It’s pretty fair – and easy – to say that music has a profound effect on all of us, especially going back the last 500 or so years to the Renaissance period. Music in each decade of the 20th century, represented a rebellion and a refusal to stay stuck in the past, and bravely take a step into the unknown. This also involved new fashion trends and ideals that came along, such as wanting global peace in the ’60s, to wanting sexual liberation and anarchy in the ’70s and ’80s.
However, the final ten years of the 20th century, had a phenomenal impact. It was a culmination of the all the previous decades, an effect that is shaping (primarily) guitar music right now, and even seeing some familiar faces return to warm welcome arms (with many new faces alongside the familiar ones). There was the traditional hidden track at the end of albums (at least 10 minutes roughly after the last track). This article could easily become an encyclopedia of many albums, genres and artists, but I’m going to stick to a somewhat smaller list of LPs that have just passed or hit their 20th anniversary this year.
These are some of albums that helped to shape me –and others- whilst growing up, and still have an impact on our lives today.
Depeche Mode – Ultra – April 1997
Though it was their nineth studio album, and the third album they released in this decade alone, many weren’t sure if it was ever going to be completed.
There was a slight band re-shuffle, recovery from a decline in mental health and a degenerative battle with drug addiction. But hitting that rock bottom, enabled this much-loved group from Basildon, to climb right back to the top again, stunning everyone and perhaps even themselves.
This album hits home about hopes and fears, the inner struggles somewhat, when we don’t integrate the shadow part of ourselves, and feeling stronger coming through the other side. If you want to show how you managed to bounce back from the abyss, this is the way to do it; songs such as “The Love Thieves” and “It’s No Good”.
The best part, is that they don’t drift from the sound and techniques that define them as one of the best bands ever, to come out of the UK. As Dave pointed out in ‘Useless’…”you should see how it feels, with your feet on the ground.”
Belle & Sebastian – If You’re Feeling Sinister – November 1996
Though this was their second album (released in the same year) it is most definitely one of the most memorable amongst fans, and they even played it live, in its entirety, at the Barbican in 2005, and recorded the show.
It’s a poetic mash up of catastrophic situations, strange but life changing encounters and hope for the future mixed in with anxiety and confusion.
Singles such as “Me & the Major” and “Like Dylan In the Movies” had a simple story accompanied with beautiful acoustic harmonies, which still get the crowds going to this day.
Belle & Sebastian – The Boy With the Arab Strap – September 1998
This album took a different approach in making and a bit longer. But, with their signature sound now well established, their third album is full of stories characterising “what if’s” and “oh well’s”, coupled with a sombre albeit pragmatic outlook on life.
“A Space Boy Dream”, “Dirty Dream Number Two” and “Sleep the Clock Around” are full of vivid stories, demonstrating their excellent use of the harmonica, and orchestral sounds blended with a touch of jazz!
It’s fair to say, this Scottish group was only getting started getting all those monumental ideas from their minds onto paper. They just released a new album recently titled “How To Solve Our Human Problems”. They’ve still got that magic and ethereal charm!
Lauryn Hill – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill – August 1998
With a beautiful blend of reggae, jazz and hip hop, there is no doubt that this debut album by Lauryn was going to stand the test of time.
Though originally a member of the Fugees, Lauryn Hill had dramatic changes in her personal life; the lessons learnt and growth in that period that led to this album being made.
Lauryn herself said that “I needed to become the woman that I’m becoming, and it was necessary for me to make this record”.
With guest appearances from Mary J, Blige, and Carlos Santana, this is a musical tapestry of the journey and struggles it takes to define yourself as a woman in a world that does not want you to be confident and proud of that part of you, especially when you include your race and ethnicity (in Lauryn’s and my case, a black woman).
There have been orchestral renditions (and accompanying vocalists) of the album in its entirety in London recently, and all shows were completely sold out. Obviously this album hasn’t lost its magic touch or impact – which isn’t hard to believe when you think of tracks like ”To Zion”, “Lost Ones” and the classic “Doo Wop (That Thing)”.
Garbage – Garbage – August 1995
Though there were a semblance of a plan, side projects from all members, and an idea in place, things didn’t really come together until genius and philosophical Shirley Manson,was introduced to the others and formed Garbage.
As legend Butch Vig describes it, their debut album was a “melting pot” of experimental sounds, and lyrics with a meaningful depth and perhaps morals at the end of them.
The songs covered what was considered by some as taboo subjects, and daring with a female fronting the band…at a time where it was (and in some ways still is) a male orientated industry.
They explored the idea of obsession in “#1 Crush”, an existential kink in “Only Happy When It Rains”, sexual liberation in “Queer”, self-loathing masked by a need for attention in “Stupid Girl”(where Joe Strummer was one of the co-writers) and facing the dark depths of the self and beliefs in “As Heaven Is Wide”.
