Surely you’ve heard Nirvana’s Nevermind, Pearl Jam’s Ten, Metallica’s Black Album and Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Californication. How could you not? When those albums first appeared, they were everywhere, saturating eardrums throughout the ’90s via FM radio, MTV and VH1.
And yeah, it’s always a treat to return to the crème of the proverbial crop, but then again, doesn’t it get tiresome listening to something that’s been played to death? If you’re nodding your head in agreement, then please do check out our guide to 10 overlooked albums from the ’90s that are worth a second look and/or listen.
10. Neverland – Neverland (1991)
Some bands have all the pieces but can’t catch a break, Neverland being no exception. It’s a shame, as 1991’s Neverland is loaded with upbeat cuts defined by Dean Ortega’s impassioned vocals and guitarist Patrick Sugg’s dandy licks.
Ortega is a solid frontman, but Sugg steals the show through his tasteful choices that cleverly harken back to the ’70s.
You might recall Neverland for their single Drinking Again, which was featured on the Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure soundtrack, but their self-titled album proved that while they never achieved significant success, they were primed for so much more.
9. Americruiser – Urge Overkill (1990)
Most will recall Urge Overkill’s cover of Neil Diamond’s Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon, featured on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack, and with good reason – it rocked. But the Chicago-born group’s 1990 effort, Americruiser, gave a much clearer picture of what the band was truly about.
Urge Overkill’s dynamic was forever shrouded in a hint of darkness, mostly due to the complex relationship between vocalist Nash Kato and unwilling guitar hero Eddie “King” Roeser. That uneasiness was documented across Americruiser through its raw production (thanks, Butch Vig), angsty lyrics and bleeding-heart fretwork.
8. Never Been Caught – The Mummies (1992)
In a decade alternating between grunge doldrums and leisurely, breezy pop whims, the Mummies presented something of an off-the-beaten-path alternative. As a punk band leaning heavily in the direction of late-’60s garage rock, Never Been Caught advised listeners that it was still cool to swing and sway with unladen rage.
The best part? That has to be how guitarist Larry Winther uses his angular Vox rig to lacerate eardrums across 17 bristling tracks, making this garage punk gem an invigorating listen.
7. Despised – Seaweed (1991)
Suffering from a startling case of genre confusion, Seaweed cropped up on the Seattle scene with grunge intentions but were never able to rein themselves in.
En route to interweaving punk, post-hardcore, ’80s alt and, oh yeah, grunge, Seaweed might not have been able to settle in one place for too long, but they didn’t stop Despised from being absurdly good.
Clint Werner and Wade Neal give Stone Gossard and Mike McCready a run for their early ’90s money (seriously), delivering some metal-tinged riffs bookended by crunching solos and blistering rhythms.
6. Songs from Northern Britain – Teenage Fanclub (1997)
Starting sometimes around early 1992 or so, Scottish rockers Teenage Fanclub began blissfully colliding with listeners’ ears through a cavalcade of hyper-gorgeous jangle-ridden power pop records. But perhaps the best of the bunch is 1997’s Songs from Northern Britain, which dropped at (the tail end of) a time when all things U.K. were dominating the charts.
And yes, this record was a success in the U.K., but despite a massive tour with Radiohead, it was a different story worldwide, leaving Songs from Northern Britain in semi-obscurity.
P.S.: If you really want to jump-start your Teenage Fanclub education, you should back things up to 1991’s Bandwagonesque and 1995’s Grand Prix, which might just be the greatest power pop record of all time.
5. War Babies – War Babies (1992)
With a blond-haired, gravel-voiced stud up front in Brad Sinsel playing voice box and a lead guitarist that went by Tommy “Gunn” McMullin, you’d think War Babies would hike up the charts through sheer swagger alone.
Sprinkle in a bit of Paul Stanley songwriting magic [Hang Me Up] and a contract with Columbia Records, and you’ve got a winner, right? Wrong. The problem? War Babies dropped their self-titled late-stage glam metal record just as a little band named Nirvana were beginning to make noise. Ouch.
4. Every Dog Has Its Day – Salty Dog (1990)
Given the success of the Black Crowes’ Shake Your Money Maker, also released in 1990, Salty Dog’s near-immediate relegation never did make much sense. Seething with bluesy magic, cocksure vocals, stomping rhythms and general guitar badassery, Every Dog Has Its Day still manages to stop hearts all these years later. It’s too bad so few have heard it.
Nevertheless, Pete Reeven was a revelation on guitar, conjuring primal licks, which surprisingly are placed against his tangy banjo assertions. It’s not a stretch to say Salty Dog matched the Black Crowes pound for pound here, but fate served them a raw deal. Such is life in the fast lane.
3. Sunburn – Blake Babies (1990)
Juliana Hatfield went on to have quite a nice solo career, but have you heard her early exploits with the jangle pop outfit Blake Babies? If not, Sunburn is a great place to start, with Hatfield’s sweet vocals and heavy bass licks being blissfully accented by John Strohm’s – whom you might also know from the Lemonheads – chiming fretwork.
The lyrical themes heard on Sunburn can sometimes be dark, but the music has a feelgood way about it, providing the perfect dose of disconcerting duality. What’s more, while Strohm’s guitar interludes had been done before, à la Chris Bell, Johnny Marr and Peter Buck, that doesn’t make them any less enjoyable.
2. The Bootlicker – Melvins (1999)
If you’re a Melvins fan, the weirder, the better, right? Right. To that end, the Melvins’ 1999 record, The Bootlicker, is a prime example of the freakout hair-brained musical surgery that only Buzz Osborne and company can dare to undertake, let alone execute.
The Bootlicker found Osborne taking his guitar on a journey through pop, jazz, metal and funk, resulting in one of the group’s finest yet most bewildering albums. But the initiated be warned: once you hear Osborne deliver a riff careering into an off-the-rails solo as only he can, the mundane efforts of more pentatonic-leaning acts probably will no longer cut the musical mustard.
1. Union – Union (1998)
Before forming Union, Bruce Kulick and John Corabi were freshly jettisoned from Kiss and Mötley Crüe respectively, leaving their hearts, minds and egos justifiably bruised. Wondrous music ensued, but alas, despite Kulick’s shredding guitar heroics, Union fell flat.
Making matters worse, after spending years playing arenas and stadiums, languishing in clubs supporting an ailing record must have been a bitter pill. Still, Union is a special record with a ton of on-brand Corabi emotion built into its structure. While Kulick and Corabi will forever be associated with Kiss and the Crüe, the truth is that Union might be their greatest achievement.