30 Overlooked 1994 Albums Turning 30

Counting Crows' Adam Duritz Visits 'Lipps Service'
Counting Crows' Adam Duritz Visits 'Lipps Service'
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Kurt Cobain’s April 5, 1994, suicide cast a long shadow over alternative rock, but the genre had never been more musically rich and rewarding than at that moment. Nine Inch Nails, Soundgarden, Green Day and Hole made career-defining blockbusters. Pearl Jam and R.E.M. challenged their audiences with daring albums. Oasis and Blur ushered in the glory days of the Britpop era. Weezer, Jeff Buckley and Sunny Day Real Estate released classic debuts, while Pavement, Sebadoh and Superchunk became the faces of a new generation of indie rock.

While the grunge gold rush was still in full swing, plenty of great and fascinating records made noise on the margins. Deeply unconventional bands such as Boredoms, Jawbox and Shudder to Think got to play with major-label budgets, members of Screaming Trees and Throwing Muses went solo and even actress Milla Jovovich had an alt-rock hit. Here’s a look back at 30 albums turning 30 this year that may not get remembered with their own lavish anniversary celebrations, but probably deserve them anyhow.

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Angelfish – Angelfish

The struggling Scottish band Goodbye Mr Mackenzie was dropped by MCA Records after releasing their second album, but the label saw star potential in keyboardist/backing vocalist Shirley Manson. Thus, several members of Goodbye Mr Mackenzie formed Angelfish with Manson on lead vocals, with their sole album produced by Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads/Tom Tom Club. The single “Suffocate Me” wasn’t a hit, but the video’s sole airing on MTV’s 120 Minutes caught the attention of Steve Marker, who’d co-founded Smart Studios with producer Butch Vig. They soon asked Manson to audition for their new band, and Garbage released its multiplatinum debut a year later.

Beck – Stereopathetic Soulmanure

Beck Hansen released three albums in 1994 alone, including his platinum major-label debut Mellow Gold and the folkie cult classic One Foot in the Grave. Stereopathetic Soulmanure is a much longer, weirder album — a lo-fi collage of home recordings, live tapes, experiments and novelty song goofs. This album isn’t the reason Beck became a star that year, but it provides ample evidence of why this strange 23-year-old kid from Los Angeles was suddenly one of the most intriguing new figures in music. The zine-turned-label Flipside sold more than 100,000 copies of Stereopathetic Soulmanure before the album went out of print for years. Thankfully, it arrived on streaming services in 2023.

The Black Crowes – Amorica

It’s more than a bit ironic that the controversial Amorica was produced by Jack Joseph Puig, who came up in the contemporary Christian music world by working with artists such as Amy Grant and Debby Boone. Indeed, the Crowes’ sleaziest southern rock opus was denied mass distribution when Walmart and other retailers refused to sell it due to its cover photo, a move which contributed to it falling short of the platinum sales of its two predecessors. Regardless, Amorica features some of the Robinson brothers’ best songs, including the pedal steel-driven “Wiser Time,” the funky “High Head Blues” and the unapologetically Stones-y ballad “Descending.”

Boingo – Boingo

Oingo Boingo’s 8th studio album, released hot on the heels of frontman Danny Elfman’s beloved soundtrack for the 1993 film The Nightmare Before Christmas, was a hard reboot. Now missing its horn section, the band was simply Boingo, having traded in their ska-influenced sound for a brooding, guitar-heavy set of songs such as “Lost Likle This” and the rambling, nine-minute “Pedestrian Wolves.” The reinvention didn’t resonate, and a year later they returned as Oingo Boingo (with the horns) for a farewell tour and live album before Elfman dedicated himself to film scoring full time.

Boredoms – Chocolate Synthesizer

It’s a good indication of just how unpredictable things were in 1994 that Japanese noise rock innovators Boredoms were a major-label band playing on the main stage for the first leg of Lollapalooza. The band that occupied their slot on the second leg? Green Day, touring in support of Dookie. Boredoms, of course, never went on to sell millions of records, but Chocolate Synthesizer is the bizarre and thrilling culmination of the band’s blistering early sound, before they pivoted to more expansive and psychedelic releases in the late ‘90s.

Brainiac – Bonsai Superstar

The brazenly original Dayton, Oh., band Brainiac was offered a $2 million Geffen contract for their second album, but opted instead to stay indie with Grass Records. Bonsai Superstar, produced by Girls Against Boys’ Eli Janney, introduced Brainiac’s classic lineup with the addition of future Enon frontman John Schmersal. Lead singer Tim Taylor twists his voice into bizarre and imaginative shapes with effects and distortion on songs such as “Fucking With the Altimeter” and “Hot Metal Doberman’s.” Sadly, Brainiac disbanded in 1997 after Taylor’s death in a car crash, though the surviving members of the band reunited for tours in 2022 and 2023.

