The Top Albums Of 1998
Jeffthewildman reminisces about his favorite albums from 20 years ago.
1998. The year I turned 20 and started what would be a short college tenure. In some ways, it was also the worst year of my life from a personal standpoint. Totally unrelated, it was also the year in which the number one news topic in America was Oval Office hanky panky.
Musically? It felt a lot like the morning after a big party, when you’re wandering around hung-over and dazed. With the so-called “alternative revolution” effectively a thing of the past, rock was trying to find a new direction. There were quite a few artists who sounded like either Pearl Jam or Beck. There was a period where it seemed like neo-swing was the future of music. There was ska-punk. And there were tons of post-grunge milquetoasts and neanderthal nu-metal types, two genres that would close out the decade and lead many to wonder if maybe rock had reached the “put a fork in it” stage. Hip-Hop was dominated by Master P clones. And the resurgence of teen idol pop dominated the mainstream.
So yes, on the whole 1998 was a step-down from 1997, which in turn had been a step-down from the three previous years. (For more on those you can read my lists for 1997. 1996 and 1995). Yet it still managed to offer up some stuff that’s stood the test of time.
Honorable Mentions: Mermaid Avenue-Billy Bragg And Wilco, Moment Of Truth-Gang Starr, Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too-New Radicals, Mezzanine-Massive Attack, Whitey Ford Sings The Blues-Everlast and You’ve Come A Long Way Baby-Fatboy Slim
10: Follow The Leader-Korn
Most of the nu-metal neanderthals never really transcended the juvenile. Korn was an exception. With the exception of a slide into homophobia on “All In The Family”, this album is one of the few nu-metal entries that still holds up 20 years later. Taking what they did on the first two albums and making it better, Korn offer up their career best. Easily the best album of 1998 to listen to when you need to vent.
9: This Is Hardcore-Pulp
After finding success in America with 1995’s Different Class, it would’ve been easy for Pulp to try to replicate it or go for the mainstream. To Jarvis Cocker and Co’s credit, they did neither. Instead, they offered up something that was still Pulp, yet explored new horizons. In some ways, the tone of it is darker and more unsettling than the previous albums was. But it was a different time and that was appropriate. Not a full-fledged game changer. But a damn good album.
8: Adore-Smashing Pumpkins
After the massive success of Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness, which soundtracked the 1995-97 period quite well, a lot of people were wondering what Billy Corgan and co would do for an encore. There were rumors that the Pumpkins woulf go techno. While Adore is experimental, the overall tone is more acoustic than electronica. This didn’t sit well with some people. But on the whole, I think this album worked well then and still sounds good today. It would’ve been pointless to try to out-do Mellon Collie and totally boring to try to copy it. Instead they found an approach that showed them moving forward while still being true to themselves. While it underperformed upon its release, Adore today has its share of dedicated fans and holds up as one of the better albums of a weak era in rock.
7; From The Choirgirl Hotel-Tori Amos
While the Smashing Pumpkins were dialing down, Tori Amos was making things bigger. After the minimalist production on her previous three albums, here she amps things up considerably. Luckily, the increase in production does not come at the expense of good songs. Tori offers up a good set, not as strong as 1992s Little Earthquakes or 1994’s Under The Pink. But an improvement over 1996’s Boys For Pele. In an era in which female singer-songwriters were getting filed in the “Lilith Fair” category, Amos again kicked aside any sexist notions of “women can rock”.
6: Hello Nasty-Beastie Boys
In 1998, the music scene had quite a few acts like The Bloodhound Gang and the Kottonmouth Kings, acts who seemed inspired by the most superficial aspects of the early Beastie Boys. Meanwhile, the Beasties themselves were pushing forward. In some ways, Hello Nasty works as an effective combination of the experimental of Paul’s Boutique and the eclecticism of Ill Communication. The result is an album that’s simultaneously raiding the past and looking to the future. In some ways, it’s the album that sums up the decade at its best. Yet it’s still fun, a requirement for any Beastie Boys album.
5: Yield-Pearl Jam
1996’s No Code was the album that saw Pearl Jam stepping away from the role of standard bearers. Two years later, at a point in time when clones like Creed were a dime a dozen, they asserted their status as veterans who had been around the block a few times yet still had something to say. In some ways, this album is the one that shows off all sides of Pearl Jam. In that regard, it was an appropriate one for them to end the decade on as it was an effective summation. “Given To Fly”, “Faithfull”, “Wishlist” and “Do The Evolution” have joined the list of PJ classics. But the whole album (aside from “Pilate”) is superb.
4: Mos Def And Talib Kweli Are Black Star
In an era dominated by studio gangstas, Mos Def and Talin Kweli’s collaboration reminded us of the possibilities of hip=hop. Introducing the social consciousness they would display on their solo albums, Black Star stands as a direct response to those aforementioned studio gangstas. Witty and intelligent.
3: Version 2.0-Garbage
I wasn’t a fan of Garbage’s 1995 debut album. Probably because the lead single from it (“Only Happy When It Rains”) sounded to me like a barrage of mid-90s alt rock clichés (or maybe it was designed as a spoof). However, something drew me to Version 2.0 and led me to buy it in July of 98. Maybe it was the seductively dark tone to first single “Push It”. Or maybe because it was a dose of edgy pop in an era dominated by icky bubblegum and bland Modern Adult. While it wasn’t quite album of the year (as I thought it was when I first heard it), it’s stood the test of time quite well.
Growing by leaps and bounds between albums. That’s what Outkast proved with their follow-up to 1996’s ATliens. Here is where they really began to slash away at the constraints of hip-hop in that era and shows that there was a future beyond the overblown stuff. Excellent lyricism meets with innovative production. While it may not be my personal fave Outkast album (that honors goes to 2000’s Stankonia), it easily stands as their most consistent one.
1: The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill-Lauryn Hill
You were expecting something else? Nah, this was one of the few times where the Grammy’s got it right in picking the best album of the year. Coming off the smash success of 1996’s Fugees classic The Score and Wyclef’s pretty good 1997 solo effort The Carnival, Ms. Lauryn Hill set out to prove she was the true genius in the Fugees. And she more or less succeeded. Some people are good at singing and some are great rappers. Very few can do both equally well. Lauryn Hill can as this album demonstrates. And she shows it throughout be it on the feminist anthem “Doo Wap (That Thang)”, the lovelotn “Ex-Factor” (which may be the greatest breakup song ever), the angry lost love rant “I Used To Love Him”, the reflective “Every Ghetto Every City” or the Carlos Santana collaboration “Everything Is Everything”. In some ways, this was one of the few albums that appealed equally to hardcore hip-hop heads, R&B fans and pop music listeners. In what was a pretty weak year for music, The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill stood as the brightest spot.
There you have them. What would you pick as the best albums of 1998? Let us know in the comments below please.