The Best Rock Albums of 1993

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The Best Rock Albums of 1993

So, what happened in 1993? Ruth Bader Ginsberg was confirmed to the Supreme Court, Tom Hanks was acclaimed for his role in “Philadelphia,” the Dallas Cowboys won the Super Bowl and Bill Clinton was wrapping up his first year as President. It was also a big year for new releases from alt rock icons like Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, and Nirvana‘s follow-up to Nevermind was probably the year’s most anticipated album.

I was serving as music director at Washington/Baltimore’s WHFS twenty years ago this very week when a golden vinyl release of In Utero arrived in the mail. Bob Waugh, one of my fellow DJs, opened it up, ran down the hallway, and flew into the studio. He turned off whatever I was playing and just starting tracking the album…it was that big.

But as much as distorted guitars and chunky riffs dominated the year’s musical landscape, (with notable contributions from Chicago’s rising rock scene), it was also a pretty diverse year, peppered with Irish pop, neo-psychedelia, alt-country and an entertaining crooner from San Francisco. Here, presented for your nostalgic enjoyment, are the Best Rock Albums of 1993, as voted by the Weeping Elvii. Read, share and give us your thoughts.     – Pat Ferrise

 

 

The Verve - Storm in Heaven25.  Verve — Storm in Heaven
Well before being catapulted into the limelight by their epic hit “Bitter Sweet Symphony,” The Verve (at the time, known simply as Verve before being asked to change their name by the record label, Verve), released a feast of psychedelia to little U.S fanfare. Nick McCabe’s deft guitar work coupled nicely with Richard Ashcroft’s dreamy vocals and work a part of your brain that revels in that elusive, yearning feeling. This is truly an album meant to be savored and listened to from beginning to end — an almost forgotten concept these days — but newbies can grab a taste by checking out the songs “Slide Away” and “Already There.” Once sufficiently altered, turn the lights out, put the headphones on and join The Verve on a trippy ride that sounds every bit as good today as it did two decades ago.     – Karen O

 

Belly - Star24.  Belly — Star
In the spring of 1993, while Tanya Donnelly was still a member of The Breeders, her other Boston-based band was being supported on tour by…Radiohead. Yes, that’s just how big Belly was at that moment in time, and also how good Star — which hit #2 on the UK Albums Chart — is, even twenty years later. In addition to containing one of the best singles of the entire 1990s, “Feed the Tree,” the album also succeeded in creating a fantastical environment with unique tunings, thumping bass and Donnelly’s breathily ethereal (and occasionally flute-like) vocals. It remains to this day an album that merits continued top-to-bottom listens, with gems like “Dusted,” “Gepetto,” “Slow Dog” and “Low Red Moon” proving that the otherworldly album had a lot more to it than a Modern Rock chart-topping hit. Interestingly, four tracks on the album share a connection to Catherine Wheel’s Chrome, having contemporaneously shared the same British producer (James Norton).     – Behrnsie

 

Dinosaur Jr - Where You Been23. Dinosaur Jr. — Where You Been
If there was a poster-child for Generation X slackerdom, it would probably be J Mascis, whose blistering guitar work was always juxtaposed with a downward gaze, an anti-guitar hero slouch and groaning, detached warbling. On Where You Been (an LP that didn’t care enough to even include a question mark as punctuation), Mascis crafed oddly melodic slacker anthems like “Out “There” and “Get Me” that emphatically shrug with a collective, “whatever.” The track “Start Choppin’” featured one of the most distinctive guitar licks of the decade, and its contrasting high-pitched falsetto vocals and crunch-heavy riffs picked up the mantle of Nirvana’s Nevermind and charted path to a post-grunge future .… or nowhere at all. Because, you know, journeys can be a lot of work, man.     – Huey

 

The The - Dusk22.  The The — Dusk
On The The’s sixth album, Dusk, Matt Johnson is once again joined by a cast of musical characters enlisted to bring his vision to life. This time around, Johnson dispensed with the synth keyboards and heavy dance beats from past releases in favor of a more organic and blues inspired approach. Johnny Marr is back, though, adding just the right amount of atmospheric jangle to Johnson’s compositions. The lead track, “True Happiness This Way Lays,” encapsulates Johnson’s tormented view of relationships. The album’s lead single “Dogs of Lust” enjoyed time at the top of the modern rock charts, as did the emotionally bursting “Love Is Stronger Than Death.” Ultimately, Dusk is an enjoyable 10-song journey through Johnson’s struggle to find peace.     – Pat Ferrise

 

