Sunday, 17 October 2004

Top 10 Years For Album Releases - #7

Well here we are again...time for another post. And most importantly, time to continue the countdown to #1 on my top 10 favourite years for album releases.

Without further ado, allow me to proceed to the discussion of my 7th favourite year of all time.

#7: 1999

Ahhh...1999. This was my 3rd (and final) year of university. It's pretty common to look back on the past through rose coloured glasses, and uni is no exception. I'll always say to myself how I miss the old times at uni, and there's definitely a lot of nostalgia there, but I don't think it was quite as "fun" as I remember it.

Now what about the music? Well in tradition of the previous posts, let's first talk about some of the classic albums released in 1999.

Travis released their brilliant 2nd album The man who this year. Recently they have completely lost the plot (simply by refusing to change and re-releasing the same album a few times), but there is no denying that The man who was, and still is, a superb album. Now before you start shouting Travis?!?! Brilliant album!?!?! What are you thinking?!?!?! I'd like you to think back to 1999. Coldplay weren't even on the scene yet. Their debut album Parachutes was still a year away. Jeff Buckley had drowned a few years earlier in 1997. OK computer was still being hailed as one of the greatest albums ever released, and that had been released in 1997 as well. Travis were definitely influenced by Jeff Buckley and Radiohead, but this was long before the market had been saturated with soundalike bands. Travis were quite unique at the time, and The man who was a breath of fresh air, a true melodic gem of an album with beautiful falsetto vocals by Fran Healy and practically no filler. Unfortunately, Why does it always rain on me? got overplayed on the radio and it has lost a lot of its appeal now, but I'd like to say that I enjoyed this song long before it was even played on the radio. What really makes this album is the power of songs such as the opener Writing to reach you, As you are and Driftwood. The hidden track, The blue flashing light, is a brilliant closer -- lyrically and musically.

Another superb album of 1999, which I only got into this year, is a little known album called I see a darkness by Bonnie "Prince" Billy. Who? I hear you say. Yeah, I hadn't heard of him either, until I saw this album in at the #9 position in Pitchfork's Top 100 Albums of the 90's list. I had (or had heard of) most of the other albums in the top 10, but I hadn't even heard of this album, let alone this singer. It was enough to intrigue me to purchase the album, and it's a true masterpiece. Very dark (lyrically and musically), it's a stunning lo-fi folk/country album with unique vocals and minimalistic instrumentation. Granted, it's an acquired taste, and it did take me about 5-6 listens to start appreciating it, but I'm glad I gave it a chance. Definitely a risk which paid off.

Some other great albums from 1999:

  • Dream Theater - Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a memory (what can I say? This album is superb. Their music is best classified as "progressive metal". This is a concept album which must be listened to from start to finish to properly understand the story. Its the story of a woman's murder, told to some of the most stunning music you will ever hear. The guitar and piano work on this album is simply amazing. Sure, it's a prentious album, and the lyrics sometimes get a bit daft -- but it's all part of the appeal)
  • Ben Harper - Burn to shine (I know a certain young man who may be reading this who will be cheering right now - he's looking at you Brett. Yes this is one of Brett's Top 5 Albums Of All Time. It's a very diverse, often brilliant album by one of the most talented performers of the moment. Beloved one is one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard.)
  • Flaming Lips - The soft bulletin (my brother is a big Flaming Lips fan. He actually bought this at one stage but returned it, because he prefers their earlier lo-fi stuff and wasn't able to make the transition to their most elaborately produced albums like this one. However, after reading glowing reviews of this album, I had to get it -- and I'm glad I did. Superb songwriting, superb production, great stuff. A true masterwork.)
  • Something for Kate - Beautiful sharks (Pete got me into this one. I bought it purely on his recommendation. First few months I had this album, it did very little for me. Then, one day, it suddenly hit me -- it was a great album! Subtle melodies, great lyrics, and the infamous "vibe" shone through, making it another favourite of mine from 1999)
  • Supergrass - Supergrass (their eponymous 3rd album wasn't received very well by critics. But it's probably my favourite Supergrass album to date. This album includes their brilliant singles Moving, Mary and Pumping on your stereo. But it also includes some excellent lesser known tracks such as Jesus came from outta space, What went wrong (in your head) and the haunting Mama & Papa.)
  • Augie March - Waltz (this was their 2nd EP after the mediocre Thanks for the memes in 1998, and it included the brilliant Asleep in perfection which was also on their stunning debut album Sunset studies. Many live favourites are included on this EP including Rich girl and The mothball)
Some other notable albums from 1999:
  • Suede released their 4th album, and their 2nd "pop" album Head music. I remember loving this album when I bought it -- it was actually the catalyst to one of my major Suede phases in 1999 -- but this album definitely hasn't aged as well as their self-titled debut or Dog man star.
  • Ben Folds Five released their swan song, their concept album The unauthorised biography of Reinhold Messner. Wow, that's certainly a mouthful. This album didn't do a heap for me in 1999, but its has grown on me heaps on the last few listens and I probably consider it to be their best album now.
  • Gomez released their 2nd album Liquid skin. There are some superb cuts on this album (in fact the highs such as We haven't turned around and Devil will ride outshine anything on their debut Bring it on) -- however the songwriting consistency isn't as solid as their debut.
  • James released their solid album Millionaires. Unfortunately that isn't what they became.
  • Super Furry Animals released their 3rd album, Guerrilla. I think you'd be hard pressed to find an SFA fan who considers this their best album, but it's certainly not a bad album by any accounts. This album amazingly has a hidden track before track 1 on this disc. Yes, that's right, you have to rewind to before track 1 to hear it. And it's a choice cut as well. Amazing, hey?
  • Alex Lloyd released his debut album Black the sun. I have definitely gone off this guy now (in fact I can't believe there was a time where I actually bought one of his albums). I do remember really enjoying this album when I got it, but it doesn't do a lot for me anymore.
  • Jebediah released their 2nd album Of someday shambles. While not up to the stature of their classic debut Slightly odway, there's some notable choice cuts on this album, including one of my personal favourites Run of the company.
  • Wilco released their 3rd album Summerteeth. This was their first album where they finally strayed away from their country roots, and it's continually growing on me with each listen.
  • Gorky's Zygotic Mynci released their album Spanish dance troupe. The best way to describe these guys would be a cross between Belle & Sebastian and Super Furry Animals. So why weren't they called Super Belle & The Furry Sebastians? This is a very enjoyable album anyway.
  • Tom Waits (one of the true geniuses still releasing music) released his great album Mule variations. This was actually the first Tom Waits album I purchased. It took me a long time to appreciate it. But now I have all of his albums. It's a bit like that with Tom Waits.
  • Tim Rogers & The Twin Set released their debut album What rhymes with cars and girls. Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeee-ha!
  • The Charlatans released their album Us and us only. Yeah it's okay. Can't remember when I listened to it last though.
  • Bernie Hayes (brother of late Whitlam Stevie Plunder) released his debut album, Every Tuesday Sometimes Sunday. Some nice country-folk ditties on this album, including You made me hard (*snicker*) which the Whitlams recorded on their Love this city album (see below).
  • Blur released their experimental album 13 this year. While their last album (the self-titled one from 1997) was a transition album, by this album they definitely made the full transition into art-rockers. There's not many accessible moments on this album (Coffee and TV being the most) and I'd like to say the whole album works, but it doesn't all work for me. That's not saying there aren't some amazing cuts on here, including No distance left to run.
  • Silverchair released their 3rd album Neon ballroom to a set of glowing reviews. They youngens really started growing up on this album. Their evolution would continue on their next album, the brilliant Diorama.
  • Electronic, who were made up of the singer from New Order and the guitarist from The Smiths, released their 3rd album, Twisted tenderness. Definitely influenced by New Order more than The Smiths, this is nevertheless a solid collection of dance/rock tunes.
And finally some of the disappointments of the year:
  • Ahhh the Whitlams. They released their masterpiece Eternal nightcap a few years earlier, after Stevie Plunder died. In 1999 they released Love this city. Now picture this for a moment, if you will. The Whitlams had released 2 albums of underground aussie garage pop followed by a sombre (but stunningly beautiful) album. The expectations were high for Love this city. A fan has just returned from the CD shop and put the shiny metal disc in their player while their quivering hand pushes play in antipation. Then the opening lyrics hit them like a stab in the heart: I know they all want you with your Desdemona's eyes. I'll keep you from danger. Save you from prying eyes. I can make the world safe for you. As a certain character said many times in A mighty wind - What HAppened?!?!
  • Longpigs released their sophomore slump, Mobile home. Their first album was a slice of Suede-influenced Britpop brilliance. Their second album rambles off in streams of consciousness with no sense of melody. Unfortunately I have to agree with the AMG review of this album.
  • Echo & The Bunnymen released their 2nd album after reuniting, What are you going to do with your life? With the exception of a few choice cuts, like Rust, this album just bores me. Yawwwwwwwwwwwwn.
  • Aimee Mann and David Mead released their respective albums, Bachelor no. 2 and The luxury of time. Decent albums, but way too polished for me to truly enjoy. Both write in similar styles to Elvis Costello, but Elvis has the rougher and unique voice to add a bit of character. They guys are just lacking character.
And that's 1999 for you. Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.


