They're hitting the big 2-0
Hoo, boy, makes you think tough, doesn’t it? Have two decades really passed since these massive records were released unto the world? Readers, they have – because that’s how time works. Here, then, we proudly present 20 influential albums that turn 20 in the year of our Lord 2018 (some, you could say, have aged better than others). Included, for posterity, is what NME had to say about ’em at the time.
The Manics come of age with an introspective, eclectic album that, lyrically, combines the personal and political.
What NME said in 1998: “Nicky’s opaque verses lend themselves more readily to poetic contemplation, and James responds with his most incontrovertibly delicate vocals, singing as opposed to lacerating his larynx in the quest for empathy.”
Soul, reggae and and hip-hop coalesce on this lush, masterful classic that saw Hill enter the pantheon of all-time greats.
What NME said in 1998: “Imagine a rap LP made in 1975 with the kind of political and personal scope of ‘What’s Going On’: or the idea of a young Stevie Wonder hitting his peak in 1998. That’s what we’re dealing with here.”
Stuart Murdoch and co. were perhaps never more winsome than on this beautifully concise collection of twee pop ditties.
What NME said in 1998: “There is a care and craftsmanship at work on ‘The Boy With The Arab Strap’, their third album, that leaves almost all their contemporaries for dead.”
This massively influential album from the French pop duo is effortlessly cool, but never po-faced; the record is laced with tongue-in-cheek humour.
What NME said in 1998: “‘Moon Safari’ is, nominally, techno, but a kind of techno that’s closer in spirit to Brian Wilson and Debussy than Rhythim Is Rhythim and The Chemical Brothers.”
The New Yorkers’ creativity was in full flow on this fun-packed grab-bag of party bangers.
What NME said in 1998: “A benchmark album that successfully integrates Zeitgeist-friendly pre-millennial angst into the block-rocking gameplan.”
Almost certainly Norman Cook’s most coherent record to date, this is an eclectic and wildly inventive. It’s like you’ve walked into the greatest record shop in the world and been given carte blanche to do whatever the fuck you want.
What NME said in 1998: “There is an unforced and easy-going love of soul music evident here… He’s come a long way already, and this mighty album is his career peak to date. Check it out. Now.”
The generally uncompromising punks made some small but uncharacteristic concessions to accessibility.
What NME said in 1998: “Fugazi are Chumbawamba with the sledgehammer emotional subtlety of Henry Rollins… Mercifully, their last album, ‘Red Medicine’, loosened the straitjacket of po-faced heaviness and betrayed a sly fondness for lo-fi instrumentation, jazz-tinged post-rockery and dubby spaciousness. ‘End Hits’ continues that drift.”
The band unveiled a sleeker sound on this polished but no less powerful collection of post-grunge rock belters.
What NME said in 1998: “[A] beautiful engineered piece of modern design”.
Courtney Love and pals tackle celebrity culture and live in the spot on this triumphant, glam-tinged record that perhaps marks the band’s creative peak.
What NME said in 1998: “The first thing you think when ‘Celebrity Skin’ smacks you in the nose is that you may never need to hear a rock’n’roll record ever again. It feels that good as soon as Courtney sneers the word “demonology” across a monster riff revived from somewhere in LA in the late-’70s. And that’s just the title track, the opener. Then it gets even better.”
Madge explores trip-hop, house and electronica on an incredibly satisfying album that is heavily influenced by her burgeoning interest in spirituality and mysticism.
The God of Fuck goes glam! Manson underwent a Bowie-style reinvention and explore pop terrain on this razor-sharp record, which perhaps remains his most underrated.
What NME said in 1998: “Of the 14 tracks here, ten could be singles. On this evidence alone, ‘Mechanical Animals’ is an unashamedly crass bid for total world domination… This is Manson’s most dangerous record. Ever.”
Drawn from the worlds of hip-hop and rock, ‘Mezzanine’ explores a richer, more complex side to the Bristolians than was exhibited on previous records.
What NME said in 1998: “It’s hard to think of another band since Joy Division with such an aptitude for articulating the despair that lurks at the very heart of darkness.”
Songwriter Jeff Magnum undisputed masterwork, this is reportedly a concept indie record about the life of Anne Frank.
What NME said in 1998: “Pathos saves Neutral Milk Hotel from being a complete oddity… This is what makes the whole odd and convoluted musical journey worth embarking on.”
Oasis were so untouchable and awesome in the mid-’90s that they simply threw loads of amazing tracks on B-sides. Here, finally, we had them all in one place – and we were bloody mad fer it.
What NME said in 1998: “Oasis were as punk as anyone since Nirvana. Listen to the garage rawness of ‘Acquiesce’ and the careering velocity of ‘Headshrinker’, or the primal clatter of the intro to ‘Fade Away’, they’re all underpinned by the same desperate sense of aspiration that informed much of punk’s original output.”
Harvey’s darkest record,
this is an often gruelling piece that stands as testament to her uncompromising approach to her work.
What NME said in 1998: “‘Is This Desire?’ is a wilfully uncommercial record. In the same way that the delta blues of ‘To Bring You My Love’ marked a radical shift away from the blazing anger of the Steve Albini-produced ‘Rid Of Me’, ‘Is This Desire?’ proves an equally shocking experience.”
Arguably the greatest Britpop record (soz Oasis, soz Blur, soz Pulp), this is Robbie in this creative prime.
What NME said in 1998: “Boy, what a record… Sure, Robbie’s still more Michael Barrymore than Michael Stipe, and he’ll never be ‘cool’ by that constipated, soul-crushingly snobbish James Lavelle definition. But he’s a natural-born star and he wants you to love him. I’ve Been Expecting You provides 12 good reasons why you should.”
It’s The Smashing Pumpkins, but not as you know them. Corgan and co. had a goth makeover and the music was suitably brooding and doomy.
What NME said in 1998: “With ‘Adore’ Billy Corgan has taken all the edge and angst that grunge managed to elbow onto the radio and polished it up for the stadiums using all the signifiers that currently spell out ‘modern’ to Americans.”
Satirical pop-punk that sends-up trash TV, sponging partners and crap relationships.
What NME said in 1998: “It’s an accidental marriage of style and content: The Offspring’s punk-by-numbers is as dated and intrinsically American as the whole chat-show issue [it satirises]. And equally irritating.”
Placebo married teenage angst with shimmering pop sensibilities on an album that captured vocalist Brian Molko at his most mercurial.
What NME said in 1998: “These aren’t songs that need to be studied too carefully. Whatever Molko says about the vulnerability and self-criticism of the lyrics on this record, the overall effect hardly reeks of repentance or fragility, the songs here are too confident for that, too sure of both where they’re going and how they’re going to get there.”
There’s a song on here called ‘Help the Aged’, neatly summing up the tone of Pulp’s sixth album,
which deals with the fall-out of fame and feeling that perhaps the party is nearing its end.
What NME said in 1998: “‘This Is Hardcore’ is the sound of what happened to Jarvis Cocker when he woke up one day and found life inside The Dream was not as he’d imagined for the best part of a lifetime.”