It just occurred to me that the 90's are further in the rear view and are now an era that seems like it doesn't have an identity. Surely you can give Nirvana the credit for changing the face of popular rock music with one song, but they by no means were what I consider a musical standout.
I have a hard time answering this one because two stand out to me as evolving and staying relevant.
Radiohead. Though I think their best music came after the 90's, OK Computer was released in the late 90's and was a game changer.
Blur. Blur evolved in a way that few bands can do and remain one of the most relevant bands in the genre.
I'm going with Blur for the 90's. If it were the 00's I'd say Radiohead.
But I guess the term "best" will have a lot of different meanings to a lot of different people.
I think the first half of the Nineties had a good identity: Grunge Alt/Rock and Gangsta Rap. The latter half of the decade gets far more hit or miss with me, with much of it having quickly faded from my memory (weak radio fodder like Semisonic comes to mind, and then that unfortunate fake 'boy band' craze).
Radiohead seems to be caught between the 90s and the 2000s. Pablo Honey was maybe 93? A nice album but nothing great. But "The Bends" ('95) was the beginning of something transformative. Not as big of a shift in the musical scene as, say, the one Nirvana created; but it influenced bands to come. And "OK Computer" ('97) was brilliant! (And probably influenced even more bands yet!) So I'm tempted to vote for Radiohead, but I'd feel more certain about it had "Kid A" come out in 1999 instead of 2000.
Y'all made good points about Blur and Pearl Jam, too. I could see either of 'em. Though, I'd give the nod the PJ.
And I'd never listened to any of Flint's "Jellyfish". But I kind of liked it. Reminded me of a more modern-sounding Queen at times with a touch of Beatles thrown in (or maybe just some of the many Beatles-influenced bands). I'm going to add it to my list of CDs that I might someday buy.
Soundgarden was loaded with highly talented musicians, and made some amazing and original music. Pantera and Nirvana were also good contributions. And not to sound like a panzie, but The Cranberries had a pretty good run in the 90's.
Soundgarden was really great but ruling the 90's?? Not even close, as they started to gain recognition they fell apart. I will agree with Nirvana and of course Pearl Jam.
I would agree with the Cranberries except that they fizzled out almost as fast as they exploded.