My reviews for the year of 1997, mostly featuring music originally released in that year.
1. Radiohead: OK Computer (10/10)
The Bends is a great album and this weird point where Brit Pop and US alternative rock meet in seemingly perfect harmony. I really think that, had Radiohead stuck to that formula, nobody would have minded too much.
Everyone (or nearly everyone) would have been perfectly happy with The Bends II. And The Bends would have just been regarded as their best album.
Instead, they made this record. Adding prog rock, post rock and post punk (though there was some of that earlier) influences to their sound, as well as a lyrical concept that perhaps feels even more significant and prescient than it did at the time.
It’s a masterpiece – rarely do music and lyrics mesh so well, rarely do the lyrics of a band feel like lasting insights – and one of the great records of the 1990s. It outdoes The Bends on every level (one would have thought that an impossible feat) and established Radiohead as something much more than just a Brit Pop band (unduly) influenced by Grunge.
It’s not their best record, in my mind (which sounds insane given the praise I just gave it) but it’s very close, and it’s as essential as any ’90s rock album.
2. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: The Boatman’s Call (10/10)
In retrospect, this feels like a watershed moment in the Bad Seeds’ career: when they abandoned their post-punk bombast for a very different sound; a sound that, for better or worse, has has been significantly influential on their later records.
In some ways it’s almost a Cave solo album, with him writing all the music and lyrics (for the first time, I believe) and with the songs being about his personal life. And with the significantly different, milder arrangements to boot.
All of this marks a radical change of direction which is a good thing, to my mind. (Not that I disliked the old version of the band, just that they were really milking it.) And this is among the very best sets of songs Cave has ever produced – perhaps it’s the best – containing a couple of personal favourites and, to my mind, not a single miss.
I don’t think its their very best record, but it’s #2 or #3.
3. The Flaming Lips: Zaireeka (9/10)
Note: Zaireeka was released as 4 CDs containing component parts of the 8 songs they created for the album. The only way to hear the songs close to how they would have been released on a normal CD is to play all 4 CDs at once, resulting in a slightly different music experience every time.
Nowadays it’s common (well, not unusual) for bands to release the various components of tracks to the public, to let other musicians and fans to remix but in 1997 that idea was undreamt of, probably until this album came out.
This is the Lips’ most radical album (at least in concept), their most daring, their most ambitious – one of the coolest album concepts ever. It takes a whole lot of dedication to appreciate it – back in the day you needed to find 4 CD players at once to listen to it “properly” and even now you’d need multiple computers/iPods/iPads/phones, just to hear the complete record. But it’s a radical breakdown in the roles of artist and listener and it’s just kept from being completely path-breaking by the fact that the medium at the time made it to unwieldy to release all the tracks separately.
The music itself is, unfortunately, the least interesting part, clearly pointing the way towards The Soft Bulletin‘s drastic change in style but lacking those hooks.
That being said, something this cool is just too neat to ignore. One of the great experiments of the CD era, in my mind.
4. Yo La Tengo: I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One (9/10)
This is the only Yo La Tengo record I’ve ever heard so I really don’t know what I’m talking about but it’s hard to imagine they’ve recorded something better. It’s true what they say: this is a like a survey of 90s indie rock and indie pop – everything is here and apparently they can do whatever they want. All the major influences of indie rock are checked, such as the Velvet Underground, ’60s pop, Krautrock – I even hear some Silver Apples! It’s basically just ’90s Indie Rock captured one record. Quite the accomplishment.
5. Bjork: Homogenic (9/10)
This may be her best record. I haven’t decided yet. Read the review.
6. Mogwai Young Team (9/10)
A foundational document of what post rock was becoming. Read the review.
7. Blur: Blur (9/10)
My favourite Blur album is the least Blur-ish album to date. Maybe this is just because I don’t love Brit Pop and I do generally love Alternative Rock and ’90s Indie Rock. That’s probably the reason. Another reason is that this is the Blur album I heard first – so I just assumed this is what they sounded like all the time…
But here Blur delve into the sounds from across the Ocean and sound better doing it than most of the bands they were inspired by. Whether or not it’s all satire (certainly some of it is, most obviously “Song 2”), the songs are so strong that it doesn’t matter (it’s really great satire and/or it’s a tribute that transcends its origins as such).
