50 Essential Solo Albums by ’90s Rockers

These artists strike gold as they go it alone

One might be the loneliest number, but going solo can free an artist from the expectations of being in a certain type of band. Nearly all of the most famous '90s Rockers have gone it alone at one time - Chris Cornell, Scott Weiland, Courtney Love, Thurston Moore - so we've compiled a must-listen list of the essentials. Some you know and love. Some, like Mike Patton's Italian standards collection, might be new to you. But all are worth a hearty listen.

Though she hails from Canada, former Hole and Smashing Pumpkins bassist Melissa Auf der Maur has a Nordic soul. Her initial foray into solo territory was blistering and blinding almost-metal, and her singing was like that of a Valkyrie. “Followed the Waves” in particular unleashed a deluge of vox and hammering instruments. On a secret track, she ventured south from Scandinavia to France, singing the emphatic “Taste You” en francais.

With the grandiosity of the Smashing Pumpkins and the overtly cheerful strains of Zwan behind him, Billy Corgan embraced his electronic side on his solo debut. With a desire to tap into the Interpol sound, he penned groovers like “Walking Shade.” He also tapped into his hefty Rolodex by dueting with the Cure’s Robert Smith on a dark cover of the Bee Gees’ “To Love Somebody.”

That opening noise on “Army of Me” sounds like a spaceship landing. It sets the scene for the former Sugarcubes singer’s second solo album. The sprite might have seemed precious, but this beats-driven collection had bark. Produced by trip-hop legends Tricky and Nellie Hooper, Post showed Bjork’s timelessness. She took on the childlike standard “It’s Oh So Quiet” and straddled the industrial and top 40 realms (“I Miss You”). Chill-wavers and ravers alike owe a lot to this 1995 album.

Blessed with a one-of-a-kind voice, the former Catatonia crooner shied away from bubblegum and went toward bluegrass and the blues on Cockahoop. The eclectic mix saw the artist singing in her native Welsh tongue (the gospel “Arglwydd Dyma Fi”), lamenting over the peril of Native Americans (the dirge “Weightless Again”) and kicking up her heels with a blush (the playful yet forlorn “Chardonnay”).

Bridging the gap between Soundgarden’s grunge muscle and Audioslave’s rifftorium, Cornell’s first solo album darted through genres. “Can’t Change Me” snaked into adult contemporary territory and earned a Grammy nomination. But “Flutter Girl,” though mystical sounding, was conceived during the Superunknown era. Team player Alain Johannes (Queens of the Stone Age) assisted on the songwriting and production.

Anyone expecting motherhood to make this riot-grrrl settle down was severely mistaken. Her second post-Sleater-Kinney outing is a psych-rock wonderment. Her one-of-a-kind caterwaul remains in tact over the organ-assisted eponymous track, and she sticks to pro-female positions in the lyrics for “Neskowin.” Things do get dancier than her past works, emphasizing that a mama has got to stay on her toes.

Cheeky and searing, Mrs. Kurt Cobain’s solo album was initially stamped on as an opioid mess. But listen again, and you can hear a feminine rage the provocateur never rekindled with Hole 2.0. America’s Sweetheart is ego and id run amok, from the punky “But Julian, I’m a Little Bit Older Than You” to the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” clone “I’ll Do Anything.” Not completely impervious to hurt, Love shows tenderness on “Hold on to Me” and “Never Gonna Be the Same.”

Blur and Gorillaz guy goes from apes to elephants on his 2014 solo record. Album highlight “Mr. Tembo” addresses a baby pachyderm the artist encountered on a visit to Tanzania. The worldly, generally downbeat style of Everyday Robots isn’t as much of a curveball as the uninitiated might think— Albarn’s orchestrated African music compilations and even Chinese operas.

Here’s a peek inside the mind of an astronomically successful songwriter: On “A Song Can Be About Anything,” former Semisonic front man Dan Wilson purports that lyrics can touch upon the feeling du jour. He ticks off the usual pop-song inspirations: love, the media, loneliness… But he also breaks into a free-form pondering of specifics: the second grade, past lives. It’s a testament to Wilson’s talent as a universal scribe.

