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The 50 best rock albums of the 90s

10. Tool - Aenima (1996)

This is the album where, for the first time, Tool showed their prog roots, in particular drawing from the table of King Crimson

Weird, esoteric, sarcastic, unsettling, progressive, complex, involving... it was a masterclass in teasing the listener and keeping them on their toes. 

Stinkfist was the big single, but the nine-minute build of Eulogy (going from two notes to a wall of furious noise) or the psychedelic nightmare trip of the closing Third Eye (possibly their finest song) really showed the world the real Tool for the first time.

Aenima dragged the whole concept of complex music back into the underground. Its influence was enormous.

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9. Radiohead - OK Computer (1997)

Always close to the top of any list of the best albums of all time, OK Computer is the album that took Radiohead far into the mainstream, while retaining rockist cred. 

Combining prog with alternative influences, they came up with a style that was supple, subtle and sensuous. This wasn’t Pink Floyd for the end of the millennium, it was original and visionary. 

Songs like Paranoid Android and Karma Police cast a spell propelled Radiohead into the stadium league. Quite brilliant.

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8. Faith No More - Angel Dust (1992)

Whether they liked it or not, Faith No More were at the forefront of the funk metal movement that appeared in the early 90s. 

Following on from their success with The Real Thing in ‘89, FNM delivered another slab of innovative rock – and we’d not heard anything quite like it. 

Despite publicly giving the impression that he was just killing time in FNM until his 'other band' Mr Bungle hit the big time, Patton excelled himself here. The singer’s idiosyncratic character is smeared all over Angel Dust. Many of the lyrics were even cooked up in a sleep-deprivation experiment the singer endured – see the self-help psychosis of Land Of Sunshine or the gale-force paranoia of Caffeine.

Faith No More made a lot of great albums. But with Angel Dust they made one hell of a masterpiece.

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7. Guns N’ Roses - Use Your Illusion Volumes I & II (1991)

Almost everyone believes that if these two double albums were condensed into one single record it would rival Appetite For Destruction

But there are so many moments of brilliance here that such an exercise would be musical genocide. These 30 tracks showcase the breadth, depth and diversity of Guns N’ Roses, from the power balladry of November Rain to the anger and ferocity of Get In The Ring

Trying to restrict them would have been as dumb as asking Led Zeppelin just to recycle Whole Lotta Love

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6. The Wildhearts - Earth Versus The Wildhearts (1993)

The Wildhearts’ music was a thrilling but jumbled pop/metal Molotov cocktail that marked them out on the early-90s circuit.

Recorded in just over a week on used tape, the tracks that became Earth Vs... were originally conceived as demos, but The Wildhearts’ record company decided to release them. 

The result was delicious rock’n’roll immediacy. 

Mick Ronson was originally going to produce but was prevented by ill health. But his guitar solo on My Baby Is A Headfuck justifies the entrance fee all on its own. 

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5. Alice In Chains - Dirt (1990)

Alice In Chains’ debut album was one of the earliest grunge releases, and it had much in common with the sludgy riffery of Black Sabbath

However, where AIC differed from the Sabs was in their twin vocal attack – the cathartic holler of Layne Staley was often doubled and harmonised with guitarist Jerry Cantrell’s dulcet tones. 

Check out Man In The Box for their exquisite counterpoint vocal and Bleed The Freak and We Die Young as examples of their ferocity. And this was just the beginning of their influential career.

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4. Therapy? - Troublegum (1994)

While the word ‘seminal’ may be bandied around much too often these days, when it comes to Troublegum, the adjective couldn’t be any more apt.

Recorded in several studios in England during 1993, Troublegum bore traces of the antisocial noise and off-kilter rock that had always been a major part of Therapy?’s sound, but this was primarily an album dominated by enormous sing-along anthems. 

From the desperate threats of brutish opener Knives and the radio-mincing choruses of Screamager and Nowhere through to the metallic thump of unapologetic riff-monsters like Trigger Inside and Femtex, it was a record custom-built to unite the rock tribes, even stopping off for a highly convincing cover of dour post-punk legends Joy Division’s Isolation along the way.

Bursting with twisted lyrics wrapped around metal-infused, punk-imbued barbs, it remains a much-adored, evergreen classic. 

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3. Pearl Jam - Ten (1991)

This debut album from the band born out of the ashes of cult heroes Mother Love Bone put Pearl Jam in the vanguard of the grunge movement. 

But where their peers wielded irony like a weapon, Ten wore its earnestness as a badge, yoking Eddie Vedder’s magnetic intensity to songs that were anthemic (Even Flow), empathetic (Jeremy, inspired by a school shooting) and brooding (Black).

Ten had much in common with classic American rock, albeit with a sense of dystopian confusion. The rich tones of songs like Alive, Jeremy and Even Flow had their roots in the 70s, but were nourished by the realism of Generation X. 

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2. Metallica - Metallica (1991)

The one that locked Metallica in as the biggest-selling metal band ever. Consequently, some diehards hate it.  

It was a bold move – a shift from thrash metal to mainstream rock, with shorter, slower, more direct songs, and most controversially, a slick production from Bob Rock, whose previous clients included Bon Jovi and Mötley Crüe

But the band shifted gears without compromising any core values. While the simple melodies of Enter Sandman, Nothing Else Matters and The Unforgiven captured the mass imagination, the two rock ballads, The Unforgiven and Nothing Else Matters, had genuine emotional weight. There’s a lyrical duality that hints at troubled times ahead. 

More than anything else, that’s why this record retains its fascination. The gamble paid off.

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1. Nirvana - Nevermind (1991)

Is it possible to really quantify how much of an impact this, Nirvana’s second album has had on the world of rock music? Probably not. 

Nirvana were significant because their musical influences were rooted in ’70s metal – Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin et al – but their attitude was most assuredly punk rock, and their success united both sides of that divide and crossed over to the mainstream in a way that not only took the music business by surprise, but has had a lasting impact on rock music ever since.

Nirvana had already made one brilliant record, Bleach, recorded for Seattle label Sub Pop on an eight-track. Cobain’s band found itself at the vanguard of the Seattle ‘grunge’ movement that also included Soundgarden and soon Pearl Jam. American alternative music was rapidly becoming big business with the Pixies flying high and Sonic Youth now signed to a major label, Geffen. And this positioned Nirvana perfectly to take indie rock to the masses. 

The rest, as they say, is history. Suffice to say that the musical landscape of the world would probably be a lot different today had Kurt not shared with us the glory of Smells Like Teen Spirit, Come As You Are and the rest. Impossibly brilliant. 

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