We’re hitting the mid 90s now and the 3rd wave (and best in my opinion) of punk is upon us, Kurt Cobain’s suicide sited something of a watershed moment in the Seattle grunge movement and the rise of the new independent movie director was beginning. So let’s take a look at a strong year for music and see which albums made the cut….because some very strong efforts didn’t.
35.Nativity In Black
This album was a tribute to legendary metal band Black Sabbath by many of the biggest bands of the time. It’s a fitting tribute and a lot of fun as there is a nice blend of different styles of metal and the best tracks make the Sabbath songs sound different. A fun celebration of metal’s most enduring and influential act.
Highlights-“After Forever by Biohazard” “Black Sabbath by Type O Negative”
Jesus wept TLC were so damn beautiful……..just zoned out staring at the cover. Dropping their cartoony hip hop look and sound aimed at kids, the new album was more sexy and RnB sounding. Slow, sensual singing over nice beats and the three ladies vastly different voices all bring the fire to make it an essential RnB album.
Highlights-“creep” “Diggin’ On You”
33.Voodoo Glow Skulls-Who Is, This Is?
The debut album from the crazy Latin American ska band. I was actually reminded how much I love this album when I saw the band on a recent episode of Lucha Underground……random but I popped for it. Anarchic, fast, incomprehensible and a great horn section make this early third wave ska album a must for fans of the genre.
Highlights-“El Coo Cool” “Insubordination”
32.Nirvana-MTV Unplugged In New York
Released after but recorded a year before the tragic suicide of Kurt Cobain, this set recorded for the popular MTV Unplugged series is about as iconic as any live album ever. A lot of people will think this too low on the list and if I had seen at at the time then it probably would have connected more but with the amount of covers that fall a little flat it just appeals to me as a good live album rather than anything else. I understand the connection people have to it regarding the circumstance though. A stripped down look into a tortured soul.
Highlights-“Polly” “On A Plain”
31.Tori Amos-Under The Pink
Introspective, arty and weird in a good way, Tori Amos has always been out there and it’s what makes her appealing to me. A bit of Janis Joplin mixed with Kate Bush and there’s not a damn thing wrong with that. Stripped down piano verses and loud banging choruses is the structure for a lot of the songs and it fits her diverse vocals well and shows off her intelligent lyrics.
Highlights-“Pretty Good Year” “The Waitress”
30.The Crow:Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
I’ve gushed about how much I love the goth masterpiece graphic novel The Crow and it’s film adaptation so you can find my thoughts on it in other lists. One of the reasons this album is so cool for fans of the franchise is that writer James O’Barr was a huge fan of The Cure and Joy division and had several nods to them and even lyrics from songs in the graphic novel and songs written by both bands end up on the album. The Cure perform their own song and Nine Inch Nails cover a Joy Division song. Very rarely does a film with licensed music fit a as well as this did.
Highlights-“Burn by The Cure” “Dead Souls by Nine Inch Nails”
29.Gravediggas-6 Feet Deep
This album has a bit of an odd story as producer and rapper RZA of Wu Tang fame recorded this album before Wu Tang’s debut album came out but this was released after so it caused some confusion as to RZA’s status. Seen as influential in the horror-core genre, the album never takes itself seriously and it’s a fun record full of over the top threats and stories of death and suicide all with it’s tongue firmly in it’s cheek.
Highlights-“1-800 Suicide” “Constant Elevation”
28. Sophie B. Hawkins-Whaler
Sophie’s second album and her second entry on my lists shows her more intelligent writing than a lot of pop artists. The fact she writes her own stuff makes her instantly more respected than many others in her field and let’s be honest she is straight up pop. Her quirky hippy vibe shines through and there’s something different and appealing about her that just connects with me.
Highlights-“As I Lay Me Down” “Right Beside You”
27.Jeru Tha Damaja-The Sun Rises In The East
More laid back jazz samples and exemplary flow from Jeru in this album produced by Gang Starr’s DJ Premier. The cover shows the twin towers ablaze……eesh even in 1993 this was still controversial as the north tower had been bombed the year previous. Now it’s even more horrendously symbolic.
