The 90s were a magical time. It was the Gay Nineties, wrought with crime, economic depression and workers strikes. America was engrossed in the Franco-Dahomean Wars, radioactivity and helium were discovered, and Emile Durkheim published the groundbreaking study and wonderful children’s tale Suicide.
Wait. That was the 1890s. Nope. Talking about the 1990s here, a time pre-9/11, with great films, great music, and all punctuated with the Columbine Massacre. Was there a better time to be alive? I don’t think so.
In the music world, Kurt Cobain had brutally murdered hair bands and glam metal and we were in the golden age of something called “alternative rock,” or “alt rock,” a term coined by leggy supermodel Carol Alt. Men, women and children wore flannel everything: shirts, shoes, codpieces. It was the Gay Flannel decade.
There was Pearl Jam, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Good Earth; Smashing Pumpkins, the successful prop comic troupe out of Chicago; and Alice in Chains, the Romanian pornographic actress and winner of the XRCO Award for her smash hit Cream Dream.
All were very successful, but what were the greatest alt-rock albums released in this decade of decadence? It is a debate not without a history of chaos, violence and destruction. Many have been killed, including not only Cobain himself, but everyone from Minnie Pearl to Biggie Smalls to Falco. That’s right. Falco, who penned the greatest of alt-rock hits “Rock Me Amadeus,” not to mention the classic rock ballad “Der Kommissar,” was struck down in these music battles.
What we are left with are the Top Five Alt-Rock Albums of the 1990s. Debate them. Argue them. Apply them generously to the buttocks.
VERSION 2.0 - GARBAGE
Formed in 1994 in Madison, Wisconsin, of all places, Garbage quickly became the greatest band named after waste since the Mississippi blues group The Slop and Sewage Boys formed in 1927.
Garbage’s self-titled debut contained the smash hits “Stupid Girl,” “Vow,” and “Only Happy When it Rains,” but they were only warming up for their sophomore effort.
Version 2.0 was produced by Microsoft kingpin Bill Gates and released in May 1998. It was a critical and commercial success, selling upwards of 600 billion copies, literally like hotcakes as the band included one blueberry flapjack with every CD.
Songs on the album such as “I Think I’m Paranoid,” “Push It,” and “When I Grow Up” became anthems for a generation and are still whistled by lonely 40-year-olds today.
“Paranoid,” a supersonic ditty about the music business containing an absurd number of audio tracks, is quite possibly the best song ever written about delusions of persecution or grandeur usually without hallucinations. Yes, even better than “Paranoia Will Destroy Ya” and Black Sabbath’s popular “Paranoid.”
The Beach Boy and Salt-N-Pepa sampled “Push It” blows away its predecessors. Just try surfing or tap dancing to this song. And “When I Grow Up,” despite being on the soundtrack to the Adam Sandler movie Big Daddy, is not nearly annoying enough to make me walk out of the theater.
Innocence and Experience – Blake Babies
It was Allen Ginsberg who gave Boston band Blake Babies their name back in the 80s, and they took the title of this compilation of their previous albums from William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience. You might say a compilation or “Greatest Hits” album shouldn’t be included here. But then I’d say, “Bite me,” and punch you in the mouth.
Blake Babies was, of course, the first band alternative rock goddess Juliana Hatfield took part in. They recorded some fantastic songs on their earlier records as well as some complete horseshit, which makes them no different than most other bands.
But the 1993 album I&E is the good shit, including perhaps the greatest song ever recorded, and a bit of a predictor of 9/11, “Sanctify.” That isn’t to say some of the other songs aren’t better than anything you listen to. “Lament,” “Out There,” Over and Over,” and even the John Strohm songs “Girl in a Box” and “Downtime” are maddeningly damn sick. My only complaint is that the version of “Rain” on I&E is not even the best version Blake Babies recorded.
Anyhoo, this is top to bottom a great record. Even their cover of the Grass Roots’ “Temptation Eyes” is stellar as the F-word. Let’s see Pearl Jam do “Midnight Confessions” or “Sooner or Later.” I dare Alice in Chains to cover “Let’s Live For Today.” It wouldn’t happen.
Antichrist Superstar – Marilyn Manson
I don’t listen to a lot of concept albums because I usually don’t give a shit about the concept or the music. I’m looking at you, Pink Floyd. But Manson’s Antichrist Superstar is the Sgt. Pepper of twisted, evil concept albums. The only thing better than seeing “Lennon/McCartney” on the liner notes is seeing “Berkowitz/Ramirez” or “Manson/Ramirez” or “Manson/Ramirez/Gacy.” That’s when you know you have a great song ahead of you, even after you learn the songs weren’t written by the Nightstalker and the Son of Sam.
And, let me just say, if you don’t like Mr. Manson because he’s the devil or he caused Columbine, you’re missing out, Gene Autry.
First of all, the single, “The Beautiful People,” is, next to BB’s “Sanctify,” the greatest song ever recorded. And if you disagree you’re one of the beautiful people. You’re just beautiful and pretty and I would probably fall head over heels in love with you if we met.
Even before this, “Irresponsible Hate Anthem” might be the best opening song on an album ever. Yes, even better than “Straight Outta Compton,” if that was ever possible.
When you get to Part II of the record (called “Inauguration of the Worm”), the tracks just get ridiculous. Beatles’ “White Album” ridiculous.
“Wormboy,” “Mister Superstar,” and “Angel with the Scabbed Wings” I could listen to over and over, and I have. I’ve already murdered the neighbors on either side of me.
Cycle III begins with the title track, a totalitarian anthem of hate, abuse and wretchedness, and by then you’re dead. You’ve killed yourself and your family and that’s population control at its rock and roll finest.
Jesus Freak – dc Talk
Whatever the hell “alternative rock” even is, if anything should be permitted to bear this name it is Christian rock. Was Cobain or Vedder’s gloomy horseshit “alternative?” To bands like Poison and Winger maybe, but if that’s the only criteria Boyz II Men were alternative too.
But how many bands rocked hard while singing about God like dc Talk did on Jesus Freak, particularly on songs like the title track, “So Help Me God” and “Day By Day?” Very damn few, you godless bastard! Then there’s “Colored People,” which, although it sounds like a 60s Johnny Rebel tune, is supposed to teach us to shun racism no matter how logical it may sound. Of course, you have to assume these three guys do not feel the same way about the fruits, but why nitpick?
If beautiful chanteuses like Miss Angie, Broomtree’s Kylie Schilg, or Considering Lily’s Serene Campbell and Pearl Barrett can’t convince you God exists, you’re only hope is this fantastic album.
The fifth spot is a virtual six-way tie between Veruca Salt’s American Thighs and Eight Arms to Hold You, Letters to Cleo’s Aurora Gory Alice and Whole Meats and Fish, and Juliana Hatfield’s Hey Babe and Become What You Are. Because alternative rock, while it may be horseshit, was never strictly a man’s world.