We’ve passed the roaring 90s, but the memories of that era are ever fresh, thanks partly to the creative energies that birthed so much then – in life, in music, in almost everything you can think of.
In this article, though, our focus will be the music of the grunge genre – albums, to be specific.
First off, what exactly is grunge music? There are over a dozen definitions out there, and more will still pop so long as the world maintains an interest in that area – which should be pretty easy.
Still, all definitions share a common thread – a luminous fidelity to rock music. Grunge is a form of alternative rock, incorporating murky guitar, that popped in the mid 80 and continued into the 90s.
Is grunge dead now? Not really. The resonance has only gone down a bit. Still, there are so many projects – albums and singles – to vibe with from that era. Our focus here is the album.
Here are what we consider the best 20 90s grunge albums, in no particular order
1. Nevermind By Nirvana
It’s possible to talk grunge albums without somehow mentioning the name Nirvana. Impossible. This collective was one of the finest you could have heard in the 90s, and their “Nevermind” is a classic of grunge music.
- Smells Like Teen Spirit
- In Bloom
- Come As You Are
- Territorial Pissings
- Drain You
- Lounge Act
- Stay Away
- On A Plain
- Something In The Way
Here are some key dates in the evolution of the band:
- December 1987: Krist, Kurt, and Aaron Burckhard form the original lineup of Nirvana in Aberdeen, Washington, United States.
- 24 September 1991: “Nevermind,” the group’s second studio album, is released.
- 12 October 1991: “Nevermind” is certified gold,
- 11 January 1992: “Nevermind” hits No. 1 on the Billboard 200 album chart.
Nirvana - Smells Like Teen Spirit
Nirvana - In Bloom
Nirvana - Come As You Are
Nirvana - Breed
Nirvana - Lithium
Nirvana - Polly
Nirvana - Territorial Pissings
Nirvana - Drain You
Nirvana - Lounge Act
Nirvana - Stay Away
Nirvana - On A Plain
Nirvana - Something In The Way
Nirvana - Endless, Nameless
2. Alice in Chains by Alice in Chains
This album by a band of the same name remains one of the top albums of the 90s. This collective was founded in Seattle, Washington, in 1987. At inception, it was made up of the guitarist and vocalist Jerry Cantrell and drummer Sean Kinney. Much later, Kinney recruited lead vocalist Layne Staley and the bassist Mike Starr. In 1993, Starr was replaced by Mike Inez.
Contrary to what the album title might suggest, this compilation doesn’t leave you in chains. On the contrary. It saturates your spirit with 13 liberating tracks, beginning with “Grind,” serving “Frogs,” and ending with “Over Now.”
3. Spanking Machine by Babes in Toyland
It’s unclear why the group adopted the title “Spanking Machine.” Still, the grunge offering can spank boredom from the listener and make them want to luxuriate in a fiery rock universe. In all, the compilation sports 11 tracks and leaves no room for boring breaks. So why not?
The album, released on 16 April 1990, was the group’s debut.
- Swamp Pussy
- He’s My Thing
- Vomit Heart
- Pain in My Heart
- You’re Right
- Dust Cake Boy
- Fork Down Throat
Babes in Toyland - Spanking Machine 01 Swamp Pussy
Babes in Toyland - Spanking Machine 02 He's My Thing
Babes in Toyland - Spanking Machine 03 Vomit Heart
Babes in Toyland - Spanking Machine 04 Never
Babes in Toyland - Spanking Machine 05 Boto (W)Rap
Babes in Toyland - Spanking Machine 06 Dogg
Babes in Toyland - Spanking Machine 07 Pain in My Heart
Babes in Toyland - Spanking Machine 08 Lashes
Babes in Toyland - Spanking Machine 09 You're Right
Babes in Toyland - Spanking Machine 10 Dust Cake Boy
Babes in Toyland - Spanking Machine 11 Fork Down Throat
4. Siamese Dream by The Smashing Pumpkins
Released on 27 July 1993 via Virgin Records, “Siamese Dream” easily snaps a spot as one of the top grunge albums of the 90s. Interestingly, before the album’s release, the collective had released other works that didn’t quite have the grunge vibe.
“Siamese Dream” Production credits go to Butch Vig and Billy Corgan.
Initially formed by D’arcy Wretzky, Billy Corgan, James Iha, and Jimmy Chamberlin, the band has undergone great changes in its lineup but remains a favourite from the 90s, with several rock winners to vibe to.
5. Bricks are Heavy by L7
The title of the album might read like a cliché from the book of boredom. The album itself, fortunately, isn’t. This collective went hard on its third studio album, leaving no room for a yawn.
Bricks are heavy, yes, but this album isn’t heavy on the soul. On the contrary, you can count on it for a wonderful time. As a group, L7 remains one of the finest to have done it in the world of grunge music.