Highlights-“Mental Stamina” “D Original”
Continuing their slide into more radio friendly territory lost them some fans but gained them many more. I never felt that they betrayed their roots though as this albums still has insanely cool riffs and excellent musicianship all round from the band, it just has different paced songs. How many albums can you do with one drum beat? it gets a little old. Their slide would continue into worse areas after this for sure but Youthanasia isa damn fine album.
Highlights-“Reckoning Day” “Addicted To Chaos”
Wu Tang’s breakout crossover star Meth brought out his debut album during the white hot heat of his group’s hype and fanfare and also became a huge hit. Also produced by Wu Tang leader RZA, it has that gritty, dark sound that he’s known for and Meth’s deep voiced mumbling style fits it perfectly.
Highlights-“Meth vs Chef” “Bring The Pain”
24.Johnny Cash-American Recordings
A quick bit of google research will tell you this is Cash’s 81st album…..HOLY S#*T!. In an unexpected move, Cash decided to work with producer Rick Rubin who was more known for metal and hip hop than the stripped down folk sound he went for here. With songs given to him by Glenn Danzig and Nick Lowe to compliment his own writing, this album is about as basic as it gets. It’s Cash and a guitar and let’s be honest that’s all you need with a man with the voice and sense of humour that Cash has. Out he came from the wilderness to have a smash hit in the 90s.You can’t keep the man in black down.
Highlights-“The Beast In Me” Down There By The Train”
23.Pavement-Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain
I talked in a previous list about Pavement’s hardcore fans being…..just awful but they are a great indie band and here they are with another solid album. Definitely more radio friendly than their previous effort with less of a shoegaze noise rock sound and more of a straight forward indie rock vibe. It’s still similar in it’s songwriting, just glossier production.
Highlights-“Cut Your Hair” “Gold Soundz”
What a sad state of affairs it was in the mid 90s when a group as unbelievably talented as this fell away without so much as whimper because they focused on fun upbeat rhymes referencing pop culture and having a laugh rather than guns and gangs. This kind of group is what most 80s hip hop was based on but the 90s were a very different climate for rap with fake gangstas swamping the airwaves. I’ll take talent over gimmicks, Chip Fu in particular with his machine gun vocals and weird noises is just sublime.
Highlights-“What’s Up Doc” “Who Stole The Pebble”
21.Gwar-This Toilet Earth
Gwar back on here again with their best album. More punk than metal this time with fast beats and funny lyrics over thrashing guitars. Lots of fun and a song from this album is the first I heard of them as it was featured on Beavis and Butthead….I’m going to be saying that a lot on these lists.
Highlights-“Jack The World” “Saddam A Go-Go”
The beginning (or at least the popularisation) of nu metal is here with Korn’s eponymous debut.Down tuned seven string guitars, hip hopesque beats and whiny lyrics about being bullied brought a new style of metal to the masses. In the days of limited internet these guys were dark and mysterious but what was clear was they had been wronged and they were letting all of their pent up anger out through music. A genre was born and like most of them it would be milked dry by the end of the decade. ….and that great, ominous cover added to the mystery.
Highlights-“Ball Tongue” “Shoots And Ladders”
19.Fugees-Blunted On Reality
Ahhh Lauren Hill, one of my early teenage crushes. When I first heard Fugees during their breakout success of Killing Me Softly I didn’t get it (I love that song now) and it wasn’t until my neighbour/close firend Ewan showed me the album that I realised how great they were. That xmas I got The Score and their previous album….this, so I could catch up with their work. Although it’s not talked about nearly as much I put this up their with their second album.
Highlights-“Giggles” “Nappy Heads”
18.Machine Head-Burn My Eyes
Mixing elements of thrash, groove metal and the downtuned nu metal that was actuallly “nu” at the time, Burn My Eyes is a blistering debut that brought Rob Flynn and his band onto the scene. Super aggressive and heavy with enough groove to spare and Flynn’s growling vocals had metalheads banging their heads to a new sound. Logan Mader’s unusual guitar tone was also part the appeal to me and I don’t hear many folk talk about that but hey…..that’s why it’s my list.
