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

mariah carey Top 50 Albums of 199745. Mariah Carey – Butterfly

Get It On Vinyl via Discogs

On the back of the impressive 1995 album Daydream, Mariah Carey went through a divorce and found herself working with hip-hop producers and artists, including Puff Daddy, Q-Tip, and Missy Elliott. Rather than go solely for the displays of vocal wizardry that marked her previous records, Butterfly expressed an honest and open emotion — in addition to that range-leaping technical ability. Singles like “Honey” and “My All” achieve the crave-able radio pop wonder of her previous height, but added a more genuine warmth. Carey later wrote that she considers Butterfly her magnum opus and a turning point in her life and career, and considering the ambition and passion, it’s not hard to understand why.

Last Seen: Carey recently announced the launch of her new label, Butterfly MC Records. The first album reportedly to be released under that shingle? Her 15th studio album and first in three years. –Lior Phillips

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teenage fanclub Top 50 Albums of 199744. Teenage Fanclub – Songs from Northern Britain

Get It On Vinyl via Discogs

“They’re the second best band in the world,” touted labelmate Liam Gallagher of Teenage Fanclub in the mid-‘90s. (You can probably figure out who the modest Oasis frontman had in his top spot.) They’re also the band who bumped off Nirvana, R.E.M., and My Bloody Valentine to win Spin’s Best Album poll in 1991. So, how does a Scottish band most Americans have only heard of in passing boast these accolades? Simple: They dial back the clock to something timeless. Once a noise band, on Songs from Northern Britain, we hear a modern rock act whose straightforward lyrics, irresistible hooks, and golden harmonies sound straight out of California and ‘60s/’70s a.m. radio. The oddest part of the Fanclub formula may be that they somehow accommodate three principal songwriters, Norman Blake, Raymond McGinley, and Gerard Love, all of whom take lead vocals on their own songs. Chalk one up for Scottish democracy, and just try not to be happy when a single like “Start Again” or “Ain’t That Enough” spins. It’s some bloody beautiful music. Ain’t that enough?

Last Seen: Though their pace has slackened, Teenage Fanclub continue to tour and record, last releasing their 10th studio album, Here, in 2016, which became a top-10 record in the UK. –Matt Melis

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11066 red apple falls Top 50 Albums of 199743. Smog – Red Apple Falls

Get It On Vinyl via Discogs

A Bill Callahan song has a way of going everywhere and nowhere all at once. It hangs on the same stark, repetitive melody for minutes at a time, as if actively trying to numb the listener’s senses. But it also pokes and prods at those senses, offering up a feast of lyrical themes and images to make the numbness feel more like a trance. This is especially true of “Red Apple Falls”, the nearly seven-minute centerpiece of the 1997 album of the same name, but Callahan’s ambivalent rendering of depression can also be heard in songs like droning opener “The Morning Paper” and lead single “Ex-Con”. There are, perhaps, other Smog albums with songs better than or equal to these, but Callahan’s artistic mission statement here is uncompromising and magical in its totality. The darkness suffocates, yet the light still manages to peek through.

Last Seen: These days, Callahan records under his own name. His latest album is 2014’s Have Fun with God, a “dub” version of his previous album, 2013’s Dream River. –Collin Brennan

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42. Puff Daddy & puff daddy Top 50 Albums of 1997 the Family – No Way Out

Get It On Vinyl via Discogs

Puff Daddy’s debut studio album arrived in July of 1997, under a dark cloud. “Damn … I would have never thought that it woulda been like this,” the rapper sighs in the opening track, acknowledging the death of his close friend The Notorious B.I.G. as police sirens blare in the background. Biggie’s posthumous shadow colors much of No Way Out, from the Police-sampling worldwide hit “I’ll Be Missing You” to tracks like “Victory” and “Been Around the World”, both featuring verses the rapper recorded before his death. But the album isn’t simply an exercise in grief. Songs like “It’s All About the Benjamins” and “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down” shuffle, flex, and sample their way toward hip-hop nirvana, proving that there is, indeed, life after death.

Last Seen: The irrepressible Sean Combs has popped up in a lot of places over the years, trying his hands at everything from fashion (Sean Jean) to comedic acting (Get Him to the Greek, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia). His latest album is 2015’s MMM, and — well lookee here! — No Way Out 2 is next in the pipeline. –Collin Brennan

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ween mollusk Top 50 Albums of 199741. Ween – The Mollusk

Get It On Vinyl via Discogs

Concept albums are typically associated with high-stakes concepts – blue-collar struggles, pinball wizards, American Idiots, and the like – and then there’s The Mollusk, Ween’s unrelentingly silly, ultra-ambitious magnum opus. An artful amalgam of sea shanties, sun-soaked psychedelia, and country-fried industrial (give or take the odd folk ballad about bearing one’s nasty bits in the great, wide wilderness), the record marked the group’s apotheosis from tricksters to titans while leaving their tomfoolery intact, in the form of goofy fisherman impressions and playful pitch-shifting. Seven years after the album’s initial release, it caught a second wind, thanks to “Ocean Man”’s inclusion on the Spongebob movie soundtrack, a fitting platform, to say the least.

Last Seen: Co-founder Aaron Freeman (better known as Gene Ween) left Ween in 2012, prompting the group’s dissolution. In November 2015, the Weens reunited for a tour, captured on last November’s concert album, GodWeenSatan Live–Zoe Camp
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