Karen: I'll get it going with one of my favorite albums. I've actually mentioned this album before, three years ago in a post on "perfect albums," which I defined as 'all meat, no filler' -in other words, every track was worthwhile. It's Girlfriend by Matthew Sweet, that 90s purveyor of power pop. While I enjoy many of his albums, particularly 100% Fun and Altered Beast, I think Girlfriend has the best all-around songs and musical artistry. The album came out in 1991 and gained some notoriety briefly on MTV for its use of Japanese anime in the video for "Girlfriend." Sweet was going through a divorce when he wrote the songs and it appeared to have provided a great deal of inspiration for him. The guitar work of Richard Lloyd and the late Robert Quine is also fabulous; the sizzling solo on Girlfriend is unforgettable. The lap steel guitar by Greg Leisz is also noteworthy -you don't hear that particular instrument on a lot of pop/alternative music.
Sweet is, for my money, a fantastically talented songwriter, equally capable of lush, heart-breaking slow tunes like You Don't Love Me, upbeat love songs like I've Been Waiting, or rockers like the title tune. The album is all about relationships, with the occasional political song (Holy War), but it all holds together -like I said, a perfect album, a very solid 15 songs.
Here's something to think about as you consider your choice today: has the album as a product become obsolete? In these days of 'ala carte' music shopping, what with iTunes and MP3s, most people seem to eschew buying a whole album and typically buy individual songs. I'm going to be a dictator here and say you can only answer this second question if you first tell us your choice for artist/album!!