Who doesn’t love a “best of” list? More-so, who doesn’t love a “best 90’s albums” list? I’m sorry, but I’m about to potentially disappoint you all. Or maybe I’m not.
You see, every time I read one of these lists they always feature the big 4 from Seattle (Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains) hogging the top spots. Now whilst some of those guys might make my list, the 90’s wasn’t solely about them. Hip Hop, Punk and Metal were all huge and we were even introduced to a blend of all three. Sometimes it was done really well (Rage Against The Machine) and sometimes it was fucking horrible (Phunk Junkeez, anyone?). Not judging, really.
So here are the albums that inspired me to become a musician, in the 90’s at least:
10. Failure – Fantastic Planet (1996)
Key tracks: Smoking Umbrellas, The Nurse Who Loved Me
Ok, I’ll be honest, I didn’t actually hear these guys until about 2006 but I’d heard of them. I came across ‘Smoking Umbrellas’ by accident and figured it was some new band that was about to explode. It was awesome because it had that 90’s quiet / loud formula which was perfected by bands like Nirvana and… Failure.
After some digging around I realised that I’d heard most of these songs before and that ‘The Nurse Who Loved Me’ didn’t belong to A Perfect Circle after all. These guys had their fingerprints all over so many of the artists that I loved and I felt slighted that it took me so long to discover the band behind the bands. This would be Failure’s last album before they returned with 2015’s ‘The Heart Is A Monster’.
“Woke in my warm bed. Just in time for all the brilliant red lights”
If only I had Spotify in 1996…
9. Faith No More – King For A Day, Fool For A Lifetime
Key tracks: The Gentle Art Of Making Enemies, Ricochet
It’s pretty safe to say that I’m not the only child of the 90’s influenced by these guys.
No other band crossed as many genres or created new ones quite like Faith No More. No other band left the casual fan scratching their heads as much either. How could a band that covered The Commodores’ ‘Easy’ be responsible for ‘The Gentle Art Of Making Enemies’ yet STILL make it sound like the same five guys?
As much as I love everything else they’ve done, KFADFFAL is pure insanity from start to finish. It has no business being cohesive, yet it absolutely is. Even the transition from ‘Star A.D’ to ‘Cuckoo for Caca’ is pure perfection, but only if you’re Faith No More.
“I deserve a reward, because I’m the best fuck that you ever had”
Damn close, Mike. Damn close.
8. Rage Against The Machine – Evil Empire (1996)
Key Tracks: Bulls On Parade, Down Rodeo
All I needed to get into Evil Empire was the ‘Bulls On Parade’ video. I remember seeing it on Rage (The tv show. Sorry, kids) and wishing I was in the crowd. I had never seen a mosh pit react to anything like that. The crowd from that Big Day Out footage was in pure unison thanks to what may be one of the greatest riffs of all time. You can’t help but move to it. It doesn’t matter what kind of music you’re into – ‘Bulls On Parade’ will make you want to nod your head, stomp your feet and scrunch up your face in a way that says “daaaaaaaaaaamn that riff is huge”. You know that face when you smell a fart that you wish you hadn’t but can’t help but approve of it’s massiveness? Yep, that face.
It’s the perfect follow up to their debut. ‘Down Rodeo’, ‘Revolver’, ‘Without a Face’… Wall to wall bangers without a dud to be found.
“Come wit it now!”
7. Foo Fighters – The Color & The Shape (1997)
Key tracks: Monkey Wrench, Everlong
This album defined 1997 for me. It was my last year in high school and I had a different focus to everyone else. I had no interest in going to uni or getting a job. All I wanted to do was play music and sound like these guys. Whilst everyone else was studying for their exams, I was studying that intro riff in ‘Monkey Wrench’. I failed my exams, but I fucking NAILED that riff.
I remember one Saturday morning watching the top 20 countdown on Video Hits and being absolutely gutted that Foo Fighters didn’t make it in there. What was wrong with the world? Why was ‘Monkey Wrench’ not #1? Are people fucking stupid? Did they not hear that riff? Did they not hear THAT fucking scream???
For a while there they were my Beatles, and whilst I’m still a huge fan I haven’t been as inspired by anything else as much since.
“I was always caged and now I’m free”
Don’t even get me started on ‘Everlong’…
6. Local H – As Good As Dead (1996)
Key tracks: High Fivin Motherfucker, Back In The Day
Guess what? I’m that uber fan of that band you’ve never heard of!
Local H peaked commercially in 1996 with the track ‘Bound For The Floor’, or as some people know it, the keep it copacetic song. They were doing the two-piece thing before it was a thing. Before Royal Blood, Death From Above 1979, The White Stripes, The Black Keys or whoever else has been popular since… they’ve got nothing on Local H. Big call, I know.
20 years later and they’re still churning out quality music. I might be wrong but I don’t see that output being possible from the other bands I just mentioned. Maybe The Black Keys. At least not quality wise.
“If I was Eddie Vedder, would you like me any better?”
Eddie’s got nought on you, Scott. Nought.