Paul Westerberg - 14 Songs21. Paul Westerberg — 14 Songs
During the latter half of The Replacements’ recording career, Paul Westerberg, the band’s maestro and lead lovable loser, became expert at blending bouncy pop hooks with raw, ragged rock-n-roll power. 14 Songs, his official first solo album, dropped soon after his solo tracks were included on the soudtrack to Cameron Crowe‘s “Singles” and picks up right where the final Replacements LP (and perhaps his first unofficial solo album) All Shook Down left off — exploring themes of lost love, social awkwardness, self-destruction, and fleeting fame. Hook-laden gems like “World Class Fad,” “Things” and “Knockin’ on Mine” burst with pop energy tinged with knowing resignation, like bubble gum filled with whiskey and wrapped in ruin.     – Huey

 

Chris Isaak - San Francisco Days20.  Chris Isaak — San Francisco Days
It was a good year for reverb (for more evidence, keep reading). Perhaps the most traditional among the regiment of reverb-ians: Chris Isaak. Today, Isaak is arguably known as much for his acting on Showtime, and for his live show, infused as it is with Vegas-style camp and kitsch (albeit entertaining camp and kitsch). Of course, that itself doesn’t cover Isaak’s range on this album, which also includes heartfelt ballads where the crooner left women — and probably more than a few men — weak-kneed. San Francisco Days, sandwiched between his other two most fertile releases, Heart-Shaped World and Forever Blue, came at a time when there was still enough darkness amid the rockabilly to show that his time working with David Lynch may had rubbed off a bit.     – Sir Duke

 

Suede - Suede19. Suede — Suede
Up until this point, Britpop had largely been defined by Manchester’s late-80s/early-90s “Madchester” scene, featuring bands that included The Stone Roses, The Charlatans, The Soup Dragons and Inspiral Carpets. That scene’s momentum and influence had waned completely by 1993 and with American grunge taking over globally, England needed an answer, and quickly. Perhaps that’s why the UK music press dubbed Suede as “The Best New Band In Britain” before they had ever even released a single track.  The distinction was based simply on their brash, ever-improving and increasingly androgynous live shows. Guitarist Bernard Butler forged a new sound with glam-laced catchy hooks, as evident on the uptempo “Metal Mickey,” or the slow churning of the album’s first single “The Drowners.” Vocalist Brett Anderson‘s smart lyrics expertly captured the life of 90s scenester Londoners who were, as lead track “So Young” puts it, “so young and so gone.” From this point forward in the 90s, guitars and attitude vaulted to the forefront of British music (enter: Oasis) thanks to this brash, trashy, sexy and confident landmark debut.     – Tim Pogo

 

Fuzzy18.  Grant Lee Buffalo — Fuzzy
It’s a bit of a shame that this disc never blew up beyond its cult status as both enduring critical darling and early-alt-country touchstone, because it’s a great one. Yeah, it was made in L.A., and yeah, Stockton-born frontman Grant Lee Phillips throws plenty of roots and country influences into the mix, but this is a far cry from Gram Parsons and The Byrds — L.A.’s last generation of country rockers. Here, Phillips picks up on the punk attitude of Uncle Tupelo (as did The Old 97s, whose debut also came out this year). Perhaps more notably, Phillips blends in a variety of other influences, such as the psychedelia of his previous band Shiva Burlesque on the title track, and a bit of Britpop on the album’s opener, “The Shining Hour.” This is less open-road alt-country, and more 2am, bottom-of-the-bottle alt-country.     – Sir Duke

 

Urge Overkill - Saturation17. Urge Overkill — Saturation
In June of 1993, Chicago’s Urge Overkill — who were hipsters years before it became fashionable — put out this slab of pure power pop perfection that contained more hooks than a Lake Michigan fishing trawler. Crisp and clean, yet down and dirty, ear worms like “Sister Havana,” “Positive Bleeding,” and “Bottle of Fur” comprised the glistening summer soundtrack to Gen X’s blossoming rudderless roadtrip. Their hipness, or at least, their popularity, upticked the year after this album was released when Quentin Tarantino included their cover of Neil Diamond‘s “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” on “Pulp Fiction.”     – Huey

 

Cracker - Kerosene Hat16. Cracker — Kerosene Hat
With Cracker, David Lowery set his sights on commercial heights that his previous band, cult favorites Camper Van Beethoven, could only have scoffed at. On Cracker’s second release, Kerosene Hat, he achieved not only chart success and a wide following beyond college radio programmers, but a powerful statement of rock and roll joy (not to mention the joy of cynicism). An arched-eyebrow rejoinder to the be-flanneled seriousness of grunge, Lowery and guitar-ace Johnny Hickman are both in on the joke and rollicking along with it on radio hits “Low,” “Get Off This,” and the exquisite “Euro-Trash Girl,” an epic of suburban ennui worthy of John Cheever for the line where the desperate protagonist’s mother tells him she can’t wire money and “go call your dad… and that waitress that he married.”   – Huey