Cake – Motorcade of Generosity

All the characteristics of Cake’s unique sound were there right away on the Sacramento, Ca., band’s debut album: John McCrea’s half-spoken vocals backed with deadpan gang shouts, Vincent DiFiore’s big, memorable trumpet melodies, chunky guitar riffs and rhythm tracks heavy on maracas and vibraslap. The band initially sold Motorcade of Generosity out of their tour van until getting picked up by a label, with the clever minor hit “Rock ‘n’ Roll Lifestyle” clearing the way for their next several years of radio domination.

Chumbawamba – Anarchy

Chumbawamba underwent a fascinating evolution from starting out as a leftist punk band in 1982 to becoming one of the biggest pop breakthroughs of 1997. Anarchy, the band’s most successful pre-“Tubthumping” album, represents the point where their sound was becoming slick and radio-friendly, but their message was still front-and-center via songs about anti-fascism (“Enough is Enough”), 17th century political dissidents (“Timebomb”) and hate crimes (“Homophobia”).

Deconstruction – Deconstruction

After the breakup of Jane’s Addiction, the L.A. quartet initially divided into two factions: Perry Farrell and Stephen Perkins enjoyed commercial success with Porno for Pyros, while Dave Navarro and Eric Avery flew under the radar with their new band Deconstruction. The latter’s sole album, with Avery and Navarro sharing lead vocals and Michael Murphy on drums, is a complex and hard-rocking affair with more than a little of that ineffable Jane’s Addiction magic. Unfortunately, Rick Rubin’s American Recordings released Deconstruction just a month before Navarro played his first show with the John Frusciante-less Red Hot Chili Peppers, and everyone involved quickly moved onto other projects without ever touring.

Various Artists – DGC Rarities Vol. 1

The David Geffen Company had the strongest major-label roster of alternative bands in the industry in 1994, and the label cashed in on that goodwill with the DGC Rarities Vol. 1 compilation. Nirvana’s “Pay To Play” demo is, quite simply, “Stay Away” with three syllables changed, and Sonic Youth’s “Compilation Blues” and That Dog’s “Grunge Couple” are dryly satirical throwaways. However, there are a good number of high quality non-album cuts from the Sundays, Beck, Teenage Fanclub and the Posies, and “Einstein on the Beach (For an Eggman),” an outtake from Counting Crows’ August and Everything After, became the band’s only No. 1 hit on the Modern Rock chart.

Lisa Germano – Geek the Girl                      

Indiana violinist Lisa Germano launched her solo career as a singer/songwriter after playing on several albums and tours by her fellow Hoosier John Mellencamp. Her 1993 release for Capitol Records, Happiness, didn’t start to get noticed until 4AD issued a remixed version in 1994, followed a few months later by Germano’s most acclaimed work, Geek the Girl. The album’s intimate home recordings, and Germano’s unflinching writing about subjects like stalking and rape on “Cry Wolf” and “…A Psychopath,” resonated with critics. In 1999, SPIN named Geek the Girl one of the 100 best albums of the decade.

Helium – Pirate Prude EP

After forming the influential Washington, D.C. band Autoclave as a teenager, Mary Timony moved to Boston for college and formed Helium. The band’s debut release established Timony’s reputation as an imaginative and provocative lyricist, with a collection of songs about a sex worker who kills clients and becomes a vampire. Pirate Prude, a 28-minute EP that felt as substantial as an album, was followed by the band’s proper full-length debut, 1995’s The Dirt of Luck.

Helmet – Betty

Helmet’s gold-selling 1992 breakthrough Meantime put the New York combo squarely at the intersection of alternative rock and metal. The follow-up, Betty, cracked the top 50 of the Billboard 200, but its proggy embellishments confused some fans. The album’s Butch Vig-produced lead single “Milquetoast” enjoyed further visibility when it appeared on the massive popular soundtrack album for The Crow. In 2015, Helmet performed Betty in its entirety on tour.

Kristin Hersh – Hips and Makers

Throwing Muses frontwoman Kristin Hersh’s solo debut featured Michael Stipe on the lead track “Your Ghost,” but the album was even quieter and more unabashedly acoustic than R.E.M.’s early ‘90s works, with only an occasional cello accompanying Hersh’s voice and guitar. Hips and Makers was a success in the U.K., becoming the highest-charting album of her career, even as Throwing Muses remained active and released albums in 1995 and 1996.

