Top Ten Punk Albums of the 1990’s
The ‘90’s were arguably the second golden age for punk rock. Punk briefly hit the mainstream, with several albums going gold (NOFX, Rancid, Bad Religion), and The Offspring and Green Day selling over 10 million copies each. Compared with their predecessors of the ‘70’s, the 90’s punk bands often lean heavily to the melodic side, with a majority of the bands from the era incorporated ska in at least a song. This sound is sometimes dubbed the “Epitaph” sound, named after Bad Religion guitarists wildly successful record label, Epitaph Records.
There’s only one rule here: no band gets two albums listed.
Guttermouth – Musical Monkey (1997)
Guttermouth have some of the funniest lyrics ever written and this is one of their finest moments. Although like several of the forthcoming bands on this, arguably their best album actually came out in the early ‘00’s. This was from a time where a band didn’t need to take themselves too seriously and others didn’t have to either, for a band to be successful.
Pennywise – Straight Ahead (1997)
Pennywise, one of Epitaph’s early bands, and still one of the more popular bands of the era (I just saw them at a sold out club in Boise!), have written some great songs, but often struggled to keep it going an entire album. Not here. This is album is excellent start to finish.
The Offspring – Smash (1994)
One of the most famous punk albums of all time, featuring the unlikely hit songs “Come Out and Play,” which features the well-known refrain “you gotta keep ‘em separated,” and “Self Esteem”. The Offspring put out several other very good albums, but none to the level of accclaim or influence as this release.
The Vandals – Hitler Bad, Vandals Good (1998)
Quite possibly one of the most underrated bands of the era. The Vandals do not get enough credit for their musicianship – Josh Freese is a masterful drummer, who’s played and toured with several high-profile bands, and performed as session drummer on over 100 studio releases. Warren Fitzgerald had a stint in Oingo Boingo, and just listen to his guitar work on Live Fast Diarrhea. This is probably the most mainstream sounding of their releases, but it also features some of their best songs, highest production values
AFI – Black Sails in the Sunset (1999)
AFI may have wound up being more associated with the early aught’s, but before they signed to a major label they were a majorly buzzing underground band with a sizeable, incredibly passionate fanbase. Listeners who fell in love with the band’s striking image, Davey Havok’s poetic lyrics, and AFI’s special combination of influences. AFI were incredibly active in the 90’s, putting out 4 albums and 2 proper EP’s from 1995-1999. Black Sails marks a major turning point for AFI, where they began fusing darker elements, more intricate guitar work, more poetic lyrics and more dramatic vocalizations, while still being still heavily based in punk.
Propagandhi – How to Clean Everything (1993)
Propagandhi, who are still going strong, were (and remain) some of the most technically proficient musicians around the time of this release. This album skews far more to the 90’s punk template proffered by their contemporaries than their subsequent releases – Chris’ voice having a kind of snottiness to his voice similar to NOFX’s Fat Mike, but 1996’s Less Talk, More Rock is even more melodic, while they’ve since gone more hardcore and, in one of the more interesting musical career progressions, have added heavier doses of technical thrash metal.
Poison Idea – Feel the Darkness (1990)
Undoubtedly the most unique release on this list. Poison Idea incorporate several genre’s on this album with an ear for the dark and heavy, thematically and musically. They found an original sound with this album, rather than the ‘80’s hardcore punk they were writing before this release. They tried to match this sound with their next album, but Feel The Darkness effortlessly remains Poison Idea’s finest hour, and one of the best of the decade.
Bad Religion – Against the Grain (1990)
Bad Religion are most often defined by this time period: three albums, three years, three classics. This is absolutely essential listening for even the most casual of fans of punk rock. Few punk bands can also write what sound like hit songs and Bad Religion nails it.
NOFX – Punk in Drublic (1994)
Pretty much the album NOFX are known for. This is a classic album. NOFX put out several bad albums before really hitting their stride with White Trash… and perfected their sound here.
Rancid – …And Out Come the Wolves (1995)
Quite possibly the best example of melodic punk rock. From Matt Freeman’s amazing basslines in “Maxwell Murder,” to the astounding catchiness of “Timebomb,” “Roots Radicals”, and “Ruby Soho”, Rancid were one of the few bands of the era to sound like they were writing actual pop songs, no matter how much a lot of punk fans don’t want to hear this.