Twenty Years On: May 1998

May was a relatively quiet release month, and in retrospect I think it’s right about when the 1998 industry shake-up really started kicking in. A lot of really good bands were dropped, many of them before they were given a chance to prove themselves, or worse: many more of them due to far too high expectations on the industry’s behalf. It was starting to get really ugly about that time.

Still…many bands soldiered on and kept releasing stellar records.

Spoon, A Series of Sneaks, released 5 May. Spoon’s one album on a major label (Elektra) was unfortunately a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it affair, as they only stayed at that label for less than a year. They’ve since stayed with indie labels and are now considered one of the best indie bands out there.

Tori Amos, From the Choirgirl Hotel, released 5 May. I’d always been a Tori fan, even after her deliberate turn to weirdness with 1996’s Boys for Pele, and I found myself really enjoying the full-band rock sound of this one.

Global Communication, Pentamerous Metamorphosis, released 5 May. Previously released as a limited-edition extra cd for the great Britpop band Chapterhouse’s 1993 album Blood Music (it’s a reinterpretation of its tracks), it’s an amazing chill-out ambient record and a perfect partner with their previous, the also amazing 76:13. This one got a hell of a lot of play down in the Belfry during the writing of the trilogy, and the same amount in Spare Oom years later when I was revising it for self-publication. Easily one of my favorite albums of all time.

Garbage, Version 2.0, released 11 May. It took me a long time to get used to this album, as I’d originally felt it was a bit too like the first album, but with slightly weaker songs. Eventually I came around!

Godzilla: The Album, released 18 May. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. I agree, it was a ridiculous movie, but it was a fun popcorn flick. And there were some pretty cool songs on it, like the above, and tracks by Ben Folds Five, Jamiroquai, and Days of the New.  I’ll even forgive them for that so-bad-it’s-good Diddy/Jimmy Page track.

Cowboy Bebop OST, released 21 May. “Tank!” is one of the best, most recognized, most loved anime opening theme songs ever. And from a visual standpoint, the opening credits are so amazingly animated, paced and edited that you can’t help but feel a chill and a thrill whenever you see it. The rest of the soundtrack is just as great — a mix of bebop jazz, moody melodies and even a few silly filler bits. Yoko Kanno is considered one of the best Japanese music composers out there.

Tricky, Angels with Dirty Faces, released 25 May. Tricky follows up his excellent Pre-Millennium Tension with an about-face that took a lot of people by surprise. There’s more avant-jazz than trip-hop on this album, and it’s not the easiest of listens, but at the same time it’s fearless and fantastic.

Sloan, Navy Blues, released 26 May. One of my favorite Canadian bands, Sloan has always put out solid, hard-rocking songs with excellent power-pop melodies. This one’s a bit harder than usual for them, but it’s still a fun listen.

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Next Up: June 1998!

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!