1992, the very middle of my college years, was the year alternative music took over the world. Though many of the touchstone albums of grunge & indie were released in 1991, ’92 was when those bands took over the airwaves, when major record labels started signing up every decent indie-rock band around, and when the last traces of hair metal went away. In other words for me they were good times- not so much for Mickey Rourke in “The Wrestler”. Grunge was at its pinnacle- it had not yet reached its saturation point but most of the best grunge albums had already been released or would be released in ’92. Alice in Chain’s “Dirt” was their best album, the Screaming Trees released their best as well, Nirvana came out with an amazing b-sides collection with “Incesticide” and the Singles soundtrack, released in the summer of ’92, gathered up previously unreleased tracks by Pearl Jam, Mudhoney, Alice, the Trees, Soundgarden & the Smashing Pumpkins as well as a few others. It remains one of the movement’s essential documents. Other loud rock bands had prominent releases in ’92 as well- Ministry’s “Psalm 69”, Nine Inch Nails “Broken EP”, Tool’s “Opiate EP”, “Helmet’s “Meantime”, L7’s “Bricks Are Heavy” and especially the introduction of Rage Against the Machine with their self-titled debut. That’s to name a few. It was a good time to be playing this type of music- it would never get this much exposure unless you count the pale grunge and rap-rock imitations of the very late 90’s.
Many alternative bands who had been been making music since as long as the late 70’s post-punk years released commercially and artistically successful albums in ’92 as well. R.E.M., who had already reached the masses, came out with “Automatic for the People”, one of their very best records and some say their last great one. The Cure broke big with “Wish”, while not among their best, still a very enjoyable release. Sonic Youth’s “Dirty” was as mainstream as they would ever get. It might not have reached the artistic heights of “Daydream Nation” but it’s still one of my favorite by them. Morrissey released the excellent “Your Arsenal” & Bob Mould formerly of Husker Du, came out with “Copper Blue”, the debut album by his new band Sugar. Even Dando of the Lemonheads, a Boston punk band, went way more mainstream with “It’s a Shame About Ray”- by far their best album. Jesus & Mary Chain, XTC & Cracker (singer David Lowery was formerly of 80’s band Camper Van Beethoven) had hit albums as well.
Lesser known and/or more eccentric bands had great albums in ’92. The year introduced PJ Harvey with her/their debut album “Dry”. It remains one of her best in a long and varied career. Indie band Pavement was tagged as the ultimate slacker band but their Matador debut album “Slanted and Enchanted” was perhaps the best album of the entire year. Guided By Voices out of Ohio were also beginning to make some noise in the indie scene though it would be a few more years before they were more widely known. Flaming Lips, Buffalo Tom, Urge Overkill, Heavenly and overseas bands Spiritualized, Bettie Serveert & Catherine Wheel also raised their profiles considerably in ’92. In the techno world both Prodigy and Aphex Twin released their debuts- both would go on to become two of the most prominent fixtures in the techno scene throughout the decade, though Prodigy would become increasingly commercial while Aphex Twin would remain underground but tremendously influential.
Alternative country, throwback rock & singer-songwriters were big in ’92. Uncle Tupelo, the leaders of the alt-country scene released their third straight great one with “March 16-20, 1992”, a nearly all acoustic affair. Lucinda Williams came out with “Sweet Old World” further boosting her profile. The Jayhawks “Hollywood Town Hall” is also considered an alt-country touchstone. Freedy Johnston’s debut “Can You Fly” was a hit with critics if not the general public. Los Lobos released one of their best with the slightly experimental “Kiko”. Neil Young gave a nod to his classic 1972 album “Harvest” with “Harvest Moon”, an album he has not bettered since. Tom Waits’s “Bone Machine” updated his eccentric carnival blues sound for the 90’s and the Black Crowes would release their second massively successful album with “Southern High and the Musical Companion”. Though the Crowes were little more than an updated of the Stones/Faces sound of the early 70’s, they are good songwriters and players and I still think the above is their best album.