It’s a crazy, bold reinvention that manages to combine the best of Blur (the songs) with the best of American alternative (the arrangements and production in this case).
8. Built to Spill: Perfect from Now on (9/10)
This record combines two of my favourite things (guitar jams, multi-part songs) with indie rock idiosyncrasy and a fine sense of melody. It was the first record of theirs I ever heard and I think it will stay the favourite, as it never feels to me like they’ve ever sounded better before or since.
9. Various Artists: Great Jewish Music: Burt Bacharach (9/10)
Zorn learned from his experience participating in the seminal Kurt Weill tribute Lost in the Stars – the album that showed tribute albums could be interesting! – and here he expands on that with a two disc set showing off the complete breadth of the artists on his label. The interpretations are all over the place – some of them definitely do not work as well as others – but rarely has their existed such a collection of such radical takes on such a major musical figure, especially one as commercially successful as Bacharach.
This is close to perfect as various artist tribute albums can get in my eyes. A great way to start off the series and still the best one.
10. Ween: The Mollusk (9/10)
Ween ditches the single-genre approach of their country album for the “do everything” approach of their best records, this time (mostly) unified by an ocean theme.
The result is, for me, their second best album, showing off their ability to literally play any genre they want convincingly (while mercilessly mocking those genres more often than not) while not drowning in the deliberately alienating lo-fi production of their early albums.
It’s probably one of 2 or 3 records I would go to if I was ever trying to convince anyone to give Ween a listen. It’s not my favourite record of theirs but it’s close.
11. Spiritualized: Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space (8/10)
In 2007, I wrote the following
I wasn’t sure how much I was going to like this. I had heard both good and bad. Well, I like it. It’s endlessly creative and it seems like they understand how to use overdubs without going too crazy and making it too dense. Even though the title track rips off Pachebel, the whole thing is pretty compelling and addictive, which is fitting, given the cover art.
So, having now heard Spacemen 3 (though still no other Spiritualized records), I definitely feel like this is some progress over his first band, at least in the elaborateness of the arrangements.
This is not my favourite kind of music, but it’s as artful as it gets. It’s hard to quibble with that.
Maybe a year later: I think I’ve been way too hard on this record. I think maybe 8/10 is unfair.
12. Los Fabulosos Cadillacs: Fabulosos Calavera (8/10)
Some say this is their best album. I don’t know. But I love it. Read the review.
13. Emperor: Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk (8/10)
The problem for me with black metal is that it generally always sounds the same. The black metal bands I’ve heard just do black metal (or melodic black metal, or whatever) and that’s that. They are content to release 50-60 minute onslaughts of one sound and leave it that.
Not so Emperor. This album is bonkers and super proggy to boot. In fact, I have a hard time even associating it with the Black Metal I’ve heard to date only because there is so much more going on here than on those other albums I’ve heard. Apparently putting the word “symphonic” in front of black metal means you can be creative outside the self-imposed limits of your genre.
This is super over-the-top and the kind of thing I sort of have to be in the mood to love (though, had I discovered this in my youth, I might have been in love). But it’s incredibly creative and doesn’t really have respect for stupid genre conventions.
Works for me.
14. Hans Werner Henze: Symphony No. 9 (8/10)
Like Beethoven’s 9th and Mahler’s 8th, Henze’s 9th symphony is a choral symphony. And much like his eighth, it’s highly programmatic – even more so this time. I am, at this stage of my life, a real sucker for choral symphonies, for reasons I cannot quite articulate.
Henze’s 9th remains in the more traditional mode of his other later symphonies, and I cannot help but wonder if he adopted the choral mode in part of a conscious tribute to Beethoven, perhaps thinking his 9th would be his last. (It wasn’t, but there’s that infamous theory that composers always die after completing their 9th.)
I once again find myself torn. This is a rather traditional work – albeit one fully aware of the radical music of the 20th century – for 1997, but I can’t help but like it. Henze’s Neo-Romanticism is the most progressive kind of Neo-Romanticism, if such a thing can be said. It’s certainly more appropriate to 1897 than 1997 at times, but Henze hasn’t completely abandoned his youthful daring and bravado.
I find myself liking it despite my brain saying “This is really rather conservative!”
