The 20 Best Albums of 1992
The best records of music's transitional year
Honorable mention: Valhalla Avenue—The Fatima Mansions
Cathal Coughlan is one of Ireland’s favourite sons, thanks to his work as frontman of Microdisney and The Fatima Mansions. He was a kind of anti-Bono — literally so when The Mansions got booed offstage while they supported U2 on the Zoo TV tour.
Coughlan sadly died in 2022, which came as a real shock to the Irish music community and prompted many people to rediscover his extensive discography. Valhalla Avenue — his 1992 Mansions album — is a good place to start.
Best track: “1000%”
20. Going Blank Again—Ride
Shoegaze fans were spoiled in early 1992, as Ride and Lush both dropped landmark albums. Lush’s Spooky is excellent, but Ride just about edges them out thanks to their killer opening epic.
Best track: “Leave Them All Behind”
19. Don’t Sweat The Technique—Eric B & Rakim
The peak of old-school rap. Eric B creates a remarkable tapestry of samples, drawing from every genre, especially jazz, while Rakim’s flow is still peerless. The kings of technique.
Best track: “Don’t Sweat The Technique”
18. The Future—Leonard Cohen
Lou Reed turned 50 in 1992, which inspired his meditation on aging, Magic and Loss. Old Man Cohen was almost 60 by then, but his vision of the road ahead is violent, sexy, funny, mournful, and occasionally hopeful.
Best track: “Anthem”
17. Dirt—Alice in Chains
The next band to surf into the charts on the Nirvana/Pearl Jam tsunami. Dirt is much louder and crunchier than the other big Grunge Phase One records, at times veering into all-out metal. A lot of it is about heroin and grief for Mother Love Bone singer Andrew Wood.
Best track: “Would”
16. Little Earthquakes—Tori Amos
The songs on Little Earthquakes all feel so self-contained. Each one is like a pocket universe, shaped by Amos’s intricate sense of melody and occasionally obtuse lyrics. And then there’s “Me and a Gun,” which is essentially a Victim Impact Statement put to music, and possibly the most harrowing song ever recorded.
Best track: “Silent All These Years”
15. Generation Terrorists—Manic Street Preachers
The Manics said they’d sell 16 million copies and then break up. The final tally was closer to 160,000, and they’re still together 30 years later. But maybe the failure was the point of this delirious punk experiment?
Best track: “You Love Us”
14. Psalm 69—Ministry
The best-known track on this album, “Jesus Built My Hotrod,” came into existence when Gibby Hayes from The Butthole Surfers got shitfaced drunk in the studio and yelled incoherently into a mic. It sums up the vibe of this beautiful, noisy, chaotic mess of a record.
Best track: “Just One Fix”
13. Ingenué—k.d. lang
After years of cover versions and collabs, k.d. lang finally released an album of original songs in 92. And it was worth the wait —the luxurious romanticism of Ingenué makes it hard to listen to without falling a tiny bit in love.
Best track: “Save Me”
12. The Hit Parade—The Wedding Present
Indie eccentrics The Wedding Present spiced up 1992 by releasing a new single every month. The resulting album contains 12 tracks brimming with invention and DIY energy. A true indie classic.
Best track: “Come Play With Me”
11. It’s a Shame About Ray—The Lemonheads
“Mrs. Robinson” may have been their biggest hit of 1992, but the original songs on It’s A Shame About Ray show why Evan Dando has such devoted fans. Julianna Hatfield was still a Lemonhead during recording, although she had left and released her own debut before Shame About Ray came out.
Best track: “Alison’s Starting To Happen”
10. Vulgar Display of Power—Pantera
Pantera responded to rock’s existential 90s crisis by cutting out the bullshit and just going as hard as they could (which is very, very hard.) But it’s not just noise — they also let their rhythms breathe a little, resulting in tracks like the beloved groove metal anthem, “Walk.”
Best track: “Fucking Hostile”
9. U.F.Off—The Orb
Intelligent dance music (a cringey but accurate genre descriptor) was breaking through in 1992, thanks to terrific albums from Aphex Twin and Orbital. But for now, the spotlight is on The Orb, who somehow got their mind-bending, 18-minute single “Blue Room” into the Top 10.
