My 1998 Village Voice Pazz and Jop Poll Ballot

Written for the Village Voice on January 10, 1999

Bob Dylan & The Hawks The "Royal Albert Hall" Concert 20
Billy Bragg & Wilco Mermaid Avenue 17
Pearl Jam Yield 14
R.E.M. Up 11
Hole Celebrity Skin 09
Son Volt Wide Swing Tremolo 07
Beastie Boys Hello Nasty 06
Liz Phair whitechocolatespacegg 05
Rancid Life Wonít Wait 05
Spiritualized Live At The Royal Albert Hall 05


For the longest time, I couldnít say anything about 1998, a year which, for me, was dominated more than anything by the convergence of three technologies: .mp3 file compression; faster bandwidth; and home CD burners. So I spent much of the year almost obsessively downloading and burning my own CD bootlegs, knowing that either

  1. this is the beginning of a new revolution in musical distribution
  2. the record companies will figure out a way to shut all this down any minute now or
  3. both

In any event, the record companies are going to have a helluva time cracking down on this -- sure, they can shut down Websites, but more will pop up. Hundreds every single day, sending out all types of music in all types of formats: some streaming, and of the moment; others in more permanent fashion. Some put disclaimers ("please delete this from your hard drive in 24 hours;" "Support Geffen Records" ), and others plead with the record companies to release this music "legitimately." But they all are doing it in plain view, if you know where and how to look. And add the FTP sites, Usenet Newsgroups and "private" networks, and you have a distribution revolution that no corporation or corporations can control. But good god, watch them flail around as they try. ( Though, ironically, it might be the bootleggers who suffer most of all, as many many sites are all about distributing "rare and live" recordings for absolutely free. For example, R.E.M.ís MTV Uplink was posted for free within a week of airdate, a turnaround time that virtually no bootlegger could possibly compete with.)

Theyíll try technical solutions, and those will be circumvented. Theyíll try financial solutions, and those wonít make any difference, because financial gain isnít the point of this particular revolution. Sure, some individuals will find ways to make money, and more power to them, but unlike bootlegging, this really isnít about money. Itís about bypassing the distribution chokehold created by merger after merger by both the radio and record industries.

Unlike CDs, which was a sea change that was imposed from the top down, this is grass-roots, which means that there is no rhyme or reason or plan. Just thousands of people sharing thousands of songs every single day. For free. Or is that millions?

People arenít doing this for financial gain: they are doing it for the pure king-hell pleasure of sharing music with other people -- something the record companies or radio stations donít understand. In some weird way, this is high-tech hybrid of home taping and college radio. And if I was some dickweed at Unimegacomm records, Iíd be scared for my life, because I wouldnít know where to begin, except by demonizing .mp3z in the same way porn has been demonized.

There will be some big solution, of course. But my guess is that itís already too late.

Anyways, on to some of the music I picked this year:

Bob Dylan & The Hawks -- The Royal Albert Hall Concert (Sony Classics)
Like, who cares if the acoustic set sucks? Even if it was exquisitely perfect, it would still just be a set-up, a lead-in to the greatest, wildest, most fucked-up visionary set of rock and roll music ever recorded by anybody. For me, that means it kills the Clash, stomps the Replacements and makes the Who and Nirvana smell like sensitive little singer-songwriter bands. And donít even get me started on the Rolling Stones or Sex Pistols or Led Zeppelin or Bruce Springsteen. Feh! Pretenders and poseurs all. Thatís why itís easy to vote for this -- impossible not to, really -- even though itís been in my life as a boot for just about ever. And of course, itís nearly impossible to add to the volumes that have been written about the electric set, with the guitars crashing into each other like drunken electrons while Garth Hudsonís organ makes the sound of Christmas lights. Or Mickey Jones playing his crashing and rolling drums like he canít decide to put the brakes on or just speed into the spinout. Or that crazy fucker, Dylan, almost gleeful in the hate he is generating, as if he knows that heís gonna get in trouble for this one so he might as well take it as far as it could possibly go. So he did.

Billy Bragg & Wilco -- Mermaid Ave (Elektra)
It isnít so amazing that Woodyís fucksongs are more fun and interesting than his political screeds -- whoís (including Billy Braggís) arenít? Nor is it so amazing that Wilco could make like the lost Basement Tape. What is amazing is that, in a project so weighted with potential historical, that they played down the politics and the Basement Tapes aspect when all most of us know about him was that he was a lefty folkie who was a major influence on Bob Dylan. Whatís left, then, is a guy who wanted to fuck a celebrity; make his daughter happy and oh yeah, had a plan for making the world a better place. Pretty much like the rest of us, when you think about it. And when it was all over, head out here to California, and dream forever while listening to the state song he wrote for us.

