Twenty Years On: November 1998

Oh hey there!  Here we go with another edition of Twenty Years On.  I don’t have too much to cover regarding memories of this point in time, other than that I was pretty much in full-on revision mode with The Phoenix Effect and listening to all sorts of tunage down in the Belfry.  This volume’s a bit thin, as is normal for end of year, but I still love these albums.

Beck, Mutations, released 3 November.  After the massive success of Odelay, Beck surprised many with a decidedly straightforward and moody semi-acoustic album.  This would become his album release style: alternating between weirdo funk and introspective melody.  

Alanis Morissette, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, released 3 November.  This album garnered mixed reviews — it was extremely long at seventeen tracks, and it lacked the pissed-off-exgf feel of “You Oughta Know” — but in retrospect it’s a surprisingly solid and pleasing album about finding inner peace after years of turmoil.

The Offspring, Americana, released 17 November.  This is possibly their most accessible and consistent record, featuring quite a few of their radio hits (“Pretty Fly (for a White Guy)”, “Why Don’t You Get a Job?” and “The Kids Aren’t Alright” for starters), but it’s also a surprisingly dark album as well.  It’s my favorite of theirs.

Seal, Human Being, released 17 November. Slagged off by critics for not containing the hits that his two previous records had, it’s nonetheless a lovely and contemplative album.  He’s on my “I will buy anything from them” list of musicians, and he’s one hell of an amazing singer.

Coming Up: December 1998!

Twenty Years On: October 1998

October 1998: The fourth quarter kicks in at the record store, which keeps me ridiculously busy in the back room, processing all the stock coming in.  I do manage to sneak out onto the sales floor every now and again to check out what’s going on and upsell some of my favorite releases.

U2, “Sweetest Thing” single, released 4 October. A teaser single for their first official greatest hits album that would be released in November, this is a reworking of an old Joshua Tree-era b-side that got airplay even back in 1987. It’s a simple pop song even by their standards, but it’s lovely and fun. Plus, the video is wonderfully silly.

The Wiseguys, The Antidote, released 5 October. There were many electronica one hit wonders in the late 90s, and these guys were one of them. Their single “Ooh La La” did get some minor notice in a commercial, but it was this track that got the most attention. One of my favorite 90s videos as well, as this is pretty much exactly the visual equivalent of how I hear this kind of creative sampling!

Duncan Sheik, Humming, released 6 October. While not as gorgeous and introspective as his debut, his follow-up album did in fact show his fabulous songwriting chops with some great upbeat tunes. He’s definitely on my I will buy anything he releases shopping list.

Placebo, Without You I’m Nothing, released 12 October. While their first album flew well below the radar in the US, their second one got some major airplay thanks to one of their best songs, “Pure Morning”, which of course should always be played at top volume.

Fatboy Slim, You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby, released 12 October. Norman Cook’s breakthrough album is indeed a fine collection of some of his best DJing work and featuring “The Rockafeller Skank”, “Praise You” and “Right Here Right Now”.

Love and Rockets, Lift, released 13 October. The final album is so markedly different from their first from 1985 that it’s almost impossible to see they’re the same band — but it also shows how much they’d evolved since their Bauhaus/Tones on Tail days.

Eels, Electro-Shock Blues, released 20 October. Mark Everett’s quirky songwriting has always been naked and personal, but it’s also a fascinating listen. “Last Stop: This Town” got some heavy airplay on the alt-rock stations upon its release.

Robbie Williams, I’ve Been Expecting You, released 26 October [UK]. You either loved or hated Robbie Williams in the 90s and 00s; you either found him cheeky and unbearable, or you found him fun and enjoyable. I’m firmly in the latter, because his songs were always so full of relentless energy. In 1999 some tunes from this and his previous UK album (Life Thru a Lens) would be compiled into a hit album in the US, fittingly called The Ego Has Landed.

