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Annual Retentive

I have nothing against those softy-in-jeans journalist types who scurry to bended knee at the altar of, say, Fiona Apple and Built to Spill; I just can't sit here and pretend to be one for whom taste is second nature. Taste, that is, as defined in complacent lists that always seem to include things like Fiona Apple and Built to Spill; or whatever Beastie Boys record comes out.

I hate both Fiona Apple and Built to Spill. Always hated the Beastie Boys. Bore me to fookin' tears.

I prefer things that simply blow my skirt up. And I am a proud proponent of the rock 'n' roll star and its song carriage. Shit, as an ideology, r 'n' r changed my life -- generally for the worse -- but I wouldn't be sittin' here gobbin' all your time if not for pedestalizing such lowlife higher-ups as a kid.

Great records are supposed to be skin and bone reduced to its raw essentials, a mayhem suffered for and earned, and unclouded by takeover sellout; a whole bedraggled, drug-addled, mythic and hypocritical package made for both boys and girls.

Oh, yeah, rock 'n' roll must also double nicely as a beer coaster. . . .

And please hold the Lilith Fair sermonizing and toplofty rapping by rich white boys harping bad metal. Thank you. Here's my 10 best rock 'n' roll records for the year. Like Nigel Tufnel's amp, the list goes up to 11.

1. The Clash
From Here to Eternity
(Epic)

The consummate stocking/posterior stuffer for the whiny Korn-holer in an XL tee shirt. Rock 'n' roll by definition, chief.

2. Black Crowes
By Your Side
(Columbia)

A dead German dude once uttered something like "there's real value, and then there's exchange value." The Black Crowes had exchange value before real value; songwriting junior-leaguers cloaked in rock-star celebrity. By Your Side inverts that formula. Routine over-the-shoulder nods to Keef, Woody and low-fat Page still theme from top to bottom, of course, but absent of any self-conscious plagiarism. Chris Robinson's vocals once whiffed of rotting vegetables and Coco Chanel but now sustain a heart beating through. And the tunes breathe an unaffected warmth; there's no false push or phony garb. Head to toe, an effortless-sounding record.

3. 22 Jacks
Going North
(Side One Dummy)

Picture Blink 182's greasy passion for trodden porn pets traded in for real chest pubes, a hook-to-guitar-wank ratio that out-Hüsker Düs even the Foo Fighters, and horn arrangements that brighten full-stack riffs with a finesse not heard since The Saints' '78 masterpiece Eternally Yours. Furthermore, ace knob whirler Ed Stasium (Ramones) captains the ship, thus allowing the Jacks to frame its rock group essential "One of the Boys" mythos with an ease as pure as the crush Riff Randell had on Joey Ramone 20 summers ago. And if a well-oiled line like "If I'm gonna sleep tonight/I gotta be medicated" ain't worthy of many toasts to one's own health, then make my round a fuckin' O'Doul's, okay?

The Jags? Ramones? Hüsker Dü? The Saints? You say? Shit, belly up to the bar, sailor!

4. Buckcherry
Buckcherry
(DreamWorks)

Looking suitably worn, as if the 30 miles of hard road were only the prelude, Buckcherry singer Joshua Todd sports the kind of lithe frame and troubled complexion that suggest more than just a random mingling with coke, speed and booze. Todd's pallor and voice are borne of pure rock 'n' roll mythologizing and the final push of its limitations. Understanding that rock 'n' roll was all about exploiting limitations, not conceding to them, is what keeps Buckcherry from getting laughed off the planet for still hawking the stuff. You can't laugh at somebody who is in on the joke. Besides, it took Buck's four-on-the-floor shout-out "Lit Up" to single-handedly stomp fun back into AOR radio this year. And any song that uses cocaine as a schtupp metaphor is bucking for sainthood in my book.

5. Stereophonics
Performance and Cocktails
(V2)

Sterophonics are appallingly ignored stateside, but who's to wonder when shouter Kelly Jones orates a line like "It's a beautiful place for nature/And all the beautiful people make it true" that nails pop culture as the identity supermarket for Yankee youth that it is. And the band handles songwriting with desperation, like it was as necessary for survival as air. Passion is a good thing then.

6. Lilac Time
Looking for a Day in the Night
(Cooking Vinyl)

Not all choruses have to be in leather trousers, though; in fact, a sing-along in a chiffon summer dress ain't bad at all. And onetime Tin Tin man Stephan Duffy shows he's man enough to use refrains as delicate and unabashedly Wordsworthian in essence as a boy coming of age and sleeping in a meadow of daffodils. Lilac's songs fearlessly float, whir, settle and hum with an authority as big as the sky and nary a power chord or gym-puffed muscle in sight.

7. The Church
A Box of Birds
(Thirsty Ear)

Never once on this set of covers does Church singer Steven Kilby provide smooth access to any of the tunes' cores; but unlike the bulk of Church music, the songs here provide easy melodies that let you out of the band's -- and Kilby's -- usual psychological hold. Kilby's reedy baritone and off-the-meter croon blanket everything like a funeral shroud -- even on Harrison's Beatle best "It's All Too Much."

Kilby laments the lyric on Mott's "All the Young Dudes" with all the presence of a man truly mourning the loss of a time when rock 'n' roll still meant enough that it could change lives -- as we presume it did his. And how rare to find a singer and band worthy of the work of others -- particularly when the work includes Tom Verlaine, Neil Young, Carole King and Iggy -- and not see an ironic nod in the house.

8. The Dragons
R*L*F
(Junk Records)

So writing off The Dragons as just another yawpy, Flipside-adored punk band is as misguided as the presumption that Tommy Lee is a capable lyricist and ebony as Snoop Dogg.

Sure, song titles like "Roll the Dice" and "Sleep When I'm Dead" goad winces like a Skid Row record jacket, and maybe a few tunes splutter clunk with amphetamine haste in cracked hope that the penitential season of junkie guitar-hero Lent will culminate in the resurrection of Johnny what's-his-name. But when Mario Escovedo croaks up lines like "And I pray to the rosary/Don't take it away from me," we can hear the bottle finally hitting him back just as his girl's heels are tapping an exit song, while his big bros (Javier and Alejandro, don't you know) hand down oversize shoes. Ultimately, a skewered romanticism -- faith shot to shit -- figures as prominently as the tats and belabored D chords. Songwriting 101.

9. Starflyer/59
Everybody Makes Mistakes
(Tooth and Nail)

Starflyer/59's ninth (yes, ninth) record defines well one of those flat, leftover days where leaves and Circle K hot dog wrappers drag across your dirt yard in clusters, and nothing can cut out the brassy sunlight to your room. Where you are bound by harpy neighbors and a brutal hangover. And all you can do is survey your own shallow suburban existence while somehow singing along on snappy chorus refrains.

10. Echo and the Bunnymen
What Are You Going to Do With Your Life
(UK import)
(London)

A popster's amalgam of somber strings, tolling guitars and fizzled adolescent desires strung together with more than a feeble alliance to Leonard Cohen and, of course, the Velvet Underground. "Lost on You" is the best pop song of the year, too. This from a group of limey tools that should have remained in the dust bin? Nah, just another record not at all on speaking terms with the times or with you.

11. Jeff Dahl
All Trashed Up
(Triple X)

Go-to-hell guitars, trash-can drums with vocals tousled and unkempt. And all under effulgent Cave Creek skies. What a mix. Brilliant, uneven, and what's more, he don't care. All the more reason you should.

Contact Brian Smith at his online address: brian.smith@newtimes.com


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