OPENING GIBBERISH:

Don't know what it was this year, but it seems like a whole slew of artists that haven't recorded for ages released albums this year.

There were a couple of very big surprises in the bins. The biggest was the sudden re-interest in one Don Van Vliet, better known as Captain Beefheart. The good Captain bid adieu to the music biz back in 1982 to focus on his paintings and sculpture. Since then, we've had a few badly-done compilations released, but nothing worthwhile. Now, all of a sudden, in 1999, we get a 5CD box of rarities, excellent re-releases of the Captain's first two albums, a serious 2CD "best of", and a slew of new bootleg releases. I have no idea why all this is happening now, but I'm not going to knock it. On top of that, we got a superb-quality live album from Big Star's heyday, a quality reissue of The La's classic debut album packed with bonus tracks, and the first albums in over five years from XTC, Randy Newman, Tom Waits, and The Smithereens.

Hey, it was a good year, and despite every media report to the contrary, it was NOT the last year of the Second Millennium!


REISSUE SERIES:

Woody Allen - Standup Comic

Originally released in 1978 (and long out of print until now), Standup Comic is a compilation taken from Woody Allen's three 1960's comedy albums recorded while he was working as a standup. Folks, this is a brilliant standup album, one of the all-time classics. Woody's style is a bit like his early movies, quick, intelligent, self-deprecating, and a little silly. If you're a fan of his early films, you need to hear this CD. You'll recognize a line or two that Woody re-used in his movies, but that doesn't detract at all. Brilliant, brilliant stuff.

cover art "The Vodka Ad", "Vegas", "Second Marriage", "The Great Renaldo", "Mechanical Objects", "The Moose", "Kidnapped", "Unhappy Childhood", "The Science Fiction Film", "Eggs Benedict", "Oral Contraception", "European Trip", "The Lost Generation", "Private Life", "Brooklyn", "The Army", "Pets", "My Grandfather", "My Marriage", "Bullet In My Breast Pocket", "N.Y.U.", "A Love Story", "The Police", "Down South", "Summing Up"

Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band -
Safe As Milk
The Mirror Man Sessions

After winning a "battle of the bands" concert, Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band landed a record contract, and proceeded to record a wonderful (and strange) debut record and a second album that never quite materialized as intended. These two CDs cover the debut along with the material that would have made up the second record. Coupling delta blues, psychedelic rock and eccentric rhythms with Ry Cooder's killer slide guitar, Beefheart's growling five octave voice and the occasional Theremin, Safe As Milk is a wonderful introduction to the Captain's career. Hardly "commercial", Safe As Milk is still a relatively "normal" record. The goings got weirder from here. The tracks on The Mirror Man Sessions (along with the bonus tracks on Safe As Milk) make up a bulk of what was intended to be a double album (half studio, half "live in the studio") called Comes To You In A Plain Brown Wrapper. The studio tracks, with considerable remixing, made up the Magic Band's second album, Strictly Personal. The live tracks, all 10-minute plus free-form jams, were released as Mirror Man in 1971. The shorter studio tracks are much better than the live tracks. The Mirror Man Sessions is definitely just for the faithful.

cover art "Sure 'Nuff 'N Yes, I Do", "Zig Zag Wanderer", "Call On Me", "Dropout Boogie", "I'm Glad", "Electricity", "Yellow Brick Road", "Abba Zaba", "Plastic Factory", "Where There's Woman", "Grown So Ugly", "Autumn's Child"

bonus tracks: "Safe As Milk" [Take 5], "On Tomorrow", "Big Black Baby Shoes", "Flower Pot", "Dirty Blue Gene", "Trust Us" [Take 9], "Korn Ring Finger"

cover art original Mirror Man tracks: "Tarotplane", "25th Century Quaker", "Mirror Man", "Kandy Korn"

bonus tracks: "Trust Us" [Take 6], "Safe As Milk" [Take 12], "Beatle Bones N' Smokin' Stones", "Moody Liz" [Take 8], "Gimme Dat Harp Boy"

The La's - The La's

This Japanese reissue of the sole La's album, originally released back in 1988, adds a whopping eight bonus tracks, taken from the band's hard-to-find singles. Back in '88, La's leader Lee Mavers had complained that the album was released before he was ready. Maybe they weren't ready (there's a rough edge to a number of the songs), but the songs are such classics that they really don't need that extra layer of "polish". Most likely, you're familiar with "There She Goes", which is about as perfect a pop song as can be. The rest of the album is that good, mixing up rockers like the Who-ish "I Can't Sleep" and "I.O.U." with the epic "Looking Glass" and the Kurt Weill influenced "Freedom Song". The bonus tracks are just as good, especially the catchy "Come In Come Out". The La's is just one of those essential albums. Basically, this is a Britpop equivalent to the classic debut by The Modern Lovers. No home should be without a copy (of either album).

cover art "Son Of A Gun", "I Can't Sleep", "Timeless Melody", "Liberty Ship", "There She Goes", "Doledrum", "Feelin'", "Way Out", "I.O.U.", "Freedom Song", "Failure", "Looking Glass"

bonus tracks: "Knock Me Down", "Endless", "Come In Come Out", "Who Knows", "Man I'm Only Human", "All By Myself", "Clean Prophet", "There She Goes" [Original Single Version]


LIVE ALBUMS:

Big Star - Nobody Can Dance

Nobody Can Dance was a complete surprise, and is the best of the recent live Big Star albums (Columbia and Big Star Live). The concert was recorded at a Memphis benefit. The set is short, but absolutely killer, including a bouncy take on "September Gurls" and a bloozy version of The Box Tops' "The Letter". The first half of the album are the rehearsals for the show, and they sound as good as the live stuff. I didn't hear a peep about this album coming out, and it's on a very small label, so I'm assuming a lot of you may not know about it. If you're a Big Star fan, you need this one right away.

cover art (rehearsal): "Don't Lie To Me", "Back Of A Car", "O My Soul", "Mod Lang", "She's A Mover", "September Gurls", "In The Street", "You Get What You Deserve"

(concert): "Baby Strange", "Mod Lang", "You Get What You Deserve", "The Letter", "September Gurls", "Way Out West", "O My Soul"

The John Entwistle Band - Left For Live

What should have been The John Entwistle Band's first album, the soundtrack to the TV show Van-Pires, is still unreleased so a live album, Left For Live is here instead. For the most part, John sticks to a mix of Van-Pires tracks and Who tracks John penned for the band. The songs are good, but John's bass work is in a class above the rest of the band. For the serious Entwistle fan only.

cover art "Horror Rock", "The Real Me", "Darker Side Of Night", "Success Story", "905", "I'll Try Again Today", "Under A Raging Moon", "Endless Vacation", "Too Late The Hero", "Had Enough", "Shakin' All Over", "Young Man Blues"

King Crimson - Cirkus: The Young Persons' Guide To King Crimson Live

Cirkus is a "placeholder" of sorts, a release to keep the fans happy while the latest Crim works towards a 2000 release. But what a placeholder it is. Cirkus is a live sampler split between the '80s and '90s on disc 1 and the '60s and '70s on disc two. Some of this material has already been released, but a number of the cuts are firsts. Essential for Crim-heads, and not a bad introduction to the band's live sounds for newbies.

cover art "Dinosaur", "Thela Hun Ginjeet", "Red", "B'Boom", "THRAK", "1 ii 2" - ProjeKct One, "Neurotica", "Indiscipline", "VROOOM VROOOM", "Coda: Marine 475", "Deception Of The Thrush" - ProjeKct Two, "Heavy ConstruKction" - ProjeKct Two, "Three Of A Perfect Pair", "Sleepless", "Elephant Talk", "21st Century Schizoid Man", "Ladies Of The Road", "A Man, A City", "The Court Of The Crimson King", "Fracture", "Easy Money", "Improv: Besancon", "The Talking Drum", "Larks' Tongues In Aspic, Part Two", "Starless"

Pete Townshend - Pete Townshend Live: A Benefit For Maryville Academy

Taken from the same "mini-tour" built around the appearance at The Day In The Garden show at Woodstock (click here for my review), Pete Townshend Live is a great document of this band, which seems to have generated mixed reactions. The sound is unusual for Pete: No drummer, just a percussionist (Jody Linscott) and a drum machine to provide the rhythm. The sound on some tracks are wildly different than the originals, especially a seven-minute version of "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere". The last two tracks are actually on a separate CD and are taken from a '96 performance with Pete backed by Jon Carin on keyboards and special guest Eddie Vedder on vocals. Personally, I think this is a stunning CD, and a must for Who/Townshend fans.

cover art "On The Road Again", "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere", "A Little Is Enough", "Drowned", "You Better You Bet", "Now And Then", "North Country Girl", "Let My Love Open The Door", "Won't Get Fooled Again", "Magic Bus", "I'm One", "Magic Bus", "Heart To Hang Onto"


COMPILATION ALBUMS:

Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band - The Dust Blows Forward (An Anthology)

Finally. A well-done Captain Beefheart anthology. I might nit-pick a song selection or two and I think the album puts a little too much empasis on Clear Spot (seven tracks from that album), but this is a fine sampler none-the-less. The 2CD set includes some nice rarities like two pre-LP Beefheart singles (a great take on "Diddy Wah Diddy" and an original, "Frying Pan") and non-LP tracks like "Little Scratch" and the "Mannish Boy" rewrite "Hard Workin' Man" (from a movie soundtrack). The Captain is commonly cited as a big influence on a lot of the "new wave", but it's nice to finally see him get his due.

cover art "Diddy Wah Diddy", "Frying Pan", "Electricity", "Abba Zaba", "Beatle Bones N' Smokin' Stones", "Safe As Milk", "Moonlight On Vermont", "Ella Guru", "Old Fart At Play", "Sugar 'N Spikes", "Orange Claw Hammer", "My Human Gets Me Blues", "China Pig", "Lick My Decals Off, Baby", "Woe-Is-Uh-Me-Bop", "I Wanna Find A Woman That'll Hold My Big Toe Til I Have To Go", "The Smithsonian Institute Blues (Or The Big Dig)", "I'm Gonna Booglarize You Baby", "Click Clack", "Grow Fins", "When It Blows Its Stacks", "Little Scratch", "Big Eyed Beans From Venus", "Golden Birdies", "Nowadays A Woman's Gotta Hit A Man", "Low Yo Yo Stuff", "Too Much Time", "My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains", "Clear Spot", "Upon The My-O-My", "Party Of Special Things To Do", "Sam With The Showing Scalp Flat Top", "Debra Kadabra", "Hard Workin' Man", "Bat Chain Puller", "The Floppy Boot Stomp", "Tropical Hot Dog Night", "Owed T'Alex", "Hot Head", "Ashtray Heart", "Sue Egypt", "Making Love To A Vampire With A Monkey On My Knee", "Ice Cream For Crow", "The Past Sure Is Tense", "Light Reflected Off The Oceands Of The Moon"

Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band - Grow Fins: Rarities (1965-1982)

A special treat for the hardcore Beefheart fan. Grow Fins is a FIVE CD set of nothing but rarities. One of the CDs is a full rehearsal run through the classic Trout Mask Replica, and in general, the early Magic Band gets the most attention. Only a handful of songs at the end of disc five cover his late-seventies "comeback". Disc three is also a nice multimedia CD-ROM, containing a few audio tracks and a number of MPEG movies of the band in action. Definitely just for the faithful, but essential for those folks.

cover art "Obeah Man", "Just Got Back From The City", "I'm Glad", "Triple Combination", "Here I Am I Always Am", "Here I Am I Always Am", "Somebody's Walkin In My Home", "Tupelo, Mississippi", "Evil", "Old Folks Boogie", "Call On Me", "Sure 'Nuff 'N Yes, I Do", "Yellow Brick Road", "Plastic Factory", "Electricity", "Sure 'Nuff 'N Yes, I Do", "Rollin' & Tumblin'", "Electricity", "You're Gonna Need Somebody On Your Bond", "Kandy Korn", "Korn Ring Finger", "Hair Pie: Bake 1", "Hair Pie: Bake 2", "Hobo Chang Ba", "Hobo Chang Ba" [Take 2], "Dachau Blues", "Old Fart At Play", "Pachuco Cadaver", "Sugar 'N Spikes", "Sweet Sweet Bulbs", "Frownland" [Take 1], "Frownland", "Ella Guru", "She's Too Much For My Mirror", "Steal Softly Thru Snow", "My Human Gets Me Blues", "When Big Joan Sets Up", "Candy Man", "China Pig", "My Human Gets Me Blues", "When Big Joan Sets Up", "Woe Is Uh Me Bop", "Bellerin Plain", "Black Snake Moan I", "Grow Fins", "Black Snake Moan II", "Spitball Scalped Uh Baby", "Harp Boogie I", "One Red Rose That I Mean", "Harp Boogie II", "Natchez Burning", "Harp Boogie III", "Click Clack", "Orange Claw Hammer", "Odd Jobs", "Odd Jobs", "Vampire Suite", "Mellotron Improv", "Evening Bell", "Evening Bell", "Mellotron Improv", "Flavor Bud Living"

Ramones - Anthology: Hey Ho Let's Go!

Hey Ho Let's Go is a thorough compilation of the Ramones best work, far superior to the previously released Ramonesmania. Perfect for the casual fan.

cover art "Blitzkrieg Bop", "Beat On The Brat", "Judy Is A Punk", "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend", "53rd & 3rd", "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue", "Glad To See You Go", "Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment", "I Remember You", "California Sun", "Commando", "Swallow My Pride", "Carbona Not Glue", "Pinhead", "Sheena Is A Punk Rocker", "Cretin Hop", "Rockaway Beach", "Here Today, Gone Tomorrow", "Teenage Lobotomy", "Surfin' Bird", "I Don't Care", "I Just Want To Have Something To Do", "I Wanna Be Sedated", "Don't Come Close", "She's The One", "Needles & Pins", "Rock 'n' Roll High School", "I Want You Around", "Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio?", "I Can't Make It On Time", "Chinese Rock", "I'm Affected", "Danny Says", "The KKK Took My Baby Away", "She's A Sensation", "It's Not My Place (In The 9 To 5 World)", "We Want The Airwaves", "Psycho Therapy", "Howling At The Moon (Sha-La-La)", "Mama's Boy", "Daytime Dilemma (Dangers Of Love)", "I'm Not Afraid Of Life", "Too Tough To Die", "Endless Vacation", "My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes To Bitburg)", "Somebody Put Something In My Drink", "Something To Believe In", "I Don't Want To Live This Life (Anymore)", "I Wanna Live", "Garden Of Serenity", "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want To Fight Tonight)", "Pet Sematary", "I Believe In Miracles", "Tomorrow She Goes Away", "Poison Heart", "I Don't Wanna Grow Up", "She Talks To Rainbows", "R.A.M.O.N.E.S."