Phish, The Story of the Ghost, released 27 October. THE jam band of the 90s, this album was a lot quirkier and improvised than 1996’s Billy Breathes, so while passive fans who liked their single “Free” weren’t as excited, the hardcore ones loved it.

REM, Up, released 27 October. I’ll admit that I was never that big of a fan of REM’s later years, partly because they’d moved too far away from their original sound. I didn’t mind the sheen of Out of Time or the rock of Automatic for the People, but I couldn’t quite get into anything after that. However, Up was in fact an excellent example of just how tight they were as a band despite their change in style.

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Next Up: November 1998!

Twenty Years On: September 1998

September 1998: It’s starting to get cooler out, the days are getting shorter. The commute home gets me there in the dark. On the occasional Wednesday I’ll do my comic book road trip across the state; while I’m enjoying buying the comics and taking the long drives, I think it’s more about me finding a new outlet to escape the frustration of living back at home with family. It’s about doing something for myself, just like my occasional drives into Boston on the weekend, or my hiding down in the basement to write. I’m pretty much finding my own unique self at this point. It’s a perfect time to do so, considering that I’ve disconnected from most everything and everyone else that had held me back a few years earlier.

Just me, my music, and my writing. I could live with that.

The House of Love, The Best of the House of Love, released ?? September 1998. I’d been a fan of this band since “I Don’t Know Why I Love You” but for some reason I never got around to buying any of their albums…! This was a perfect jumping-on point, as it’s an excellent mix of their late 80s-early 90s output.

Depeche Mode, “Only When I Lose Myself” single, released 7 September. A new teaser single to add to their upcoming greatest hits album (The Singles 86>98, which would drop on 28 September), it’s got the grim darkness of 1997’s Ultra, but it also has the tenderness of some of Martin Gore’s best balladry. It’s a lovely, relaxing song.

Mansun, Six, released 7 September. While this certainly didn’t come close to the Britpoppy goodness of their minor hit “Wide Open Space” and was resequenced and pretty much ignored in the US, it remains my favorite Mansun record for its grandiose scope. It’s a long album, but it goes in so many interesting and unexpected directions that it’s a hell of a lot of fun to listen to. Another record that got heavy rotation during my writing sessions.

Belle & Sebastian, The Boy with the Arab Strap, released 7 September. Critics loved this band since their start, but it was this album that expanded their fanbase exponentially, thanks to being signed to Matador in the US. [This is also the album that infamously received a ridiculously pompous negative review on Pitchfork, thus branding the site by some as being written by and for hipsters who only listen to obscure bands.] It’s light and poppy — and the perfect example of ‘twee’ which became the code word for them around this time — but it’s also full of great tracks including the title song. Another writing session album.

The Fireman, Rushes, released 21 September. Paul McCartney’s side project into chilled-out electronica gets a second album here, this time of completely new source samples and sounds. It’s relaxing and lovely and totally not what you would expect from Macca at all.

American Football, American Football EP, released 29 September. A band that partly inspired the late 90s-early 00s resurgence of quiet, meandering post-rock, this band had only released this EP and a single album (of the same name) the following year before breaking up (and not acrimoniously: their college years had come to an end and were now in different cities). They’re a cult favorite and well worth checking out; they’ve also reunited as of 2014 and put out a second album (yes, of the same name again) in 2016.

UNKLE, Psyence Fiction, released 29 September. I rarely embed a full-album video stream, but this is definitely an album you need to hear from start to finish, as it’s JUST THAT AMAZING. Producer/DJ James Lavelle created this group, initially with DJ Shadow, and created a ‘band’ that defies description. It’s hip-hop, electronic, soul, hard rock, industrial, and who knows what else, and melded into a semi-thematic album of aliens, space travel, mind travel, and spiritual healing. It can be dark and dense, hard and heavy, but also amusing and just plain weird. And its guests run the gamut as well: Thom Yorke (Radiohead), Mark Hollis (Talk Talk), Jason Newstead (Metallica), Kool G Rap, Badly Drawn Boy, Richard Ashcroft (The Verve), and Mike D (Beastie Boys). It’s a phenomenal album that you should definitely have in your collection. [And yes, another writing session album. I still listen to this one quite a bit to this day.]

