Updated: May 13, 2022
It started with a viral Tweet asking people to name three perfect albums. It spawned a ton of responses from people I follow on Twitter, and prompted a good deal of discussion among my family and friends. Some follow-up conversation further clarified the definition of "perfect" in this context as an album you'll listen to in it's entirety without skipping a song. Finally I decided to write this as a bookend to a couple of weeks of lively conversation about something other than the US election and the damned pandemic.
First up, three was a wildly optimistic target. I came up with a couple of dozen that I whittled down to 9. Beyond even that there were a ton of other options that could have been put in this tier. Here is my attempt, in no particular order, working clockwise from top left.
Smashing Pumpkins - Siamese Dream
This was the first album I owned that wasn't a shitty pop song compilation mix tape, and I bought it in 1996, a few years after it was released. I was in grade 8 and it was amazing. Certified worldwide hits like Cherub Rock and Today, as well as the slower, string-heavy Disarm were super-popular at the time and got lots of airplay. While I loved those songs too, for me the latter half of the record was where it was at, with Spaceboy, Geek USA and in particular Mayonaise being huge highlights for me. You can read more about a bunch of these songs here. Mayonaise actually came in at number 2 on that countdown, further evidence of what an amazing track it is. Seriously, just listen to it.
U2 - The Joshua Tree
Yep I went with the popular choice here, largely because it's truly perfect. Not a single miss on this album, which I didn't get my hands on until I was 18, a good 13 years after it's release in 1987. By that stage I'd heard literally every song on it and couldn't believe that all those hits were sourced from a single record. I mean just look at this track listing. There's a reason it's the popular choice. Amazing.
Pearl Jam - Ten
Again, the popular, possibly cliche choice. A staple of my high school years this one still gets regular workouts on my turntable. I've gotten to the point where the thousands of pub band renditions these songs I've heard over the years hurts them a little, but not to the point they can't crack this list. I still maintain Black is the best song they ever wrote, but I've always liked their slower acoustic work more; Daughter and Elderly Woman are also among my favourites. Just please don't make me listen to Last Kiss ever again.
Faithless - Outrospective
This represents my first foray into dance music and I really liked what I heard. Undoubtedly not the greatest EDM album of all time, but this was my starting point and I fell in love with Maxi's distinctive vocal style and the way they were able to mix sounds together. The hit dancefloor single from this one was Tarantula, but I loved the pep of Muhammad Ali and the chill vibes of Crazy English Summer. Dido's vocals, as always, were pitch-perfect on One Step Too Far, despite her brother Rollo declaring this his least favourite of the Faithless albums.
Metallica - Ride the Lightning
Metallica had to appear somewhere on this list, given my hair metal phase in my early to mid teens. The only question was which album made the cut. The black album, while amazing, has been done to death, to the point where I can't even really listen to Enter Sandman or Unforgiven at this point anymore. Everything after that was pretty trash to be honest, with the exception of a half-dozen songs scattered across a bunch of different albums. With that, it was down to this , Justice and Master of Puppets. I routinely skip The Thing That Should Not Be on Puppets, despite the other tracks being slightly better than Lightning on the whole, in my opinion. That said, I think the back end of Lightning is kind of weak as well, with the exception of the instrumental track which I love. Honestly Justice is also incredible, but again, for me there's a couple of very skippable songs there as well in Eye of the Beholder and Harvester of Sorrow. I was torn here, but I think this was the best choice. We'll live with it for now until I can justify something better.
Traveling Wilburys - Volume 1
This one felt very much like cheating, given that this is the dictionary definition of a supergroup. Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty are (or were) all hugely successful musicians in their own right, so joining forces to make this record was bound to produce something really special. My parents rarely agreed in their musical taste, but this album sat neatly in the intersection of that Venn diagram and was played consistently at home when I was growing up. Every song on here is amazing, the album bookended perfectly by the strongest pair of tracks, Handle With Care and End of the Line.
Dire Straits - Brothers in Arms
One of my mother's favourite albums of all time and her passing a couple of years ago only solidified this as one of my favourites as well, to the point where Walk of Life was one of two songs we played at her funeral. We had this on the tape deck in Mum's car growing up, endlessly looping eternally for years until the cassette literally fell to pieces from overuse. I've since bought it on CD and vinyl and will be able listen to it in entirety, back to front, forever. So Far Away, Money for Nothing, Walk of Life and what I think became one of Mum's mantras over the years Why Worry, all excellent songs. The title track is also one of the most hauntingly beautiful songs that Knoplfler ever wrote. Possibly the most meaningful record I'll ever own.
Bloc Party - A Weekend in the City
This one ended up inadvertently being a break-up album for me. Initially I didn't really "get" Bloc Party, what with their seemingly disjointed drum beats and harsher guitar sounds putting me off. After a few listens through this as well as their previous record Silent Alarm, it grew on me and I quickly became obsessed. I started collecting their B-sides through Bittorrent and their music quickly dominated my iPod Classic (which was just a plain old iPod back then). The mainstream hits from this record started with The Prayer, the band's highest ever charting single . Opening with claps and a room-shaking bass-kick, it's a pretty decent pump up song. Hunting For Witches is a punchy protest song about the media's stoking of fear and hatred in the wake of the 2005 London bombings. The final single was I Still Remember, a wistful love song opening with a now instantly-recognizable guitar riff. They were all great songs, but I still feel like it's a toss-up between Uniform or Waiting for the 7:18 for best track on the album. Lyrically 7:18 feels pretty damn relatable in 2020. They also shoehorned some B-sides into the remastered edition which only adds the album's appeal in my opinion. These included Selfish Son and SRXT as well as Flux which was basically a trance track and represented the first step on their path to completely redefining their sound as a band and producing some records that were... shall we say... not really my cup of tea.
Powderfinger - Odyssey Number 5
Any Australian who grew up in the nineties and naughties knows Powderfinger. My first memory of them was on Triple J, listening to their first widely acknowledged mainstream single Pick You Up from their Double Allergic album in 1996. Natives of Brisbane, they quickly rose to super-stardom, at least nationally, with successive hit records Internationalist in 1998 and Odyssey Number 5 in 2000, along with three more albums over the years before disbanding in late 2010. I loved all of their work and this love intensified when I moved to Brisbane in 2000 and I'd pretty regularly see the band members just casually wandering around town, or out and about at the pub. Odyssey made this list mostly because I'm a huge fan of These Days, though the album scooped the ARIA's that year and has a bunch of amazing songs on it. From the infectious My Happiness to the slow-rolling My Kind of Scene to the perfection of These Days all the way to the closing ballad with a chorus that begs for a sing-along, Whatever Makes You Happy, it's a record that I can reliably return to and be sure that it will, in fact, always make me happy. I've probably seen them a dozen of times over the years and I'm always holding out hope for a reunion tour.