The 10 Best Albums of 1999

The 10 Best Albums of 1999

 

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In my introduction to Slant’s list of the 100 Best Albums of the 1990s, I described nostalgia for the decade as “an idealized vision of a time when Bill Clinton was the fresh, young Democrat on the block, beepers were the hottest new tech items, and every major record label and Top 40 radio station was scrambling to discover the next big alternative to run-of-the-mill pop.” I went on to lament: “It’s human nature to look back on things with irrational fondness and nostalgia, overlooking the bad and romanticizing the good. But while the ’90s had its fair share of ’crap,’ it’s hard to deny that the ’good’ was exceptionally good.” So good, in fact, that we decided to dust off our lovingly curated list of over 400 albums to compile individual Top 10s for each year of the ’90s. Many of these titles are already widely—and rightfully—celebrated, but these lists also give us the opportunity to honor some typically overlooked gems. Sal Cinquemani
 

Honorable Mention: Nine Inch Nails, The Fragile; Tom Waits, Mule Variations; Wilco, Summerteeth; Q-Tip, Amplified; Handsome Boy Modeling School, So… How’s Your Girl? ; Beth Orton, Central Reservation; Jay-Z, Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter; The White Stripes, The White Stripes; Fountains of Wayne, Utopia Parkway; Underworld, Beaucoup Fish
 

The 10 Best Albums of 1999

10

The Magnetic Fields, 69 Love Songs

Chamber-pop misanthrope Stephin Merritt actually lets a little bit of sincerity shine through on 69 Love Songs, though his cockeyed worldview and unparalleled smartassery still permeate each song on his magnum opus. One of Merritt’s strengths as a songwriter is his economy, and the majority of these tracks pack an entire album’s worth of ideas, one-liners, and hooks into songs that barely scratch the two-minute mark. But what works best about 69 Love Songs is that Merritt’s steely precision doesn’t scan as emotional detachment. There’s ample snark in songs like “Time Enough for Rocking When We’re Old” and “Love Is Like a Bottle of Gin,” but “Come Back from San Francisco” and “Papa Was a Rodeo” prove that even the most committed of ironists can try a little tenderness now and then. Jonathan Keefe

The 10 Best Albums of 1999

9

Eminem, The Slim Shady LP

It was once all too easy to label any up-and-coming white rapper as the next Vanilla Ice, and by 1999, with a gimmicky name, bleached-blond hair, and the serviceable-but-mediocre Infinite having gone unnoticed three years prior, Eminem appeared safe for outright dismissal. The stark misogyny and insolence of The Slim Shady LP, where Em even challenged Dre himself on “Guilty Conscience,” changed all that: Marshall Mathers and his various aliases gleefully reveled in malice and chauvinism while still remaining tormented. Irreverent enough to mock the ego and id he saw in the mirror, Em filled Slim Shady with taboo rap and a prankster spirit. As he famously spat in “My Names Is,” he was sent to piss the world off, and as it turned out, no one—not even he—was safe from the crosshairs. Kevin Liedel

The 10 Best Albums of 1999

8

Fiona Apple, When the Pawn…

I don’t think I could survive a fight with Fiona Apple. All that bitterness is enough to make you want to icepick your eardrums. But who would she be if she didn’t have someone to fight with? Call her what you will, but this privileged craftswoman isn’t complacent and her words aren’t mush, and in Jon Brion she found the producer she deserved—someone to beautifully color her confessions without ever sounding subservient to them. Like a lover, his beats often indulge her emotion for emotion, running as fast as her angst often does, but there’s something almost teasing, not exactly mocking, about Brion’s mood-enhancing pop-jazz shadings. Sometimes they push back, threatening to, yeah, fucking go, and by When the Pawn…’s open-ended finale, you don’t know if they have. Apple and Brion’s special genius is their canny, heartbreaking evocation of uncertainty. Ed Gonzalez

The 10 Best Albums of 1999

7

Rage Against the Machine, The Battle of Los Angeles

More last roar than last gasp, The Battle of Los Angeles is one of Rage Against the Machine’s most pointed efforts, an unnerving blend of socio-political outrage and rock-fueled irreverence that served as an excellent final chapter in the group’s too-short career. For a band that was already masters at delivering jackhammering music with both precision and gusto, Zack de la Rocha and company excel in delivering The Battle of Los Angeles’s explosive salvos: The siren guitars of “Calm Like a Bomb” wail with urgency, “Guerilla Radio” builds like a restless wave, and “Mic Check” is a foreboding stutter driven by de la Rocha’s invectives against overreaching capitalism. Liedel

The 10 Best Albums of 1999

6

The Flaming Lips, The Soft Bulletin

Having spent the preceding decade as one of music’s most revered experimental pop acts, for 1999’s The Soft Bulletin, the Flaming Lips jettisoned some of the problematic, self-consciously fey trappings of their previous work and distilled the elements that worked best about their distinctive take on modern pop into song structures that were as accessible as they were adventurous. The result was a deliberately constructed, refined new sound and a landmark album that was both influenced by and superior to the music of its era and which, in retrospect, stands as one of the finest, most important and influential albums of its decade. A testament to careful, selective editing, The Soft Bulletin recast the Flaming Lips as far more than a quirky cult act and laid the groundwork for their commercial and artistic breakthroughs in the years that followed. Keefe

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