Twenty Years On: April 1998

April 1998: I’d just broken in a new notebook to continue the longhand writing of The Phoenix Effect, the predecessor of the Bridgetown Trilogy, still writing it in the mornings before starting my Day Job at HMV.  It was also around this time that I’d started ramping up the road trips in my trusty ’92 Cavalier, making weekly trips all around Massachusetts and New Hampshire for comics, books, and used cds and tapes.

Stabbing Westward, Darkest Days, released 7 April. Louder and angrier than their previous albums, yet more melodic and introspective. Saw these guys open up for Depeche Mode later in the year and they were by far one of the loudest bands I’d ever heard in my entire life.

Tones on Tail, Everything!, released 7 April. Okay, technically it’s missing 3 remixes (which were released as a promo EP called Something! the same day), but essentially this is the entire discography of the band that features Daniel Ash and Kevin Haskins (Bauhaus, Love & Rockets) and bassist Glenn Campling. More post-punk than Bauhaus and not quite as psychedelic as early LnR, but just as fantastic.

Massive Attack, Mezzanine, released 20 April. I just mentioned this one in a previous post about perfect albums, and this is indeed a perfect album. While previous albums Blue Lines and Protection were great trip-hop platters, this one blows them both away. The cover outside fits the sounds perfectly: dark and dangerous moods like the beetle, and delicate and spacious as the white background. And “Teardrop” is indeed one of the best 90s songs ever, and up there as one of my favorite songs of all time.

The Urge, Master of Styles, released 21 April. This band could easily be confused with metal-funk buddies 311, but they’re just as bright and fun. Nick Hexum from 311 pops up on their surprise hit from this album. They’d put out a few more albums over the years, though never quite achieve huge success.

Bernard Butler, People Move On, released 21 April. The ex-Suede guitarist released his solo debut, and it’s a hell of a great album. I know numerous Britpop aficionados who swear by this record. It didn’t quite click with me right away, but eventually I realized just how fantastic it really is. Definitely worth checking out.

Dave Matthews Band, Before These Crowded Streets, released 28 April. A much darker, maybe even a bit weirder album from the DMB gang, I seem to remember it dividing fans. Some (like me) loved it for its evolution away from his poppier jam-band style and more into straight ahead rock, while others wanted more of his pop-single sound. Regardless, it’s a great record.

Eve 6, Eve 6, released 28 April. This was a band that I found myself listening to far more often than I expected to, and it’s due to their flair for writing extremely catchy hooks and fun lyrics. A perfect example of the great readio-friendly alt-rock that was out there at the time.

Francis Dunnery, Let’s Go Do What Happens, released 28 April. I believe I first heard “My Own Reality” from a CMJ cd mix, but as soon as I got a promo of the album I was hooked. Dunnery’s music is quirky and introspective and amazingly catchy. His solo career has been relatively obscure and laid back, but he’s also a fantastic producer and backing musican, having worked with Ian Brown, Chris Difford, and Robert Plant.

VAST, Visual Audio Sensory Theater, released 28 April. One day the WEA rep handed me this album and said “listen to this, it definitely sounds like something in your wheelhouse.” How right they were! Jon Crosby’s one-man band is a tour de force of epic soundscapes, alternating between hard alt-rock, goth, and delicate balladry. And he’s still going strong 20 years later, putting out his own albums and EPs at his own website.

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Up next: May 1998!

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!

Twenty Years On: February 1998 in Review

Welcome to another edition of Twenty Years On!  It’s February 1998, and I’ve started to take it upon myself to order imported albums for my store that I think will sell.  I’m reading all the British music magazines and reading the reviews, and for the most part I do a pretty good job.  Though I may also order a few imports for my own purchase…

Ultrasound, “Best Wishes” single, released 1 February. The major label (Nude UK) debut for this psychedelic Britpop band was an unexpectedly calm track and a one-eighty from their previous small label (Fierce Panda) single, the raucous “Same Band”. A piano-only version of this would later show up as a hidden track on their first album.

Primal Scream, “If They Move, Kill ‘Em” single, released 1 February. After the blissed-out Screamadelica and Stones-y Give Out But Don’t Give Up, PS would return with something equally unexpected: jazzy dub electronica, with 1997’s Vanishing Point. Critics loved it, and fans, once they got used to it, called it a brilliant success.

Catatonia, International Velvet, released 2 February. The Welsh band’s second album might not have made as big a splash as they’d hoped in the UK, but they certainly knew how to write catchy and fun alt-pop singles filled with brightness and humor.

Ian Brown, Unfinished Monkey Business, released 2 February. The former lead singer for the Stone Roses released his first solo album nearly four years after the Roses’ last one, and it’s full of oddities as well as catchy riffs. It’s missing the sunshine-psych sound of his former band (and definitely sounds like demos in places), but it also shows that he’s a strong songwriter lyrically and musically.

Pearl Jam, Yield, released 3 February. The wildly popular Seattle band returned to the airwaves with a classic album that channels both their Ten/Vs sound as well as the angular and punkish No Code. They also returned with their first official video since 1991’s “Jeremy”, co-directed by Todd McFarlane, then known as the creator of the Spawn comic book.

Roni Size/Reprazent, “Brown Paper Bag” single, released 10 February. Taken from 1997’s New Forms album, this fantastic track is a perfect example of the drum & bass sub-genre that popped up around that time. Size and his group were one of the best of their style, seamlessly mixing electronic dance and smooth jazz.

