Revisited

1997 Revisited

There are lots of terrific records here, led by one of my all-time favorites on the album list and some witty/funny hip-hop/R&B on the singles list. But scanning contenders on the singles list reminded me of how deeply lousy the late-1990s were for rock-oriented pop music, with the mid-1990s commercial co-option of indie/alt devolving into scrunge, nu-metal, fratty rap-rock, bad ska, lounge-pop, weird third-hand big band nostalgia, ersatz Lilith Fair exploitations, and so many empty-headed “alt” bands that would have been more bearable as the more proudly empty-headed hair-metal bands they would have been a decade before. The idea of the Foo Fighters (a fun, catchy, B+-level hard rock outfit) as an Important Rock Band starts here, I guess.

Not really related: I re-listened to OK Computer again for this and it’s every bit as soggy and ponderous as I remembered. One of the most overrated albums ever made.

Anyway, the lists …

1997 Albums (2)

ALBUMS

  1. Dig Me Out – Sleater-Kinney: “The Drama You’ve Been Craving.” “Turn It On.” “Words + Guitar.” “Dance Song ’97.” “Bring your heart to us and we’ll get it purified.” “It’s not want you want/It’s everything.” This album makes big promises and overdelivers. Their previous, 1996’s Call the Doctor, was suffused with a sense of becoming. This is a different brand of thrilling: With Janet Weiss grabbing the sticks for the first time, it’s about pure motorvating mastery, making room along the way for one of the most fraught end-of-a-relationship songs (“One More Hour”). If we’re being honest, it flags just slightly on three of the last four songs (rallying on “Dance Song ’97”). If we’re being honest, you were exhausted by then too.
  2. The Songs of Jimmie Rodgers: A Tribute – Various Artists: Unless I’ve missed something, the apotheosis of a middling genre (the tribute record) but also maybe the secret beginning of “Americana” (as opposed the previously preferred “alt country”), predating both Mermaid Avenue and O Brother, Where Art Thou? as roots rescue missions. It has a lower profile than either, but tops the latter and goes toe-to-toe with the former. Listening is believing. Favorites: Bob Dylan, Iris Dement, Willie Nelson, Alison Krauss, Steve Earle …. really, everyone but Bono.
  3. Supa Dupa Fly – Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott: Mary J. Blige forged “hip-hop soul” a few years before, but here’s the real synthesis. Inspirational plain talk: “It’s the things that you do that make me not love you.”
  4. I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One — Yo La Tengo: A guided tour de force of their buzzy, sleepily romantic little corner of the (indie rock) world. Nerd-lust apex: “We could slip away/Would that be better?/Me with nothing to say/And you in your autumn sweater.”
  5. … Play 9 Songs with Mr. Quintron — The Oblivians: Not just the great Memphis trash-rock band, but the great American trash-rock band. Did they catch religion off of that added organ or call in the organ after catching religion? Either way, the hottest Memphis rock-and-roll since the Sun Sessions.
  6. When I Was Born for the 7th Time — Cornershop: A new(ish) sound that portended big things that never really came. It’s still pretty sweet on its own terms.
  7. Brighten the Corners — Pavement: Their prettiest album, if occasionally too precious.
  8. The Carnival — Wyclef Jean: Without the need to share time and blend his personality with his Fugee comrades, Jean drifts hard toward corn, as his subsequent career attests. But here he’s still jet-propelled by the energy of his band triumph The Score and his first foray into solo diasporan hip-hop sounds, much like the Cornershop record, like a future we never quite got.
  9. Life After Death – Notorious B.I.G.: The double album (no, worse: double CD) sprawl lacks the focus of Ready to Die, of course. But despite the tragic unintended resonance of the title, it’s so much more than its conceptual trappings. Rather it’s a tribute to craft. “Somebody’s Gotta Die” is one of the finest short stories from one of pop music’s sharpest writers and still best for its rhyme-for-rhyme’s-sake (“Lear jets and coupes/The way Salt ‘shoops’/How to sell records like Snoop … oops”).  His off-hand humor bursts out everywhere. There are too many guests, but here the intent seems less padding than generosity, and the presence of so many mere mortals underscores his own enormous talent. RIP.
  10. Introducing … Ruben Gonzalez – Ruben Gonzalez: The best album to come out of the Buena Vista Social Club Cuban jazz (here piano) boomlet
  11. El Corazon – Steve Earle: I’ve got a soft spot for I Feel Alright, but this is probably his best.
  12. Time Out of Mind – Bob Dylan: Prematurely feted as a new Dylan masterpiece, something that would actually come four years later with “Love + Theft”. But Dylan’s most overrated album is still damn good, though I do think producer Daniel Lanois’ atmospheric murk impinges too much on Dylan’s natural wit and musicality. More a great Bob Dylan album for U2 fans than a great Bob Dylan album for Bob Dylan fans.
  13. Retreat From the Sun – That Dog: A lost gem of 1990s indie/alt, here the “chamber rock” of their debut has (almost) fully transitioned into hooky, scruffy guitar pop, with heart, brains, and more than a dollop of deadpan mischief.
  14. Too Far to Care – Old 97’s: I’m less enthralled by this breakthrough than most other Old 97’s’ fans I know. It has a few of their very best songs as written, but they hadn’t quite hit their musical stride yet, at least in studio. Here, they’re still trying to be an “alt-country” band, and the results are a little pokey at times. But there are hints of the rootsy, poppy rock-and-roll band about to emerge.
  15. Doc Cheatham & Nicholas Payton – Doc Cheatham & Nicholas Payton
  16. Springtime – Freakwater
  17. Perfect From Now On – Built to Spill
  18. Baduizm — Erykah Badu
  19. Dig Your Own Hole – Chemical Brothers
  20. Township Jazz ‘N’ Jive – Various Artists: Subtitled “18 South African Urban Swing Classics from the Jivin’ ’50s,” this buoyant comp does for the urbane small-band marabi (think jump blues and Dixieland and swing) and pennywhistle jive of the ’50s what Indestructible Beat of Soweto does for the more rockin’ mbaqanga that followed, giving a joyous portrait of a scene: an elegant fusion of indigenous rhythms and melodies with the influences of American artists such as Count Basie and the Mills Brothers.
  21. Fish Ain’t Bitin’ – Corey Harris
  22. The Velvet Rope – Janet Jackson
  23. Latyrx – Lateef & Lyrics Born
  24. Lee Ann Womack – Lee Ann Womack
  25. The Lonesome Crowded West – Modest Mouse

