The 50 best rock albums of the 90s

30. Jeff Buckley - Grace (1994)


Buckley copycats might mimic the angel voice, but they’re missing the point: the late Californian had eclectic tastes – Zeppelin, Al Di Meola, The Smiths… and his sole album mixed moments of drowsy beauty, So Real, with bombastic rock, Eternal Life, and reworked Middle English hymns, Corpus Christi Carol. “I know I can do better,” said Buckley – but he never got the chance.

“One guitar record I didn’t ‘get’ at first was Jeff Buckley’s Grace," says Halestorm's Lzzy Hale. "But it’s only because, as a singer myself, I was overly distracted by his amazing voice. At first, I considered it more of a vocal album. But as I dug in, I realised that the man was an absolute genius on guitar.”

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29. Red Hot Chili Peppers - BloodSugarSexMagik (1991)


In many ways this is the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ finest hour. It’s the link between the hard-nosed funk rock of their early years, and the smoother style that has propelled them to superstar status. 

Enter producer/guru/star-maker Rick Rubin, whose work on the Chilis’ fifth album helped turn them into the megastars they’d always been in their heads. Elsewhere, the return of guitarist John Frusciante, after a brief, drug-related absence, energised the band like never before.

And the songs are uniformly stunning: Suck My Kiss and Under The Bridge are among the decade’s most glorious. Red Hot Chilis indeed.

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28. Slayer - Seasons In The Abyss (1990)


While the other members of the Thrash Big Four – Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax – agonised as to how they could make their music more relevant for the new decade, Slayer didn’t bother. 

They got on with making the fastest, heaviest and most poundingly metal album they could. 

Many believed that Seasons In The Abyss was the sound of Slayer stuck in a rut. However, this was actually a band in a groove, knowing precisely what they should be doing, and how to deliver it. Nobody could argue that they were still ahead of the game on songs like War Ensemble, Dead Skin Mask and the title track. Brutality incarnate.  

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27. Alanis Morissette - Jagged Little Pill (1995)


Jagged Little Pill seemingly appeared overnight. What was remarkable about its unimaginable success was its relaxed and humble genesis. 

Alanis Morissette, a 21-year-old Canadian dance-pop singer, hooked up with Glen Ballard, fresh from producing/writing with Michael Jackson and Paula Abdul, and 13 days later, a multimillion-selling, Grammy-grabbing album was written.

Once aptly described as a 90s version of Carole King’s Tapestry – a highly charged emotional unburdening of youthful heartbreak set to highly accomplished songcraft – the intensely personal nature of the naked and angry lyrics resonated with almost an entire generation, and not just young women.

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26. Soundgarden - Badmotorfinger (1991)


The Grammy-nominated third album from Soundgarden was
a more collaborative affair than their previous record, not least because of new bass player Ben Shepherd. 

The results were more cohesive and almost upbeat. Songs were tighter, arrangements a little more taut. Guitarist Kim Thayil said the bassist had made the album both faster and weirder. They even got ‘alternative’ radio play with the singles Outshined and Rusty Cage while Jesus Christ Pose was as controversial as it was acclaimed. 

They’d been early out of the grunge traps, but with Badmotorfinger, Soundgarden sealed their legend.

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25. Smashing Pumpkins - Siamese Dream (1993)


Like all great albums, this takes the listener on a journey of contrasting moods without ever losing its own identity. 

The Smashing Pumpkins are just as comfortable serving up high-energy psychedelic riffs as they are exploring their more tender side on tracks like Today and Disarm. The result was that Siamese Dream came on like a grunge Queen, with all the fearlessness and foolishness that suggests. 

This ability to turn on a sixpence stylistically helped make them one of the defining alternative bands of the 90s. 

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24. Oasis - (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? (1995)


Morning Glory? was an unstoppable juggernaut when it first appeared in October 1995, going on to sell in excess of 10 million copies (four million in the US alone). 

Twenty-five years on, the second-biggest British album in history feels like a period piece, evoking Cool Britannia optimism, laddish bonhomie and, tellingly, a time when the Gallagher brothers were famous for music rather than for their tabloid antics. 

This is their finest album, and it’s no surprise that critics at the time fêted Noel as the natural heir to Burt Bacharach.  

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23. Nirvana - In Utero (1993)


How are a cult band meant to react to levels of success they had barely dreamed of and didn’t ask for? 

Nirvana opted to stay true to their outsider values, and brought in hardcore legend Steve Albini to produce a harsher, more abrasive sound designed to satisfy old fans and alienate new ones. 

Nirvana belonged on the margins and In Utero is a brutal, visceral masterpiece.  

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22. Queen - Innuendo (1991)


The last true Queen album, Innuendo had a lot of intelligent humour and pathos about it. 

Delilah, for instance, is about Freddie Mercury’s cat, while I’m Going Slightly Mad is a song about, well, madness – but it’s done in the reverie style of Noel Coward. The title track – which had a guest appearance from Steve Howe – began as a jam, before being opened up into a flowing track that incorporated some brilliantly synthesised orchestrations. 

Perhaps most poignant of all is the low key yet mesmerising These Are The Days Of Our Lives, which ended with Mercury’s whispered paean ‘I still love you’, moving in its simplicity. The album summed up how Queen could draw people close, yet still keep them at a convenient distance.

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21. Manic Street Preachers - The Holy Bible (1994)


Manic Street Preachers’ masterpiece, The Holy Bible was so much more than just a rock album. 

In a musical landscape in which grunge was reaching the end of its glory days and Britpop was on the rise, it was an anomaly and an education, a reading list, a warning from history. As such, it's viewed by fans with a reverence that borders on the cultish. 

This was the last album they recorded with now disappeared Richey James, whose personal turmoil stains this vivid record like a tattoo. It includes the song 4st 7lbs, which was James’s weight at the time he wrote this lyric.

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