5. Public Enemy – Apocalypse 91… The Enemy Strikes Black (1991)
Key tracks: Shut em Down, Bring Tha Noize
This was part of my pre-teen confused stage. In 1991, everybody else was losing their shit over Nirvana and Pearl Jam, but they did absolutely zero for me. Not until a year or so later, anyway. I needed something heavier, and this was it. Heavy? Public Enemy? There’s no guitars, Pete. Da fuck is wrong with you?
Heaviness back then was defined by speed and volume. Public Enemy changed that notion, for me anyway. The beats and the way that Chuck D delivered his rhymes was the heaviest shit I had ever heard. My boombox couldn’t handle the bass that Terminator X was throwing at me. These dudes were so angry! Metallica sounded like tracing paper in comparison. Thin (… and justice for all *cough*).
And to make it even HEAVIER, they redid ‘Bring Tha Noize’ with Anthrax. C’mon, man.
“Once again, back is the incredible, the rhyme animal, the uncannable D, Public Enemy Number One”
Hear the drummer get wicked.
4. Nirvana – In Utero (1993)
Key tracks: Scentless Apprentice, All Apologies
What about Nevermind?
What about it? This album was their most punk rock moment. They go from releasing a game changing, polished to the hilt all time classic to a jangly, super heavy, dirty, under produced, offensive to the ears ALL TIME CLASSIC! Yep, it was all of those things.
What a grimy middle finger to everyone who was expecting Nevermind part II. It sounds like a band who gave zero fucks and wanted to go out of it’s way to lose fans. Weed out the casual listeners and go back underground. They failed. It made them even bigger and we all know what happened next.
Every time I hit a clam or a bum note, this album reminds me that it’s ok to not be perfect. That’s what makes it perfect.
“Teenage angst has paid off well, now I’m bored and old”
If only you were, Kurt.
3. Deftones – Around The Fur (1998)
Key tracks: My Own Summer (Shove it), Headup
This is one of those times where the cover art is so good that it almost doesn’t even matter what the actual music sounds like, you’re buying it regardless. Thank fuck it sounded good too!
Grunge was well and truly dead – thanks to Creed. Faith No More were breaking up and Smashing Pumpkins forgot where they left their guitars.
I was working a shitty job after failing high school miserably. I was coming home dirty and sore every day and I was angry. Is this what the rest of my life was going to be like? I needed something new and I wanted someone to scream with. Hi, Chino!
Up until this point, the music I was writing was missing… everything. I didn’t know how to do the whole quiet / loud thing well. I wanted to play metal but not with triplets and solos. Enter Deftones. They mastered dynamics in a way I had never heard before. They were brutally beautiful (or beautifully brutal) and Chino stood out for me. I idolised the guy after this record.
“This town don’t feel mine. I’m fast to get away, far”
We can take my car, let’s go.
2. Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream (1993)
Key tracks: Cherub Rock, Soma
Of any album on this list, this is the one I’ve borrowed from the most. There was even a time when I first started playing in bands that I flat out stole from it. One could say that I sometimes still do. Oh well.
When you look back at the big bands of that era, Smashing Pumpkins were unfairly lumped into that scene. There was nothing grunge about them. They wrote epic, sprawling and monstrous sounding songs. Billy Corgan wore zero flannel and looked nothing like these other dudes. He was different, and that’s what I was drawn to. His voice was ridiculed but it was more of an instrument that was essential to the sound. No other voice would have cut through the wall of guitars that he himself had built up. It needed to be sharp. It needed to be different.
From the opening of Cherub Rock, you knew you were about to get pummelled. Even when you were given reprieve during ‘Soma’, it still managed to build into a ground swell of guitars. And that’s why this is a guitarist’s album – of anything else offered that decade. ‘Siamese Dream’ is at the top of the totem pole.
“So let the sadness come again”
So grunge, yet anything but.
1. Stone Temple Pilots – Purple (1994)
Key tracks: Vasoline, Still Remains
I don’t think I’ve written anything that sounds like STP, yet they’ve influenced me more than any other band. Ever.
I went through a phase in the early 90’s where I refused to listen to rock. Everyone was listening to Nevermind and Ten but I was way too into my hip hop. This was before hip hop was the spoiled brat that it later became. Slowly though, I couldn’t escape these bands from Seattle. They were everywhere and they all sounded the same to me.
I remember buying this Triple J compilation tape (remember those?) called ‘Eleven’. Very Spinal Tap, right? Funnily enough though, track number 11 was a song called ‘Meatplow’ by Stone Temple Pilots. It was my first musical WTF moment and it was everything I had been looking for. It was slow, it was heavy, it sounded like the world was about to end. Then there was the voice, oh that voice. Bye bye, Dr Dre. Hello Scott Weiland.
I instantly caught the bus into the city to go to HMV and buy whatever album this song was on. There were these little Japanese Geishas riding dragons on the cover! Fucking Dragons!
On the way home I popped it into my discman, hit play and opened up the cover. Hand written lyrics, band photos and him. This blurry red headed mess, smoking a cigarette and looking cool as fuck. He had me. I was mesmerised. Scott Weiland, you bastard.
Criminally underrated. In my opinion they’re the most talented and diverse band of that era. Pick a song, any song. You can’t go wrong.
“Pick a song and sing a yellow nectarine
Take a bath I’ll drink the water that you leave
If you should die before me ask if you could bring a friend
Pick a flower hold your breath and drift away”
Beat that, I dare you.