Best track: “O.O.B.E”
8. Dry—P.J. Harvey
Polly Jean Harvey announced herself to the world with this blistering collection of songs. Loud, eloquent, feminist, furious, challenging, surprising, and remarkably self-assured for a 21-year-old — was there any doubt that she would grow up to be a legend?
Best track: “Dress”
7. Angel Dust—Faith No More
Faith No More have always been embroiled in some kind of backstage drama, which is why they never reached the heights of, say, Red Hot Chili Peppers. But here, at this exact moment, they found just enough equilibrium to make one of the decade’s most thrilling rock albums.
Best track: “A Small Victory”
6. Slanted and Enchanted—Pavement
A kind of The Velvet Underground and Nico for Elder Millennials. Very few people bought it at the time, but everyone who did buy it went on to start a lo-fi indie band. Arguably a more influential alternative record than Nevermind.
Best track: “Here”
5. Ten—Pearl Jam
Released in 1991, but didn’t chart in the UK until 1992, and filled that year with omnipresent hit singles like “Alive,” “Even Flow,” “Once,” and “Jeremy.”
In hindsight, it’s not really a “grunge” album — it has little in common with Nevermind or Dirt other than geography and timing and a general sense of malaise. Instead, Ten is a very solid, traditional rock album with remarkable consistency from start to end.
Best track: “Porch” (fight me)
4. Copper Blue—Sugar
Bob Mould struggled for a few years after Husker Du folded. Alan McGee’s Creation records helped him find his way back in 1992 with a new band and a stunning collection of new songs, showing him at his most emotional and raw.
It draws heavily on Husker Du and their contemporaries (mainly Pixies), but it also works hard to bring that sound into the new decade. The stripped-back production is perfect for the mood of 1992: unfussy, authentic, and painfully honest.
And for good measure, Bob threw in a straight-up pop song: “If I Can’t Change Your Mind.” It’s a little out of character for him, but it became the template of every jangle-pop song of the 90s.
Best track: “The Slim”
3. The Prodigy Experience—The Prodigy
Is it possible to make a great rave LP? The Shamen had a pop at it with their very good Boss Drum, but The Prodigy had the breakthrough that defined the genre.
Experience is really a Liam Howlett album — he was the only one in the studio — but it captures the feral energy The Prodigy’s live shows, of which Keith, Maxim, and Leroy were a vital part.
The result is a record so vivid that it’s like a TARDIS. Playing it will immediately teleport you to an illegal warehouse party, where it’s 3 AM, you’re 19, and you’re having the best night of your life.
Best track: “Out Of Space”
2. Automatic for the People—R.E.M.
Honestly, it’s bizarre that Automatic became one of the biggest albums of the 90s. A bunch of geography-teacher-looking dudes with mandolins writing country-tinged songs about Andy Kaufman? That’s what people will buy 18 million copies of?
Automatic’s success came down to two factors. One is that R.E.M. were in the right place at the right time — 90s audiences craved music with an organic, wholesome authenticity, and that was R.E.M.’s whole deal.
The second factor is that it’s just a great collection of songs. Zero skips, not even the instrumental. Maybe not as brilliant as Document or Life’s Rich Pagent; definitely not as poppy as Out Of Time. But Automatic finds a sweet spot between those extremes, and that’s why it clicked.
Best track: Take your pick (I like “Sweetness Follows”)
1. The Chronic—Dr. Dre
The Chronic is to hip-hop what the Ford Model T was to automobiles. Not the first, maybe not the best, but a historical turning point that reshaped society.
Dre invented a new genre, G-Funk, that allowed him to take serious, hard-edged rap and package it in a more radio-friendly sound. Within a few years, Dre was A-list, Death Row Records was making $100 million per year, and rap had devoured the pop charts. But it’s more than that: hip-hop eventually usurped rock’n’roll as America’s dominant cultural mode. That transformation started with The Chronic.
Dre himself is perhaps not the greatest rapper, but he’s smart enough to surround himself with a great team, including Warren G, Nate Dogg, and a wet-behind-the-ears kid who rapped as Snoop Doggy Dogg. Snoop is on every track, and in many ways, this is his real debut record.
We’re still feeling the aftershocks of The Chronic 30 years later. That in itself would be enough to earn it first place on this list — but it’s also just a really great record.
Best track: “Nuthin But a G Thang”
Let me know your favourite 1992 albums in the comments—and check out the Best Singles of 1992 here.
Here’s a Spotify playlist. See you next year!