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Coming soon: October 1998!

Twenty Years On: August 1998

7 August 1998:  I’ve just stopped writing The Phoenix Effect longhand, as I’m already caught up with the evening transcription, to the point where I write the final chapters of the novel straight to PC.  Finishing this draft will most likely take place around the end of the month or into early September.  I will then spend the next months working on revision and looking up various publishing houses I’d like to send it to, eventually sending it out sometime early in 1999.

These revision months are spent down in the Belfry, focusing on banging the story into shape, cleaning up the prose and making it even better.  This means that I’ll be listening to a TON of music over the next few months.  I’ll also be listening to the same albums while at the record store job to keep myself in the proper mindset.  In the process, these records become part of the Bridgetown mythos, providing me with not just a soundtrack for the book but inspiring numerous scenes and ideas.

So get comfortable, this is a long one!

LHOOQ, LHOOQ, released 3 August 1998. An import brought to my attention via a UK music mag, partly due to their Duchamp-inspired band name. [It comes from the infamous Mona-Lisa-with-a-mustache painting from 1919; it’s a French pun where you read out the letters as ‘Elle a chaud au cul’…translated to “she’s horny”.] Smooth, laid back electropop, it didn’t do much of anything anywhere, but I quite enjoy it.

Various Artists, For the Masses: A Tribute to Depeche Mode, released 4 August 1998. An amazing collection of DM cover songs, featuring Failure, Dishwalla, The Cure, The Smashing Pumpkins, Hooverphonic, and more. While most tribute albums are touch and go, most with a few stellar tracks and a lot of filler by unknown names, this one is absolutely solid and is highly recommended.

Rasputina, How We Quit the Forest, released 4 August 1998. The trio, known for their Victorian visuals and goth-with-strings sound, released a heavier, beefier-sounding second album with the help of NIN’s Chris Vrenna. It’s weird, spooky, and gorgeous at the same time. It’s probably their most accessible album, and it’s a lot of fun.

Embrace, The Good Will Out, released 6 August 1998. A favorite of the late 90 British Rock era, this album was an immediate UK hit right out of the gate with its strong songwriting and powerful sounds. I especially loved the epic punch of its main single, “All You Good Good People”.

Dishwalla, And You Think You Know What Life’s About, released 11 August 1998. I absolutely adore this album. It didn’t gain nearly as much popularity as it’s 1995 predecessor (Pet Your Friends, which had their hit “Counting Blue Cars”), but as an alt-rock record, it’s a hell of a lot stronger and heavier in sound, and contains quite a few of their best songs, including the stunning ballad “Until I Wake Up”. This one stayed in my writing session rotation for years, and I still pull it out now and again.  If you like their big hit, definitely try this one out too.

Hooverphonic, Blue Wonder Power Milk, released 11 August 1998. I love this album as well, and it’s the one that made me a huge fan of the band. It’s a major shift in sound for them — a new singer, more orchestral accompaniment, less electro beats and more pop mentality. It’s a lovely album to listen to in headphones. This too stayed in my writing session rotation for years. The single “Eden” also influenced the character that ended up being Akaina in the trilogy.

Orgy, Candyass, released 18 August 1998. One of many darkwave bands that surfaced in the late 90s, their one claim to fame might be a crunchy cover of New Order’s “Blue Monday”, but the rest of the album was equally as fun. I’d throw this one on during my Belfry sessions when I needed something loud and aggressive.

Korn, Follow the Leader, released 18 August 1998. I really wasn’t much of a Korn fan at all at the time, but there’s something about this album that clicked for me. It could be that this one captures their signature sound the best — the drop-tuning, the intricate weaving of dissonant sounds, and some of Jonathan Davis’ best songwriting. Plus I loved “Freak on a Leash”, both the song and the video.

