The Most Distinctive Singing Voices of the 1990s


We’re big fans of Suede here at Flavorpill central, and as such we’re delighted to report that their new album Bloodsports is better than we dared to hop for — in fact, it’s the best thing they’ve made since Coming Up, which is pretty impressive considering how utterly dry Brett Anderson’s well of ideas seemed to have run on their last couple of albums. And best of all, Anderson still sounds great; his voice is rich as ever, and listening to the album got us thinking about what a distinctive vocalist he is. His was one of the most recognizable voices of the 1990s, and as such we thought we’d round up some of the others to go with him.

Brett Anderson

Part Bowie, part musical theater, part mic being spanked on a bony but shapely ass — really, no one sounds quite like Brett Anderson, and the most remarkable thing of all is that, 20 years later, Brett Anderson still sounds like Brett Anderson. His voice appears largely unaffected by the Bacchanalian excesses of the 1990s and early 2000s, and arguably sounds stronger than ever on Bloodsports. Bravo. Long may Suede prosper.

Stuart Staples

The second-deepest voice of the 1990s (yes, the deepest is coming up in due course), and certainly one of its most distinctive. Tindersticks’ mournful red wine anthems have influenced a heap of latter-day bands whose music mine a similar vein of late-night melancholy. We never quite understood why Tindersticks were never massive while, say, Nick Cave was. If you’re not familiar with them, they’re well worth investigating.

The Notorious B.I.G.

Mellifluous, melodic, and surprisingly delicate, Biggie’s remains instantly recognizable, his dextrous rhymes and sing-song delivery sounding like no one before or since. It’s interesting how few imitators he’s spawned — plenty of contemporary rappers have aped gangsta rap’s braggadocio, of course, but Biggie’s light touch and subtlety remain his alone.

Fiona Apple

When Fiona Apple first appeared in 1996, it was startling to hear the voice that emerged from this impossibly fragile-looking 19-year-old behind a massive piano — rich, deep, powerful. Two decades on, she sounds as remarkable as ever, but nothing will ever quite rival the impact of Tidal as far as we’re concerned.

Brian Molko

That accent! That nasal tone! That penchant for outrageously awful rhymes that somehow still managed to work! (Most of the time, anyway.) The Placebo frontman’s voice is certainly an acquired taste, but love him or hate him, Molko is one of those singers who you recognize from the first note he sings.


Similarly, the combination of Björk’s accent and unusual articulation makes her voice one of those that’s instantly recognizable, although it’s a whole lot less abrasive than Molko’s is. Debut, in particular, sounded like nothing that had gone before it (including Björk’s own work with the Sugarcubes) — it’s dreamlike and beautiful, and Björk’s diction and delivery dances all over the song structures in a way that’s unpredictable and unconventional but always seems to work in its own strange, idiosyncratic way.

Layne Staley

Sigh. We’re not sure about you, but just thinking about Staley gets us awfully depressed. Apart from a harrowing illustration of the disastrous effects of heroin addiction, Staley’s long, sad decline was a horrible waste of talent, because at his best he was the most distinctive, powerful singer of his time. Alice in Chains’ work certainly isn’t easy listening, but it’s curiously beautiful in its own dark way, largely because of Staley’s remarkable vocals.

Brad Roberts

AKA the “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” guy. (Yes, this is who were referring to before when we mentioned the deepest voice of the 1990s.)

Daniel Johnston

Perhaps the single most curious voice of the 1990s: Daniel Johnston, whose strange, childlike voice is just as distinctive as his strange, childlike songs. And, of course, his biggest fan was none other than…

Kurt Cobain