New Releases

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Tocotronic

Love Sick

Reh Dogg

Hound Dog

SkuLrot

Злой и неизвестный

My Sweet Pain

Close to the Glass - Single

The Notwist

Kong

The Notwist

PASSAGE TO HEAVEN

Deita Klaus

ON YOUR KNEES 2014

Deita Klaus

CHANIN

Deita Klaus

Ich Vermisse Dich

Stars and the Sea

My Sweet Pain

My Sweet Pain

orDiNary wOrLD 92-11

Michael William Andersen

Live

My Sweet Pain

Solar/Lunar EP

Tackle Punch

Hungry

Tackle Punch

Top Albums

Sublime

Sublime
Sublime's eponymous major-label debut arrived a few months after the band's leader, Brad Nowell, died tragically of a heroin overdose. As a show of sympathy, the album tended to be slightly overrated in some critical quarters, who claimed that Nowell was an exceptionally gifted lyricist and musical hybridist, but Sublime doesn't quite support those claims. Even so, the trio does have a surprising grace in its unabashedly traditionalist fusion of Californian hardcore punk, light hip-hop, and reggae. Switching between bracing hardcore and slow, sexy reggae numbers, Sublime display supple, muscular versatility and, on occasion, a gift for ingratiatingly catchy hooks, as on the hit single "What I Got." What they don't have is the vision -- either lyrical or musical -- to maintain interest throughout the course of the entire album. Sublime sags when the band delves too deeply into their dub aspirations or when their lyrics slide into smirking humor. The low moments don't arrive that often -- by and large, the album is quite engaging -- but they happen frequently enough to make the record a demonstration of the band's blossoming ability, but not the fulfillment of their full potential. Of course, Nowell's death gives the record a certain pathos, but that doesn't make the album any stronger.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

MTV Unplugged In New York

Nirvana
Sadly, MTV Unplugged stands as Nirvana's last album. While it's an album of covers and old songs, it ranks as one of the band's most cohesive records. Instead of relying on the trio's overpowering sonic force, Unplugged concentrates on Kurt Cobain's subtly shaded songwriting and Nirvana's deceptively simple musical power. Every version of their previously recorded songs, with the possible exception of "On a Plain," dramatically improves the original, and the covers reveal more about Cobain than he intended. By the time Nirvana close with a wrenching, spine-chilling version of Leadbelly's "Where Did You Sleep Last Night," the emotional complexity of Nirvana's music is clear. It's also clear that they could have made even greater music.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Weezer (Blue Album)

Weezer
Even if you lived through it, it's hard to fathom exactly why Weezer were disliked, even loathed, when they released their debut album in the spring of 1994. If you grew up in the years after the heyday of grunge, it may even seem absurd that the band were considered poseurs, hair metal refugees passing themselves off as alt-rock by adapting a few tricks from the Pixies and Nirvana songbooks and sold to MTV with stylish videos. Nevertheless, during alt-rock's heyday of 1994, Weezer was second only to Stone Temple Pilots as an object of scorn, bashed by the rock critics and hipsters alike. Time has a way of healing, even erasing, all wounds, and time has been nothing but kind to Weezer's eponymous debut album (which would later be dubbed The Blue Album, due to the blue background of the cover art). At the time of its release, the group's influences were discussed endlessly -- the dynamics of the Pixies, the polished production reminiscent of Nevermind, the willful outsider vibe borrowed from indie rock -- but few noted how the group, under the direction of singer/songwriter Rivers Cuomo, synthesized alt-rock with a strong '70s trash-rock predilection and an unwitting gift for power pop, resulting in something quite distinctive. Although the group wears its influences on its sleeve, Weezer pulls it together in a strikingly original fashion, thanks to Cuomo's urgent melodicism, a fondness for heavy, heavy guitars, a sly sense of humor, and damaged vulnerability, all driven home at a maximum volume. While contemporaries like Pavement were willfully, even gleefully obscure, and skewed toward a more selective audience, Weezer's insecurities were laid bare, and the band's pop culture obsessions tended to be universal, not exclusive. Plus, Cuomo wrote killer hooks and had a band that rocked hard -- albeit in an uptight, nerdy fashion -- winding up with direct, immediate music that connects on more than one level. It's both clever and vulnerable, but those sensibilities are hidden beneath the loud guitars and catchy hooks. That's why the band had hits with this album -- and not just hits, but era-defining singles like the deliberate dissonant crawl of "Undone - The Sweater Song," the postironic love song of "Buddy Holly," the surging "Say It Ain't So" -- but could still seem like a cult band to the dedicated fans; it sounded like the group was speaking to an in-crowd, not the mass audience it wound up with. If, as Howard Hawks said, a good movie consists of three great scenes and no bad ones, it could be extrapolated that a good record contains three great songs and no bad ones -- in that case, Weezer is a record with at least six or seven great songs and no bad ones. That makes for a great record, but more than that, it's a great record emblematic of its time, standing as one of the defining albums of the '90s. [The 2007 Circuit City exclusive edition came packaged with a free album cover iPod skin.]