Mark Lanegan – Whiskey for the Holy Ghost

Screaming Trees were at the height of their fame when frontman Mark Lanegan released his second solo album for Sub Pop. Digging deeper into the rootsy sound of 1990’s The Winding Sheet, Lanegan and his cast of collaborators piled fiddles and harmonica onto heavy-hearted songs such as “House a Home” and “Beggar’s Blues” which matched his leathery voice. Former bandmate Mark Pickerel played drums on Whiskey for the Holy Ghost, as did Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis, TAD’s Tad Doyle, and Mudhoney’s Dan Peters. Lanegan’s behavior was erratic during recording, with producer Jack Endino allegedly having to prevent him from throwing the master tapes in a river.

Milla – The Divine Comedy

Years before she became the action star of the Resident Evil franchise, Milla Jovovich was briefly a successful alternative singer/songwriter. Releasing her debut album as simply Milla, the Ukrainian model/actress channeled the influence of Kate Bush throughout The Divine Comedy, which received glowing reviews in Rolling Stone and the Washington Post. Jovivich performed the minor Modern Rock radio hit “The Gentleman Who Fell” on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and toured with the Crash Test Dummies. After Jovivich rose to global fame with the 1997 film The Fifth Element, she disputed the legitimacy of an unauthorized second album, but still makes music today, occasionally releasing demos on her website.

Moonshake – The Sound Your Eyes Can Follow

The British band Moonshake, named after song from Can’s Future Days, became a duo in 1993 after two members of the band left to form trip-hop favorites Laika. Moonshake’s second full-length, The Sound Your Eyes Can Follow, moved further away from guitar-driven rock to a more offbeat sound driven by samples and loops. The group’s former Too Pure labelmate PJ Harvey made a guest appearance on the album’s best track, duetting with frontman David Callahan on “Just a Working Girl.”

NOFX – Punk in Drublic

The California pop punk scene exploded in 1994 with the release of Green Day’s Dookie and the Offspring’s Smash. One of the scene’s longest running bands, NOFX, never reached the same commercial heights, but stayed proudly independent by releasing albums on Epitaph while frontman Michael “Fat Mike” Burkett ran the successful indie Fat Wreck Chords. Punk in Drublic became NOFX’s only gold album, featuring the radio hit “Leave It Alone” as well as the noxious ‘reverse racism’ anthem “Don’t Call Me White.”

Sinead O’Connor – Universal Mother

Four years after “Nothing Compares 2 U,” Sinead O’Connor released her first album of original songs since becoming a global celebrity. Universal Mother is her quietest album, with spare, mostly piano-based arrangements and a bel canto vocal style. Released five months after Kurt Cobain’s death, the project also featured a touching cover of Nirvana’s “All Apologies.”

Our Lady Peace – Naveed

Toronto band Our Lady Peace was 1994’s biggest breakout in their native Canada, where their debut album Naveed went quadruple platinum. Frontman Raine Maida’s piercing voice reminded some listeners of Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan, including Corgan himself, who told Access Magazine “Our Lady Peace sounds an awful lot like the Pumpkins to me” (the bands eventually toured together). In America, the band didn’t achieve major success until 1997’s Clumsy, although the Naveed single “Starseed” appeared in the film Armageddon. Our Lady Peace toured heavily in support of Naveed, including stints opening for Van Halen, Alanis Morissette and Jimmy Page and Robert Plant.

Liz Phair – Whipsmart

Liz Phair’s second album is neither a timelessly cool indie touchstone like 1993’s Exile on Guyville or a big divisive swing at the pop charts like her 2003 self-titled effort. It is, however, an excellent record chronicling the lifespan of a relationship with a loose, playful sound, from the whistling hook on “Support System” to the interpolation of Malcom McLaren’s “Double Dutch” on the title track. With Matador having entered a partnership with Atlantic Records, Whipsmart raised Phair’s profile and was certified gold, and she appeared on the covers of SPIN and Rolling Stone. The Grammy-nominated single “Supernova” reached No. 6 on the Modern Rock chart.

Prong – Cleansing

The Lowest East Side groove metal band Prong reached their peak in 1994 when Beavis and Butt-Head happily head-banged to their video for “Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck.” Frontman Tommy Victor, whose raspy voice brings to mind Lemmy from Motorhead, was joined by two former members of Killing Joke on the band’s heavy, almost industrial fourth album, Cleansing.

The Pretenders – Last of the Independents

By the early ‘90s, Chrissie Hynde was the only member of the original Pretenders lineup still in the band, as it became her de facto solo project. Founding drummer Martin Chambers rejoined in 1993, however, playing on four tracks on Last of the Independents. Although it occasionally rocks pretty hard, it’s best remembered for softer tracks Hynde co-wrote with pop hitmakers Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly, including the hit power ballad “I’ll Stand By You.”

