5 choice albums from the last year of the 20th century (in alphabetical order by artist):
CHRIS CORNELL Euphoria Morning [A&M]
The Soundgarden frontman’s debut album was met with modest sales and the disappointment of quite a few of his former band's followers, who were obviously expecting a retread of Superunknown [A&M-1994], or something. We praised the album, found it to be a natural progression from the work he'd done with his previous band, and noted how those who were surprised by it had not been paying attention to the evolution of Cornell's songwriting over the last few Soundgarden records. Reminiscent at times of Temple of the Dog, it’s still the best thing he’s put his name on as a solo artist.
THE FLAMING LIPS The Soft Bulletin [Warner Bros]
While being hailed as, arguably, the best rock album of 1999, at the time many were asking "Where’s the old noisy Flaming Lips I knew and loved?" Well, the feedback and white noise that made them (in)famous gradually gave way to keyboards, strings and other assorted sonic landscapes.
A risky, but artistically viable—and subsequently, fruitful—step in the right direction, as far as we’re concerned, quite a few folks disagreed at the time: one particular reviewer disparagingly referred to The Soft Bulletin as a misstep where seemingly "… Led Zeppelin and Yes joined forces to back Neil Young…" Nothing wrong with that in our book. Then or now.
JUMBO Restaurant [BMG US Latin]
Not sure if they were a modern, melodic pop/rock band (“Fotografía”, “Alienados Para Siempre”) or Local H’s Mexican cousins (just about everything else), Jumbo’s debut album is understandably a tentative affair. But the seeds of the Monterrey, Mexico quintet’s musical future were on that album’s “Siento Que”, a powerful anthem of longing and love on its last sighs that would subsequently come to define their sound, and is arguably their single best song.
Restaurant got the band plenty of exposure within and beyond the borders of their native country and set the stage for their first true international hit.
OWSLEY self titled [Giant]
Following the demise of his band The Semantics—an early version of which included Ben Folds on drums (!)—after Geffen Records decided not to domestically release their debut album Powerbill (which sold 20,000 copies in Japan with no promotion whatsoever), Wil Owsley became a sideman for the likes of Amy Grant and Shania Twain. With the income from his guitar-slinger day job, Owsley started work on his self-titled debut album, which he recorded at home over the space of three years. This is still an undiscovered gem littered with old-school pop hooks, catchy guitars and muscular drums. The top-notch songs may benefit from the spot-on mixes by über-engineer Tom Lord-Alge, but like Nirvana’s Nevermind, this is one of those albums where the songwriting and arrangements are too strong for you to notice how polished it is—until it’s too late: by then you’re hooked for good. Sadly, Wil Owsley committed suicide in 2010.
XTC Apple Venus Volume 1 [Cooking Vinyl]
After a protracted battle with their label, Virgin Records, that saw the band go “on strike” and not release any music for more than half a decade, main songwriter Andy Partridge decided XTC’s next two albums should be a mostly acoustic, orchestral disc and a rock-oriented record, respectively. Vehemently opposed was guitarist/keyboardist/arranger Dave Gregory, who preferred culling the best tracks for a single, and presumably more high-quality, effort. Gregory—for whom the mounting friction over the direction of the album led to his departure during its recording—was eventually proven right. But Apple Venus is not only chock full of gems (“I’d Like That”, “Easter Theatre”, “Harvest Festival”, “The Last Balloon”) it’s one of XTC’s very best.