Saturday, November 20, 2004

The 9th Annual Reynolds Top 20 List (1998)

Garth Brooks Is a Bitter, Bitter Man
As I was finally figuring out what should go where on this year’s list, I got into a discussion with a couple of co-workers about albums that really made them sit up and take notice. After racking our brains, we couldn’t even come up with one that we agreed on. (Of course, after racking our brains on where to go to lunch, we usually end up going to the same deli five days a week.) While there are many quality albums on this list, it’s debatable how many of them I’ll be actively listening to next year or the year after that.

However, 1998 did have some interesting musical moments that kept me on my toes. I remember sitting backstage at the Grammys, looking at the monitors, and thinking, “I don’t think that guy’s supposed to be dancing next to Mr. Dylan.” I mean, here’s Dylan’s crowning return to the Grammys, (where he butchered “Masters of War” in 1991) and this twit who calls himself a “performance artist” is stealing his thunder. This is why we should have the death penalty in New York—to rid the streets of idiots like this guy.

Speaking of people who should be put to death, Jewel put out a book of poetry this year. I’ve had sleepless nights trying to come up with something witty to write about it, but I think the facts speak for themselves. What’s next—Mariah Carey’s how-to guide on getting ahead in the music industry? Celine Dion’s coffee table book on her favorite soundtracks of all time?

The Beastie Boys finally returned after a four-year absence with a new album and the third annual Tibetan Freedom Concert. While the cause is a just one, it seems that the message hasn’t sunk in with today’s youth—one of my favorite quotes came from one 20 year old kid after the Saturday concert was cut short when lightning hit the stadium. This Tibet-freedom-supporting kid said, “We got jewed out of the rest of the show.” I’m not making that up.

The teen brigade was in full effect in 1998, led by the Backstreet-N-5ive-Sync-Boys. They looked clean, sang clean and probably led some kids to have to clean their shorts. At least our teen idols in the ’70s looked different—could anyone tell these groups apart in a police lineup? Of course, this youth brigade should not have been surprising—remember, New Kids on the Block were the most popular band at the start of this decade.

But the worst part of this year in music was, hands down, Garth Brooks. His Double Live sold the most records in one week since SoundScan started in 1991. To celebrate this feat of ego and marketing madness, Garth held two press conferences in one day—one in NYC, one in Nashville—to pretend he was, and I quote here, “humble” about breaking the records held by Pearl Jam and Whitney Houston for weekly sales. Now most folks might spend the time talking about this so-called great accomplishment and just be happy about it. But not Garth. When I asked him about how much of this accomplishment might be due to the marketing of the album (a concert just for Wal-Mart, a live N-B-C T-V special, six different “collectable” covers, and that’s just for starters) rather than the actual promise of the music, it set him off complaining about the lack of success his album of three years ago, Fresh Horses. He said that people didn’t know it was out due to the lack of marketing by the previous regime at his label.

Now let’s get some facts straight—Fresh Horses sold almost a half-million its first week out, and has sold over six-million to date. He blamed marketing for the lack of initial success, but perhaps it was the choice of a weak cover of a weak Aerosmith song (“The Fever”) as the first single that made fans think, “Gosh, perhaps I might want to hear more before laying out my hard-earned money?” Garth might have started out in this business for his love of music, but now it’s just that goal to break 100-million sales before the decade is over that keeps him going. He’s not serving his fans anymore, he’s just serving an ego bigger than that ever-present cowboy hat (and one would figure that being able to cheat on his wife with Trisha Yearwood—and do lots of duets with her—would be enough for one man).

Well, enough ranting for one year. Enjoy the list.

1998's Top Twenty Albums

20) The Connells - Still Life
Raleigh, North Carolina’s finest band returns with a more polished sounding album filled with pop gems. Frontman Doug MacMillian’s voice sounds the best it has in years—perhaps it’s a residual effect of having to relearn to sing after his abdominal surgery. (He sure didn’t have to relearn how to drink. My liver will vouch for that.) Guitarist George Hundley’s “Curly’s Train” shows off a surprisingly sweet country side of the band, while the instrumental “Pedro Says” ends Life on a peaceful note. Best Tracks: “Curly’s Train,” “Gonna Take A Lie” “Dull, Brown and Gray”
19)Public Enemy - He Got Game
P-E’s first disc in four years is a huge improvement over the true mess of Muse-Sick-N-Hour-Mess-Age. The plot of the Spike Lee film provided the perfect vehicle for Chuck D and Flavor Flav to apply their lyrical genius. “Game Face,” “Politics of the Sneaker Pimps” and “Super Agents” nail the mood of the film—and the shady side of basketball. “He Got Game” borrows a page from the Puffy playbook by remaking “For What It’s Worth,” and ups the ante with Stephen Stills reprising his vocal on the chorus. He Got Game is a rarity—a soundtrack that complements and expands upon the messages in a film. Best Tracks: “He Got Game,” “Unstoppable,” “Is Your God a Dog”

