While the 80’s were a time of innocence and joy for me, the 90’s felt like the beginning of the end. The weight of the world fell heavy on us all, and happiness began to feel so far away. Thank goodness I had these albums to keep me sane during my high school years and after them as well. In picking out my list for the top ten alternative albums of the 1990’s, I chose the ones which I can listen to from beginning to end, and all the songs on them are nothing short of excellent.
10) From The Choirgirl Hotel by Tori Amos
My favorite album of hers, Tori blended intense passion with electronic elements that made her sound even more brilliantly unique than she already was. My favorite tracks are “Cruel” which is utterly seductive, and “She’s Your Cocaine” which has Tori rocking out with obsessive abandon.
9) Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness by The Smashing Pumpkins
One of the definitive albums of the 90’s, this was a great listen for me when I was in a foul mood. Songs like “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” and “Zero” really got at what was going through my head, and others like “Thirty-Three” were infinitely beautiful.
8) Odelay by Beck
With such a original and creative sound design, I’m not sure I ever heard an album quite like this one before it. Songs like “Devil’s Haircut,” “Where It’s At,” and “The New Pollution” had Beck exhilarating our senses, and he proved without a doubt that he was no one hit wonder.
7) Monster by R.E.M.
“Automatic For The People” may be their masterpiece, but I always keep gravitating to R.E.M.’s follow up to it. The rock songs like “What’s The Frequency Kenneth?” and “Bang And Blame” have an eager playfulness that shows just how much fun the band had in making this. Other tracks like “Tongue” and “Let Me In” really struck me emotionally, and I still come back to them every once in awhile.
6) Ten by Pearl Jam
Wrongfully perceived as some corporate grunge knock off, Pearl Jam’s powerful debut “Ten” had an emotional rawness that few other albums had. “Once,” “Jeremy,” and “Still Alive” were screams of pain from a voice no longer willing to be easily ignored, and the band stood apart strongly from so many others like them.
5) To Bring You My Love by PJ Harvey
This was my introduction to Polly Jean and her ever shifting take on music. She delved into the darker places in songs like the title track and even more memorably on “Down By The Water” which I never get sick of listening to. Also, “Meet Ze Monsta” is one of my favorite songs to put on my stereo whenever I’m really angry.
4) In Utero by Nirvana
What sadly turned out to be the band’s swan song was a follow up that was far more brilliantly powerful than we could ever have expected. Railing against the corporate gods who want to control them more than ever, “Serve The Servants” showed they would not give in without an ear-bleeding fight. Other classics from the album are “Heart Shaped Box” and “All Apologies.”
3) Zooropa by U2
Many U2 fans I know felt kind of alienated from “Zooropa,” but I found it to be one of their most adventurous records. Thematically, the songs truly captured the emotional disconnect that became increasingly pervasive throughout the decade. “Some Days Are Better Than Others” pretty much defines my daily life as I’m sure it does everyone else. I also kept listening to “Daddy’s Gonna Pay For Your Crashed Car” after I totaled my Toyota Camry, and that’s regardless of the fact that the song is not even about car crashes.
2) The Downward Spiral by Nine Inch Nails
Music doesn’t get much darker than this, and yet it is still such an addictive listen. Trent Reznor’s sonic masterpiece dares to delve straight into the mind of a person who is more than willing to let his life disintegrate completely. Every song invited you to explore the darkest parts of your soul, and it resulted in one of the most mesmerizing records I have heard in this decade or any for that matter.
1) Nevermind by Nirvana
For me, this was the definitive album of the 90’s, and it freed me completely from the world of mainstream pop which became increasingly shallow as time went on. Kurt Cobain and company perfectly captured the jadedness and burned out state we were all in back then, and while its success was largely accidental, it was needed as we slowly realized that we were not paying for the sins of the previous decade. Cobain’s songwriting was nothing short of brilliant, conveying so much even while it said so little. The lyrics at times were rather sparse and (especially on “Polly”) hinted more at what was going on than anything else.