Ummm... "ALTERNATIVE IMPORTS":

Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band - Captain, My Captain

A killer recording of the late-seventies Magic Band live. Great sound, a superb band, and Beefheart's in fine voice. A must.

cover art "Tropical Hot Dog Night", "Nowadays A Woman's Gotta Hit A Man", "Owed T'Alex", "Dropout Boogie", "Harry Irene", "Abba Zaba", "Her Eyes Are A Blue Million Miles", "Old Fart At Play", "Well", "Ice Rose", "Moonlight On Vermont", "The Floppy Boot Stomp", "You Know You're A Man", "Bat Chain Puller", "Apes-Ma", "When I See Mommy, I Feel Like A Mummy", "Veteran's Day Poppy"

Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers - Echo In The Dark

A very nice 3CD set from the '99 Heartbreakers tour. The band is red hot (as usual), and an interesting (and varied) set list makes this extra special. You get the surf track "Diamond Head" and covers of "Green Onions", "For What It's Worth", and "Gloria" thrown in with the Heartbreakers' classics. Petty and The Heartbreakers have been at it for over 20 years, and they're still one of the best live bands in the business.

cover art "Around And Around", "Jammin' Me", "Runnin' Down A Dream", "Breakdown", "Call Me The Breeze", "Swingin'", "Don't Do Me Like That", "Diamond Head", "Mary Jane's Last Dance", "I Won't Back Down", "Listen To Her Heart", "Green Onions", "It's Good To Be King", "Lucille", "Little Maggie", "Lay Down That Old Guitar", "Walls", "Angel Dream", "For What It's Worth", "Room At The Top", "Guitar Boogie Shuffle", "American Girl", "Honey Bee", "I Don't Wanna Fight", "You Wreck Me", "Free Girl Now", "Free Fallin'", "Gloria", "Learning To Fly"

Tom Waits -
Strange Temptation
Keep Eating

These two shows mark Waits' first concerts since the one-off 1996 benefit concert and the 1988 tour that yielded the Big Time film and album. The sound on Strange Temptation is poor, but listenable. This show, at the annual SxSW conference was a preview of the tour, although only one new song was played. Keep Eating doesn't fare much better sound-wise, but it does give a better sampling of new material. The performances are great, full of the sound that made Big Time a classic, and Waits is in fine form. The sound really makes these for Waits addicts only. For a more casual fan, wait for better recordings.

cover art "Walk Away", "16 Shells From A Thirty-Ought-Six", "Downtown Train", "Strange Weather", "Temptation", "Gun Street Girl", "I Can't Wait To Get Off Work (And See My Baby On Montgomery Avenue)", "A Little Rain", "Tango Till They're Sore", "House Where Nobody Lives", "Hang Down Your Head", "Heartattack And Vine", "Jockey Full Of Bourbon", "Hold On", "Filipino Box Spring Hog", "(Looking For) The Heart Of Saturday Night", "Jesus Gonna Be Here", "9th & Hennepin", "Goin' Out West", "Johnsburg, Illinois", "Innocent When You Dream"

bonus tracks (from a 1976 performance): "Emotional Weather Report", "Eggs And Sausage (In A Cadillac With Susan Michelson)", "San Diego Serenade", "Tom Traubert's Blues (Four Sheets To The Wind In Copenhagen)", "The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me) (An Evening With Pete King)", "New Coat Of Paint", "I Can't Wait To Get Off Work (And See My Baby On Montgomery Avenue)"

cover art "The Black Rider", "Jockey Full Of Bourbon", "Earth Died Screaming", "Jesus Gonna Be Here", "Get Behind The Mule", "Strange Weather", "Chocolate Jesus", "Hold On", "Eyeball Kid", "What's He Building?", "Tango Till They're Sore", "Hang Down Your Head", "Cemetery Polka", "A Little Rain", "Innocent When You Dream", "16 Shells From A Thirty-Ought-Six", "Shore Leave", "Who Are You", "Filipino Box Spring Hog", "House Where Nobody Lives", "Come On Up To The House", "Big In Japan", "(Looking For) The Heart Of Saturday Night", "Ol' 55", "Take It With Me"

Roger Waters - In The Flesh

Roger's first tour in 12 years has attracted a number of bootleg releases, of varying sound quality. Of the ones I've seen, In The Flesh has the best sound. The set list didn't vary from night to night, so one boot will definitely do you. If you weren't able to see this tour, and you'd like a review, click here for my review. That review will give you a pretty good idea of what to expect on this CD. The short version is that this was a wonderful tour, bringing Waters back to some Floyd material he hadn't played solo before along with powerful renditions of songs from his last album, 1992's Amused To Death.

cover art "In The Flesh", "The Thin Ice", "Another Brick In The Wall (Part I)", "The Happiest Days Of Our Lives", "Another Brick In The Wall (Part II)", "Mother", "Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert", "Southampton Dock", "Pigs On The Wing (Part One)", "Dogs", "Welcome To The Machine", "Wish You Were Here", "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" [parts 1,2,3,4,6,7,1], "Breathe", "Time", "Money", "5:06 AM (Every Stranger's Eyes)", "The Powers That Be", "What God Wants, Part I", "Perfect Sense, Part I", "Perfect Sense, Part II", "It's A Miracle", "Amused To Death", "Brain Damage", "Eclipse", "Comfortably Numb"


WOULDA-BEEN TOP TENS HAD I HEARD 'EM IN TIME ... aka ... "D'OH!":

The Flaming Lips - Zaireeka

Without question, Zaireeka is one of the most unusual albums ever made. Zaireeka is an album of 8 songs, split across each of the album's FOUR CDs. In order to hear the album properly, you need 4 separate CD players, and four people to operate them! When played in sync, the music swells around you in an effect that's pretty wonderful. Musically, Zaireeka is a departure for The Lips, but part of that is clearly to take advantage of the unusual format. For instance, on "The Train Runs Over The Camel But Is Derailed By The Gnat", the four CDs start out playing music that seems to clash (except for the vocals). At the end the sound merges together as an organ melody is played on all 4 discs which just sweeps over you. An amazing album, and frankly, an extra fun one because it requires you get friends together and make an event of it. Zaireeka was a limited-edition release (5000 copies), but copies are available on eBay for starters.

