1. Warrant, Belly to Belly (CMC/BMG) Duh.
2. Great White, Let It Rock (Imago) Long since abandoned by fans and glory, these bloated, balding bozos are still searching for that lost Mott/Bad Company riff and any stripper who still cares.
3. KISS, Unplugged (Mercury) Weren't the lunchboxes, TV shows, comic books and tee shirts enough? Who the hell wants to hear this band's crass opportunism (on acoustic guitar, no less) now? Everybody, I guess. This KISS in '96 craze brought back hellish memories of Mrs. Hughes' fifth-grade class, where every suburban white boy spent a decade's worth of lunch money on KISS crap. I didn't. I hated KISS.
4. R.E.M., New Adventures in Hi-Fi (Warner Bros.) All right, isn't the statute of limitations up on Michael Stipe? And wasn't this band supposed to be the Great Pop Hope of American radio? Well, Mr. Stipe's melodrama is as defined as ever, and whatever pop R.E.M. had has been replaced with the dull thud of mediocrity we now call alternative.
5. Counting Crows, Recovering the Satellites (Virgin) Rock 'n' roll was never meant for your church lady, science teacher or old man. Your church lady, science teacher and old man all like Counting Crows.
6. Van Halen, Best of, Volume One (Warner Bros.) No matter how much jazz David Lee Roth added to Van Halen's jive, anything saddled with the weight of Hagar the Horrible will suffer accordingly.
7. Bush, Razorblade Suitcase (Trauma/Interscope) The snooty British pop press has always mocked America for its failure to embrace some of the greatest rock 'n' roll bands of all time that were English (the Sex Pistols, Mott the Hoople, etc.). Now it's roaring (for good reason) over this country's love affair with Bush, an English band that couldn't get arrested in the U.K. What makes this even sadder is Bush nicked its whole shtick off a dead American junkie. Jesus.
8. The Wallflowers, Bringing Down the Horse (Columbia) In songwriting, Bob Dylan is not God. If he were, Dylan Jr. (Jacob) could walk across a swimming pool, guitar in hand. But here he sinks. Stinks. Whatever.
9. Jason Faulkner, Presents Author Unknown (Elektra) Big deal. Jason used to be in the Jellyfish or whatever. He still made a crappy, self-indulgent recording that sounds totally derived from Stephen Duffy. I couldn't get this one to the trade counter fast enough.
10. Hootie and the Blowfish, Fairweather Johnson (Atlantic) See Warrant, above.
Dr. Cynic's 10 Best
Miraculous flukes from a piss-poor year for rock 'n' roll
1. Slingbacks, All Pop No Star (Virgin Import) I'm biased 'cause I have a songwriting credit on this one, but who fuckin' cares? It's still an ace record. It's trashy, it's punk rock, it's way pop, and it's literate. Picture Chrissie Hynde with a slight Courtney growl, trading off between fronting the Attractions and Johnny Thunders' Heartbreakers. Awesome.
2. Paul Westerberg, Eventually (Reprise) Sadly belittled by puny record sales, Westerberg is still one of the best songwriters alive. And if you think that's a pompous, sweeping statement, then fuck off.
3. Black Crowes, Three Snakes and One Charm (American) The last record I thought I'd like. My guitar player Keith wanted to beat me up when I told him this was great. The Crowes ain't a Faces tribute band no more. This thing is loaded with aching, haunted songs.
4. Pretty and Twisted, Pretty and Twisted (Warner Bros.) Johnette Napolitano rules--she's both heartbreaking and world-weary. The song "Ride" (co-written with ex-Saint Chris Bailey) simply shimmers. Almost no one bought this record. Of course.
5. NY Loose, Year of the Rat (Hollywood) Trite rock mannerisms aside, this still has enough of that CBGB/Max's Kansas City swagger to make me happy. Singer Bridgett West is a rock 'n' roll star in a real Richard Hell/Marc Bolan kinda way. Thank God, 'cause we need more of those.
6. Suckerpunch, Suckerpunch (MCA) The closest thing to Never Mind the Bollocks . . . I've ever heard. That's power chords and attitude, honey, and, oh, make mine with Absolut.
7. The Beatles, Anthology (Apple/Capitol) It's a reissue. So what. It's the Beatles. Duh.
8. Suzi Quatro, The Wild One: Classic Quatro (Razor & Tie) Suzi Quatro is the glam goddess of all time. Joan Jett's got nothing on her.
