so I have no idea which songs charted or didn't). But with the core of Ric Florian, Billy Smiley, and Mark Gersmehl making up the band, and even with session musicians filling out the peripheral roles, this is some of the band's most consistent work. If Freedom had been released in 1990, this album wouldn't have made this list.

87. BOTTLE ROCKET - Guardian 
Guardian finally got fun with the release of Bottle Rocket. It arrived with nearly no fanfare, either. I walked into the music store one day and saw it there on the shelf. The cover art didn't do them any favors; I had to look at it for a minute before I realized it was Guardian, then I had to look at the back cover to make sure it was THAT Guardian. Teaming once again with Steve Taylor after his work with the band on Buzz, Guardian seems to be more in the pocket on this one, more confident, more like themselves. Basically, less post-grunge, which was the too-late trope of bands around 1994-1995 (see also Holy Soldier, The Brave, etc.). And man, what a blast of a ride. Taylor's lyrics really helped lift the band's catalog out of the rut they'd dug themselves into after Miracle Mile, and Jamie Rowe sings with natural rock power (and in my range, finally!). This was a straight up rock record, marking the end of Guardian as a metal outfit, and rock was a very nice fitting suit, indeed.

86. BALANCE OF POWER - Undercover
It was LONG after Balance of Power was released that I finally snagged a copy at a local pawn shop. I remember having seen the interview in Harvest Rock Syndicate, the ads for the album in CCM Magazine, and hearing about this band that had been around for a few years before I'd heard of them, but I never felt compelled to check them out. Once I finally did the research, I found BOP to be a much different sounding record than their previous efforts, and neither was bad. This was a very 1990s sound that never really escaped the decade, and it just worked so well back then. Today, I have to listen to one or two songs, and then go listen to something else because all the songs are just so epic, so bombastic. They sound the same, and yet they don't. "Love Me Dangerously" sticks out as one of the few optimistic songs, and "Bridge of Life" has a bit of bluesy swagger to it, but the rest of the tracks are all industrial-size juggernauts of feeling and power. No wonder this album was promoted so heavily upon its release. 

85. AGAINST THE LAW - Stryper
Hush your mouth, son. That's Stryper on the radio. Dropping the yellow and black outfits and going with a message that was less about God but not at all hedonistic, Stryper did some homework after In God We Trust. Namely, they got their playing chops up and put together a dynamic record that stretched them beyond what their previous albums put out. This was, by far, the most superior Stryper record until Fallen was released in 2015 and blew everything else away. Their cover of Earth, Wind & Fire's "Shining Star" stands out as one of the best metal-covering-disco songs since KISS covered "I Was Made for Lovin' You", but the rest of the album holds up, too. Perfectly reminiscent of early '90s metal, with some power-boogie metal ("Not That Kind of Guy"), the obligatory ballad ("Lady"), and an improved fashion to the classic Stryper sound in songs such as "Ordinary Man" and "Caught in the Middle". If you hated metal of the late 80s/early 90s, you're not going to like this record; but if you love it, you can't get much better that this. And Skid Row. But this.

84. SIXPENCE NONE THE RICHER - Sixpence None the Richer
R.E.X. Records was well-liked by fans for putting out a wide variety of music in multiple genres. They were also much hated by artists after the label tanked and wouldn't release artists out of their contracts to continue their careers. Sixpence was one of those caught up in the struggle with them, and the first 3 tracks of this album very clearly document what the band was experiencing and feeling at the time. It made for an odd introduction to a record, but those three tracks also laid everything bare for the listener. Such vulnerability was kind of rare when people were trying to make their mark, but Nash, Slocum, and Baker embraced what they'd been through as part of the process of making music. Teaming with producer Steve Taylor, who had just started his Squint Entertainment label, they put out one of the most respected albums of its time. "Kiss Me" found its way into the soundtrack for a crappy teen romantic comedy, and Sixpence just kind of blew up after that. Comparisons to The Sundays aside, this album offers up some wonderful, whimsical songs that were a departure from This Beautiful Mess, but a welcome departure all the same. It was only fitting that the album should be self-titled, as it appears they are re-introducing themselves. Everything about this record just kind of fits.

83. SUPERTONES STRIKE BACK - The O.C. Supertones
As a brass player, I loved that bands in the late '90s were introducing horns into the mix. It didn't matter to me that it was ska, I just loved the horns. And as beloved as the Supertones' first album was, the follow-up, Strike Back, was their actual launching pad. They improved their musicianship, increased the quality of the songwriting, and managed a great punch of sound that was immediate. The moment you heard the intro of the opening track ripping off Metallica's "Creeping Death", you know these guys meant business, and brother, business was fun and booming. The Supertones represented a party for Christians, and that's what listening to their music was like -- a party. This is the album that launched a thousand skanking contests.

The Throes never seemed comfortable to me until this record. I couldn't really stand to listen to All the Flowers or Fall On Your World, and while 12 Before 9 wasn't a bad effort, it didn't really seem to meld together the way it could have. Maybe it was the smoothness of Bill Campbell's voice that didn't line up with the guitar tones. But hearing the line "Oh please, sir, beg of you, release the world of this pain" sounded like a release. They still sounded like The Throes, but they sounded like The Throes we'd been waiting to hear all along. Off vocal phrasing, weird lyrics that require further thought, and an ample use of a variety of instruments and textures made this album a work of art that hadn't been achieved up until this point. If anything, they sounded closer to Britpop on this album than ever, and maybe that's the appeal for me. I don't know that there will be another record that sounds like this.

I remember hearing at one point that "Drift Away" as selected for use in a Miller Brewing Company ad campaign in the UK around the time Fono dropped their U.S. debut on KMG Records. But dang, if this isn't some great British rock and roll without the annoying twang of the Gallagher brothers or other such ripoffs. From front to back, the record is solid, and while "Alcatraz" could have had one less pass of the hook in the chorus, the albums stands firm on its alternative rock strength. You can imagine this being played in a pub, or in a stadium, and the sound would be at home in either place. It's really a shame they weren't able to keep putting out material on this side of the pond, because we could have used more music from these guys to keep us warm at night.

I have to say, I'm having fun revisiting what makes each of these albums resonate with me. Got comments on any of these? Leave 'em below.

Until next time . . .

There Is No Box.