10 Greatest Grunge Albums
In the early ‘90s, a wave of bands from Seattle captured the public’s imagination, spreading the sound of the Northwest underground to the world. Dubbed “grunge” or the “Seattle sound” by the press, its sonic characteristics were rooted in ‘60s garage rock and proto-heavy metal. When grunge first started creeping into the mainstream circa 1991, hair metal still ruled MTV, but bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden changed all that. A few key players in the grunge scene might have had hair metal pasts, but the Aqua Net and eyeliner had to go to make room in the closet for all the flannels and Chuck Taylors. Noisecreep is paying tribute to the hard-rocking sounds that dominated the ’90s with our 10 Greatest Grunge Albums list.
It took them six albums, but Screaming Trees finally found commercial success with ‘Sweet Oblivion.’ Most folks discovered the group through ‘Nearly Lost You,’ the album’s first single which was also included on the soundtrack to Cameron Crowe’s ‘Singles’ movie. But it’s the inclusion of psych-rock gems such as ‘Shadow of the Season’ and ‘For Celebration Past,’ plus the tearstained ballad ‘Dollar Bill,’ that lands ‘Sweet Oblivion’ on our 10 Greatest Grunge Albums list.
Yes, we know, they aren’t from Washington, but we’d be kidding ourselves if we didn’t include Stone Temple Pilots‘ ‘Core’ on our 10 Greatest Grunge Albums list. Critics have often dismissed the Cali rockers as grunge bandwagon jumpers, but tracks like ‘Wicked Garden,’ ‘Sex Type Thing’ and ‘Plush’ proved the band had the songwriting chops to outlive the initial backlash. Though it’s not their best album (that would be ‘Purple’), ‘Core’ still deserves a spot on this list.
Temple of the Dog
Temple of the Dog formed in 1990 as a tribute to late Mother Love Bone singer Andrew Wood. It featured Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell (vocals) and Matt Cameron (drums) along with ex-Mother Love Bone and future Pearl Jam members Stone Gossard (guitars) and Jeff Ament (bass). The band also included Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready and singer Eddie Vedder. The combo’s sole album is a soulful and cathartic affair that includes some of Chris Cornell’s best vocal work to date.
Released during a time when A&R scouts were still chasing down hair metallers on the Sunset Strip, no one could have predicted how significant Nirvana’s ‘Bleach’ would eventually become in the years that followed. Using a stripped down approach, ‘Bleach’ combined hook-laden melodies with both jangly and distortion-drenched guitars, culminating with a sound that appealed to both R.E.M. and Black Sabbath fans alike.
Featuring everything from anthemic hard rock (‘Animal’) to ballads (‘Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town’) to countrified power-pop (‘Glorified G’), ‘Vs.’ finds the members of Pearl Jam shape shifting from one style to the next with ease. Despite its stylistic restlessness, Pearl Jam still manages to make ‘Vs.’ feel like one cohesive thought, much like their heroes the Who did on their most celebrated albums. It might have only been their second album together, but ‘Vs.’ is the sound of a group who clearly know who they are and where they’re heading.
We reach the halfway mark of our 10 Greatest Grunge Albums list with the record that turned Soundgarden into certified rock stars, ‘Badmotorfinger.’ If someone ever asks you what grunge sounds like, just throw on ‘Slaves & Bulldozers,’ the third track off of the album. The song’s Tony Iommi-esque guitar riffs and antagonistic lyrics sum up the spirit of ‘Badmotorfinger,’ which despite its balls-to-the-wall heaviness still went on to sell over 1 million copies within a year of its release.
Including ‘Them Bones,’ ‘Down in a Hole,’ ‘Rooster,’ and ‘Angry Chair,’ the track listing to ‘Dirt’ reads like an Alice in Chains hits collection. ‘Dirt’ is a dark masterwork with an ominous cloud of addiction and degradation hanging over most of its material. On ‘Junkhead,’ singer Layne Staley brutally lays out the thoughts of a typical heroin addict, a lyric made even the more jarring once the singer lost his life a decade later as a result of years of drug abuse.
Soundgarden’s first album released since Middle America had fallen in love with grunge, ‘Superunknown’ unsurprisingly yielded some of the band’s biggest hits. But ‘Spoonman,’ ‘Fell on Black Days,’ ‘Black Hole Sun,’ and ‘The Day I Tried to Live’ were not attempts by the group at Billboard domination, they were finely crafted songs marrying heavy metal muscle with lyrical introspection. It’s no surprise ‘Superunknown’ is widely considered by many as the crowning achievement of Soundgarden’s discography.
Boasting future radio staples ‘Even Flow,’ ‘Alive’ and ‘Jeremy,’ Pearl Jam’s ‘Ten’ album already had an air of classic rock grandeur when it first landed in stores during grunge’s early days. Whether it was the Jimmy Page-kissed guitar licks of Mike McCready or perhaps the Southern rock inspired vocalisms of Eddie Vedder on ‘Porch,’ Pearl Jam revealed their impeccable tastes while delivering a classic album of their own and spawning a million imitators in the process.
Topping off our 10 Greatest Grunge Albums list is the seminal Nirvana album ‘Nevermind.’ The way Kurt Cobain’s honeyed vocal melodies crash into the over-distorted guitars and booming drums is a revelation. ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit,’ ‘Come as You Are,’ ‘Lithium’ and ‘In Bloom’ all became classics of the grunge revolution. Make no mistake; ‘Nevermind’ was to the grunge era what ‘Rubber Soul’ was to the British Invasion.