18) Goo Goo Dolls - Dizzy Up the Girl
The question about the Goos before they recorded this album was this—could they follow-up the success of A Boy Named Goo and the Top 5 hit “Name?” Well, “Iris” answered that question pretty easily. The question then became, could a somewhat harder song enjoy the same success? “Slide” is proving that, somewhat. The Goos have mellowed out a bit like their forefathers The Replacements and Soul Asylum, but Buffalo’s best trio seems to have done a better job of it. Bassist Robby Takac’s songs still rock the hardest, but sound a bit sweeter. Johnny Rzeznik has turned into a sex symbol for many young women (and girls), but that hasn’t stopped his tales of down on their luck people, like “Broadway.” Some bands don’t deserve their success—these guys do. Best Tracks: “Broadway,” “Iris” “January Friend”
17) The Mavericks - Trampoline
The Mavericks started out as country band, but they defy any label you could put on them now. Singer Raul Malo has a voice that sounds hand-delivered from the throat gods, and he wraps it around the blues (“Tell Me Why”), ’50s type ballads (“Fool #1”), country-pop (“I Don’t Even Know Your Name”) and, well, some sounds lifted straight out of the Elvis Vegas catalog. The first track alone, “Dance the Night Away,” has a Latin feel with perfectly placed horns that was a big hit in the U-K. (Guess it wasn’t time for Teletubbies.) Best Tracks: “Tell Me Why,” “Fool # 1,” “Someone Should Tell Her”
16) The Figgs - Couldn’t Get High
Yet another band in the “if Steve likes them a lot, they must be cursed with a glaring lack of success” category. Couldn’t Get High is another round of power-pop gems, with the strongest contributions coming from guitarist Guy Lyons. Of course, with the Steve-curse in-effect, he left the band last year before the disc was released. “The Bar” is quite possibly the best song written about drinking, “If That’s What You Want” sounds like a song The Beatles forgot to bring back from Hamburg and “Said Enough” makes me hop up and act crazy. If you get any money for Christmas, please seek out this album and buy it. Thank you very much. Best Tracks: “The Bar,” “Said Enough,” “Always a Breakdown”
15) Elliott Smith - XO
When Good Will Hunting was released, critics bent over backwards praising Smith, but the Oscar-nominated song from the Hunting soundtrack, “Miss Misery” didn’t do much for me. I now happily fall in with the critics’ line, as Smith’s first major label album reveals some choice pop rewards with each spin. Tracks like “Sweet Adeline” and “Independence Day” burrow their way into your consciousness, sometimes without you even knowing it. Smith’s quirky nasally voice takes a bit of getting used to, but heck, I like Bob Dylan. Best Tracks: “Independence Day,” “Baby Britain,” “Waltz # 1”