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Nevermind

Nirvana
Twenty years after the release of an album that irreversibly altered the landscape of popular music comes this enormous five-disc box set that features, alongside the original album, three CDs of previously unreleased recordings, rarities, B-sides, BBC radio appearances, alternative mixes, rare live recordings, and a DVD featuring an entire previously unreleased concert.

Dookie

Green Day
Green Day couldn't have had a blockbuster without Nirvana, but Dookie wound up being nearly as revolutionary as Nevermind, sending a wave of imitators up the charts and setting the tone for the mainstream rock of the mid-'90s. Like Nevermind, this was accidental success, the sound of a promising underground group suddenly hitting its stride just as they got their first professional, big-budget, big-label production. Really, that's where the similarities end, since if Nirvana were indebted to the weirdness of indie rock, Green Day were straight-ahead punk revivalists through and through. They were products of the underground pop scene kept alive by such protagonists as All, yet what they really loved was the original punk, particularly such British punkers as the Jam and Buzzcocks. On their first couple records, they showed promise, but with Dookie, they delivered a record that found Billie Joe Armstrong bursting into full flower as a songwriter, spitting out melodic ravers that could have comfortable sat alongside Singles Going Steady, but infused with an ironic self-loathing popularized by Nirvana, whose clean sound on Nevermind is also emulated here. Where Nirvana had weight, Green Day are deliberately adolescent here, treating nearly everything as joke and having as much fun as snotty punkers should. They demonstrate a bit of depth with "When I Come Around," but that just varies the pace slightly, since the key to this is their flippant, infectious attitude -- something they maintain throughout the record, making Dookie a stellar piece of modern punk that many tried to emulate but nobody bettered.

The Downward Spiral

Nine Inch Nails
The Downward Spiral positioned Trent Reznor as industrial's own Phil Spector, painting detailed, layered soundscapes from a wide tonal palette. Not only did he fully integrated the crashing metal guitars of Broken, but several newfound elements -- expanded song structures, odd time signatures, shifting arrangements filled with novel sounds, tremendous textural variety -- can be traced to the influence of progressive rock. So can the painstaking attention devoted to pacing and contrast -- The Downward Spiral is full of striking sonic juxtapositions and sudden about-faces in tone, which make for a fascinating listen. More important than craft in turning Reznor into a full-fledged rock star, however, was his brooding persona. Grunge had the mainstream salivating over melodramatic angst, which had always been Reznor's stock in trade. The left-field hit "Closer" made him a postmodern shaman for the '90s, obsessed with exposing the dark side he saw behind even the most innocuous façades. In fact, his theatrics on The Downward Spiral -- all the preening self-absorption and serpentine sexuality -- seemed directly descended from Jim Morrison. Yet Reznor's nihilism often seemed like a reaction against some repressively extreme standard of purity, so the depravity he wallowed in didn't necessarily seem that depraved. That's part of the reason why, in spite of its many virtues, The Downward Spiral falls just short of being the masterpiece it wants to be. For one thing, fascination with texture occasionally dissolves the hooky songwriting that fueled Pretty Hate Machine. But more than that, Reznor's unflinching bleakness was beginning to seem like a carefully calibrated posture; his increasing musical sophistication points up the lyrical holding pattern. Having said that, the album ends on an affecting emotional peak -- "Hurt" mingles drama and introspection in a way Reznor had never quite managed before. It's evidence of depth behind the charisma that deservedly made him a star.

