The Top 100 Christian Albums of the 1990s: 80-71

The countdown continues. This segment begins with one album that I remember seeing DOZENS of copies for sale in my local Christian bookstore.

80. BEAUTIFUL - The Walter Eugenes
It's not the greatest marketing idea in the world to make the cover of your first major-label album a solid lime-green color with your pictures imposed over it with no background. It's an even worse marketing idea to not market the album by any means other than having a butt ton of copies of your album in every store. I'm not kidding, The Walter Eugenes had no less than 15 copies of Beautiful in every store I went to, including Blockbuster Music (holy crap, I'm old). If you could make it through "Clear My Head" without mentally imploding from the lack of expectations being met, you found an art-rock album with a nice chunk of professionalism thrown in. They were too AOR for radio, (even though a single "Crawl" was released with a video) and too typical-rock sounding to be considered alternative, but if you had the patience, you would be rewarded with a great experience. True, not all the songs were great, but the imagery cultivated did a great job to outlast the odd phrasing and disjointed melodies. Plus, it was produced very well and had a great, great sound. Not perfect, but it stands out among its peers.

Okay . . . I have this problem with Crystavox, namely that Adam Lee Kemp & Co. couldn't leave well enough alone, specifically in the vocals department. Both their debut and the follow-up crafted some amazing songs with killer guitar work and beautiful arrangements, and they were almost ruined by the overproduced vocals. I'm not talking about how the vocals sounded huge -- THAT part was just fine. It's just that there were times I found myself talking to my CD player, saying "NOT EVERY PHRASE NEEDS A HARMONY, GUYS!" If some of the harmonies hadn't been off-key or shoehorned into counterpoint phrases, these two albums could have been absolute masterpieces. As big, arena-ready metal, they were fantastic performances captured by some amazing musicians, and they were practically the only Christian metal act in the 1990s that had singles in the Top 10 of the AC, Rock, and Metal charts at the SAME TIME. But because of the nagging vocal issue, I can't give either album a place on the chart by itself. Seeing as how these were the only two albums they released, though, I decided the band deserved a place in this list, so the #79 spot is shared between them.

JAG was one of those bands that should have been bigger than they were. The explosive praise of "Highest Place" from their debut got my attention right away, and I was immediately hooked. Their sophomore recording, now on the Benson label, notched things up a bit, especially in their production values. The Only World in Town showed a depth and maturity that actually maintained some aggressiveness after their first album, and the songwriting had also increased in quality. The haunting feel of "40 Watt City", "Sense of Wonder", and the title track really gave a sense of space to the concept of a world in need of a saviour, but not knowing exactly where to look to find Him. One of the best rock albums of the early '90s, but elusive enough so that not enough people heard it, and thus lands at #78 on this list.

You're probably wondering what the hell I'm thinking. I have to admit . . . I'm not really sure. The cover caught my eye. "Gary's Garage" sound innocent, yet wistful. "Disco Ball" sounds fun. The blend of guitars in this album sounds different than most rock albums of the later 1990s, which made this album stand out to me. This album really shouldn't be among the top of the decade, but dang if it isn't fun and nostalgic for me to revisit this one. 

76. CHRISTIANSONGS - Joy Electric
Perhaps the finest Joy Electric release before Hello Mannequin. Ronnie Martin embraced his faith and clung to it hard, which helped him produce one of the best albums he'd ever put out. His cover of "Make My Life a Prayer" is worth the price of admission alone, but "Disco For a Ride" and "Lift Up Your Hearts" were relentless in their own ways. Sounding more confident than ever, Martin & Cloud finally decided to stop being so vague and began to wear their devotion right on their sleeves. The results are simply, purely delightful.

75. V.O.L. - Vigilantes of Love
My introduction to this amazing band was this Warner Bros. imprint's collection of VOL songs from previous recordings. I wasn't fully immersed in folk music yet, and it took a while for Bill Mallonee's vocals to turn me into a convert, but after a year of listening to this album, I'd come to realize that these guys were something special. It made me feel as though I'd been sheltering myself from amazing music, and listening to this was like a shot of really good cough syrup -- it'll clear you up and make you slightly intoxicated at the same time.

74. Civil Rites - Rez
As a high school student, Civil Rites was an important album to me. Each song represented a story of sorts, but it was the melancholy music, the darker tunes, that turned my head and made me pay attention, specifically "In My Room". Like many teenagers, I'd grown up with the sounds of fighting family members in the other rooms of my home, and this song perfectly captured the feeling of imposed isolation. I felt as though someone else had experienced what I did as a kid, having felt very alone and friendless in many situations and circumstances. It's not every day an artist nails what it's like to live in an imperfect world in so many facets, but Civil Rites looks at them all, in all their muddy, dull glory.

73. I Predict a Clone: A Steve Taylor Tribute 
Man, was this album ever fun. The first CCM album to pay tribute to an artist who wasn't already dead, this album ran the gamut from pop to bluegrass, from industrial to metal. Not every cover was completely inspired or of the highest quality, but when Taylor toured the following year, he covered the Dig Hay Zoose cover of "I Want to Be a Clone", and that arrangement became his go-to whenever he toured from that moment on. A pretty simple way to make your point, guys. Not perfect, but certainly better than what could have been (*coughNeverSayDinosaurcough*).

72. Fire of Forgiveness - Kenny Marks 
My favorite Kenny Marks album -- and probably his absolute best -- was released one year too early to be included on this list, but Fire of Forgiveness comes really stinking close. The album reads like the goal of an ambitious counselor, that is, to bring people together in love and forgiveness, and the performance sounds like a man on a mission of mercy. Marks always called his songs "horizontal songs with a vertical connection", and this album exemplifies that intent very well. From the genealogy of "1932", to the sincerity of "Turn My World Around", to the pleading of "Tell Me You Love Me", this entire album covers the need for relationships that last and stand the test of time. But the cornerstone for me, was the song "I Need a Savior". I hadn't bought the CD when I saw him in concert supporting the record, and that song stood out from the other new material like a beacon. Marks was a perfect example of a Christian musician making Christian music for Christian listeners, but I felt like I could have played that song for any unbeliever, and the genuine honesty would be powerful enough to change their heart.

71. Simple House - Margaret Becker
Margaret Becker was one of the most oddly appealing artists across multiple radio formats, in that she was a woman who could rock the socks off of anyone, but could also put in a tender, vulnerable performance. Simple House was her fourth effort, and sounded different than anything she'd done before. The formula was there, for sure -- the rock tunes, the ballads, the strong pop songs, and the right sequencing for those who still bought cassettes (raising my hand over here). With Charlie Peacock at the help, Becker had to trust that her signature sound wouldn't be missing from this effort, and frankly, she had nothing to worry about. "All I Ever Wanted" and "Look Me in the Eye" prove the heart and soul Becker's songwriting would never go away; pop-oriented fare like "Talk About Love" and "Never Be an Angel" prove she can handle pretty much any genre; and rockers like "The Strangest Thing" and "Steps of Faith" only cement her claim of queen of rock and soul in the Christian arena, at least for the 1990s. Every MB album has its own character, and this character is quite unique.

Until next time.

There Is No Box.