14) Buffalo Tom - Smitten
One of Boston’s best returns after a three year layoff, and with this album it was worth the wait. I’ll admit that at first I was underwhelmed, but Smitten falls under the “grower” category. Bill Janovitz still has that great tired, weathered voice that sounds like a guy who’s working the overnight shift singing about all the problems we all face (I know that simile is weak, but I worked overnights, and trust me, it’s true). Bassist Chris Colburn’s voice has never sounded better, and his three lead vocals are his best to date, including the shoulda-been-a smash “Rachael.” The biggest surprise is the exquisite use of keyboards to add to the emotional highs and lows of such songs as “Wiser” and “Scottish Windows.” Yes folks, I am smitten with this band. Best Tracks: “Knot in It,” “Rachael,” “Wiser”
13) Elvis Costello & Burt Bacharach - Painted From Memory
This oddly matched pair first collaborated on “God Give Me Strength” for the Grace of My Heart soundtrack a couple of years ago, and this album fulfills the promise of that beautiful song (which closes this album as well). The Bacharach renaissance was already in full swing last year—who didn’t love his appearance in Austin Powers—and in Costello he’s found a lyricist that puts a little edge to his sappy music. Costello almost sounds like he’s trying to shove too many words into each song, and his voice strains at times as well, but the pure heartbreak in some of these songs could make anyone feel depressed. And sometimes depressing music is exactly what you need. Best Tracks: “God Give Me Strength,” “Toledo,” “Tears at the Birthday Party”
12) Liz Phair - whitechocolatespaceegg
After a self-imposed exile in babyville, Ms. Phair returns with another batch of tunes that wrestle with the problems of sex and relationships. This time, the sometimes by-product of sex (and I’m not talking about the walk of shame) makes its way to the table. Being a mom seems to have mellowed Phair out, but that being said, “Shitloads of Money” is just a biting as “Fuck and Run.” “What Makes You Happy” makes me happy each time I play it. I’m still puzzled by the “alligator cowboy boots that just went on sale” lyric in “Polyester Bride,” but I’m not a fashion expert. Best Tracks: “What Makes You Happy,” “Polyester Bride,” “Shitloads of Money”
11) Semisonic - Feeling Strangely Fine
Here’s Pure Pop Pleasure Band # 1 on the list. Semisonic will be classified as a one-hit wonder, but that’s not a fair assessment—this album has TONS of hits. I can imagine hearing half of this album played on the radio so much I’d want to kill myself. I’ve been a sucker for pop-radio material like this since first hearing the Raspberries in 1972. These guys aren’t looking to change the world, they’re just looking to make it sound a bit better, and with songs like “Secret Smile” (one of the best love songs in a long time), their mission is accomplished. Best Tracks: “Secret Smile,” “Closing Time,” “Singing in My Sleep”
10) Fastball - All the Pain that Money Can Buy
Here’s Pure Pop Pleasure Band # 2. Again, there are no big important messages on this album, just a batch of lovely ear candy that goes down better than…well, make up your own joke. And who would ever think as song as odd as “The Way” would make its way (pardon the pun) into the ears, minds, hearts and other organs of millions. Fastball will make a fine addition to some Rhino collection of the future. Best Tracks: “Better Than It Was,” “Which Way to the Top?,” “The Way”
9) Cake - Prolonging the Magic
Guitarist Greg Brown (creator of that monster riff on “The Distance”) left the band before Cake hit the studio, so the guys decided to use a guitar-by-committee approach that would usually spell disaster. But this actually gives the group’s songs a bit more variety with a different-yet-similar lead style on each track. Singer John McCrea comes off as somewhat of a control freak with a condescending attitude live, but his songs about relationships come off very tender and sweet on this album. If Satan is his motor, then I want his car. Best Tracks: “Satan is My Motor,” “When You Sleep,” “Let Me Go”
8) Beck - Mutations
I saw Beck play just after he recorded this album, and he played a few songs that are on this disc. The stunningly beautiful acoustic songs he debuted made this one of the most highly anticipated albums for me this year. That being said, Mutations is somewhat of a disappointment. Some of the beauty of songs like “Nobody’s Fault But My Own” and “Dead Melodies” didn’t translate to this album. However, Mutations is still a good album, and a worthy follow-up to his last “low-key” album, One Foot in the Grave. Best Tracks: “Tropicalia,” “Nobody’s Fault But My Own,” “Canceled Check”
7) Lyle Lovett - Step Inside this House
When an artist does an album of all covers, usually it’s a space filler, or product until the next “real” album. Lovett blows this notion out of the water with two discs devoted to his favorite Texas songwriters. Selections like “Bears” and “Teach Me About Love” could have been from any of his previous albums and reveal a great deal about Lovett’s songwriting roots. I’ve heard some people call this album bland, but I think Lovett does the right thing by not being too fancy and just letting these songs in this great collection tell their stories. Best Tracks: “Step Inside This House,” “Teach Me About Love,” “Bears”
6) Billy Bragg & Wilco - Mermaid Avenue
This album is like the proverbial Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup—two great acts that go great together. I don’t know why Mr. Bragg was inspired to pick Wilco to help him bring these lyrics of Woody Guthrie to life, but he hit the bullseye. Their versatility is a treasure on tracks like “Walt Whitman’s Niece” and “Hoodoo Voodoo” (that swing in a way Woody never did) to the longful dreaming of “California Stars.” Bragg also shines on “Way Over Yonder in a Minor Key” (featuring actual non-annoying vocals from Natalie Merchant) and the silly “Ingrid Bergman.” Best Tracks: “Walt Whitman’s Niece,” “Way Over Yonder in a Minor Key,” “Ingrid Bergman”
5) Barenaked Ladies - Stunt
The band that I never thought would hit it big here in the U-S finally did, and did so with their best album to date. “One Week” perfectly encapsulates what it’s like to see them improv songs live, with its rapid-fire, pop-culture-heavy lyrics. Tunes like “It’s All Been Done” and “Never Is Enough” are easy to hum after just one listen. And just like entry # 18, success couldn’t have happened to nicer guys. Best Tracks: “One Week,” “Some Fantastic,” “Who Needs Sleep”
4) Bob Mould - The Last Dog and Pony Show
I was thinking of calling this the comeback of the year after Bob’s very dark 1996 self-titled album, but in retrospect I sold that disc a bit short. I won’t with this one. Dog features Bob’s best work since Sugar’s Copper Blue. The opening punch of “New # 1” and “Moving Trucks”—perhaps two of his best solo songs—sets the tone for an album of typically amazing songs about the latest relationship of Bob’s that’s gone astray. “Classifieds” and “Reflecting Pool” are yet more additions to the pantheon of “great Mould songs perfect for air guitar and foolish singing.” If this was truly his last electric tour, he picked a great album to go out on. Best Tracks: “Moving Trucks, “Classifieds,” “Reflecting Pool”
3) R.E.M. - Up
