1999 and the Decade in review:
Best Albums of the Year — and the '90s
The last year of the decade seemed to be the year of bubblegum kid pop. We got a flurry of albums and candysweet hits from pouty teenage girls like Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, Billie, Jessica Andrews, B*Witched (who managed to put out two discs in one year), Mandy Moore and many more.
We also got sugar-coated pop discs from slightly older artists like Melanie C (of Spice Girls), Vitamin C (of Eve's Plum), Len, former New Kids Joey McIntyre and Jordan Knight, Lou Bega, Tina Arena and many more.
But the year didn't just belong to the recyclable pop circuit.
Latin music made a comeback, thanks to Ricky Martin, Jennifer Lopez, Lou Bega, Marc Anthony and others, and swing still was the thing on many dance floors. The following "Best of 1999" list covers a wide range of musical ground and includes three albums that garnered five-star Pop Stops ratings, a rank that no discs achieved in 1998. I've included my original star ratings in this list, but ranked them here according to how much I was drawn back to listen to the discs over the course of the year. Obviously, some of the three- or 3½-starred discs grew on me more than some that I ranked four stars originally.
Beth Hart –
Screamin' For My Supper (Atlantic): Maybe
the best singer-songwriter album since Tori Amos' Little Earthquakes.
Hart moves from Amos quiet soul-baring to Janis Joplin soul-belting in a breath.
(out of five)
2) Dream Theater – Scenes From a
Memory (East West): The most fully realized
rock concept album of the decade.
3) Vitamin C – Vitamin
C (Elektra): Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears haven't got anything
on the pop candy of this one. Why this hasn't been No. 1 for months is a mystery.
Live – The Distance
To Here (Radioactive): Alternative rock heroes prove that you can have
a poet's heart and still rock on the edge.
5) Self – Breakfast
With Girls (Dreamworks/Spongebath): They use the studio like an instrument,
melding bizarre instruments and angular guitars into a wildly catchy stream
of pop anthems. Self is the heir to Jellyfish.
6) Lou Bega – A
Little Bit of Mambo (RCA): Who made a more lighthearted and darned catchy
disc this year than the new Mambo king?
Snakefarm – Songs
From My Funeral (RCA): Melding the dark anthems of campfire Americana
with electronic beats and ethereal vocals, folk songs never sounded this good.
8) Marie Wilson – Real
Life (Atlantic): Fresh, feel-good anthems with a country twang and a
big rock beat.
9) Marvelous 3 – Hey! Album (Elektra): If this was 1979, Marvelous 3's brand of upbeat power pop would be topping the charts. Actually, it still should be.
Stone Temple Pilots – No.
4 (Atlantic): The hooks on this hard rockin' album are sharper than
11) Owsley – Owsley
12) Tal Bachman – Tal
13) Spy – Music to
Mauzner By (Lava/Atlantic)
Bif Naked – I Bificus
15) Julia Darling – Figure
16) Melanie C – Northern Star (Virgin)
17) The Atomic Fireballs – Torch
This Place (Lava/Atlantic)
18) Groovegrass 101 – Groovegrass
101 featuring the Groovegrass Boyz (Reprise)
Wilco – Summerteeth
20) Len – You Can't
Stop the Bum Rush (Work)
21) Collective Soul – Dosage
22) Cyclefly – Generation
23) Styx – Brave
New World (CMC)
24) DJ Rap – Learning
25) Paula Cole – Amen
* * * Top Singles of 1999 * * *
There were some great bits of three-minute pop on the charts this year. Here are the tracks that kept me tuned to the radio when they came on:
1) Ricky Martin – "Livin'
La Vida Loca"
2) Lou Bega – "Mambo No. 5"
3) Christina Aguilera – "Genie in a Bottle"
4) Bree Sharp – "David Duchovny"
5) Cher – "Believe"
6) Len – "Steal My Sunshine"
7) Live – "The Dolphin's Cry"
8) Vitamin C – "Smile"
9) Tal Bachman – "She's So High"
10) Santana – "Smooth"
* * * Top 25 Albums of the Decade * * *
This isn't just any year, it's the end of a decade. It's also the end of a millennium, but we'll keep the scope here a bit closer to living memory. To come up with my list of the best albums of the decade, I could have simply gone through and listed my No. 1 discs for each year. But that doesn't really reflect which albums have best stood the test of time, and which have been forgotten a few months after the turn of a new year. Some of the following discs did top my year's best lists for the particular year they were released, and some did not. But all of these are discs that I continue to pull out and listen to because they are albums of depth, creativity, emotion and often transcendent pop beauty. If I was "trapped on a desert island," these are the CDs I'd want to be stranded with from the '90s:
Tori Amos – Little
Earthquakes (Atlantic) 1991
The most intensely personal singer-songwriter disc to come down the pike in a decade, Little Earthquakes opened the tear duct floodgates for many and set the musical stage for the Lilith Fair movement ... though Amos never played the fair. Her 1998 From The Choirgirl Hotel comes close to this disc for me, though its attack is completely different.
