As we get into the late 90s, we’re starting to see bands reappear on our great albums list. Familiar names like REM, Neutral Milk Hotel, and Beck all had highly anticipated records that came out this year, and it was also a strong year for Can-Con. These albums are in no particular order and are just a few of the great albums from 1998.
Neutral Milk Hotel – In The Aeroplane Over The Sea
Neutral Milk Hotel released their sophomore album, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, on February 10th, 1998. Frontman Jeff Mangum moved from Athens, Georgia to Denver, Colorado so it was easier to collaborate with producer Robert Schneider. Fans have speculated that the album is about Anne Frank, as she’s referenced at times throughout the album including both her birth and death dates. Although the group has never officially confirmed that the LP is entirely about her, Mangum has said during live performances that “Holland, 1945” was in fact about Anne. The critical reception of the record was mixed, but it still helped to expand their fan base without alienating the existing one. The album was included at #4 on Pitchfork’s Top 100 Albums of the 1990s, and was named #1 on Magnet’s list of the Top 60 Albums from 1993-2003.
Hayden – The Closer I Get
This is the second album released from indie artist Hayden, and was his first international record. He’s penned to Toronto based Arts & Crafts currently, but this album was released through Outpost/Geffen/Universal. The record doesn’t stray far from the sound he created on his debut album, Everything I Long For. It’s built around acoustic guitars and soft voices, building on the familiar lo-fi folk sound that Hayden still uses today.
Sloan – Navy Blues
1998 also brought us the 4th studio album from Canadian pop rockers Sloan. Navy Blues contains arguably the group’s most popular song, “Money City Maniacs”. The song gained significant popularity after being used in a beer commercial. Other singles that helped the album reach gold status were “She Says What She Means” and “Keep on Thinkin”. The LP was also nominated for Rock Album of the Year at the 1999 Juno Awards.
Cake – Prolonging The Magic
Released on October 6th 1998, this is the 3rd studio album to come from Cake. The record only spawned one single “Never There”, and was recorded after the departure of original guitarist Greg Brown. The band then had rotating replacements to fill his void until they were so smitten with Xan McCurdy, they gave him full time status. The LP debuted at #33 on the Billboard 200, and by late 1999 it had officially reached platinum status. Though Prolonging the Magic only had one official single, other notable songs included “Hem of Your Garment” and “Sheep Go to Heaven”.
REM – UP
This is REM’s 11th album, but their first without the group’s original drummer Bill Berry, who left the band to pursue his own interests. During its recording process, the band used session drummers and drum machines in place of Berry. After ten years of working together, REM decided to part ways with producer Scott Lit for this record, opting to pursue a more electronically influenced sound. It ended up being a tough record for the guys to make, admitting in interviews after its release that they were close to breaking up. The LP reached #3 in the US and #2 in the UK, but didn’t have the staying power of the albums that came before them.
Beck – Mutations
Expectations were high for Mutations, the follow up to Beck’s successful 1996 record Odelay. The LP marked a stylistic shift from his preceding album, which was more hip hop influenced and full of samples. This time around, Beck worked with former Radiohead producer Nigel Goldrich to create an a sound full of keyboards, acoustic guitars and string arrangements. Although the record didn’t do as well on the charts as Odelay, it still managed to pick up a Grammy for Best Alternative Album and receive a 9/10 from Pitchfork.
Matthew Good – Underdogs
If you’re wondering why this album is included in 1998, it’s because Underdogs was only available in Canada in 1997 (it was released internationally in August 25th, 1998.) It’s the second full length album to come from Matthew Good Band and includes the singles “Everything Is Automatic”, “Indestructible”, “Apparitions”, and “Rico”. The record was much more successful than their debut release and is arguably their most successful record of all time. It reached platinum status in Canada and snagged them a nomination for Best Rock Album at the 1999 Junos.
Belle and Sebastian – Boy With the Arab Strap
This is the 3rd album to come from our Scottish friends Belle and Sebastian, and there was a little bit of controversy surrounding the record’s name. They toured briefly with another Scottish band named Arab Strap and the LP’s name was inspired by them. Arab Strap was less than pleased that their band name was now another group’s album title. Aside from that, diversity of voices was a key component on this record, with lead vocal contributions coming from several different band members. The album did very well with critics, gaining rave reviews from most major music magazines, and pleased their fans as well. The record’s title track landed at #130 on NME’s “150 Best Tracks of the Past 15 Years” list.
Billy Bragg and Wilco – Mermaid Avenue
Mermaid Avenue is somewhat of a strange project; a combination of unheard lyrics from the late American folk singer Woody Guthrie mixed with music written and performed Billy Bragg and Wilco. After he played a Guthrie tribute show in New York City’s Central Park, Woody’s daughter Nora approached Bragg about the possibly of writing music to accompany her father’s lyrics. Nora gave these lyrics to Bragg because she wanted her father’s lyrics to be relevant to a younger generation. Wilco was then recruited by Bragg to be a part of the project. This record led to a second Mermaid Avenue project after gaining universal acclaim, including Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Folk Album. The project was also chronicled in the 1999 documentary, Man in the Sand.
The Tragically Hip – Phantom Power
This is the 6th full length album to come from Canadian icons The Tragically Hip and was released on July 14th 1998. The record was extremely successful in Canada, going 3x platinum and winning Junos for both Best Rock Album and Best Album Design. The album spawned 5 singles: “Poets”, “Something On”, “Bobcaygeon”, “Fireworks” and “Escape Is at Hand for the Travellin’ Man”. “Bobcaygeon” went on to win single of the year at the Juno awards in 2000.