I’ll admit that when Bill Berry left R.E.M. last year, I thought the best band of the past two decades was over. Done. Kaput. R.E.M. always seemed more than the sum of its parts, and I assumed one of them departing would do irreparable harm. I was wrong, very wrong. This is the most challenging and complex, yet at the same time, simplest album of their career. From the opening sounds of a drum machine that sounds older than Hanson on “Airportman,” Messrs. Stipe, Buck and Mills have made an album that says, “We’ve lost an important part of our band, and we’re not going to try and replace him.” Stipe’s lyrics, printed in full for the first time, have never been so direct and open. “At My Most Beautiful” is perhaps his best take on love, while “Sad Professor” tackles his ambivalence about love as a subject (“If we’re talking about love/Then I have to tell you/Dear Readers, I’m not sure where I’m headed”). Buck’s experiments with Tuatara seep in (“Suspicion”), while Mills’s keyboard work shines. Try it, it gets better with each listen. Best Tracks: “Daysleeper,” “Falls to Climb,” “At My Most Beautiful”
2) eels - Electro-Shock Blues
Eels frontman E has had the worst 18 months or so of anyone that I can think of. His sister committed suicide and then his mom died of cancer. During that time he decided to record an album, and though this would seem like a bad idea, who hasn’t relied on the stability of a job to help deal with a loss. Of course, in E’s job, he can write an entire album about death and get away with it. There are no hidden layers in this record—images of hospital food, painful cancer treatments, multiple funerals and the emotions and memories for those left behind slap you in the face in song after song. What makes it work? Great hooks and melodies throughout. This isn’t an album for everyone, but it’s well worth the price of admission. Best Tracks: “Last Stop: This Town,” “Cancer for the Cure,” “3 Speed”
1) Pearl Jam - Yield
Let’s face it, it’s not cool to like Pearl Jam. I even declared this year that they were my number-one guilty pleasure. I can think of a few people reading this list who would think I’m nuts for putting Pearl Jam at the head of the class. But this is a band that keeps getting better each record. It’s as if Eddie Vedder is finally somewhat comfortable in his place in the rock world, as diminished as his stature might be. Vedder's singing on tracks like “Brain of J” and “Do the Evolution” explodes out of the speakers with a controlled ferocity he’s never had before. Everyone in the band contributes music, and even Stone Gossard (“No Way”) and Jeff Ament (“Pilate”) contribute lyrics, confirming that this is more than just “Eddie and his backing band.” There aren’t any huge messages in this album; this is just a fine band making something we need more of—an intelligent, sensitive, sometimes silly and contemplative rock album. Screw being cool; they bring the rock. Best Tracks: “Faithful,” “In Hiding,” “All Those Yesterdays”
1998's Top Twenty Singles
20) Soul Asylum - “I Will Still be Laughing”
Their worst album to date has produced one of their best singles. Mr. Pirner will still be writing good hooks into the millennium.
19) Monster Magnet - “Space Lord”
It’s big dumb riff rock about some sci-fi macho sleazy powerful kind of dude. Oh my god, does it get any better than that?
18) Wyclef Jean - “Cheated (To All the Girls)”/ “What’s Clef”
Wyclef gives us a maxi-single that’s actually worth buying. The remixes of “To All the Girls” (especially the rock one) really spruce up that track, and the inclusion of Clef’s shot back at L-L Cool J is a must have.
17) Public Enemy - “He Got Game”
I can’t believe that I have a song on this list that includes a vocal from that drunken fool Stephen Stills. I must have gotten myself drunk to do that.
16) Garbage - “I Think I’m Paranoid”
Shirley thinks she’s paranoid; I think that they have the knack for writing instantly memorable songs.
15) Lauren Hill - “Doo Wop (That Thing)”
This and Jay-Z’s “Hard Knock Life” were the songs I always heard booming out of cars on city streets this fall, and deservedly so.
14) Goo Goo Dolls - “Iris”
Overplayed song # 1: Rarely does a song nail the spirit of a film (City of Angels) as completely as this one. It’s also a good song without seeing the film.
13) Soul Coughing - “Circles”
Could this be a truly happy Soul Coughing song, with no sarcasm in sight? This my friends, is a rarity, and it always makes me feel good.
12) Madonna - “Ray of Light”
And I feeeeeeeeeeeeel, like it’s the best song she’s done in years. Too bad she can’t sing it live (see the MTV Video Music Awards).
11) Fastball - “The Way”
Overplayed Song # 2: Never has a song about people going on a crime spree sounded so inviting.
10) Catatonia - “Mulder and Scully”
Now if the feature film could be a modest hit, why not a uncommonly witty song about our favorite X-Files agents investigating the mysteries of love? Because it has the Steve-likes-it curse put upon it, that’s why.
9) Green Day - “Time of Your Life (Good Riddance)”
Overplayed Song # 3: I bet Billie Joe of Green Day never imagined that this song would be played as Mark McGwire drove around Busch Stadium after he hit home run # 62.
8) Everclear - “Father of Mine”
I never thought this song would be a single, let alone a popular one. Well, it’s one of the rare songs to escape the Steve curse.
7) Propellerheads - “History Repeating”
This song’s title was a self-fulfilling prophecy, as it was a semi-hit when first released and picked up steam again when it ran in the trailers for There’s Something About Mary. The groove is just unstoppable, and oh my, ladies and gentlemen, Miss Shirley Bassey.
6) Will Smith - “Getting Jiggy Wit’ It”
One of the few songs to cross all racial and musical boundaries, but Smith still not as good as when he was the Fresh Prince in “Summertime.”
5) Semisonic - “Closing Time”
Overplayed Song # 4: Leaving a bar will never be the same. Of course, knowing who you want to take you home and having them do so are two different matters entirely.
4) R.E.M. - “Daysleeper”
Never has a song nailed the walking-through-clouds feeling that is working overnights. Lyrics like “I see today with a newsprint fray/My night is colored headache gray” are SO perfect it makes me think that Stipe worked at a convenience store. As a former third shifter, I thank you, Mr. Stipe.
3) Wyclef Jean - “Gone Till November”
The sweetest song to name check Dylan ever. Simple and brilliant.
2) Fatboy Slim - “The Rockafeller Skank”
Longtime readers of this annual list will realize that I’m probably this last person on earth to get into any sort of dance music (unless it’s from 1978) or any of the techno/D-J crap that’s been coming out this decade. But right about now, this funk soul brother is still amazed that a song with only two lines of lyrics can be so thoroughly mind-blowing with each spin. There’s so much funky shit going on in this track, I almost want to hit the dance floor. I’m not kidding.
1) Barenaked Ladies - “One Week”
Overplayed Song # 5: The first time I heard this song I was positive that it would be a smash. (Makes me glad to know that I still can be correct once in a while.) It’s been eight months since that moment, and I think I can almost do all the lyrics as fast as they do (well, maybe not the part about the golf clubs and back swing). Rarely does a song crystallize everything’s that’s great (or in some people’s eyes, annoying) about a band the way this song does. And yes, like Sting, I’m tantric.

