Pretty Vacant

New Times' panel of critics searches for musical gems in a disheartening 2001

3. Ye Olde Tweener Pop Backlash (pending): And as long as we're making predictions, let me hazard a guess that '02 is going to deliver a rash of scratchy, underproduced, homemade recordings by a bunch of ugly-ass bands to make up for the Christforsaken deluge of tripe pop acts we had to endure this year. Everywhere you turned in 2001, it was lip gloss and glitter, moose-knuckle hot pants and sweetened vocals. Such a situation can only endure for so long before the pendulum starts to swing back, and I pray the time might be at hand for a swift, terrible reaction.

You can run, Aaron Carter, but you can't hide.

4. Bob Dylan, Love and Theft tour: On the strength of a solid album, his Bobness is making admirable strides on his latest tour, rapping with the audience and digging into the old songbook for a well-paced, eminently enjoyable night o' music. Sure, the grin he's showing us might only be the card cheat's, the latest shifty persona in his repertoire. But still: What a joy to see him healthy, performing in good voice and with what seems to be genuine pleasure.

5. Terry Southern, ³Give Me Your Hump!²: The Unspeakable Terry Southern Record (Koch International): One of the most welcome surprises of the year, if I may be forgiven for including a spoken-word disc in the roundup. Southern, the diabolical genius who penned such films as Dr. Strangelove and Easy Rider, author of the books Blue Movie and The Magic Christian, was one of the most underappreciated American satirists of the 1960s and 1970s. Southern here reads excerpts from his own writing (including the "hump" sequence from Candy, his infamous literary collaboration with Mason Hoffenberg), and guests ranging from Marianne Faithfull to Michael O'Donoghue interpret his work, in an archival project long overdue.

6. We Owe You Nothing -- Punk Planet: The Collected Interviews (Akashic Books): Michael Azerrad's Our Band Could Be Your Life may be the punk search-and-rescue book of the year, but We Owe You Nothing is the meatiest. Interviews with old- and new-guard punks, including a priceless where-are-they-now with every former member of Black Flag (Greg Ginn's still a diva, God bless him!), make this 2001's best lit'rary value for your dollar spent.

7. Marvin Gaye, What's Going On -- Deluxe Edition (Motown): Forget the eviscerated, emasculated cover milked for sap at the Concert for New York. Treat yourself to the original, in a deluxe packaging that presents Gaye's classic statement of survival and social awareness in no fewer than three beautiful versions. And buy a second copy. Somebody you know needs this album, right now.

8. Garage Rock Revival: And it's about damn time.

9. The Ongoing Dirty White Boy Rumble: In the event you were preoccupied with something more important (like, say, making a sandwich) and missed it, a nasty little imbroglio came to a head during the summer of '01 in which Eminem, the Insane Clown Posse, Fred Durst, DJ Lethal, and a host of other Caucasoid waterheads all chose up sides against each other in a fey imitation of an O.G. representers' beef. Back-and-forth disses like Eminem's "Quitter" and Everlast's "Whitey's Revenge" chronicled the lurid details of this particularly surreal dingleberry on the ass of popular music with excruciating meticulousness. Combining the tense human drama of pro wrestling with the exotic locales of America's trailer parks and yeast-fragrant frathouses, the White Gripe may not have been Tupac vs. Biggie, but it sure was fun to watch while it lasted.

10. Raise Up Off Me: A Portrait of Hampton Hawes (Thunder's Mouth Press): Out of print for too long, this is one of the best jazz autobiographies you'll ever read. Hawes was one of the bright lights of bebop piano in the 1950s, but a heroin arrest in 1958 stalled his career. Granted executive clemency by no less than President Kennedy, he returned to music in 1963; he died of a stroke 14 years later. Originally published in 1974 (and written with novelist Don Asher), Raise Up Off Me is a tight, electrifying read, the story of how a preacher's kid became one of the best bebop pianists in jazz history and nearly lost it all. Hawes' portraits of his fellow musicians, some of whom were also addicts, are by turns heartwarming and terrifying. Reprinted in a handsome and affordable new paperback edition, Hawes' memoir deserves a much wider readership.

Gilbert Garcia:

1. Spoon, Girls Can Tell (Merge): While most noteworthy rock bands peak early and spend the rest of their careers dealing with the law of diminishing returns, this Austin trio is the miraculous example of the reverse process. A dime-a-dozen alt-rock band five years ago, they've gradually morphed into brilliant pop tunesmiths. Singer-guitarist Britt Daniel has one of the great voices in rock: simultaneously sweet and sour -- infectiously upbeat, but with melancholy undertones. And with "Lines in the Suit" and "The Fitted Shirt," he penned the best garment-themed pop songs since Costello shined all the buttons on his "Green Shirt." Girls Can Tellis so spare and unassuming, it was easy to overlook, but no rock record this year provided as much pleasure per minute. It suggests what might have happened if the Pixies had ever formed a Zombies tribute band.

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