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 2011: #20 Florence and the Machine “Shake it out”

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I’m pretty sure I came to Florence and the Machine’s debut album “Lungs” late. I don’t remember exactly when it was but I feel like it may have been around Christmas time, possibly in 2010, because I was definitely in Toronto visiting my mother-in-law with my wife and up late at night, playing around on YouTube. There were a number of videos already available there and I was completely taken in by frontwoman, Florence Welch, and that incredible voice of hers. I got a copy of the album soon after and became quite enamoured with it as well, picking up the comparisons to Kate Bush and Annie Lennox completely on my own. So when sophomore album “Ceremonials” came out in 2011, I was definitely keen to check it out.

What I didn’t realize then and didn’t quite put together until recently is that Florence and the Machine is an actual band. I always thought Florence Welch was a solo artist and that the moniker was just that, a name. But no, Welch formed the band with her friend, Isabella “Machine” Summers, back in 2007 and it was fleshed out to a five piece with Robert Ackroyd, Tom Monger, and Christopher Lloyd Hayden. There has been a few shuffles in and out over the years, the ranks expanding to nine, most of the original band members remaining. With so many hands, it’s no wonder their sound is so big and dramatic, a perfect vehicle to fly with Welch’s aforementioned angelic vocals.

Not counting the promotional teaser, “What the water gave me”, “Shake it out” was the first single to be released from “Ceremonials”, and it’s awesome. I feel like she’s more Annie Lennox here than Kate Bush. It’s old sounding but not at all delicate. No, decadent would definitely be the better word. More Marie Antoinette than Emily Brontë. It’s thumping and clapping drum rhythms and big wall of noise organs above it. It’s glorious singing, both soft and bold, and Florence Welch dancing all over the stage in a big period piece costume, while coquettish ladies in waiting sing behind fluttering fans. The words, too, are just as invigorating, empowering us all to shake off our demons and dance.

Not bad for a song purportedly written while hung over.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2011 list, click here.

100 best covers: #82 Travis “Baby one more time”

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So here’s one that you can place firmly in the fun column.

I came across this particular cover during a brief period in 2001 where I was a bit obsessed with Scottish alt-pop band Travis and I was on the hunt for everything they’d recorded. Appearing as a B-side to the 1999 single “Turn”, it was recorded live and you can actually hear the laughter from the audience as they start to recognize the song. The band themselves can be heard snickering at the beginning, especially at the forced falsetto moments, but by the end, they are indeed performing it in earnest.

I also didn’t recognize the tune at first during my first sampling of it. It’s slowed some, performed stripped down to only an acoustic guitar with Fran Healy being joined, gang style, by the rest of the band on vocals. When it clicked, I still couldn’t believe what I was hearing and that’s what I think is so wonderful about it. It’s the surprise factor. A teen pop song performed by a pop band of a different sort and it works. I think so anyways.

As for the original, I’m pretty sure I don’t have to work too hard to jog your memory about it. Which is good because I can’t say I know much about Ms. Spears. However, I certainly have been overexposed to a bunch of her songs over the years and this one was particularly ubiquitous at the end of the nineties. I remember watching the video for the first time in disbelief. It was so obviously a ploy, a riff on the catholic school girl fantasy, but it worked. The song was huge, making her over from a former Mouseketeer to a pop star in the blink of an eye. Still, she likely got too big, too fast, given her tabloid ready lifestyle, and has had to forge more than one comeback over her career.

It’s probably pretty obvious by now which version I prefer. But don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a hate on for the Britney, nor her version of the song. It’s well written and has a great hook. Her style and sound is just not to my taste.

Do you have an opinion on the matter? I’d love to hear it.

The cover:

The original:

For the rest of the 100 best covers list, click here.