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The 50 best rock albums of the 90s

40. Pearl Jam - Vs (1993)

Vs was Pearl Jam’s second album, and with it the band topped their Ten debut both artistically and commercially. 

Although they refused to release any videos and singles, it still went multi-platinum, debuting at No.1 and selling nearly a million copies in its first week. 

Highlights include the wonderful opening trio of Go, Animal and the gentler acoustic tones of Daughter. Rearviewmirror and the plaintive Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town gave lie to the notion that Pearl Jam were anything other than an arena rock band, and a classy one at that.

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39. Def Leppard - Adrenalize (1992)

Grunge didn’t kill hair metal with a single blow. In March 1992, two months after Nirvana’s Nevermind topped the US chart, Def Leppard followed suit with Adrenalize

Following up Hysteria was going to be damn near impossible for Def Leppard – and it was made doubly difficult when guitarist Steve Clarke died so tragically. 

Despite this, the band (and producer Mutt Lange) still managed to deliver a sparkling set of chart-friendly rock, including the decidedly tongue-in-cheek Let’s Get Rocked.

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38. Slipknot - Slipknot (1999)

In metal terms, the arrival of Slipknot was an earthquake. They had the appeal of early-day Metallica, the intensity of Slayer and the iconography of Iron Maiden. 

Until they arrived on the scene, bands were still caught up in the fallout from grunge, and while the lightweight pop-metal of bands such as Korn, Limp Bizkit and others were keeping hard rock alive and on permanent rotation on MTV, there was nothing outside of the underground to challenge the old guard

The faceless fury this nine-piece made enabled them to become famous. With this album they were dazzling.

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37. R.E.M. - Automatic For The People (1992)

This was the album that did it – the hour-long epic that elevated R.E.M. from a great, reasonably successful college rock band into a whole new league. 

The crossover hit was the melancholy ballad Everybody Hurts – an anthem for the tearful everywhere. But despite that song’s ubiquity, there’s no denying the quality of the songs on offer here. 

From the plaintive Nightswimming to the beautiful slide guitar of Man In The Moon, every one’s a winner.  

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36. Black Crowes - The Southern Harmony And Musical Companion (1992)

Traditional wisdom has it that bands often struggle with their second album if their debut has been particularly well received. 

The Black Crowes had no such problem with their second release. If anything, it was stronger than their first, with the band having perfected their winning combination of Stonsey swagger and authentic, gospel-tinged rock’n’soul. 

Just listen to Remedy and the brilliant Thorn In My Pride for conclusive proof. 

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35. L7 - Bricks Are Heavy (1992)

Were they a grunge band? Were they a riot grrl group? Frankly, we couldn’t care less, as what these LA girls certainly were, was canny songwriters. 

Named after the 1950s slang word for ‘square’, L7 were anything but dull. Sporting flannel shirts, rainbow-coloured hair and combat boots, guitarist and vocalist Donita Sparks was prone to loose cannon-style high jinks which on occasion threatened to overshadow the music itself (tampons at Reading and The Word nudity, anyone?).

L7 were labelmates of Nirvana on both Sub Pop and the Warner Bros subsidiary Slash, who hooked them up with Butch Vig of Nevermind fame for their third album, Bricks Are Heavy, in 1992.

Pretend We’re Dead might be the album's best-known and stand-out track, but Shitlist, Everglade and Wargasm are no slouches either. 

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34. Foo Fighters - The Colour And The Shape (1997)

In many respects this was the first proper Foo Fighters album, the self-titled ’95 debut having been more of a Dave Grohl solo record. 

It’s more disciplined and focused, not to mention demanding; drummer William Goldsmith even quit during the recording. Sounding like it was built with arenas in mind, it ushered in the post-grunge age with Grohl now a fully formed songwriter, and the heavily melodic groove of songs like Everlong and My Hero sat comfortably alongside the furious Monkey Wrench and the brooding Walking After You

There’s an energy and commitment about this album that came from a band who were all on the same wavelength.

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33. Nirvana - Unplugged In New York (1994)

Goodbye to all that, then. Even without this being a posthumous release, and the knowledge that one of the people you were listening to here had ended his own life in a violent and aggressive manner, Unplugged In New York was stirring and poignant. 

Highlights include the squeezebox-bolstered Jesus Doesn’t Want Me For A Sunbeam and the magical All Apologies, but the best comes last, when Cobain’s drawl breaks into a ravaged howl at the three-minute mark of Where Did You Sleep Last Night.

Nirvana didn’t need the noise to do their thing, they just liked it. But it was in these calmer moments that their talents shone through in a different way. 

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32. Oasis - Definitely Maybe (1994)

“It's about escaping,” said Noel Gallagher in 1994, speaking ahead of the release of Definitely Maybe. But really, it was about so much more than that.

One of the defining documents of the 90s, the Manchester quintet’s ferociously optimistic and thrillingly self-possessed debut album is a snapshot of what it means to be young, fearless and fiercely convinced of one’s own capacity to transcend the mundane and mediocre. 

Twenty-odd years on, its sass, swagger and snap remains undiminished.

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31. Pantera - Cowboys From Hell (1990)

The band who were once second-rate glamsters amazed with this album, completely turning metal on its head. 

The link between thrash and nu-metal, Cowboys From Hell was the most important genre record since Master Of Puppets. Diamond Darrell (as he was still known) proved to be a hitherto unknown virtuoso, calling up the kind of blinding riffage and frenetic soloing he had never hinted at before. 

Battered riffs, shotgun blast tunes and manic songs… it added up to the first modern metal album of the decade.

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