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How fast things change – that was certainly the musical climate of the mid-90’s. Where a few years prior, bands like Nirvana had ruled the airwaves, Grunge was on the way out. The suicide of Kurt Cobain added a morbid finality to the proceedings.
Record companies, always on the look out for the next big thing, ditched Seattle for alt-metal groups like Tool and Rage Against the Machine, Brit-pop bands like Blur, Pulp, and Oasis, and electronica artists such as The Prodigy and The Chemical Brothers.
Likewise, previously established bands adapted to the changing times: The Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails and Stone Temple Pilots flirted with new styles and experimentations.
But there were many acts on the outskirts – too hard to pigeonhole for A&R reps – along with bigger artists who changed their sound so radically that it fell on deaf ears.
So, let’s take a look at some songs, albums, and bands that should’ve had much greater success in their era, and are ripe for rediscovery.
Essential Albums: ‘The Edges of Twilight’ (1995), ‘Transmission’ (1997), ‘Triptych’ (1999)
Essential Tracks: ‘Heaven’s Coming Down’ (1999), ‘Temptation’ (1997), ‘Fire in the Head’ (1995), ‘Psychopomp’ (1995), ‘Walking Wounded’ (2000), ‘Writing’s on the Wall’ (2004)
These signs, this fate // Takes a path you didn’t choose // Stay strong, keep faith // There is a change that’s coming through…
Not to be confused with the political party of the same name, this Canadian trio fused alternative, industrial, and Middle Eastern music into an unlikely but winning mix.
Operatic and grandiose, they had anthems to spare, but their unusual sound never caught a wide audience. But one listen to songs like ‘Heaven’s Coming Down’ or ‘Writing’s on the Wall’ shows a group at the peak of their powers.
Essential Albums: ‘Kent’ (1995), ‘Isola’ (1997), ‘Hagnesta Hill’ (1999)
Essential Tracks: ‘747’ (1997), ‘If You Were Here’ (1997), ‘Owc’ (1997), ‘Things She Said (1997)’, ‘Before It All Ends’ (1997), ‘Bianca’ (1997), ‘Kungen Är Död’ (1999), ‘Musik Non Stop’ (1999), ‘Cowboys’ (1999), ‘Insekter’ (1999), ‘Kräm (så nära får ingen gå)’ (1999)
You’re such a killer // So shoot me down again // It won’t hurt when the killing // Is done by a friend…
This Swedish group swam in the same sonic seas as Radiohead and U2, creating extremely catchy and emotive songs.
But after a brief and unsuccessful bid for global stardom, they retreated to their homeland, playing for a small but enthusiastic fan base.
This is criminal! I still play ‘Isola’ in regular rotation; despite it being almost twenty years old, it sounds vibrant and contemporary, and could have been a smash if promoted properly.
Just listen to the YouTube clip of ‘747’ and tell me that doesn’t have hit single potential in every note.
Essential Album: ‘Animal Rights’ (1996)
Once I had my heroes // Once I had my dreams // But all of that is changed now // The truth begins again…
Before he hit it big with his techno/blues hybrid ‘Play’, Moby veered radically between musical styles, be it Trip-hop, ambient, and even punk rock.
After the modest success of his 1995 electronica album, ‘Everything Is Wrong’, he took a left turn with ‘Animal Rights’, which forwent club music entirely.
In its place was a cover of punk icons Mission of Burma’s ‘That’s When I Reach for My Revolver’, the industrial boogie of ‘Come on Baby’, and the grungy, ‘Say It’s All Mine’.
Not that there was a complete absence of electronic music, however. But minimalist tunes like ‘Dead Sun’ and the emotive ‘Alone’ are of the chill-out variety—not designed for the dance floor.
Essential Track: ‘Disenchanted’ (‘Disenchanted’, 1996)
Gentle lady, please don’t cry // Loves just weary, it won’t die // I’m enchanted by you // I’m disenchanted by me…
Frontman Nick Marsh and guitarist Rocco started their careers in Flesh For Lulu, an underrated New Wave band best known for their 80’s hit, ‘I Go Crazy.’
After New Wave went out of fashion in the 90’s, Lulu folded and the duo formed Gigantic, forging a mix of Britpop and heavy American alt-rock.
Tracks like ‘Throw You out My Window’, ‘Hypermania’ and ‘Spanish Nightmare Vendetta’ sported huge hooks and a street-smart edge, hinting at mainstream appeal.
Unfortunately, ‘Disenchanted’ sank like a stone, and Gigantic were no more, resulting in one of the most criminally ignored albums of the decade.
Sadly, Marsh passed away from cancer in 2015; his larger than life presence deserved such greater success.
Essential Track: ‘Money’ (‘Sci-Fi Lullabies’, 1997)
So come and amaze me, so come and amaze me // It takes everyone, every son, every dad and every mum // Some find a one and a one turns them on, it’s money…
It’s somewhat bizarre that Britpop’s reign began with Suede’s 1992 self-titled album, yet their contemporaries eclipsed them as the decade went on.
Their musical abilities certainly never diminished, as evidenced on their terrific B-sides collection, ‘Sci-Fi Lullabies.’ Most bands would dream that their A-material was the equivalent in quality.
And ‘Money’ is a prime example of a song that could have been a hit single. Punchy and insistent, it’s one of their most economical compositions, full of euphoric glam swagger.
As the 90’s came to a close, the once-mighty alternative scene was also winding down: The Pumpkins broke up, and record labels invested their interests in nu-metal and boy bands.
While artists like Queens of the Stone Age and Placebo would carry the heavy alt-rock torch, post-punk and garage revivalists defined 2000’s rock with bands like Interpol, The White Stripes, and The Strokes.
But those bands existed in a smaller scale, showing the fragmentation of rock music in the Internet age. The alt-rock revolution was over.
Will a new scene emerge to subvert the mainstream in this era of auto tuned homogenous pop? One can only hop… and wait.
Well, that concludes my list of good alternative music from 95-00. Now I want to hear from you: what bands, albums and songs from that era do you feel deserve bigger exposure?
Be sure to tell me in the comments.
And for even more alt-rock magic, check out my list of Good Alternative Bands from 1985-1990, Good Alternative Bands from 1990-1995, Underrated 80’s New Wave Bands, Underrated 90’s Alternative Bands, Underrated 90’s Indie Bands and Underrated 90’s Industrial Bands.
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