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

blink 182 dude ranch Top 50 Albums of 199725. Blink-182 – Dude Ranch

Get It On Vinyl via Discogs

Blink-182 fully completed their transformation from merry pranksters to multi-millionaires with 1999’s Enema of the State, but the seeds of their superstardom can be traced back to a rowdy plot of land called Dude Ranch. This was still several years before pop punk became a craze and then a laughingstock, which means there wasn’t much of a blueprint for songs like lead single “Dammit” and the irreverent, insanely catchy “Dick Lips”. Sure, Green Day and their East Bay brethren had already put pop punk on the map, but nobody could approach the youthful enthusiasm that oozed from these three idiots’ pores. Blink didn’t even pretend to be interested in politics or any other mode of critical thought; these guys just wanted to find a party and a girl who wouldn’t dump them, and for a minute back in 1997, that’s all that seemed to matter.

Last Seen: Blink-182 have seen their share of highs and lows over the years, but they’re back on the up-and-up with last year’s release of California (their first album with Matt Skiba replacing founding member Tom DeLonge). –Collin Brennan

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wyclef jean Top 50 Albums of 199724. Wyclef Jean – Wyclef Jean Presents the Carnival

Get It On Vinyl via Discogs

Wyclef Jean’s The Carnival is best remembered for its Bee Gees-sampling lead single, “We Trying To Stay Alive”. The song cemented Wyclef as a bankable solo artist, launching him from the exploding star of the Fugees. But behind the album’s pop hooks — the iconic “let me clear my throat” — lay messaging about police violence and racial and economic inequity. Opening track “Apocalypse” deploys its title as an allegory for the dark “End of Days” American millennium — the song’s last lyric: “A rookie shoots a boy over mistaken identity.” Even the album’s third single, the middle-school dance favorite “Gone Till November”, described the plight of northern men of color heading south, trafficking drugs out of economic necessity. On “Anything Could Happen”, Wyclef raps, “When I’m writing with my pen/ It turns into a lethal weapon,” which recasts even the seemingly weightless “We Trying To Stay Alive” as a statement of radical, against-the-odds existence.

Last Seen: After an aborted run for the Haitian Presidency in 2010, Wyclef has continued to release political music, including the recent “If I Was President” from the EP J’Ouvert. The EP is a preview of The Carnival Vol. III, arriving this summer to coincide with the 20th anniversary of The Carnival–Geoff Nelson

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nickcavethebadseeds theboatmanscall Top 50 Albums of 199723. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – The Boatman’s Call

Get It On Vinyl via Discogs

For decades, Nick Cave had earned a well-established reputation as a wide-eyed, slithery wildman. In the wake of a terrible divorce and overwhelming loneliness, he showed he could pour himself just as intensely and passionately into balladry. And though the songs dig into Cave’s personal pains and struggles, the cathartic emotional displays resonate deeply for any dark moment. “And I don’t believe in the existence of angels/ But looking at you, I wonder if that’s true/ But if I did, I would summon them together/ And ask them to watch over you,” Cave sings on “Into My Arms”, a song that’s heartbreaking in the context of an ending relationship, but even more tragic for true loss — as seen in the context of Cave’s performance of the song at the funeral of childhood friend and INXS vocalist Michael Hutchence. The Boatman’s Call is a smoldering, drizzly masterpiece perfect for whatever type of loss you’re suffering through.

Last Seen: Tragically, Cave most recently suffered through another unthinkable loss: his young son. Last year’s cathartic, shattered, soaring Skeleton Tree was shaded by Cave’s attempt to make sense of the experience. –Lior Phillips

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51qn3z60pul  sy355  Top 50 Albums of 199722. Buena Vista Social Club – Buena Vista Social Club

Get It On Vinyl via Discogs

When California guitar legend Ry Cooder arrived for a session in Havana in 1996, he likely had no idea that his trip would prove the catalyst for one of the greatest albums of Cuban son music ever produced. Finding the Malian musicians with whom he was originally supposed to collaborate absent due to visa issues, Cooder and his local connection, bandleader Juan de Marcos González, decided to expand upon González’s Afro-Cuban All Stars project. They lured out of semi-retirement some of the legendary musicians from the city’s older generation, most of whom had honed their craft at the pre-Communist Buena Vista Social Club. This intergenerational meeting of musical minds produced a group and record named after the fabled club, one that preserved the talents of these Cuban virtuosos (many of whom were then in their 70s and 80s) while reawakening the world’s appetite for Cuba’s bygone glamour and enduring local sounds. The record still sounds great today; its simmering, sun-baked music is best represented by opener “Chan Chan”, which was composed and sung by the group’s spry, fedora-clad octogenarian singer Compay Segundo. 

Last Seen: Buena Vista Social Club was a worldwide smash, charting in the top 10 in countries through Europe and the Americas, earning platinum certification and winning a Grammy in 1998. The group continued to tour as the Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club through 2015, but many of the band’s original members (including iconic pianist Rubén González and singers Ibrahim Ferrer and Compay Segundo) passed away during the intervening years. –Tyler Clark
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strangersalmanachighqualitypng Top 50 Albums of 199721. Whiskeytown – Strangers Almanac

Get It On Vinyl via Discogs

Whiskeytown was never built to last. Some 20 years later, we now know that singer-songwriter Ryan Adams is better off alone, as evidenced by alternative masterpieces like Heartbreaker, Love Is Hell, and this year’s Prisoner. But when it comes to the push-and-pull of being in a working band, especially one with a revolving door like that of Whiskeytown’s, you couldn’t ask for a more soluble collection of harmonies, licks, and melodies than those found within Strangers Almanac. The second full-length album from Adams and Caitlin Cary’s alternative country outfit is a baker’s dozen of heartbroken meditations that sound as if they were written on late-night strolls through the meandering backwoods roads of North Carolina. Producer Jim Scott, who had just engineered Tom Petty’s Wildflowers three years prior, adds a vivid touch behind the boards, especially with the organ and piano work, turning songs like “Everything I Do”, “Yesterday’s News”, and “Houses on the Hill” into the stuff that would sell a Cameron Crowe film. Granted, there were a handful of similar banner names popping up around this time — what up, Wilco — but the coarse, tattered-sleeve romanticism of Whiskeytown is what elevated them above their peers. Like The Replacements or Cowboy Junkies, their music felt more like a lifestyle and one that wasn’t too populated.

Last Seen: After recording the also-excellent Pneumonia in 2001, the moniker was shut down, and everyone went their separate ways. Rumors have long hinted of a reunion just around the corner — and, to be fair, there was a one-off, impromptu performance back in 2005 — but nothing’s ever come to fruition. But hey, it’s not like Adams isn’t busy these days. –Michael Roffman
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