No, he didn’t start hanging out with Rob Zombie when it came time for the jam-band legend to go his own way. He took the universal themes of his group’s songs and dug deeper, contemplating mortality and renewal (“Dodo,” “So Damn Lucky”). And lucky he was: This 2003 release went platinum and also featured another jamming behemoth, Trey Anastasio of Phish.

The Soul Asylum front man relocated to New Orleans more than a decade ago, and what he found there was a wellspring of inspiration. Music was everywhere, of all genres, and he ate it up. His solo album is an aural buffet of those influences, from R&B (“364”) to baroque pop (“Teach Me To Breathe”). And like any good Soul Asylum record, there are the rock ballad staples (the smooth title track).

Trust us: The quirky flute in “Human Spirit” is enough reason to check out this album by the Cranberries front woman. Are You Listening? is like an octopus, with all limbs going in unexpected directions. Unchained by the Cranberries protocol, the Irish warbler sinks her teeth into aggro-pop (“Loser”) and lofty nu-metal ballads (“Stay with Me”). Back in 2007, she didn’t need to punch out flight crewmembers to have people listen to her.

She ventured from the trenches of grunge with her all-female band, L7, to the glossier, more taut music of Joan Jett and ’60s choruses on this release with the Stellar Moments. David Lablinsky of About.com called the 2008 record “an impressive, diverse solo debut” with “plenty of attitude.” One should expect no less from such a rock warrior.

The Built To Spill head honcho has more talent in that flowing beard of his than most people have in their whole souls. With overdubbed vocals and steel lap guitars clanging and scratching, he takes his indie sensibilities to the South. The rocking-chair cool of “Dream,” the Death Cab for Cutie thrum of “Gone”… Now You Know is the soundtrack to humid, romantic summer nights outside.

The spirit of Aloha permeates this second solo release from the Pearl Jam front man. An avid surfer, Vedder celebrated all things Hawaii across 16 breezy tracks. They were a far cry from the grit of “Alive” or “World Wide Suicide,” but they still had wit. For example, “Hey Fahkah” isn’t island slang; it’s a curse word of endearment from his friend, Chicago Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein.

There are some goofy credits for Dando’s first album since his Lemonheads went on their original hiatus in 1997: Various folks (including Spacehog’s Royston Langdon) play the “marxophone,” the “giraffe tambourine” and even a “fishing reel.” It’s a slacker mélange sewn together by audiophile Jon Brion, who went on to collaborate regularly with Fiona Apple. Baby I’m Bored goes at a slower pace than ‘Heads records, but it’s still got that good old Dando cynicism.

Recorded right after his trailblazing college rock band, the Pixies, broke up, the man also known as Black Francis and Charles Thompson IV dove headfirst into his solo career. This 1993 offering was in the same vein as the Pixies’ music but with a surfier, sunnier twist. Lead single “Los Angeles” was balls-to-the-wall weirdness— which describes the titular locale to a tee.

Like his spouse, No Doubt's Gwen Stefani, Rossdale went in a poppier direction when he went solo. Not a speck of Bush’s grunge is found on Wanderlust, just lushly produced songs by Bob Rock. Rossdale’s pals stepped up in spades, as he solidified guest spots from Garbage’s Shirley Manson, Helmet’s Chris Traynor and Linda Perry.

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Glen Phillips
Toad the Wet Sprocket’s soft-spoken singer went wild during the band’s downtime, release oodles of albums on his own. Each sways, heavy with moody acoustics, but it’s this “lost” recording that is leaps above the pack. Most of these raw, bleeding-heart songs were reworked for 2005’s Winter Pays for Summer. But the stark, unfettered versions on Tornillo (Spanish for “screw”) are even more gripping. More »

While he poked in and out of Blur’s lineup, Coxon forged a seesawing solo oeuvre. Many proclaimed this 2004 release his most accessible, building on familiar Britpop energy and solid rock ‘n’ chops. “Spectacular” lived up to its name, brandishing a cowbell more insistently than Will Ferrell. Happiness was a pogoing dream, wallpapered with downstrokes and cordial English enunciation.