Steve Huey, Rovi

Jagged Little Pill

Alanis Morissette
It's remarkable that Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill struck a sympathetic chord with millions of listeners, because it's so doggedly, determinedly insular. This, after all, plays like an emotional purging, prompted by a bitter relationship -- and, according to all the lyrical hints, that's likely a record executive who took advantage of a young Alanis. She never disguises her outright rage and disgust, whether it's the vengeful wrath of "You Oughta Know" or asking him "you scan the credits for your name and wonder why it's not there." This is such insider information that it's hard to believe that millions of listeners not just bought it, but embraced it, turning Alanis Morisette into a mid-'90s phenomenon. Perhaps it was the individuality that made it appealing, since its specificity lent it genuineness -- and, even if this is clearly an attempt to embrace the "women in rock" movement in alterna-rock, Morissette's intentions are genuine. Often, it seems like Glen Ballard's pop inclinations fight against Alanis' exorcisms, as her bitter diary entries are given a pop gloss that gives them entry to the pop charts. What's all the more remarkable is that Alanis isn't a particularly good singer, stretching the limits of pitch and credibility with her octave-skipping caterwauling. At its core, this is the work of an ambitious but sophomoric 19-year-old, once burned by love, but still willing to open her heart a second time. All of this adds up to a record that's surprisingly effective, an utterly fascinating exploration of a young woman's psyche. As slick as the music is, the lyrics are unvarnished and Morissette unflinchingly explores emotions so common, most people would be ashamed to articulate them. This doesn't make Jagged Little Pill great, but it does make it a fascinating record, a phenomenon that's intensely personal.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Tragic Kingdom

No Doubt
Released in 1995, the multi-platinum Tragic Kingdom not only transformed Anaheim's No Doubt into a household name, it also helped make ska-punk from the sprawling Cali 'burbs the hottest commodity since sliced bread. Nearly every song here, from the hard-bopping "Just a Girl" to the Blondie-tinged "Happy Now?," is sickly-sweet ear candy. A powder keg combo of riot grrrl defiance and Mouseketeers' radiant innocence, Gwen Stefani exudes so much charisma and straight-up sex appeal that the singer would've been a pop star even had she joined a struggling polka band from Youngstown, Ohio.

Justin Farrar, Google Play

Core

Stone Temple Pilots
Stone Temple Pilots were positively vilified once their 1992 debut, Core, started scaling the charts in 1993, pegged as fifth-rate Pearl Jam copyists. It is true that the worst moments of Core play like a parody of the Seattle scene -- titles like "Dead and Bloated" and "Crackerman" tell you that much, playing like really bad Alice in Chains parodies, and the entire record tends to sink into gormless post-grunge sludge. Furthermore, even if it rocks pretty hard, it's usually without much character, sounding like cut-rate grunge. To be fair, it's more that they share the same influences as their peers than being overt copycats, but it's still a little disheartening all the same. If that's all that Core was, it'd be as forgettable as Seven Mary Three, but there are the hits that propelled it up the charts, songs that have remarkably stood the test of time to be highlights of their era. "Sex Type Thing" may have a clumsy anti-rape lyric that comes across as misogynist, but it survives on its terrifically lunk-headed riff, while "Wicked Garden" is a surprisingly effective piece of revivalist acid rock. Then, there's the slow acoustic crawl of "Creep" that works as well as anything on AIC's Sap and, finally, "Plush," a majestic album rock revival more melodic and stylish than anything grunge produced outside of Nirvana itself. These four songs aren't enough to salvage a fairly pedestrian debut, but they do find STP to be nimble rock craftsmen when inspiration hits.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Greatest Hits