9. Serene Dominic and the Semi-Detached, Heathens of Vaudeville (Worrybird) Anyone who's met Serene knows he's armed with a few quirks--his songwriting is better for it. To hear pop songs that are brilliant both for their hooks and their unpredictability is stinkin' rare. And I'm not kissin' ass here, either.
10. Manic Street Preachers, Everything Must Go (Epic) Right after their guitar player vanished off the face of the Earth, the Preachers made a record that not only draws from the annals of pop history, but puts an original twist on it. This one sparkles.
10 Most-Returned Albums of '96
(List courtesy of Eastside Records)
1. Spin Doctors--You Gotta Believe
in Something (Epic)
2. Hootie and the Blowfish-- Fairweather Johnson (Atlantic)
3. The Artist Formerly Known As Prince--Chaos & Disorder (Warner Bros.)
4. The Cranberries--To the Faithful Departed (Island)
5. Neurotic Outsiders--Neurotic Outsiders (Maverick)
6. Various artists--The Crow: City of Angels soundtrack (Atlantic)
7. Metallica--Load (Elektra)
8. Red Hot Chili Peppers--One Hot Minute (Warner Bros.)
9. Black Crowes--Three Snakes and One Charm (American)
10. The Cure--Mood Swings (Elektra/Fiction)
Five Good Country Albums You Never Heard on Country Radio
1. Ween, 12 Golden Country Greats
2. Steve Earle, I Feel Alright
3. Lyle Lovett, The Road to Ensenada
4. Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Braver New World
5. Wilco, Being There
Galxy Grl's (a.k.a. Sarah Gianetto) Best AZ Rave of '96
High on the Vibe, November 8 through 10, United Positivity, Santa Fe Building in downtown Phoenix
A three-day (and -night) party that lived up to its slogan. The positive energy emitted by Dubtribe during its prime-time set was overwhelming. The promoter paid attention to detail--bringing the clown ride from the flier to the premises, providing trays of fresh fruit, hiring carnival games, etc. HOTV also had one of the most comfy chill zones of the year.
1. Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, Mark O'Connor Appalachia Waltz (Sony Classical) The birth of another subgenre: classical twang. Concert-hall virtuosos Meyer, O'Connor and Ma fuse classical compositions with high-lonesome fiddle music. The results, at once stunning and engaging, are as distinctly American as the best of Copland and Ives.
2. Olivier Messiaen, Diptyque/Les Corps Glorieux (Milan) Two more keyboard epiphanies from a 20th-century biggy. Messiaen, who died four years ago, wrote Diptyque as an evocative compare-and-contrast between heaven and Earth. Les Corps Glorieux is even more fascinating, its conception of life among the angels replete with a fight to the finish between good and evil. Nicely performed by organist Jon Gillock.
3. Beck, Odelay (DGC) A loser no more, Beck now proclaims himself the "Enchanted Wizard of Rhythm," and proves it with sample-heavy hip-hop of amazing studio craft. His lyrics are little more than strings of slackjawed non sequiturs tossed in the air, but his music's mishmash of street beats and coffee-house sing-alongs says enough.
4. Fountains of Wayne, Fountains of Wayne (Tag/Atlantic) These two savvy New Yorkers play post-Weezer pop of insidious sophistication, matching melodies at once familiar and new with vocals that blend '60s AM-radio fluff with modern-day slack. At its best--"Everything's Ruined," "I've Got a Flair" and, especially, "Sick Day"--the group's results are some of the best songs the dB's never wrote. Bonus points for coolest cover art of the year.
5. Eleni Karaindrou/Kim Kashkashian, Ulysses Gaze (ECM New Series) Music of deep, reflective beauty, this soundtrack is essentially a myriad of variations on the little-seen movie's theme. Karaindrou's compositions are moody tone pictures, with colors enriched by Kashkashian's remarkably evocative viola. A beautiful CD and a real find.
1. Steve Earle, I Feel Alright (E Squared/Warner Bros.) All the honesty Steve Earle has accumulated since his incarceration for drug abuse is etched into every note of this superlative CD. The shocking candor of "Cocaine Cannot Kill My Pain" would frighten off most pop performers. Even when the tone is less severe, as on "More Than I Can Do," Earle delivers a line like "You say you're gonna call the cops, but I ain't gonna run because you're the only one" and makes it sound like the noblest lover's prayer.
