1990s Album Covers: B&W, Please, and Don’t Forget the Fire

Been on a bit of a nostalgia trip recently — no connection to turning 42, I’m sure — and I noticed all these album covers from 90s alternative bands that are in black and white, and usually with something on fire.

Don’t believe me? Ok, here’s exhibit A:

Better Than Extra’s Friction, Baby. Released 1996. No fire here, but it’s a grayscale image, and the fire is implied, no? That torn piece of paper, plus the album’s title, captures the moment just before the match is lit.

Here’s another one, where the fire moves from implicit to explicit:

Hole, Celebrity Skin, released 1998. Sharper tones in this one, more contrast. Shot of the band in the foreground, looking nonchalant as a tree burns in the background. Did they set it aflame with the power of their rock? Was their cool just too much for the tree to take? We’ll never know.

The trend wasn’t just for American bands, oh no. Here’s German band Fury in the Slaughterhouse’s cover for their 1992 album, Mono:

Super-extreme stubble close-up. The face is weary, resigned. Shot is overall very dark. Meant to evoke the ennui in the album’s hit single, “Every Generation Got Its Own Disease”?

Content Warning for the next two: Self-Harm, Nudity.

I’d be remiss not to mention the cover of one of the greatest albums of the 90s, released by one of my favorite bands:

Rage Against the Machine, self-titled album, 1992. If you don’t know the history behind that photo, well…here’s the wikipedia link. Suffice to say that it perfectly fits the album’s themes of resistance to (racist, capitalist) authority.

But how far back does the trend go? One of the earliest examples I can find is from 1988, with Jane’s Addiction’s Nothing’s Shocking:

Notice all the elements are already there: the fire, the black and white retro chic, the nonchalance on the human faces. Ahead of their time in more ways than musically?

The 90s Music Revival

After having lived through the resurrection of the music of first the 70s, then the 80s, I’m finally starting to see a revival of the music of the 90s.

Not grunge, though; something more exciting than that. Something I feel was lost in the explosion of grunge and industrial bands in the mid-90s: a more personal and experimental music, music that was quirky and strange, full of distortion, but not aggressive.



I’m thinking of the time period from about 1988 through 1993, when a series of bands came out (Pavement, the Pixies, the Meat Puppets) that made jangly, weird music. In another universe, their music would have formed the core of 90s alternative, and bands like Limp Bizkit might never have been inflicted on us.



So it warms the cockles of my old cynical heart to hear that kind of music being made again. A slew of younger bands have released albums that fit right into that early-90s mold, for example: Speedy Ortiz, The Joy Formidable, and Parquet Courts



Here’s hoping the revival lasts, and I get to hear what might have dominated the 90s had the Seattle Sound not crushed everything else under its Doc Martens.