It was a real-life revenge of the nerds when Filter's Short Bus took off in '95. Back then, bespectacled frontman Richard Patrick looked like the kind of guy you'd cheat off in physics class. Patrick's underdog lyrics made him a relatable rock star. Combined with a propulsive electro-rock crunch, Short Bus would cast a long shadow over Filter contemporaries like Gravity Kills and, ugh, Bush.
9. Pere Ubu
The Tenement Year
The All Music Guide calls The Tenement Year "the most accessible Ubu album that snobs can enjoy without feeling guilty," and that's a spot-on assessment of this odd but affecting disc. Tenement pairs the band's erratic, free-form art rock with its ever-emerging pop sensibilities on an album that spans everything from reggae to polka. Somehow, Tenement manages to be both pretty and tragic at once.
"No matter how you look at it, it's a 360-degree son of a bitch," Keelhaul singer/guitarist Chris Smith roars on the opening cut of his band's sophomore LP, neatly summing up the disc. II lunges at listeners from all sides: algebraic guitar interplay, acrobatic basslines, and impulsive drumming with enough hairpin turns to induce vertigo. No Cleveland metal band has ever balanced brawn and brains so forcefully. Wear a helmet.
7. Cobra Verde
"You wear your heart on your sleeve/I wear your blood on my wall," Cobra Verde frontman John Petkovic taunts on Easy Listening. Here, CV gorges itself on anger, artifice, and disaffection, only to spit it all back out in the form of loud, rude rock and roll. Cobra Verde's leanest, meanest disc, Easy Listening is driven by Cleveland's most formidable rock rhythm section, together with a singer who renders sarcasm and sincerity virtually indistinguishable from one another.
After one album, Mushroomhead was mostly considered a novelty act -- like Gwar, but with better table manners and a much hotter chick in the band. But with Superbuick, the group's blend of bawdy rap, turgid thrash, and Faith No More-style alt rock hit its stride and established Mushroomhead as the city's top draw for a decade. Love 'em or loathe 'em, no band kept metal alive in this city the way they did.
5. Gerald Levert
"Why can't we make love/Instead of fuss and fight?" Gerald Levert asks on his solo debut, Private Line, the R&B crooner's finest hour. Our sentiments exactly, though that line never seems to work for us, which is exactly why we need Levert. His voice is the perfect catalyst for getting that special someone out of her Calvin Kleins: His commanding-yet-welcoming timbre isn't as breathy or overbearing as that of so many of his contemporaries. Instead it's smooth and inviting -- just in case you're not.
4. Death of Samantha
Where the Women Wear the Glory and the Men Wear the Pants
Many bands aped Pere Ubu, but few embraced its spirit, as well as its sound. Death of Samantha was the exception. Samantha actually managed to build upon Ubu's forward-looking pop with sardonic, literate lyrics, slobbering, riff-rock guitar, and vocals that were by turns seductive and strangulated. They were as smart as they were sexy -- the rare indie rockers who actually seemed to get laid.
Those Who Fear Tomorrow
By the end of the '80s, the national hardcore scene had begun to resemble a high school locker room writ large: lots of chest thumping and machismo, precious little thoughtfulness or reflection. Integrity brought a dark introspection to the scene -- not to mention some nasty, bare-knuckle thrash on par with Slayer's Reign in Blood. Brutal yet conscientious, this disc helped revitalize an entire genre.
2. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony
E. 1999 Eternal
For one shining moment in the summer of 1995, St. Clair Avenue was the hottest street in hip-hop, thanks to Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. On Eternal, Bones' speedball delivery, stoned G-funk grooves, and emphasis on radio-friendly melodies paved the way for countless disciples, from Twista to Nelly. The album is the pinnacle of Cleveland hip-hop. But be forewarned: This dope-driven disc is not for anyone subject to random drug-testing.
1. Nine Inch Nails
Pretty Hate Machine
Before Nine Inch Nails, industrial music was colder than a polar bear turd. Granted, the whole point of the genre was to create an impersonal throb as a commentary on the detached, alienating nature of modern technology. But on Pretty Hate Machine, NIN humanized machine music with Trent Reznor's confessional lyrics, emotive yelp, and in-your-face bloodletting. Reznor gave the music a heart -- even if it was a broken one.