FEATURE: Ending the Decade in Style: Part IV/V: The Finest Albums of 1999




Ending the Decade in Style


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Part IV/V: The Finest Albums of 1999


THE reason I want to put together a new feature…


 PHOTO CREDIT: @trommelkopf/Unsplash

is to shine a light on the albums that end a decade with a huge bang. I feel it is hard to define what a decade is about and how it evolves but the first and last years are crucial. Entering a decade with a big album is a great way to stand out and, similarly, ending it with something stunning is vital. It can be hard leaving a brilliant and bountiful decade of music but I wanted to shine a light on the artists who brought out albums that did justice; gave hope the next decade would be full, exciting and brilliant. I will do a five-part series about albums that opened a decade with panache but, right now, the fourth in a five-part feature that collates the best decade-enders from the 1960s, 1970s; 1980s, 1990s and the 2000s. I am focusing on 1999 and the best ten records from the year. The 1990s was a wonderful time for music and produced some truly epic albums. One might assume the final year would not be as explosive and genius as the likes of 1991 and 1994 but, as these ten albums show, there was a pretty wonderful treat that greeted...


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THE end of a brilliant decade.


Eminem The Slim Shady LP


Release Date: 23rd February, 1999

Labels: Aftermath; Interscope


The production -- masterminded by Dr. Dre but also helmed in large doses by Marky and Jeff Bass, along with Marshall himself -- mirrors his rhymes, with their spare, intricately layered arrangements enhancing his narratives, which are always at the forefront. As well they should be -- there are few rappers as wildly gifted verbally as Eminem. At a time when many rappers were stuck in the stultifying swamp of gangsta clichés, Eminem broke through the hardcore murk by abandoning the genre's familiar themes and flaunting a style with more verbal muscle and imagination than any of his contemporaries. Years later, as the shock has faded, it's those lyrical skills and the subtle mastery of the music that still resonate, and they're what make The Slim Shady LP one of the great debuts in both hip-hop and modern pop music” – AllMusic    

Standout Track: My Name Is


The Flaming Lips The Soft Bulletin


Release Date: 17th May, 1999

Label: Warner Bros.


The song alternates between pixie dust and angel dust-- first it flows, then it swaggers with a killer Moog-and-drum battle with the audience going Qui-Gon at the altar of the Bulletin. The following cut, "The Spark That Bled", is even more adventurous. Coyne's little boy vocals take on a philharmonic of yearning, tackling it down with its ambiguous "I stood up and I said 'Yeah'" chorus. 4AD used to be this dreamy-- now they're picking at leftover Red House Painters demos and wondering when people are going to like Kristin Hersh. (Never, by the way.) This is on Warner Brothers?!

Oh, but there's more. So much more. Drummer Steven Drozd gets mad props for his thundering percussion which, for the most part, was recorded on one microphone. Hard to believe during a dense number like my personal favorite track, "The Gash". As much as I giggled over the title, I was bowled over by the song. A gospel choir sings an inspirational (!) song of perseverance over tweaked synth tracks and louder-than-Christ funky drumming. I defy you to listen to it without seeing just how loud your stereo can get.

Drozd also makes quick work of "Waitin' for a Superman", another inspirational piece-- one that was inspired by the death of Coyne's father. The result is this band's "Losing My Religion". Seriously. If Top 40 gets ahold of this song, we're all going to be very, very sick of it. Still, it's an amazing track, a shuffling dirge with a few bells, and two amazingly well-placed trumpet blasts, but mostly just some slightly hungover piano.

Speaking of death, it's a lingering theme on The Soft Bulletin. "Suddenly Everything Has Changed" is a neat, twisty little ditty about how thoughts of mortality can attack you when you least expect it. "Feeling Yourself Disintegrate" is a more direct rumination on the subject, a dreamy blast of vacuum cleaner guitar and reverb, reverb, reverb! Again, hardly party music, but remember Dark Side of the Moon? Pass the bong. This is some good shit” – Pitchfork

Standout Track: Waitin’ for a Superman

Beck Midnite Vultures


Release Date: 23rd November, 1999

Label: DGC


'Midnite Vultures' is bound to entrench opinions on both sides of the Beck divide. The doubters will recoil from its myriad layers of self-knowledge and the fact that the author's tongue is almost permanently lodged in one cheek or another. But just because this isn't a conventional dose of 'reality' doesn't mean Beck can't be sincere, and the force of character laid bare here is quite an awesome thing to behold. Narrower in scope than 'Odelay' but more immediate in impact, it's clearly been conceived as an accompaniment to our hedonistic habit of choice, the last great party album of the millennium. And like a certain song says, parties weren't meant to last” – NME  

Standout Track: Sexx Laws                            

TLC FanMail


Release Date: 23rd February, 1999

Labels: LaFace; Arista


Almost ten producers worked on the record, all trying to replicate the easy, appealing sound of Crazysexycool. And "replicate" is the right word, since there are no new innovations on FanMail, apart from a few lifts from the Timbaland book of tricks. Nevertheless, that may be for the best, since TLC and their army of producers have spent time crafting the songs and productions, turning FanMail into a record that almost reaches the peaks of its predecessor. By the end of the record, it appears that they can do it all -- funky, hip-hop-fueled dance-pop, seductive ballads, and mid-tempo jams -- and they can do it all well. Other groups try to reach these heights, but they don't have the skills or the material to pull it off quite so well. True, the five-year wait felt interminable, and they're now standard-bearers instead of pioneers, but if takes TLC as long to make a sequel to FanMail, so be it -- they have one of the best track records in '90s urban soul” – AllMusic

