Top 10 Undeservedly Forgotten Pop-Rock Albums Of The ’90s

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If ’90s music is remembered for anything, it’s for producing groundbreaking alternative artists, as well as a slew of shallow, glossy pop novelties. Somewhere in the middle of all that, the following pop-rock artists released amazing albums featuring a little bit of slickness, and a whole lot of craftsmanship. They’re remembered neither as revolutionary records, nor as Macarena-esque mockeries. In fact, they’re barely remembered at all. See which ones you recall…

10. Fountains of Wayne – Utopia Parkway

Fountains-Of-Wayne-Utopia-Parkway

Remembered for:

Pre-dating the major success of their novelty tune “Stacy’s Mom,” thus being one of the only FoW albums not marred with the “one-hit wonder” label.

What it should be remembered for:

Although it’s arguable that Utopia Parkway’s best attribute was laying out a near-perfect template for their breakthrough follow-up album to replicate, it gets points for doing it in a more free-wheeling way. This is power pop at its loosest, effortlessly dropping gems like the sock hop-inspired “Denise,” and the dopily simple “Hat and Feet.” It’s all a bit dorky, admittedly, with layers upon layers of synths and hand-claps propelling most of the songs, but then, wasn’t the ’90s ideal for getting in touch with your inner doofus? After all, any one of us could have been the protagonist of “Red Dragon Tattoo,” hoping to up our cool factor with a little permanent ink. But few of us could have expressed our inner lameness so poignantly:

“I’m fit to be dyed
Am I fit to have you?”

9. Everclear – So Much For the Afterglow

Everclear-So-Much-For-The-Afterglow

Remembered for:

Being the sophomore album from that band you somehow still confuse with Everlast.

What it should be remembered for:

First of all, the album opens up with some of the finest a cappella harmonizing this side of the Beach Boys. Who doesn’t love that? The themes captured on Afterglow are vintage Everclear, which is to say they’re immensely depressing: abandonment, disillusionment, rejection, drug abuse, fears of inadequacy, etc.

If not necessarily more upbeat than its predecessor (1995’s also-excellent Sparkle and Fade), it’s at least more consistently uptempo. It’s an album about life’s dirtiest dilemmas, covered up with slick production and a happy frappy vocal delivery. “Father of Mine” should be some Radiohead-level bleakness but, in the hands of lead singer Art Alexakis, it comes off as wistful and optimistic. At least as optimistic as a song about an absentee father could ever hope to be.

8. Fastball – All the Pain Money Can Buy

Fastball-All-The-Pain-Money-Can-Buy

Remembered for:

This is the one with “Closing Time” on it, right?

What it should be remembered for:

First of all: no. That’s Semisonic you’re thinking of. But you do likely remember Fastball’s actual famous ditty, “The Way,” for its constant intrusion into your life in 1998. And while there’s nothing wrong with it, per se, it’s one of the weakest tracks on what is an otherwise peppy, rollicking good pop rock album. Multiple singers, various moods, and an uncanny surplus of hooks make All The Pain Money Can Buy a completely painless listening experience. Ba-dum-tsh.

7. Semisonic – Feeling Strangely Fine

Semisonic-Feeling-Strangely-Fine

Remembered for:

Was this the one with “Closing Time” on it??

What it should be remembered for:

Yes. Do you need another reason why this album is essential ’90s listening? Oh, you do? Really? Kind of argumentative of you, but whatever …

No other album of the era better balanced twinkling, heartfelt piano ballads with sensitive, acoustic guitar ballads. Okay, so there are a lot of ballads. But these ballads are both gorgeously simple and completely cheese-free. As for the non-ballads, they range from the bluesy (“Never You Mind”) to the overtly sensual (“Completely Pleased”), with a solid dose of propulsive jangle pop (“Singing In My Sleep”) tossed in for good measure. It’s quite a lovely grab bag.

6. Third Eye Blind – Third Eye Blind

third-eye-blind-album

Remembered for:

The “doot doot doot” song.