Singles

  1. “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” – Missy Elliott
  2. “MyBabyDaddy” – B.Rock & the Biz
  3. “Tyrone’ – Erykah Badu
  4. “Autumn Sweater” – Yo La Tengo
  5. “Brimful of Asha” – Cornershop
  6. “MMMBop” – Hanson
  7. “I’ll Be Missing You” – Puff Daddy & the Family
  8. “Got Til It’s Gone” – Janet Jackson
  9. “The Ice of Boston” – The Dismemberment Plan
  10. “Sock It 2 Me” – Missy Elliott
  11. “Hypnotize” – Notorious B.I.G.
  12. “Ship to Shore” – Dub Narcotic Sound System featuring Lois
  13. “Thinking of You’ – Tony Toni Tone
  14. “Feel So Good” – Mase
  15. “Block Rockin’ Beats” – The Chemical Brothers
  16. “Everlong” – Foo Fighters
  17. “On and On” – Erykah Badu
  18. “Mo Money, Mo Problems” – Notorious B.I.G.
  19. “Gone Til November” – Wyclef Jean
  20. “Never Say Never” – That Dog
  21. “Da Dip” – Freak Nasty
  22. “Song 2” – Blur
  23. “Tubthumping” – Chumbawamba
  24. “Makes Me Wanna Die” – Tricky
  25. “Criminal” – Fiona Apple
  26. “Face Down” – Prince
  27. “You Don’t Seem to Miss Me” – Patty Loveless
  28. “Lovefool” — The Cardigans
  29. “Michael Jackson” – Fatboy Slim
  30. “Ladies Night” – Lil Kim
  31. “Torn” – Natalie Imbruglia
  32. “Other Side of the Game” – Erykah Badu
  33. “I Know” – Kim Richey
  34. “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See” – Busta Rhymes
  35. “Up Jumps Da Boogie” – Timbaland and Magoo
  36. “Hey Hey, You Say” – Papas Fritas
  37. “It’s All About the Benjamins” – Puff Daddy featuring Notorious B.I.G., the Lox and Lil Kim
  38. “Monkey Wrench” – Foo Fighters
  39. “Blue Flowers” – Dr. Octagon
  40. “Fly” — Sugar Ray

Movies

The usual caveats apply. I’ve re-visited every album and song listed in this post but don’t have time to revisit the films. So this list is based on my reaction to the films when I saw them filtered through my sensibility today; essentially how I suspect I would rank them if I did rewatch them all.

I’m struck by the international art cinema here (Kitano, Kar-Wai, Imamura, Kiarostami), from a time when I wasn’t quite a working film critic. It was a reflection of my intersection of interests and free time to pursue those interests, but I also think it’s a reflection of a better time for theatrical film distribution. “Taste of Cherry” did not get a theatrical screening in Memphis, but I think the others did.

  1. Jackie Brown (Quentin Tarantino)
  2. Boogie Nights (Paul Thomas Anderson)
  3. The Apostle (Robert Duvall)
  4. Fireworks (Takeshi Kitano)
  5. The Sweet Hereafter (Atom Egoyan)
  6. Taste of Cherry (Abbas Kiarostami)
  7. Kundun (Martin Scorsese)
  8. L.A. Confidential (Curtis Hanson)
  9. Happy Together (Wong Kar-Wai)
  10. Chasing Amy (Kevin Smith)
  11. Career Girls (Mike Leigh)
  12. Eve’s Bayou (Kasi Lemmons)
  13. Lost Highway (David Lynch)
  14. The Eel (Shohei Imamura)
  15. My Best Friend’s Wedding (P.J. Hogan)
  16. Starship Troopers (Paul Verhoeven)
  17. Grosse Pointe Blank (George Armitage)
  18. The Ice Storm (Ang Lee)
  19. The Rainmaker (Francis Ford Coppola)
  20. Contact (Robert Zemeckis)

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