2) Matthew Sweet – Girlfriend (Zoo)
Sweet's third album was a masterful meld of rock love, country cry-in-your-beer and pop melancholy. Nobody's done it better since.
3) Nirvana – Nevermind (DGC) 1991
Were they the Beatles on amplifier steroids or talentless three-chord hacks? Nevermind, because they were the first clear (distorted?) voice of that poor misunderstood Generation X. No other band in the "grunge" crowd ever touched them.
4) Ben Folds Five - Ben Folds Five (Passenger/Caroline)
How cool is a guy who makes fun of mosh pits and noserings while banging away in a piano-based trio that's louder than some punk bands? And they don't even have a guitarist!
The Smashing Pumpkins — Mellon Collie and
the Infinite Sadness (1995)
The Wall of the '90s. Be saved, be scorched, be entranced. The Pumpkins don't need to ever record again — this one says it all.
6) Throwing Muses – The Real Ramona
(Sire/Warner Bros.) 1991
It should have been the final album for Throwing Muses, who grew in the '80s from underground avant psycho-billy 4AD band to occasionally poppy psychobilly Sire band. The dichotomy of Kristen Hersh's soul-searing attacks and Tanya Donnelly's sweet swirling pop sense reached their zenith here, before Donnelly departed to form Belly.
7) Counting Crows – August and Everything
After (DGC) 1993
What can I say? I know every word on this album by heart.
8) The Muffs – The Muffs (Warner Bros.)
Nobody seems to have realized it, but The Muffs found the perfect punk-pop formula on this, their debut Warner LP. Every song's a singalong.
9) Green Day – Dookie
OK ... Green Day realized it, stole the formula and shot to the top a year later. Nobody but me still seems to know about The Muffs.
Loreena McKennitt – The Book of Secrets
(Warner Bros.) 1997
Pick this one or The Mask and Mirror (1994). It doesn't matter. They're both albums of incredible depth, exoticism and lyrical beauty. And how many lead singers these days can you name who lug a harp out on stage with them?
* * * Decade Runners-Up
* * *
(in year, not rank order)
Toad The Wet Sprocket – Pale (Columbia)
Concrete Blonde – Bloodletting (IRS) 1990
Lyle Lovett – Joshua, Judges, Ruth (MCA/Curb) 1992
The Cure – Wish (Elektra/Fiction) 1992
Sarah McLachlan – Fumbling Towards Ecstasy (Nettwerk) 1993
Jellyfish – Spilt Milk (Charisma) 1993
Savatage – Edge of Thorns (Atlantic) 1993
Belly – King (Sire) 1995
Elastica – Elastica (DGC) 1995
October Project – Falling Farther In (Epic) 1995
Paula Cole – This Fire (Imago/Warner) 1996
Grey Eye Glances – Eventide (Mercury) 1997
Beth Nielsen Chapman – Sand And Water (Reprise) 1997
Beth Hart – Screamin' For My Supper (Atlantic) 1999
Dream Theater – Scenes From A Memory (East West) 1999