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The 20 Worst Albums of the '90s: The Complete List

Korn

Korn

Sure, you had the Bill Clinton blowjob scandal, OJ, Pakistan and India going nuclear, mad cow disease, the Rodney King decision, and Titanic. But what made the '90s truly awful was its music. That's not to say that there weren't bright spots -- early Beck, say, or Ok Computer and much of hip-hop's golden era -- but what passed for mainstream rock was awful, particularly when it was tagged with the "alternative" qualifier.

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And considering that internet music platforms hadn't much gotten going, too often the crap on the radio was what we were stuck with. As a method of catharsis, then, let's take a look back at what was so dispiriting about this pivotal time in our lives. We promise there is no C+C Music Factory. -Ben Westhoff

20. Garth Brooks 

Chris Gaines' Greatest Hits (1999)

Yes, all multimillionaire megalomaniacs attempt a Slim Shady/Sasha Fierce move at some point. Country titan Garth Brooks dipped his toes into pop as a fictional "rock star" in the late '90s, preceding a feature film that never came to fruition because he couldn't sell these "greatest hits." Using the Gaines disguise (complete with chin hair) as a failsafe parachute was the only good idea about this crossover bid. Remember that "Smile on your brother/ Everybody get together" song by the Youngbloods? Imagine it literally remade with Cake-style talk-rap verses, and you have an idea of how lost Garth was. "I say black/ You say white/ I say day/ You call it a night" is as clever as this infamous failure gets. Few recall that Garth's locomotive '90s fame was enough to drag this number two to #2. Briefly. -Dan Weiss

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19. The Presidents of the United States of America

The Presidents of the United States of America (1995)

Forged in the horribly mistaken notion that America needed just that much more wackiness, Presidents of the United States of America's (Pot USA, get it?) self-titled debut pops out like puffs of skunky weed smoke from Deen Ween's basement. It's as if they asked themselves, "Hey guys, let's, like, do a whole Butthole Surfers / Ween / They Might Be Giants / Dead Milkmen kind of album...but for the whole grunge scene. It will also lack any shred of cleverness, insight, and humor that all those other wack-rock bands have...but like we'll sing about ironic things, like peaches." And then they responded, "Can we have a really pedestrian and uninspired sound, too?" "You bet man, you bet." -Paul Bradley

18. Alanis Morissette

Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie (1998)

Have you ever been cornered at a party by a girl who talks rapturously and somewhat incoherently about her recent discovery of Eastern spirituality, then goes into an hour-long monologue about all of her ex-boyfriends? This is that girl in album form. The only moment of restraint on Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie is when Alanis tells one of those ex-boyfriends, "Let's name 30 good reasons why we shouldn't be together," and then doesn't proceed to sing all 30 of them. That is, by far, the best part of the album -Andy Hermann

See also: The Worst Song Of The '90s? A Line-By-Line Dissection Of Alanis Morissette's "Ironic"

17. Michael Bolton

Time Love & Tenderness (1991)

Let's play Shitty Early-'90s Adult Contemporary Bingo. Vapid lyrics - check. A soul classic ("When A Man Loves A Woman") butchered and an "original" ("Love Is A Wonderful Thing") which led to a successful copyright infringement lawsuit - check. Keyboards and horns played with as much soul as a Pepsi jingle - check. Kenny G cameo - check. Perfectly-groomed mullet - check. Bingo! -Jason Roche

See also: Without Prejudice, We Review Michael Bolton's New Motown Covers Album

16. Pat Boone

In A Metal Mood (1997)

In A Metal Mood is 53 minutes of your out-of-touch uncle screaming about how this is what the kids listen to these days. The family-friendly '50s pop icon performs big-band lounge-jazz covers of iconic rock and metal classics. Have you ever wondered what "Paradise City" would sound like without any balls? (Now, same question, except with "Enter Sandman" and "Crazy Train.") Wonder no more! But his biggest crime was making one of the most treasured metal anthems of all-time, Dio's "Holy Diver," sound lame with a sort of swingin' vocal cadence. Not even Dio himself on background vocals could save it. -Jason Roche

15. Billy Joel

River Of Dreams (1993)

No wonder the Piano Man stopped making albums after 1993's River of Dreams, a bombastic downer on which he bitched about everything from suburbia (the faux-Springsteen "No Man's Land") his own depression (the faux-Robert Palmer "A Minor Variation") and the very act of songwriting itself ("Famous Last Words," on which he admits to his fans, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn anymore"). Joel was reportedly broke at the time, having been embezzled out of millions by his former manager -- but that still doesn't excuse him from ending an otherwise solid career on such a sour note. -Andy Hermann

14. Hammer

The Funky Headhunter (1994)

