5 Memorable Albums Released 25 Years Ago This Month

When you look back into music history, you’re likely to find some months when not many albums were released that have held up too well. And then there are other months that produced a bounty of goodness in the album department. April 1999 fits nicely into the latter category.

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These five albums were released to different levels of notoriety at the time. What bonds them now is the fact that they still sound sharp and fresh and have become beloved classics among fans of these artists.

Mule Variations by Tom Waits

Tom Waits had taken six years off between albums, but when he returned with Mule Variations, he certainly gave us our money’s worth. Unlike many albums released in the height of the CD era, there’s no bloat among the 16 songs. He and his wife (and frequent co-writer) Kathleen Brennan deliver captivating material here, regardless of whether it’s accompanied by clangorous percussion or a rickety piano. Who else but Waits could pull off the diversity of the heartbreaking “Georgia May,” the unhinged “Filipino Box Spring Hog,” and the sweetly sentimental “Take It with Me” in a three-song stretch? Nobody, that’s who.

Utopia Parkway by Fountains of Wayne

The second album by these New York City cult heroes didn’t do anything fancy, but then again, this band pretty much always kept it simple. Why deviate from the formula of Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger delivering pop/rock songs full of undeniable hooks and clever lyrics? Four years later, the band would win their most notoriety thanks to the breakout hit “Stacy’s Mom.” But Utopia Parkway might be the strongest set of their career top-to-bottom. There isn’t a letdown on the record, with highlights including the ultra-catchy power pop of “Denise” and the sighing balladry of “Troubled Times.”

The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner by Ben Folds Five

This trio took their big third-album swing here, as they were coming off the breakthrough success of Whatever and Ever Amen. Reinhold Messner has the trappings of a concept album without the storyline, with the songs unified by the ambition of the music and the somewhat dour nature of the subject matter. It makes for a fascinating listen on the whole. Or you could cherry-pick some of the highlights, such as the brassy, sarcastic opener “Army,” the beautifully sad “Magic” (penned by drummer Darren Jessee), and the baroque-poppy “Mess,” which includes some of Folds‘ finest piano playing and most profound lyrics.

I Am Shelby Lynne by Shelby Lynne

This album qualifies here because it was released in the UK 25 years ago this month. Not till the start of 2000 would American audiences get a listen, and then another year would pass before Lynne would win Best New Artist at the Grammys based on the album, despite being a decade into her recording career by that time. The award was still somewhat apropos, in that Lynne had been miscast as a country belter early in her career, but found new artistic life in sultry, bluesy mode. She also flexed her songwriting muscles with collaborator Bill Bottrell on instant classics like “Your Lies” and “Where I’m From.”

Echo by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

The fact that Tom Petty starts this album off with “Room at the Top,” a song about finding comfort while completely isolated from the rest of the world, tells you a little bit about the vibe. Petty himself later complained his head wasn’t in it when making the record because of how he was going through a divorce at the time. But his broken heart was all over it. Echo now sounds like Petty’s entry in the breakup album canon, and an outstanding one at that. From devastating confessionals like the title track and “One More Day, One More Night” to raucous character sketches like “Swingin’” and “Free Girl Now,” Petty delivers a dark, yet utterly compelling treatise on love’s pitfalls.

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