The grunge boom of the early 90s was a great thing: a thing that gave us endless amazing bands and classic albums. But, since the movement was so commercially successful, for every Nevermind by Nirvana or Dirt by Alice in Chains, there were a big ‘ol load of filler albums released to capitalise on the scene's popularity. Even within those stinkers, though, there was a gem or two to be found. Here, then, are ten truly crappy grunge albums with one all-time great song.
Bush – Chemical Between Us (The Science of Things, 1999)
So, listen: despite them being an almost constant punchline for grunge purists back in the day, there is actually loads to admire about UK 90s superstars Bush. Gavin Rossdale’s crew’s first two albums, Sixteen Stone and Razorblade Suitcase, still hold up today, and only those with the sniffiest of attitudes could deny it. Unfortunately, by the time 1999 came around, Bush were no longer part of the zeitgeist and were well out of ideas. Their third album The Science of Things is mostly forgettable, save for the brilliant dance rock of first single Chemicals Between Us.
Days Of The New - Touch, Peel And Stand (Days of the New, 1997)
Grunge was absolutely on its arse by 1997. Skate punk, Brit-pop and nu metal had all ganged up to make it look utterly redundant, although it did a fair bit of that itself when the best it could offer were bands like Days Of The New. The Indiana crew were tipped for big things, but their self-titled debut album was just some pretty dire Pearl Jam/Blind Melon karaoke. The one bright spark was first single Touch, Peel And Stand, which is highly derivative (SHOCK!) but at least had a decent riff and groove.
Live – Sun (The Distance To Here, 1999)
Let’s just say this now; Live’s fifth album is absolutely terrible. The band we all loved from 1994’s Throwing Copper had doubled down on their very worst eco-psychobabble by 1999 on The Distance to Here. Most of it is utterly forgettable, which is actually preferable to songs like The Dolphins Cry, which sound like Russell Brand’s character in Get Him to The Greek doing African Child. The sole bright spark is the Vs-era Pearl Jam swing of Sun, which reminds us of how good they used to be.
Stiltskin – Inside (The Mind's Eye, 1994)
If rumours from the time are to be believed, then Stiltskin only formed because Levi’s jeans wanted to use Smashing Pumpkins' Today in one of their adverts and Billy Corgan said no, so they decided to put a band together to write a grungy song that sounded as similar to their original choice as possible. The result was Inside by Stiltskin, a massive number one hit after being used in the ad. It’s a great song. It’s also the only song on their debut album The Mind's Eye that you will ever need to listen to.
Candlebox – Far Behind (Candlebox, 1993)
You would have to be a very heartless individual to not feel a little for Candlebox. If you thought Bush had it bad, it was nothing in comparison to the ire Candlebox received; they were the ultimate punching bag for the majority of the grunge scene. While their treatment feels a little bit over the top these days, that doesn’t actually mean they were any good. Their debut album might have sold four million copies in the US, but it’s dull and has rightly been forgotten by most people all these years later. Saying that, its one really big hit, Far Behind, is a hell of a tune...and yes, it sounds like Pearl Jam.
The Presidents Of the United States of America – Volcano (II, 1996)
The success of The Presidents... was always one of the weirdest things to happen to Seattle in the 90s. Were they a grunge band? They didn’t really have the dour, serious demeanour of most of their peers, but they were a nice antidote to such weighty music for a moment. That moment was basically their self-titled 1995 debut album; when they came with another dose a year later the joke had run thin. The only song that really captures the joie de vivre of that first album is the jaunty new wave of Volcano.
Audioslave – Sound Of A Gun (Revelations, 2006)
Okay, grunge mostly by association they may be, but Audioslave were a great band for a while. After all, who could resist the idea of three quarters of Rage Against The Machine, with their huge arsenal of riffs, joining forces with a vocalist as talented as former Soundgarden man Chris Cornell? Their debut album was a classic and its follow up, Out of Exile, was well worth listening to, but the cracks in the band were blindingly evident on their final release, 2006’s Revelations. We don’t believe that anyone thinks of this material when they think of Audioslave, but the song Sound Of A Gun has gone on to be considered one of their best. And it is pretty great.
L7 – Stick To The Plan (Slap-Happy, 1999)
By the end of the 90s many of the grunge bands from the early days of the movement were struggling both creatively and commercially. L7’s star had drastically fallen, and they were on the verge of splitting up as the New Millennium dawned. They managed one last album, the remarkably patchy Slap-Happy in 1999, before the inevitable happened. It’s not vintage L7 at all, but the strutting, throbbing threat of Stick To The Plan sounds like them rolling back the years one last time.
Stone Temple Pilots - Take A Load Off (Stone Temple Pilots, 2010)
It’s so sad to think that Stone Temple Pilots' final album with iconic vocalist Scott Weiland was their distinctly average self-titled effort in 2010. Compared to the stellar back catalogue in the early part of their career, its messy, unfocussed and unmemorable songs are a world away from Purple or Core. It does feature one track that gives us a brief glimpse of the beauty of Weiland’s voice, though; Take A Load Off isn’t quite an all-time great Pilots song, but Weiland’s melodies make it something well worth listening to.
The Vines – Braindead (Melodia, 2008)
OK, so not a pure grunge band in their own right, but when you so readily rip off Nirvana like The Vines did, we’re sticking ‘em in here regardless. There was an outrageous amount of hype surrounding the Australian garage-grunge rockers when they emerged at the start of the 2000s. Their debut album Highly Evolved reached number three on the UK album chart, powered by the hit single Get Free, in 2002. But six years down the line no one really cared about them - even themselves, judging by the notoriously patchy quality of their disastrously received fourth album, Melodia. It’s pretty rubbish, but The Vines were definitely at their best when they went for pure Nirvana karaoke, and they do that once on the album, on the excellent Braindead. Listen to that, swerve the rest.