cover art "Okay I'll Admit That I Really Don't Understand", "Riding To Work In The Year 2025 (Your Invisible Now)", "Thirty-Five Thousand Feet of Despair", "A Machine In India", "The Train Runs Over The Camel But Is Derailed By The Gnat", "How Will We Know (Futuristic Crashendos)", "March Of The Rotten Vegetables", "The Big Ol' Bug Is The New Baby Now"

The Minutemen - Introducing The Minutemen

OK, so this couldn't have been a top ten for me last year because I never include "best of" albums in my top ten. However, this album is simply too amazing not to mention. I'd never heard The Minutemen's music before this, and I know I understand why these guys have such a huge reputation. Talk about adventurous. The Minutemen crank out short intense songs in a dizzying range of styles, from the laid-back "History Lesson - Part II" to the start-stop of "Tour Spiel" to the raving punk of "Political Song For Michael Jackson To Sing" and "This Ain't No Picnic" to the funk grooves of "I Felt Like A Gringo", complete with lyrics ranging from the stridently political rage to thoughtful introspection. Dazzling.

cover art "Definitions", "Joe McCarthy's Ghost", "Paranoid Chant", "Search", "Punch Line", "Fanatics", "Straight Jacket", "Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs", "Fake Contest", "Anchor", "Split Red", "Life As A Rehearsal", "Cut", "Dream Told By Moto", "I Felt Like A Gringo", "Political Song For Michael Jackson To Sing", "Maybe Partying Will Help", "Toadies", "Corona", "History Lesson - Part II", "This Ain't No Picnic", "King Of The Hill", "Tour Spiel", "Price Of Paradise", "Big Stick", "Courage", "Spoken Word Piece", "Just Another Soldier", "If Reagan Played Disco", "Case Closed", "Futurism Restated", "Joy", "Black Sheep", "Badges", "Party With Me Punker"

P. Hux - Deluxe

Deluxe is a pure power-pop album, and a gem of one to boot. No frills here, just songs overflowing with catchy hooks, crunching power chords, and lots of harmonies. Why this wasn't a massive hit is a complete mystery to me.

cover art "One More Day In The Life", "Simple Things", "California", "Keep From Crying", "Every Minute", "It'll Be Alright", "Here Comes The Savior", "So Good", "Live Like A King", "Playing Her Guitar", "Stay Where You Are"


OTHER NOTEWORTHY RELEASES:

XTC - Homespun

For hardcore fans, Homespun is a fine companion to XTC's regular 1999 release, Apple Venus, Volume 1. Homespun consists of the home demos of all the Apple Venus in the same order as the original. The demos aren't radically different from the released version, just simpler because of the lack of orchestration. The Japanese release adds a bonus CD with three "explanation" tracks, where Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding talk about the making of three of the songs.

cover art "River Of Orchids", "I'd Like That", "Easter Theatre", "Knights In Shining Karma", "Frivolous Tonight", "Greenman", "Your Dictionary", "Fruit Nut", "I Can't Own Her", "Harvest Festival", "The Last Balloon"

bonus tracks: "How Easter Theatre Came To Be", "How Frivolous Tonight Came To Be", "How I'd Like That Came To Be"

various artists - Fire & Skill: The Songs Of The Jam

In general, tribute albums are a dicey proposition, but Fire & Skill does better than most. The Beastie Boys turn "Start!" into a lounge instrumental, Reef turns "That's Entertainment" into an electric rocker, and Noel Gallagher plays "To Be Someone" as a laid-back acoustic track (and you've got to enjoy the irony of Noel singing that one!). The bonus track is a new version of the Jam outtake "No One In The World" by Jam leader Paul Weller with Ocean Colour Scene guitarist Steve Cradock, who also backs Oasis' Liam Gallagher on "Carnation". The real highlight here is a relaxed version of the classic "Going Underground" by Buffalo Tom. Fun, but not essential.

cover art "Carnation" - Liam Gallagher & Steve Cradock, "Start!" - Beastie Boys featuring Miho Hatori, "That's Entertainment" - Reef, "The Gift" - Heavy Stereo, "Art School" - Silversun, "English Rose" - Everything But The Girl, "Going Underground" - Buffalo Tom, "The Butterfly Collector" - Garbage, "The Modern World" - Ben Harper, "Town Called Malice" - Gene, "To Be Someone (Didn't We Have A Nice Time)" - Noel Gallagher"

hidden track: "No One In The World" - Paul Weller & Steve Cradock

Big Country - Driving To Damascus

The departures of 1991's No Place Like Home are long-gone, but the no-frills rock and roll and pretty ballads on Driving To Damascus make it Big Country's best album since that release. If it wasn't for the "one-hit wonder" stigma keeping them off US radio, I think Driving To Damascus could have produced some big hits. "See You" and "Fragile Thing" are terrific ballads, "Dive Into Me" and "Perfect World" are great driving rock. Lyrically, Stuart Adamson is sharp as ever, especially on "Trouble The Waters" and "Fragile Thing", although I'll confess I haven't the faintest idea what "The President Slipped And Fell" is supposed to be about! Ignore the "one-hit wonder" thing and forget the now-long-gone "bagpipe" guitars, and check this one out.