Other Musical Stuff From 1998

Cheap Trick - At Budokan: The Complete Concert
Cheap Trick’s Budokan concert has been resequenced to the order of their shows at that time in 1978, and now packs an even greater punch. Air guitar heaven...
Metallica - Garage Inc.
Metallica knows about delivering a sonic punch, and the all-covers Garage Inc. delivers. The tracks that appeared on the long out-of-print Garage Days Re-Revisited (my first introduction to the band) still kick ass, while the new covers they recorded this fall prove they still can bring the rock.
Bob Dylan - The Bootleg Series Volume 4: Live 1966
The “Royal Albert Hall” Concert

What else can be said about the first official release of the most famous bootleg of all-time? When Bob tells his backing group The Hawks (later known as The Band) to “Play Fucking Loud!” after being taunted and called a Judas as they break into “Like a Rolling Stone,” you know he’s playing for keeps. I get goosebumps each time I hear it.
This North Carolina band changes members the way most people change socks. But it’s singer-songwriter Ryan Adams who drives Whiskeytown’s country-rock (or as some call it, “alt-country”) sound. 1997’s Strangers Almanac spins tales of loneliness, loneliness and more loneliness. “Excuse Me if I Break My Own Heart Tonight” is as every bit as good as the title. The re-issue of their debut album, Faithless Street, is worth checking out as well.
Cheap Trick Irving Plaza, New York, NY 10/29-10/31
To promote the re-issue of their first three albums, the Tricksters did three consecutive nights in many major cities, playing one album per night. This also meant that one night they actually started a show with “Surrender,” which made that tired war-horse sound fresh. Three great nights.
Bob Dylan Tilles Center, C.W. Post College, Brookville, NY 1/30
This was the best Dylan show I’ve ever seen, and one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, hands down. Bob was playful, soloing with abandon, and seemed to be having the time of his life. It’s just doesn’t get much better.
Barenaked Ladies The Theater at M-S-G, New York, NY 10/7
It’s hard to describe a B-N-L show to someone who’s never seen them. It’s just fun, fun, fun. How many bands could have a segment in a show where they have a security guard strum the guitar part for John Mellencamp’s “Jack and Diane,” and then improvise a song about how happy they are to have a number-one song. They’re more than a band, they’re entertainers.