She’s never been afraid of trying new genres on for size, going from ska queen to reggae/dancehall aficionado in less than a decade. But no one could have seen L.A.M.B. coming. Its unabashed bubblegum and hip-hop influences foretold the reign of Katy Perry and Lady Gaga. Tracks like “Hollaback Girl” still resonate with youth culture, and with Stefani joining , her 2004 solo effort will never go out of style.

Is it possible for a Belle & Sebastian ex-pat to get even quieter than her bookish origins? The answer is yes, but it results in the beautiful music-box chime of 2003’s Amorino. The sweet, wispy Campbell embraces the earthier elements of her former band and relishes it with strings (“Poor Butterfly”), coquettish mod (“Johnny Come Home”) and Carpenters contemplation (“Time Is Just the Same”). After this record, she paired with the guttural Mark Lanegan on a string of releases.

When a guitar virtuoso puts out a scaled-back solo record, it runs the risk of being a snooze. Not Tied to a Star. The 2014 release glistens with the nimble picking of the Dinosaur Jr. multi-talent. His vocals are unrepentant in their cracking and vulnerability. This is the kind of music one listens to while staring out the window deep in thought. The shredder does solemnity so well.

His famous dad, Bob, took a similar trek into country music, braving the masses of critics and the confused. The younger Dylan, late of the Wallflowers, might have taken flak for abandoning his straight-up rock to try on urban Western boots, but we say good on him— especially because rebellious heart Neko Case sings backup.

A more realized outing than his 1998 solo recording, Let It Come Down (Virgin), this 2012 hidden gem featured the former Pumpkin’s New Wave leanings. Iha always had an affinity for pop-rock, but it wasn’t until this decade-in-the-making album came out that he got to fully explore his love for Thompson Twins and the Jesus and Mary Chain. Soft lullabies like “To Who Knows Where” showcased the guitarist’s gentle vocals and lovesick melodies.

As the Britpop Puck navigated from the nightclubs to comfy recliners, Pulp’s prime minister didn’t soften his edge. On his self-titled 2006 solo album, he combed 1970s AM radio and his own back catalog for inspiration. He borrowed from David Bowie (the quavering “Black Magic”), Leonard Cohen (the bleak piano-and-strings song “Disney Time”) and the Fall (the angular riot of “Fat Children”). Not a bad buffet from which to sample.

A sprawling prairie of an album, Terroir Blues takes the former Uncle Tupelo member from the Southern swamps to the open West. It’s dusty, haunting and syrupy with slide guitar. The vocalist’s drawl is one of the finest in alt-country, and it sounds determined yet laidback on this 2003 work. The mellow clime of “No Rolling Back” melts into a lovely refrain; and the sky-bound, lovelorn “Hard Is the Fall” is a classic.

The apple didn’t fall so far from the tree on the Alice in Chains guitarist’s solo breakout. His gravelly voice had always well complemented Layne Staley’s lead, so going it alone on this moody grunge collection was a natural progression. The single “Cut You In” was as driving, if not more so, than any of his main band’s best songs. (Could be thanks to AIC chums Mike Inez and Sean Kinney appearing on Boggy Depot. Also cutting in were Les Claypool of Primus, and Angelo Moore and John Norwood Fisher of Fishbone.)

There’s no lack of John Frusciante solo work to choose from. The former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist has put out no less than 11 LPs, as well as a half-dozen EPs. Consistently ranked among fans as No. 1 is his 2009 full length, which sounds as regal as the title suggests. From the rip-roaring opener, “Before the Beginning,” to the porch-drone of “Unreachable,” to the keys and yawping six-string of “Ah Yom,” it’s got a range unmatched by the Peppers. (Bassist Flea does lend a hand, as does Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr.)

This kewpie from Massachusetts has been so prolific – with her solo career and playing with Blake Babies, the Lemonheads, the Juliana Hatfield Three and Minor Alps – it’s hard to choose just one defining music moment. But it’s her debut, 1992’s Hey Babe, that takes the prize. It’s a perfect “of its time” record, combining her alt-rock pout with odes to grunge (“Nirvana”) and solitary musings (“Ugly”). No wonder My So-Called Life's Angela Chase liked her so much.