cover art "Driving To Damascus", "Dive In To Me", "See You", "Perfect World", "Somebody Else", "Fragile Thing", "The President Slipped And Fell", "Devil In The Eye", "Trouble The Waters", "Bella", "Your Spirit To Me", "Grace"

bonus tracks (special edition): "Shattered Cross", "Too Many Ghosts"

Cast - Magic Hour

Magic Hour is another solid Cast album, very much in the mold set by the band's first two albums. The single, "Beat Mama" (as in "I got a beat for you, Mama"), is catchy Cast pop, but the highlight is the pair of the lush, orchestrated title track followed by the loud rock of "Company Man".

cover art "Beat Mama", "Compared To You", "She Falls", "Dreamer", "Magic Hour", "Company Man", "Alien", "Higher", "Chasing The Day", "Feeling Remains", "Burn The Light", "Hideaway"

Foo Fighters - There Is Nothing Left To Lose

There Is Nothing Left To Lose is a great rock album dressed up in punk clothes. After the initial grunge crunch of "Stacked Actors", you get a wonderful selection of powerful, catchy rock songs. The highlights are "Learn To Fly" (as perfect a single as I've heard in ages) and the irresistable "Generator". Great stuff.

cover art "Stacked Actors", "Breakout", "Learn To Fly", "Gimme Stitches", "Generator", "Aurora", "Live-In Skin", "Next Year", "Headwires", "Ain't It The Life", "M.I.A."

Grant Hart - Good News For Modern Man

Grant Hart's first studio album since the breakup of Nova Mob is a welcome return to the sound of his debut album, Intolerance. Like Intolerance, Hart shows off a keen pop sense coupled with a lo-fi punk feel. It's good to have him back.

cover art "Think It Over Now", "Nobody Rides For Free", "Run Run Run To The Centre Pompidou", "You Don't Have To Tell Me Now", "Teeny's Hair", "A Letter From Anne Marie", "In A Cold House", "Seka Knows", "Remains To Be Seen", "Let Rosemary Rock Him, Laura-Louise", "Little Nemo"

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - Echo

Echo is another superb Petty album, and although it doesn't break a lot of new ground, the combination of Petty's terrific songwriting and the Heartbreakers' impeccable backing are pretty much always a winning combination. And as always, I can picture almost every song on this album as a hit. Highlights include the wistful title track, the aptly-named "Swingin'", the dramatic "Room At The Top" and Mike Campbell's vocal debut on the garage rock of "I Don't Wanna Fight".

cover art "Room At The Top", "Counting On You", "Free Girl Now", "Lonesome Sundown", "Swingin'", "Accused Of Love", "Echo", "Won't Last Long", "Billy The Kid", "I Don't Wanna Fight", "This One's For Me", "No More", "About To Give Out", "Rhino Skin", "One More Day, One More Night"

The Smithereens - God Save The Smithereens

On the Smithereens' last album, 1994's A Date With The Smithereens, the band abandoned their trademark sound (a wonderful blend of 60's pop and modern power pop) and went straight for hard rock. The result was the only bad album in their catalog. On God Save The Smithereens, all is right again. The songs are tough, catchy and full of hooks. The opener, "She's Got A Way" is a classic Smithereens single that fits right in with their best work. Welcome back!

cover art "She's Got A Way", "House At The End Of The World", "Everything Changes", "Flowers In The Blood", "The Long Loneliness", "Someday", "The Age Of Innocence", "Gloomy Sunday", "I Believe", "All Revved Up", "Even If I Never Get Back Home", "Try", "The Last Good Time"

Supergrass - Supergrass

On Supergrass, the band builds on the sound from In It For The Money, except with more pop and less punk this time out. If anything, the songs are even catchier this time out, especially the sing-along choruses on "Pumping On Your Stereo" and "What Wrong Wrong (In Your Head)". A young band that keeps getting better on each album.

cover art "Moving", "Your Love", "What Went Wrong (In Your Head)", "Beautiful People", "Shotover Hill", "Eon", "Mary", "Jesus Came From Outta Space", "Pumping On Your Stereo", "Born Again", "Faraway", "Mama & Papa"

Matthew Sweet - In Reverse

In Reverse is another solid Matthew Sweet album, but it still lacks some of the fire of his pre-Blue Sky On Mars releases, most likely due to Peter Phillips handling the lead guitar instead of Robert Quine and Richard Lloyd. The big departure (and one of the big highlights of the record) is the epic nine-minute-plus suite "Thunderstorm", one of the best things he's ever written. Other highlights include the powerful "Faith In You" and the pleasantly nasty "Write Your Own Song".

In Reverse is also my runner-up for cover art of the year. The packaging has been printed so that the CD spine is on the right instead of the left. The text in the book plays along. You need to flip backwards through the book to follow the lyrics.