777-FILM Is My Friend
It’s funny how 1998 music and movies paralleled each other—plenty of financial success, but not that great a year artistically. I’ve seen 41 movies this year, and coming up with a Top 10 list was difficult. (Point of disclosure: I haven’t seen Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line, A Simple Plan or Gods and Monsters yet, so this list might be very different by next week.)
10) The X-Files - I’m a big fan of the series, and liked this film, but there have been episodes of the show that have been more riveting.
9) Storefront Hitchcock - Jonathan Demme’s look at Robyn Hitchcock is pure concert film magic. While the gimmick of having Hitchcock perform with his back to a window so passers-by can gawk at what’s going on adds a humorous—and sometimes puzzling—quality to the film, Robyn is humorous and puzzling enough by himself. Unfortunately, it only ran in New York for two weeks, so look for the home video.
8) The Truman Show - Director Peter Weir led Robin Williams to a dramatic goldmine in Dead Poet’s Society, and he does the same for Jim Carrey in this film. Carrey’s performance as each part of the illusion of his made-for-T-V world is stripped away is touching and filled with nuances that make it hard to believe that this is a guy who once talked with his butt.
7) Rush Hour - Jackie Chan finally gets the smash hit film in the U-S that he deserves. And I could finally sit through a film with Chris Tucker.
6) The Wedding Singer - Who would’ve thought that Adam Sandler could play a romantic lead? What’s next, a dramatic role?
5) Your Friends and Neighbors - Not a film to take a date to. Every character’s got sexual hang-ups as large as Ohio, and nobody suddenly finds redemption at the end. Jason Patric’s character describing the best sex he’s ever had is just downright disturbing.
4) He Got Game - This tale of a man who is let out of prison to try to convince his all-American hoop-playing son to attend the prison warden’s alma mater is a great indictment of the way basketball (and sports in general) have been ruined by money and power.
3) Bulworth - Warren Beatty delivers a gloriously zany, vicious and somewhat preachy film, proving that he’s still got a few good creative juices left. The best part of this semi-fairy tale—no happy ending.
2) The Big Lebowski - Brother Filmmakers # 1: The Coen Brothers follow-up to Fargo feels more like a successor to Raising Arizona. John Goodman is way over the top as an ex-Vietnam Vet, while Jeff Bridges’s “Dude” brings the art of slacking, drinking White Russians and bowling to new heights.
1) There’s Something About Mary - Brother Filmmakers #2: The Farelly Brothers (Dumb and Dumber, Kingpin) should pay for my most recent purchase of Advil. I laughed so hard during this movie that I pulled a muscle in my chest. Really, I’m serious. If you haven’t seen Mary, then do so quickly, at any cost.
A Few Questions With...
Meeting a hero, part one (Questions by Mike Goldberg and SR)
MG: Obviously a lot’s been made of this being—
BM: —The final electric band tour, yes—
MG: But throughout your career it seems, especially in the last ten years, you’ve made a habit of really changing gears, and really surprising people, so I don’t think this should come as a surprise to a lot of people.
BM: Yeah, the reactions have been really varied from people, like “how could you do this,” to people saying, “oh, great, you know, I understand completely why you’re doing it.” It’s been all over the map. Yeah, the last ten years there has been a lot of jumping around. In ’91 I spent most of the year playing acoustic shows because I was between deals, between Black Sheets and Copper Blue, and I was also doing it in ’95, ’96 and ’97 a little bit. And I think some people viewed the acoustic shows as a sidebar to what I was supposed to be doing, when in fact that was what I was focusing on for the times that I was doing it. I think letting go of the electric band thing, it’s about time. I mean, I’m going on almost 20 years of it, and I think it’ll be good to get out before I start disliking it or I start finding it to be to burdensome. People have to bear in mind that for me, in this point in my life, I’m 37, and putting aside six months of year to put together a band, and rehearse a band, live with the band, being in the vehicle with the band non-stop, my life gets a little disoriented. If this was only the third time I was doing it, I’d be like “Yes!” But this is probably tour number 35 or something (laughs)...I don’t like large chunks of time infringing on my life anymore like that. Like three months of not seeing my house, seeing my possessions, seeing the people that are around me and my life day to day.
SR: As you approach 40, that’s like a “magical” rock n’ roll birthday, have you thought of anyone you might want to emulate who, in their 40s and into their 50s, has still continued to make inspiring music?
BM: Yeah, well I think Neil Young, when he’s not doing Crazy Horse, it’s a beautiful thing. Crazy Horse is an experience, right? Neil has his reasons for doing it, and those are his reasons. I much prefer the Harvest Moon, the storytelling approach as opposed to the going out to war type thing that is Crazy Horse. I just don’t know if I could go there myself, mentally, at 50. I just don’t know if I could do it. I appreciate that he does it. Somebody like Neil I much prefer the sit-down acoustic, I think it’s really beautiful and the stories are so rich, that they don’t need all that noise. Richard Thompson, he has the four piece band that’s really beautiful, but I much prefer to see him solo acoustic. I mean, it’s more intense, it’s more intimate. I look at the different things [Pete] Townshend has done. He’s an admirable figure in this business. He’s kept his integrity—he’s gone back on his word once or twice, but he’s Pete Townshend! You know, he’s entitled to do that. (laughs) But you know, taking Tommy to the stage, and transitioning things over to Broadway, that’s a big piece of work. Writing literature, that’s a big piece of work. When we as musical writers step out of our normal idiom, it’s a hard thing, and very few people do it gracefully. There’s very few people who become weathered by age, and weather well. A lot of people do the wrong thing, and I don’t wanna be that.