 

Posies - Frosting on the Beater15.  Posies — Frosting on the Beater
Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow were but 23 years old when they recorded their third and most commercially successful release to date, “Frosting on the Beater.” Featuring a heavier power pop sound than their two earlier releases — in part due to Don Fleming‘s seat at the production helm — it spawned The Posies‘ most well-known singles, “Solar Sister,” “Dream All Day” and “Flavor of the Month,” thanks to modern rock radio’s warm embrace. Twenty years later, both Ken and Jon are still making music, still touring (sometimes as the Posies and oftentimes with their myriad other groups and projects) and “Frosting on the Beater” stands up over all this time, offering hook after hook, great harmonies and clever lyrics.      – Karen O

 

Tool - Undertow14.  Tool — Undertow
They call Tool the “thinking man’s metal band” for a reason. Undertow was released at a time when grunge was king and most metal was quickly relegated to the cut out bin. But metal fans hadn’t disappeard, and there was quite clearly pent-up demand for a band that could rock incredibly hard, but in an unexpected and thought provoking way. Marrying dark imagery, unexpected time signatures and Maynard James Keenan‘s alternately spare and powerful vocals, Undertow is a genre smashing record in every sense.  The video for “Sober,” created by guitarist Adam Jones, showcased the band’s ability to entertain and perplex their audience; something they would continue to do successfully (in fits and starts betweeen other projects) for the next 20 years.     – Karen O

 

The Cranberries - Everybody Else Is Doing It So Why Cant We13. The Cranberries — Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?
The debut album from The Cranberries arrived at a time when heavy guitars were ascendant, so in retrospect it’s a little strange that this album was so well received. Maybe it was the delicate combination of shimmering guitars and gorgeous vocals? Maybe it was their Irish sensibility that gave them a charm, adding a counterbalance to all things grunge? Maybe it was the lush production and dreamy, reverb-soaked guitars augmenting their beautiful minor chord melodies?  Maybe it was the benefit of  having The Smiths‘ producer, Stephen Street, at the helm? Maybe it was the personalized lyrics from vocalist Dolores O’Riordan, focused on loss and heartbreak?  Maybe it was just  good songwriting, luck and the very fact that their sound wasn’t part of the zeitgeist? Whatever it was, their lilting songs made a major connection globally. The singles “Dreams” and “Linger” propelled sales of the album to over 6 million copies worldwide and firmly cemented the Limerick, Ireland, quartet as international pop stars for the first half of the 1990s.     – Pat Ferrise

 

220px-Mazzy_Star-So_Tonight_That_I_Might_See12.  Mazzy Star — So Tonight That I Might See
It’s not an overstatement to say that this album makes this list because of “Fade Into You,” maybe the unexpected alt-rock hit of the year. Were it not for this track, the disc would probably share the same status as their debut, She Hangs Brightly — a solid, if largely forgotten effort. But the slide guitar of that track, coupled with Hope Sandoval‘s heart-wrenching vocals, opened plenty of ears to the reverb-drenched 51 minutes here, which perfectly blends psychedelia with the country-meets-desert vibe that’s always found a home in and around L.A.     – Sir Duke

 

counting-crows-august-and-everything-after-delantera11.  Counting Crows — August and Everything After
It’s next to impossible not to judge this disc against, well, everything after in the Counting Crows‘ catalog. A stunningly accomplished debut disc, August…. had fans hoping that these 11 songs comprising power pop, jangle pop and plaintive ballads (sung by a troubled frontman to boot!) would have them picking up R.E.M.‘s mantle. Songs like “Mr. Jones” and “Rain King” still get their due on radio, but Adam Duritz‘s voice really shines on deeper cuts like “Perfect Blue Buildings” and “Raining in Baltimore.” The band went on to a solid enough career, but disappointingly, this first disc still stands as their artistic high-water mark.     – Sir Duke

 

James - Laid10.  James — Laid
Of all the bands that emerged from the Madchester scene, James was perhaps the best-disposed to withstand the ravages of time, having taken the slow and steady approach since 1982. Laid was released eight years after the band had opened up for The Smiths on the Meat is Murder tour, and produced by legendary Brian Eno. The title track received the most attention, by far — particularly as a crossover staple at college parties — but tracks like “Come On” and “Sometimes” also helped build the album into something of a radio-driven juggernaut. Plus, slow-burners like “Five-O” and “Lullaby” became fan favorites for their incendiary nature in live performances. Eno’s emphasis upon their natural ambience is felt from the opening track; “Out to Get You” bears more than a passing resemblance to his work with U2. These days, the album stands out as one of that improves both with repeated listening and as one where listeners can ride the sound wave in from opening to closing chord in wonderment.     – Behrnsie