True to his word, Hammer did not cease making music after Too Legit To Quit. But in the ensuing two-and-a-half years following that 1991 work, gangsta rap had exploded, and Hammer responded by adopting a "hard" persona that didn't fool anyone. He talked about being a pimp and a gangsta in "Pumps and a Bump," going to the Player's Ball in "One 'Mo Time," and upped the f-bomb and sex quotient generally. Music videos for the album saw Hammer and a posse looking awkward and uncomfortable in gangsta get-ups cribbed straight from Dr. Dre and Snoop . Sadly, the only thing that wasn't fake about the whole affair was, true story, Hammer's (unintentional?) erection in the video for "Pumps and a Bump." Where were the Hammer pants when he needed them? -Jason Roche

13. Van Halen

Van Halen III (1998)

Extreme vocalist Gary Cherone was recruited to fill in for Sammy Hagar, who'd vacated David Lee Roth's spot, and his overwhelming lack of vocal charisma here nearly killed the band's career. But he doesn't deserve all the blame, considering that Eddie Van Halen's playing is uninspired and the material is abysmal. Van Halen III is so riddled with limp blues-rock, so devoid of fire or energy, that even Roth, much less Hagar, couldn't have saved it. -Jason Roche

12. Marcy Playground

Marcy Playground (1997)

Marcy Playground's eponymous LP was the ultimate bait-and-switch, I learned after blowing bar mitzvah money; only "Saint Joe on the School Bus" remotely resembled the comfort-food Nirvana hit "Sex and Candy." The rest was folksy, opiate-obsessed bullshit ("Poppies," "Opium" and "Ancient Walls of Flowers" were three different tracks), with both a co-write from the singer's ex and a separate tribute named after her. And with their, uh, limited perception of New York ("You might even see a murder") they'd best stick to what they know: "A Cloak of Elvenkind." -Dan Weiss

11. The Rolling Stones

Bridges to Babylon (1997)

"Hi this is Michael. Sir Mick, if you will. Look, we'd like to order an album, please. No no, it doesn't have to sound like music. Frankly, it doesn't have to even be playable -- it really just has to be a disc of some kind in a plastic case with the Stones' logo on it. Really it just has to be something tangible that over-50 failures can tell other over-50 failures that they own. Sure...some art would be nice...but totally unnecessary. Oh? A lion, huh? Whatever. Look, you can deal with the rest of the particulars, I've got a comfortable chair I'd quite like to sit in. Many thanks. Have a good afternoon." -Paul Bradley

10. 4 Non Blondes

Bigger, Better, Faster, More (1992)

Let's just get it out there: "What's Up?" is, bar fucking none, the worst song ever written. The repetitive verse drags on for approximately two hours and the "HAAAYAAAYAAAAAAY" chorus is like grating your own fingers. The rest of the album -- there be dragons, but I love y'all so much, I actually listened to it -- is sub-open-mic-night level tunes of confession and protest ("Old Mr. Heffer," "Dear Mr. President") and ill-advised forays into funk metal ("Superfly"). Remember that particularly naïve freshman in your dorm with an acoustic guitar who fancied him or herself a songwriter? Remember the sense of panic that ensued whenever they reached for their six string? Imagine a whole album of that. -Nicholas Pell

9. U2

Zooropa (1993)

Even in their youthful exuberance, we consider U2 one of the most pretentious, uncomfortably earnest bands in the world, and never more so than on Zooropa, where they are bizarrely serious and self-important even while being playful and ironic. Bono -- and really, any sentence that begins with his name is bound to be comedy gold -- stated that he thought U2 were working on their Sgt. Pepper. At least they later wised up: Both he and The Edge later said that Zooropa is a decidedly mediocre U2 effort. -Nicholas Pell

8. Carmen Electra

Carmen Electra (1993)

Carmen Electra, the album, is physical proof that miracles can happen when you're fucking Prince Rogers Nelson. He'll get his team of Paisley Park Records to assemble your whole shitty album, for starters. "Funk is in my round buns, baby," Electra sings, like someone cut from the middle school glee club. And we're glad that funk is somewhere, we guess, because it's nowhere else here. Behind Electra's and Prince's we-wrote-this-in-the-studio-as-we-were-recording-it lyrics is a series of thin dance tracks that Prince can't possibly have been paying attention to. The album appears to be just a launchpad for the primary single, "Go Go Dancer," whose main success is in dissuading aspiring dancers from the profession. This whole record marks Electra as a terrible Fergie before Fergie was a terrible Fergie. And that's, um, pretty remarkable. -Paul Bradley

7. Vanilla Ice

To The Extreme (1990)