Curve, Come Clean, released 16 February. The group’s third album came nearly five years after their previous one (during which time they’d dissolved, done some solo work, and regrouped two years later and released a few rare singles).  It contains the signature guitar-driven heaviness but with a harder, more acidic edge.

Loreena McKennitt, “The Mummers’ Dance” single, released 17 February. McKennitt was part of the new-age/folk/Celtic wave of the mid-90s (thank you, Riverdance) and had a very strong following, enough to release a remixed version of a track from 1997’s The Book of Secrets album. This version would get significant airplay on many alternative stations around this time.

theaudience, theaudience, released 23 February. An amazing British power-pop band that really should have been a hell of a lot more popular than they ended up being. The entire album is filled with catchy riffs, smart and clever lyrics, and sung by the wonderful Sophie Ellis-Bextor. Alas, they were not only a band that suffered from the Universal/PolyGram merger (a sampler EP for the US was put together but disappeared soon after), their guitarist and co-songwriter quit the band soon after, breaking them up. Ellis-Bextor, thankfully, went on to become a popular solo singer in her own right just a year or so later. Highly suggested to add to your collection if you happen to find it.

Craig Armstrong, The Space Between Us, released 24 February. Armstrong is more known for film score composing (including numerous Baz Luhrmann movies such as Romeo & Juliet, Moulin Rouge and The Great Gatsby), but he’s also released a handful of gorgeous albums full of rich ambiance.  His work is perfect for chilling out — and also perfect for background music during writing sessions!

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Next Up: March 1998!

[Note: I know, I know…I skipped Neutral Milk Hotel’s In an Aeroplane Over the Sea from 10 February. While I understand and appreciate its ridiculously huge cult status, I’ll admit I’m not that much of a fan and decided not to list it here.]

Twenty Years On: January 1998 in Review

My recent ongoing blog series Thirty Years On, focusing on classic albums and singles that were released thirty years ago in 1988, has inspired me to do a sequel as well, Twenty Years On.  [I could say I have this fascination with music in years ending in 8; I’m even fascinated by the music history of 1968.  Still, I’m yet to take a good critical look at 1978 and 2008.  Maybe in the future…?]   This will be just like 30YO, in that it won’t be strictly scheduled, but will at least be consistent.

SO!  What happened in 1998, anyway?  Personally: entering year 2 of working at HMV, finally getting myself out of debt, and writing like a fiend.  But you already know all that. Musically, it was a critical year for many bands, because it was when the Big Six distributors (Universal, EMD, BMG, Sony, PolyGram, and Warners) shrank down to the Big Five (Universal and Polygram would merge and become UMG)…and a hell of a lot of good bands with potential being unceremoniously dropped like yesterday’s fashion.  Despite that, however, there were still a hell of a lot of great records released.

So without further ado…

Bowling for Soup, Rock On Honorable Ones!!, released January. BfS’ second studio album slipped under the radar for a hell of a lot of people, and they wouldn’t get much notice until a few years later. Irreverent, goofy, nerdy, and always fun. (This particular song is featured on at least three different albums of theirs, to my knowledge.)

Pearl Jam, “Given to Fly” single, released 6 January. The lead single from their upcoming album Yield, this felt like a much stronger and more cohesive band than their previous album, 1996’s abrasive No Code. Still no video from the band (yet), but this track was an excellent start in the right direction.

Great Expectations soundtrack, released 6 January. A hip and updated version of the Dickens novel as done by 90s pretty things Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow, the movie itself had average success and was quickly forgotten, but the soundtrack features some excellent tracks by Mono, Chris Cornell, The Verve Pipe, Pulp, Duncan Sheik, Poe, and Tori Amos.  Well worth checking out.

Radiohead, “No Surprises” single, released 12 January. Third and last single from their stunning 1997 classic OK Computer, this was a curious selection for a single, and yet seemed to fit the entire theme of that record: discomfort and irritation beyond our control.

Air, Moon Safari, released 16 January. Every now and again, an album will come out that’s so unique, so different from everything else out there, that it’ll blow the minds of all the critics, and most likely yourself. The French duo’s debut is one such album, a magical downtempo record that sounds equally futuristic and retro at the same time. Highly recommended.

Propellerheads, Decksandrumsandrockandroll, released 26 January. This duo only released one album and a few singles and EPs, but it’s a hell of a great electronica album that’s worth checking out. They deftly mix jazz, hip-hop, techno and more into an album that’s perfect for both listening and grooving.  You may also remember their track “Spybreak!” from the ridiculously over-the-top (yet so awesome) shootout scene from The Matrix.

Catatonia, “Mulder and Scully” single, released 31 January. This quirky Welsh band hit it big on both sides of the Atlantic with this fun track about a relationship so strange it calls for The X-Files duo. It would be the second single from their upcoming second album, International Velvet.

Coming up soon: February 1998!

Get off your ass and jam

So apparently I did have a slice or two of P-Funk in my collection….just not the originals.


(samples “(Not Just) Knee Deep”)


(samples “Pumpin’ It Up”)


(samples “Let’s Play House”)


(samples “Man’s Best Friend”)


(samples “Mothership Connection”)


(samples “Come in Out of the Rain”)


(samples “Atomic Dog”)


(samples “Get Off Your Ass and Jam”)

Giving some of those early Funkadelic albums a listen and OH MAN are they tight. I have no idea why I didn’t get to them sooner.