Foo Fighters
Almost 15 years on from their debut, Foo Fighters deliver their first Greatest Hits, a 15-track (16 if the double dip on "Everlong" counts) retrospective covering their six albums from 1995 to 2007. Greatest Hits isn't arranged chronologically, which isn't a detriment; if anything, skipping through the years emphasizes just how consistent the Foos have been, always delivering oversized rock & roll where the hooks are as big as the guitars. The only exceptions to the rule are the two lo-fi cuts "Big Me" and "This Is a Call," with "I'll Stick Around" qualifying as this comp's inexplicable omission ("Walking After You," "DOA," "Stacked Actors," and "No Way Back" all also didn't make the cut), plucked from their 1995 debut, where the band was only Dave Grohl recording at home. Apart from this pair of tunes, this is all muscular, melodic modern rock, the kind that Foo Fighters almost patented, and if their consistency has occasionally made their albums blend together, it does result in one strong hits collection.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Greatest Hits

Red Hot Chili Peppers
The Red Hot Chili Peppers' Greatest Hits is a compelling listen, culling tracks from the band's 1989 breakthrough, Mother's Milk, to its melodic 2002 release, By the Way. In some ways, one could view this as the best of the John Frusciante years, charting most of the band's work with the talented guitarist after the death of original member Hillel Slovak. The tracks here are all hits, including such stellar singles as "Give It Away," "Under the Bridge," and Frusciante's first single after his phoenix-like resurrection from heroin addiction, "Scar Tissue." It should be noted, though, that as a Warner-issued hits collection such fan favorites as "Taste the Pain" and the touchstone antidrug anthem "Knock Me Down" -- both from the 1989 EMI release Mother's Milk -- aren't included. (Similarly, nothing from the Chili Peppers' rambunctious early efforts -- including 1984's Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1985's Freaky Styley, and 1987's The Uplift Mofo Party Plan -- appears on this hits collection.) Nonetheless, Greatest Hits still portrays the band as one of the most consistently brilliant groups of its generation. Helping to paint this picture are such solid cuts as the group's searing, albeit overplayed, 1989 cover of Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground" as well as its rarely available addition to the Coneheads movie soundtrack, "Soul to Squeeze." Not surprisingly, "My Friends" is the sole cut to make it from the band's disappointing one-off effort with Jane's Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro, One Hot Minute. Throw in two new tracks ("Fortune Faded" and "Save the Population") that easily match the quality of the material collected here, and you've got one of the most consistently listenable Chili Pepper releases since Blood Sugar Sex Magik. For fans who gave up after Frusciante left the band, Greatest Hits is the perfect reintroduction.

Matt Collar, Rovi

Ten

Pearl Jam
Nirvana's Nevermind may have been the album that broke grunge and alternative rock into the mainstream, but there's no underestimating the role that Pearl Jam's Ten played in keeping them there. Nirvana's appeal may have been huge, but it wasn't universal; rock radio still viewed them as too raw and punky, and some hard rock fans dismissed them as weird misfits. In retrospect, it's easy to see why Pearl Jam clicked with a mass audience -- they weren't as metallic as Alice in Chains or Soundgarden, and of Seattle's Big Four, their sound owed the greatest debt to classic rock. With its intricately arranged guitar textures and expansive harmonic vocabulary, Ten especially recalled Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. But those touchstones might not have been immediately apparent, since -- aside from Mike McCready's Clapton/Hendrix-style leads -- every trace of blues influence has been completely stripped from the band's sound. Though they rock hard, Pearl Jam is too anti-star to swagger, too self-aware to puncture the album's air of gravity. Pearl Jam tackles weighty topics -- abortion, homelessness, childhood traumas, gun violence, rigorous introspection -- with an earnest zeal unmatched since mid-'80s U2, whose anthemic sound they frequently strive for. Similarly, Eddie Vedder's impressionistic lyrics often make their greatest impact through the passionate commitment of his delivery rather than concrete meaning. His voice had a highly distinctive timbre that perfectly fit the album's warm, rich sound, and that's part of the key -- no matter how cathartic Ten's tersely titled songs got, they were never abrasive enough to affect the album's accessibility. Ten also benefited from a long gestation period, during which the band honed the material into this tightly focused form; the result is a flawlessly crafted hard rock masterpiece.