Just four months after Public Enemy released Fear of a Black Planet, Robert Van Winkle gave us more reason to fear a white one. Once you get past the admittedly hard-to-resist "Ice Ice Baby," To the Extreme quickly descends into parachute-pantsed minstrelsy, as Ice delivers unintentionally laughable lines like "I go to work on the floor like a wet mop" in a flow stiffer than his high-top fade. With this work, Ice undoubtedly set back the white (rapper) race a decade. -Andy Hermann

6. Korn

Follow the Leader (1998)

It's best to forget everything about Follow the Leader. Forget the braids, dreads, piercings, kilts, and the fact that Korn is from Bakersfield. Forget the pseudo-metal guitar riffs, banshee beat boxing, mind-numbing bass slapping, unwarranted record scratches, and horrible high-school locker room rhymes from Fred Durst and Jonathan Davis. Above all, don't attempt to decipher the meaning of the nebulous, angst-ridden "something" Davis keeps screaming about (the word appears over 40 times, but is never explained). And, if you can, forget Ice Cube rapping over "Children of the Korn." Godspeed. -Max Bell

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5. Matchbox 20

Yourself or Someone Like You (1996)

What distinguishes Matchbox Twenty's bland alternative rock from every other post-grunge '90s band? Rob Thomas's nasally, faux-drawling voice. The lyrics of Yourself or Someone Like You are dullsville, save for the controversial "Push," which many mistook as an endorsement of domestic violence. Thomas rebutted the accusation by explaining that the chorus ("I wanna push you around, well I will, well I will") referred to a woman who abused her boyfriend, not vice-versa. We can vouch that this work does indeed make us want to hit people. -Linda Leseman

4. Spice Girls

Spice (1996)

"Girl Power," the mid-'90s catch phrase made famous by the Spice Girls, was first used by Riot Grrrl icons like Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill. So in effect Spice doesn't just embody everything wack about manufactured mainstream pop, it represents poser feminism. The group members -- picked by their management to compete with boy band mania -- offered diluted, sugarcoated R&B with all the nourishment of a mouthfull of Pop Rocks and Diet Coke. Attempts at rapping ("Last Time Lover", "Wannabe") are pretty weak, and the thin harmonies ("Say You'll Be There") can't even be redeemed by the glossy production. The shocking conclusion: The Spice Girls are not, in fact, spicy. -Linda Leseman

3. Crash Test Dummies

God Shuffled His Feet (1993)

In 1993, alt rock was so damn popular that the monotonous, depressing, grating "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm" managed to climb to number four. While Crash Test Dummies singer Brad Roberts' deep baritone isn't totally uninteresting, his annoying humming of the song's hook is enough to make Canadians flee south of the border. The worst part is that the track somehow vaulted this band into the mainstream consciousness, spawning three additional singles from the album, including the even more ridonkulous title track. Considering how difficult these songs are to get out of your head, hearing one once is the aural equivalent of being waterboarded. -Daniel Kohn

2. Limp Bizkit

Significant Other (1999)

Rap rock hit bottom in a splash of bong water and a clatter of wallet chains with the arrival of Fred Durst and co's second album, Significant Other. If it had just been full of mindless mosh-pit fodder like "Nookie" and "Break Stuff," it might have been merely forgettable. But Durst also tried to get all Shakespeare-quoting deep on "Re-Arranged" ("Heavy is the head that wears the crown") and loverboy-hurt on "Don't Go Off Wandering," which made the album cringeworthy even by the abysmal standards of late '90s rap metal. -Andy Hermann

1. Creed

Human Clay (1999)

Everything wrong with the 1990s as a decade is encapsulated here, and it's fitting that it was released at the end of 1999, like a careening avalanche of suck collecting the worst of so-called alternative rock. Borrowing from vague tautological Christian pop and adding a glassful of grunge "flavor" wrung out of a Hot Topic cashier's sweaty unwashed flannel boxer shorts, Human Clay is in fact a human cultural nadir. It's the soundtrack to every slatternly vague rocker-asethetic-guy whose first instinct when confronted with nature is to stand arms outstretched and marvel at their own perceived self-majesty, reflected in inanimate rocks, trees and water.

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From the my-first-guitar-lesson chord progressions to the super serious middle-school poetry to the singing that sounds like grunting through half-swallowed lumps of peanut butter, there's an impossible to scrub free air of entitlement to each note, each lyric. Human Clay cements frontman Scott Stapp's position as the vanguard of a race of humorless greaseballs scraped from the frighteningly shallow gene pool that includes dudes like the guy from Staind and all of your sister's singer-songwriter ex boyfriends. Suffice to say, this is the only time this record ought to be in the top 20 of anything. -Paul Bradley

See also: The 20 Worst Albums Of The '90s: 20-11

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