Decades
A quarterly report that looks back
on music and film from 10, 20, 30 years ago

Top 50 Albums of 1997

on April 24, 2017, 12:00am

bob dylan time out of mind 1997 Top 50 Albums of 199710. Bob Dylan – Time Out of Mind

Get It On Vinyl via Discogs

Not many artists are reborn at 55. By that time, a songwriter generally sticks to treading the terrain he staked out for himself long ago. But on Time Out of Mind, Bob Dylan, who hadn’t released a record of new material in seven years, blew past old boundaries like a Depression-era bank robber racing for state lines. It’s an agitated, pining, and paranoid album, and nowhere do those emotions register more tangible than on “Cold Irons Bound”. Amid driving percussion and echoing dirt-road blues, Dylan fails to square a love and obsession that just can’t be reasoned with. This isn’t a tearful goodbye and gallop off into the sunset; this is a collision course that a desperate and broken man seems powerless to avoid. And it’s those ratcheted stakes and that sense of impending finality that pervade the album, whether on teetering opener “Love Sick”, world-weary ballad “Not Dark Yet”, or the album’s closing ramble towards eternity (“Highlands”). Like so much of Dylan’s turn-of-the-century work, there’s zero compromise to be found here. The wounds are deep, the pain is unbearable, and any possible consolation is blowing in the wind.

Last Seen: In late March, a day before starting the current leg of his Never Ending Tour, Dylan released his third consecutive covers album of American standards, the three-disc collection Triplicate. –Matt Melis

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shania twain   come on over Top 50 Albums of 199709. Shania Twain – Come on Over

Get It On Vinyl via Discogs

Three time’s the charm, right? Well, for Shania Twain, the Canadian singer-songwriter was already “charmed” before she dropped her record-setting third studio album, Come on Over. While her 1993 debut brought her two mildly successful singles in the US, her second album, 1995’s The Woman in Me, delivered her first No. 1 singles and went on to sell something like four million copies by the end of that year. Of course, this was all a pittance compared to her empowering follow-up, Come On Over, which became an unstoppable phenomenon that not only broke records for the country music genre, but also the Billboard charts, staying in the Top 10 for 54 weeks and becoming the longest record to stay in the Top 20 of the Billboard 200 for a jaw-dropping 112 weeks. It’s still the best-selling country music album, the best-selling studio album by a female act, and the best-selling album by a Canadian. And in case you were wondering, it’s also the sixth best-selling album in the United States. Though, that’s what happens when you have 12 (!) goddamn singles, most of which were crossover hits (see: “You’re Still the One”, “That Don’t Impress Me Much”, and “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!”) that shattered the confines of the country genre and paved the way toward greener and more unlikely pastures for singers, producers, and labels alike. Let’s just say, Taylor Swift is a fan.

Last Seen: Twain is currently finishing the touches on her first studio album in over 15 years, which she recently described as being “kind of schizophrenic.” If that weren’t enough, she’ll have her own exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame, which will open on June 26th and run through 2018. She’s also headlining Stagecoach later this month. That does impress me much. –Michael Roffman

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foo fighters Top 50 Albums of 199708. Foo Fighters – The Colour and the Shape

Get It On Vinyl via Discogs

Let’s be blunt: There aren’t exactly a lot of guitar albums turning heads in 2017. That admission probably hurts me more than it hurts many of you better-adjusted individuals. Thankfully, classic Foo Fighters – especially the self-titled and The Colour and the Shape – sound as mind melting as ever. So, why does a record like the Foo’s sophomore album hold up when guitar rock is, depending upon whom you ask, in its death throes? Simply put, the album still surprises listeners. It’s a masterclass in changing volumes and gears both between and within songs, keeping the listener off-balance in a way that prevents tedium and rewards patience with cathartic exhales and head banging. And if those perfectly played swings in soft-loud and slow-fast dynamics don’t freshen your spirit like Footos, then alt rock perfection like “Monkey Wrench” and “Everlong” – accessible, yet endlessly nuanced and playing by their own rules – will have to teach you how to fly. If Foo Fighters proved Dave Grohl could more than hack it as a songwriter and frontman, then The Colour and the Shape laid the blueprint for how rock and roll could stay relevant in a time when hip-hop and pop are almost everything to everyone.

Last Seen: Following the ambitious, if somewhat disappointing, Sonic Highways project, Grohl and the Foos will be on tour this summer and reportedly working on their ninth studio album. –Matt Melis

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erykah badu baduizm Top 50 Albums of 199707. Erykah Badu – Baduizm

Get It On Vinyl via Discogs

Throughout time, certain voices get held up as being truly one of a kind. Then, as if by magic, we’re gifted with a second coming, a new voice that comes close to the depth and magic of a legend. While Erykah Badu has defined her own prominent space within music history, her 1997 debut, Baduizm, drew rightful heavy comparison to Billie Holliday. And while for some that kind of tie could come off as an attempt to leech off of the past, Baduizm truly brought the neo to neo soul, offering conscious and vibrant takes on the genre that revitalized a whole wave of socially aware artists in the soul sphere.

Last Seen: After five years without releasing a major project, Badu returned in 2015 with mixtape But You Caint Use My Phone to largely positive reception. –Lior Phillips

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spiritualized Top 50 Albums of 199706. Spiritualized – Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space

Get It On Vinyl via Discogs

In 1997, it was probably easier to look at Spiritualized’s colossal Ladies and Gentlemen We’re Floating in Space as a genre record, to consider how it raised the sun on shoegaze or brought space rock into rock and roll traditions or even how it strapped Britpop onto a space shuttle and pressed the launch button. But 20 years later, it’s the album’s throbbing, broken heart that makes it such a revelation. Leader Jason Pierce channels pain into larger-than-life compositions, the kind of stuff that can make an Elvis megahit seem foreign or can break the back of a full orchestra with its emotional weight. And it’s not just a manifestation of bittersweet emotions that makes the record a classic. Through repetition on the title track and on “Stay with Me”, Pierce is able to go beyond replicating pain. He expands on heartbreak, revealing new intricacies in its very nature that are both universal and particular. Most of all, the album is about perspective. Through Pierce’s eyes, love and hurt can be dwarfed by the majesty of the natural world and can also feel so huge that nothing else matters. These are all valid in Pierce’s eyes, enough so that the act of feeling itself becomes huge and significant. Look through a telescope or into a lover’s eyes, and decide for yourself what’s really important.

Last Seen: Spiritualized have continued touring and releasing critically acclaimed albums, most recently behind 2012’s Sweet Light, Sweet Heart. They also have dusted off Ladies and Gentlemen for full orchestra performances several times. –Philip Cosores
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