What it should be remembered for:

Spawning more hit songs than any other 3EB release — including that “doot doot doot” song, properly known as “Semi-Charmed Life” — their eponymous debut often gets swept over as just another failed attempt to emulate a shallow post-grunge formula. Except, Third Eye Blind isn’t really a post-grunge band. Sure, songs like “Narcolepsy” and “Good For You” may try too hard to achieve that “epic” sound that’s a little beyond their grasp, but the majority of the album is simple, concise, and most importantly, delightful.

“Burning Man” brings some killer funk — with a guitar/bass line combo that absolutely birthed Maroon 5 — while “London” is a fast, loud, shouted mess that defies the sometimes unflattering “pop rock” label. And, of course, “Jumper,” the happiest song about talking a suicidal friend off the ledge, like, ever. What more could you want?

5. Better Than Ezra – Deluxe

Better-Than-Ezra-Deluxe

Remembered for:

Almost nothing. Wait, check that. Precisely nothing.

What it should be remembered for:

Well, first of all, everyone remembers Better Than Ezra’s most popular song, “Good,” but you’d be forgiven for not remembering it came from this band, or this album, or that the name of the song is “Good.” The chorus sounds like wailing gibberish (the words “It was good living with you” are stretched and inflected into a multi-syllabic mess), but the song is pure pop perfection. Deluxe, as a whole, is much less upbeat (unless “upbeat” secretly means “morose”), to the point that even their love songs have some eeriness lurking around the edges. Take for instance, “Porcelain,” a simple acoustic number about a love that went sour, with a melody that sounds like something the Goo Goo Dolls cooked up in a hurry to meet their nine-ballads-per-album quota. But the last verse is creep-tastic:

“I wish I could kill you, savor the sight
Get into my car, drive into the night
Then lie as I scream to the heavens above
That I was the last one you ever loved”

Spine-tingling shivers, anyone? If you put Deluxe on in the background, you’ll have an entirely different listening experience than if you really sit and pay attention. And that, my friends, is a two-fer.

4. Gin Blossoms – New Miserable Experience

Gin-Blossoms-New-Miserable-Experience

Remembered for:

A slew of alt rock-ish, catchy singles that you forgot came from the same band, including “Hey Jealousy,” “Found Out About You,” and “Until I Fall Away.”

What it should be remembered for:

This was likely your laid-back soundtrack to the Summer of ’92 (and ’93, and probably some of ’94.) Aside from the aforementioned hit parade, New Miserable Experience is chalked full of both melancholy ditties for lakeside reflections, and jaunty numbers that were ideal for long car rides. In addition, it’s a widely-known fact that, if you play “Allison Road” on a rainy day, the clouds will part and sunshine will literally fall into your lap. Go ahead, try it.

Lead singer Jessie Valenzuela had a serviceable, everyman voice that never overshadowed the melodies, making these the perfect sing-a-longs for people with mediocre singing abilities (which is most of us, let’s be serious). Shaded in with elements of country and Americana, particularly on tracks like “Cajun Song” and “Mrs. Rita,” it stands as one of the few pop albums from the ’90s that both farm boys and city folks can agree on.

3. Eve 6 – Horrorscope

Eve-6-Horrorscope

Remembered for:

Making “Here’s to the Night” a staple of Top 40 radio and every school dance since.

What it should be remembered for:

While it’s difficult to deny that the aforementioned sap-fest catapulted them into the mainstream, it also overshadowed one of the greatest pop rock albums of the decade. The rapid-fire delivery, and sharp wit, of lead singer Max Collins led to some of the most clever wordplay and over-syllabic lyrics of the genre. Take this inspired alliteration from “On the Roof Again”:

“Your heinous highness broke her hymen
Hey man, try to quit your crying
I know she broke your heart but try to come down”

The production is Slip-n-Slide slick, with a few well-placed bumps underneath to make it feel a little dangerous. Sometimes the emphasis leans a little heavy toward the superficial, but then, who hates looking at a pretty face? On the whole, though, Horrorscope is a catchy, inspired, melodic masterpiece worth frequent listens.

