There are four-ish kinds of great albums, in my mind:
- Pivotal albums: the artist or genre was distinctly different before and after the album came out. e.g., classical music was distinctly different after Beethoven, particularly Symphony No. 9
- Revealing albums: pivotal to my perspective or knowledge of music. e.g., my understanding of hip-hop was distinctly different after I heard DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing
- Consistent albums: no track justifies skipping, you can listen to the thing end to end, every time. e.g., Tom Petty’s The Last DJ
- Under-rated albums: albums that are outshined by their extraordinary peers or contemporaries. Most folks know that Born to Run is great, and all other Springsteen albums (generally) rank below it. But that shouldn’t let otherwise excellent and out-of-sequence later albums like The Rising or Human Touch go unnoticed.