1996 was a leap year, and was designated as the International Year for the Eradication of Poverty. So that went well, then.
A blizzard hit the eastern States of the US killing over 150 in January, and the next day a cargo plane crashed into a market in Kinshasa killing 300. The IRA ceasefire ended with the Canary Wharf bombing. Deep Blue beat Kasparov. Pokémon. The Dunblane Massacre. Mad cow disease. The Unabomber was arrested. Chechnya. The N64. Yeltsin. Dolly the sheep. Apple bought NeXT.
Setting out on the final journey were (as always, etc.) François Mitterand, Gene Kelly, Bob Paisley, George Burns, Saul Bass, The Third Doctor (John Pertwee), Timothy Leary, Ella Fitzgerald, 2Pac, Leslie Crowther, Beryl Reid, Eva Cassidy, Willie Rushton and Carl Sagan.
I was working in a bar in my hometown of Eastbourne, and praying for hard rock to come back.
Barenaked Ladies - Born on a Pirate Ship
This album does go a little bit nondescript in the second half, but the first seven songs are gold. Worth the price of admission for "Straw Hat and Old Dirty Hank" or "The Old Apartment" alone. Top track: "The Old Apartment"
Manic Street Preachers - Everything Must Go
You can't really ignore this album. I know, I tried. I really didn't want to put it in the shortlist, but so huge was its impact that I just couldn't leave it out. And whatever you think of JDB's hectoring, there are some massive tunes on here. Top track: "Australia"
Matchbox Twenty - Yourself or Someone Like You
This is quite a poppy album for me to own, and I honestly can't recall where I came across it. Cracking tunes though, and Rob Thomas has a great voice. Top track: "Long Day"
Ocean Colour Scene - Moseley Shoals
If you were a 22-year-old male in 1996, which I was, you probably watched the TV show "TFI Friday". And if you watched that show, then you heard quite a lot of Ocean Colour Scene. This album has some absolute classics on it, and if you spent any time in a British pub in the late 90s, you'll know a good few of them. Top track: "The Riverboat Song", obviously
Underworld - Second Toughest in the Infants
As has been mentioned before I was a little late picking up on the Essex outfit's output, but this - as with all of their early albums - is pretty much essential. Top track: "Juanita/Kiteless/To Dream Of Love"
And the winner is…
The Presidents of the USA - The Presidents of the USA II
How can you not love a band that don't play traditional instruments, instead favouring their own Frankenstein-ish creations the Guitbass and the Basitar and like to write songs about frogs, bugs, kitties and boll weevils?
The first Presidents album was great but a little patchy, whereas this one feels way more cohesive and solid. It definitely feels like the highpoint of the band's ouvre, particularly when you note that the following album Freaked Out and Small was played on regular instruments with regular tunings! Get out of town!
No, for me the classic PUSA experience is this album, and wonderfully daft songs like "Froggie", "Volcano", "Mach 5", "L.I.P." and "Lunatic to Love".
Unique, if nothing else.
Top tracks: "Volcano", "Bath of Fire", "Lunatic to Love"
Turkey of the Year
Mr. Big - Hey Man
No no no. The one before, Bump Ahead had gotten ballad-heavy and nondescript enough for me to consign it to the "probably won't listen to that again" CD pile, and this one (the last before Paul Gilbert left, though he did return 15 years later) really felt like everyone was phoning it in or just didn't know quite what they should sound like. This was The Dark Times after all…
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