What a difference 25 years can make. In 1992, the American alt-rock movement arguably reached its zenith: It had become big enough to earn major-label attention, but hadn’t yet been corrupted by its exposure to the mainstream. The gods of grunge were walking the earth but so were the power-poppers, sadcore kings, lo-fi upstarts, and others. A quarter-century later, some of them have departed this earthly plane, but most of them are still active and making music that’s a far cry from the sounds that helped them ascend to the top of the alt-rock heap back in the early ‘90s.
When Pavement were putting the lo-fi movement on the map with 1992’s Slanted and Enchanted, it would have been tough to predict that Stephen Malkmus would one day unleash an 11-minute cover of a Grateful Dead tune. The hooky pop perfection of The Lemonheads’ “It’s A Shame About Ray” doesn’t exactly set you up for Evan Dando’s take on country-folk troubadour Townes Van Zandt’s doomy “Waiting Around to Die.” Nor could you draw a straight line from Chris Cornell’s wailing on Soundgarden’s post-metal monster “Rusty Cage” to the epic, romantic balladry of his 2017 single “The Promise” (the track that sadly proved to be his swan song). The latest output from the likes of The Afghan Whigs (pictured) and Mark Lanegan is a complete 180 from the sounds of their salad days, but there’s an undeniable artistic maturation at work there.
The alt-rock class of ‘92 might seem different from what you remember (if you’re even old enough to remember), but they’re still at it today, and they’ve still got something to say. Here’s a snapshot of what some of them have been up to lately, paired with tracks from a quarter-century ago.