Garbage – Version 2.0 – May 1998
Their second album can be defined as the adolescent of their debut. Depicting lessons learnt, and coming across new obstacles and life challenges.
The band went deeper with their sound experimentation, with sound effects that can be heard through all their albums It gives them that funky edge and sets apart them from the rest of the crowd.
Yes, they’re listed as a rock band, but it’s not easy to group Garbage into a simple box, and quite rightly too. The album defines accepting who you are, and understanding yourself, even if you’re misunderstood by others around you.
This is definitely projected in “I Think I’m Paranoid”, “Temptation Waits”. The topics about conforming to society’s ideals is explored in “Sleep Together” and “Push It” (the music video receiving a total of thirteen music award nominations). Whereas “Dumb”, “The Trick Is To Keep Breathing” and “You Look So Fine” are all about dealing with internal struggles, and learning to not allow others to take advantage of your vulnerabilities.
They’ve just released the anniversary edition and with songs like “Lick The Pavement” and “Soldier Through This” ,the b-sides are not to be missed or underestimated. Shirley is known for her outgoing personality when it comes to civil, feminism and human rights, and the enthralling way that’s channeled through every song, every album and that’s part of the reason why we love her the band as a whole. When it was re-released, the week between 29th June- 5th July, it ranked number 2 in the UK chart of rock and metal albums. Safe to say, we’ll never get enough of Garbage!!
Madonna – Ray of Light – February 1998
Anyone who didn’t take this Lioness seriously in the 80s. Certainly perked up their eyes and ears when this album was released.
Madonna took a risk and it paid off, massively, going deeper than ever before. With the use of different genres, and the despite the delays and issues that arose, the album created some of her greatest hits like “Frozen” and “Power of Good-bye”.
The album also cemented another one of her iconic looks, which was one of her most powerful. To this day, this is still one of her most popular out of her whole discography, and the associating music videos.
Plus, the TV ads that used these tracks frequently, especially “Ray of Light”. This was a time before the introduction of smartphones, so a lot of us have grown up remembering certain TV things…because of the music used.
Mansun – Attack of the Grey Lantern – February 1997
When Mansun burst onto the scenes in the 90s, it took a lot of work convincing the media to appreciate the complex artwork that went into making this debut album,but Mansun proved them wrong.
Nor did it stop the “Mansunites” growing up and down the country, and abroad. They’re classed as a “Britpop” band these days, but many didn’t know where exactly to fit them in.
Most of the songs were a compilation of songs that Paul Draper wrote in his teens, not really considering at the time that they’d be played to the public years later.
They had stiff competition from other groups at the time, but still managed to out sell the likes of Blur and the Spice Girls and at one point even hitting number one in the UK charts!
It’s comical when you think some of the lyrics to “Dark Mavis” had to be changed because profanity wasn’t appropriate at that time. “Taxloss” is a song discussing greed. They caused a storm, getting themselves on the national news; making the video (directed by Roman Coppola) where the production crew disposed £25,000 in £5 notes(with Taxlo$$ stuck on them) at Liverpool Street station. Let’s not forget “Disgusting” with its haunting mix of lyrics and vocals to the secret track at the end, and all those classics B-sides such as “Everyone Must Win”. The 21st anniversary edition is worth every penny, with discs containing demos, outtakes and BBC John Peel sessions. If you need any more persuasion of how vital this band are, the re release hit #6 in the UK independent album chart, and #2 on the UK’s vinyl album chart.
Mansun – Six – September 1998
Those that did not understand the full concept of the first album, may have felt even more perplexed once their second album was released.
Not a love song in sight, but a mix of ideas from novels, TV show “The Prisoner”, with a bit of Sugar Plum fairy thrown in.
On another note, this album was ahead of its time, taking a unique approach to depression, dealing with failure and the issues that come with accepting one self, not to mention dealing with anger and confusion, so much so that you choose to “Anti Everything”. Even Mr(or shall we say Doctor?) Tom Baker making a cameo appearance on “Witness To A Murder.”
Their most successful single on the album was “Legacy” reaching the top 10 in the charts. “Being A Girl” and “Six” reached the top 20. “Special/Blown It” has one of the best instrumental intro’s ever. Many also resonate with the religious indoctrination portrayed in “Cancer” definitely one of the best songs from the album.
The anniversary edition is hotly anticipated later this year, and with the success of AOTGL’s re-release, it’s safe to say we’ll be seeing the same results with this one. Paul himself will be playing some of these songs again at Festival No.6 (where The Prisoner was filmed) and embarking on an acoustic solo tour.
We’ll be getting a second solo album soon for good measure. If in doubt, remember “the only pureness left is preached by Marx“. Or maybe, just maybe, life isn’t always a compromise. I certainly think so.
Multi-talent Monefa is Caffy’s assistant PR Princess at ArtBeat and a piano playing star. A regular contributor to The Zine UK both online and at our socials.