This year marks the 20th anniversary of 1996 — a year when alternative bands were finding their way after the post-Nirvana boom times, metal bands tried on leaner sounds and experiments mixing rap and rock fought their way towards an inevitable takeover. Here’s 20 rock albums that celebrate their 20th anniversary this year.
Fiona Apple, ‘Tidal’
Apple released her Gold-selling alt-pop debut when she was just 18. When she won a Video Music Award for the video to “Sleep to Dream” the following year, she famously declared to the audience, “This world is bullshit, and you shouldn’t model your life about what we think is cool, and what we’re wearing and what we’re saying.”
Beck started work on a moody acoustic record, partially inspired by the death of his grandfather, the conceptual artist Al Hansen, but changed course midway through the sessions. He brought in sample-crazed partiers the Dust Brothers, the producers behind the Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique, and created this critically acclaimed genre pastiche.
Sheryl Crow, ‘Sheryl Crow’
Sheryl Crow’s second album was a true solo affair — she recorded the bulk of the material in New Orleans with as few collaborators as possible and almost no input from the “Tuesday Music Club,” the group of musicians who collaborated with her on her 1993 debut.
Failure, ‘Fantastic Planet’
The album art for this alt-rock cult classic was based on the book-jacket design for the first edition of L. Ron Hubbard’ s 1954 novel, To the Stars, by pulp fiction illustrator Ed Valigursky, known for his work on men’s adventure magazines and sci-fi books by Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and Ray Bradbury.
Fountains of Wayne, ‘Fountains of Wayne’
The wiseguy-pop songwriting team of Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger named their band (and their debut album) after a lawn ornament store on Route 46 in North Jersey that was also featured in an episode of The Sopranos.
Korn, ‘Life Is Peachy’
Korn bassist Fieldy had a Pee Chee folder that he doodled on throughout the sessions for the band’s second album, eventually writing “Life Is” in front of the brand. Korn tried to convince the manufacturer of the nostalgia-generating school supply to allow them to use the folder for the album cover, but their $20,000 offer was rejected.
Dave Matthews Band, ‘Crash’
“Crash Into Me,” the almost-title-track of Dave Matthews Band’s second album was their highest charting single of the Nineties. The dreamy voyeur’s anthem was durable enough to be covered by 2010 American Idol winner Lee DeWyze and Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks
The album art for what was Metallica’s first new album in five years was adapted from “Semen and Blood III,” a 1990 photographic artwork by controversial American artist Andres Serrano that involved mixing his own semen with cow blood. Vocalist James Hetfield would later say he hated it.
Pearl Jam, ‘No Code’
Pearl Jam fired drummer Dave Abbruzzese just as they were finishing the Vitalogy sessions in 1994. This was the first album recorded in full with his replacement, Jack Irons, an original member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers who’d stick with the band until 1998.
Rage Against the Machine, ‘Evil Empire’
The cover of the rap-metal group’s second album tweaked “Crimebuster,” a 1993 work by pop artist Mel Ramos.
R.E.M., ‘New Adventures in Hi-Fi’
The band’s loosest LP — assembled from sound checks, live recordings and quickie studio sessions during the Monster tour — marked the end of an era. It was the last R.E.M. record that founding member Bill Berry drummed on and the last produced by Scott Litt, who’d worked on each of their albums since Document ten years earlier.
Sleater-Kinney, ‘Call the Doctor’
Shortly after the Olympia punk trio finished their second album, drummer Lora MacFarlane’s visa expired and she had to return to her native Australia. She would never record with Sleater-Kinney again.
Soundgarden, ‘Down on the Upside’
The grunge superstars disbanded less than a year after recording this LP, following a frustrating world tour that wrapped up in Honolulu in February 1997. An evening of technical difficulties led Ben Shepherd to toss his bass in the air in frustration and the rest of the band followed him dejectedly offstage.
Singer Bradley Nowell never got a chance to enjoy his band’s success — during the recording of their breakthrough album, Nowell struggled with heroin addiction, leading his bandmates to ask him to leave the studio before they finished the sessions. He died of an overdose two months before Sublime was released.
Swans, ‘Soundtracks for the Blind’
On their tenth album – and their last until 2010 – the New York avant-rockers toyed with loops and ambient passages.
Tortoise, ‘Millions Now Living Will Never Die’
These Chicago whizzes named their classic second album after a series of lectures that Jehovah’s Witnesses leader Joseph Franklin Rutherford began delivering in 1918 — the assertion was part of his prophecy that an earthly resurrection would begin in 1925. The album would go on to define the repetitive, expansive sound of “post-rock.”
The packaging for Tool’s second studio full-length was as distinctive as the art-metal band’s sound: The “Multi-Image CD case” featured four separate illustrated inlays that could be arranged behind a lenticular lens of sorts to simulate animation.
The Wallflowers, ‘Bringing Down the Horse’
The Wallflowers lacked a lead guitarist while recording their second album, so producer T-Bone Burnett asked Mike Campbell of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers to play slide guitar on “Sixth Avenue Heartache,” a part Campbell says was influenced by George Harrison’s style.
Rivers Cuomo abandoned work on a rock opera called Songs from the Black Hole to record the follow-up to the band’s hit debut. It’s named for B.F. Pinkerton, a character in Puccini’s opera “Madame Butterfly.”
Wilco, ‘Being There’
Jeff Tweedy was so determined to put out a double album that was priced the same as a single CD that he agreed to compensate Reprise Records for any financial loss. The decision cost the Wilco frontman $600,000.