10 Essential OPM Albums of the 1990s
The 1990s were a time of Gameboy, flannel shirts and Doc Martens. And occasionally, some pretty great music. In the Philippines, balladeers and pop divas were making waves then (as they are still doing now), but undoubtedly, the decade belonged to bands.
The 90s have since been experiencing a resurgence in local pop culture, with radio stations devoting programing to music of the era, prominent artists of the time staging reunion or comeback shows, and newer audiences and listeners discovering (and rediscovering) artists who got their start in the last decade before the new millennium.
To help in this “re-education,” we’ve compiled a list of essential OPM albums of the 1990s. This totally subjective list only includes full-length LPs that were released between 1990 and 1999 by OPM artists. Plenty of good music came out of that decade, so it’s impossible to list them all, but if you’re only just beginning to get into 1990s Filipino music, and would like a refresher on the best the decade had to offer, this is a good place to start.
In random order:
1| Hand-Painted Sky
Color It Red
Cooky Chua had been performing with her bandmates since the late 1980s, but their debut album came out in 1994. Hand Painted Sky is a collection of songs mostly about loss, longing and heartbreak, with the occasional snappy pop ditty thrown in (“Dancing and Singing”). It introduced listeners to Chua’s powerfully sexy, smoky vocals, which have only gotten better through the years. “Paglisan” is the standout track, of course, but songs like “Na Naman” and “Warm” put the band’s songwriting skills to the fore.
2| Tag-Ulan, Tag-Araw
Wency Cornejo and the rest of Afterimage had already broken through the mainstream with their debut album Touch the Sun, which came out in 1992, but it was with this follow-up that they really hit it big and became household names. The band’s hard rock, almost metal roots are evident in tracks like “Slow” and “Mangarap Ka,” but listeners latched on to the slower ballads like “Only You,” and “Habang May Buhay,” which became a monster hit and spawned countless remakes.
While many other 1990s bands inhabited that nebulous genre of pop-rock, P.O.T. quite literally brought the funk to the party. We mean no disrespect to the other members who made up a group that is still revered to this day, but Karl Roy, who died in 2012, was the spirit of P.O.T. Anchored by groovy guitars, Mally Paraguya’s brain-twisting bass work and Roy’s joyful vocals, their lone album (a remastered edition was released in 2005) is a true OPM classic, combining elements of funk, soul, and good old-fashioned rock and roll. Their outstanding remake of “Yugyugan Na” can still bring listeners to their feet and on to the dance floor.
Francis Magalona’s near-mythic status in OPM started with his seminal album Yo!, which was released in 1990. While the album introduced Filipino rap into the mainstream, it was his 1995 LP, Freeman, his first under a new record label, that elevated the genre to a whole other level. Fusing rap with rock, he sang about patriotism and love of country (“Three Stars and a Sun”), ordinary life in the Philippines (“Jolog”), youth empowerment (“Kabataan Para sa Kinabukasan,”) and arguably one of the most beautifully written OPM songs ever, “Kaleidoscope World.” The country lost a true artist the day he died in 2009.
5| Grip Stand Throw
The Eraserheads were the most famous OPM band in the 1990s, but that didn’t stop its members from pursuing other creative endeavors on the side. Raymund Marasigan, in particular, got together with Diego Castillo and rounded out a few other cohorts, including Mike Dizon, Myrene Academia, and Marc Abaya, and together, put up Sandwich in 1998. One year later, they came out with Grip Stand Throw, a tasty melange of trippy, alternative rock influenced by Western acts like Weezer with traces of hip-hop and pop but never losing sight of it’s Filipino-ness. Marasigan now fronts the band, too, but on their debut, Abaya was on lead vocal duties, giving us snappy headbangers like “Butterfly Carnival,” “Faye,” “Alitaptap,” and “Klepto.”
Dong Abay is a throwback to the days of genteel, genuine Filipino folk singer-songwriters, but with bucketloads of biting wit and poetic flare for socio-politics. Nowhere is this more evident than in his debut album with his band Yano. Together with his bandmates, Abay wrote and produced the eponymous LP filled with gems that not only displayed irresistible pop-rock-punk hooks, but laid bare the condition of the masses during the post-EDSA era. Standouts include the acerbic “Banal na Aso, Santong Kabayo;” the sonically jubilant but lyrically sobering “Tsinelas;” “Esem,” which is a statement on capitalism as much as it’s about a casual jaunt inside a shopping mall; and the devastatingly tender love ballad “Senti.”
Many bands birthed in the 1990s have had crests and valleys throughout their careers, but perhaps no group has had such a rocky and eventful lifespan as Rivermaya. Later albums like Trip, Atomic Bomb and Between the Stars and Waves were touchpoints in their ever-evolving sound and sensibilities, but it was Rivermaya, the eponymous debut, that introduced them to the world and established the sound of one of the most influential OPM bands in history. To this day, hearing “Ulan,” “214,” “Awit ng Kabataan,” and “Bring Me Down” still elicits warm, bittersweet feelings of nostalgia, youth and limitless possibilities.
Wolfgang came out of the woodwork already rocking when they got together in the early 90s. Loud, brash and unapologetic, the foursome of Basti Artadi, Mon Legaspi, Manuel Legarda and Wolf Gemora (later replaced by Francis Aquino) provided the best hard rock stylings that was missing from the scene at the time (brother band Razorback notwithstanding). Undoubtedly, one can pick any of their first four albums to represent the best of Wolfgang during the decade, but we have to go with their sophomore release. While the eponymous debut, Wurm and Serve in Silence were all accomplished in their own right, Semenelin freed the band from unfair comparisons to their greatest influences and arguably is the album where they definitively found their footing. For a sampling: “Mata ng Diyos,” “Semenelin,” “Love & Despair,” and “Bought & Sold.”
9| Insomnia & Other Lullabyes
To listen to Cynthia Alexander is to be transported to a time that is simultaneously of the now and the not-too-distant-past. Deftly combining elements of folk, rock, indigenous, pop and even electronica in her music, with a voice somewhere between ethereal pixie and indie goddess, Alexander is a musical force all her own that has yet to find parallels in other genres or time periods. Gentle but deeply affecting, Insomnia and Other Lullabyes covers a broad swath of emotions, from joy and heartbreak to introspection, passion and wonder. It’s an album that works whether you’re playing it on a quiet Saturday night or a chill road trip with friends.
How do you even begin to whittle down the Philippines’ own Fab Four’s immense and revered discography and choose just one album? It’s an exercise in futility, but for our purposes, we had to go with the one that not only represented the band at its creative peak, but also received the most acclaim from listeners and the general public. Released in 1995, Cutterpillow is the quintessential Eraserheads album, if there ever was (just) one. You had the monster hits (“Huwag Mo Nang Itanong,” “Overdrive”), the in-your-face crowd pleasers (“Superproxy,” “Poorman’s Grave”) and, of course, arguably the greatest OPM song ever written by this or any other band (“Ang Huling El Bimbo”). If there was ever any doubt about its immense popularity, the fact that it’s the fifth bestelling album ever in the country should put them to rest. If scholars and sociologists 100 years from now ever attempt to decipher what Filipino music, and indeed, life, was like in the 1990s, they’d do well to start with this album.