People love to wallow in nostalgia, recalling the music that was the soundtrack to their formative years. They also love to learn new things — so our previous list of underrated ’90s bands, as well as the underrated ’80s bands lists that ran before it, were a hit with the readers. And we want to give you what you want, so here are 10 more ’90s bands that you really should know about.
My own formative musical years, between the ages of 15 and 25, took place in ’90s England, so many a night, or summer festival, was spent watching these 10 bands and many more besides. These groups were relatively well-known across the Atlantic, receiving some radio play and national magazine attention, but didn't have quite the same impact over here. Some of them you might vaguely remember, others you might not remember at all. But hey, it's never too late. Dig in.
This unruly Geordie crew have to be at the top of this particular pile because, were there any justice at all in music (and we all know by now that there isn’t), then everybody would know The Wildhearts. Frontman Ginger Wildheart can shit a great song, as he has proven time and time again ever since the band’s ’92 debut EP Mondo Akimbo a-Go-Go and the following year’s bona fide classic debut album, Earth vs. the Wildhearts. Those records and the accompanying singles were everything great about rock & roll all rolled up into a grimy package: huge tunes that rival Cheap Trick, a healthy punk ’tude and musicianship that takes in everything from The Beatles to The Ramones. The B-side “29 x the Pain” sees Ginger spell out all of his influences for our convenience, with lines such as “Here, sitting in my room, with the Replacements and Husker Du, like a rebel without a clue.” The band is still a going concern today, though Ginger allows himself to stretch his musical legs with other projects, including the breathtakingly brutal Mutation and his eclectic solo work. Those just starting to get to know the work of Ginger and The Wildhearts now are lucky — you have over 2½ decades of incredible music to discover.
Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine
The British indie scene of the 1990s threatened to be inundated with “Madchester” bands for a while, many of whom were taking themselves way too seriously (see The Stone Roses and The Charlatans, though the trend can be traced back to Morrissey). Leave it to the bands further south, in Birmingham (The Wonder Stuff and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin) and all the way down in South London (Carter USM) to brighten up the indie landscape a little. Carter’s gift was to integrate acerbic wit and topical subjects with the catchiest of melodies. They put out eight studio albums between 1990 and ’98, and though they officially split at the beginning of 1998, the duo of Jim Bob and Fruitbat still reunite for the occasional show. Which is great, because songs like “Sheriff Fatman” and “The Only Living Boy in New Cross” deserve a live airing now and again.
The members of Skunk Anansie made it their business to wake everyone the hell up from the very first note of opening song “Selling Jesus” on debut album Paranoid & Sunburnt, right up until they called it quits way too early in 2001. Singer Skin was and is a force of nature — a woman very happy to tackle, through her lyrics, the issues that a black, gay woman is forced to deal with on a daily basis. The song titles on that debut were revealing: “Intellectualise My Blackness,” “Little Baby Swastikkka,” “100 Ways to Be a Good Girl” — Skunk were not holding back. The music was incessant, pile-driving hard rock, while Skin wailed her lungs out. She meant every damned note, and why they split in 2001 after just three amazing albums is a head-scratcher. They saw sense and got back together a decade later, and have put out a further three albums since. And they still don’t hold anything back.
Northern Irish oiks Therapy? (the question mark is a part of the name) have gone through a few minor stylistic changes over the years, but the core of the sound has always been moody yet irresistibly melodic alternative rock. At their commercial peak, they even had a cellist in the band, but hardcore fans insist that Therapy? operate better as a stripped-down trio. Frontman Andy Cairns, as well as being widely heralded as one of the nicest guys in rock across the pond, has a voice that can switch between Satan-caustic and crooner-sweet in a heartbeat. While most people maintain that 1994’s Troublegum album remains their best, blessed with the classic, undeniable “Screamager” single, it was the following year’s Infernal Love that saw them peak commercially — that year at Donington, they were second on the festival bill behind Metallica and ahead of Slayer and White Zombie. Their albums since then might not have had the same impact, but Therapy? have yet to release a bad one.