Meeting your heroes, part two.
SR: I like the term “strike” to describe this layoff you guys have had. [The group hasn’t released a new album since 1992, and spent most of that time fighting their way out of their record contract. They just released a box set, and a new album, Apple Venus Vol. One, is due out in January]
Andy Partridge: That’s what it was.
Colin Moulding: It’s the militant tendencies in X-T-C!
AP: We both think we’re militant, and we’ve got the clothes to prove it. (both laugh)
Can that be kind of draining on you over time?
AP: It was. It was kind of crushing I must admit, because there was just a lode of cack happening in my life in any case, through that time. We were on strike, we couldn’t legally work as X-T-C so we had to sort of lose ourselves in sessions with other people or co-writing or production or whatever. I went through lots of illness, I went through a divorce, I went through raising my kids on my own and stuff. And through all that, you’re expected to knock off the odd masterpiece or two—
I moved into a new house—
AP: He did! Which is the second most traumatic thing after a death in a family, according to a poll in the Times. There you go.
CM: It wasn’t too traumatic. It was okay.
AP: Cause the other family hadn’t moved out, right? (both laugh) But we were still writing at the time. That’s your only lifeline. Writing away, and [saying] “I really believe this is the best stuff we’ve done so far.” That’s the little guiding light in the darkness that keeps you going.
SR: Between the two of you, how many songs is there of a backlog of? Can you give it a number? AP: Well, I counted them all up, and it got to about 42 whole songs, and then loads of other bits and pieces of songs. You end up so constipated that you can’t get this stuff out, that actually I haven’t written anything in over a year or more. Whereas before I’d store up all these songs and I’d think, “Are these songs ever going to get recorded?” And finally we got all our legal situations sorted out, and know we find ourselves in possession of volume one of a record that we’re immensely proud of.
SR: I listened to some of this record, and the term I was going to use for it was breathtaking because of the use of the orchestra—
AP: A bit like being an iron lung, right? (imitates sound of someone wheezing)
SR: (laughing) Yes, exactly!
AP: Christopher Reeve heard it, and he hasn’t commented since. (laughter all around)
Oh that’s one for the books...
SR: The use of the orchestra on these songs is amazing. How did you come up with the arrangements?
CM: Well, the full orchestra is only on two songs, but all the parts of songs started from just using samples to begin with, with a view of replacing them with real instruments later on.
AP: The actual songs, a lot of them came up through dicking about, basically, with orchestral samples. And thinking, oh, this is thrilling! This doesn’t need electric guitar, bass and drums, this is thrilling on its own.

So how does it feel to have this onslaught of success this year?
Johnny Rzeznik: It feels good man. Having some success, being able to work a lot, it just feels really good. We took a lot of time off in between these two records, and then “Iris” luckily blew up in our faces and became a big fat hit. And that sure helped things along.
Robby Takac: And we really couldn’t wallow in the success of that either, because we were too busy. We were making a record as that song was getting big, so it was nice.
SR: Were you considering putting it on the record [Dizzy Up the Girl] to begin with, or did you just think, “It’s just some song on a soundtrack?”
JR: No, it was an afterthought to put it on the record. But I wrote “Iris” at the same time I was writing all the other songs, so it could’ve been on this record. It could have been on this album just as easily as it could have been on that soundtrack. I liked the song, so we put it on the record.
RT: You know, it’s so weird because you’ll put a record out and you go out and work your ass off, and you tour, you do interviews, you do T-V, and all you want is that number-one song. Well, this time, we didn’t do anything. It’s like, we recorded the song and that was it. Theoretically, I could just stay home this year!! (both laugh)
SR: You could taken another three years off!
RT: Yeah, exactly!
JR: That was the original intent of “Iris,” just to get it out there, and it bought us a little more time to finish writing the songs for the record. Then it started getting some airplay, and that was that.

So what was it like seeing yourself on the big screen for the first time?
It was very uncomfortable to begin with, yeah. ’Cause my face was, you know, the size of a double decker bus. And my guitar was immense, far bigger than it needed to be. It was a shock seeing myself so big. But apparently when you show actors clips of themselves in movies, they have to see it three times. Once just for the shock of seeing themselves, once to get used to it, and third to actually assess their performance. I’ve seen it all the way through twice, and I’ve seen bits of it quite a lot, and I’ve gotten used to it now. Now I think it’s fine.
SR: After doing all the performances filmed for this, what’s your impression of the way it finally came out? Is it everything you thought it would be?
RH: No, what impressed me most about it is how uncomplicated it is. My songs are very dense, and what [director] Jonathan Demme has done is match them with quite simple, elegant backgrounds. And also very relaxed camera work. There’s none of this sort of rapidly cutting, the terror of outlasting people’s attention span in this video age. If he wants to hold the camera on the fingers on the guitar for 30 seconds, he does. There’s no sort of desperate trickery to keep you interested. It’s simply a film—a beautifully shot, beautifully recorded film of me performing. The background does change, so there’s a sense of narrative to it. It’s light, there are people walking around in the street. Then the curtains close, Deni [Bonet] the violinist comes on and it’s dark and then Deni goes…It’s quite a gentle setting, and meanwhile, my songs are tumbling away with the proliferation of images I tend to have. What I’m saying is that there’s room to breathe inside the film. It’s not sort of choking you from within and without.

