Tom’s Top 5’s: Albums of 1999

And so we come to the close of the 1900s, a century of radical changes in all areas of life: political, economic, cultural, intellectual, musical, you name it. As we’ve gone through the last third or so of the century in these Top 5’s, however, I find that my tastes have remained relatively consistent, if eclectic. I may cast a wide net, but at the end of the day, I end up reeling in symphonic prog, melodic pop-rock, and basically anything that sounds like it could’ve been written in 1971. So it is for 1999 as well. Surprised? I’m not.

5. UTOPIA PARKWAY (Fountains of Wayne)

Utopia Parkway

Goodness gracious Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger are talented popsmiths. The only thing that might improve their classic power pop is if they could just, for once, write a song that wasn’t a joke. Just once? No? Okay. I’ll forgive you on account of the blasts of harmony vocals that make the choruses of “Utopia Parkway” and “Amity Gardens” and “It Must Be Summer” shimmer.

4. RAJAZ (Camel)

Rajaz

Given their name and their iconography, it was almost inevitable that Camel would make an album about the desert; perhaps the only surprising thing is that it took 26 years to materialize. Latimer & Co. leave behind the suite-like structure of their previous two records here, but Rajaz remains highly conceptual. Indeed, it’s in many ways a return to the Mirage aesthetic, where, liberated from the “concept album” format, we get some great extended epics like “The Final Encore,” “Lawrence,” and “Three Wishes.”

3. BACK ON TOP (Van Morrison)

Back On Top

As artists get older, I’ve noticed, they often return to the music that inspired them when they were young, setting aside the synthetic tendencies of their salad days to make the kind of music that they would like to listen to. It’s certainly the case for Van Morrison, as the blues of “Going Down Geneva,” or the rolling Fats Domino groove of “Precious Time” demonstrate. The subject matter is decidedly more idiosyncratic, though, as is the magnificent “High Summer,” making for Van’s best album since Enlightenment.

2. THE UNAUTHORIZED BIOGRAPHY OF REINHOLD MESSNER (Ben Folds Five)

The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner

Ben Folds Five’s third album is their least consistent, in terms of sound and quality both, veering from “Narcolepsy”‘s arty waltz to “Your Most Valuable Possession”‘s lounge groove to “Regrets”‘s propulsive jazz-rock. But it also features some of Ben’s best songwriting yet, at both the comedic (“Army”) and the emotionally resonant (“Mess”) ends of his artistic spectrum. Plus Darren Jessee chimes in with one of the best songs BFF ever played; “Magic” indeed.

1. PREMIERS SYMPTÔMES (Air)

Premiers Symptômes

I hemmed and hawed about listing Premiers Symptômes – it was originally released as an EP in 1997 (expanded to LP length for its 1999 re-release), and even then it simply collected Air’s earliest singles. Obviously, though, I eventually opted to include it, since this was the first time most (English-speaking) listeners had heard these incredible songs, every bit the equal of anything on Air’s classic debut. If you’re looking to go on another Moon Safari, “J’Ai Dormi Sous L’Eau” will take you there.

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