After her radical rock band Bikini Kill split in 1997, Kathleen Hanna shifted her sound from the garage to electronic avenues. She dubbed the project Julie Ruin, a record awash with audio samples, gargling guitars and searing words against misogyny. It takes a revolutionary to know one— “I Want To Know What Love Is” nicked a line from the Clash’s “Guns of Brixton.” The Julie Ruin (notice the “the”) pumped up the volume in 2013 with a follow-up album and full-band lineup that included Bikini Kill bassist Kathi Wilcox.

In her memoir, Rat Girl, the Throwing Muses mastermind reveals a bipolar diagnosis and the blessing/curse of being visited by songs in her head. She can’t control the influx of music, and she has to purge the melodies and words, lest she become possessed by them. Hersh herself is a possessing presence, with a barbed-wire delivery and cutting guitar methodology. Her 1994 solo album best represents her aural purging, a soul-shattering confessional that doesn’t let go.

Never underestimate the so-called second fiddle of Sonic Youth. The experimental multi-instrumentalist and singer has a back catalog of his own brimming with innovation and wonderful weirdness. But it’s this 2012 solo effort that really put Ranaldo on the same level as former band mate Thurston Moore. His straightforward vocal approach and determined strums, entwined with his signature arsenal of noisy pedals, make for some divine vinyl ear candy.

I believe in Jesus/Does Jesus believe in me?” the former Non Blonde implores on the coffee-shop sermon “Uninvited.” This solo outing is full of wonderment, weariness and wackiness. Things get light and jovial in the saloon swinger “Fruitloop Daydream,” which takes a page from the giddy, sleezy Soft Cell classic “Tainted Love.” So much of the material here whispers of the songwriting prowess she’d demonstrate on smash hits like P!nk’s “Get the Party Started” and Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful.” In Flight captures the genesis of this musical maven.

It’s credited to the Mark Lanegan Band, which makes this album an exception to the rule of this list. But with such a rich tapestry of guest artists (PJ Harvey, Greg Dulli of Afghan Whigs, Duff and Izzy from Guns N’ Roses), it would be criminal not to include it. His time with Screaming Trees gave the gravelly voiced Lanegan a platform; Bubblegum allowed him to explore smoky-roomed balladry and Nick Cave-like melodrama.

Say what you will about Faith No More’s zany lead singer— the guy can wail. With his fingers in so many musical pies, his cinematic take on Italian pop standards wasn’t the strangest thing he could do. (That was the primal screaming on Adult Themes for Voice.) Accompanied by a 40-piece orchestra and a 15-member band, Patton went ape on tradition— and people loved it.

Whereas her soul sister in arms, Louise Post, went balls to the wall with her latter-day music, fellow Veruca Salt leading lady Gordon went adult contemporary. Tonight was a lighthearted collection that nursed her pop sensibilities that started to crop up on VS’s 1998 release, Eight Arms To Hold You (Outpost/Geffen). Her solo debut might have been sugary, but Gordon’s Tinkerbell vocals made it a joy to listen to.

From perky Swedish rock-pop mavens the Cardigans to torch singing, this versatile artist spread her wings most brilliantly on her 2014 album. She’s a little Stevie Nicks on the lissome “Burning Bridges for Fuel” and a lot disco diva on “Food for the Beast.” She’s got enough years under her belt to no longer be a “Lovefool”; now she’s a full-grown woman on the hunt for truth.

Two can play at this game! Once Noel and his brother Liam fought for the last time and broke up Oasis in 2009, the elder Gallagher soared with the High Flying Birds; little bro Liam took a good chunk of Oasis with him to Beady Eye. Whereas Beady Eye was essentially Oasis 2.0, Noel’s pursuit was much more esoteric. Songs like “Stop the Clocks” shone like “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” and “AKA What a Life” yanked guitar rock onto the disco floor. HFBs’ follow-up, Chasing Yesterday, is out March 3, 2015.