2. Oasis – (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?

oasis-whats-the-story-morning-glory

Remembered for:

Beatles aping, and an endless sibling rivalry.

What it should be remembered for:

Noel and Liam Gallagher deserve credit for bringing Britpop over to the United States in a big way, despite wanting to rip each others’ faces off the entire time. In fact, it might have been because there was so much turmoil between the two brothers, that Morning Glory reaches such dramatic highs. Any comparisons to that other popular, mop-top sporting British band are mostly unwarranted, as The Beatles never came out of the gates with anything as sincere as “Wonderwall,” or as epic as “Champagne Supernova” (though the Fab Four kind of won out in that whole “longevity” thing, didn’t they?) Still, Oasis hits all the right notes here — guitar feedback included — delivering the best album of their careers.

1. Ben Folds Five – Whatever and Ever Amen

ben-fold-five-whatever-and-ever-amen

Remembered for:

Depressing you to your very core every time you turned on the radio, and heard Ben Folds singing about abortion.

What it should be remembered for:

Straddling the line between goofy and earnest, Whatever And Ever Amen is at times crass, quirky, heartbreaking, and hilarious. Sometimes all at once. Folds, who knows his way around the keys as well as Billy Joel or Elton John ever did, is a geeky guru who’s at his absolute best when he seems to be just foolin’ around. Those moments on Whatever And Ever that feel a little whimsical or off-the-cuff are often the brightest spots. For example, it’s hard not to get wrapped up in the sheer bombast of “Steven’s Last Night in Town,” with its cacophony of trumpet blasts, bass drum loops, and various, shouted refrains blending into a masterstroke of excess.

And whether singing about the t-shirt his ex-girlfriend still hasn’t given back (“Song For the Dumped”) or the child he almost had (“Brick”), Folds treats all subject matters with the appropriate level of instrumental gravitas.

It’s a little smug, a bit angsty, and sometimes too clever for its own good, but Whatever And Ever Amen is so good that it’s easy to overlook the ’90s of it all, and see it for what it truly is: the best.

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Jacob Trowbridge often writes very snarky things on his blog, Letters to My Coworkers, Whom I Hate. Less frequently, he says things on Twitter!


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33 Comments

  1. What’s the story morning glory isn’t forgotten. It’s been included on heaps of greatest album lists. And don’t compare oasis to the beatles. Saying they weren’t as epic or sincere as oasis is a joke.

    • Jonathan Reiter on

      The Beatles are MORE Epic and MORE Sincere than ANYBODY! I agree with the last line in your post.

    • Jacob Trowbridge on

      The Beatles didn’t “come out of the gate” that way, though, which was my whole point. If you’re going to tell me that “She Loves You” as epic or sincere as “Wonderwall” then you’re just fooling yourself.

      • Jonathan Reiter on

        I’m a Beatles fan, you’re not, it seems. Okay.
        The Beatles later stuff is what I’m talking about. Without that, there wouldn’t have been anybody else, later on.

        • Jacob Trowbridge on

          I’m a huge Beatles fan, by the way, but their early stuff was pure schmaltz. Fun tunes, don’t get me wrong, but nowhere near the level of Oasis’ early output.

          So…you’re talking about their later stuff but I (and this article) was talking about their early stuff. That’s probably why you’re confused about what I’m saying.

          Also, I said this: “Any comparisons to that other popular, mop-top sporting British band are mostly unwarranted…”

        • Jonathan Reiter on

          I disagree. Their early stuff, schmaltzy though it was, still had sincerity of youth so to speak, before that youth had a chance to grow up and get disillusioned…

    • Also, Oasis were often criticized as being Beatles wannabees and doing “Beatles by numbers” tunes.

      Although, I have most of Oasis’ albums I would have to say that their first two were by far the strongest and they got pretty boring and unimaginative after What’s the Story. Even if they came out of the gates well they faded pretty quickly afterwards!

