Tuesday, May 31, 2011

That Wonderful Year in Music... 1998

From a rock perspective, 1998 was a time of transition. The majority of the artists that made the '90s "alt" scene what it was were either breaking up, past their prime, or entering the woods for an extended period of time. Perhaps it seems fitting that the two best rock albums of that year didn't belong to that scene; one was a spacey magnum opus by a pair of French kids with a love for Pink Floyd and Brian Eno, the other a delightfully weird indie-rock sound project that wasn't "discovered" or appreciated until midway through the next decade.

On the flip side of the music spectrum, '98 was a watershed year for hip-hop, with several core rappers and rhymers of the late '90s/early '00s delivering their strongest efforts to date. It was at this point 13 years ago that hip-hop started to blur with CHR and pop radio, and the likes of Lauryn Hill, Big Pun, and Jay-Z were inexplicably being played alongside harmless bubble-gum acts such as Backstreet Boys and the Spice Girls. Rock radio, on the other hand was a smorgasbord of post-grunge acts of varying quality (Matchbox 20, Third Eye Blind, Goo Goo Dolls), the aforementioned aging early '90s acts (Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam), blatant one-hit wonders (Eagle Eye Cherry, Natalie Imbruglia), and dilligent punk-pop (Green Day, The Offspring).

As a middle-schooler in 1998 I was more interested in classic rock, and I do not regret disliking what was on Top 40 around that time. One of my most vivid memories from that year was my nine-year-old sister blasting SpiceWorld from her bedroom while I was struggling with math and science homework. On the other hand, this was the year that I first heard Revolver and Sgt. Peppers' and went on an extended Beatles kick. This is not the greatest year of music in the '90s --I'll be covering that 12-month span later in 2011-- but it's certainly far from uninteresting.

1. In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, Neutral Milk Hotel. Is Jeff Magnum an absolute genius or borderline schizoid? His decision to give up music after recording Aeroplane and his reputation as a sullen recluse would suggest the latter, but maybe in his heart Magnum knew he couldn't top this effort. Fittingly described by AllMusic.com as the sound of a marching band on acid, Aeroplane is a ramshackle mess of spiritual epiphany ("King of Carrot Flowers"), sexual anxiety ("Two-Headed Boy"), and tragedy ("Holland, 1945"). The only question here is what Magnum is trying to express, and whatever your theory might be it's totally correct.
2. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Lauryn Hill. Equally adept at R&B and hip-hop, the prettiest Fugee's first solo album --and not counting an unfocused session on "MTV Unplugged," only solo album-- is the smoothest fusion of these two disparate genres anyone's ever heard. Sexual without being ribald or carnal, Lauryn teases on tracks like "Nothing Else Matters" and "I Used To Love Him." At the same time, Hill battles her spirituality on "Final Hour" and "Forgive Them, Father." Like Jeff Magnum, Hill was (is?) a one-of-a-kind talent that laid out all her chips upfront, knew when to fold, than walked away from the table.
3. Moon Safari, Air. Not to be confused with the avant-garde jazz trio of the same name, this electronica duo is one of the few non-Anglophone rock artists to ever make a dent in American pop culture. Fusing the songcraft of Burt Bacharach and Brian Wilson with the mood and textures of Can and early-70s Pink Floyd, Moon Safari is exactly what you'd expect: the most laid-back exploration of the cosmos this side of Carl Sagan.
4. Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, Lucinda Williams
5. Aquemini, OutKast
6. Mezzanine, Massive Attack
7. Hello Nasty, Beastie Boys
8. Volume 2... Hard Knock Life, Jay-Z
9. The Boy With The Arab Strap, Belle & Sebastian
10. Extinction Level Event: The Final World Front, Busta Rhymes. After two commercially successful and critically adored solo albums, Busta dropped ELE as a newly minted superstar. Luckily, fame didn't go to his head; building upon his yen for apocalyptic imagery, beefy beats, weird samples, and brilliant rhymping, the Brooklyn-born rapper is stealthly planting earwigs all over middle America. The only hiccup here is "This Means War!!!", a pointless rewrite of Black Sabbath's "Iron Man" with a half-hearted cameo by Ozzy himself.

Honorable Mentions: Mutations, Beck; Moment of Truth, Gang Starr; XO, Elliott Smith; Up, R.E.M.

"Flagpole Sitta," Harvey Danger
"The Way," Fastball
"Ava Adore," Smashing Pumpkins
"Push It," Garbage
"Inside Out," Eve 6
"One Week," Barenaked Ladies
"Sex and Candy," Marcy Playground
"Torn," Natalie Imbruglia
"Ray of Light," Madonna
"Rockafeller Skank," Fatboy Slim

1. "Closing Time," Semisonic. Split-screens were all the rage in '98, and nobody took advantage of the fad like these two-hit wonders from Minneapolis. Talk about running on parallel lines...
2. "Doo Wop (That Thing)," Lauryn Hill. Split-screen madness, part 2: Hill channels '60s soul and late '90s funk similtaneously in this "Total Request Live" favorite.
3. "Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See," Busta Rhymes. Culled from Busta's previous album, 1997's When Disaster Strikes..., Busta takes a cue from Missy Elliot and embraces the magic of fish-eye lens.
4. "My Hero," Foo Fighters. Ever the renaissance man, Foo frontman Dave Grohl made his directorial debut in this "long take" clip about the solitude of heroism.
5. "Gone Till November," Wyclef Jean. Speaking of Fugees, Wyclef's first solo disc included this airbourne MTV hit, featuring the most unlikely of musical cameos.

Honorable Mentions: "Intergalactic," Beastie Boys; "Bitter Sweet Symphony," The Verve.

Your thoughts?

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic work full of creativity. Congratulations. Continue your path!