10 Best Albums From 1994
Was there a better year for alternative music than 1994? We doubt it. Just look at our list of the 10 Best Albums From 1994. There’s not one disposable record there. Seriously. How many other years can you say that about? Probably zero when it comes to alternative music and maybe just a handful of others since people started keeping track of these things. Dig in — it doesn’t get much better than this.
The debut album by this British trip-hop crew pretty much helped set the template for spooky, electronic-based chill-out music. The trio has released only two more albums since then, but ‘Dummy’ is the masterpiece — all moody soundscapes filled with glitchy synth blips and ghostly vocals. A great late-night listen. Still.
In a way, Pearl Jam’s third album is their most focused, the point where they come to terms with their mainstream success and creative impulses. It’s also their most fully formed album, as far as these things go. The 14 songs fall into place like they belong together. Even the misses (‘Hey Foxymophandlemama, That’s Me,’ anyone?) seem to have some purpose.
The first, and tragically final, album by singer-songwriter Buckley is full of promise. From his ethereal vocals to the haunting territories his songs drift across, ‘Grace’ is the sound of a young artist bridging his legacy (Buckley’s father was also a folk-rock singer who died young) to modern rock’s growing influence. It’s still a haunting, individual work.
Soundgarden’s fourth and best album distills the primal thrust of the band’s earlier work and filters it through a psychedelic haze for one of 1994’s most artfully odd hard-rock albums. It’s also performed with much more confidence. ‘Superunknown’ is both tougher and softer than anything the band released before or after its masterpiece.
Before she became a punch line, Courtney Love was a badass punk singer with a snarl as fierce as her music. ‘Live Through This,’ Hole’s second album, allegedly received some behind-the-scenes assistance from Love’s husband, Kurt Cobain, giving the music a Nirvana-style dynamic. But we’re not going to complain when the songs are this great.
‘MTV Unplugged in New York’
Between ‘In Utero”s release in September 1993 and Kurt Cobain’s death in April 1994, Nirvana recorded an unplugged set for MTV that included some originals, a few covers and a little help from their pals the Meat Puppets. When the album finally came out six months after Cobain’s death, its mournful tone played like a requiem for one of the late greats.
When Weezer’s debut album came out in May, it sounded like a tuneful slab of guitar-powered modern rock informed by ’70s power pop. Five years later, half of indie rock’s new bands were ripping it off. The band has had some ups and downs since then, but none packs as much fun, melody or sheer joy as its self-titled first record. A bona fide genre-starter.
The year’s most physically and mentally draining record is also the year’s best concept album, an industrial wasteland of filth, hopelessness, despair and enough raw emotion on display to keep a dozen therapists in business. It’s still one of the most abrasive records to ever hit the charts, a wish-fulfilling descent into a deep, dark void.
Green Day’s breakthrough album came at exactly the right time. Alternative artists were all over the place in 1994, and ‘Dookie’ took them to the schoolyard playground, where they hurled insults at one another, talked about jacking off and spit rhymes like they were a punk band from 10 years earlier. Green Day would get bigger and more ambitious, but they were never more themselves than they are on ‘Dookie.’
Following 1992’s art/noise debut, ‘Slanted and Enchanted,’ Pavement’s next album was essentially pop played through an indie-rock filter. The hooks are bigger, the choruses are catchier and the production is punchier on ‘Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain.’ You’d almost believe Pavement were aiming for pop stardom here. But then they throw in an art/noise twist or turn to set you straight.