Looking Through Time: 1997

Story posted November 3, 2017 in Arts & Entertainment by Arts Staff.

With the anniversaries of culturally important albums sprouting up each and every year, the CommRadio Arts department will be diving into albums from select years and breaking down their impact. Here are the albums from 1997.

Radiohead – OK Computer

In 1997, British alternative rock Radiohead released OK Computer, one of the most highly acclaimed albums of all time. OK Computer marked a change in styles for Radiohead. Previously, they were just another Britpop band that happened to dabble in grunge with songs like “Creep.” Now, Radiohead was the premier art rock act of the late 1990s.

OK Computer includes elements signature to Radiohead’s style, including Thom Yorke’s nasally voice and the band’s perplexing, yet intriguing lyrics. Perhaps the most well-known track from OK Computer is “Paranoid Android,” which perfectly blends elements of alternative, progressive and hard rock into a seamlessly flowing masterwork. “No Surprises,” another fan favorite, is much softer than any of the other tracks, making for a surprising appearance on OK Computer, despite its name. The sweeping “Karma Police” was released as a successful single, as were the previously mentioned tracks. In fact, all three found their way into the top ten of the UK Singles Chart.

However, the greatness does not stop there. OK Computer includes many other fantastic alternative rock tunes. “Airbag” is a powerful opening track. “Climbing Up the Walls” is as haunting and unsettling as it gets on this album. “Subterranean Homesick Alien” is somewhat of an art rock ballad. “Electioneering” is sure to be a favorite among classic rock listeners.

The critical acclaim that OK Computer receives is well deserved. It was ranked as the third greatest album of the 1990s by Rolling Stone and it was nominated for both Album of the Year and Best Alternative Music Album, winning the latter. Radiohead would follow suit with future albums like Kid A, which has been lauded just as much as its predecessor. Overall, OK Computer is a must-listen for any fan of alternative rock. – DJ Bauer

Notorious B.I.G. – Life After Death

Life After Death is The Notorious B.I.G.’s second and final album. Following his death, the album’s release date got pushed up from Halloween of 1997 to March 25 of the same year, about two weeks after he was murdered. This album stands the test of time for its ability to merge graphic street lyrics and pop music. Several historic collaborations and impressive crossover singles make this album one of the most influential albums of all time.

One undertone of the whole album is Biggie’s beef with several artists; some from his city and more famously Tupac and Death Row Records. Throughout the album, many jabs can be found. Songs like “Going Back to Cali” and “Long Kiss Goodnight” are perfect examples of Biggie taking aim at his rivals. The collaborations on this album are iconic. Jay-Z, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, R. Kelly and Too $hort all make a guest appearance on the album. Another reason this album is so iconic is because of its ability to crossover into the mainstream. This was important because it showed that when done right, mainstream America would accept ultra-gangster lyricism. People could not get enough of the beef between East and West Coast and they couldn’t get enough of the great storytelling that Biggie delivered. This album is very versatile with songs detailing the horrors of street life such as “What’s Beef” and “Ten Crack Commandments,” while also containing mainstream pop songs such as “Mo Money and Mo Problems” and “Hypnotize,” the latter peaking at number one on Biillboard’s Hot 100 chart. Vivid storytelling, legendary collaborations, versatile production and crossover appeal is why the posthumous album, Life After Death, is one of the most iconic albums ever. – Jerome Taylor

Modest Mouse – The Lonesome Crowded West

Modest Mouse is yet another alternative rock band that has done an excellent job keeping their name prominent in the music industry throughout their 15 year period of being together. They seem to be growing and maturing with their music as the years go on, rather than “experiment” with their sound. On Nov. 18, 1997, the Seattle natives released their second studio album, a double LP titled The Lonesome Crowded West. This has been credited as their breakthrough album, gaining praise for the diversity and intriguing musical style. It also gained critical acclaim and a place in numerous best seller’s list. The media company Pitchfork ranked the album 29 in their list of the 100 greatest albums of the 1990s and the song "Trailer Trash," which appears eighth on the tracklist, reached number 63 in their list of the 200 greatest songs of the decade. As of 2000, after only being released for three years, the album had sold over 60,000 copies in the United States. Only 5 years ago, in June of 2012, Pitchfork.tv released an almost hour long documentary on the album. The documentary included actual footage of recording and live performances, proving that this album will remain important and prominent in years to follow.

The album has an extremely captivating and creative sound from beginning to end. Although the album is lengthy, listeners will never find themselves bored with the increased diversity Modest Mouse packed into this album. There are moments of anger accompanied by powerful lyrics and amazing instrumentals, moments of sadness and uncertainty and moments of that feel-good vibe that always accompanies Modest Mouse with every album they create. – Lilly Adams

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – The Boatman’s Call

At the time of The Boatman’s Call release, Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds had already firmly secured their place in music history after coming off a decade run of six critically acclaimed albums. But with The Boatman’s Call, they solidified their title as of one of the best musical acts of all time. The Boatman’s Call revealed Cave had a softer side to his dark swagger, with the album serving as one of the most dynamic collections of personal piano ballads ever released, before or since.

