Demographically, Iím a white male in his mid-thirties (old-school college rock guy), who writes for Websight Magazine. My email address is email@example.com or and my personal Web site is at http://www.wenet.net/~barefoot. And I trust email so much that Iím waiting until the last second! Sorry about that, but Iíve gotten to the point where I base my whole life on trusting email that much.
The most telling story of the year wasnít Tupacís death or Jonathan Melvoinís overdose or even Alanisí sales. Nope, the most telling rock and roll story of 1996 was the nasty battle over Jerry Garciaís estate. Because his true legacy isnít the millions of loyal fans or handful of great albums (ok, two) he recorded -- nope, itís the future value of his brand name. And whether or not his ex-wife who married him a year before he died can spare $5 million of that future value for the ex-wife who was once a Merry Prankster and may or may not have married him for tax purposes. One last cold hard cash reality smashing the all you need is love idealism -- just in case there were still any true believers left.
1996 was one of those years where I really wonít know what my favorite album was until about 1998. Nothing stood out for me. Oh, I know that Beck made the best record -- should win in a huge landslide, unless the entire electorate gets a case of too-cool-itis, and decides not to vote for it because they figure itís a shoo-in. Which is a possibility, because Odelay is so effortlessly good that it doesnít inspire a huge emotional attachment -- kinda like Husker Duís Warehouse: Songs And Stories or Xís -- More Fun In The New World. Me, Iím voting for it because the records that Iím probably more emotionally attached to: Wilcoís Being There and Imperial Teenís Seasick, arenít as "good." Being There doesnít make it because it noticably falls off on the second disc, and Seasick, well, I dunno -- right now, the (admittedly few) lows drag it down just enough.
Of course, on the flip side, if there was nothing to die for in 1996, there was nothing I wanted to kill, either. There were no new bands or artists to hate on the Alanis/Hootie/Bush/Sheryl tip, unless you count No Doubt, and I donít. Unlike the others Iíve mentioned here, No Doubt were so obviously fakes and posuers from the start that Iíll betcha there wonít a huge tidal wave of invective aimed at them either. Unless itís folded into what is termed "The Death Of Alternative Rock."
A lot of people are going to be whining this year about "the death of Alternative Rock." The weird thing is that they are going to be acting like itís a big surprise, a shock. Like this time, it was going to be any different? Like this time, record companies (major and independent) werenít going to find clone bands to shove down our collective throats? Like "alternative" radio stations werenít going to go for the obvious hits? Like R.E.M. is *supposed* to move multi-millions of records? Like things were going to end up differently this time? Like we were really stupid enough to believe that? Well, yeah.
So here we go:
|Aimee Mann||IíM With Stupid||09|
|Robyn Hitchcock||Moss Elixir||09|
|The Mysteries of Life||Keep A Secret||08|
|Tobin Sprout||Carnival Boy||07|
|R.E.M.||New Adventures In Hi-Fi||06|
|Soundgarden||Down On The Upside||05|
Beck -- Odelay Of all the reams that will be rightfully written about this cut-and-paste triumph, all I can add is this: "Where Itís At" contains the slyest dick reference yet committed to posterity. Two turntables and a microphone indeed.
Wilco -- Being There I was gonna say that I loved Wilco for many of the same reasons that I worshipped The Replacements, but really, itís only one: the way Jeff Tweedy understands how much can fit, really, under the umbrella of rock Ďní roll. That he lives for it, needs it, loves it, is of course a clichť. That it never sounds like a clichť when he sings about it is why heís so special.
Imperial Teen -- Seasick Finally, a band that took to heart the pop seminar that was the Breedersí Last Splash. On one hand, itís so weird that itís pop music in context only, and on the other, you suddenly that they created their own context, and revel in the pop. This all goes hand in hand with the words, all full of boy/boy lust and smack and regret yet often ending with the whole band chanting things "I like you I like you I like you . . ." or better yet, this offer: "Letís stop and order pancakes/I donít mind sitting down."
Aimee Mann -- Iím With Stupid -- Sure, sometimes she's too glib and angry for her own good -- you get the impression that, like early Elvis Costello, she goes for the cheap shot if it's also the good line. And so what, it's her long, arcing melody lines that save the day. And I don't care how angry she purports to be as long as she stays this tuneful.
Robyn Hitchcock -- Moss Elixir After years of wandering in the ozone, Robyn comes back to earth (well, kinda) with what might be his best set of songs in at least a decade. Maybe ever. As always, an acquired taste, and all I can say is yummy!
Sebadoh -- Harmacy For all of their complaining, itís obvious that these boys need each other far more than they need any of the women theyíre writing about.
The Mysteries of Life -- Keep A Secret Talk about a prophetic title. I didn't read one whit about this record all year, finding out about it only because a friend tapped me on the shoulder and said "psst, have you heard..." Low key, but never boring; acoustic, but never quiet and simple, but never stupid.
Tobin Sprout -- Carnival Boy Of all of the flood of Guided By Voices music this year (and Iím just waiting -- waiting -- for naysayers to call them the Black Flag of the 90ís for their willingness to try and satiate their audience), Tobinís was by far the best. I donít even know if that bodes good or ill for them.
R.E.M. -- New Adventures In Hi-Fi In the old days, it was easier -- REM put out an album, we all went "ooooh" and "ahhhhh," and played it constantly. Or so it seems. Nowadays, R.E.M. (or Bob Mould) (or Paul Westerberg) puts out an album and we all compare it to the old days, when their music was everything to us, and then wonder why, now, when we are all older, it doesnít have as much emotional resonance. As if itís their fault, not ours. Hardly. Theyíve figured out how to deal with age, ennui and commercial success as smartly as any band in rock history, now, itís our turn.
Soundgarden -- Down On The Upside If this doesnít take off with quite the power of Superunknown, well what does? Indulging their "experimental" side without sacrificing the melodies, itís more of a holding pattern than than a crash landing.
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This page finally finished on 22 Sept 1997
I was listening to Tobin Spront -- Welcome to My Wig-Wam