This all-female group comprises Donita Sparks, Suzi Gardner, Dee Plakas and Jennifer Finch – those are the longest standing members collective. The group was active between 1985 and 2001. It disappeared only to re-emerge in 2004.
6. Piece of Cake by Mudhoney
The success of Mudhoney in the grunge tradition further reinforces the reason why some scholars use “grunge music” and “Seattle music” interchangeably. Seattle in Washington was a flourishing orbit for grunge back then. And that’s where the group came from.
“Piece of Cake” might not be that in a literal sense, but in a figurative sense, you sure as hell will agree it is a piece of cake – to the soul. And you should have a wonderful time vibing with it.
7. Temple of the Dog
Right here is another rock collective with an eponymous album in the grunge tradition, “Temple of the Dog.” You’re totally out of touch if you think it a hub of howlings. This supergroup makes noise and makes sense at the same time. So why not?
“Temple of the Dog” was released in 1991 and remains the supergroup’s only album to date. It’s still a triumph of grunge music that resonates to this day.
8. Houdini by the Melvins
What comes to mind when you hear “Houdini”? For us, it’s the escape artist Harry Houdini. But this album is not some hagiography about the great man. Still – and that’s the pleasure of it all – you can escape the grips of ennui by merely vibing to this body of work. True.
Formed in Montesano, Washington, in 1983, the Melvins shows up as a trio and sometimes as a quartet. In each case, they give their fans something worth their time. With 21 21 studio albums in their kitty, they remain one of the most prolific in the grunge orbit.
9. Ten by Pearl Jam
Another one for Seattle, Washington! Founded in 1990, this band comprises Matt Cameron, Eddie Vedder, Mike McCready and several others. The titled album comes close to the number of members. But that’s by the way.
Pearl Jam’s “Ten” album carries the same empowering energy that one expects from grunge music. And one can hold to the compilation for a long time without lethargy intruding. Not bad, really.
10. Freak Show by Silverchair
Often considered divisive, Silverchair was yet a band that made a significant impact in the golden era of grunge music. This Australian collective comprises three pals.
11. Candlebox by Candlebox
Here’s another band that walked the eponymous route with its album. Candlebox was one of the bands that illuminated the grunge trend of the 90s. Unsurprisingly, it also has one of the memorable albums from that period as well.
The years may have passed, but “Candlebox” remains a luminous piece of art.
12. Vitalogy by Pearl Jam
If you’re surprised by another album from Pearl Jam making the list, you really shouldn’t be. The group’s “Vitalogy” compilation is as memorable as the one mentioned earlier and undoubtedly deserving of a place on this list – as you’ll find out presently.
Released on 22 November 1994 by Epic Records, “Vitalogy” is the group’s third studio album and one of the most memorable to date.
13. Dust by the Screaming Trees
Whether by accident or by design, “Dust” came out during a period when many believed the grunge era was over. Still, it was a great success. The only downside to that release was that it also marked the group’s disintegration.
And the Screaming Tree stopped screaming, so dust. To dust.
14. Rubberneck by Toadies
This album quietly reinforces the truth that quality counts more than quantity. “Rubberneck” was the only album the group released in the 90s, but it counted for something and should easily find a spot among the top grunge compilations from that era.
15. Pablo Honey by Radiohead
Radiohead put out great music in the days of its power – some of which can still turn heads today. Count “Pablo Honey” among those. Not everyone would consider this project totally grunge, of course.
Still, in our estimation, it remains a work of grunge triumph and deserving of a place on this list.
16. Superunknown by Soundgarden
“Superunknown” Sounds ironic for a band that was actually well-known in the days of its power. But then a title is a title. This is the fourth studio album from Soundgarden and also the one that announced the band’s Nunc Dimittis. A memorable project still.
17. Fontanelle by Babes in Toyland
The dust of oblivion might cover works released in the grunge tradition in the 90s, but we doubt it will do that anytime soon with “Fontanelle,” a compilation by the all-female collective Babes in Toyland.
This compilation is as charming as can be and remains of the finest from the roaring 90s.
18. Tostaky by Noir Desir
The only French band on our list, Noir Desir, is a collective that actually dropped great music in the grunge tradition back in the 90s. “Tostaky” is one such offering from the group – easily one of the finest grunge drops from the French orbit.
19. Live Through This by Hole
This album is a work of grunge triumph that reverberated when it was released. The buzz over the album may have died down, but the project remains one of the finest works in the grunge tradition ever released and a splendid starting point for anyone desirous of an introduction to grunge music.
20 Sixteen Stone by Bush
Bush was another collective that rocked the airwaves with sterling tunes in the grunge tradition. Although some critics have dismissed their work as faux-grunge, we have no qualms putting the “Sixteen Stone” on this list. The project easily pushes the grunge tradition we’re all too familiar with.
“Sixteen Stone” can knock out your boredom in one blast, so no qualms.
Of course, the idea of the best will always be subjective. Still, we’re confident you’d love our Best 20 90s grunge albums list.