  2. I’m sorry to say that the only albums I’ve heard from this list are Oasis and Third Eye Blind (I liked those ones, though). Then again, I’ve never been into pop-rock that much. I prefer real roots music, like blues, heavy metal and classic rock’n’roll. Or even country music and jazz. Having said that, I don’t hate any style of music just because of the style or genre, so maybe I should look these up at YouTube or Spotify. In fact, I think I will. Thanks for the suggestions! 🙂

    • Jacob Trowbridge on

      I highly recommend checking them out! There’s a lot more to these albums than most people give them credit for. I particularly suggest Better Than Ezra. It’s often far too “deep” to fit the pop-rock label.

      • OK, I just listened to Better Than Ezra’s Deluxe. It was good, but I must say that I don’t care about deep lyrics that much, I’m quite ok with “a wop bop a loo bop a wop bop boom”, if it rocks. I’m going to listen to Eve 6 next, if I can find it. Come to think of it, I have indeed liked some bands from the 80’s and 90’d that might not have been so rock’n’roll. The Cure, Erasure, The Smiths, Depeche Mode, to name but a few.

        • Listened to Eve 6, it was great. Gonna listen to Ben Folds Five next… 😀

    • Jacob Trowbridge on

      Good catch. Valenzuela was the original vocalist, but switched with Wilson by the time this album rolled around. You win the prize of…something! I’m not sure what yet.

  3. I guess in America whats the story Morning Glory might be underrated but here in the UK I could ask almost anyone of the generation there opinion of that record and it would turn into a debate of which was better Morning Glory or Definitly Maybe. Oasis records were just that good! Agree with Everclear father of mine and I will buy you a new life are my choices from the cd.

  4. Interesting list although a little light on additional snippets and trivia (if I had to be critical). I have all the albums on the list except the FoW one (alhtough I do have some of their other albums).

    So far as the trivia comment goes, here is an example – Third Eye Blind’s “Semi Charmed” got killed as a sing along song on the radio but hardly anyone picked up that there is a pretty direct oral sex reference in the song: “She comes ’round and she goes down on me”

    Also would have to say that although I think Ben Folds is great, the album cover for “Whatever and Ever Amen” is one of the worst and most insipid I have ever seen!

    • Jacob Trowbridge on

      Was it really that obvious? I feel like very few people remember these albums. And yes, this one was pretty effortless. But writing about things you really enjoy shouldn’t be painstaking, right?

  5. Jacob Trowbridge on

    Honestly, there just weren’t a lot of choices for female-fronted pop rock albums from the 90s, with the exception of No Doubt. But I ruled them out because Tragic Kingdom was a little too ska to be considered pop rock, I think.

  6. None of these songs at all have been forgotten, where do you live exactly in a shack in a swamp with an AM only radio? These songs are still played all the time on the Radio out east, even heard them out west when i went to Cali. These are probably some of the most still played songs today. Now Primitive Radio gods would be considered a forgotten great band.

  7. Oh my God. I thought your comments on the Beatles were intended to be ironic. Reading the comments I realize you were seriouse. You have placed the early work of Oasis above the early work of the Beatles. You need to listen to what passed as contemporary music in the mid-sixties as the Beatles were revolutionizing the infant world of rock & roll with their “schmaltz.” I respect everyone’s opinion on anything as personal as individualized musical preferences but there are lines man; and you have crossed the hell out of one. Roll Tide.

    • Jacob Trowbridge on

      “She Loves You” wasn’t schmaltz? And you don’t think “Don’t Look Back in Anger” or “Wonderwall” is just a little better than that stuff? C’mon, guys.

      There comes a point where just saying that The Beatles are untouchable is just too ridiculous to be considered a serious argument. I understand fanaticism when it comes to music (if anyone said that Foo Fighters are awful, for example, I would take great umbrage to that), but your “lines” are meaningless.

      And whether it had an impact on the world at that time or not, it needs to hold up TODAY. And today it falls below Oasis.

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