Steve Huey, Rovi

Rage Against The Machine

Rage Against The Machine
Seething with revolutionary spirit, the self-titled debut of Rage Against the Machine record had social, cultural and musical rebellion at its very core. In the group's marriage of heavy metal guitars and hip-hop rebellion, tunes like "Killing in the Name," "Take the Power Back" and "Know Your Enemy" were a singular crystallization of underground movements that were waiting to burst through to a mainstream audience, and the band's uncompromising message was every bit as astonishing as their commercial success. Years after its release, guitarist Tom Morello's brilliant, jagged shredding and the eloquent fury of vocalist Zack de la Rocha are just as incendiary as ever.

Nate Cavalieri, Google Play

Third Eye Blind

Third Eye Blind
Third Eye Blind's eponymous debut is catchier than the average post-grunge album, and that fact alone reveals a lot about the band. Instead of relying on standard, plodding grunge influences, Third Eye Blind draw heavily from the simple hook-laden traditions of classic arena rock, which makes the album more immediate. Unfortunately, this also makes it a little simplistic -- the group can craft a naggingly memorable hook, as evidenced by the single "Semi-Charmed Life," but they aren't always able to fashion them into songs. Still, Third Eye Blind is easy on the ears, and its straight-ahead professionalism makes it a pleasurable listen for post-grungers.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Phobia (Explicit Version)

Breaking Benjamin
Breaking Benjamin are nothing if not consistent. Phobia finds them picking up exactly where they left off with 2004's We Are Not Alone, mixing heavy hard rock dynamics with a moody demeanor that never slips into full-on dejection, thanks in part to their proficient grasp of the accessible melody and ever-rousing chorus. Darkness permeates Phobia's tracks (bookended by a useless intro and outro), but the quartet always remembers the silver lining hanging in its oft-cloudy skies. Songs like "Until the End" exhibit this resilient attitude, affirming that while life can be tough, "Why give up? Why give in?…So I will go on until the end." Breaking Benjamin mix urgent up-front vocals with dense underside riffing ("The Diary of Jane," "Topless"), while still being able to effortlessly pull off songs with vulnerable edges ("Here We Are," "Breath"). This is heard even more in the gentle acoustic version of "The Diary of Jane" not listed on the back cover; it sounds natural and not just like a strained bonus novelty -- featuring Dropping Daylight's Sebastian Davin, the version may even be better than the original. As is often the case, certain tracks work out much better than others, as in the tough angst of "Dance with the Devil" versus the forced warbling of "Unknown Soldier." The main problem with the guys has always been that while everything is pulled off capably, there isn't always much to distinguish them from the rest of the post-grunge/alt-metal pack or really, each of their songs from one another. But what Breaking Benjamin lack in distinctiveness, they make up in a certain charm that makes them 100 times more appealing than most of their testosterone-clogged peers. Phobia will not win over any skeptics still holding out on the band, but for those already happily settled in the Benjamin camp, it makes for another satisfying listen. [The clean version contains no expletives.]

Corey Apar, Rovi

Throwing Copper

Live

Candlebox

Candlebox
Candlebox rode the alternative bandwagon to the top of the charts with their self-titled debut album. Taking the heaviest moments of Soundgarden and Alice in Chains and adding both the confinements of a pop song and the attitude of album rock, Candlebox managed to sell over two million copies of their first album. Nothing on Candlebox is particularly catchy -- the singles "You" and "Far Behind" are the closest they come to memorable melodies -- but there is enough sheer riff power to satisfy fans of their singles.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Year Of The Spider