Rap music, like Grunge, experienced some truly game changing albums in ’91. ’92 was more of the same. The genre split into at least three factions. On the one hand you had the conscious rap propagated by the Native Tongue groups from ’88-’91. Arrested Development was the new group who dominated commercially in ’92. Though they have at least one lasting classic song, their music has not worn nearly as well as some of the other groups like A TRibe Called Quest” whose “Hot Sex” single was released in ’92 off of the “Boomerang” soundtrack, Gang Starr whose second album “Daily Operation” is probably their best and the Pharcyde, who released their classic debut “Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde”. Pete Rock & CL Smooth also released their great debut and EPMD their last good album. Former members of N.W.A. dominated the sound of the West Coast. Dr. Dre came out with his debut “The Chronic”, still one of the best and most influential albums in rap history. It was a gangsta rap album with profane lyrics and celebratory violence and misogyny but with a laid back sound influenced by Parliament-Funkadelic that Dre dubbed “G-Funk”. It would be the most prevalent sound in hip hop over the next four or five years moving rap’s sound away from the more spare James Brown samples used so much in the late 80’s. Ice Cube was the near antithesis of Dre, his music was done by the East Coast’s Bomb Squad, and his lyrics were much angrier and more political- yet just as profane. He also came out with his side project Da Lench Mob’s first album which furthered his success. The third sound in rap was commercial rap in the same vein of Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer. But where their music now sounds incredibly dated and arguably was even a chore to listen to at the time, huge crossover hits like “Jump Around” by House of Pain, “Jump” by Kriss Kross, “I Gotta Man” by Positive K and “Rump Shaker” by Wrecks-N-Effect have stood the test of time much better, though pretty much all of them were 1 hit wonders. R&B singer/groups like Mary J. Blige and En Vogue also tied their sound to hip hop to enormous success and sales. Bringing it all together were the Beastie Boys, who released “Check Your Head”, their third straight masterpiece. While not as much of a game changer as “Paul’s Boutique”, “Head” was actually much more commercially successful and gave them sustainability with the college kids who had grown up with them. “Head” had less rapping on it than their two previous records and combined old school funk, psychedelia, hardcore-punk & rap music and made it all work. It was one of the very best of the year.
The Beastie Boys- Check Your Head
Buy Check Your Head (Deluxe Version) [Remastered] – Beastie Boys
Buy Check Your Head (Remastered Edition) [Explicit] [+digital booklet]Amazon
PJ Harvey- Dry
Buy Dry – PJ Harvey
Buy Dry Amazon
The Cure- Wish
Buy Wish – The Cure
Uncle Tupelo- March 16-20, 1992
Buy March 16-20, 1992 – Uncle Tupelo
Buy March 16-20, 1992Amazon
Lucinda Williams- Sweet Old World
Buy Sweet Old World – Lucinda Williams
Buy Sweet Old World Amazon
Morrissey- Your Arsenal
Buy Your Arsenal Amazon
Sugar- Copper Blue
Buy Copper Blue Amazon
Aphex Twin- Selected Ambient Works 1985-92 Volume 1
Buy Selected Ambient Works 85-92 – Aphex Twin
Buy Selected Ambient Works 85-92Amazon
Sonic Youth- Dirty
Buy Dirty (Deluxe Edition) [Remastered] – Sonic Youth
Buy Dirty Amazon
Neil Young- Harvest Moon
Buy Harvest MoonAmazon
The Jayhawks- Hollywood Town Hall
Buy Hollywood Town Hall – The Jayhawks
Buy Hollywood Town Hall Amazon
The Lemonheads- It’s A Shame About Ray
Buy It’s a Shame About Ray (Expanded Edition) – The Lemonheads
Buy It’s A Shame About Ray [Expanded Edition]Amazon
Gang Starr- Daily Operation
Buy Daily Operation – Gang Starr
Buy Daily Operation [Explicit]Amazon
Tom Waits- Bone Machine
Buy Bone MachineAmazon
Rage Against the Machine- Rage Against the Machine
Buy Rage Against the Machine – Rage Against the Machine
Buy Rage Against The Machine [Explicit]Amazonp>
Alice In Chains- Dirt
The Pharcyde- Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde
Buy Bizarre Ride II: The Pharcyde – The Pharcyde
Buy Bizarre Ride II [Explicit]Amazon
Dr. Dre- The Chronic
Buy The Chronic [Explicit]Amazon
R.E.M.- Automatic for the People
Buy Automatic for the People – R.E.M.
Buy Automatic For The PeopleAmazon
Pavement- Slanted and Enchanted
Buy Slanted & Enchanted: Luxe & Reduxe – Pavement
Buy Slanted & Enchanted: Luxe & ReduxeAmazon
+ 1 crazy awesome soundtrack
Buy Singles (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) – Various Artists
Hey Brian. Love about half the list, which is a pretty good percentage for us. Did you ever get into Del Amitri? They released one of their best, and one of my all-time favorite albums, Change Everything, in 1992. That was definitely my album of the year, possibly a tie with Hollywood Town Hall. Also, the Los Lobos album was “Kiko,” but I’m sure you knew that and it was only a typo. Keep up the good work.
thanks Rich. Never got into Del Amitri. Don’t know their stuff other than “Roll with It”. I know Alan loved them too. Thanks for the heads up – I just caught that too. I am so exhausted by the time I finish listening to, rating & making these mixes and tagging them to iTunes/Amazon that I “forget” to proof my writing sometimes. “Kiki”- worst name for a Los Lobos album ever.
Which albums did you like from ’92?