1991 Forever: 25 Classic Alternative Rock Albums Turning 25 in 2016
This post originally appeared on Vanyaland.
Across the board, 1991 was a breathtaking year for music. On the alternative rock spectrum, the rise of grunge here in the States (Nirvana, Pearl Jam) was paralleled by first-strikes by some of the UK’s most impactful bands of the decade (Blur, Massive Attack), while albums regarded as all-time classics, from My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless to Spiderland by Slint, helped set a noisy tone for the rest of the ’90s. Efforts from R.E.M. and Red Hot Chili Peppers ushered in a new mainstream sound, and September 24 brought perhaps the decade’s defining release: An LP called Nevermind that would sell more than 30 million copies worldwide, and by January of the New Year, in a symbolic moment of cultural shift, supplant Michael Jackson’s Dangerous as the Number One album’s on the Billboard 200 chart. As the calendar sparkles fresh for 2016, here are 25 alt-rock records turning 25 this year—and while we know not all of these are technically “alt-rock,” none would look out of place in a savvy music fan’s collection two-and-a-half decades ago.
Dinosaur Jr., Green Mind
The celebrated Massachusetts rock band’s first album after the departure of bassist Lou Barlow and debut for a major label (Sire Records), Green Mind takes roughly 1.3 seconds to hit cruising altitude. Relatively slept-on compared to late-’80s efforts Bug and You’re Living All Over Me, as well as 1994’s Without A Sound, Green Mind is bookended by two essential J Mascis compositions: the forceful opening of “The Wagon” and the tumble-mad title track.
Released: February 19, 1991
The Jesus Lizard, Goat
Produced by Steve Albini, the Jesus Lizard’s sophomore album is a 30-minute blitzkrieg of ferocious energy. Tonight, in every city, there’s a new band of kids in a basement somewhere just trying to replicate it.
Released: February 21, 1991
Morrissey, Kill Uncle
Morrissey’s second solo album is probably his weakest, a relative disappointment coming three years after he shook off the Smiths with Viva Hate. He’d make up for all this in 1992 with Your Arsenal, but Kill Uncle is not without its merits (“Sing Your Life,” “Our Frank”).
Released: March 4, 1991
R.E.M., Out Of Time
Any album with “Losing My Religion” earns its place on any “Best Of” list. It won a for Grammy Best Alternative Music Album, so you know it’s legit.
Released: March 11, 1991
Considered a landmark record with a crispness that’s stood the test of time, Slint’s second and final studio album (released via Touch And Go Records) continues to inspire and influence. The Guardian UK called it “a brooding, sinister record that invented post-rock and influenced a generation of musicians.”
Released: March 27, 1991
Massive Attack, Blue Lines
The meditative debut record from British electronic music pioneers Massive Attack marks the birth of trip-hop as a genre and helped spawn a few more essential head-melt LPs (1994’s Protection, 1998’s Mezzanine) as well as the solo career of Tricky. The bassline in album opener “Safe From Harm” should be illegal.
Released: April 8, 1991
Temple Of The Dog, Temple Of The Dog
At the request of Chris Cornell, members of Soundgarden and Pearl Jam came together to pay tribute to Mother Love Bone singer Andrew Wood, who died of a heroin overdose in 1990. Though the album would be largely ignored in the months after its release, the explosion of grunge—and the success of Badmotorfinger and Ten, respectively—would push the LP to mass popularity in 1992, selling over a million copies and finding lead single “Hunger Strike” an essential part of the early ’90s soundtrack. The songs still hold up—after the death of Scott Weiland last month, Cornell performed “Say Hello 2 Heaven” live in Australia as a tribute to his colleague.
Released: April 16, 1991
Primus, Sailing The Seas Of Cheese
Even dudes not in gas station attendant T-shirts got down to the bass-led funk of Primus. Singles like “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver,” “Tommy the Cat,” and “Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers” sounded like nothing else on the radio or your dodgy-ass mix tape.
Released: May 14, 1991
The debut album from New Order’s Bernard Sumner and the Smiths’ Johnny Marr makes the cut on the strength alone of lead single “Getting Away With It,” one of the finest tracks of the decade and boasting guest vocals by Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys. What a holy trinity.
Released: May 28, 1991
Smashing Pumpkins, Gish
Before there was Siamese Dream (1993) and before there was Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (1995), Chicago’s Smashing Pumpkins premiered with Gish, a noisy, delightfully imperfect album that included essential Billy Corgan compositions “I Am One” and “Rhinoceros.” All of the angst-ridden beauty of the band’s second album is tested out slowly here on Gish, a swirling collection of fuzzed-out guitar rock that hinted at the greatness to come.
Released: May 28, 1991
These days, you get the sense that Chapterhouse had the misfortune of reuniting too soon—their 2010 tour of the United States came just before everyone jumped on the Shoegaze Nostalgia Party Wagon. Bands like Lush, My Bloody Valentine, and Slowdive have all cashed in on the fame that eluded them in the early ’90s, but Chapterhouse remain obscured. And that’s a damn shame, because the beautiful, effortless, baggy-grooved “Pearl,” included here on Whirlpool, is rivaled only by Ride’s “Vapour Trail” as the greatest shoegaze song of all time.
Released: June 25, 1991
Fugazi, Steady Diet of Nothing
Fugazi’s second LP is a decisive departure from debut Repeater, but it doesn’t take long to see Ian MacKaye are crew aren’t fucking around. The herky-jerky, stop/go style sprawled out over 36 uneasy minutes remains a blueprint for underground post-hardcore guitar-rock bands in college towns everywhere.
