1998 in review:
Tori rocks, Madonna doesn't
Will 1998 be remembered as the year the Spice Girls fell apart?
Or maybe as the year that swing returned, thanks to left field hits by Cherry Poppin' Daddies and Brian Setzer (following the lead of Squirrel Nut Zippers).
Or will it be remembered as the year of the singer-songwriter, as we received memorable major label debut albums from Elliott Smith, Emm Gryner, Jude, Shawn Mullins and Anggun, not to mention return engagements from Tori Amos, Leah Andreone, Jules Shear and Lisa Loeb?
As always, there were a good number of discs that spawned one or two great pop singles, but included little else of interest (albums from Jimmy Ray, Smashing Pumpkins and Eagle-Eye Cherry come to mind.) As I spent the past couple weeks going over the 150-plus albums I wrote about in Pop Stops over the past year, I found no overriding sound or breakout style bubbling to the top to mark 1998 as a watershed year. Nor did I find an easy "Album of the Year" to champion.
In fact, I was surprised to find that over the course of 1998, there was not a single studio album that garnered a maximum 5-star review in this column (there were a couple of re-issues and box sets that scored the top rating, but those are listed here separately). Usually, my Top 10 album list includes a couple of 5-star albums and a handful that get the near-miss 4½-star rating. But this year, as you'll see from the list below, the count starts at 4 stars — there were a lot of solid albums in 1998, but no earthshakers.
So how did it all come out?
* * * Top 25 Albums of 1998 * * *
Tori Amos – From the
Choirgirl Hotel (Atlantic): The piano queen finally rocks out
with a full band. The result is some of her best work to date.
2) Athenaeum – [Radiance]
(Atlantic): A great middle of the road debut rock album a la Toad The
Wet Sprocket and Gin Blossoms.
3) Superdrag – Head
Trip in Every Key (Elektra): Headphone music for the alternative
rock set with lots of great, organic guitar sound.
Natalie Imbruglia – Left
of the Middle (RCA): Actually, this is about as close to the pop center
as you can get. A heart of Lisa Loeb with an edgy touch of Alanis Morissette.
5) Emm Gryner – Public
(Mercury): This is the kind of record you can get lost in. Alt-rock guitars
meld with evocative vocals, small string orchestra and piano to suck the listener
deep into a wide palette of moods.
6) The Brian Setzer Orchestra –
The Dirty Boogie (Interscope): Swing lives! Former Stray Cat Brian
Setzer has been pushing rockin' orchestra swing for years now, and this album
is the ensemble's most irresistible offering.
7) Wild Strawberries –
Quiver (Nettwerk): Techno atmosphere abounds
on this female-led duo from Canada. Exotic, catchy, danceable and yet ethereal.
Madonna could have learned what trance dance is all about here.
Jude – No
One is Really Beautiful (Maverick/Reprise): Debut from an androgynous
singer-songwriter knows how to strum and funk it up on his debut.
9) Jules Shear – Between
Us (High Street): Shear pulled in a host of friends, from Paula
Cole to Rosanne Cash, to sing with him on this quiet but affecting album of
folky acoustic duets. This CD is a guide to creative, gentle songwriting.
10) Rasputina – How
We Quit the Forest (Columbia): They don't get much more bizarre
than this trio of female cellists who write about dwarves, medieval exorcists
and the zodiac. But it's hauntingly catchy stuff.
11) Better Than Ezra –
How Does Your Garden Grow?
12) Dee Carstensen –
The Map (Blue Thumb/GRP)
13) Garbage –
Version 2.0 (Almo)
14) K's Choice – Cocoon
15) Swirl 360 –
Ask Anybody (Mercury)
16) Lyle Lovett –
Step Inside This House (MCA)
17) The Murmurs –
Tuscadero – My
Way or the Highway (Elektra)
19) John Mellencamp –
John Mellencamp (Columbia)
20) Anggun – Snow
on the Sahara (Epic)
21) Ultrahorse – The
Pleasure and Pain of an Automobile (911)
Fastball – All
the Pain Money Can Buy (Hollywood)
23) Elliott Smith –
24) Fear of Pop –
25) Jewel – Spirit
* * * Biggest Disappointments * * *
Madonna – Ray
of Light (Maverick/Warner Bros.): Madonna tries to cash in on
the electronica fad without ever capturing its essence. Despite a couple of
decent singles, the album as a whole is a yawner.
2) Page & Plant –
Walking Into Clarksville (Atlantic):
Retread Led Zeppelin riffs that go well with cookies and warm milk.
3) Emma Townshend –
Winterland (EastWest): Famous progeny
proves that talent doesn't always run in the family.
4) Elvis Costello with Burt Bacharach –
Painted From Memory (Mercury): An
interesting pairing; a torturous execution.
5) Mitchell Froom –
Dopamine (Atlantic): The producer
of Paul McCartney, Crowded House, Suzanne Vega and more delivered an unlistenable
collection of sound effects for his debut.
* * * Best Singles * * *
1) Smashing Pumpkins – "Perfect"
2) Natalie Imbruglia – "Torn"
3) The Offspring – "Pretty Fly (For A White Guy)"
4) Cherry Poppin' Daddies – "Zoot Suit Riot"
5) Jimmy Ray – "Are You Jimmy Ray?"
6) Beastie Boys – "Intergalactic"
7) Garbage – "Push It"
8) Fastball – "The Way"
9) The Murmurs – "La Di Da"
10) Shawn Mullins – "Lullaby"
* * * Best Collections & Live Albums * * *
Throwing Muses – In
A Doghouse (Rykodisc)
2) Johnny Cash & Willie Nelson –
VH1 Storytellers (American)
3) Culture Club – VH1
Storytellers/Greatest Moments (Virgin)
4) Rush – Different
5) Various Artists – The Big 80's:
The Big Movies (Rhino)
* * * Best Soundtracks * * *
1) Armageddon: The Album (Columbia)
2) The Avengers: The Album (Atlantic)
3) Sabrina The Teenage Witch: The Album (Geffen)
4) Cleveland Rocks: Music From the Drew Carey
5) Godzilla: The Album
* * * Best Box Sets * * *
1) Various Artists – Have
a Nice Decade: The '70s Pop Culture Box (Rhino)
2) Genesis – Archive: 1967-1975 (Atlantic)
3) Various Artists – Seventies Disco Ball
Party Pack (Rhino)
4) Stevie Nicks – The
Enchanted Works of Stevie Nicks (Atlantic)
5) Randy Newman – Guilty:
30 Years of Randy Newman (Rhino)