While the cynics out write it off as clickbait (come on, like we’d ever manipulate you into clicking on something), it makes perfect sense that so many websites celebrate album anniversaries. Thanks in no small part to the internet, we live in a world driven by nostalgia. Plus, all culture is cyclical, and the ’90s are hot as shit right now. And few years from the ’90s feel quite as ’90s as the year 1994. Which, as all true ’90s kids know, just so happens to be celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.
1994 has some truly seminal albums, including Green Day’s Dookie, Weezer’s Blue Album, Nas’ Illmatic, Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral, Sunny Day Real Estate’s Diary, NOFX’s Punk in Drublic and the Beastie Boys’ Ill Communication, among many others.
But while we want to be all “it’s the ’90s, relax” about it, there’s also a dark, seedy underbelly to the year that includes the rise of the swing revival, Christian nü metal, and so much awful rock music. Clutch your beanie babies, crack open a bottle of Orbitz and hold onto your joakleys as we explore these 20-year-old albums that we’d rather forget.
P.O.D.’s Snuff the Punk
Released in January, P.O.D.’s debut album laid the framework for their melodic brand of Christian chongo rap-metal that’d earn them worldwide success in both God-fearing and secular markets. While Christian bands tend to chill out on the preachiness and hide their light under a bushel to break into the mainstream, P.O.D.’s debut album let it all hang out. Not only did the original CD feature an angel with a machine gun on the cover, but its closing track is a decidedly straightforward rap metal jam called “Abortion is Murder,” complete with Fox News-ready lyrics, turntable scratches and samples of a woman painfully giving birth at the end. It’s like Rage Against the Machine for the religious right, a perfect soundtrack for those long days of passing out graphic aborted fetus pamphlets.
Black Sabbath’s Cross Purposes
Who the fuck is Tony Martin? I’m sure if you’re a pasty metal nerd who buys all of their black longsleeves and studded leather everything at incense-scented rock shops, you know exactly who he is. But if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t spend all day cruising metal wikis in search of factual errors, let me tell you — Tony Martin is the least famous frontman of Black Sabbath. Though he was in the band longer than Dio, he’s not exactly a marquee name. And this 1994 atrocity proves why— though this is good music for the opening credits of some deep Netflix movie about a kid who befriends a chimp and skips school to drive across Arizona or something, it sounds literally nothing like the Black Sabbath so many people know and love. Of course, some dweebs on YouTube page say this is their favourite Black Sabbath album.
All these damned Tumblr teens seem to think that everyone in the ’90s were dressed like The Courtneys and listening to nothing but acid house, conscious hip-hop and Flying Nun releases. But in reality, people were naming their bands things like Therapy? and naming their albums after stupid wordplay (see:Troublegum). In fact, these things were celebrated, particularly if you played melodic hard rock that gruff dudes could crank up, all while stroking their dyed-black goatees in agreement.
See how long you can listen to the band’s “Stop It, You’re Killing Me” before you say the song title out loud to your computer. The song’s opening lyrics, “The world is fucked / and so am I / Maybe it’s the other way ’round / I can’t decide,” have been passed around, evolved and preserved through a rich oral history of clueless hard rock bands in small towns the world over, all of whom play empty showcases at bars called like Scuba Steve’s or Johnny’s Juke Joint or whatever. Fact: everyone who likes this band has said “rap is crap” at least once in their lives.
Spin Doctors’ Turn it Upside Down
Time heals all wounds, right? Wrong. No amount of distance can make the Spin Doctors okay, and no amount of ironic detachment will get their wretched curly typography on t-shirt racks in your local Urban Outfitters. The Spin Doctors are the ’90s that no one’s talking about when they remember the ’90s. They’re the musical equivalent of a court jester hat that’s also a Dr. Seuss hat that’s also has long earflaps with hemp strings and a pinwheel and looks like a hacky sack. Their funky, treble-drenched goof pop brings together all of the worst elements of the 1990s to create something that’s truly fukengrüven. The bass pops like the Seinfeld theme, the guitars wiggle around with goofy riffs and the vocals, those cruel, relentless things, destroy syllables through half-sung, half-rapped delivery. Sometimes there’s scatting, but it feels more like unwanted scat play. Turn it Upside Down isn’t even the album with “Two Princes” on it. Instead, it’s got tracks like “Big Fat Funky Booty.” Listen to all five minutes and tell us you still love the ’90s.