15. Buena Vista Social Club (8/10)
I wrote this back in 2007:
There is always an issue with confronting music from a culture you are pretty unfamiliar with when it is presented to you in a more digestible way; when, for example, a famous American musician goes and assembles a band and says “This is Cuban music history right here.” But not knowing any better (and knowing that Cooder wasn’t the only one in charge) I will try to put that aside.
When I do manage to put this aside, it’s great. It’s a fusion of a bunch of different musical ideas completely free of any attempt at modernizing the sound for our consumption (which is something that plagues so much “world” music). Whether or not it’s representative of Havana’s music or Cuban music in general (now or in the past) feels beside the point when I attempt to turn my brain off. It’s good music: it’s energetic, passionate, catchy and it feels (to my ignorant ears) like it has a strong sense of place.
Ten years later, in our time of increased sensitivity to the way in which “white people” have hijacked non-white culture for their own ends, I can’t say I’m entirely comfortable about the idea of this record, namely that it took Ry Cooder to make it okay for us to celebrate this excellent Cuban music (or, really, these musics, as there are different genres). I don’t know what exactly I should prefer, but I feel just a little odd that it took a German filmmaker and an American musician to legitimize this wonderful music. That’s all.
16. Olga Konkova: Her Point of View (8/10)
Konkova takes aim at a number of jazz standards and reinvents them and makes them her own. She makes them sound of a piece with her own compositions. And this is what I like about jazz: fresh interpretations of old music so that it sounds more modern, with plenty of improvisation to go around. (As one critic noted, Konkova doesn’t introduce the melody and then improvise – she starts improvising on these standards from the get go.)
This isn’t life changing stuff – you can play spot the influences a little bit and it is just piano jazz – but it is most of what I like about (piano) jazz in one solid, solid package.
17. Fred Eaglesmith: Lipstick, Lies and Gasoline (8/10)
I really hope that he means 105 mph rather than 105 kmph, because if he means the latter, the entire province of Ontario drives faster than he does. Anyway…
Here Eaglesmith seems to more thoroughly embrace Alt Country and all that that entails. That’s fine in my book. The songs are still strong. And the arrangements are different this time. The only drawback is the reprises, really.
18. Portishead (8/10)
It’s been too long since I listened to their debut to decide which is better. Read the review.
19. Modest Mouse: The Lonesome Crowded West (8/10)
A few years ago, I wrote the following:
I still feel like the legacy of the Pixies hangs over Modest Mouse to a pretty huge degree on this record. But fortunately Brock is a very different songwriter than Frank Black/Black Francis and so it’s more in the sound of the band – sort of what would happen if the Pixies lost their female singer and jammed out their songs.
I don’t necessarily mean this as criticism. In fact, as fan of both bands, I appreciate that someone was able to go new places with a sound that I quote enjoy.
I always veer back and forth on which Modest Mouse album is best. I’ve never really sat down and just listened to all of them in a row to really make that call. But this is definitely one of them, even if it’s still under the thrall of their most obvious influence.
I would add that the Built to Spill influence is also quite apparent and also a post-punk influence. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. They manage to mostly transcend those things on this record.
20. Pavement: Brighten the Corners (8/10)
A kinder, gentler Pavement. With hindsight I think we can say this is the first record where it really sounds like Malkmus is writing songs for himself, rather than the band. I’m not sure that’s fair, but I sure feel like this has more in common with his solo career than with Slanted and Enchanted. It’s still recognizably Pavement, but a far mellower one.
None of that to say it’s not good. I really, really like this, but that’s because I like both Pavement and Malkmus solo. And this is a happy medium.
If the songs weren’t so strong, I think this record would be a disappointment.
21. Sleater-Kinny: Dig Me Out (8/10)
The songwriting has improved here – the arrangements feel tighter and the hooks are arguably stronger. This is only the second record of theirs I’ve heard, so I’m not sure I can argue that it is their best – I believe it has that reputation – but if you are looking for ’90s punk that still feels like punk – as opposed to some bleached, broish imitation of punk – this is where you should go looking for it.
22. Oliver Knussen: Prayer Bell Sketch (8/10)
This is a really unique solo piano piece that takes Satie to an extreme rarely heard. Perhaps that’s not quite fair, it feels a little more directed than Satie, but it’s still very much an impression, taking Satie’s innovations and pairing it with the kind of post-tonal stuff that Knussen is so good at. Worth listening to if you can find it.
23. Will Oldham: Joya (8/10)
Why did he release it under his own name? Your guess is as good as mine. Read the review.