Illmatic is regarded as on of the most important hip hop albums of the decade….of all time. It established Nas as an elite rapper up there with the best and his hardcore, reality filled rhymes spoke of life on the rough streets but didn’t try to glorify it. Just telling it how it is comes offf as far more real than flexing with guns and bragging about your hood being the toughest. Nas would go on to feud with Jay Z and despite Jay Z becoming far more famous and popular he’ll never hold a candle to Nas in my opinion.
Highlights-“Life’s A Bitch” “The World Is Yours”
Also known as The Blue Album, Weezer’s debut brought geek rock to the masses with spectacle wearing, dungeons and dragons playing singer songwriter Rivers Cuomo leading the way. For those who don’t know, this kind of music was known as emo way back in the day….a kind of slower, more gentle version of punk rock but the term emo certainly changed over the years and Weezer would certainly not fit into that genre now. Every guitar band with NHS glasses was refereed to as emo after Weezer came out but who cares about genres, they are just a great band and their playful debut has tonnes of heart and humour.
Highlights-“The World Has Turned And Left Me” “Holiday”
15.The Jesus And Mary Chain-Stoned And Dethroned
Scotland’s best indie band are at it again with the same chord progressions over and over again but somehow they pull it off. A joyous cocktail of jangly guitars and hazy, distant vocals make for an enjoyable listen. There’s even an appearance from Pogues singer Shane Macgowan who defies all rationality by still being alive thankfully.
Highlights-“Between Us” “Till It Shines”
14.Screeching Weasel-How To Make Enemies And Irritate People
These guys just can’t keep away from these lists eh?. Oh well until they stop making ace albums we’ll keep seeing them. Bassist Dan Vapid quit the band before recording started so Green Day’s Mike Dirnt filled in for the band and took over bass duties with his distinctive sound.There’s a great sound to this album with rich guitar tones and the aforementioned Dirnt bass sound.The band briefly broke up after recording only to reform in 1996.
Highlights-“Planet Of The Apes” “Surf Goddess”
13.Pantera-Far Beyond Driven
Pantera were still top of the metal food chain in 1994 and the release of this album just cemented that position by debuting at #1 in the American charts. The album had signature Dimebag riffs, Anselmo’s guttural growls and the rhythm section’s groove that the previous album had nailed so well but without as many good songs as the previous effort. That said there are a few absolute bangers on here and they really are at their best when the groove is at it’s height. This album had signs of them heading in a more extreme sound at times and lessening the groove and that would continue until their breakup. The second best album from one of metal’s best ever bands is still a hell of a high point.
Highlights-“I’m Broken” “Becoming”
12.The Bouncing Souls-The Good, The Bad And The Argyle
The debut album of one of my favourite bands is full of American east coast swagger, pop culture references and raging punk rock beats. It’s filled with references to 80s movies and in fact there’s an entire song dedicated to quotes from them and although they would later refine their sound and develop a more laid back sound which is not a bad thing, this first album is melodic but rages along at a furious tempo.
Highlights-“Some Kind Of Wonderful” “The Guest”
11.The Prodigy-Music For The Jilted Generation
Although they have distanced themselves from the politisised nature of the album, it was clearly a response to the ridiculous outcry from the British conservative media and government towards rave culture. Rebellion aside, the music itself is a marked difference from their previous album as it went for a far darker tone and messed around with jungle, drum and bass, guitars and heavy beats as opposed to their rave and happy hardcore sound of before. An electro masterpiece.
Highlights-“Voodoo People” “Their Law”
The one and only album from the insanely promising Jeff Buckley who tragically died when he went swimming in the Mississippi river and was caught up in the wave of a passing boat. His legacy is preserved in his only record which captured his haunting voice which radiated with soul. His cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah is legendary and with good reason because if anyone ever took a song and made it their own it’s him. It’s a moody, tragic album that feels like the soundtrack to you sitting alone in a pub contemplating your life after a breakup…..or a depressing sex album.
Highlights-“So Real” “Mojo Pin”
9.Biohazard-State Of The World Address
The best album from a damn fine crossover metal/hardcore band that was way ahead of it’s time. Adding more hip hop style elements into their verses just gave us even more variety from the New York bruisers. Street smart and like a metal version of Nas from a few entries ago, they talk about the hardships of growing up in ghettos and a pre gentrified New York. Still rocking to this all these years later.