Shudder to Think – Pony Express Record

In 1994, Shudder to Think and Jawbox became the only two Dischord Records bands from Washington, D.C. to make the jump to major labels, both releasing albums produced by Ted Nicely at Oz Studios in Baltimore. Pony Express Record was Shudder to Think’s first album with guitarist Nathan Larson and drummer Adam Wade, unveiling a sound that was too complex for most newbies and too slick for longtime fans but still felt startlingly original. Craig Wedren’s octave-leaping melodies remained the band’s signature on songs such as “9 Fingers on You,” “Hit Liquor” and “X-French Tee Shirt,” navigating the rhythm section’s unpredictable time signatures with the bravado of an opera star.

Sonic Youth – Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star

Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star was the only album Sonic Youth didn’t tour behind, due to Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore’s daughter Coco having been born two months after its release. Despite Dirty producer Butch Vig returning to work on the album, Experimental Jet Set presented a move away from bombastic post-grunge to something more minimalist and lo-fi. Reviews were mixed, but both the lead single “Bull in the Heather” and a tribute album cover of the Carpenters’ “Superstar” were both radio hits. Instead of a conventional CD booklet, the album came with liner notes printed on several cards that could swap order as alternate album covers.

Soul Coughing – Ruby Vroom

Mike Doughty was working as a doorman at the New York experimental music hotbed the Knitting Factory when he formed Soul Coughing with three musicians who played at the club. The band’s unique sound was partly inspired by jazz-sampling hip-hop albums such as A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory, but had mutated into something unique and genre-agnostic by their 1994 debut. Upright bassist Sebastian Steinberg and drummer Yuval Gabay tackled everything from four-on-the-floor house beats (“Mr. Bitterness”) to ominous film noir grooves (“City of Motors”), their thumping accompaniment providing a funky backdrop to Doughty’s non sequitur rhymes and Mark De Gli Antoni’s unpredictable stream of Tori Amos and Andrews Sisters samples.

Spin Doctors – Turn It Upside Down

Spin Doctors were part of the new generation of rising jam bands in the early ‘90s, releasing multiple live albums and co-headlining the first H.O.R.D.E. tour with Blues Traveler and Phish. The massive crossover success of their 1991 studio debut Pocket Full of Kryptonite, however, brought the band a fleeting mainstream audience that didn’t stick around for the follow-up album. Turn It Upside Down featured more bright, catchy funk rock tracks such as “You Let You Heart Go Too Fast” and “Bags of Dirt,” but nobody really needed to hear frontman Chris Barron scatting about ancient Egypt on the baffling lead single “Cleopatra’s Cat.” Guitarist Eric Schenkman left the band abruptly in the middle of a show shortly after the album’s release, although he returned for a 2001 reunion.

Sublime – Robbin’ the Hood

Robbin’ the Hood is the only one of Sublime’s three albums that didn’t go multi-platinum after frontman Bradley Nowell’s 1996 death. A stranger, more experimental album recorded in “various living rooms in Long Beach,” the heavily rap-influenced Hood featured samples of songs by the Doors, Steely Dan and Yellowman. Gwen Stefani of No Doubt duetted with Nowell on “Saw Red,” and “Lincoln Highway Dub” is an early instrumental draft of Sublime’s future hit “Santeria.”

that dog. – That Dog

This Los Angeles quartet’s Geffen debut wasn’t a hit like 1994 albums by their hometown friends Weezer and Beck, but the whimsical, Spike Jonze-directed video for the fast, snarky single “Old Timer” did garner a few late night airings on MTV. That Dog careens between sludgy bass-driven rockers such as “Just Like Me” and delicate ballads such as “She” featuring violinist Petra Haden, also a member of the Rentals. The band broke up after three albums in 1997, but reunited for 2019’s Old LP.

Toadies – Rubberneck

The debut album by the Fort Worth, Tx. quartet Toadies rode the post-grunge train straight to the top 5 of the Modern Rock chart with “Possum Kingdom,” one of several songs with a creepy recurring storyline about a death cult. Throughout, frontman Vaden Todd Lewis rattled off a stream of scream-able snippets (“Do you wanna die?,” he demands on “Possum Kingdon”) while lead guitarist Clark Vogeler abused his whammy bar at every opportunity. Rubberneck was a surprise platinum seller, but Toadies were unable to capitalize on the album’s success when Interscope shelved their 1997 follow-up album, Feeler (the project was eventually re-recorded and released in 2010).

To see our running list of the top 100 greatest rock stars of all time, click here.