24. Godspeed You Black Emperor!: F#A# Infinity (8*/10)
This record technically came out in 1997, however the version reviewed was later released in 1998 to a much wider audience with additional music so I’ve chosen to put my review in the 1998 list.
As to this early version, what can you say about a record whose best track is missing?
25. Cornelius: Fantasma (7/10)
Like a poppier Beck, only this guy might have been doing it first. Read the review.
26. Whiskeytown: Strangers Almanac (7/10)
I wrote this in 2011:
Even overproduced, Whiskeytown are pretty awesome. Unfortunately, this was the follow up to a pretty great album which they then re-released with all its warts thereby creating the greatest album in alt country history. So this is surrounded by that. Three of the songs here appear in better, earlier versions on the Faithless Street re-release (Adams has actually acknowledged their superiority). This is not his best set of songs, though it is pretty good (especially compared to the solo stuff) but that isn’t really the problem.
The problem is the loads of keyboards, vocal overdubs, horns (!!!) and other shit that takes away from the band (even with a new rhythm section they still sound pretty great). And the thing about Adams is that he sounds great with a great band, and with suitable production, but when you try to clean him up we’re left to focus on his songs and they don’t sound quite as good all polished.
I realize as I type that this is sounding negative and I didn’t want that. This is a good album. It is a very good album (though I must say I don’t like the closer at all) but it pales in comparison to the greatness that is the rerelease of their debut, which is maybe even top 5 American rock albums of the 90s (top 10 anyway).
The issue is that I’ve heard a number of these songs in rawer better versions, which is why I have trouble loving this as much as the next person.
27. Cornershop: When I Was Born for the 7th Time (7/10)
Not my thing, but I greatly respect what they’re doing. Read the review.
28. Do Make Say Think (7/10)
So at first glance to me this is like the non-electronic side of Tortoise with a bit of the Montreal side of things pulling the music into some non-Tortoise-y directions (which are welcome). There is a also a big “math rock” (ugh, what a name) influence in here as well. This combination makes the band stand out from some of its contemporaries, since they are Tortoise-y but different enough to warrant consideration.
The big issue with this album is it seems to need a producer. There’s a little too much here and it’s a bit of a mess. I guess that’s sort of to be expected from a debut though.
29. Stereolab: Dots and Loops (7/10)
Not my thing, as usual. But I get why lots of people like it. Read the review.
30. Janet Jackson: The Velvet Rope (7/10)
A revelation. Read the review.
31. Roy Hargrove’s Crisol: Habana (7/10)
The man has a voice!
Frankly I was starting to despair that this acclaimed trumpeter was going to spend his entire career living in the Young Lion world of ‘Everything old is wonderful, everything new is terrible’. That’s sure what it sounded like in his early years.
Now, I cannot pretend to have a remotely thorough knowledge of Afro-Cuban / Latin jazz, and so I cannot attest to whether or not this is innovative in any way. (I have my doubts…) But I detect a passion and a willingness to be idiosyncratic that was wholly missing from Hargrove’s earlier recordings here. He seems to have completely immersed himself in Afro-Cuban (and Puerto Rican jazz too, apparently) and it’s a good fit for him. It doesn’t hurt the band is excellent – particularly the pianist, who is apparently a star in Cuba. This is the first time I heard anything from Hargrove where I wasn’t just yawning playing ‘spot the influences’. (I’m sure if I was from Cuba, or if I actually liked Afro-Cuban jazz, it might be a little different.)
This is a very solid and impassioned performance. For once Hargrove sounds like his own man, and not some guy desperate to keep Bop alive against all odds.
PS Both of these saxophonists are way better (well, may more interesting) than Hargrove’s usual saxophonist.
32. Sigur Ros: Von (7/10)
Over their career, Sigur Ros has defined their own, unique style of Post Rock, a style that borders on Indie Rock genres about as much as anything I would consider Post Rock can, but that has enough elements to make their sound not really fit in any other genre. (Nitpicking I know.)
Their debut gives hints as to what would come later – and is extremely ambitious for a debut – but is also clearly the mark of a young band. (What veteran band would open their album with 9 minutes of ambient unless it was meant as a “fuck you” to casual fans?) It’s pretty clear they hadn’t found their identity yet. But what they had stumbled upon were elements of a unique sound that would later coalesce into something so distinct as to be worthy of its own moniker.