Boards of Canada, Music Has the Right to Children, released 20 August 1998. I didn’t get into this band until their next release (2002’s Geogaddi), but I was quite aware of them via this album, which sold regularly at my store. Their name and unique sound is wrapped in childhood nostalgia — they definitely sound like those old public service/educational films you might have watched if you were a Gen-X kid in the 70s and 80s.

Bob Mould, The Last Dog and Pony Show, released 25 August 1998. I’d lost track of Mould’s output after his Sugar albums, so this was a great album for me to return to. It’s more laid back and approachable and features some lovely melodies — like most of 1989’s Workbook, his lighter, more acoustic sound has always resonated deeply with me.

Snowpony, The Slow Motion World of Snowpony, released 25 August 1998. Deb Googe from My Bloody Valentine popped up unexpectedly as a co-conspirator for this noisy alt-rock band. Not as ear-splitting as MBV, but definitely not pop, either.

Manic Street Preachers, This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, released 25 August 1998. I was quite familiar with the Manics by this point, thanks to their numerous loyal UK fanbase, but this was the album that won me over. It can be a little preachy at times, but it’s also a fantastic record filled with excellent melodies.

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Coming Up: September 1998, in which even more alt-rock goodness gets released and becomes a part of my permanent writing session playlist!

Fly-by: Twenty years on interlude

Hello from a very rainy Oxford Street in London! I have come full circle and stepped foot into an HMV for the first time since probably 2001, when its US stores started closing up. This particular shop I believe is connected to the original first one, if it isn’t THE first one.

I’m glad to say the selection is still fantastic and the prices are great. Found everything I was looking for (which is often a rarity) and the service was aces.

So yeah — glad to be able to hit an HMV one more time for old times sake. 😁

Twenty Years On: July 1998

July 1998:  Stupidly hot and humid in central Massachusetts, and thankfully the back room at HMV is nice and cool.  I’ve been put in charge of ordering imports for the store, which is a dangerous thing indeed.  Also, I’m coming extremely close to finishing The Phoenix Effect, and at this point my nightly transcription/revision sessions are all caught up to the point that I’ll eventually finish it on the PC instead of longhand.  I spend my nights down in the Belfry listening to tunes and writing, or going out to see movies at the theater that they’d finally built in the rear of the mall I worked at.  Wednesday drives after work out to the Pioneer Valley for my comic book run.  Occasional Saturday drives into Boston to visit the comic book and used record stores.

Barenaked Ladies, Stunt, released 7 July. BNL’s jump into major stardom in the US actually started a few years earlier with 1996’s live Rock Spectacle (they’d been a cult favorite for years before), but this one broke them open wide with the hilarious pattering of the ubiquitous single “One Week”. The entire album is amazing, with some of their best songwriting to date.

The Hope Blister, …smile’s ok, released 14 July. One of Ivo Watts-Russell’s last projects before leaving his 4AD label in 1999, he revisits the ambient sounds of his This Mortal Coil project but with a fixed line up. A short but lovely album.

Beastie Boys, Hello Nasty, released 14 July. The Beasties continue their unique style of hip-hop that’s equal parts intelligent and ridiculous. “Intergalactic” got heavy airplay pretty much everywhere, from the pop stations to the alternative rock stations to MTV.  Years later a minor character in one of the new Star Wars films is named after it.

12 Rounds, My Big Hero, released 14 July. This one was more of a personal favorite of mine, and got a lot of play down in the Belfry during writing sessions. They’re kind of hard to pin down as their sound alternates between Sneaker Pimps-style triphop to the porn of Lords of Acid to Marilyn Manson alt-metal and moody goth rock of VAST. It’s all over the place but it’s a fascinating listen. Music Trivia Time: This was Atticus Ross’ band before he started working with Trent Reznor!

The Tragically Hip, Phantom Power, released 14 July. I really enjoyed listening to this one down in the Belfry as well — there are a lot of lovely tracks on this one, with some of Gord Downie’s best lyrics.

