Back in the ’90s, before downloads and streaming, music collections typically came in the form of CDs — perhaps with a few cassette tapes left over from the previous decade, or vinyl for the purists among us. When everything went digital, millions of people were left wondering what to do with all those shiny discs in little plastic cases. Firm favorites were probably stored away as soon as the tracks were downloaded from iTunes or added to Spotify. Other albums just didn’t make the cut.
Music tastes change, some genres just don’t age as well as others … and then there are those that are just too embarrassing to admit to. Here are some of the top ’90s musical cringe fests, with a little help from Ranker and NME.
‘In The Life of Chris Gaines’ — Garth Brooks
Sorry, Garth Brooks – your 1999 album “Garth Brooks in … The Life of Chris Gaines” takes the No. 1 spot on Ranker’s list of ’90s CDs people are most embarrassed to have owned. Also known as “Chris Gaines Greatest Hits,” it was the pre-release soundtrack for the film “The Lamb,” in which Brooks was lined up to play a fictitious Australian musician called named Chris Gaines. Unfortunately, the film never saw the light of day.
Nonetheless, “Garth Brooks in … The Life of Chris Gaines” reached No. 2 on the U.S. Billboard 200 and No. 5 on the Canadian Albums Chart.
‘Middle of Nowhere’ – Hanson
Pop-rock group Hanson was huge in 1997. “Middle of Nowhere,” their debut studio album to be released on a major label, was a hit with critics, sold more than 10 million copies worldwide, spawned two Billboard Hot 100 singles, and earned the Hanson brothers three Grammy nominations. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the albums people look back on and cringe.
‘To the Extreme’ — Vanilla Ice
In 1990, at the height of his fame (thanks to the phenomenally successful single “Ice Ice Baby”) rapper Vanilla Ice released his first major-label studio album “To the Extreme.” Reviews were mixed, but the album still spent 16 weeks at the top of the Billboard 200 and sold 15 million copies worldwide. Today, many are happy to forget about “To the Extreme” – one reviewer on RYM wrote that it “should have gone down as an unoffensive [sic] but forgettable rap release.”
‘Ricky Martin’ — Ricky Martin
Ricky Martin’s eponymous debut studio album, containing the hits “Fuego Contra Fuego,” “El Amor de Mi Vida” and “Vuelo,” was released in 1991 and peaked at number five on the Latin Pop Album chart in the US. It sold over 500,000 copies worldwide and was certified Gold in Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Colombia and Puerto Rico. But perhaps it’s best left in 1991.
“Even a few years after the release, the production sounded a little cheap and dated,” wrote an AllMusic reviewer, although he did see the good, adding that “the best moments reveal that Martin is a gifted singer with boundless charisma.” Not all bad, then.
‘Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em’ — MC Hammer
Nobody says ’90s pop more than MC Hammer, he of the baggy pants and gold finger bling. “Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em,” released in 1990, was the rapper’s third album. It enjoyed 21 weeks at No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard 200 and is the first hip-hop album to be certified diamond by the RIAA for sales of over 10 million in the U.S. But while the single “U Can’t Touch This” remains a fond memory for many, the same can’t be said for the album, which appears on NME‘s list of “unfathomably popular” albums of the ’90s.
‘Are You Gonna Go My Way’ – Lenny Kravitz
Lenny Kravtiz’s 1993 album release “Are You Gonna Go My Way” became his first Top 20 hit, reaching No. 12 on the U.S. chart. It was also a big hit elsewhere, including the U.K. and Australia. But many remain critical of the rocker’s second best-selling studio album (after 1997’s “5), such as NME, who write that it “had barely three good moments on it” and concludes that “these days Lenny just seems so ’90s.”
‘Cracked Rear View’ — Hootie & the Blowfish
In 1995, the year after its release, “Cracked Rear View” was the world’s best-selling album. The studio debut for Hootie & the Blowfish garnered largely positive reviews and remains one of the best-selling albums of all time. But it didn’t impress everyone. ”
They were as deeply unfashionable as they were unstoppable in the mid-90s,” writes NME.
‘Human Clay’ — Creed
Christian rock band Creed’s second studio album, “Human Clay,” was released in 1999 to generally positive reviews, and was a huge commercial success. It peaked at No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard 200, and two of its singles, “Higher” and “With Arms Wide Open,” made it into the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100. But album sales don’t always reflect a record’s long-term credibility. In this case, perhaps it’s not the album but the band itself – it was voted the worst band of the ’90s in a Rolling Stone readers’ poll.