"Millennium Blues", "If Time Permits", "Beware My Love", "Faith In You", "Hide", "Future Shock", "Split Personality", "I Should Have Never Let You Know", "Trade Places", "What Matters", "Write Your Own Song", "Worse To Live", "Untitled", "Thunderstorm" cover art


THE TOP TEN FOR 1999

(in my unabashedly less-than-humble opinion)

10) Stereophonics - Performance And Cocktails

The second Stereophonics album, actually manages to improve on their impressive '97 debut, Word Gets Around. Performance And Cocktails blends their trademark hard rock on "The Bartender And The Thief" and "Just Looking" with slower numbers like "Hurry Up And Wait" and "Is Yesterday, Tomorrow, Today?". The lyrics are still clever, and Kelly Jones' raw vocals just adds to a classic sound. An impressive followup.

cover art "Roll Up And Shine", "The Bartender And The Thief", "Hurry Up And Wait", "Pick A Part That's New", "Just Looking", "Half The Lies You Tell Ain't True", "I Wouldn't Believe Your Radio", "T-Shirt Sun Tan", "Is Yesterday, Tomorrow, Today?", "A Minute Longer", "She Takes Her Clothes Off", "Plastic California", "I Stopped To Fill My Car Up"

9) Bibi Farber - Firepop

What a wonderful debut record. Bibi Farber writes catchy rock with intelligent lyrics and sings 'em with a stellar voice. On top of an already winning combination, she adds in some big-time backing musicians in ex-Television guitar wizard Richard Lloyd (who also produced the record) and Smithereens drummer Dennis Diken.

cover art "Caroline's Waiting", "Shine", "Swallow A Dream", "Seeds Of Anger", "That Girl Again", "Salta Diamanter", "October Again", "Unlocked", "Disconnected", "One Thing", "17 After 3"

8) Robyn Hitchcock - Jewels For Sophia

On Jewels For Sophia, Robyn works for the first time with his ex-Soft Boy band mate Kimberley Rew, and delivers the most rocking album he's recorded in years. "Viva! Sea-Tac" (an odd "tribute" to the Seattle/Tacoma area) is catchy and clever, while Kimberley's guitar on "NASA Clapping" provides the most bite Hitchcock's had in ages. Easily the best of the post-Egyptians solo albums.

cover art "Mexican God", "The Cheese Alarm", "Viva! Sea-Tac", "I Feel Beautiful", "You've Got A Sweet Mouth On You, Baby", "NASA Clapping", "Sally Was A Legend", "Antwoman", "Elizabeth Jade", "No, I Don't Remember Guildford", "Dark Princess", "Jewels For Sophia"

hidden tracks: "Mr. Tongs", "Gene Hackman"

7) Richard Thompson - Mock Tudor

Ostensibly a concept album, Mock Tudor is broken down into three sections: Metroland, Heroes In The Suburbs, and Street Cries And Stage Whispers, although I don't see the connections. The first section, Metroland, is the best, a collection of rockers about ill-fated and ill-suited lovers that shows off both Thompson's wit and his fiery guitar work. The other two sections don't seem to have a theme, but the songs are impressive, none-the-less. The biggest change on Mock Tudor is the sound. Changing producers to Tom Rothrock & Rob Schnapf have given Mock Tudor a much simpler sound, without the odd drum sound that the later Mitchell Froom albums seemed to have.

cover art Metroland: "Cooksferry Queen", "Sibella", "Bathsheba Smiles", "Two-Faced Love", "Hard On Me"

Heroes In The Suburbs: "Crawl Back (Under My Stone)", "Uninhabited Man", "Dry My Tears And Move On", "Walking The Long Miles Home"

Street Cries And Stage Whispers: "Sights And Sounds Of London Town", "That's All, Amen, Close The Door", "Hope You Like The New Me"

6) Man Or Astro-Man? - EEVIAC: Operational Index And Reference Guide, Including Other Modern Computational Devices

On EEVIAC, the Astro-Men welcome two new guitarists, Trace Reading and Blazar The Probe Handler. The result is a blistering new energy pumped into the MOAM? surf/punk sound. There's also a little stretching on this album. The closer, "_____ / Myopia" is a long, atmospheric track ending with a long, swirling guitar solo, completely unlike anything in the MOAM? catalog, but absolutely mesmerizing. This is the band's best album since 1996's Experiment Zero.

cover art "Interstellar Hardrive", "D:Contamination", "U-235 / PU-239", "Domain Of The Human Race", "Theme From EEVIAC", "A Reversal Of Polarity", "Fractionalized Reception Of A Scrambled Transmission", "Engines Of Difference", "Psychology Of A.I. (Numbers Follow Answers)", "Krasnoyask-26", "Within The Mainframe, Impaired Vision From Inoperable Cataracts Can Become A New Impending Nepotism", "As Estrelas Agora Elas Estão Mortas" (Portugese for "The Stars Are Now Dead"), "_____ / Myopia"

5) Randy Newman - Bad Love

Finally ... a new, honest-to-goodness Randy Newman studio album. 1995's Faust was a concept album with guest stars, and while very good, it still wasn't what Newman does best: simple songs with some of the best, funniest and most intelligent lyrics. "My Country" is a sly putdown of middle-class America, and "I'm Dead" puts down aging rock & rollers. "The World Isn't Fair" a witty story that brings Karl Marx into modern times, and "The Great Nations Of Europe" is a cynical, funny history lesson. The best track may be "Shame", in which a "sugar daddy" tries to woo back the object of his affections while the background singers play his conscience. Wonderful. Bad Love is really Newman's first record since 1988's classic Land Of Dreams. I hope he doesn't wait that long for the next one!