Pearl Jam -- Yield (Epic)
Like his heroes and forebears Pete Townshend and Neil Young, Eddie Vedder leads a hard rock band of no specific genre. When you think about it, itís a remarkable achievement in any era, and as they become less grunge-identified, and freed by the, uh, dispersing of their original audience, theyíve made what is heads and shoulders the most powerful and consistent record of their career.

R.E.M. -- Up (WB)
The only thing that would might have made this record more perfect was if it had been produced by Brians Eno or Wilson, instead of just stea--, er, repurposing a lot of their ideas. Not that it would have happened, of course -- their idea of a big-name producer was Don Gehman, who guided John Mellencamp to artistic respectability by adding big drums and seemingly meaningful words to sound of R.E.Mís early records. Meanwhile, benefiting from the formal disengagement of a drummer who hadnít sounded interested in nearly a decade (Green, really, was the last time I noticed him -- prior to that, he was good for two or three drum hooks per album, at least), and smart enough (as always) to seize a chance for reinvention, they took it. And naturally, as befits a band named after the dream state, they turned inwards. The music on Up sounds fragile and claustrophobic, and feels as if it could be disturbed at any moment -- as if after 18 years they finally figured out what a band called R.E.M. should sound like. And from the Enoesque "Hope" to the full-out Beach Boys pastiche of "At My Most Beautiful" (which should have been called "Nightsurfing" ) they give us a different example on almost every song. All culminating in the polar opposites of "Sad Professor" and "Walk Unafraid," two songs that would have been major on Murmur. Of course, if they did it again, it would get old in a hurry: hopefully they will take a cue from the roughed-up versions of these songs that came out of their fall European tour and apply it to their next record.

Hole -- Celebrity Skin
I know why people hate Courtney Love. Crazy, contradictory and caustic, sheís so fake sheís beyond real. And, of course, coming from a subculture where realness equals sincerity equals artistic integrity, her fakeness and ambition give all of the people who worshiped her poor dead husband (or even her earliest music) an easy target. Yet, her goal to make a record that would cut across this most fragmented pop scene ever is strangely noble. And naÔve. And no less informed by artistic integrity than, say, Modest Mouse or Silver Jews. Of course she failed -- even the impact of Nevermind was probably overstated by those of us who were impacted the most, and things have just unraveled further since -- leaving us with a record that has far more flaws than her brand-new body. More highlights, too. Like Live Through This -- which I always figured would be my favorite record instead of Replacementsí Let It Be if was a grrl and totally understood -- I canít really relate to likes like "When I wake up in my makeup/Itís too early for that dress," or even "Melts in my mouth Ďtil heís nothing at all," but I can sure as hell sing along. Itís probably not too much overstatement to call this her Tim: a lot of great songs with production that doesnít quite fit, only it doesnít matter so much because eventually the strength of the best tunes and smartness of the words transcend the production and filler, plus, itís anchored by a radio song for the ages. But like the mid-80ís Ďmats, Hole is surrounded by so much controversy and expectations and just plain swirling shit that itís almost impossible to hear the actual music in and of itself. Or is it? My wife, who cares nothing about punk rock or indie cred or whether nor not Paul Westerbergís upcoming record is as good as Tim (nevermind Let It Be) -- and, if she worried about such things, would probably worry more about Shania selling out rather than Courtney -- just about lives for the perfect pop stop-time climax of that radio song. It knocks her out every time. As do the aforementioned lines above, and pretty much this whole goddamn record. I know why people love Courtney Love.

Beastie Boys -- Hello Nasty (Capitol)
Itís a neat trick, of course, to trade upon your bad-boy past while at the same time disavowing it, and, of course, the Beasties arenít the first smart assholes to do it. But unlike a lot of former bad boys, they havenít musically mellowed any either. And they continue the "everything goes" musicality that has marked their entire career. Sure, theyíre mature enough now to admit that they donít have all of the answers, like on the unprecedented "I Donít Know," but thatís a plus, especially considering how much they thought they knew back in the day.

Thatís pretty much all I have to say for now. Thanks for the chance.

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This page finally finished on 22 June 2001

I was listening to Steve Wynn -- Here Come The Miracles