Twenty Years On: March 1998 in Review

March is right about when the doldrums of first quarter taper off, the post-Christmas sales of older titles have quieted down, and more exciting new releases start popping up.  Some of my favorite albums of the year surfaced around this time, albums that remained on heavy rotation for quite a few years afterwards.  Here are a few for you to enjoy.

Madonna, Ray of Light, released 3 March. I’ve been a passive fan of Madonna since her Like a Virgin days (which goes to show how old I am), and interestingly her albums always seesawed between phenomenal and lackluster. I consider this particular album one of her crowning achievements; it beautifully and seamlessly blends her signature dance sound and the brilliant electronica of producer William Orbit. It’s an amazing album from start to finish.

Fastball, All the Pain Money Can Buy released 10 March. Yes, it’s that song, their one-hit wonder (and there were many in 1998), but the rest of the album is actually quite a solid one worth checking out, with equally hooky riffs.

Morcheeba, Big Calm, released 16 March. One of many rock/electronica hybrid bands making the scene at the time, Morcheeba could be alternately loud and chunky or soft and sexy, sometimes within the span of a few tracks on their albums.

Cornelius, Fantasma, released 24 March. Keigo Oyamada has been called “the Japanese Beck” by certain critics, and they’re not wrong. Adventurous, experimental, weird, and often amusing, his work as Cornelius is a feast for the ears.

Semisonic, Feeling Strangely Fine, released 24 March. This band could have ended up a one-hit wonder with “Closing Time”, if it wasn’t for singer Dan Wilson’s brilliant songwriting, which kept the band in the spotlight and has carried his post-Semisonic career to achieving numerous award-winning hits. The entire album is catchy as hell and a lot of fun to listen to.

Superdrag, Head Trip in Every Key, released 24 March. After their snotty, punky mega-hit “Sucked Out” from 1996’s Regretfully Yours, this trio was bound and determined not to be pigeonholed into being another snotty-punk clone, and released a phenomenal album…which, alas, the label hated and proceeded to drop them unceremoniously. Surprisingly mature, often Beatlesque, and full of lovely melodies and introspective lyrics, Head Trip actually proved that they were a strong band, carrying them well into the early 00s and beyond. Highly recommended for your collection.

Sully, I Have Much to Report, released 24 March. An obscure Canadian band from Ottawa, this band nonetheless managed to pop up in the background in numerous shows and movies in the mid-90s. I love this album purely for its murky Cocteau Twins-meets-Sneaker Pimps ambience.

God Lives Underwater, Life in the So-Called Space Age, released 24 March. GLU’s second album is a change from the aggro-electronics of their first album, and in effect it sounds darker and more experimental. It’s a great album for headphones and long writing sessions, though! One of my favorites from this year, it got a hell of a lot of play down in the Belfry for a few years.

Scott Weiland, 12 Bar Blues, released 31 March. Scott’s debut solo album is quite the mix, alternating between weird and unstable, and heartfelt and beautiful. It features a few older tracks (“Lady Your Roof Brings Me Down” is from the Great Expectations soundtrack from a few months earlier, and “Mockingbird Girl” is a rerecording of the song he contributed to the 1995 Tank Girl soundtrack) alongside some fantastic new ones.

Pulp, This Is Hardcore, released 31 March. Jarvis Cocker & Co follow up their brilliant Different Class album with a decidedly darker and sinister outing about the more questionable side of life. This isn’t about the have-nots, it’s about the don’t-give-a-shits.

Harvey Danger, Where Have All the Merrymakers Gone, released 31 March. Another band that sadly became a one-hit wonder, despite multiple albums and excellent songwriting. A fun and exceptionally nerdy band, their entire discography is well worth checking out.

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Next Up: April 1998!

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