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The 10 Worst Rock Singers of the '90s

Soundgarden: Not appearing on this list, ever.
Soundgarden: Not appearing on this list, ever.
Photo courtesy of Press Here Publicity

In about 12 hours or so, the editor of Rocks Off expects to be a very happy man. One of our favorite bands of all time, and one that we haven't seen live in almost 17 years, is playing tonight at Bayou Music Center: Soundgarden.

Certainly Soundgarden has a lot to recommend them. Guitarist Kim Thayil can grind out riffs so abrasive and sludgy they practially make sparks shoot out of the strings, but he can also get into some pretty mystical soloing territory. The bass and drums combine to create a hulking sonic dreadnought, but let's be real here: lots of '90s bands did that.

What set Soundgarden apart was singer Chris Cornell's ungodly wail of a voice, a sexy shriek that made him the grunge era's natural heir to Robert "Big Log" Plant. Impressively, it's hardly lost a hint of its range or banshee-like force in the years between the band's previous studio album Down On the Upside (from 1996) and last year's fairly triumphant return King Animal.

Thus Cornell is our own personal choice for the greatest rock singer of the '90s. Of course there are others -- that Cobain guy, L7's Donita Sparks, the Afghan Whigs' Greg Dulli was always a personal favorite. (And R.I.P. Layne Staley.) So of course we thought about ranking our choices for that decade's best vocalists, but decided... nah. We'd much rather throw some shade on the people we didn't like all that much even when they were "popular."

Anthony Kiedis at the 2012 Austin City Limits Music Festival
Anthony Kiedis at the 2012 Austin City Limits Music Festival
Photo by Marco Torres

10. ANTHONY KIEDIS (RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS) I'm as big of a Red Hot Chili Peppers fan as the next guy, but let's face it: Anthony Kiedis has never been a great singer. There's a reason he rapped throughout most of the '80s, and as the Peppers tended toward ballads in their '90s heyday, he only got by on the strength of the songwriting.

He's taken singing lessons and improved over the years at carrying a tune, but there's only so much that can accomplish. He just wasn't born with a great voice. That's okay, because it works for the band, but he'll never be one of the great voices of our time. COREY DEITERMAN

9. ZACK DE LA ROCHA (RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE) It's funny. Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine is both one of the most influential vocalists of the '90s and also one of the worst. To me, his voice has always sounded sort of whiny and petulant, like a spoiled brat complaining about the world (ironic because that could describe most of my favorite music).

Worse than that are his little vocal tics, like the "HUHs" and "UGHs" he has to throw into every song. I will give him that he conveys anger pretty well, which is what most of his devotees have picked up on, but his voice has always irked me. COREY DEITERMAN

8. GAVIN ROSSDALE (BUSH) More like bush league... yeah, that's all I got. CHRIS GRAY

Billy "Jesus Christ Pose" Corgan at Warehouse Live in September 2010
Billy "Jesus Christ Pose" Corgan at Warehouse Live in September 2010
Photo by Marc Brubaker

7. BILLY CORGAN (SMASHING PUMPKINS) Billy Corgan has always been an incredible songwriter first and a singer second. I've never been entirely sure why he decided the world needed to hear his voice in the Smashing Pumpkins, but I suspect it has to do with him being a control freak and it being incredibly convenient.

Regardless, his nasal whine has hindered many people I've known from enjoying his music and I admit it turned me off for a long time too. I've reconciled with it, but some of his worst singing (his enunciation on "can you fake it for just one more show," for instance) can still make me giggle pretty hard. COREY DEITERMAN

6. LINDA PERRY Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder has long been (pretty fairly) pinpointed as the originator of the vocal style now known as "yarling": the crooning warble variously appropriated by the likes of Scott Weiland, Gavin Rossdale, Scott Stapp and other assholes over the years. For rock singers, it was the sound of the '90s, and even the ladies weren't immune to its tremolous treacle.

