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

green day nimrod Top 50 Albums of 199740. Green Day – Nimrod

Get It On Vinyl via Discogs

The band, critics, and fans alike tend to peg Nimrod as the record in which Green Day matured. After four albums of being snotty adolescents, it was time to grow up. Nobody could really deny that musicians nearing 30 deserved to finally leave mom and dad’s basement and look to the future. That meant anything goes on Nimrod, as the band tried to find themselves. The result is an eclectic collection that oscillates between updates on the band’s traditional sound and experiments that see strings, violins, horns, and harmonica filling in where basic, three-chord guitar rock used to be. Armstrong’s lyrical themes also take a turn towards adulthood: focusing more on maintaining serious relationships (“Redundant”), aging gracefully (“The Grouch”), and appreciating but no longer rose-coloring the past (“Good Riddance”). If Nimrod missteps or comes across as a mess at times, it does so honestly. After all, no matter how old we get, figuring out who we are is never a simple or tidy business.

Last Seen: These nimrods remain one of the biggest bands in the world, getting inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015 and tallying yet another No. 1 album in 2016 with Revolution Radio. –Matt Melis

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the verve Top 50 Albums of 199739. The Verve – Urban Hymns

Get It On Vinyl via Discogs

Sometimes life gives you one more chance, and that’s the story of The Verve’Urban Hymns. The third studio album from Richard Ashcroft’s shaggy band of English rockers followed after a mediocre run that saw 1993’s A Storm in Heaven and 1995’s A Northern Soul receiving comfortable praise both critically and commercially. Feeling defeated, the group had actually called it quits, but Ashcroft wasn’t down for the count just yet and decided the best option for them was to go bigger. By adding guitarist and keyboardist Simon Tong to the fold, the newly minted five-piece outfit could create something bolder and more interesting, and alongside hip-as-hell producer Flood, they conjured up lush textures that were fitting of the overproduced rock ‘n’ roll of the time and yet also in line with the dusty melodies of yesteryear. Upon its release, “Bitter Sweet Symphony” felt like the anthem for every jaded twentysomething, and despite the plagiarism charges by the money-grubbing Rolling Stones, it brought them to America. Sadly, other decisive hits like “The Drugs Don’t Work”, “Sonnet”, and the album’s secret MVP “Lucky Man” didn’t connect on the same level, but those who tuned in past the Cruel Intentions closer — like, you know, all of the United Kingdom (and especially Chris Martin) — were rewarded with some of the richest music to ever be coined “Britpop.”

Last Seen: Although The Verve reformed in 2007, the reunion was short lived and Ashcroft put the nails in the proverbial coffin by 2010. However, Ashcroft continues to write and release new music (see: 2016’s These People). –Michael Roffman

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beth orton Top 50 Albums of 199738. Beth Orton – Trailer Park

Get It On Vinyl via Discogs

A great voice can do so much on its own. If we still knew Beth Orton primarily from her early collaborations with the Chemical Brothers, William Orbit, Andrew Weatherall and others, that would be quite something all by itself. Instead, praise the powers that be we got Trailer Park. Orton’s debut (if you ignore the limited Japanese release of Superpinkymandy—Orton does) blends her simple, lovely songwriting and plaintive voice with elements of folk, trip hop, and electronica. The result is an album that feels like a slightly sad stroll through an English rose garden, provided that there’s a decent chance the garden in question is either on another planet or in the future. The opening “She Calls Your Name”, co-written by Orbit, might be the album’s standout, but it’s an opening salvo that sets the stage for 10 more winners. It’s a beauty, and 20 years later, that hasn’t changed a bit.

Last Seen: Orton’s still touring, and she released Kidsticks in 2016, for which she collaborated with Andrew Hung of Fuck Buttons. –Allison Shoemaker

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37. Wu-Tang C wu tang forever Top 50 Albums of 1997lan – Wu-Tang Forever

Get It On Vinyl via Discogs

You have to love the fact that RZA conceived a double album at the height of the Wu’s popularity without even considering packing it with celebrity guests or even many things that could be considered a chorus. Its biggest hit, “Triumph”, didn’t have a hook at all, just verse after verse of rapper’s delight over an even more minimal beat than usual. Compared to say, Biggie’s Life After Death, anything that made Wu-Tang Forever “cinematic” was largely in the length — despite the score-worthy strings and boxing-ring bell of “The M.G.M.”. But it’s also virtually all lyrics without much story-line pretense, and hypnotizers like the stretch from “Severe Punishment” to “Older Gods” are double features in and of themselves.

Last Seen: Sort of in tatters on 2014’s troubled (but underrated) A Better Tomorrow, where the public squabbling between dueling factions RZA and Raekwon particularly came to a head. Oh, and creating the lone copy of the rarest record ever made with Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, sold to professional prolapse Martin Shkreli for $2M in an online auction. –Dan Weiss

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ben folds five whatever and ever amen Top 50 Albums of 199736. Ben Folds Five – Whatever and Ever Amen

Get It On Vinyl via Discogs

Every year delivers its fair share of anomalies; however, looking back, Ben Folds Five scaling the charts in ‘97 feels more like a miracle than an outlier. In an era of post-grunge and nu metal (ew, gross), how does a piano power pop trio without a guitar to distort conquer the radio waves? Ah, yes, a fourth single piano ballad about driving a girlfriend to have an abortion. Well, that makes sense … wait, what? There may not be a mold or formula that explains the miscounted trio’s success other than to say that Whatever and Ever Amen was, and remains, a quietly terrific album. Folds and co. managed to dial up a perfect combination of juvenile piano tantrums (“Song for the Dumped”), apathetic piano pop (“Battle of Who Could Care Less”), reflective relationship songs (“Smoke”), and, yes, ballads that can make a piano weep (“Brick” and “Evaporated”). It’s a record we didn’t know we wanted 20 years ago, but it’s one we haven’t put down since. Hey, all’s fair in love and piano rock.

Last Seen: After an 11-year split, the band reunited in 2011 to tour and record a fourth album. They’ve since gone on hiatus with Folds returning to his various solo projects and collaborations. –Matt Melis

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