Highlights-“Five Blocks To The Subway” “Down For Life”
Part of the punk rock explosion of 1994 and the first Rancid album to feature guitarist/singer Lars Frederiksen which made a huge improvement in beefing up the sound as a 4 piece. Elements of street punk, Clash style ska and a nice mix of angsty and party songs add up to a hell of a punk rock album that helped kick off the new era of punk.The song Nihilism is the first Rancid song I heard and guess where…..that’s right Beavis and Butthead….told you it wasn’t the last time.
Highlights-“Side Kick” “Salvation”
7.NOFX-Punk In Drublic
Still bratty, brash, immature and purile but now branching out and talking more abut politics and other more serious topics as NOFX solidify their relationship with guitarist El Hefe.
Highlights-“Linoleum” “Perfect Government”
6.Cyndi Lauper-Twelve Deadly Cyns…And Then Some
Ah how I love Cyndi….beautiful, talented and incredibly unique and not afraid to stand for her beliefs such as her support of the lgbt community. All that aside she’s also an excellent singer, songwriter and performer and this greatest hits shows that off perfectly. Look at this list full of punk rock and hip hop and it pretty much shows you where my main passions in music lie and it says so much that in among all that Cyndi Lauper breaks into the top ten. Time After Time is the most beautiful pop song ever written which also helps.
Highlights-“Time After Time” “True Colours”
The highest selling independent album of all time….how about that?. Between this and another album coming up shortly on the list the punk rock explosion of 1994 gave so many of my favourite bands the exposure they deserved and even though The Offspring have never been my favourite band I’ll be eternally grateful for their contribution to the genre. Released on the excellent Epitaph records and produced by the brilliant Thom Wilson who sadly passed in 2015. A huge loss to the punk rock community as he produced several fantastic albums. Smash helped rejuvenate the public’s interest in punk but really the style began with the likes of Bad Religion and Descendents, Smash just tipped things over and showed what independent punk labels could achieve.
Highlights-“Smash” “Nitro (Youth Energy)”
4.Beastie Boys-Ill Communication
They topped the 1992 list and their follow up nearly does it again. This is probably a stronger album but 1994 is such a damn good year that it just misses out. Not as instrument heavy as Check Your Head and with more samples heavily influenced by jazz, Ill Communication also spawned the monster hit Sabotage with it’s critcally acclaimed video directed by Spike Jonez. Plenty of the high pitched snotty punk flavoured hip hop but with a little more growth in their music.
Highlights-“Sure Shot” “Get It Together”
3.Bad Religion-Stranger Than Fiction
They just keep on delivering don’t they? Finally breaking big with this album thanks to the explosion of 94 punk as explained earlier and there are few more deserving bands than Bad Religion who, along with Descendents pioneered the sound that 90s punk would catch up to. Always melodic, always intelligent and always important.
Highlights-“Leave Mine To Me” “Television”
The German “fun punks” are consistently fantastic with energetic songs and guitar playing that bends into all different genres whilst still keeping it all under the punk umbrella. Jumping from juvenile toilet humour to political satire to love songs but keeping it fun all along the way, Wizo are an endlessly enjoyable group led by singer/guitarist Axel Kurth.
Highlights-“Tod Im Freibad” “W8ing 4U”
Ugh ok let’s get this out the way. As boring as it is for punks my age to say, Dookie was the album that made me a punk and although I really don’t like much of their output post 2001 I can’t deny the effect they had on me as a kid. My buddy Rick popped that tape into my ghetto blaster and that was it for me. Even as a young lad I knew this was the music for me and it sent me down an incredibly interesting and exciting road. Their first of many major label efforts remains their best and the catalyst along with The Offspring’s “Smash” for the 90s punk revival and the inspiration for many great bands that would follow. Calls of sellout inevitably followed as they signed with a major but their musical style never changed and they left with the best wishes of Lookout Records, their previous label so go figure. Some punk fans need to take their heads out of their arses sometimes.
Highlights-“Sassafras Roots” “When I Come Around”
What a year 1994 was and what a difficult task it was to keep the list at 35 or less entries. So many good albums came out across all genres. So what will next year have for us? Come back very shortly to find out. This has been your friendly neighbourhood Kinker Korner and I thank you very much for reading and hope to read our thoughts. Bye bye x.