Best albums of 1998: The honourable mentions (aka #10 through #6)

Happy Thursday! And welcome to my Throwback Thursday (#tbt) best albums of the year series. I know. I know. I just finished my series on 2008 two weeks ago and here I am starting 1998.

Well, there’s a good reason for that. I came to the realization while writing up the last list that I might have started things off behind the eight ball last year when I instituted these series and I thought I would try playing catch up and do two years worth of these this year. We’ll see if I can keep this up. The odds aren’t in my favour, to be honest.

Anyway, 1998. After the great year for British Rock that was 1997, the following year felt a bit of a letdown. How could it not? So I found myself actively looking for great new music but not necessarily finding it and instead, just settled into the same music from the previous few years. Hence, the year 1998 started a cycle of two or three years of musical malaise for me that only came to an end with the indie rock resurgence in 2001.

On a personal note, the year started with my last few months of post-secondary education life and then, in the fall, I moved downtown and started working full-time at my previously part-time job. My employers at the time, Stephenson’s Rent-all, put me in their management training program and so started my adult life. My pay wasn’t great and my rent was high so it still felt like I was living the life of the starving student. As such, I couldn’t always afford to buy the few CDs that caught my fancy and given the Internet was still a number of years away from streaming, I didn’t even hear most of the albums on this list until later on.

All this aside, I did manage to cobble together a list of ten great albums from 1998 and below are the first five. If you don’t know the trick by now, I will be featuring the next five, an album each Thursday, over the next five weeks. Enjoy the nostalgia ride with me.


#10 Sloan “Navy blues”

I finally gave in and got into Sloan with their third record, “One chord to another”. I had really, really disliked “Underwhelmed”, the first single off their first record “Smeared”, but really dug everything I heard from them after that on the radio. And, of course, in 1990s Canada with the Can Con rules, they were played a lot. Unfortunately, due to the same reasons I mentioned above, I didn’t get around to listening to “Navy blues” until a number of years after its release, though I was definitely knee deep in its singles. A bit harder than their previous two records, this record still features plenty of harmonies, diverse songwriting, and Beatle-esque pop rock sensibilities.

Gateway tune: Money city maniacs


#9 Cake “Prolonging the magic”

Here is another album whose singles were all over alternative radio, at least in Toronto, in the late 1990s. It got so bad that every time the song below came on the radio at my workplace, or even those of us who worked with him even hinted at singing the chorus line, a colleague of mine would be driven to fits and rants. Cake’s sound is instantly recognizable with its heavy bass focus, regular use of horns, and frontman John McCrea’s deep sing speak vocals. And “Prolonging the magic”, Cake’s third album, was likely the one that firmly established the band in our collective consciousness. Like it or not, you can’t deny how much fun this music is.

Gateway tune: Sheep go to heaven


#8 Embrace “The good will out”

British band Embrace (not to be confused with the American hardcore punk band of the same name) released their debut a year or two too late, arriving tardy to the BritPop party. “The good will out” sold very well and was reviewed well enough by the British press but it wasn’t long before the backlash adhered to the flailing movement tarred them with a brush as coattail hangers. It’s unfortunate really because I truly liked the album – its rockers getting me sufficiently riled and its ballads appealing to my sappier side. The album and group bridged the gap between Britpop and post-Britpop and were at the vanguard of passionate pop bands that included the likes of Travis, Keane, and Coldplay, a factoid that might sway you to love or hate them.

Gateway tune: All you good good people


#7 Mojave 3 “Out of tune”

Mojave 3 was formed when Slowdive was dropped from Creation and Neil Halstead, Rachel Goswell, and Ian McCutcheon decided to switch gears and move towards a slightly folkier sound. After their lovely debut, 1996’s “Ask me tomorrow”, Simon Rowe (Chapterhouse) and Alan Forrester were added to fill out the sound and the result was this album, their sophomore. Though it’s not my favourite of their work, all of their albums are pretty consistently great. They rock in a more subtle way, Halstead’s soothing vocals is the butter on the fresh out of the oven croissants and the rest of the band follow his lead, adding plenty of lovely textures to unfold.

Gateway tune: Who do you love?


#6 Rufus Wainwright “Rufus Wainwright”

The first time I heard Rufus Wainwright was one night when I took the subway downtown to visit my friend Mark, who had just moved into a new apartment in Little Italy with some roommates I had never met. When I got there, Mark and his roommates had already started in on the beers and this self-titled debut was playing. It was so jarring and different than pretty much everything I was listening to at the time but yet it appealed to me. I remember mentioning that it reminded me of early Tom Waits with some of the vocals of a young Lou Reed and I asked who it was. The name stuck with me because it wasn’t a common one. I didn’t learn until much later that he was the progeny of Kate McGarrigle and Loudon Wainwright III and the sibling of Martha (who appears on the album as well). Coincidentally, Rufus Wainwright appeared on some Canadian daytime talk show a few days later, further impressing me with his theatrics and obvious talent at the keys, and I promptly went out to buy the CD.

Gateway tune: April fools


Check back next Thursday for album #5 on this list. In the meantime, you can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.

Best tunes of 2001: #4 Cake “Short skirt/long jacket”

<< #5    |    #3 >>

I can’t remember exactly how it came to be and at what points but for periods during our first years in Ottawa, Victoria’s mother loaned us one of her cars, a green cavalier. It had a tape deck in it but I only drove it to work irregularly so I rarely had tapes in the car. Thus, those early years here was probably one of the last periods in which I listened to the radio with any regularity. It didn’t take long before I found the city’s alternative rock station, which at the time was X FM (101.1, I think), and I likely found it with this particular song, Cake’s “Short skirt/long jacket”. Why do I think that? Because I feel like it was played on every morning that I commuted into the Enbridge call centre, my job at the time.

Cake is definitely one of those bands whose sound makes it easy to identify them. Ever since I first discovered the band with their raucous cover of “I will survive”, it never mattered if it was a song I had never heard before, whenever I came across something on the radio, whether at work, in the car, or in a store, I would smile and stop to listen to the rest. There’s always a heavy focus on the beat and a funky bass line, we usually get an explosion of trumpet, a rarity in rock music, and frontman John McCrea’s deep and deadpan sing/speak vocals. I loved all their singles through the latter part of the 90s but it wasn’t until this particular song that I finally declared myself a fan and went out to get one of their albums: “Comfort eagle”.

“Short skirt/long jacket” was the first single to be released off said album. It is the best of Cake, starting with that blare of trumpet, danceable drums and jumping bass, the rattle of vibraslap and regimented backing vocals. And John McCrea reading off a shopping list of attributes that he seemingly wants in girl but as the list gets longer, the girl gets more and more unattainable. This seems to be more the message to me: wants and desires and how they are always changing, making it all so impossible.

“She’s changing her name
From Kitty to Karen
She’s trading her MG for a white Chrysler LeBaron
I want a girl with a short skirt and a long jacket.”

Fittingly, this was their final song of the night, the first and only time I saw them live, a few years ago at Toronto Urban Roots Festival, having invited Toronto’s Choir! Choir! Choir! up on stage with them, making the song a riotous party, and in the process, I think, making fans of my concert buddies Tim and Mark, as well as everyone else in the audience.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2001 list, click here.