Q: The Music, Part 8 (1996-2000)

Q Magazine – “the modern guide to music and more” – first appeared in September 1986, and published its final issue in July 2020. Here’s a personal and highly subjective look back at the best music released in that period…



(Q121) October 1996

Becoming X was the debut LP from Sneaker Pimps, a moody affair which came on like a cross between Portishead and Garbage, the Pimps’ vocalist Kelli Dayton recalling Shirley Manson in her mellower mode as the soundscapes mixed industrial grunge-pop and trip-hop.

Q also picked up on the Portishead vibe, describing it as “echoing their emotionally drenched torchlit tautness”.

Sample-heavy (everything from The Wickerman and Goldfinger soundtracks, to John Martyn, Sandy Denny and David Sylvian), and cinematic, Becoming X unsurprisingly found favour with movie soundtrack compilers – and that was how, in early 1997, I first became aware of the band via 6.Underground‘s inclusion in the film reboot of The Saint (the one starring Val Kilmer). 

Five minor hit singles were lifted from the album from mid-1996 through to mid-1997, as the early EPs were followed by the original album release, and then a re-release with a new sleeve and alternate versions of some tracks, once 6.Underground broke into the Top 20.  Sadly, the Pimps were never really able to build on such a promising start, as Kelli fell out with the rest of the band and left soon after.




(Q129) June 1997

Early 1997 gave us the unsettling new sound of Eels (Novocaine For The Soul, Susan’s House, Your Lucky Day In Hell et al), Bowie “going Jungle” on Earthling and another excellent set from Suzanne Vega, Nine Objects Of Desire. Not to mention the very unexpected commercial second coming of Texas, courtesy of White On Blonde.

However, it’s back to the universe of Paddy MacAloon that we head next, as Andromeda Heights – Prefab Sprout’s first new material in 5 years – arrived at the beginning of May. Launched with the widescreen symphonic pop of Prisoner Of The Past, it peaked at exactly the same position in the UK (#7) as its predecessor Jordan: The Comeback.

Q highlighted a trio of songs which elevated the album “from pretty damn good to great”, but a quarter of a century later even a Prefab fanboy such as yours truly would have to concede that the increasingly saccharine, easy-listening arrangements were not perhaps doing the material as much justice as they might have done on previous records. 




(Q131) August 1997, released July 1997.

And now for something completely different. The second most anticipated album of 1997 was surely The Prodigy’s third, and their first since ascending to the major league via back-to-back #1s (Firestarter, Breathe). “Keep all pets indoors”, Q advised, warming to the idea that The Fat Of The Land‘s explosive blend of rave, electro, punk, rock and the kitchen sink could obliterate everything in its path.

Released just weeks before the most anticipated album of the year (Be Here Now by Oasis, which will not surprise anyone by failing to make this rundown), it didn’t spawn any further chart-topping singles but nonetheless established itself as one of the major albums of the whole decade. Be Here Now’s ill-advised 5-star Q review has passed into folklore, but the 5-stars handed out to The Prodigy was bang on the money.




(Q133) October 1997

Another full house from Q, unafraid to lavish praise on the follow-up to 1994’s Dummy. “Serves to show what a masterpiece really is”, they gushed. This was where we were at in the autumn of 1997, in the immediate aftermath of Britpop; The Verve taking over from Oasis as the band du jour, Primal Scream, The Prodigy and Radiohead (fresh from giving OK Computer to a very receptive world) all at their peak.

Portishead’s second lacked the surprise element of their debut, but in all other facets it was the equal of Dummy



(Q137) February 1998, album released January 1998

Et maintenant….some groovy future-retro electronic lounge music, avec Air (French Band). Welcome to the dawn of downtempo (more or less). 

Skipping over some high-profile efforts by Janet Jackson (The Velvet Rope) and Bjork (Homogenic), big-sellers from The Lighthouse Family (Postcards From Home) and Natalie Imbruglia (Left Of The Middle), plus the now-ubiquitous Life Thru A Lens enjoying its post-Angels rebirth for Robbie Williams, we land on the Moon Safari at the beginning of 1998.

It was the very first album featured here on afdpj, way back in July 2017, as I began a countdown of my Top 100 Of All Time (which, typically, has changed rather a lot since then).




(Q134) November 1997

Apparently released at the end of 1997, I first became aware of The Space Between Us the following February. A happy synchronicity saw a friend of mine draw my attention to a guest appearance by The Blue Nile’s Paul Buchanan (a reworking of their Hats album cut Let’s Go Out Tonight) just as a local independent store (sadly short-lived) had a card sleeve promotional copy of the CD in its racks. A fiver, you say? Deal!

Craig Armstrong’s orchestrations and soundtrack activities had been attracting acclaim since his work with Massive Attack on their 1994 opus Protection, and variations on the musical themes of those tracks formed part of The Space Between Us along with revisits of the excerpts from the score to Baz Lurhman’s Romeo & Juliet from 1996. The centrepiece, however, must surely be This Love, an absolutely gorgeous, stately ballad with guest vocals from Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser no less.

Sarah Brightman had the good sense to record a faithful cover of it a couple of years later for her La Luna project. And it still sounded heavenly.




(Q140) May 1998

It’s to Massive Attack themselves we move onto next, although Q were not overly enamoured with the outfit’s third long player. Granted, Mezzanine was exploring much heavier textures and claustrophobic soundscapes than either Blue Lines or Protection, but come on…it has Teardrop, Risingson and Angel for starters. Tricky’s departure meant a less trip-hoppy feel, as 3D and Daddy G turned up the intensity and made the beats even heavier.




(Q153) June 1999

Nothing from the second half of 1998 makes the cut (nearly misses from The Cardigans, Placebo and the belated UK launch of Sarah McLachlan’s Surfacing), and even this Moby pick from 1999 didn’t get properly going until the following year.

Appropriately enough for a release on the Mute label (in conjunction with V2), Play got off to a very quiet start, initially peaking just outside the UK Top 30. Then as the new millennium dawned, the outside-the-box promo strategy of licensing as many tracks from the album as possible to TV and Film companies finally paid rich dividends. Play became literally ubiquitous.

A good 50% of the songs were also released as singles, some more than once and some later ones in new versions (buzz act of the moment, Kelis, recorded a fresh vocal for a remixed Honey in 2000). It was unavoidable….but also unavoidably good.




(Q165) June 2000

Don Henley’s first solo album of all-new material eventually surfaced in May 2000, and Q were not as impressed as they’d been with The End Of The Innocence, declaring Inside Job as “tastefully-executed self-flaggellation and finger-pointing”. Ouch.

They did however have a point about its bloated length, at 13 tracks and almost 70 minutes it seemed to a be victim of too much material from too many different sessions and periods of time over the previous decade. The majority of it is actually fantastic, easily on a par with his other work, but there was no real focus to the promotional campaign; no single, and so no hits in sight.

Taking You Home was a sort-of US radio success, and in another era the likes of They’re Not Here, They’re Not Coming, Workin’ It, Nobody Else In The World But You and The Genie would have slotted seamlessly into the Billboard Hot 100 listings (The Boy Of Summer aside, Henley never really caught on as a singles artist in Britain anyway).




(Q169) October 2000

Another slow-burning gem on the Mute label, Felt Mountain snuck out towards the close of 2000, to very little fanfare (and even less commercial impact at first). Q summed up the album perfectly: “Stirring and magnificent. Equally serene and sinister, Felt Mountain is a beautiful album.”

My write-up for its inclusion on my Top 100 Albums Of All-Time could not agree more.


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