This definitely isn’t the place to start for newbies, but it’s not as bad as the RYM rating suggests – far from it actually: it’s provocative, daring, ambitious and unique. It just needed a producer.
33. Dimmu Borgir: Enthrone Darkness Triumphant (7/10)
As far as I know, this is the first “melodic” black metal album. (It may not be, I’m not a genre obsessive). It’s basically black metal with cheesy keyboards.
I don’t particularly like single-genre albums. But this is loud enough and pummeling enough that it’s alright. I just don’t particularly love a number of the keyboard parts. I understand that this particular thing is this album’s innovation, but I can’t say that I love it.
This is fine. It’s competently played and it’s super loud and brutal. But I can’t see myself coming back to it regularly.
34. Foo Fighters: The Colour and The Shape (7/10)
I didn’t love their debut but grudgingly gave it an okay review because I figured it was better than most post grunge.
Well this one is significantly better than most post grunge, in part because Grohl has assembled a real band to play his songs, and the band is better than Grohl by himself.
The other thing is that Grohl has improved his songwriting rather immeasurably. I still don’t love his lyrics – I sometimes wonder how sections of lyrics fit together – but I think he has honed his craft enough that it makes me want to go back to the review I wrote of the first album and downgrade that one.
This is significantly better than the debut.
35. Various Artists: Great Jewish Music: Serge Gainsbourg (7/10)
Zorn and the bands on his label take the same approach here as on the stellar Burt Bacharach but this time it works less well. But I don’t think that has so much to do with the covers, as they’re as diverse. It’s the original material that hampers it slightly, I think. Frankly, I just prefer Bacharach to Gainsbourg.
Gainsbourg has always struck me as more of an enfant terrible rather than a great songwriter. Maybe that’s because my French is awful. But maybe that’s because he was a little too fond of being scandalous, instead of trying to write great songs.
Anyway, this is still a pretty good tribute record, but I don’t like Gainsbourg enough to love it.
36. Bob Dylan: Time out of Mind (7/10)
There is a 20-year gap in my Dylan listening – everything between Desire and this record I have never listened to, solely because, when I was first getting into Dylan in my early ’20s, that period of his career was supposed to be some kind of lost period, where he made awful music. I have no idea if that’s true (though reading the Wikipedia descriptions and lists of reactions sure makes it sound like it) so I really don’t know if this is the “return to form” it’s supposed to be.
One thing I’ll note is that, somewhere along the way, Dylan started writing lyrics that were meant to be deciphered by anyone, instead of the nearly impenetrable poetic forests he was writing in his prime. That was already somewhat apparent by the mid ’70s, but I don’t know when it became his thing. But it’s very clearly that was true by this record. That’s not a bad thing – it seems to be that most if not all artists become less radical in their later years – but it just makes it hard to acclaim even good later Dylan records as great.
And I find myself generally liking this – the songs are okay by his standards but the production is thankfully not of its time – but not fully understanding the acclaim that I was supposed to agree with. I mean, it’s a decent Dylan record, but it’s hard to understand how some people could think it’s one of the best records of the year.
37. Deftones: Around the Fur (7/10)
I almost really like it. Read the review.
38. Labradford: Mi media naranja (7/10)
The extremely ambient side of Post Rock. Read the review.
39. Faith No More: Album of the Year (7/10)
Faith No More’s last album before their breakup is as diverse as ever and that part is really appealing. And there are some strong songs here. But on the whole the quality of the songs (and, perhaps, the commitment to the styles they are trying out) seems less than on King for a Day.
This is still lots of fun but it just doesn’t stand up to their classics from earlier in the decade. It’s very enjoyable and might be the best place for a newbie to start (I think it’s more accessible), but it’s just not consistent enough.
A year later or so: This is the weakest Patton-fronted FNM album. It still has an appeal to me, but it’s their least good work. Maybe not the best album to get into the band through, actually. I am contemplating downgrading the rating.
40. Elliott Smith: Either/Or (7/10)
Pretty middle of the road. Like Badly Drawn Boy without the idiosyncrasy. Read the review.
41. Sarah McLachlan: Surfacing (6/10)
I know four of these songs way better than I ever would have thought because they were all over Canadian radio for well over a year. I can’t say I love any of the singles but I don’t hate them either. McLachlan has a strong sense of melody and her lyrics are fine (sometimes they are pretty good).