Hey, everybody/They say it’s time to grow,” the Jane’s Addiction guru sings in the title track of his 2001 album. Jane’s and side project Porno for Pyros would try the waters of spirituality and mysticism, but Farrell dove into the deep end of Judaism for this collection. The songs sound ancient and futuristic at the same time— a trait and a gift that Farrell has always displayed.

A capella artistry might be en vogue now (see Pentatonix, Pitch Perfect), but back in 2005 it was an utter novelty. Until that dog.’s multi-talented Petra Haden applied the instrument-less singing style to a Who classic. It’s a work of studio magic inspired by Mike Watt, who gave Haden an 8-track copy of Sell Out. The result is a bizarre, addictive collection.

The second grouping of rare audio from the guy who looks like Buddy Holly. Alone II threw in nuggets from the lost Weezer space opera and a skeletal version of “Can’t Stop Partying,” which eventually teamed his power-pop group with Lil Wayne. (Yes, you read that right.) The Raditude of this rarities collection is that many of these demos sound as awesome as completed Weez tunes.

Matchbox 20 enjoyed huge success the late ’90s as the quintessential pop-rock band. Then their singer connected with Santana and got even bigger. The natural progression was to give the world a solo release. “Lonely No More,” a funky number in the vein of Lenny Kravitz, went gold and planted itself atop the Adult Contemporary charts.

Raise those devil horns and bang your head— the Hellbilly is in the house! White Zombie ringleader and eventual horror director Rob Zombie hit pay dirt with this grinding industrial/metal hybrid. It was catchy enough for MTV but eerie enough for the underground. “Dragula” still gets our blood pumping.

What happens when a grunge prince goes on a space odyssey? You get this debut solo effort from the flamboyant Stone Temple Pilots singer. He tries his hand at star-bound head trips (“Barbarella”), pseudo-industrial grime (“Cool Kiss”) and smoky barroom waltzes (“Lady, Your Roof Brings Me Down”). Of note: Sheryl Crow provides the European-style accordion on the latter song.

The mad hatter of Guns N’ Roses called in a few of his friends for his solo debut, and voila, a veritable tea party of virtuoso guitars. For our ’90s Rock purposes, we recommend checking out the surprisingly poppy “Promise” (featuring Chris Cornell), the husky mid-tempo “I Hold On” (with Kid Rock) and the appropriately showy “Watch This” (with cameos from Dave Grohl and Duff McKagan).

Possessing one of the most angelic voices of ’90s Rock, Donelly helped bring to life important bands Throwing Muses and the Breeders. With Belly, she soared as a poet and front woman. With her solo career, she cracked open her skull and let all the yolk out— the savory parts and the messy parts. These opposites gelled gorgeously on her first solitary venture. It retained the gusto of her most alternative and offbeat explorations but eagerly held the hand of the mainstream.

Radiohead’s front man went trip-hop for his 2006 solo outing. Like much of his band’s post-millennial music, The Eraser relied on skittering beats and the lonesome cry of Yorke. And though the album bears only his name, fellow Head Jonny Greenwood plunked on the piano for the title track. The fever dream of “Atoms for Peace” also inspired Yorke’s later collaboration with Nigel Godrich, Flea, Joey Waronker and Mauro Refosco.

As an avowed feminist (despite later cheating on his wife and band mate Kim Gordon), Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore devoted his solo debut to powerful women. “Patti Smith Math Scratch” bristles with admiration for the punk poetess, and “Ono Soul” honors the groundbreaking artist Yoko Ono with guitar feedback and distorted vocals. Psychic Hearts followed the similar-sounding SY album Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star, with engineering from Youth-ful cohort Lee Ranaldo and drums courtesy Sonic skins man Steve Shelley.

If Sublime’s Bradley Nowell had lived to see the aughts, he might have put out an album akin to A Poet’s Life. Thanks to its instrumentation by the Aggrolites, Tim Armstrong’s first solo outing had a thick reggae influence. His rasp snips through the band’s trumpets and jangling drums, then flings itself into the dancehall skank of “Into Action.” This batch of poetry effortlessly linked his material with Rancid and Transplants.

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