cover art "My Country", "Shame", "I'm Dead (But I Don't Know It)", "Every Time It Rains", "The Great Nations Of Europe", "The One You Love", "The World Isn't Fair", "Big Hat, No Cattle", "Better Off Dead", "I Miss You", "Going Home", "I Want Everybody To Like Me"

4) Tom Waits - Mule Variations

Another return after a long absence. Mule Variations is Waits' first non-soundtrack album since the intense Bone Machine back in '92. Mule Variations returns Waits to the sound of his classic Island trilogy (Swordfishtrombones, Rain Dogs and Frank's Wild Years), and this album stands up with any of those. "Big In Japan" is a wonderfully clanky rocker, powered by a rhythm section that sounds like random bits of metal being bashed around. The wonderfully paranoid "What's He Building?" is a spoken-word piece over suitably odd music. A superb return to form.

cover art "Big In Japan", "Lowside Of The Road", "Hold On", "Get Behind The Mule", "House Where Nobody Lives", "Cold Water", "Pony", "What's He Building?", "Black Market Baby", "Eyeball Kid", "Picture In A Frame", "Chocolate Jesus", "Georgia Lee", "Filipino Box Spring Hog", "Take It With Me", "Come On Up To The House"

3) XTC - Apple Venus Volume 1

In 1998, XTC's long strike against Virgin Records was finally resolved, and the band (and it's now huge catalog of unrecorded songs) signed to TVT and planned a pair of new releases, one acoustic and one electric. Apple Venus Volume 1 is the first half, termed "orchustic" ("orchestral / acoustic") by Andy Partridge. XTC uses a swirl of orchestral backing and produces some of the prettiest music of their career. "River Of Orchids" kicks off the album with an off-kilter rhythm, which is followed by the lovely pair of "I'd Like That" and "Easter Theater", the latter having some beautiful and clever imagery. "Your Dictionary" is the odd man out on this record. Still lush and pretty like the others, the lyric is a vitriolic attack on Partridge's now ex-wife. Apart from that, Apple Venus Volume 1 is gorgeous, top-to-bottom, and a wonderful return for XTC. The electric Apple Venus Volume 2 is planned for Spring 2000.

cover art "River Of Orchids", "I'd Like That", "Easter Theatre", "Knights In Shining Karma", "Frivolous Tonight", "Greenman", "Your Dictionary", "Fruit Nut", "I Can't Own Her", "Harvest Festival", "The Last Balloon"

2) Steve Louis - Attention Seekers

Wow. I could be biased on this one because Steve's a friend of mine, but this album absolutely blew me away. Steve recorded his debut back in '97, and musically it was a very good album, but the vocals were the weak spot. Over the course of 1999, he recorded the followup, but this time 'round he brought in three superb singers to handle the vocals. Beth Garland and Diona Devincenzi have pure, clear voices that I'd compare to someone like Sandy Denny, and Andy Tubman's powerful grungy growl fits the louder tracks perfectly. On top of the vocal improvements, the songs this time are a quantum leap forward from the debut. Steve mixes it up, with songs ranging from the flat out rock of "Feel The Love" to catchy, almost folky, pop on "Outta The Way", "Falling In" and "One Day One Day" to the knotty rhythms of "The Secret". "Cut" is a pretty song that ends up with a blast of Bob Mould-ish single-note guitar. Attention Seekers is a giant step forward. A label needs to pick this up for national distribution.

Attention Seekers also gets my vote for cover of the year. The graphic below doesn't really convey the idea. Basically, the cover is clear plastic with "ATTENTION SEEKERS" printed in black. Behind that is a plain white card with "place photo (of yourself) here". Steve's seeking attention by releasing the CD, as we all are in some way or another, so you get to be on your own CD sleeve. Very clever!

cover art "Feel The Love", "Outta The Way", "The Secret", "No Prison Like Home", "Blessed Be", "One Day One Day", "Where The Sea Meets The Sky", "Don't Know Why", "Cut", "Falling In", "Tell Me", "The Long I", "Feel The Love"

1) The Flaming Lips - The Soft Bulletin

On The Soft Bulletin, The Lips have taken the lusher elements they brought into their sound on Zaireeka, but provided perfect melodies with a haunting, melancholy feel to go with them. The lyrics deal range from topics like death ("Feeling Yourself Disintegrate") and hopelessness (the stunningly beautiful "Waitin' For A Superman"), to a song about the spiderbite that nearly cost drummer / keyboardist / guitarist Steven Drozd his hand to the pursuit of medical breakthroughs (the powerful "Race For The Prize"), to a song about someone realizing they'd been shot and never noticed ("The Spark That Bled"). The combination of lyrics aiming high with Wayne Coyne's almost-cracking-but-not-quite voice and perfect, lush arrangements makes this an absolute must-hear. From the time I first heard The Soft Bulletin, I don't think I've gone more than a few days without a listen. Without a doubt, the album of the year, and a true masterpiece.

cover art "Race For The Prize" [Remix], "A Spoonful Weighs A Ton", "The Spark That Bled", "The Spiderbite Song", "Buggin'" [Remix], "What Is The Light?", "The Observer", "Waitin' For A Superman", "Suddenly Everything Has Changed", "The Gash", "Feeling Yourself Disintegrate", "Sleeping On The Roof", "Race For The Prize", "Waitin' For A Superman" [Remix]


PAST YEAR'S BESTS

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Owen Gwilliam

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