The 10 Best Grunge Albums of All Time
Kids of the '80s have to face the fact that it's time to put that "Beat It" jacket in cold storage, because the '90s are officially all the nostalgia rage. While the editor of this blog was vacationing last week, he happened to take in a screening of the very funny The World's End, whose plot pivots on the Soup Dragons' "I'm Free," and whose soundtrack is flush with prime Britpop from big guns Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, Blur and Pulp to bit players the Housemartins and Saint Etienne.
Photo by Mark C. Austin Pearl Jam at the 2009 Austin City Limits Music Festival
On these shores, Britpop's sullen, lank-haired Yankee counterpart, grunge, is as omnipresent as it's been since The New York Times attempted to educate its readers in alleged Seattle slang like "hangin' on the flippety-flop." Soundgarden, Alice In Chains and Mudhoney have released excellent to better-than-average albums within the past 12 months, and Pearl Jam's Lightning Bolt is due next month and already drawing raves from the likes of Rolling Stone. Even Nirvana is back in record stores, sounding more visceral than ever thanks to the brand-new In Utero reissue.
Often grossly oversimplified as a hybrid of punk and metal, grunge turned out to be an extension and/or reinvention of plain old classic rock, the multifaceted kind of music Led Zeppelin and The Who used to play. Either way, the shadow it cast over current rock is so pervasive it borders on suffocating, but scrape off all the barnacles of watered-down derivative crap and you'll find grunge produced plenty of bitchin' tunes. (Maaaaan.)
Afghan Whigs, Gentlemen (1993)
Although it was released at the peak of the grunge era, and was the Afghan Whigs' first album after leaving Sub Pop (once grunge central), calling Gentlemen a grunge record is straining the definition a little. It's really a soul record: as bitter and fucked-up as Marvin Gaye's Here, My Dear, only played at grunge-like volume.
Singer Greg Dulli can really howl, and he's intent on proving himself a world-class cad: "I've got a dick for a brain, and my brain is gonna sell my ass to you." Through tortuous rockers ("Debonair") and seething ballads ("When We Two Parted"), Dulli takes care to pick at every last emotional scab in his suavely twisted psyche. So if grunge can be defined as "angst-ridden rock and roll," Gentlemen is easily the greatest grunge album of all time. CHRIS GRAY
Alice in Chains, Dirt (1992)
By the time Dirt was released in 1992, Alice in Chains had already been paying their dues for years as an awkward fit in the rapidly cooling mainstream metal scene. They'd had a hit two years earlier with "Man in the Box," but now that Nirvana and Pearl Jam had put their hometown of Seattle on the musical map, radio and MTV were suddenly a lot more interested in what Alice in Chains would deliver on their second album for Columbia Records.
What they got was the darkest and most pained album ever to be certified quadruple platinum. Songs like "Down in a Hole" and "Junkhead" were deeply stained by singer Layne Staley's addiction-obsessed lyrics, and despite the soaring uplift of the war anthem "Rooster," Dirt positively stank of self-revulsion and wretched hopelessness. The album became an instant classic, thanks in large part to guitarist Jerry Cantrell's metallic, palm-muted riffing and soft crooning, which entwined with Staley's voice so completely as to become inseparable. NATHAN SMITH
Mudhoney, Vanishing Point (2013)
It would be easy to choose one of the albums that helped define grunge, Mudhoney's Superfuzz Bigmuff, especially since an expanded version was reissued this year as part of Sub Pop's 25th-anniversary festivities. Nothing wrong with that record at all; it's a lurching, lumbering monument of Sabbath sludge, Stooges looseness, and bug-eyed Texas insanity via Scratch Acid or Butthole Surfers. (Plus an actual cover of "Dicks Hate the Police.") But Vanishing Point, also released this year, beats it simply because it adds 25 years and hundreds (if not thousands) of gigs to all Mudhoney's exalted racket, coming soon to a city near you. (Mudhoney plays Fitzgerald's September 30.) CHRIS GRAY
List continues on the next page.