Diamonds in the Rough: The best overlooked music from the 1990s

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Featured image: Georgina Hurdsfield

The 90s were a wonderful time, full of culture and counterculture in abundance. So many of the last great game-changing albums were released in this decade that it’s easy to look over so many hidden gems. We round up some of the best which deserve a second look.

Mad Season – Above

Mad Season is an American Rock super-group formed from the Seattle Grunge scene. They only released one record: Above, through Columbia Records in 1995 and played a handful of shows. The result is a powerful combination of the best parts of Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains, making for a muscly, heavy, winding record. 

From ‘I Don’t Know Anything’s droning riffs’ to ‘River Of Deceit’s tender folksy sound, some consider this singer Layne Staley’s finest hour. Much of the album is a spiritual meditation on addiction and the holes it can put you in (a problem he unfortunately never recovered from). 

Plans were laid and ultimately abandoned for follow-up works, but this remains a transformative and adventurous gem from some of Seattle’s finest.

Temple of the Dog – Temple of the Dog

Probably 90s music’s equivalent to Manchester City. Temple of the Dog consisted of Chris Cornell of Soundgarden fame fronting what would become Pearl Jam.

Written in tribute to Andrew Wood, the former lead singer of Mother Love Bone, who died of a heroin overdose and who Jeff Arment and Stone Gossard were also involved with. The experience was considered cathartic for all involved. It helped Jeff and Stone piece together their next move, forming Pearl Jam under less pressure. It also allowed Cornell to express a different side to his personality from Soundgarden’s aggressive-metal input. 

Highlights include ‘Say Hello 2 Heaven’, a soulful tour de-force for Cornell to shine, ‘Reach Down’, whose last five minutes are dedicated to a blistering Mike McCready solo. ‘Hunger Strike’ introduces the world to one Eddie Vedder for the first time with a gorgeous duet.

Big Wreck – In Loving Memory Of…

Big Wreck is a Canadian-American rock band formed in 1994 and led by singer-guitarist Ian Thornley. Releasing their debut album, In Loving Memory Of…, in 1997 – it remains a coveted hidden gem in the post-grunge era. 

A band of Berklee College graduates, it’s a heavy ‘Southern’ rock offering sprinkled with many progressive elements not dissimilar to bands like Rush and Dream Theater. Ian Thornley is widely regarded as one of the greatest musicians to emerge from the 90s. The guitar playing here is his mission statement. 

The album is saturated with creative alternative guitar tunings, creating various moods and pictures. This, combined with Ian’s powerhouse voice, emulating Chris Cornell so well, makes for one hit of an album. Check out ‘The Oaf’ and ‘Look What I Found’ for some heavy hitters and ‘Under The Lighthouse’ and ‘How Would You Know’ to understand the true scope of this album.

I Mother Earth – Dig

I Mother Earth are a Canadian rock band that released their debut album: Dig in 1993. Somewhat of an anomalous act, they combine the heady lyrics of Rush and Yes with crisp funk rhythms like James Brown and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Demonstrating Santana-like Latin percussion and fiery heavy rock guitars like The Smashing Pumpkins and Janes Addiction.

This refusal to be pigeonholed shines brightly on their debut, with all 12 songs set to head-scratch as much as they inspire. Often sounding like a band ready to go off the rails and always threatening a jam, slow-burning ‘The Mothers’ into the heavy ‘Levitate’ sets the tone for what to expect, with so many twists and turns throwing you off at every corner. 

‘Production’ combines Metallica-like thrash with Slap bass, while ‘Undone’ recalls Tool and Black Sabbath at their moodiest. Quite the ride.

The Tragically Hip – Fully Completely

The Tragically Hip are somewhat of an anomaly in Rock music. They are celebrated and widely loved across Canada yet never spoken of outside their home country. ‘The Hip’ are a rock band combining hearty, bluesy instrumentals with the soulful storytelling lyrics of vocalist Gord Downie. 

Fully Completely was their third album and was the first to feature lyrics written entirely by Gord Downie. Released in October 1992 and recorded in London, the record has been described as a ‘trippy Canadiana dream/nightmare’, exploring Canadian icons and history. 

‘Courage (for Hugh Maclennan)’ talks about the referenced author and his works. ‘At the Hundredth Meridian’ describes the line of longitude separating much of Western Canada from the Central. Additionally, ‘Atlantic Regions’ and ‘Fifty Mission Cap’, are references to Toronto Maple Leafs player Bill Barilko and “fifty mission caps”, which were given to elite bomber pilots during World War II. 

While the band never managed to generate much success outside their native lands. This album went a long way in solidifying their legacy and place in Canadian culture.

We have only scratched the surface of our 1990s diamonds in the rough round up. There’s so much out there that has been overlooked. Let us know which one is your favourite 90s album in the comments or join the conversation over at @aAh_mag.

‘Diamonds In the Rough – 1990s’ Spotify playlist by James Swindell for @aAh_mag.

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James Swindell

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