The first four months of 1998 saw the U.S. release of three albums the teenage version of me bought (actually two of them I taped from friends, because home taping is killing music) almost immediately and loved obsessively: Air's Moon Safari (January 20), Madonna's Ray of Light (March 3), and Saint Etienne's Good Humor (April 6). These days, I don't listen to any of them very much anymore, though as coincidence would have it I have put them all on out of the blue at some point in the last few weeks. They hold up differently: Moon Safari I find a bit underwhelming now, though pleasant; Good Humor has probably aged the best and is still a damn fine listen, and Ray of Light, though a bit creaky at times, is by far my favorite of the three--there's just something to that album that makes it great, even with all of its many flaws.
The thing that confuses me about these three albums, though, is that back in 1998, and in fact at no point in the intervening twelve years, did I realize that the sound of all of them is largely identical. Seriously: take any song from Good Humor and put it on Ray of Light and the only thing making it stand out would be Sarah Cracknell's distinctive voice, easily distinguishable from Madonna's; put one of the female-sung songs from Moon Safari on there and I might not even notice it wasn't Madonna singing. It was The Sound of 1998, I guess: icy synth washes with touches of orchestration, and warm female vocals over it. Gimmicky, but it works. Sometimes.