Standout Track: No Scrubs

Basement Jaxx Remedy


Release Date: 10th May, 1999

Label: XL


BASEMENT JAXX Remedy (Astralwerks) British DJs Simon Ratcliffe and Felix Buxton may have sharpened their sample-trigger fingers in the Brixton underground, but this dynamic duo has a knack for leavening deep house grooves with passion and wit. Their debut album, Remedy, shines a thousand points of light down on the dance floor with shimmering jams that connect the dots between Soul II Soul’s elegant hip-hop, Prince’s one-world utopianism, and DJ Armand Van Helden’s relentless thump science. This blissful joy ride is hard to resist and easy to love” – Entertainment Weekly   

Standout Track: Red Alert


Mos Def Black on Both Sides


Release Date: 12th October, 1999

Labels: Rawkus; Priority


The main reference points are pretty much the same -- old-school rap, which allows for a sense of playfulness as well as history, and the Native Tongues posse's fascination with jazz, both for its sophistication and cultural heritage. But they're supported by a rich depth that comes from forays into reggae (as well as its aura of spiritual conscience), pop, soul, funk, and even hardcore punk (that on the album's centerpiece, "Rock n Roll," a dissection of white America's history of appropriating black musical innovations). In keeping with his goal of restoring hip-hop's sociopolitical consciousness, Def's lyrics are as intelligent and thoughtfully crafted as one would expect, but he doesn't stop there -- he sings quite passably on several tracks, plays live instruments on others (including bass, drums, congas, vibraphone, and keyboards), and even collaborates on a string arrangement. In short, Black on Both Sides is a tour de force by an artist out to prove he can do it all. Its ambition and execution rank it as one of the best albums of 1999, and it consolidates Mos Def's position as one of hip-hop's brightest hopes entering the 21st century” – AllMusic

Standout Track: Umi Says                      

Moby Play


Release Date: 17th May, 1999

Labels: Mute; V2; EMI


Portions of this techno imp’s best album since 1995’s Everything Is Wrong are built on a simple premise: setting snippets from old blues and gospel recordings to new rhythmic (not always electronic) settings. What could’ve been a condescending gimmick yields some of the year’s most haunting, and haunted, music. Moby’s elegant soundscapes wipe away the mustiness on these decades-old voices and make the singers’ heartache and hope seem fresh again. Although in need of a bit of pruning (notable exception: the gorgeous ”Porcelain,” featuring Moby’s own plaintive vocal), Play is music that truly moves back to the future” – Entertainment Weekly

Standout Track: Natural Blues


Rage Against the Machine The Battle of Los Angeles


Release Date: 2nd November, 1999

Label: Epic


Rather than illuminate a political injustice with narrative (a la Dylan’s “Hurricane”), de la Rocha opts to incite with fiery slogans of agitprop. “All hell can’t stop us now” is the conclusion of “Guerrilla Radio”; “My panther, my brother/We are at war until you’re free” is the refrain of “Voice of the Voiceless,” a song about Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther on death row in Philadelphia for a cop murder he says he didn’t commit. Though some may find the lyrics naive and over the top, fans do take them to heart — though not always in context, as can be attested by anyone who saw the marauding teens chanting, “I won’t do what you tell me” as they lit a match to Woodstock ’99. Rage Against the Machine may never ignite the youth war they want to see. But at last, with The Battle of Los Angeles, they’ve managed to win a war within — one in which the band’s notoriously feuding members have come together to produce a sound that’s not quite louder than a bomb but that’s definitely as loud as Led Zeppelin II” – Rolling Stone

Standout Track: Guerrilla Radio     


Missy Elliott Da Real World

Release Date: 22nd June, 1999

Label: EastWest America


Thankfully, Da Real World is clearly a Missy Elliott album in most respects, with Timbaland's previously trademarked, futuristic-breakbeat production smarts laced throughout. The churchgoing Elliott has often remarked that she wishes she didn't need profanity to get attention, and the album accordingly includes satirical nods to other clichéd notions of hip-hop -- the single "She's a Bitch" is the best example, wherein Elliott reappropriates the insult to refer to strong females. She also takes on the cartoonish Eminem for "Bus a Rhyme," a track that turns out to be one of the best on the album. Da Brat and Aaliyah make repeat appearances, and Redman and OutKast's Big Boi also contribute to this excellent follow-up” – AllMusic      

Standout Track: She’s a Bitch                                        


The Chemical Brothers Surrender


Release Date: 21st June, 1999

Labels: Freestyle Dust; Virgin; Astralweeks


Surrender is both the Chemical Brothers most immediately satisfying work and, perhaps not coincidentally, the most like a rock album of their career. Unlike a fair share of techno, these songs feel like "songs," not a collection of clever samples and a race to the fastest BPM on the planet. Yeah, you can go out and buy your jungle, your trance, your trip-hop and your ambient, but why would you when you'd be sacrificing the greatest gift of all: Surrender's love and understanding” – Pitchfork

Standout Track: Hey Girl Hey Boy