Tom’s Top 5’s: Albums of 1997

1997 is, for me, the Year of Leaving Out Obvious Choices.

The first such Obvious Choice is OK Computer. Oh, look at Tom, being all underground and contrary. It’s not like it’s one of the few albums that regularly challenges Sgt. Pepper and Revolver at the top of Best Albums of All Time lists or anything. But here’s the thing: I like OK Computer well enough. I recognize that there’s some good music here. But for whatever reason, it feels kind of sterile to me: too cold and self-consciously arty to forge a deep emotional connection, and yet not sufficiently complex to satisfy my prog inclinations. I’m sure there’s something important I’m missing; but I re-listened to it just yesterday and still missed whatever it is, so it’s not a question of unfamiliarity at least.

The second Obvious Choice is Bob Dylan’s Time Out of Mind. On the whole, I have warmer feelings toward Time Out of Mind than I do toward OK Computer, but I’ve never quite been able to understand the adulation this record has received from Dylan devotees. It’s probably because I never lived through the doldrums of the 80s-to-mid-90s, and so didn’t get to experience the euphoria many fans felt at Bob’s late-career comeback. It’s a good album, no doubt–although I can’t say I’m particularly fond of Daniel Lanois’s production–but it’s not one that often makes it into my playlist.

The third Obvious Choice is Daft Punk’s Homework. If you follow this blog, you’ll have probably surmised that I am a pretty gigantic Daft Punk fan. But to fully appreciate what the band was up to on its debut, you need to hear these songs remixed and reimagined on Alive 1997 and Alive 2007. Unlike Discovery or Random Access Memories, Homework is not, for the most part, an album of fully-developed songs. It is a compendium of raw materials, beats and samples and synthesizer hooks, out of which the band constructs its mind-boggling live mixes. (Same goes, to a large extent, for Human After All.) And so, while “Around the World” live-mixed into “Harder Better Faster Stronger” is thrilling beyond words, seven minutes of nothing but “Around the World” starts to wear on me.

So those are the Obvious Choices. How about the Not So Obvious Choices? Read on!

5. A SHORT ALBUM ABOUT LOVE (The Divine Comedy)

A Short Album About Love

The appropriately brief (31 minutes) follow-up to Casanova ratchets up the classic pop quotient as Neil Hannon gives his Songs of Love the full orchestral treatment. The first two tracks, “In Pursuit of Happiness” and “Everybody Knows (Except You),” are the undisputed highlights. But the James Bond-ian “Someone,” and expansive “I’m All You Need” are valuable additions to the Divine Comedy songbook too.

4. EGYPTOLOGY (World Party)

Egyptology

The original version of “She’s the One” is almost identical to Robbie Williams’ smash hit cover, except that it features Karl Wallinger’s on vocals instead of Williams, a decided improvement. Beyond that modern classic, Wallinger continues to prove he’s a songwriter in the classic mold, essaying ELO-esque pop, swirling surrealistic epics, and neo-R&B with equal aplomb.

3. WHATEVER & EVER AMEN (Ben Folds Five)

Whatever & Ever Amen

Whatever & Ever Amen concentrates the attack of Ben Folds Five, smoothing out the rough edges and broadening the trio’s sonic palette to include jazz, waltzing folk rock, and classic piano balladry. It also finds Ben Folds himself developing as a songwriter. He’s still capable of world-class snark and bizarre-o character sketches, of course; but now he’s capable of remarkable musical and lyrical subtlety as well.

2. SOMEWHERE MORE FAMILIAR (Sister Hazel)

Somewhere More Familiar

You want feel-good? It doesn’t get much more feel-good than Sister Hazel. To my mind, they were the best of the Blues Traveler/Hootie & the Blowfish/Matchbox Twenty-style adult alternative crowd: relentlessly upbeat without becoming sugary, emotionally involved without becoming self-involved, melodic without losing their Southern Rock dynamism. Summer couldn’t ask for a better soundtrack.

1. FLAMING PIE (Paul McCartney)

Flaming Pie

Reminded of his legendary past by the Beatles Anthology and galvanized by Linda’s losing battle with breast cancer, Paul swung back with an album that truly hearkens back to his glory days, right down to its Lennon-inspired title. Now, as with almost every McCartney album that’s made these lists, Paul can be maddeningly inconsistent at times: “Really Love You,” Paul? Really? But even “Really Love You” can’t bury “The World Tonight” or “The Songs We Were Singing.” And the song has not yet been sung (or if it has, I haven’t heard it) that can bury “Calico Skies” or “Somedays” or “Little Willow.”

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3 Responses to Tom’s Top 5’s: Albums of 1997

  1. Pingback: Tom’s Top 5′s: Albums of 1998 | Revolutions Per Minute

  2. alexvoltaire says:

    Great work here, Tom. “Flaming Pie” is actually my third favorite album ever (Behind Abbey Road and Elton’s Captain Fantastic.) It is faithful to The Beatles ideal without becoming a nostalgia record– just beautifully, simply crafted songs, with Ringo or Steve Miller dropping by once in a while.

    • Tom Emanuel says:

      Thanks! Great Top 2, by the way – Captain Fantastic is easily my favorite Elton John album, and probably in my Top 10 of all time, whereas Abbey Road competes only with Springsteen’s Born to Run as far as I’m concerned. 🙂

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