‘Big Willie Style’ — Will Smith
Ah, Will Smith. Once described as the most powerful actor in Hollywood by Newsweek, his movies have grossed billions at the box office. He’s bagged Oscar nominations for his performances as boxer Muhammad Ali in “Ali” and stockbroker Chris Gardner in “The Pursuit of Happyness,” and he’s won four Grammy awards. But let’s not forget that he’s also a rapper. He released “Big Willie Style” in 1997 and it reached the top 10 of the U.S. Billboard 200 as well as the U.K. albums chart. The third single from the album, “Gettin’ Jiggy wit It”, was released in 1998 and gave Smith his first Billboard Hot 100 No. 1.
All that being said, “Big Willie Style” doesn’t stand up in today’s musical landscape. One reviewer wrote on RYM, “There’s a difficulty when it comes to critiquing a good-natured nostalgic rap pop album that serves as little more than novelty now. At first glance, it’s laughable. On second glance, it’s still laughable.”
‘Significant Other’ — Limp Bizkit
“How did Limp Bizkit ever become so massive?” asks NME. “It’s a mystery even 15 years on. Don’t judge us, future generations.” That pretty much sums up how people feel about the rap-rock band’s second studio album, the 1999 release “Significant Other.” However, it did do well commercially, peaking at No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard 200.
‘As Ugly As They Wanna Be’ — Ugly Kid Joe
The “As Ugly As They Wanna Be” EP made heavy-metal band Ugly Kid Joe an overnight sensation when it raced to No. 4 on the Billboard chart in 1991. (FYI, the title is a parody of 2 Live Crew’s 1989 album “As Nasty As They Wanna Be.”) It even became the first EP to be certified multi-platinum by the RIAA. But whether the album could do the same today is another story. Back then, “it was easy to get into the charts if you were dumb and Californian and made a great play of being both,” said NME. “Ugly Kid Joe were bratty, snotty, full of attitude and not a lot else.”
‘Stunt’ — Barenaked Ladies
The fourth full-length studio album from Barenaked Ladies, “Stunt” entered the U.S. charts at No. 3 in 1998 and gave the band their breakthrough single with “One Week.” But not everyone has fond memories of it. “It was one week too long,” wrote NME.
Arguably, “One Week” remains one of the catchiest rap-rock efforts of all time, but the album that spawned it may well be gathering dust in CD collections around the world.
‘Devil Without a Cause’ — Kid Rock
“Devil Without a Cause,” the fourth studio album by Kid Rock, was a huge commercial success. But not all critical reviews were positive. Pitchfork gave the album 1.3 out of 10, writing, “The hook is that Devil Without A Cause combines rap with metal, but this combination’s already been done a million times, and in each case, the result was better than this. … I ask you: is this what you’re missing from your life?”
‘Sixteen Stone’ — Bush
Bush fans might be surprised that the English rock band’s debut studio album, “Sixteen Stone,” released in 1994, falls into the “most embarrassing” category for Ranker voters. It peaked at No. 4 on the U.S. Billboard 200 and spawned hit after hit on the singles chart, including “Comedown” and “Glycerine.” Critical feedback was mostly positive, although rock critic Robert Christgau described it as a “not altogether unmusical howl of male pain” that glorified “despair.”
‘Synkronized’ — Jamiroquai
The English funk and jazz band Jamiroquai received a Guinness World Record for their third album, “Travelling Without Moving” (1996), after it was confirmed as the best-selling funk album in history. Their next studio album, 1999’s “Synkronized,” didn’t fare so well. Although it reached No. 1 in some countries, it peaked at No. 28 on the U.S. Billboard 200. And of the ’90s albums Ranker voters are most embarrassed to own, it’s currently sitting at No. 18.
‘Dizzy Up the Girl’ — The Goo Goo Dolls
“Dizzy Up the Girl” (1998) was the breakthrough album for The Goo Goo Dolls, and its most successful to date – largely due to the inclusion of the rock ballad “Iris,” which was also included on the soundtrack to the movie “City of Angels.” It was a commercial hit, but divided longterm fans of the band who’d supported them through their previous five (less successful) albums. Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic wrote, “There’s nothing new on the record apart from their willingness to polish their music so it reaches the widest audience. That will alienate whatever hardcore followers they have left.” Maybe those hardcore fans are still holding a grudge?