With this many albums so far, does it get more difficult with each tour to pick out what songs to include on a setlist? I’m sure there’s always someone wanting to hear something from the first record.
Doug MacMillan: Well, I think we’ve done a pretty good about trying to play some older songs we haven’t played in a while, ones that we had given a rest. But it seems to be no matter what we choose to play, people request everything else. (laughs) It’s amazing. It’s like they know we’re just not playing that song.
SR: Tell them, “It’s just not on the setlist, I’m sorry.” (laughs)
It’s flattering that they request stuff, but it’s like, sorry, we’re just not doing them right now.
Mike Connell: But, every now and again we will. In Philadelphia one night, some guy had been calling for “Darker Days,” and we hadn’t played that song in years—
Oh yeah—
MC: —And so I was like, “I’m just going to shut this guy up.” So I started playing the guitar intro to the song, not really expecting Doug to play along with it, but he started singing, so we made it through at least two choruses before bailing on it. And it seemed to placate the guy. I think people are pretty appreciative if they get the sense that a band’s trying to be accommodating.
SR: Do you try leave room to be spontaneous like that?
DM: Yea. We played “I Suppose” one night, and I don’t think hardly anybody remembered much of it. And we just played it because somebody really wanted to hear it. And we threw it out there with this disclaimer, that you [the audience] might as well be playing this song because we’re gonna be bad at it. (laughs)

You guys have been a band that’s been working almost constantly for two-and-a-half years in the U-S. How does it feel to finally see it all pay off now?
Steven Page: It feels great. We’ve had a taste of success in the past with Gordon [their first album] in Canada, but it’s on a much smaller scale because Canada’s a smaller country. But we’ve also already dealt with any backlash because of that—we’ve already dealt with kind of sliding back down the ladder a little bit. I guess we feel a little bit like, “It’s okay, we don’t have to feel guilty about success now.” We’ve paid our dues, and we’ve played like crazy simply because we love being a band and we love playing music for people. I don’t think we’ve made a record that is decidedly any more commercial than any other record. I think it is, by dint of our being a better band than we used to be, probably a more accessible record. But I think that’s only because we’re better at making records than we used to be.
SR: “One Week” shows a side of the band that people have seen only in concert so far, the rap-hip-hop style of signing. What was it like getting that style down on tape, and were you apprehensive about releasing that first?
SP: No, we were excited by that song. As soon as it was written, once Ed [Robertson] had finished writing the rap of the song, he e-mailed me the lyrics. I checked my e-mail the next day, and I saw this thing, and I laughed my ass off instantly. I thought, this is great, this is it. I called our A&R person in New York, and I said, “We’ve got the single.” And was she like, “yeah, whatever, we’ve already got the single, don't worry about it.” I said, “No, no, no, we’ve got THE single here.”

Yes friends, the whole “Janeane” fixation that you thought would go away eventually is still here, for a third year in a row. Unfortunately, there were no “chance” encounters with Miss Garofalo this year, even though I just happened to go to the same smoky Irish bar in the East Village where she interviewed Eddie Vedder for a magazine article, which coincidentally was the same bar where one of my co-workers spotted her drinking this fall. Well, I guess we’ll all have to be satisfied with the pictures...

This year’s list took eight rides on the F train, two Ham, Egg and Cheese on Bagels, six pieces of gum, one bottle of water, five liters of Diet Coke, two chicken sandwiches, one bag of Cheetos, four Rolling Rocks and four James Bond movies to complete it . Whew.
The section to thank people without whom...
First up, special thanks to Stacy MacDiarmid for signing up at the last minute to correct my atrocious writing.
Thanks to Jason at TVT, Mike at Saks & Co, Mary, Rick at Warner Bros. and Jim at Reprise for allowing me to chat with their artists. Also thanks to Mike Goldberg for letting me tag along and ask a few questions of Mr. Mould.
Special inside thanks to Jackie Stewart, Al Stewart, “Year of the Cat,” “Katmandu” “Waiting for the Man,” “Here Comes Your Man," The Pixies, Surfer Rosa, Hoosier Daddy, the voice of Levon Helm, Cradle Of Filth, Sevendust, Golden Smog, “Working in a Coal Mine,” Da Hollies and the “no emoting” zone.

Things that made this year good: The Mets playoff run, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and the drive for 62, cheese quesadillas at Elora’s, Buffalo Tom at the Bowery Ballroom, Bubble Yum’s Sugarfree Peppermint Gum, the New York Times Circuits section and the unlimited ride Metrocard.

And I thank you.

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