 

PJ Harvey - Rid of Me9.  PJ Harvey — Rid of Me
On PJ Harvey’s second album, Rid of Me, the influential English trio enlisted legendary Chicago producer Steve Albini to helm the recordings. He doubled down on PJ Harvey’s natural inclinations for a raw, barebones aesthetic to the point of being almost challenging. “Rid of Me” received wide acclaim from critics and featured a gritty almost art-performance feel with tracks: “50ft. Queenie” and their cover of Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited.” The opening song “Rid of Me” sets the rageful tone of the album with its lyric: “I’m gonna twist your head off, see.”  It’s powerful and abrasive expedition not for the sonically faint of heart.     – Pat Ferrise

 

Catherine Wheel - Chrome 8.  Catherine Wheel — Chrome
It’s time for Coachella to bring the English band Catherine Wheel back together, if only so that today’s kids can experience the power resident within the contrast of growling yet ambient guitar chords and Rob Dickinson’s Floyd-ian enunciations. Quickly, another generation would learn that “too much [Catherine Wheel] is not enough.” Chrome, the second stellar entry in the band’s discography, is laced with feedback, propelled by intensity, and tempered by itinerant doses of introspection. With a more metallic veneer than the contemporary shoegazer bands with which they were sometimes associated, songs like “Crank,” “Strange Fruit,” “The Nude” and “Show Me Mary” became anthems for disaffected, guitar-loving, heart-on-their-sleeve types on both sides of the pond. Meanwhile, tracks like “Fripp” presaged some of the more contemplative and orchestral tracks they created years later. And as if that Pink Floyd reference needed further reinforcement, Chrome’s album art was created by the legendary Storm Thorgerson.     – Behrnsie

 

The Breeders - Last Splash7.  Breeders — Last Splash
Still kicking the can down the road, The Breeders have again been touring on the genius that is Last Splash over the past year. It’s become something of a thing with early 90s bands the past couple of years, but luckily this album still works very well on stage. With a mix of grunge and girliness, the album stood out amongst the male-centric bands dominating airplay. The iconic opening bass line from “Cannonball” made it a smash single, and “Divine Hammer” also gained significant traction amongst modern rock program directors. Directors of the two videos drew the A-List: Spike Jonze and Kim Gordon directed. The band ended up opening for Nirvana on tour that fall, Kurt Cobain having famously stated that the Pixies best song was written by Kim Deal (“Gigantic”). In 1994, the album was certified platinum, and was re-released in the spring of 2013.     – Behrnsie

 

Sarah McLachlan - Fumbling Towards Ecstacy6.  Sarah McLachlan — Fumbling Towards Ecstacy
Sara McLachlan
’s third full-length release, Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, is widely recognized as her springboard to international stardom. And, deservedly so. The breakout hit yielded standout tracks that include: “Possession,” “Good Enough,” and “Ice Cream. ” From the album’s first ethereal and atmospheric note, it showcased McLachlan’s fully realized songwriting matched with lush and sophisticated production. The end result: a wonderfully balanced tension between raw emotion and the controlled burn that accompanies getting it back together. The album’s subtle use of light and dark, takes listeners on an emotional journey as sure to cause a welling up as pulling out an eyelash. It likely marked the high point of her artistic output, one never to be matched in her career or most others.     – Pat Ferrise

 

Liz Phair - Exile in Guyville5.  Liz Phair — Exile in Guyville
A seminal album in many ways, Exile in Guyville presented a bracing feminist perspective that upended the truisms of rock and roll. The album was a low-fi exploration of themes being unfurled contemporaneously within the Riot Grrrl movement, but with more explicit emphasis upon Liz Phair’s sexual self-awareness vis-à-vis societal expectations. Rather than the communal exploration of those themes undertaken by her more punk-influenced peers, the album had the solitary feel of a not-so-fleeting look into a teenage girl’s diary, its verboten aura reinforced by the discomfiting stage fright Phair was experiencing at the time. The discomfort she felt with her vocal abilities was ironically matched by a unique comfort with her artistic voice. That voice made people stand-up and take notice with songs like “Canary,” “Mesmerizing,” “Divorce Song,” “Flower” and “Fuck and Run.” For many, her purposely explicit and expository lyrics lifted the curtain hiding a world many suspected existed but had yet to see first-hand. Even twenty years hence, it retains its ability to shock people out of their slumber with direct lyrics and symbolically sparse instrumentation.     – Behrnsie

