Scott Weiland photo taken by Tim Mosenfelder. Eddie Vedder photo taken by Mick Hutson.
1996 is widely seen as the last great year of the alternative rock/Grunge 90’s, with many bands from the ‘Grunge’ era going into hibernation shortly therafter. Soundgarden released the final album of their original run before breaking up in 1997, Stone Temple Pilots went on hiatus for 2 years following the conclusion of the Tiny Music tour, and Weezer and Tool would not release followup albums to their 1996 releases until the new millenium. 1996 was definitely the end of an era, so Alternative Nation has decided to look back at some of the year’s greatest albums 20 years later.
10. Local H – As Good As Dead
Local H had their biggest commercial hit with “Bound For The Floor” in 1996. The band’s debut album was full of self-aware songs with a dry sense of humor, like when Scott Lucas asked if people would like him any better if his name was Eddie Vedder, on the aptly named “Eddie Vedder.”
9. Screaming Trees – Dust
Dust would wind up being Screaming Trees’ final album released while the band were still together, though the band later released Last Words in 2011, a collection of songs intended for a new album in 2000. Dust is Screaming Trees’ tightest collection of songs, with arguably the band’s best ballad “Sworn and Broken,” one of their catchiest radio singles “All I Know,” and arguably one of the band’s best tracks “Halo of Ashes.”
8. Marilyn Manson – Antichrist Superstar
Marilyn Manson established himself as the king of shock rock with Antichrist Superstar, which features his signature track “The Beautiful People.” Antichrist Superstar signified the shift in hard rock in the late 90’s towards a more stylized approach visually than Grunge bands has presented for much of the decade.
7. Rage Against The Machine – Evil Empire
Evil Empire was Rage Against The Machine’s second album, and the band showed no signs of a sophomore slump, releasing classics like “Bulls On Parade” and “People of the Sun.”
6. Sublime – Sublime
Bradley Nowell tragically died from a heroin overdose before Sublime could release their most famous album, but even without any sort of proper tour or promotion, Sublime has endured as one of the most timeless albums of the 90’s. “What I Got,” “Wrong Way,” and “Santeria” are still three of the most played songs on alternative radio 20 years later, and the band’s music is so popular that a fake version of the band is still able to fill up amphitheaters.
5. Weezer – Pinkerton
Weezer broke onto the scene with huge singalong hits in 1994 with their self-titled blue album, but the band went serious with Pinkerton in 1996. Pinkerton features Rivers Cuomo analyzing his social anxiety and lack of ability to connect with people, fantasizing about a woman he is too cripplingly shy to approach on “El Scorcho,” describing falling in love with a lesbian on “Pink Triangle,” and contemplating where his carefree life went wrong on “The Good Life.” The album did not do well commercially and led to Weezer going on hiatus for a few years. While the band did return a few years later with more radio hits, they never were able to hit the levels of emotional sincerity they did on Pinkerton again.
4. Soundgarden – Down on the Upside
Down on the Upside is by far Soundgarden’s most adventurous album. At times it can feel disjointed, but it definitely has the band’s most ambitious songs. “Pretty Noose” is classic Soundgarden, “Blow Up The Outside” has arguably the band’s most memorable singalong refrain, and “Burden In My Hand” might be the band’s strongest radio hit (especially with how overplayed “Black Hole Sun” has become). “Boot Camp” has some of Chris Cornell’s strongest lyrics, “Switch Opens” is one of Soundgarden’s most triumphant songs sonically, while “Rhinosaur” and “Never The Machine Forever” have two of the bands most memorable guitar riffs. “Dusty” and “Zero Chance” see Soundgarden reach a new level of maturity in their songwriting.
3. Tool – Ænima
Ænima is the first Tool album to include Justin Chancellor, and the record sees the band take progressive rock to a whole new level after bands before them like King Crimson. The album is abrasive and experimental, and despite competition from other 90’s alternative rock radio hitmakers, Tool did not compromise their sound in the name of commercial ambitions with Ænima.
2. Pearl Jam – No Code
From 1991 to 1994, Pearl Jam had one of the greatest runs in the history of rock, both artistically and commercially. Ten, Vs., and Vitalogy had enough hits to last Pearl Jam the rest of their career. On No Code the band easily could have rested on their laurels and tried to recreate the sound of those three albums, but instead they made the most daring album of their career, No Code. This isn’t the type of experimental album that sacrifices quality songwriting in the name of a new sound, No Code still has very powerful songs, but tracks that are tackled from a new angle sonically and lyrically.
Eddie Vedder is far more reflective on No Code than he is full of unbridled rage (though he still is on certain tracks like “Habit”), the album’s first track “Sometimes” is the perfect example of it and serves as the thesis for the album. “Hail Hail” sees Vedder contemplate why he is still in a relationship that clearly isn’t working: ‘Is there room for both of us?/Both of us apart?/Are we bound out of obligation?/Is that all we’ve got?” Overall, the album marked a turning point for Pearl Jam, and is one of the reasons the band has such a die hard dedicated fanbase who want to hear songs from throughout the band’s discography, No Code provides songs that help diversify Pearl Jam’s setlists.
1. Stone Temple Pilots – Tiny Music…Songs From The Vatican Gift Shop
Tiny Music is one of the biggest sonic and artistic departures of any successful 90’s rock act. Stone Temple Pilots ditched the Grungy hard rock sound that made them 90’s rock icons on Core and Purple and embraced 60’s psychadelic rock, the Beatles, and even jazz on Tiny Music. You can tell immediately with the short instrumental opener “Press Play” that this is a different type of record, and Scott Weiland takes his trademark ‘word soup’ lyrics to a new high on “Trippin’ on a Hole in a Paper Heart” and “Seven Caged Tigers.” While Weiland is able to go abstract lyrically on tracks like that, he told a beautiful story on the romantic “Lady Picture Show,” and sings a self-aware song about the music industry on “Adhesive.”
The DeLeo brothers and Eric Kretz channel The Rolling Stones on “Big Bang Baby” and other 60’s bands throughout the album, while also giving the music a biting 90’s edge which keeps it from sounding too nostalgic. Tiny Music is the album that proved that Stone Temple Pilots were one of the most diverse acts of the 90’s musically, and why they someday deserve to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.