Leeds (not Utah) electronic act Utah Saints are far from prolific — they put out only one album in the ’90s, their 1992 self-titled debut, and have only managed one more since, though they remain active. But still, what an album that first record was. By ’92, the rave scene in Britain was in full effect, with scenesters invading warehouses for illegal parties and getting all loved up on E. A few different artists attempted to take that energy and make something radio-friendly out of it, and projects like Utah Saints, The Shamen and, of course, The Prodigy were among the most successful. Three Top 10 singles and another five Top 40 singles is evidence that Britain went crazy for these guys for a short while, and samples of musicians as eclectic as Kate Bush and Slayer helped extend their reach.
Not far from from the Utah Saints and Leeds, in neighboring Bradford, something very different was happening. Terrorvision took the glam stomp of Slade and The Sweet, glittery silver pants and all, and gave it a contemporary indie-rock spin. The chirpy northern lads even managed to invade the mainstream charts with singles such as “Oblivion,” “Alice What’s the Matter?” and “Perseverance.” But the music-buying public is fickle, and by the end of the decade the band were treading water. 2001 saw the “final concert,” though they’ve reunited plenty of times since then. Those who were there for the glory years remember Terrorvision as a band that injected a healthy dose of humor into a grunge-heavy rock scene.
Pop Will Eat Itself
Also known as PWEI (pronounced pee-wee) or the Poppies, Pop Will Eat Itself was initially a “grebo” indie band — one of those groups that sported baggy pants and often dreadlocks and looked like they lived in a squat (but usually didn’t). Later, they changed their style to incorporate rave and industrial rock. Former members Miles Hunt and Malcolm Treece branched off to form The Wonder Stuff and achieved their own success, which in turn only helped PWEI as the scene developed. Casual observers will remember the ’91 single “X Y & Zee,” from the excellent Cure for Sanity album, a sharp-witted blend of The KLF and Sigue Sigue Sputnik that reached No. 15 on the U.K. singles chart. The Poppies got back together a few years ago and are still around, so let's hope for a U.S. tour.
Asian Dub Foundation
Regulars on the British festival circuit from the moment they formed in the mid-’90s, ADF were ahead of the fusion game, incorporating so many styles into a relatively accessible sound that people were getting a lesson in multiculturalism at the Reading and Phoenix festivals without even knowing it. Reggae, dub, dancehall, bhangra, raga, hip-hop, punk — it was all thrown in there, though the ADF sound never felt patchwork or forced. 1995’s Facts and Fictions album was great, but ’98’s Rafi’s Revenge was brilliant, and was shortlisted for the Mercury Music Prize that year. It's perhaps worth noting, by the way, that the word "Asian," when used in Britain, usually refers to people from (or with roots in) South Asia — India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka. With lyrics that act as a rallying cry for social justice and against institutional racism, Asian Dub Foundation’s work is perhaps more important than ever, and now might just be a great time to (re)discover them.
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Welsh band Catatonia, fronted by the charismatic Cerys Matthews, released the debut Way Beyond Blue album in 1996, and single “You’ve Got a Lot to Answer for” became an underground fave. But it was the 1998 follow-up International Velvet, with the singles “Road Rage” and “Mulder and Scully,” that saw them become household names in Britain for a hot minute. Their jangly pop-rock was very much of-the-time, and Catatonia became part of a mini Welsh Invasion alongside the Manic Street Preachers, Super Furry Animals, Stereophonics and Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci. Catatonia's final album, Paper Scissors Stone, was released in 2001 and then they split. As far as I can tell, they haven’t reunited since, but we can cross our fingers and hope. Matthews has a few solo albums out, but it just isn’t the same.
British bluesy sleaze-rock band Skin formed in 1992, just in time to witness the commercial demise of anything and everything hair/glam metal. They were, like, three years too late. That said, against all sound industry advice, Skin put out three great albums between ’94 and ’97. The self-titled debut was and is the best, a combination of barroom hard-rock pounders, power ballads and radio-friendly anthems. Rockers who were left stunned by the meteoric rise of Pearl Jam and wondering what had happened to all the Sunset Strip bands were offered this glimmer of bare, sweaty chest and leather pants, and songs like “Look But Don’t Touch” and “Tower of Strength” have dated surprisingly well. Skin had chops, too — guitarist Myke Gray was known to be a bit of a guitar prodigy, while Welsh singer Neville MacDonald had a stunning set of pipes. Drummer Dicki Fliszar is now based in L.A. and plays with Jack Russell’s Great White.