Top Albums of 1999
The sun was setting on the alternative rock era as the second millennium drew to a close in 1999. For some, the century’s final decade had represented a nadir in classic rock output, while for others it brought a fresh wave of experimentation with new musical styles. But no matter what side of this divide one stood on, there was no shortage of excellent music to be heard — the best of which you’ll find here on our list of Top Albums of 1999.
‘Edge of Forever’
Though the band’s tragic plane crash from 1977 still remained a vivid and painful memory, by 1999 Lynyrd Skynyrd was alive and well, unveiling their 10th album — and fifth without Ronnie. What’s more, this was now a veritable Southern rock supergroup, energized by the talents of former Oulaw Hughie Thomasson and longtime Blackfoot leader Rickey Medlocke, so the powerful rockers kicking off our Top Albums of 1999 list were obviously no accident.
Keeping track of Yes’ endless lineup swaps had almost turned into an Olympic sport by the end of the century, often overshadowing the group’s actual musical output. But in 1999’s ‘The Ladder,’ the legendary progressive rockers cut through this distraction with their strongest, most eclectic set in years — very much in the Yes tradition for musical derring-do. As for who played on the thing? Oh, who the heck knows?
Guitar wizard Jeff Beck ended a 10-year absence from recording original material with the cleverly named ‘Who Else!’ — to the delight of fans who knew to expect the unexpected from rock’s premier six-string alchemist. And boy, did Jeff keep everyone on their toes with this set of fretboard heroics, underscored by hardcore electronic backdrops reminiscent of Prodigy or the Chemical Brothers. No one but Jeff Beck could pull this off.
‘Brave New World’
Following their long-awaited 1996 comeback with the ‘Return to Paradise’ tour and live album, ‘70s pomp rockers Styx went back into the studio for ‘Brave New World’ — the first album since 1983’s ‘Kilroy was Here’ to feature both Dennis DeYoung and Tommy Shaw. Unfortunately, while the songs here exceeded nostalgic expectations, it wouldn’t last. DeYoung and the band split not long afterward.
Def Leppard was forced to eat humble pie following their poorly received 1996 project ‘Slang,’ as fans appeared none too interested in undue musical experimentation. They subsequently withdrew to the infectious pop metal sound that made them famous on ‘Euphoria.’ And why not? With its balanced blend of recognizable Def Lep hallmarks, evenly drawn from the ‘Pyromania,’ ‘Hysteria’ and ‘Adrenalize’ monster smashes, ‘Euphoria’ proved you can go home again.
‘Back on Top’
Another old warrior who resumed his career-best form in 1999, to the delight of his dedicated fans, was Northern Irish crooner Van Morrison. His 27th (count them!) studio album did the boldness of its title justice with a hearty recipe for blues, soul and rhythm and blues — with a few well-timed introspective detours redolent of the ‘Astral Weeks’ aesthetic also thrown in for good measure.
As with Def Leppard’s entry on our Top Albums of 1999 list, this project found rock ‘n’ roll chameleon David Bowie turning away from the latest trends (see ’97’s drum & bass-obsessed ‘Earthling’). ‘Hours’ found Bowie back in more familiar environs, if there is such a thing for him. That meant song (instead of beats) oriented sounds, as Bowie took a more subdued and melodic approach after all that industrial kling-klang.
Call them funk, metal, or simply stark raving mad, the Red Hot Chili Peppers always grounded their music in the bedrock of classic rock so long as guitarist John Frusciante was driving their creative process — and this was certainly the case for the mega-selling ‘Californication.’ The band’s seventh studio effort may be the most straightforward and frequently mellow of the band’s long career, and fans snapped up some 15 million copies of it worldwide.
Tom Waits‘ music, as everyone knows, is an acquired taste, but every so often the gravel-voiced bard delivers an album that transcends his loyal fan base, no matter how idiosyncratic its songs might be. This was such an album, mixing the best of Waits’ skid-row poetry and dadaist wordplay with equal extremities of his nerve-jarring avant-garde experiments and underlying musicality laid bare (see ‘Take it With Me’). It remains one of his best sellers.
‘By Your Side’
The Black Crowes turned off many with their unfocused and self-indulgent fourth album ‘Three Snakes and One Charm.’ They came roaring back from this jam-band period, however, with a return to their Faces-aping form on ‘By Your Side’ — our first-place finisher on the Top Albums of 1999 list. It’s as welcome a musical “retreat” as a band has ever made. After all, reanimating the glory days of classic rock was precisely what the Black Crowes were known for.