by Marc Hirsh
The year's over, and once again I find myself making a pointless list of the albums that I consider to have been the best of the year. I still haven't figured out why I do this, but it's been going on for a few years. Do I need help? Look at the list and judge for yourself.
|1) Tori Amos - Little Earthquakes (Atlantic). A thoroughly amazing album which would be my choice for debut of the decade if it was really her debut, which it's not, but the now impossible-to-find Y Kant Tori Read metal excursion probably wasn't that indicative of what this woman had to offer. I can't remember the last time that music was this powerful and fragile at the same time. Between her amazing voice, her intelligent songs, her outstanding piano playing, and the best use of a symphony orchestra ever in popular music, this album will be a very difficult act for her to follow, and I sure as hell hope she can.|
|2) Social Distortion - Somewhere Between Heaven And Hell (Epic). Rock and roll the way it should be: dirty, loud, and even melodic. Mike Ness becomes a Guitar Hero with his stunning solos in "Cold Feelings," "When She Begins," and "Born to Lose," all of which are also great songs. The CD ends with an extra song, "Ghost Town Blues," which should have been added to the middle of the album. Now, only the LP and the cassette end the album the way it should be ended, with the brilliant "This Time Darlin'," a song so pure that it would be country music if it weren't for all of that distortion.|
|3) Too Much Joy - Mutiny (Giant/Warner Bros.). Once again, the best live band in the world puts out an album that's half punk, half pop, and half rock and roll. That's three halves, folks, and despite the inclusion of perhaps their worst song ever ("In Perpetuity"), this album gives more than any sane person could expect.|
|4) Arrested Development - 3 Years, 5 Months, and 2 Days In The Life Of... (Chrysalis). Rap never caught my attention before, and I still don't expect much of it will, but this group said that looking for God wasn't uncommon, and their search become a focus for an album that showed that rap could be just as melodic as any other form of music. And they mention the Big Guy more often than themselves.|
|5) Basehead - Play With Toys (Imago). People tell me that this counts as rap, but who can honestly tell? Real instruments backing Michael Ivey's drunken sing-song style over music that's eerily moody but tuneful nonetheless isn't what I considered rap to be. But with this and Arrested Development, my perception of rap is changing fast, and I really don't mind.|
|6) Various Artists - "Singles" Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Epic Soundtrax). Most people look at this as a sampler of the (too-)much heralded "Seattle scene," which is understandable. More than half the songs come from Seattle acts, past and present. But this album is more than the soundtrack to a city, it captures the rebirth of rock at a time when the public had considered it dead for so long. We get power-pop (Paul Westerberg's great "Waiting For Somebody"), acoustic balladry (Chris Cornell's "Seasons"), heavy metal (Soundgarden's "Birth Ritual") and indescribable progressive noise bliss (Smashing Pumpkins' "Drown," the first 8+ minute song that ends too soon). And we get to reevaluate Jimi Hendrix's "May This Be Love," a long-underrated gem.|
|7) Megadeth - Countdown To Extinction (Capitol). In which Dave Mustaine figures out that songs don't need epic lengths or knee-jerk time changes to be good. And the title song doesn't even have a real guitar solo. He's learning, folks.|
|8) Chris Mars - Horseshoes And Hand Grenades (Smash). The former drummer of the Replacements demonstrates that Paul Westerberg wasn't the only genius in the band. His voice ain't that bad and he writes some pretty damn catchy songs. The best One-Man Pop Band of the year.|
|9) Charlatans U.K. - Between 10th and 11th (Beggars Banquet). Manchester dance music blew across the Atlantic a few years ago, then blew away. The novelty gone, the Charlatans pull a change-up and create great keyboard oriented rock that you can dance to, although you're under no obligation to.|
||10) (tie) Cracker - Cracker (Virgin) and Izzy Stradlin' and the JuJu Hounds Izzy Stradlin' and the JuJu Hounds (Geffen). Winners of this year's Black Crowes Memorial What-The-Rolling-Stones-Would-Sound-Like-If- They-Wrote-Decent-Songs Award. Set up in 1990 to herald the Crowes' success, this award went to Primal Scream last year, whose "Movin' On Up," although completely unrepresentative of their music, could have fit snugly on Beggars Banquet. Cracker and Stradlin' share this year's award, although if I allowed repeat wins, the Crowes would have won by a landslide, but their album wouldn't have even made my top 10, so it's a moot point. But Cracker gave us "Cracker Soul," "Mr. Wrong," and "Teen Angst." Of course, the latter sounds nothing like the Stones, but it's a decent song, so it's okay. Stradlin' seems to have lost the edge he had on GnR's Use Your Illusion albums, but he showed that he could out-Richards Keith Richards. Whatever that means.|
And then there's my choice for Single of the Year. Beating out En Vogue's Motown-for-the-Nineties "My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It)" (the flute was a nice touch) by just a smidgen is Sophie B. Hawkins' "Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover." Sounded amazingly stupid at the time, but repeated listenings showed an amazingly textured array of sounds mixed with fascinatingly complex and erotic lyrics that somehow managed to pass itself off as a pop song. I'm not really sure what the last sentence meant, but it sounded like something a critic would say.
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