Released: August 1991
Nirvana’s slipstream dragged in copious imitators, but also bands that hadn’t been lucky enough to break through on their own terms. Eddie Vedder’s Pearl Jam benefited from Nirvana’s impetus to hit big with first single ‘Alive’ a record of stern power led by Vedder’s grim voice, some stunning guitar work from Mike McCready and a LOLfest of a lyric about incest and mistaken parental identity.
Released: June 1992
It took eons for Evan Dando to become a star but when grunge and the dawn of Generation X opened the door he shambled right in with a fifth album that surfed the laidback slacker wave. ‘It’s A Shame About Ray’ – the album’s title track – was inspired by a mix of vague stories about newspaper headlines and a bar owner who called everyone Ray, but its melody is crystal clear and quite lovely.
Released: August 1993
Away from the Pixies, Kim Deal could exercise her ultrapop muscle, teaming up with sister Kelley, Josephine Wiggs and Jim MacPherson to make the quirkiest of alternative hits. ‘Cannonball’, lead single from second album ‘Last Splash’, is playful and raucous but unspeakably neat, firing off ideas and effects in all directions and storing up enough hooks to feed them all winter, because that’s what hooks do.
Released: July 1996
‘Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)’ or ‘Time Of Your Life (Good Riddance)’ – whatever you fancy – was a true punk statement by the snotty-nosed revivalists: a ballad. Suckers worldwide clutched it to their hearts and sent it up the mainstream charts in 1997, but it had actually been knocking around for years, an earlier version surfacing as a B-side to the conflated 'Brain Stew/Jaded' in 1996.
Released: April 1992
After the blissful misery of 1989’s ‘Disintegration’, ‘Wish’ was a return to the more poppy Bob Smith of mid-80s glory – and ‘Friday I’m In Love’ was its dangerously upbeat signature track. Not that its genesis was all that happy. The paranoid Smith was sure he’d nabbed the chord progression and spent hours ringing people up and playing it to them to see if they knew.
Released: July 1995
Quite beautiful but harsh all the same, Elliott Smith’s semi-confessional acoustic hymn to addiction feels like one of many foreshadowings of his death. It bristles with anger and bitterness, while keeping both under shaky control, and provided an almost too close to the bone soundtrack for Richie Tenenbaum’s suicide attempt, portrayed by Luke Wilson in Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums.
Released: August 1999
It wasn’t a hit in the UK until 2000, scraping the Top 10 on the back of guest vocalist Kelis’s breakthrough with the raging ‘Caught Out There’, but in 1999 ‘Got Your Money’ and parent album ‘Nigga Please’ scandalised the States as ODB became public enemy no.1. Back to the music, The Neptunes’ whipcrack production and ODB’s bananas delivery gave Kelis the perfect platform for a big career.
Released: February 1996
In 1996 the Fugees could’ve released five minutes of Wyclef chanting, “One time, two time” and it would’ve gone to No.1. But ‘Ready Or Not’ deserved its success, lifting The Delfonics’ ‘Ready Or Not Here I Come (Can’t Hide From Love) and shaping it into a downbeat groove. Lauryn Hill was rarely more soulful and her cohorts keep it simple, trading braggadocio with a deft flow.
Released: August 1998
After the demise of the Fugees, Lauryn Hill announced her arrival as a solo star with this startlingly original blend of hip-hop and doo wop. To an insistent piano vamp she shoots out warnings to each side of the gender divide, rhyming with dextrous speed and singing like a dream. It topped the charts in the US, made No.3 here and just adds to the whole heap of pity that Hill’s not cutting it anymore.
Released: November 1993
Everyone got all unnecessary about Justine Frischmann and Damon Albarn’s perfect Britpop union but the real story was Elastica’s knack for a crisp, punchy tune. Of course there was a lot of chat about Wire and The Stranglers, but on debut single ‘Stutter’ Elastica’s spiky allure sounds brand new, Frischmann belittling some poor fellow to the strains of their most killer chorus.