10 Best Albums From 1993
Alternative rock was buzzing all over the place in 1993. Most of the bands that the major labels had rushed in to sign following Nirvana's massive and surprise success two years earlier were starting to unveil what all that record-company money had bought. Some of it was exactly what everyone expected, but some of it still carried that DIY torch, staying firmly independent from the big leagues, no matter who was signing the checks. Our list of the 10 Best Albums From 1993 includes legends, new faces and some old favorites trying on some new sounds.
Radiohead's debut album isn't a masterpiece like 'Kid A,' 'OK Computer' or 'The Bends.' But it is a tentative first step toward the greatness to come. On the surface, 'Pablo Honey' sounds a lot like the formulaic alt-rock being cranked out at the time. But listen closer and you'll hear a band beginning to find its voice among the sameness.
The sixth album by the New Jersey trio is the one where they add some melodies to the woozy indie rock they'd been making for almost a decade. It's a seamless mix, spurred by the group's love for classic pop music. Following 'Painful,' Yo La Tengo would spend the rest of the '90s crafting three of the most elegant indie-rock records ever made.
The monster success of their debut album 'Ten' gave Pearl Jam the opportunity to do almost anything they wanted on their followup. So they made a blistering hard rock album that approaches punk at times, shoving aside (mostly) the epic sprawl of 'Ten''s most popular cuts for short, snappy guitar attacks, plus a few acoustic curve balls for the hell of it.
Whigs frontman Greg Dulli could be a major a-hole. He knows this. And he knows that it's just the nature of men to be like that. 'Gentlemen' is a concept album of sorts about the d--khead moves guys make in the name of love, sex and pride. It's a revelatory work, all buzzsaw guitars and horned-up rhythms.
Kim Deal was kicking around with her side band the Breeders even before the Pixies broke up. But now that her full-time group was history, she dived head first into 'The Last Splash,' a guitar-heavy assault filled with noise rock, artsy side trips, messy philosophizing and a surprising amount of hooks at times.
Picking up where 'Achtung Baby' left off, 'Zooropa' extends U2's trip into electronic krautrock. But where its predecessor occasionally incorporated the group's knack for big, anthem-sized set pieces, 'Zooropa' is all rattles and hums, a futuristic foray into robot rock with only the slightest beat of a human pulse.
Like Pearl Jam (see No. 8 on our list of the 10 Best Albums From 1993), Nirvana used their new fame to make a followup record that defied their big-money bosses' expectations. But where Pearl Jam headed toward hard-rock crunch, Nirvana slipped into abrasive punk noise, abetted by producer Steve Albini, who basically hit the "record" button and let the trio loose. 'In Utero' was Nirvana's last album.
Like Nirvana's 'In Utero' (see No. 4 on our list of the 10 Best Albums From 1993), PJ Harvey's second record was produced by Steve Albini. And like he did with Nirvana, Albini basically recorded Harvey and her band with little outside influence. The result is one of the most brutally sexual records of '90s alt-rock, a post-feminist screed that would scare the crap out of the misogynist pigs Greg Dulli sang about.
The Pumpkins' second, and best, album pile-drives Billy Corgan's guitar heroics and massive soundscapes of the debut and slips some actual songs into its frothy mix. 'Siamese Dream' is part classic-rock swagger, part indie-rock spunk. Neither side holds anything back. 'Nevermind' producer Butch Vig adds muscle.
Whether or not you believe Phair's assertion that 'Exile in Guyville' is a song-by-song answer record to the Rolling Stones' classic 'Exile on Main St.' is beside the point. 'Guyville,' like PJ Harvey's 'Rid of Me' (see No. 3 on our list of the 10 Best Albums From 1993), is a feminist manifesto -- a flip side to all the male posturing that dominated indie rock in the '90s. It's revealing, reckless and as horned-up as anything on 'Exile on Main St.' It's also a milestone recording of the '90s. An instant classic.