Brian Setzer Orchestra’s Brian Setzer Orchestra
In a bleak, yellowed doctor’s waiting room, there’s a dim fluorescent light making a crackling sound as it flashes off and on, its filaments on their last legs. The patients, growing impatient with various ailments, try to avoid eye-contact as they flip through a tattered old Time magazine with a cover story about a mass murder they’d since forgotten. Beneath the uncomfortable hum of the room, a cheap AM radio gently churns out a tinny chorus, attempting to force positive vibes upon the infirm. Distorted and poorly mixed, the radio sings, “You’ve gotta jump, jive, and then you wail….”
Before the Brian Setzer Orchestra infected North America with their ubiquitous cover of “Jump Jive an’ Wail,” however, they released two other albums that contributed to the swing revival. The first album is a self-titled collection of slick standards and goofy pompadour pop. Coming across like an ever-so-slightly more “rock ‘n’ roll” Michael Buble, this music is pretty much exclusively for drunk relatives at weddings.
Hootie & the Blowfish’s Cracked Rear View
It’s a good thing no one wants this compact disc anymore, because any worthwhile pawn shop has incorporated a hefty stack of Cracked Rear View CDs into the actual foundation of its building. One purchase and the entire structure could collapse. There’s really little that needs to be said about this album — it’s ’90s yarl rock, plain and simple. That Darius Rucker somehow spun this into a wildly successful new country career is beyond me, but I’m not going to look into it. This music belongs in a time where everyone added extra “r” sounds to every vowel, belted out nonsense atop cornball acoustic jams and only drank from red cups. Frat bros sucked when they had feelings — at least now they just get everything out through mindlessly explosive EDM anthems.
Blues Traveler’s Four
In the mid-’90s, Barenaked Ladies weren’t just that Big Bang Theory theme song band that your quirky uncle listens to all day every Canada Day. They were practically a genre of music unto themselves. Blues Traveler had all of the cornball signifiers of BNL — funky acoustic guitars, over-the-top musicianship, hokey singalong choruses — but added in something much worse, with masterful harmonica playing. Of all the instruments that no one should be amazing at, the harmonica is right up there with the washboard and the spoons. It sounds like someone groaning through a broken exhaust pipe. Some turd in Blue Traveler went all Yngwie on the mouth harp, and it’s totally gross.
Dave Matthews Band’s Under the Table and Dreaming
That fucking harmonica dude also lent his skills to the Dave Matthews Band for “What Would You Say,” the lead single from the band’s first-ever studio album Under the Table and Dreaming. There are a lot of problems with the Dave Matthews Band (sorry, “DMB”). They practically invented Bonnaroo, and this video’s a tapestry of colourful imagery that recalls breezy patchwork pants and postcards found in the devil sticks tent at a fringe festival. Worse, though, Matthews proved that virtuosic musicianship, all hokey guitar riffs and off-kilter time signatures,can be a bad thing. In fact, “What Would You Say” is a solid argument against practicing your guitar.
The Black Crowes’ Amorica
The Black Crowes’ frontman Chris Robinson sort of looks like a bearded scarecrow, blowing around in the wind, and his band’s music is proof that rock ‘n’ roll has been stale for quite some time. Amorica, one of the band’s most popular releases, is packed with annoying honky-tonk classic rock with plenty of faux soulful vocals, and its original cover art is an abomination. Sure, I’m a Canadian and much of a patriotic one, but that album cover, with its tuft of curly pubes poking out from beneath an American flag thong, has me feeling all kinds of offended.
Sting’s Fields of Gold: The Best of Sting 1984-1994
Just think — once this thing arrived from Columbia House, your parents cued it up, got frisky over red wine and Northern Exposure reruns, then hit the bedroom where your dad tantrically plowed your mom’s fields of gold to the sound of lush lute arrangements. Hell, if your little brother’s name is Gordon, Matthew or Thomas, he was probably conceived this way —Sting’s real name is Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner.
Cherry Poppin’ Daddies’ Rapid City Muscle Car
The swing revival was bad enough on its own, but the ’90s also brought with it a love of eclecticism—the decade invented the earliest incarnation of “I like everything except rap and country.” Except objectively, terrible swing revivalists the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies also liked country on their album Rapid City Muscle Car. I would never ask you to listen to the whole album, but here’s what’s going on in their 1994 release, as per Wikipedia: “Building upon the band’s then-standard repertoire of swing and funk, Rapid City Muscle Car weaves between ska punk, rockabilly, country, psychedelia, big band and lounge. The album also makes extensive use of outside instruments, adding acoustic guitars, accordions, clarinets and vibraphones in addition to the band’s keyboards and horn section.”