Blame my imagination, but whenever I'd read about essential albums released at least ten years before, I thought the times were a tad more "innocent." Meaning, this great record could never be made in this day and age and there's no way something new will ever come close. Well, seeing how that's a load of baloney, but credit should be given where it's due.
In the latest issue of Alternative Press, there's an article devoted to the "Class of 1997: a look back at 10 albums that shaped that punk of today." Being a reader of AP off and on since 1997, it was rather surreal to read about records I remembered being released back in the day. I was a freshman in college and dug for a lot of music that wasn't so easily found (or not found at all) on MTV, VH1 or daytime radio. This was not an innocent time per se, just a different time compared to my life before and after it.
While certain magazines spun about trying to make bold statements in the now covering a lot of grunge and Britpop leftovers and electronica groups, AP actually gave a number of these future essential records some coverage. Say what you will about how the mag is mostly for the Warped Tour audience now, but at least they've always given legitimate/sincere coverage to stuff like this.
So, without further adieu, here's a little walk down memory lane:
blink-182, Dude Ranch (MCA)
A pop-punk record on a major label three long years post-Dookie? You bet. Though the band wouldn't become superstars until their next record, Enema of the State, this band showed a lot of promise here. (It did go Gold thanks in part to steady airplay of "Dammit" and eventually went double platinum.)
These are fast, tuneful little ditties clearly inspired by Fat Wreck Chords pop-punk. But there was a lot of other stuff that didn't make it sound like a NOFX knockoff. Maybe that's why this stuff still holds up well. Once Drive-Thru Records came in with watered-down versions of this style and sold a lot of records, it was a point of no return. I found this version so bad that I couldn't understand how anyone could claim this was worth a crap. Luckily for me, I started uncovering more about a sound Tom DeLonge and Mark Hoppus praised about in a 120 Minutes interview: emo.
Foo Fighters, The Colour and the Shape (Capitol)
A big record right out of the gate and still one of their best albums. A completely different vibe from the self-titled debut, almost every single song blew me away, right away. Previewing half of the album on Modern Rock Live along with interviewing Dave, Nate and new drummer Taylor Hawkins, I couldn't believe the songs I was hearing.
It was also on this program that I heard about a Pixies album that became my first Pixies album: Trompe Le Monde. Describing it as the Pixies' most accessible record, Dave's words inspired me to start with this one. Though his claim is debatable in retrospect, at least it got the ball rolling for me with that band.
The Get Up Kids, Four Minute Mile (Doghouse)
I don't recall this record coming out to much fanfare right out of the gate, but the band's name kept floating around throughout the year. Aaron briefly mentioned them in an extensive AP piece on modern hardcore and called them a poppy band. A poppy hardcore band? I had to hear this.
While record shopping in Austin at Sound Exchange, I found a used copy of Four Minute Mile. Despite listening to it over and over again for the next few days, I couldn't really get into it. Too rough around the edges for my taste, but there were a number of catchy songs. Thankfully I didn't write them off. By the Red Letter Day EP the following year, I, along with lots of other pop-punk, ska and hardcore fans were taking a lot of notice with these guys.
Deftones, Around the Fur (Maverick)
A bandmate of mine loved their debut, Adrenaline, and wanted to cover "7 Words." I dug that song and a number of other songs, so I looked forward to Around the Fur. Thanks to an eye-catching video for "My Own Summer (Shove It)," I was pretty impressed. Strangely, I never really got into this record. At least I was aware of one of the better, non-pseudo/macho moron metal bands. There weren't that many.
The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Let's Face It (Mercury)
The one Bosstones record where everything clicked was also their most popular. Like their previous efforts, they fused metal, ska, punk and melodic tuneage, but had yet to make a really solid effort. I should also note (and it seems so long ago), but ska was huge around this time. Sure, you had Slapstick and Skankin' Pickle before this, but bands like Goldfinger, Reel Big Fish, Less Than Jake and the Bosstones got us pop-punk fans into ska. But once these bands released their follow-ups about two years later, the novelty of skitchy guitars and horns was over. Let's Face It is definitely one of the highlights of this genre.
Ben Folds Five, Whatever and Ever Amen (Sony/550)
One of my favorite records of all time. This is everything I liked about '60s/'70s pop mixed with fuzz bass, jazzy drums and a little bit of humor. You can't go wrong with any of the Five's three proper albums, but this one is still the essential one.
I must say, it was very odd to see "Brick" become a big hit later in the year. No other band can say its biggest hit was a downbeat number about abortion and these guys are still like no other.
Discount, Half Fiction (Kat)
A record I've never heard from a band I've heard little about. Not necessarily pop-punk, but energetic poppy punk/hardcore with female vocals. I know these folks played a lot of shows with Hot Water Music back in the day and featured Todd Rockhill, a future member of the Draft who has 3/4s of Hot Water Music in it, and Alison Mosshart, currently of the Kills. I don't remember this record getting a lot of talk back in the day, but maybe I wasn't looking hard enough.
Modest Mouse, The Lonesome Crowded West (Up)
Another record I don't really know much about and don't remember coming out to much fanfare. The strange thing is, merely a year later, I heard some high praise about Modest Mouse. It still baffles me as to how these guys could play the massive Ridglea Theater a few years later and almost sell the place out. Nobody really knew who they were, but a lot of people wanted to go see them. Definitely a record I should give some more attention to (or just burn a copy from Jason's copy and eventually get to it.)
Snapcase, Progression Through Unlearning (Victory)
I thought all hardcore was like Sick of It All, Minor Threat and Agnostic Front. Nope. Owing more to Helmet and Quicksand, Snapcase's second album still doesn't sound like a diminishing return. While labelmates Earth Crisis were spreading/warping their militant straight edge/vegan views to "the kids," Snapcase talked about broader things. Despite singing about us killing through our ignorance, Snapcase wasn't all about singing about a one truth/promise you make to yourself about abstaining from alcohol, smoking, drugs and promiscuity. (You know, rallying cries a lot of people made before they realized the world isn't black and white.)
Progression Through Unlearning is still an inspiring record musically and lyrically, especially the line, "Now I can walk through those, through those fires that burn in the path of my dreams." Plus, the documentary on the multimedia section of the CD is still a worthwhile watch.
The Mr. T Experience, Revenge is Sweet and So Are You (Lookout!)
A record I remember seeing advertised, but I've never heard it. There were so many Lookout! releases at that time and Dr. Frank and crew was just one of their bands. I was more into playing catch-up with Screeching Weasel, Operation Ivy and Green Day back in '97 and these guys just fell through the cracks.
So there you have it. But I still can't believe it's been ten years since all this came out. Then again, time flies when you're doing want you want to do.