Cold

Rearviewmirror: Greatest Hits 1991-2003

Pearl Jam
Joe Strummer once claimed that the Clash had stardom in their hands, then they dropped it on the floor and broke it. Pearl Jam took the opposite tact: they purposely left stardom behind. Nirvana may have ushered in the age of grunge and alternative rock, but Pearl Jam were the biggest band in the land during the first half of the '90s, dominating radio airwaves, MTV, and college dorms alike. Most bands would have embraced such widespread acclaim, but the quintet bristled at this vein, and started to restlessly explore new musical territory, a move that eventually whittled their fan base down to just the hardcore by the beginning of the next decade. That hardcore following was still large, and the band could still have the occasional surprising crossover hit, like the 1999 cover of J. Frank Wilson's teen tragedy classic "Last Kiss" that went to number two on the Billboard charts, but they were no longer the biggest band in the land. Spanning two discs, Rearviewmirror (Greatest Hits 1991-2003) chronicles that journey and it does an expert job not only of capturing the moment when Pearl Jam were monstrously popular, but proving that they still turned out good music even when they were fading from the spotlight. Unlike most career-spanning, multi-disc retrospectives, Rearviewmirror does not emphasize latter-day albums in order to achieve a sense of balance that's inherently phony. Of the 33 tracks, only 12 date from the post-Vitalogy era, which means that the bulk of the collection concentrates on their early-'90s heyday, and nearly every radio hit and concert staple is here, outside of the Victoria Williams cover "Crazy Mary" and "Tremor Christ." While their presence would have been nice, they're not terribly missed, partially because such non-LP cuts like "State of Love and Trust," "I Got ID," "Last Kiss," and "Man of the Hour" are collected here, but mainly because the compilation plays so well. The songs are divided into the "Up Side" and "Down Side," meaning the first disc has all the rockers and the second disc has all the ballads. At first, this seems like a questionable strategy, since it's usually preferable to have all the hits follow in chronological order, but what makes this work is that the songs on each disc "are" presented in chronological order, and they sustain their mood quite well (this is partially helped by Brendan O'Brien's new mixes of "Once," "Alive," and "Black," which retain the feeling of the original songs but remove much of the dated glossy sheen in the production). Distilled to their hits and anthems, all of Pearl Jam's best qualities shine through and they sound bigger, better, and frankly more coherent than they do on their full-length albums. And that's why Rearviewmirror is a cut above most '90s hits collections: it not only gives casual fans all the hits, but it captures why the band mattered, while providing a better listen than their proper LPs in the process.

Tidal

Fiona Apple
Fiona Apple demonstrates considerable talent on her debut album, Tidal, but it is unformed, unfocused talent. Her voice is surprisingly rich and supple for a teenager, and her jazzy, sophisticated piano playing also belies her age. Given the right material, such talents could have flourished, but she has concentrated on her own compositions, which are nowhere near as impressive as her musicianship. Most of Tidal is comprised of confessional singer/songwriter material, and while they strive to say something deep and important, much of the lyrics settle for clichés. Apple does have a handful of impressive songs on Tidal, like the haunting "Shadowboxer" and "Sullen Girl," but the gap between her performing talents and songwriting skills is too large to make the album anything more than a promising, and very intriguing, debut.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Dummy

Portishead
Portishead's album debut is a brilliant, surprisingly natural synthesis of claustrophobic spy soundtracks, dark breakbeats inspired by frontman Geoff Barrow's love of hip-hop, and a vocalist (Beth Gibbons) in the classic confessional singer/songwriter mold. Beginning with the otherworldly theremin and martial beats of "Mysterons," Dummy hits an early high with "Sour Times," a post-modern torch song driven by a Lalo Schifrin sample. The chilling atmospheres conjured by Adrian Utley's excellent guitar work and Barrow's turntables and keyboards prove the perfect foil for Gibbons, who balances sultriness and melancholia in equal measure. Occasionally reminiscent of a torchier version of Sade, Gibbons provides a clear focus for these songs, with Barrow and company behind her laying down one of the best full-length productions ever heard in the dance world. Where previous acts like Massive Attack had attracted dance heads in the main, Portishead crossed over to an American, alternative audience, connecting with the legion of angst-ridden indie fans as well. Better than any album before it, Dummy merged the pinpoint-precise productions of the dance world with pop hallmarks like great songwriting and excellent vocal performances.

