Trenchmouth – Vs. the Light of the Sun (Skene!/East/West, 1994)
The bustle around “alternative rock” in the early 1990s was certainly not the first major-label feeding frenzy to roil the music industry, but it was the last phenomenon of its kind. Unlike, say, the disco inferno or the ’70s AOR invasion, the alt-rock boom would prove more baffling, expensive, and detrimental to the industry and the artists involved. You probably know somebody who got fucked.
Of course, it was primarily the success of Nirvana’s Nevermind that initiated this madness, though it had a little help, both in the years leading up to its release and in the three or four years that followed. Jane’s Addiction’s 1988 album Nothing’s Shocking was a major-label gamble on a hot cult band that paid off. Sonic Youth, who were almost singlehandedly responsible for bringing Nirvana to the attention of DGC, signed to the same label in 1989. Their contract was a version of the one that Hüsker Dü signed (with Warner Bros.) in 1985, known for its “100 percent creative control” clause. In 1991, Metallica’s “Black Album” pointed a fair amount of attention towards the commercial potential of heavier forms of rock, then the surprise success of Helmet’s Meantime contributed to the same concern. Nine Inch Nails, Ministry, and the Smashing Pumpkins helped to darken the considerations and, a little bit later, the mega-success of Green Day and the Offspring gave the feeding frenzy a sticky, bubblegum extension through the decade’s middle.
Essentially, change was imminent and the suits could see the writing on the wall, but Nevermind’s rapid and comprehensive world domination still blindsided the industry and quickly transformed the business landscape — “alternative rock” stations (a.k.a., “X stations”) popped up everywhere, the Alternative Nation was served every night by Kennedy and MTV, and used-CD stores in every strip mall quickly started filling their “Alternative” sections (a direct result of the mountains of promo CDs unleashed by the feeding frenzy).
As a snapshot of the era, here are the 40 weirdest, most uncompromising, riskiest, and most surprising albums that were released on a major label in the wake of Nevermind’s explosion, during the mania’s time-frame of 1992 until 1996.