The 1990s were a great time for rock fans, with everything from grunge to low-fi indie breaking through. Here are a few of the more underrated rock bands who are still well worth a listen in 2017.
Boston’s 90’s alternative scene didn’t get the same national press as Seattle’s, but it churned out legendary bands like Letters to Cleo and the Lemonheads. Morphine was an integral part of this eclectic scene, fronted by charismatic two-string bass player Mark Sandman. The band stood out from the rest of the 90’s alterna-pack for their lack of guitars – besides the bass and Sandman’s husky vocals Morphine features a baritone sax and drums. While the end result’s quite jazzy, it still fits firmly in the rock and roll camp as is made abundantly clear by the catchy, slightly dangerous and dark tunes on their most famous Cure for Pain album.
Before Elliott Smith scored an Academy Award nomination for his work on the Good Will Hunting soundtrack, he wrote similarly wistful pop songs for Portland-based rock band Heatmiser, formed in 1991. Bandmates Sam Coomes and Neil Gust would go on to respectively form well-known Portland indie bands Quasi and No. 2, and Heatmiser really encompassed the sound of the Portland underground at the time. Criminally overlooked both then and now, Heatmiser recorded well-crafted tunes with clever lyrics touching on themes of loneliness and alienation. These would become a touchstone of Smith’s more famous songs later in the decade before his heart-breaking suicide in 2003.
- Veruca Salt
Chicago’s Veruca Salt had a handful of hit singles, including the MTV favourite Seether. Originally a folksy duo formed by friends Louise Post and Nina Gordon, Veruca Salt grew to include Jim Shapiro playing drums and Steve Lack on the bass for a more well-rounded rock sound. They rode the alternative rock wave to the top at the time, with Seether entering the top ten of the modern rock charts for a time and getting heavy airplay. They’d go on to open for bands like Hole, but were never taken seriously by critics and petered out at the end of the decade. Veruca Salt’s albums hold up extremely well today, with crashing guitars and lilting harmonies that deserve far more credit.
Nirvana? Underrated? There’s no denying that this is the iconic band of the era: Today you can do everything from playing this Nirvana slot game on CasinoEuro to seeing a cover band fronted by an Elvis impersonator. But bear with us – Athough Nirvana’s now one of the most revered rock bands of the 90’s, it wasn’t always this way. While Nevermind gets loads of credit for launching the grunge movement into the mainstream, their first album Bleach is still underrated by many for its sheer craftsmanship. Recorded for just $600 in a 30-hour period, Bleach features Kurt Cobain’s impressive song writing prowess on tunes like “About a Girl” that foreshadow the anthemic sounds of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in the years to come. The band’s Unplugged album is also overlooked. Nirvana’s emotional covers of “The Man Who Sold the World” and “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” still give listeners the shivers.
- Screaming Trees
Let’s turn now to a lesser-known grunge band, the Screaming Trees. Fronted by Mark Lanegan, the Seattle band was closely intertwined with big names like Chris Cornell and Kurt Cobain yet they never reached the same levels of success. Their single “Nearly Lost You” made it onto the Singles soundtrack, but the band ploughed away in relative obscurity outside of their local music scene. Lanegan continues to be one of the hardest working men in rock music today. While in the past he worked with the grunge supergroup Mad Season along with Layne Stayley, he’s still kept busy since then crafting music with bands like Queens of the Stone Age and producing numerous solo albums.
Formed by English expats living in New York City in 1994, Spacehog conjured up a glamorous sound heavily influenced by T. Rex, Queen, and David Bowie. Their single “In the Meantime” received a fair bit of airplay, and their debut album Resident Alien went gold on Billboard’s charts. They opened for bands like Supergrass and Pearl Jam, but despite this success they never really managed to crack the mainstream and become headliners in their own right. Today singer Royston Langdon is perhaps best known for being Liv Tyler’s baby daddy, but those in the know still relish this sadly underrated glam rock band.
- Porno for Pyros
The 1990’s rock scene wouldn’t have been the same without the bonkers antics of Perry Farrell, founder of the Lollapalooza festival and frontman of rock band Jane’s Addiction. While Jane’s Addiction achieved mainstream success, Farrell’s next musical endeavour, Porno for Pyros, was taken less seriously despite releasing solid tunes that didn’t quite sound like anyone else. Active between 1992 and 1998, the band was adventurous with its sound and was known for its theatrical performances that deserve a second look today.