  1. Just a quick note: Like Yoshimi before it, The Soft Bulletin has recently recently been re-released in glorious 5.1 Dolby Surround.

    Nice. :)

  2. A few notable absences from your list:

    Moby's Play. A huge selling album bringing soft techno to the masses. Even if you're not into the bald little vegan you ought to be able to appreciate the beauty of Porcelein, track three. Magic. Play still holds an entry in the Guiness Book of World Records for being the first - and only - album to license out every song for advertising. The Mobe-ster may be a sell-out but he's a rich sell-out.

    1999 also saw Fiona Apple release her ridiculously titled second album When the Pawn Hits the Conflict... (the full title is a 90 word poem - wtf?). I've loved this girls voice since I first heard Criminal from her debut album Tidal, (I'm sure it had nothing to do with the opening line "I've been a bad, bad girl") and, although this album is patchy, there are some outstanding tracks here. If you're not familiar with Ms Apple's work then give Limp and Fast As You Can a listen. I'm still waiting for her to release a brilliant, complete album. I think (hope?) she has it in her.

    I was quite surprised to find that I really enjoyed Macy Gray's 1999 debut On How Life Is. I'm certainly not typically an R&B fan but this album had some great tracks from the unique sounding artist. Have to skip I Try and Still because they were absolutely destroyed by radio overplay but once you avoid those, songs such as Why Didn't You Call Me, I Can't Wait To Meetchu, Do Something and Sex-O-Matic Venus Freak shine.

    Jiggy, how could you forget Britney Spears? She exploded into the 'teen pop' scene with ...Baby One More Time in '99 and singing & dancing schoolgirls will never look the same to me again... ;) OK, can't say I'm really a fan but this album is notable for the amount of media attention it generated for the ex Mickey Mouse Club girl.

    Ricky Martin's self titled album came out this year. Woohoo. Spurned hits such as Livin' La Vida Loca and Shake Your Bon-Bon. Gee thanks Ricky.

    Savage Garden's Affirmation was released in '99 following up their self titled '97 debut. This album really (truly deeply) amazed me. Amazed me how such guff could sell so many records. Glad you left it off your list. As they say; "Lot's of Garden, bugger-all Savage".

    A few other comments...Silverchair's Neon Ballroom, critically acclaimed or not, ain't their finest hour. The album has some great tracks (Emotion Sickness, Ana's Song, Anthem For The Year 2000, Miss You Love - all the radio friendly ones actually) but has some really poor songs too (all the others). I typically enjoy Johns and Silverchair but I just find myself pressing the skip button too often on this album for me to rate it highly. Sidenote - I seem to remember Johns stating that he never listens to this album anymore. He was going through a really shit time in his life and just doesn't like the memories. It shows through in some of the songs.