2. Smashing Pumpkins, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (Virgin) This was a late-'95 release, but so what? Since Blonde on Blonde, the White Album, Something/Anything and Exile on Main Street, it's been a pop tradition to underestimate double albums until a year or two later. Who'd have thought a sprawling, two-record set teeming with the adenoidal admonishments of Billy Corgan would become alternative's version of Thriller?
3. Garbage, Garbage (Almo Sounds) No guy in his right mind could refuse this refuse. When Shirley Manson turns on the Acid Queen charm like she does on "Vow" ("I came to tear your little world apart"), you're absolute putty in her hands.
4. Finn Brothers, Finn Brothers (Discovery/Warner Bros.) Crowded House may be leveled, but luckily, Neil and Tim Finn found a modest flat down the street and started mixing up voodoo music in the basement. Replacing the usual Crowded House polish with lo-fi homespun sounds, the Finns combine random experimentation with good, old-fashioned Tin Pan Alley songsmithin'. Pop fans, don't dream it's over just yet.
5. Beat Angels, Unhappy Hour (Epiphany) In my second life as a performer, there is only one 1996 song that I've jumped at the chance of covering live, "Hung Over With Jenny," and here's why. It's got cigarettes, whiskey and wild women tattooed all over it, and it makes a bourbon hangover seem as hopeful as the second coming of Christ. These punks sing about needle park shootists, trailer-park floozies and drunken reprobates like they're Up With People! And I'm not kissin' ass here, either.
Brendan Kelley (Punk/Indie purist)
1. Bikini Kill, Reject All American (Kill Rock Stars) Bikini Kill got its notoriety via riot grrl politicking. Now the members write incredible songs as well. A stellar album of melodic, estrogen-powered p-rock.
2. Superchunk, The Laughter Guns EP (Merge) Usually, when p-rock bands slow down and throw in experimental instruments (in this case an organ), the result is a horror show. This EP is the exception--Superchunk's best release ever.
3. F.Y.P, Toilet Kids Bread (Recess) F.Y.P has made wetting yr pants cool again. Kindergarten brat-core that makes you wanna lock yrself in yr room with some Cap'n Crunch and a bed to jump on.
4. The Peechees, Do the Math (Kill Rock Stars) No matter how much cream you rub on it, the burn just won't go away. If you're under 30, this is what you'll give your kids to prove that shit rocked harder back in the day.
5. J Church, The Drama of Alienation (Honest Don's Hardly Used Recordings) S.F.'s boy wonders slap together an LP full of downers, but still kick more ass than any other "pop/punk" band in action.
(Industrial, Underground Dance)
1. Haujobb, Solutions for a Small Planet (Metropolis) A long-awaited marriage: Jungle (among other things) meets industrial. Sinister, guitarless, analog-synth industrial, that is. And, yes, you most definitely can (and should) dance to it.
2. Chemical Brothers, Live at the Social, Volume I (Heavenly) Chem Bros.' much-hyped 1995 album of original dance music, Exit Planet Dust, was awesome. But these guys are deejays, and they're at their best as they are here--tweaking, pumping up and seamlessly weaving together some of the phattest obscure house, funk and hip-hop tracks of the past few years. Your home dance party in a box.
3. Various artists, Macro Dub Infection, Volume 2 (Gyroscope/Caroline) Two thick, juicy slabs of subterranean dub beats, with all manner of funky samples and delicious noize on top. And--wake up, America--plenty of sizzling jungle. Includes everyone from drum/bass wizard Plug to trance master Mouse on Mars to hip-hop's Prince Paul. The bomb sex album.
4. Various artists, In Dust We Trust (Invisible) This compilation plays like one long, flowing collaboration, featuring the best tribal/grind industrial that Pigface's Martin Atkins had the genius to make, produce or hand-pick. Includes cuts by Psychic TV, Pigface, Evil Mothers, Sheep on Drugs and others.
5. Coil, Black Light District (World Serpent) Is it dark ambient? Old-school industrial? Trance/house? Neoclassical? Whatever, it's experimental, weird and dark. Sacrifice your soul on Coil's exotic pagan altar now, and try to figure out what it all means later.