‘Savage Garden’ — Savage Garden
The eponymous debut studio album by Australian pop duo Savage Garden album, released in 1997, won the award for Highest Selling Album at the 12th Annual ARIA Music Awards. It peaked at No. 1 in Australia, No. 2 in the U.K. and No. 3 in the U.S., and the reviews were overwhelmingly positive. According to Sputnik Music, it is “a perfect pop-rock album in every aspect. A record that could pull out any one song and sell it as a single.” But the folks at NME don’t agree, and include it on their list of “unfathomably popular” ’90s albums.
‘311’ — 311
“311” (commonly known as the Blue Album) is the eponymous third studio album by rock band 311. Released in 1995, it peaked at No. 12 on the U.S. Billboard 200, and spawned the hit singles “Don’t Stay Home,” “All Mixed Up” and “Down.” At the time of its release, reviews were generally positive, but Ranker voters clearly don’t want it on their 2020 playlists.
‘Breathless’ — Kenny G
Behind all the hair, Kenny G was a talented jazz saxophonist who became one of the best-selling artists of all time. He enjoyed commercial success following his 1986 album “Duotones,” but it was his sixth studio album, “Breathless” (1992) that really took his career stratospheric. It reached No. 1 on the Contemporary Jazz Albums chart and No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and R&B/Hip-Hop Albums charts, and became the best-selling instrumental album ever. But this is 2020, and the days of this brand of jazz seem to be over.
‘Sublime’ — Sublime
“Sublime,” the third and final studio album by the ska punk band of the same name, was released in 1996. It did surprisingly well, considering the band went their separate ways before they could promote it through touring. Rolling Stone listed “Sublime” as one of the best albums of the ’90s, although it does acknowledge that it’s “one of the decade’s strangest hits.” Is this why Ranker voters are embarrassed to have owned it? It’s No. 27 on their list.
‘Come On Over’ — Shania Twain
Shania Twain‘s 1997 album “Come On Over” sold an incredible 40 million copies in the ’90’s and became the all-time best-selling country music album, the best-selling studio album by a female act, and the best selling album by a Canadian artist. According to Universal Music Publishing Group, Twain has sold 100 million albums, more than any female artist in country music history. But NME’s response to “Come on Over” is scathing: “Has anyone ever moved quite so much polycarbonate plastic over the counter and been so comprehensively forgotten?”
‘So Much for the Afterglow’ — Everclear
Alt-rock band Everclear’s best-selling album is 1997’s “So Much for the Afterglow,” which gave them a Grammy nomination (Best Rock Instrumental for “El Distorto de Melodica”) and a 2x platinum certification by the RIAA. Reviews were generally good, but it’s still in the top 25 ’90s albums Ranker voters are most embarrassed by. “There are several songs on the album that do showcase the group at their best, but they aren’t enough to excuse the confused attempts at progression that make ‘So Much for the Afterglow’ a muddled affair,” wrote Stephen Thomas Erlewine on AllMusic.
‘Yourself or Someone Like You’ — Matchbox Twenty
NME finds it hard believe that Matchbox 20’s 1996 album, “Yourself Or Someone Like You” (their debut), managed to sell 15 million copies worldwide. “Is there a country we don’t know about where they buy awful CDs?” they wrote. Incidentally, it also ranks at No. 21 on the Ranker list. Maybe the album’s themes of adolescence, loneliness, psychological abuse, humiliation, depression, anger and alcoholism are just too much for modern listeners to take.
‘Follow The Leader’ — Korn
The third studio album by nu metal band Korn, “Follow the Leader,” peaked at No. 1 on four charts in 1998, including the Billboard 200. Despite it being the biggest album of their career, reviews were mixed. Revolver wrote that the album “wasn’t completely cohesive, and there were a few tracks — likely the result of questionable choices made under the influence — that could and probably should have been relegated to the trash bin.”
‘Spiceworld’ – Spice Girls
1997’s “Spiceworld” came hot on the heels of the Spice Girls top-selling 1996 album “Spice.” Love them or hate them, there was no way you made it through the ’90s without singing tunes from their iconic first album. Still, the chances are fans today listen to the group for a hit of nostalgia rather than to savor every masterful note.