This article is intended to be about albums that were poorly received and overlooked both commercially and in some cases critically at the time of their release and may still be looked at negatively by their fans. Something like Temple of the Dog, Mad Season’s Above, and Mother Love Bone’s Apple aren’t on this list because they were widely regarded as great albums when they were released and are looked back on as classics today, even though they may not have achieved huge commercial success. Even something like The Smashing Pumpkins’ Adore is hailed now as a classic. So here is my list of what I believe to be the top ten unfairly criticized and underrated albums by alternative rock/Grunge era artists. It’s important to note that this is focused on the artists of the Grunge/90’s alternative rock era we cover on here, rather than modern alternative rock bands.
10. Jane’s Addiction- Strays (2003)
After 13 years, and sans original bassist Eric Avery, Jane’s Addiction came roaring back with their comeback album Strays, their long awaited follow-up to 1990’s Ritual de lo Habitual. Many longtime Jane’s Addiction fans ripped on the band for having a more polished and commercial sound, but the songwriting is top notch on this album and it is a very focused effort. Perry Farrell has some of the most memorable melodies of his career on this album, and Dave Navarro shines on guitar. Standout tracks include: Strays, Just Because, Price I Pay, True Nature, and To Match The Sun.
9. Jerry Cantrell- Degradation Trip Volumes 1 & 2 (2002)
Many casual Alice In Chains fans may overlook Jerry Cantrell’s solo career, but he released two solid albums in the late 90’s/early 2000’s, with the most underrated being Degradation Trip Volumes 1 & 2. The album was definitely the most ambitious of Cantrell’s career, a double album that lasts 2 hours and 20 minutes and is one of the darkest albums of the last decade. Lyrically the album addresses Cantrell’s own isolation and misery, along with his broken friendship with the then reclusive Layne Staley (the album was written and recorded prior to Staley’s death). On Bargain Basement Howard Hughes, Cantrell sings about his ailing friend, “Enigma wrapped in riddle, Your life I belittle, Dignity I’d steal, Now I know how it feels, Stubborn bastard, hard head knocking, We had our good years too, Though apart, you’re still in my heart I’d give anything for you.” Standout tracks on Degradation Trip include: Angel Eyes, Anger Rising, Solitude, Gone, and Bargain Basement Howard Hughes.
8. Deconstruction- Deconstruction (1994)
After Jane’s Addiction broke up in 1991, bassist Eric Avery and guitarist Dave Navarro recorded the lone Deconstruction album together with Michael Murphy on drums. The album sounds like how musically a third Jane’s Addiction album would have sounded if the band had never broken up, except with Eric Avery on lead vocals (Navarro sang on some songs like Big Sur). The album has unbelievable songs and to this day has been totally overlooked. Standout tracks include: LA Song, Big Sur, Iris, and Get At Em.
7. Scott Weiland- 12 Bar Blues (1998)
Stone Temple Pilots frontman Scott Weiland’s debut solo album is one of the most eclectic and daring albums of the late 90’s. Weiland went into sonic territory he never had before, and his songwriting on here is as strong as it is on any Stone Temple Pilots albums. This is one of Weiland’s darkest albums as he was suffering some of the lowest points of his heroin addiction. Comparing this to Weiland’s second solo album, 2008’s Happy in Galoshes, is like night and day. 12 Bar Blues features one of Weiland’s best lyrics of his career on Barbarella, “Grab a scale and guess the weight of all the pain I’ve given with my name, I’m a selfish piece of shit.” Standout tracks include: Barbarella, Cool Kiss, Mockingbird Girl, and Lady Your Roof Brings Me Down.
6. Red Hot Chili Peppers- One Hot Minute (1995)
Yep, another Dave Navarro related project! After guitarist John Frusciante left the Chili Peppers in 1992, the band eventually replaced him permanently with Jane’s Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro. During the making of the band’s lone album with Navarro, RHCP frontman Anthony Kiedis relapsed on heroin which led to One Hot Minute being the Chili Peppers’ darkest and most personal record. Many Chili Peppers fans couldn’t understand this change in direction for the band, but as it stands today it could be argued that One Hot Minute was the band’s greatest album. If only they would play material from it live! Standout tracks include: Aeroplane, My Friends, Warped, and Tearjerker.
5. Chris Cornell- Euphoria Morning (1999)
Euphoria Morning was Chris Cornell’s first solo album, and his first record following Soundgarden’s breakup. 13 years later, and it is his last masterpiece (we’ll see if he can make another with Soundgarden’s King Animal). The album sees Cornell embrace his love of the Beatles and soul music, with some of his finest songs to date. Cornell received help from Alain Johannes on the album, a guy who always seems to be around when kick ass music is being created. Standout tracks include: Can’t Change Me, When I’m Down, Moonchild, Sweet Euphoria, and Preaching the End of the World.
4. Screaming Trees- Dust (1996)
While Sweet Oblivion saw the Screaming Trees reach their apex in popularity, Dust is really their crowning achievement. The album was overlooked commercially, if it had come out a year or two sooner it could have done far better, but unfortunately the Trees were not able to strike when the iron was hot. Dust is definitely a Grunge classic. Standout tracks include: All I Know, Sworn and Broken, Halo of Ashes, and Traveler.
3. Stone Temple Pilots- Shangri LA DEE DA (2001)
After No. 4’s return to hard rock roots, STP surprised fans with their most experimental album ever in 2001, Shangri LA DEE DA. The band fully embraced their pop, bossa nova, and 60’s influences on this album, but manage to rock out at the same time. Unfortunately Atlantic Records refused to release Wonderful as a single, a surefire radio hit that would have given this underrated gem of an album the attention it deserved. Standout tracks include: Hello It’s Late, Black Again, Hollywood Bitch, Wonderful, and Coma.
2. Zwan- Mary Star of the Sea (2003)
I think this will probably be the most surprising choice. I’ve always thought of the Zwan album as a defacto Smashing Pumpkins album, since the album features Billy Corgan and Jimmy Chamberlin with Billy writing all of the songs, like most Pumpkins releases. Many Pumpkins fans criticized this album as being too poppy and generic, but it really is one of Corgan’s strongest bodies of work ever. Every song is memorable, just an incredibly catchy and inspired album. I could give a shit about the live songs and demos left off, the songs that made the album are great. The title track Mary Star of the Sea is one of my favorite Smashing Pumpkins/Billy Corgan songs. Standout tracks include: Jesus, I/Mary Star of the Sea, Settle Down, Of A Broken Heart, Lyric, and Ride A Black Swan.
1. James Iha- Let It Come Down (1998)
Just kidding Billy.
1. Pearl Jam- Riot Act (2002)
This is possibly Pearl Jam’s most divisive album among fans, but to me it is one of their best. Over a decade into their recording career Pearl Jam were at a point where they could either go back and try to rewrite Ten, or they could push forward. Riot Act contains the sound of a band aging gracefully, with a mature but still heavy sound. It also features one of my favorite Eddie Vedder lyrics ever on I Am Mine, “I know I was born and I know that I’ll die, the in between is mine.” Riot Act is still debated fiercely on the Ten Club boards, but it will always be a classic to me, especially since my Dad basically played it to death for about two years when it was released. Standout tracks include: I Am Mine, Love Boat Captain, Green Disease, Can’t Keep, and Thumbing My Way.
By the way, a special honorable mention goes to Blind Melon’s Soup album from 1995. To be honest I didn’t think of it until after I finished this article. So consider them #11, even though I think all of these are great so the numbers don’t matter. But another great, underrated album!