Stephen Hyden at the AV Club has started a series thinking about 90s rock and has some really spot-on reflections about grunge. It's a super smart piece throughout, but I want to focus on two paragraphs:
But it would all be ruse. The truth is that I feel little nostalgia for ’90s grunge, and almost no connection to the version of myself that once felt part of the Alternative Nation. I once believed that the rise of so-called alternative music in the early ’90s was the greatest thing to happen in my lifetime—world-changing, no less—but now this notion seems almost too embarrassing to admit in print. Over the years I’ve written these bands out of my personal history: Old concert T-shirts have been worn out or tossed away, CDs have long since been sold off. I remember the ’90s, but it’s like I wasn’t there. Like many people of my generation—including practically every band that was originally associated with the term—“grunge” for me has become something to live down, like cuffed jeans or bad Luke Perry sideburns.Nirvana and Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains seemed so important to the history of rock and roll in the early 90s. You really felt that a welcome revolution had changed the music--no more did I have to listen to Poison and Motley Crue and Cinderella. Now, I actually didn't much care for grunge at the time. And if it comes on today, I still don't. But I knew it was important and I'd rather listen to it than Warrant any time.
Somewhere along the way, grunge-era alt-rock got tiresome. Today, it’s all but unbearable. Scanning the latest Billboard rock chart, you’ll find bands like Shinedown, Stone Sour, Three Days Grace, and of course Nickelback, who have adopted the pained, groany vocals and sludgy guitars associated with grunge and merged them seamlessly with a leather-pants and soul-patch sensibility that comes straight from hair metal. Unbeknownst to Kurt, Eddie, and Layne, they created a sonic blueprint that would go on to inspire disreputable bands for the next two decades. You can’t blame those guys for inspiring much of what’s awful and soulless about the state of “modern” rock music as we’ve come to know it, but their music is inextricably linked to it nonetheless.
Twenty years later, it's importance can't be denied. But you can sure question it's quality. I can't think of a more important movement in rock history that is less listened to today. Much of it is just not very good. I don't think it's the cheap imitators like Nickelback that are the problem; after all, how many bad imitators of 60s bands have there been? And there's plenty of 90s nostalgia out there. But it's for different bands in different rock genres. Perhaps someday there will be a grunge revival. It seems almost inevitable. But I don't know. Now that the 90s are memory rather than contemporary, bands like Yo La Tengo seem a lot more remembered than Alice in Chains.