But the rest of the album is kind of forgettable for me; I am better at identifying the tracks by their ’90s production cliches than I am by the songs themselves. It’s not that they’re bad songs, it’s just that they don’t grab me the way some other writers’ songs do, and the late ’90s production haze does not make it any easier. (In fact, I’d say I’d like this more had it been stripped of a lot of its contemporary touches, like the vocal effect on “I Love You” – and that muted string section, which sounds distorted and mixed too low – or the “funky drummer” on “Black & White.”)
PS One of the non-singles isn’t forgettable even though I forgot about it: “Do What You Have to Do.” Not coincidentally, it is not heavily produced.
42. Wyclef Jean Presents The Carnival featuring Refugee Allstars (6/10*)
I have no idea how to assess this. Read the review.
43. Bran Van 3000: Glee (6/10)
This “band” takes a wild swing at a masterpiece and misses by a long way but I appreciate the effort. Read the review.
44. Pantera: Official Live: 101 Proof (6/10)
The only fucking thing I fucking learned from fucking listening to this is that fucking Phil Anselmo is an idiot.
All joking aside, not knowing their studio output I can’t really compare the versions. I can say that it is a live comp, and so it suffers from that.
Worse, it has new studio tracks tacked on, presumably in an effort to sell more copies (which is unintentionally hilarious).
The performances are pretty good.
Can’t say I like the ballads as they all sort of sound like Metallica.
45. Rammstein: Sehnsucht (6/10)
I guess there is more variation to this, and there is the hit, but this just seems like more of the same, only it is a little bit better produced. They know their shtick and they seem pretty comfortable with it.
46. The New Meanies: Three Seeds (6/10)
In 2005 I wrote the following “review” complete with South Park reference:
Really all they need are some better songs (aside from the two “hits”), and they’d be set. The band is fine. Just fine.
I don’t know that I feel quite the same way now…
With the passage of time, this band feels like a wannabe Canadian Black Crowes; the musicianship is arguably up to par, but the songs are not and there is less diversity (if you can believe it). This is the kind of band that would be great to see in a bar while drinking, I feel like, but as a recording experience it’s just pretty meh. But they’re good enough musicians – and I like generic blues rock enough! – that I would rather listen to this than lots of stuff on the radio.
47. Prodigy: The Fat of the Land (6/10)
Science this sounds like 1997. Read the review.
48. The Apples in Stereo: Tone Soul Evolution (6/10)
Well done but not my thing: too poppy, too Big Star. Read the review.
49. Guided by Voices: Mag Earwhig! (6/10)
This is the second GBV album I’ve ever heard and my impression is pretty much the same as the last one I listened to: although I believe that Pollard is an above average songwriter and though I should like the aesthetic, I just don’t care.
Pollard dumps out ridiculous amounts of material – the guy has released something like 45 albums in three decades, not including EPs or rarities – and I think he needs an editor (or a better impulse). Every GBV album (and, I assume, every solo album) is basically just what he’s written this quarter, with seemingly no thought as to quality or coherence. (The existence of massive rarities compilations suggests he does actually curate his songs, but it’s hard to believe when listening to this record, or to the other I’ve heard.)
To be fair to the earlier GBV, I’ve never heard the band before it was Pollard’s solo project, so maybe they were great prior to becoming a dictatorship.
But as this goes, I don’t like Pollard enough as a songwriter, and I don’t like the arrangements and performances enough to make up for the fact that I feel like Pollard brain-dumps out each record to really give a shit about this band.
50. The Verve: Urban Hymns (6/10)
I like this band more than Oasis. I can’t tell you why. Read the review.
51. The Get Up Kids: Four Minute Mile (6/10)
Too straight-ahead emo for me. Read the review.
52. Everclear: So Much for the Afterglow (6/10)
Meh. Read the review.
53. Green Day: nimrod. (6/10)
I mean, it’s Green Day. Read the review.
54. Symphony X: The Divine Wings of Tragedy (6/10)
Imagine some progressive metal cliches but with more prog rock. There you go. Read the review.
55. Oasis: Be Here Now (5/10)
Better produced than Morning Glory, which is… something. Read the review.