John Bush, Rovi

In Utero (20th Anniversary Remaster)

Nirvana
Nirvana probably hired Steve Albini to produce In Utero with the hopes of creating their own Surfer Rosa, or at least shoring up their indie cred after becoming a pop phenomenon with a glossy punk record. In Utero, of course, turned out to be their last record, and it's hard not to hear it as Kurt Cobain's suicide note, since Albini's stark, uncompromising sound provides the perfect setting for Cobain's bleak, even nihilistic, lyrics. Even if the album wasn't a literal suicide note, it was certainly a conscious attempt to shed their audience -- an attempt that worked, by the way, since the record had lost its momentum when Cobain died in the spring of 1994. Even though the band tempered some of Albini's extreme tactics in a remix, the record remains a deliberately alienating experience, front-loaded with many of its strongest songs, then descending into a series of brief, dissonant squalls before concluding with "All Apologies," which only gets sadder with each passing year. Throughout it all, Cobain's songwriting is typically haunting, and its best moments rank among his finest work, but the over-amped dynamicism of the recording seems like a way to camouflage his dispiritedness -- as does the fact that he consigned such great songs as "Verse Chorus Verse" and "I Hate Myself and Want to Die" to compilations, when they would have fit, even illuminated the themes of In Utero. Even without those songs, In Utero remains a shattering listen, whether it's viewed as Cobain's farewell letter or self-styled audience alienation. Few other records are as willfully difficult as this.

Evil Empire

Rage Against The Machine
Rage Against the Machine spent four years making its second album, Evil Empire. Their rage at the "fascist" capitalist system in America hadn't declined in the nearly half-decade they were away. Their musical approach didn't change, either. Lead vocalist Zack de la Rocha is caught halfway between the militant raps of Chuck D and the fanatical ravings of a street preacher, shouting out his libertarian slogans over the sonically dense assault of the band. Guitarist Tom Morello demonstrates an impressive palette of sound, creating new textures in heavy metal, which is quite difficult, and de la Rocha's dedication to decidedly left-wing politics is admirable, simply because few other performers of the '90s had made "any" sort of political stance.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Siamese Dream

Smashing Pumpkins
While Gish had placed the Smashing Pumpkins on the "most promising artist" list for many, troubles were threatening to break the band apart. Singer/guitarist/leader Billy Corgan was battling a severe case of writer's block and was in a deep state of depression brought on by a relationship in turmoil; drummer Jimmy Chamberlin was addicted to hard drugs; and bassist D'Arcy and guitarist James Iha severed their romantic relationship. The sessions for their sophomore effort, Siamese Dream, were wrought with friction -- Corgan eventually played almost all the instruments himself (except for percussion). Some say strife and tension produces the best music, and it certainly helped make Siamese Dream one of the finest alt-rock albums of all time. Instead of following Nirvana's punk rock route, Siamese Dream went in the opposite direction -- guitar solos galore, layered walls of sound courtesy of the album's producers (Butch Vig and Corgan), extended compositions that bordered on prog rock, plus often reflective and heartfelt lyrics. The four tracks that were selected as singles became alternative radio standards -- the anthems "Cherub Rock," "Today," and "Rocket," plus the symphonic ballad "Disarm" -- but as a whole, Siamese Dream proved to be an incredibly consistent album. Such compositions as the red-hot rockers "Quiet" and "Geek U.S.A." were standouts, as were the epics "Hummer," "Soma," and "Silverfuck," plus the soothing sounds of "Mayonaise," "Spaceboy," and "Luna." After the difficult recording sessions, Corgan stated publicly that if Siamese Dream didn't achieve breakthrough success, he would end the band. He didn't have to worry for long -- the album debuted in the Billboard Top Ten and sold more than four million copies in three years. Siamese Dream stands alongside Nevermind and Superunknown as one of the decade's finest (and most influential) rock albums. [Siamese Dream was also released in a "clean" edition, containing no profanities or vulgarities.]

Greg Prato, Rovi

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