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

dismemberment plan Top 50 Albums of 199735. The Dismemberment Plan – Is Terrified

Get It On Vinyl via Discogs

The Dismemberment Plan largely begin and end for most indie rockers with 1999’s immortal Emergency & I and 2001’s more placid Change, which shortchanges the most creative post-punk collective to ever exist. Maybe you’re too cool for 2013’s gorgeously gawky dadsterpiece Uncanney Valley, so try their first masterpiece instead, which rivals OK Computer for sheer weirdness contained by a competently written 1997 alt-rock album. The no-wave synth of “That’s When the Party Started” underpins a guy in your chimney who definitely ain’t Santa, “One Too Many Blows to the Head” throws a tuba into a throbbing jazz tantrum, and “Bra” finds Travis Morrison comparing himself to Young M.C. while going down two different types of Amazons. Terrified mines subject matter that’s completely of its scene (the cross-armed D-Plan spectators in “Do the Standing Still”) and couldn’t be further from it (shouting unsolicited advice for Gladys Knight as “Midnight Train to Georgia” soundtracks one drunk and sad NYE on the absolute classic “The Ice of Boston”). It goes out on a 12-minute ballad as bitchy and angst-ridden as the punchy stuff.

Last Seen:  They reformed for bracing live shows in the 2010s and one uncharitably reviewed album, 2013’s keyboard-heavy, danceable Uncanney Valley, which is filled with goofy lyrics like “You press the spacebar enough and cocaine comes out/ I really like this computer!” and surprisingly durable new wave anthems like “Daddy Was a Real Good Dancer” and “Go and Get It.” –Dan Weiss

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third eye blind self titled 300x300 Top 50 Albums of 199734. Third Eye Blind – Third Eye Blind

Get It On Vinyl via Discogs

It’s easy to forget just how unstoppable Third Eye Blind was two decades ago. Back then, it was impossible to avoid songs like “Jumper”, “How’s It Going to Be”, and, naturally, “Semi-Charmed Life”. They were on car stereos, all over mainstream radio, and soundtracking pretty much every teenage melodrama for The WB. Because of this, they’re the aural bookmark of the late ’90s, the first act that so many think about when they see Wet Seal at the mall or hear the name James Van Der Beek. But, as we learned on the festival circuit this past year, these songs still connect — and with younger audiences, too. Sure, Stephan Jenkins’ rapping is insufferable, but that croon of his is quite timeless, a coating of sweet treat sugar on an already diabetic casserole of pop rock. Die-hard fans will point to 1999’s Blue as their crown jewel, but everyone else will go to bat for their self-titled debut — and not just because of the obvious singles but for the deep cuts that are similarly enriching: “Narcolepsy”, “Motorcycle Drive By”, and “Burning Man” complement bigger jams like “Losing a Whole Year” and “Graduate” with aplomb.

Last Seen: Well, all the original members have since bailed, but Jenkins is still doing his “thing,” and that “thing” involves rapping about Black Lives Matter at festivals all across North America. Next up, he’ll perform this album in full at a venue near you. –Michael Roffman

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1000x1000 Top 50 Albums of 199733. Deftones – Around the Fur

Get It On Vinyl via Discogs

Chino Moreno is a man of extremes. His favorite tones are the dread-inducing whisper and the agonized scream, and he doesn’t spend much time in between. Of course, lots of metal frontmen like to toggle between beauty and beast, and Moreno had already begun exploring this tension on the Deftones’ first album, Adrenaline. But on sophomore follow-up Around the Fur, he found a new expressiveness in his softest singing, from the plaintive pain of “Lotion” to the creepy coos of “Mascara”. But the song that launched the Deftones into a new stratosphere of popularity was breakout single “My Own Summer (Shove It)”, and the star of that song is not Moreno, but Stephen Carpenter’s thunderously heavy 14-note riff. Carpenter’s drop-C#-tuned guitar sounds like it’s boiling up from cracks in the earth, and coupled with Moreno’s darkly poetic lyrics (“I think god is moving its tongue”), “My Own Summer (Shove It)” showed how intensely memorable this young, rising band could be.

Last Seen: The Deftones’ album Gore was one of the best albums of 2016, and in June the band is kicking off a North American tour with Rise Against. –Wren Graves

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jayz inmylifetime Top 50 Albums of 199732. Jay Z – In My Lifetime, Vol 1

Get It On Vinyl via Discogs

On his debut album, Reasonable Doubt, Jay Z proved he was a great rapper, and that’s undoubtedly the most important skill an emcee can have. But on his second album, In My Lifetime… Vol. 1, he demonstrated the second-most important skill an emcee can possess: the ability to evolve alongside popular music. Reasonable Doubt was prime-cut gangster rap, as sparse and violent as anything by Tupac or The Notorious B.I.G. But by 1997, gangster rap was on the way out, while Will Smith and “Gettin’ Jiggy With It” were ascending. For that reason, Jay Z opted for a glossier sound, enlisting Sean Combs’ in-house production team, The Hitmen. The results are a mix of personal (“Wishing on a Star”) and commercial (“The City Is Mine”), polished and profound. Looking back, it’s clear how much of Jay Z’s success depended on his ear and his sense of style: always on trend and never lagging behind.

Last Seen: In recent years, he’s been less a musician than a mogul, investing his energy into business ventures like music-streaming service Tidal. But Hov returned with several guest verses in 2016, and rumors abound that he’s gearing up to release his first new album since 2013’s Magna Carta Holy Grail–Wren Graves

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blur Top 50 Albums of 199731. Blur – Blur

Get It On Vinyl via Discogs

“Woohoo!” Throughout their self-titled album, Blur do a remarkable job of pulling from decades of British rock music … but really, it’s hard to get past “Song 2” and that absolutely iconic hook. Pumping The Kinks and Beatles with twitchy energy, sharp noise, and swift psychedelia, Blur’s fifth album wobbles and thrives, fueled in equal parts by brilliant songwriting and raw instrumentation. Guitarist Graham Coxon reportedly brought Pavement to the band’s inspiration palette, and while you shouldn’t go in expecting Malkmus-ian slackerdom, there’s a sneering jangle and loose-heeled guitar fun to Blur that rings with American indie inspiration. And even when parodying that inspiration, it’s hard to beat “Song 2” when it comes to earworms of the era.

Last Seen: Blur returned after a 12-year absence with 2015’s The Magic Whip, a record that received largely positive, if mixed, response. Oh, and Damon Albarn masterminds Gorillaz; don’t know if you’ve heard of them. –Lior Phillips
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