    Alex Lloyd's Black The Sun is still a good listen. Just because he's a tool (and his newer work has gone steadily downhill) doesn't mean that this album isn't good.

    Gotta say though, overall, '99 didn't really do it for me musically. Bring on the next year! :)

  3. Jiggy, I gotta say that I am shocked that you forgot to mention Jonathon (oops, I meant Fiona) Apple and actually needed Matt to inform you of this....would have expected her to be on top of your list, given your famous (or should I say infamous) discussion about her

  4. 1999. As with Jerome, this was my third and final year of undergraduate university, and I also look at through rose coloured glasses. Perhaps the most melodramatic year of my life. A confused young man; I know that I would do thing differently given my time over again. Like putting some money on the Lions, could have been a millionaire.
    Anywho, good list Jerome, a good year for music indeed. SFK stood out for me at the time, but over the years Tim Rogers' WRWC&G? has become one of my all time favorites.
    Just to make things a little different, I thought that I would list some of my favourite gigs from 1999:
    Manic Street Preachers, Prince of Wales: Solid gig from my (at the time) favourite group, it was great to see them in such a small venue considering their "stadium-band" status in the UK.
    Tim Rogers & The Twin Set, The Continental: If I could relive any gig, I think this would be it. As mentioned, I only really got into this album later on (didn't even have it at the time of the gig), but an enjoyable show nonetheless. Took some cuts from You Am I, most notably "Hourly, Daily," which, for me, was a thrill to hear live.
    Placebo, Hi-fi bar: First time I'd seen Placebo, put on a good show despite fairly average sound. Witnessed a little known support act, Killing Heidi, who were most impressive, but have disappointed me ever since (my indie cred stays intact!).
    Powderfinger, Something for Kate, Ice-cream Hands, Monash Uni Clayton: What a line up, what a gig. Ice-cream hands never hit the big time, but I enjoy their work. PF and SFK were on the verge of being big, really big, and such a line-up in such a venue would never be seen today, it's all Rod Laver Arena and Festivus Hall (thank you Frank Costanza).
    The most disappointing gig for the year was Suede (Forum). A great band, and a long anticipated first Aussie tour. On the night, however, they played for about 50 minutes, followed by a one song encore. They sounded good, but it was a half-arse effort, and I think most were disappointed by it. Apparantley the keyboardist was having a nervous breakdown at the time, and they were just winding up the tour ASAP.

  5. btw, I thought a good idea for a list would be "top five bands that mention their name in a song but do not suck."
    5. Backstreet Boys
    4. Split Enz
    3. Placebo
    2. Super Furry Animals
    1. Belle & Sebastian
    Anyone think of any others??

  6. To everyone who replied to this post, I thank you. Good to see a nice response.

    Matt, with regard to the albums that you mentioned -- all notable to mention in the context of 1999, but do you have to tarnish my blog with a mention of Savage Garden and Britney Spears? Anyway, I can understand from a pop culture viewpoint that they deserve a mention, but since it's my blog I've generally only been mentioning albums that I have in my collection. So if there's anything missing, it means I don't have it. So this is a great opportunity to hear about what you guys have from each year that I don't have. But mention Savage Garden again and you're blacklisted ;-)

    About 1999, I remember having a conversation with Pete a little while back about this year, and we both sorta agreed that it wasn't a great year. But when I looked back at some of the classic albums that were released in '99, I realised that I'd probably underrated it a bit. Which is why it ended up making my top 10.

    Thanks for the mention of gigs of '99 Pete, brought back lots of memories. I remember I was really into Suede before their gig, and what really made that gig disappointing was their lack of early material. Suede Mk II just don't cut the mustard as much as old-skool Suede. Although I've heard that a certain drummer is quite good at cutting the cheese.


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