That’s not to say the album is only good because of the fact it was made by Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds. While the initial surprise of hearing Cave sing about something other than murder, violence or sex is certainly a novel experience in itself, the lyrics achieve much more than this. Cave achieves something beyond simply evoking the pain found in these songs; there's a longing and quiet passion sleeping underneath each track. There’s something more to every story told or small moment captured on each track that can be felt, but not revealed.

While it may seem strange to laud an album for what it doesn’t do, that’s precisely what makes The Boatman’s Call an undeniable classic. So many of the beloved albums of the 90s are beloved for the lengths they go to evoke complex emotions, evident by the success of Nirvana and Radiohead. But Cave’s quiet songs are how the listener actually goes about their day. While so may desire to express themselves in the way their favorite artists do, in the end Cave captures the more human form of how those emotions are actually felt and expressed. It’s an exercise in capturing honesty rather than practicing artistry and in a sense that may be the greater artistic achievement in itself. – Chandler Copenheaver

Dispatch – Bang Bang

When traveling back through the most notable albums of 1997, you may be confused as to who Dispatch is or why Bang Bang is on this list. Well to begin, the extremely talented trio of Chadwick Stokes, Brad Corrigan and Pete Francis Heimbold makeup the entirety of Dispatch. Their individual ability to play countless instruments translates directly to the tonal diversity apparent within Bang Bang. This also explains why each song contrasts so heavily from the one before it. The album contains this magnificent compilation of melodies that infuse several genres together, ranging from jam rock to reggae fusion to folk, a direct correlation to the bands vast instrumental playing ability. What is truly the most impressive part of this album is how it contains no points in which the listener isn’t enthralled, even with contrasting melodic moments.

For instance, the albums fastest tempo pieces “Here We Go,” “Bats in the Belfry,” “Railway” and “Mission” all contain aspects that captivate the listener. From the funk and fast paced vocal performance in “Here We Go” to the ska-esc style and carefree lyrics in “Railway,” the listener is never bored and always satisfied. But the two songs that have proven to be outliers on this album of near perfection are the ones that take a far calmer approach. The two pieces “Bang Bang” and “The General” are easily the best songs the band itself has ever made. The story present in each effortlessly transforms their music from sound into this visceral mental experience, as you image piece by piece what transpires in each song. Bang Bang’s ability to appeal to a somewhat specific audience in single songs, but yet a vast audience in its entirety is what makes this album so valuable for the year 1997. – JonMichael Pereira


DJ Bauer is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email metakoopa99@gmail.com.

Jerome Taylor is a junior majoring in Broadcast Journalism. To contact him, email jerometaylor91697@gmail.com.

Lilly Adams is a freshman majoring in film/video studies. To contact her, email lillyadams11@gmail.com.

Chandler Copenheaver is a senior majoring in public relations. To contact him, email chandlercopenheaver@gmail.com.

JonMichael Pereira is a freshman majoring in telecommunications. To contact him, email jqp5759@psu.edu

About the Contributors

Lillian Adams's photo

Lillian Adams

Freshman / Film/Video Studies

Lillian Adams is a writer and contributor for the Nittany Lion Record Club, a department in CommRadio dedicated specifically to the analysis and reviews of current albums of 2017, and the former albums of the past. She is currently a member of the Critically Acclaimed Movies Club, Asylum music club, and SOMA. She also is a regular PA on multiple student films on campus. She is always looking to expand her knowledge in the fields of cinema and music, and is excited to see what opportunities Penn State will bring her. To contact her, email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

DJ Bauer's photo

DJ Bauer

Freshman / Broadcast Journalism

David “DJ” M. Bauer Jr. is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism at Penn State. He is a writer for CommRadio’s Sports and Arts departments. His writings include the Weekly NFL Game Picks series and reviews of classic albums. He also works as a producer and on-air personality for the PSNtv show Penn State Sports Night. If you’d like to contact him, email him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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JonMichael Pereira

Freshmen / Telecommunication

JonMichael is a writer and contributor for the Nittany Record Club, the first music analysis talk show at ComRadio. Before Penn State JonMichael was the director and head of production for his daily high school news show. He is always looking to forward his experience in the field of production, you can reach him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

ChandlerCopenheaver's photo


Senior / Public Relations

Chandler Copenheaver is a Production Director and Arts Director of CommRadio who has been a member of CommRadio since the spring of 2015. Chandler’s responsibilities entail managing the production department, managing the arts department, creating audio commercials for CommRadio and external organizations, scheduling commercial blocks, and writing editorial content related to the arts. Chandler Copenheaver has worked most recently at Arlington Thrive in Arlington, VA as a Development & Program Intern, WellSpan Health in South Central PA as a Public Relations & Marketing Intern and served as a teaching assistant for the Penn State course BiSci 3 Environmental Science. Chandler aims to work in the fields of Public Relations, Communications Strategy or Communications Management. Follow him on Twitter @C_Copenheaver or email him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).