Released: July 1991
Blur’s debut LP dropped a day before Pearl Jam would release their own debut, Ten, proving that a young Damon Albarn didn’t stand a fucking chance here in America. But that would play into the band’s favor, shaping the UK pride and Cool Britannia culture that would define Britpop’s mid-’90s glory. But on Leisure, Blur condense baggy and Madchester sounds into pop bites, with “There’s No Other Way” and “Bang” becoming indie dance night staples (opener “She’s So High” would also be an indie club favorite of DJs everyone, but only early on before anyone started dancing so he or she could run to the bar to get a drink).
Released: August 26, 1991
Pearl Jam, Ten
A Greatest Hits effort packaged into a debut album, Pearl Jam’s Ten is an awe-inspiring effort. Part of the grunge triumvirate alongside Nirvana and Soundgarden, Pearl Jam sounded the least like the other two, instead offering up a polished rock and roll album that impressed the classic rock people, the FM rock radio suits and listeners, and all the middle school kids who watched MTV on the reg and dreamed of pulling a “Jeremy.” Just a monster, monster fucking record.
Released: August 27, 1991
Mr. Bungle, Mr. Bungle
When I was 11 years old I would sleep over my friend Brian’s house every other Saturday, and we’d watch scrambled cable smut and Headbanger’s Ball, all while listening to tracks off Mr. Bungle’s debut album, like “The Girls of Porn” and “My Ass Is On Fire.” Mike Patton’s experimental band was considered by many at the time as just a Faith No More side project, but boy did it fuck with people like me 25 years ago. Batshit crazy and just as loopy as it was heavy, it was the acid we took to the street faire before we knew any LSD dealers.
Released: August 13, 1991
St. Etienne, Foxbase Alpha
There is cool… and then there is Sarah Cracknell Cool. The debut album by the British pop trio—which paved the way for the “alt-pop” sound that’s everywhere in 2016—features a handful of eventual standards (“Only Love Can Break Your Heart,” “Nothing Can Stop Us,” “Kiss And Make Up”) and a remarkably seamless blend of house, techno, ’60s pop, italo disco and Top 40. Twenty-five years on, St. Etienne remain a global treasure.
Released: September 1991
Pixies, Trompe Le Monde
The Boston band’s forth studio album might not be as cherished as the others in the Pixies catalogue, but Trompe Le Monde is an absolute buzzsaw. Highlights include “Alec Eiffel,” “U-Mass,” and a cover of the Jesus & Mary Chain’s “Head On,” which Frank Black used to introduce on stage as a surf-rock song (or maybe Carl Lavin was making that up in the car that one time he was telling this story, who even knows).
Released: September 23, 1991
Primal Scream, Screamadelica
“Movin’ On Up,” “Loaded,” “Come Together”—Bobby Gillespie took a cocktail of sounds (house, acid house, psych rock, British pop, soul, and whatever else was behind the bar) and drank it down in one fucking gulp.
Released: September 23, 1991
Everything that needs to be said and written about Nevermind has already been said and written. But this one fact remains a fantastic part of Boston rock history: On the eve of Nevermind’s release, with the popularity of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” at a fever pitch across America, Nirvana played Axis on Lansdowne Street for WFNX’s 8th birthday bash, alongside locals Cliffs of Dooneen and Bullet LaVolta and another upstart rock band, Smashing Pumpkins. The Nirvana dudes even played “Crisco twister” next door on stage at Bill’s Bar. RIP WFNX.
Released: September 24, 1991
Red Hot Chili Peppers, Blood Sugar Sex Magik
The Red Hot Chili Peppers weren’t always an embarrassment. When Blood Sugar Sex Magik came out, T-shirts with the band’s star logo on the back were worn by everyone on Friday nights at Adventureland on Long Island. And while we never, ever, evvvvvver need to hear “Give It Away” ever, evvvvvver again, RHCP’s fifth album is a master class in genre blending and mutated styles. This vintage form is very much missed.
Released: September 24, 1991
If they were all trying to get into the same party, Pearl Jam’s Ten would use the door to talk its way in, Nirvana’s Nevermind would climb in through an unlocked window around back, and Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger would punch through the wall. The singles were relentless—”Rusty Cage,” “Outshined,” “Jesus Christ Pose”—and a perpetually shirtless Chris Cornell cemented his legacy as a rock legend.
Released: October 8, 1991
Matthew Sweet, Girlfriend
Georgia’s Matthew Sweet would go on to release two vital ’90s alt-rock records in 1993’s Altered Beast and 1995’s 100% Fun, but it was his third album that damn-near perfected his approach to power pop. Recorded after Sweet went through a divorce, there is no weak spot.
Released: October 22, 1991
My Bloody Valentine, Loveless
It’s been 25 years, and we’re still offering this up to the gods. With earplugs in the other hand.
Released: November 4, 1991
U2, Achtung Baby
By 1991, U2 were a global force—and incredible to think they were only going to get bigger. With that growth through the rest of the ’90s came some concessions, musically (ahem: 1993’s Zooropa and 1997’s Pop), but Achtung Baby remains wholly authentic. Plus is includes “One,” which is probably among the 25 greatest songs of all time.
Released: November 18, 1991
Teenage Fanclub, Bandwagonesque
A 42-minute banger of a record put out by Creation Records, the Scottish rock band’s third LP might actually still be underrated. Sincere, sharp, and blissful at all the right parts.
Released: November 19, 1991