 

Pablo-Honey4.  Radiohead — Pablo Honey
Twenty years later, the now legendary band’s inaugural effort seems like it belongs to a different group, the Oxford quintet having evolved significantly since the guitar-centric songs found on Pablo Honey. Three singles reached the charts, with “Creep” still holding distinction as the biggest single of their career (also charting, “Anyone Can Play Guitar” and “Stop Whispering”). The track’s wistful longing and introspective detachment struck a chord with Generation X, itself alienated from the hypocritical mores of the Baby Boomer generation, not to mention those members of GenX detached from their peers by the herd’s arbitrary dictums. For some, the track’s overwhelming popularity obscured the album’s genius, but others found catharsis in the assertiveness of “Stop Whispering,” a song that ably encourages the marginalized to rise up with their own voice. More self-help came from the assuring, “Anyone Can Play Guitar,” a track that elicits massive cheers from audiences on the occasion of its rare appearance even while we all know, pretty much no one can play guitar like Jonny Greenwood or growl “I wanna be wanna be wanna be Jim Morrison” like Thom Yorke. Ultimately, even though Radiohead has largely disowned their debut album in the intervening years, (at least in terms of live performances), it remains a quintessential document of the early 90s, and indeed, of rock and roll itself.     – Behrnsie

 

Vs3.  Pearl Jam — Vs.
Pearl Jam circa 1993 were, in many ways, the poster children for the sophomore slump. When their debut, Ten, broke out two years prior, the band was virtually unknown outside of Seattle. But they were instantly ubiquitous, anchored by a murderer’s row of songs that Stone Gossard had been sitting on, just waiting for the right lyrics. Could they deliver on the expectations of a follow-up? With this set of songs, they not only answered in the affirmative, they also cemented their staying power and gave notice that they were much more than a Seattle flash in the pan. And these weren’t all straight-ahead hard rock songs, either. For every “Rearview Mirror” and “Dissident,” there was a “Go” with its odd rhythms and a “Daughter,” with its open-G acoustic groove. You’ll still meet music fans who never got past this disc, who say the band strayed a bit too much beyond their grunge roots starting with Vitalogy. But Vs. contains the seeds of all their future experimentation. And, they broke the first week sales record in the process, selling 1.3 million albums in the first 10 days of release.     – Sir Duke

 

Nirvana - In Utero2.  Nirvana — In Utero
In some ways, Nevermind owes its status as a firmly cemented classic to In Utero, as the latter album proved Nirvana’s genius was no flash in the pan. The angst, growl and power of Nevermind continued with In Utero, taking an even darker turn. “Heart Shaped Box” took us even deeper inside the tortured world of Kurt Cobain. If In Utero was the road sign to where Nirvana was heading, one has to wonder where the band might have ended up had Cobain not succumbed to his demons. Surely, rock would be different had one of its reluctant messiahs not been silenced. Dave Grohl may beseech audiences to listen to the album without thinking of Kurt’s demise, but that’s about as easy to do as to play football unaware that one’s left leg has been amputated. Fortunately, In Utero “happened” and it firmly rooted Nirvana as one of the most important and influential bands in modern rock history. A classic album that may have been the pinnacle of the grunge movement.      – Clem

 

Smashing Pumpkins - Siamese Dream1.  Smashing Pumpkins Siamese Dream
Heavy guitars dominated rock radio and the top of 1993’s charts, and the beginning of record company’s grunge-wannabe signings were well underway.  With Siamese Dream Smashing Pumpkins blew all of that out of the way by channeling the heaviness of the power guitar flavored zeitgeist into a far more interesting, refined and innovative style.  Tracks like “Soma” and “Mayonnaise” painted gorgeous dreamscapes with their prog rock leanings, mellotrons and all. The orchestral “Disarm” showcased a more heartfelt sense from vocalist, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Billy Corgan. The singles “Cherub Rock,” “Today,” and “Rocket” were propelled by a wall of guitars, intricate solos and powerful drumming. Producer Butch Vig said, “It was one of the most difficult albums I ever made, and one that I am very proud of.”  Well put, as it remains one of the best and most influential rock albums of both the 90’s and all-time.     – Pat Ferrise

 

Methodology: Weeping Elvis’ editors and music industry guest contributors each submitted a list of 25 rock albums released in 1993, compilations were not considered. Longevity and influence were key factors. Albums, from each respective list, were assigned point values 1 – 25 based upon their position, tallied and…voila!

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