Mr. P-Body (Hip-Hop, etc.)
1. The Fugees, The Score (Columbia/Ruffhouse) This seamless, transcendent record redefined the boundaries of hip-hop. Yeah, that Roberta Flack cover is killing me, too, but come on--this record was released early in the year. Take a step back and recognize it for what it is--the most eclectic, original hip-hop album to come out in years. A giant step forward for the form.
2. Nas, It Was Written (Columbia) A close second for record of the year. The word's out on Nas, but don't blame him for the MTV overkill--he deserves all the hype. His personification of a gun on "I Gave You Power" is worth the price of admission alone--a deep, poignant track from one of hip-hop's brightest rising stars.
3. OutKast, Elevators (La Face) "Sophomore slump" doesn't exist in OutKast's considerable glossary of terms. This act's 1994 debut was the sleeper of the year, and Elevators rises to the same stature. Fat tracks: "Wheels of Steel," "ATLiens."
4. De La Soul, The Stakes Is High (Tommy Boy) The CD A Tribe Called Quest should have made. Best effort since 3 Feet High and Rising. The Native Tongues return.
5. Various artists, Swingers soundtrack (Hollywood) I bought this with the money I didn't waste on disappointments like Tha Doggfather. An attractive, atmospheric collection that set the perfect mood for one of '96's best films, mixing classic big-band arrangements with new swing by up-and-comers like Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.
(Blues, Funk, Soul, R&B)
1. James Brown, Make It Funky (Polydor) Polydor got its act together this year with several excellently detailed Brown compilations. This one covers the years '71 to '75, a period where James was struggling to stay on the charts--and making music that still sounds modern.
2. The Persuasions, Sincerely (Bullseye/Rounder) Stalwart a cappella group releases one of the best albums of its long career; four middle-aged men who put all young harmony groups to shame.
3. Otis Clay, The Hi Records Years (The Right Stuff/EMI) In which a great soul singer finally gets out from under the shadow of his former labelmate, Al Green. A generous collection.
4. Robert Gordon and Danny Gatton, The Humbler (NRG) According to the liners, this live recording circulated in bootlegged form among awed guitarists for years (hence the name). It captures late axman Gatton with neorockabilly singer Gordon at a Berkeley, California, club in '78.
5. Various artists, Slow 'n' Moody Black & Bluesy (Pointblank/Virgin) Thrilling slices of deep soul music from the '60s and early '70s that were all but lost until this set, despite the wave of reissue projects. All that, plus a brilliant Little Richard side. But why are the Brits still giving us back our culture?
Paul Rubin (Jazz)
1. Joe Sample, Old Places, Old Faces (Warner Bros.) Veteran jazzster surprises with kick-ass excursion of simple, sweet tunes.
2. John Scofield, Quiet (Verve) Gil Evans-style horn arrangements and acoustic guitar equals welcome change of pace for this prolific axman.
3. Cassandra Wilson, New Moon Daughter (Blue Note) Spawned from Billie Holiday and Joni Mitchell, this woman is sparse, pure and original.
4. Sun Ra, The Singles (Evidence) Doo-wop, bebop, space-age hip-hop and no slop, this 48-song set from Mr. Ra and the Arkestra is a mind-blower.
5. Josef Zawinul, My People (Escapade) A dash of Weather Report, a sprinkling of Cannonball Adderley and more than a touch of the Third World make for a spirited outing by this keyboard master.
Chris King (World Music)
1. Various artists, Indonesian Music, Volumes 11 and 12 (Smithsonian/Folkways) Field producer Philip Yampolsky has recorded 12 outstanding volumes and counting. This year's mind benders bring us Sumatran gong songs and Melayu bands.
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2. Djivan Gasparyan, Apricots of Eden (Traditional Crossroads) Majestic Armenian flutework.
3. Kudsi Erguner Ensemble, Middle Eastern Roots Music (Traditional Crossroads) Near-perfect opus of works by Ottoman Empire court composer Tatyos Efendi.
4. Various artists, Capoeira Angola From Salvador Brazil (Smithsonian/Folkways) Perfectly captures this manic, African-Brazilian martial art-dance music.
5. Pandit Kamalesh Mitra, Tabla Tarang-Melody on Drums (Smithsonian/Folkways) Mitra puts poetry in motion, asea in relentless rhythm.