56. The Tea Party: Transmission (5/10)
It’s easy to rip on bands who rip off others. But when they rip off stuff you like, it’s significantly harder. I guess this sort of explains how the blogosphere etc can over-hype revivalist bands all the time when it might make no sense to the rest of us. If you like a genre enough, you often don’t care for originality. So I used to be a huge Tea Party fan when I was younger, and I still like their first two albums and EP enough (though I should really adjust my ratings) because I like the bands they rip off (Zep, Kaleidoscope – whether they know it or not – and the Doors).
57. Pennywise: Full Circle (5/10)
I would like this more if “Bro Hymn Tribute” didn’t exist. Read the review.
58. Silverchair: Freak Show (5/10)
In 1995 Silverchair released an album that sounded like it belonged to 1991 (or maybe 1993 at the very latest). In 1997 they released an album that sounded like it belonged to the first wave of post-grunge bands of 1994-5.
The album starts off seemingly as an attempt to redo the band’s debut. “Slave” is a not so compelling attempt at redoing “Israel’s Son” for example. But as the album progresses, it becomes more and more clear that the band have wholly embraced post-grunge and it is only their occasional lapses back into traditional grunge that keep this from going in the full-blown post-grunge dung heap.
Yes, Johns has learned to write better songs. But with it the band have seemingly lost much of their immediacy in their attempt to sound like everyone else yet again. The dominant rock radio sound of 1994-95 is not something people should try to emulate. It’s a shame.
59. The Spice Girls: Spiceworld (5/10)
Top heavy. Read the review.
60. Backstreet Boys [US Debut Album] (5/10)
Average. Read the review.
61. Mariah Carey: Butterfly (5/10)
I get nothing from this. Read the review.
62. Johnny Lang: Lie to Me (5/10)
I have no issues with Lang’s playing. He manages to sound like multiple players at different times, which is generally a good thing, since he doesn’t remind me of any one guitarist too much to seem derivative. He is a pretty good blues guitarist, and very good for his age at the time.
63. Shania Twain: Come On Over (5/10)
One of the turning points where country stopped being country, and started being pop music. Read the review.
64. Chumbwamba: Tubthumper (4/10)
Did you like “Tubthumping”? Everything you hate about that song in album form. Read the review.
65. Sham 69: The A Files (4/10)
Um, this sounds like these guys have greatly matured in 20 years. Clearly their tastes have changed…Nobody in this band wants to move on?
66. Creed: My Own Prison (2/10)
The negation of alternative rock, in 40+ minutes. Read the review.
Compilations, archival releases and new performances of old music.
John Coltrane: The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings (10/10)
When Coltrane and his “quartet” recorded these performances, he was just releasing Ole Coltrane, so I think it’s safe to say that much of what was heard here came as a shock to anyone in the audience who wasn’t constantly seeing him live. Read the rest of the review.
Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner: Die Schopfung by Joseph Haydn (10/10)
This appears to move the great oratorios or Handel into the classical era. The immensity of this is on par with his music but there’s no escaping how much more modern this work sounds in comparison.
I thought I had a distaste for the classical era, but Haydn’s music is making a huge impression on me so far. It’s a lot more complicated than I would have thought, given the era’s reputation for relative simplicity.
This is an incredible work – I would (will?) be shocked to discover a greater classical-era oratorio.
Royal Scottish Orchestra conducted by Joel McNeely: Psycho by Bernard Herrmann (10/10)
The score to Psycho is one of the most iconic film scores ever and, at the film’s release, probably was the most iconic film score for a Hollywood or even English language-film. Read the review.
Bo Diddley: His Best (10/10)
Along time ago R and B was actually something called rhythm and blues. This CD collects many of Diddley’s singles and b-sides from 1955 to 1966. His earliest music of 1955 – now his most iconic – lacks the country of Elvis and Carl Perkins, the gospel of Elvis and Little Richard, the manic intensity of the Killer, and the complete package and polish of Chuck Berry; Diddley is rawer and definitely on the rhythm side of R and B (except for “I’m a Man”, which is so blues Muddy stole it).
Jimmy Hendrix: First Rays of the New Rising Sun (9/10)
We will never here what this should have sounded like, but I’m confident that this is a fair approximation. And it’s fantastic.
Grant Green: Complete Quartets with Sonny Clark (9/10)
This compiles the first three albums Grant recorded with pianist Sonny Clark before the band was expanded to a quintet later in 1962. Interestingly, none of these albums were released until 1980 (in Japan) which, given the quality of the music, is really hard to understand.