Small Soldiers soundtrack, released 14 July. This was such an odd little summer film, but that’s typical coming from Joe Dante. All his films are quirky. I loved the soundtrack, though: classic rock songs remixed by electronic and hip-hop artists, including an amazing remix of Rush by DJ Z-Trip.

Black Box Recorder, England Made Me, released 20 July. I mentioned this band last week during my recent purchases post. They were like the anti-Belle & Sebastian, with lo-fi twee qualities and really dark lyrics. Yet somehow I found them fascinating and picked up all their albums over the course of their brief career.

Republica, Speed Ballads, released 30 July. Their second and last album popped up only as an import here in the states, which is a pity considering this one’s just as fantastic as their debut, if not more adventurous and experimental.

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Next Up: August 1998, in which we see four albums that become my favorites of the year and get a crapton of play in all of my writing nooks for years to come.

Twenty Years On: June 1998

Summer in New England can be annoying.  It’s not just hot, hovering up in the 80s and 90s (and occasionally higher), but it’s also humid and uncomfortable.  All you want to do is stay inside, especially if the place has AC, and kick around until it’s time to go back outside again.  And your car would be so stupidly hot and unbearable being out in the sun all day that you’d sit there for a good few minutes with all the windows open and the AC on full blast to cool it off.

Granted, in the summer of 1998, this was also the perfect time for me to head down to the basement at night after work for my writing sessions!  [This was well before random bear sightings in my parents’ neighborhood started happening, so I’d have the cellar door open wide until after dark to let the cool breeze in.  This, by the way, is why two bats were able to sneak their way in, thus blessing my writing nook with the name The Belfry thereafter.]

It seems that June 1998 was also a quiet one in terms of releases…a few big names here and there, but the best albums weren’t due for another couple of months.  This is quite normal for the release schedule — the kids are spending more on movies and other outside events rather than on music.  The really good stuff is still a few months away.

So!  Without further ado…

The Smashing Pumpkins, Adore, released 2 June. After two stellar early 90s records and a decent-but-bloated double album — not to mention the firing of their drummer soon after — it seemed this band was heading down a dark and not altogether positive road. This one’s a hard listen for various reasons, but it also contains quite a few fantastic tracks, so it evens out.

The X-Files OST, released 2 June. The cult favorite TV show released its first movie as summer fare. It holds up as a self-contained story, but it also inserts itself into the show’s obsessively detailed mythology as well. This is more of a ‘songs inspired by the movie’ album than a true soundtrack (considering the [movie name]: The Album title was in vogue around this time), but it’s an amazing collection of great tracks from Filter, X, Ween, Foo Fighters, The Cure, Noel Gallagher, and more. Well worth picking up.

The Jesus & Mary Chain, Munki, released 9 June. The noise-pop band releases what would end up being their last album until last year’s Damage & Joy. It’s a bit overlong with single filler, but it’s still a great album.

Komeda, What Makes It Go?, released 9 June. The quirky Swedish band’s second album was anchored by a ridiculously catchy single (see above) and though they only remained in cult status, they’d eventually provide an equally catchy track for the Powerpuff Girls cartoon a few years later.

The Egg, Travelator, released 15 June. Predating similar-sounding Hot Chip by just a few years, this semi-electronic band from the UK is one of those bands that never quite achieved huge success, but nonetheless have a strong and loyal following. Their work was mostly released as imports here in the US, but they’re definitely worth checking out.

The Brian Setzer Orchestra, The Dirty Boogie, released 23 June. The ex-Stray Cats frontman helped kickstart (or at least energize) the swing revival movement in the late 90s, and his album was also the biggest seller in that scene. I remember moving a hell of a lot of copies of this album during my HMV days!

Mansun, “Legacy” single, released 29 June. The teaser first single from their upcoming Six album, this well-loved Britpop band took their sound into curious and unexpected directions, even more so than before. Little did we fans know just how weird (but in a good way!) that album would end up being…

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Up Next: July 1998!