See I’m an old bastard, and from my perspective it went shit in the 90s - when they kept putting Morrissey or the Roses on the cover even when nothing was happening with those bands (e.g. ‘Stone Roses are currently in court with their record label. Not much to tell you’ - over a cover and 3 pages) and then they missed so many of the great bands of that period, in favour of endless Carter or Senseless Things covers.
Whereas in the 80s they were putting politicians on the front cover, writing about the IRA, interviewing Bryan McClair about indie music, doing a really great piece on fucking Bros of all people.
So I reckon it’s not so much NME itself, as what it is for you or me at the time; when I started reading it in the late 80s I was 15 or 16 and it was a fucking brilliant lifeline and introduction to things, but I outgrew it, and I reckon that’s true for most of us. That said, writers like Swells were instrumental in showing me how shit homophobia was (remember, late 80s, in a boys school, in a country where homosexuality had only been decriminalised 2 or 3 years ago). So I’ll always thank them for that.