The 25 Best Grunge Albums of the 90s

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Chained Alice: Dirt (1992)

Unlike most bands on this list, Alice in Chains had no formal connection to the Sub Pop scene, or to punk rock in general: their initial incarnation in the late 80s as Alice N ‘ Chains, saw frontman Layne Staley speak. funky glam metal tunes with a sky high hairstyle match. Even after guitarist Jerry Cantrell steered them towards a harder sound for their 1990 debut, face lift, they were still touring with bands like Van Halen and Poison. But with their heartbreaking 1992 follow-up DirtAlice in Chains emerged as the quintessential Seattle band of the moment, blasting grunge’s fearsome riffage and grey-ski mood to horror-movie proportions, while Staley provided documentary dispatches on aggravating of heroin addiction that revealed the darker side of life in America’s Hippest City.

It’s an album that opens with a painful cry of “owwwwwand gets even more ruthless from there. But DirtThe most devastating quality of is Staley and Cantrell’s haunting harmonies – as well as providing just enough melodic grace to send such a dark album into the Top 10, they represent vanished glimpses of the humanity that is buried when you are in a hole. –Stuart Berman

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Nirvana: Incesticidal (1992)

It is perhaps one of the few albums revered as much for its liner notes as for its music. Released one year and three months later Not serious changed the molecular structure of rock ‘n’ roll and made Nirvana rich beyond their dreams, this collection of early demos, covers, Sub Pop singles and Peel Session recordings captured Nirvana’s prologue as fans of noise, pop and the underground scene. It was a self-administered (but miserably promoted) antidote to their sudden media attention, intended to clarify their intentions, politics and passions. It opens with one of the most important 7″ records ever made, the sloppy, poppy canonical “Dive” b/w “Sliver”, and ends with “Aneurysm” – an absolutely perfect, boiling, moving and still .very underrated song.

And then there are those apoplectic liner notes, the final word in the argument. Long before the internet made lists of the best albums, Kurt Cobain gave true fans a handful of artists who moved him, who inspired him. Scribble them on a piece of paper and take them to the record store and check them out and get up to speed with them: The Raincoats, Shonen Knife, Sonic Youth, Stinky Puffs, Jad Fair, The Wipers, Mazzy Star, Bjorn Again, TV personalities. “At this point,” Cobain wrote at the end, “I have a request for our fans. If any of you hate gay people, people of different color, or women, please, Do us this favor: leave us alone! Don’t come to our concerts and don’t buy our records. It was clear in 1992: if you weren’t in this Incesticidal offered, here is the door. –Jeremy D. Larson

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