10 Best Albums From 1992
Nineteen-ninety-two was a transitional year for alternative rock. Just a few months before, Nirvana changed everything with ‘Nevermind,’ igniting a modern-rock explosion that would soon take over the mainstream. The big record companies began scooping up anyone who looked like they knew how to play guitar, and underground bands started surfacing for the first time. Our list of the 10 Best Albums From 1992 reflects this wind of change.
Producer Butch Vig, fresh from working on Nirvana‘s ‘Nevermind,’ tightened the noise rockers’ chaotic squalls while also beefing up their bottom end on ‘Dirty.’ The result is Sonic Youth’s most commercial-sounding record, a song-centered set that doesn’t sacrifice too much of the band’s usual guitar heroics.
In a way, ‘Bone Machine’ is the most Tom Waits-like album Tom Waits has ever made. It’s dark, weird, bluesy, heavy on percussion and self-conscious enough to realize what it’s doing. It’s not as strong as some of his other ’90s albums, but this is the one you want to play for people who aren’t familiar with Waits. ‘Bone Machine’ sealed the deal by winning a Grammy for Best Alternative Album.
PJ Harvey’s debut album wasted no time making its point. From the opening ‘Oh My Lover’ to the redemptive final track ‘Water,’ ‘Dry’ is soaked in sex — primal, passionate and occasionally violent. The follow-up LP ‘Rid of Me’ leaves more scars, but this brutally rough first record from PJ Harvey, then a trio, hits hard.
The Beasties revealed their punk roots on their third album, mixing hip-hop flash with ’70s cool-groove instrumentals and mile-a-minute hardcore cuts. It’s a knockout combo they’d use throughout the decade. ‘Check Your Head’ is a wild ride, throwing down whiplash beats one second, spitting punk rhymes the next. Hold on.
After Hüsker Dü broke up, Bob Mould released a couple of solo records — one good, one not-so-good. He then formed a new trio and built their sound around melodies that approached pop at times. Sugar’s debut album features Mould’s best songs since Hüsker Dü’s peak in the mid ’80s. The band wouldn’t last long, but this glorious first shot was a welcome return to greatness.
‘Hollywood Town Hall’
This alt-country group released a pair of albums before they refined their sound a bit for their breakthrough LP. There’s plenty of heart, and soul, in these songs, penned by Mark Olson and Gary Louris, a great singing and songwriting team that had one more album in them together before the inevitable split. ‘Hollywood Town Hall’ is their masterpiece.
After the previous year’s dismal ‘Kill Uncle,’ Morrissey kicked back hard on his third album, a typically mean-spirited record that includes his best songs since the Smiths. ‘Tomorrow’ was the hit, but songs like ‘We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful’ and ‘You’re the One for Me, Fatty’ display Morrissey at his most caustic. It’s still his best solo album.
‘Rage Against the Machine’
When Rage Against the Machine’s self-titled debut album came out at the end of 1992, there weren’t too many records that sounded like it. Bits and pieces of its political punk fury could be found elsewhere — from the strident rap-rock to the socialist sloganeering. But no other band had Tom Morello, an electrifying guitarist capable of making his instrument sing like a pair of turntables and then some. The album sounds even better today.
R.E.M. got reflective on their eighth album, sinking into deep issues like loneliness and mortality. It’s a melancholic, and mostly insular, listen, filled with acoustic strums and mournful melodies. It’s also their last great album. In the end, it emerges as hopeful, a sign of light, and life, in the vast, endless universe.
While almost every other alt-rock band sharpened and focused their music in 1992, Pavement turned in the opposite direction with their debut album, making a glorious and disjointed mess out of the sounds and chaos they wrangled in the studio. ‘Slanted and Enchanted’ turned its fractured art-rock into a conceptual project of endurance and faith. Modern rock had its sights set on the Top 40 in 1992; Pavement rejected radio altogether and in the process influenced a whole generation of free-thinking artists.