Case in point: 4 Non Blondes' Linda Perry, who turned in one of the most grating vocal lines of the decade on the group's only hit, "What's Up." Not since the heyday of Gary Glitter had a band so brazenly attempted to turn the word "hey" into an entire chorus, and the singer's throaty, shouted delivery is enough to make us envy the deaf. It's been clearing out karaoke bars for more than 20 years now. NATHAN SMITH

5. TOM DELONGE (BLINK-182) Blink-182, like the Bizkit, have a special place in my heart for nostalgia's sake. The punk-turned-pop trio isn't lacking talent as a whole, but DeLonge's voice has never been a strong point of the group, especially during the band's live performances. It's whiney, nasally and never quite on key. After nearly 20 years in the music business, one would think he might take some lessons or at least capo a few songs, but it just hasn't happened. MATTHEW KEEVER

Limp Bizkit at Buzzfest XXIV, The Woodlands, May 2010
Limp Bizkit at Buzzfest XXIV, The Woodlands, May 2010
Photo by Marc Brubaker

4. FRED DURST To "durst": When something reaches a point where it is no longer enjoyable. It refers the point where the world went from enjoying Limp Bizkit to realizing that Fred Durst is an intolerable douchebag with no discernible talent. When Urban Dictionary has a term derived from your last name and your stupid antics, you know you belong on a Top 10 list somewhere.

And that, in part, is why Fred Durst, of the pseudo-nu-metal band Limp Bizkit, is my choice for this list. However, it's not just Durst's shitty personality that made him a prime choice -- Limp Bizkit's music is ear-grating, recycled, screechy junk -- and Durst's lyrical ingenuity is equivalent to that of a block of cheese. ANGELICA LEICHT

Limp Bizkit plays House of Blues Wednesday, May 29.

3. SULLY ERNA (GODSMACK) Godsmack's debut, self-titled album sounded like diluted Metallica B-sides, sung by James Hetfield's stand-in. They haven't gotten better with time, either. In fact, Erna's crooning has worsened. When the band doesn't sound like watered-down Metallica, they try to sound like Alice in Chains, as their name suggest. And if lacking vocal prowess wasn't enough, Erna also has a reputation for being unapproachable and haughty. Here's hoping he sticks with promoting alcohol. MATTHEW KEEVER

Sully Erna will be at Spec's Warehouse (2410 Smith) for a promotional appearance for Pura Vida tequila from 6-8 p.m. Friday.

2. SCOTT STAPP (CREED) There's nothing worse than an egotistical, overrated musician, and Creed's Scott Stapp takes the cake. His vocal chops received way more critical hype than they deserved, and he ran a group of hard-working, talented musicians into the ground, despite their ability (for reasons unknown to me) to sell million of albums.

I'm not going to bother to go too far into the war stories about Stapp's antics, but their own fans sued them over an incredibly bad show in Chicago in 2003. Not to mention we all remember that awful sex tape with Kid Rock, who stated that he was mainly embarrassed that people learned he was hanging out with Scott Stapp. ANGELICA LEICHT

Axl Rose with Guns N' Roses at Toyota Center, November 2011
Axl Rose with Guns N' Roses at Toyota Center, November 2011
Photo by Marco Torres

1. AXL ROSE (GUNS N' ROSES) At the very best of times, Axl Rose's voice sounds like a sandblaster in dire need of an oil change. Beginning with Guns N' Roses Use Your Illusion World Tour, the best of times started to become pretty few and far between. No doubt helped along by his habitual tobacco use, the singer's voice was a terribly hit-or-miss proposition even during they band's peak of fame.

That was 20 years ago. Today, the new Guns N' Roses plays most of the old classics tuned down a step just to give the singer a fighting chance at hitting some of those high notes. If you're planning on attending their show at House of Blues on Tuesday, just remember that "Patience" ain't just a song. NATHAN SMITH

Guns N' Roses plays House of Blues (seriously) Tuesday, May 28.


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