King Crimson: The Nightwatch: Live at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw November 23rd 1973
This set was a famous bootleg before it was released for good reason, a bunch of it ended up (in edited form) as a major portion of Starless and Bible Black.
This is a loud, fierce and kind of raw set, the kind of thing prog rock bands weren’t supposed to be capable of. It’s considerably better than USA, the official live album for this variation of the band release back in the 1970s.
This is the kind of thing that I wish people who think they hate prog rock could listen to, as it has an edge to it that so much studio prog lacks.
Anyway, their best live album that I am aware of.
Suicidal Tendencies: Prime Cuts (8/10)
We should all just get past the idea that compilations suck. They do, and so those of us who know this should just not buy them (FYI, I don’t own this). That being said, they can be useful to borrow from a friend (like I am doing right now) or what have you. This way you can at least find out whether you should buy the albums.
So there are a number of problems with this that I, a non-ST fan, was not really aware of: re-recorded songs (ugh) and new songs (ugh). Both are big signs to stay away (beyond the fact that this is a best of). But that being said, this is pretty fucking awesome.
I’m sure they weren’t the first to so obviously blend metal with hardcore – on the punk side, not the thrash side – but still, any band that began doing this in the early to mid ’80s has my vote. People do this now – though less obviously “metal” or “funk metal” – and get praised for it. (The production values are obviously different, as are the lyrics.) This is the kind of music that those of us who want interesting music look for: a band operating in more than one genre at once and doing each with aplomb and, better yet, humour.
Pretty great, despite the fact that it’s a comp.
Don’t worry, once I get the albums I will heavily spurn this album.
Anton Kuerti: Piano Sonatas by Carl Czerny (8/10)
Did not write a review. I knew Anton for a while so now it feels like I should really listen to this again.
Glenn Gould: String Quartet; So You Want to Write a Fugue; Shostakovitch; Poulenc (7/10)
I really like Gould’s quartet. I know it’s not the most forward-thinking piece for the time, but I think it’s among the second tier of its era and I really don’t mind listening to it.
The Kronos Quartet: The Ghost Opera (7/10)
Whether or not these five pieces were originally intended to be played together, I don’t know. But it seems as though this is how they will be remembered.
With just about zero knowledge of Chinese music, what I have long been thrown off by is the use of the term “opera.” This work strikes me as “anti-opera” if it is indeed supposed to be a comment on, or part of the tradition of, opera.
But it doesn’t really fit in the string quartet genre either, given the performances required of all five members (which asks them to make noises, among other things), though I think my brain can process it better in this genre, than as an “opera.”
The music is out there – this is not something you should listen to if you are not into avant garde chamber music or, I assume, Chinese music – and I can imagine that it is a lot more fun live, than it is via headphones.
Years after hearing it, I’m still not 100% sure of what I think of it, but it is absolutely unique (to my knowledge). You will likely never hear anything else like it.
Nigel Kennedy et al.: Elgar – Violin Concerto; Vaughan Williams – the Lark Ascending (7/10)
The Best of Tommy Dorsey and His Clambake Seven (6/10)
Dorsey – along with his brother – was often accused of not playing “jazz”, something of a hurtful accusation to someone who felt he was a jazz musician. Read the rest of the review.
Jimi Hendrix: South Saturn Delta (6/10)
So this is sort of the companion piece to First Rays of the New Rising Sun, the album that tried to replicate what would have been Hendrix’s last album. But whereas First Rays was a coherent piece, this is more an arbitrary collection of rarities.
Like most of Hendrix’s demos and alternates that have been released, everything is very professional. And it’s of interest to any Hendrix fan – though it’s hard to hear what’s different about this version of “All Along the Watchtower”.
But it’s not any kind of definitive rarities collection or anything like that. It’s fine.
Various Artists: Punk Legends: The American Roots (5/10)
So this is an album that compiles some but not all of the major American punk bands (and an art rock band or two and at least one band that shouldn’t be here) together…but because they clearly didn’t want to pay for the rights, they use demos, alternate takes and live versions (including a reunion show, which is hilarious). There’s no substance to the claim that these versions are somehow superior, that’s just marketing.
But, that being said, many of these bands were great and even their demos and alternate takes are alright.