The 10 Best Grunge Albums of All Time
|The back cover of Nirvana's In Utero|
Trading in Butch Vig for Steve Albini as producer made this album a lot less radio friendly than predecessor Nevermind. It was darker, more dissonant, and more pissed-off. In Utero was the sound of a band trying to shed their messianic hype, alienate their more shallow fans, and turn in something powerful and strange. For the most part they succeeded, except damned if Kurt couldn't keep himself from writing two perfect radio singles, "Heart Shaped Box" and "All Apologies." Oh well. JOHN SEABORN GRAY
Pearl Jam, Ten (1991)
It may seem cheesy to be praising Ten on its anniversary like this [it turned 22 last week -- Ed.], but for my money Pearl Jam's debut is their finest hour. Not many would argue with that with a line-up of songs that looks like a greatest hits comp. "Alive," "Jeremy," "Once," "Even Flow," and "Black?" It's like the foundation of modern-rock radio.
I'm going to go a step further though and say that, pound for pound, Ten is the best damn record of the whole grunge revolution. They got slagged for being a poor man's Nirvana at the time, but that's baseless. The fact is Pearl Jam, for all their big-time rock and roll aspirations, may not have reflected Kurt Cobain's idea of artistic purity, but they followed a lineage of perfectly wild rock records with not a moment wasted on filler.
They captured a moment in time when they were at the height of their songwriting and playing prowess, when most members had the secret advantage of having warmed up with the fantastic Temple of the Dog one-off record, and when they were sounding a lot like a freight train smacking down in a stadium. I have my doubts any rock band with their skill, sheer intensity, and power will ever slap us in the face like Ten did again. COREY DEITERMAN
Screaming Trees, Sweet Oblivion (1992)
Sometimes good bands slowly peter out and produce two or three superfluous, unworthy albums before finally throwing in the towel. That's not what happened to Screaming Trees. Grunge's elder statesmen had been influential Seattle players all through the '80s, never achieving the mainstream success of many of their brethren. On this album, however, they combined their aggressive, noisy sound with some truly catchy arrangements to produce something that sounded more radio-friendly without being watered down.
It's as good as anything they ever did, and yielded their only nationally successful radio single, "Nearly Lost You." We can only speculate how much bigger they might have gone on to become, had they not split up after this album. Singer Mark Lanegan's post-Trees career, however, is definitely worth looking into if you haven't already.JOHN SEABORN GRAY
Smashing Pumpkins, Gish (1991)
The Pumpkins' first album is heavily inspired by 1970s acid-rock. Lots of early grunge acts took inspiration out of the 70s, but none took it so far as the Pumpkins on their debut album. Pairing wildly frenetic guitar chops and constantly fluctuating tempo changes with the more traditional loud-soft-loud grunge dynamic, the Pumpkins were never more raw or blistering than on this first amazing album.
Ah, the heady days of youth, when Billy Corgan could actually make his megalomania work for him instead of against him. JOHN SEABORN GRAY
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