1999 GRAHAMMY AWARDS (MUSIC)
If you really sit down and think about A.D. 1998, what comes to
mind? I tell you what comes to my mind...status quo. Everywhere
you look, people are content. Interest rates are lower, gasoline
costs less than a buck a gallon, and there's no shortage of Ben
and Jerry's at the local market. What's there to get upset about?
Even the Lewinsky/Clinton/impeachment affair, which could
potentially send this country crumbling back down to the dire
financial straits of the late `70s, has failed to shake the
American consciousness enough to get people riled up to buck the
system. Which brings me to my point...it's difficult to make
music that matters when everything else is peachy keen. Hence,
the rise of Boy Bands like `N Sync, the Backstreet Boyeeeeezs (zzz!),
and Boyzone. Happiness is the currency that counts right now, and
while times like these make for great pop singles, the songs lack
in cultural importance and fade from memory when the seasons
change. That being said, there were still a lot of really GOOD
songs and albums released this year that deserve some props, so
without further ado, the fourth annual Grahammy music awards...
TOP TEN SINGLES OF
Honorable Mentions: Beastie Boys, "Intergalactic"; Harvey Danger, "Flagpole Sitta"; Fatboy Slim, "The Rockafeller Skank"
10) Saint Etienne, "Sylvie" - This song sounds like a sunny, breezy
9) Dario G, "Carnival de Paris" - MALBERSBLOWS, MALBERSBLOWS, MALBERSBLOWS!
8) The Verve, "Lucky Man" - Happiness, more or less.
7) JD Featuring Jay-Z, "Money Ain't A Thang" - I don't like it if it don't gleam gleam,
and this track definitely gleam gleams.
6) Bernard Butler, "Stay" - Ex-Suede ax man goes solo with grandiose
5) Hole, "Malibu"
- A breathtakingly gorgeous ode that sways like a California palm
4) Placebo, "Pure Morning" - Balls out rock, plain and simple.
3) Pras Featuring ODB and Maya, "Ghetto Supastar" - I can't wait for the "Coward of the
2) Brandy and Monica, "The Boy Is Mine" - The sexiest catfight since Teri Hatcher
and Charlize Theron in "2 Days In The Valley."
Imbruglia, "Torn" - Pure pop perfection. If there was ever a
song that was the equivalent of a Pixy Stick, this is it. Highly
addictive and ultimately pretty empty, but very, very tasty.
TOP TEN ALBUMS OF
Honorable Mentions: Catatonia, "International Velvet"; Jesus & Mary Chain,
"Munki"; Massive Attack, "Mezzanine"
10) Spinanes, "arches and aisles" - Sparsely accompanied by subtle percussion,
Rebecca Gates' breathy voice and lovelorn lyrics alone are worth
the price of admission.
9) Neutral Milk Hotel, "In The Aeroplane Over The
Sea" - The album begins
with the lyric "When you were young you were the King of
Carrot Flowers" and gets more obtuse from there; the most
unique sounding record of the year, it combines acoustic guitars
with everything from theremins to short-wave radio static.
8) Hooverphonic, "Blue Wonder Power Milk" - If the Cocteau Twins and Bjork combined
their DNA, you still couldn't get an album as lush and exciting
7) Placebo, "Without You I'm Nothing" - And this album shall rock. But wait! It'll
make you swoon too. Frontman Brian Molko sounds like Neil Tennant
(Pet Shop Boys) on crystal.
6) Bob Dylan, "Live: 1966, The Royal Albert Hall Concert" - Believe it or not, Dylan used to be young
and fresh and cocky. This landmark album will go down in history
as a document of the pinnacle moment in the career of America's
all-time greatest songwriter. Essential.
5) Hole, "Celebrity Skin" - Abound with sonic sheen and California
dreams, Courtney Hole stepped up to the plate, pointed to the
fences and smacked a...triple. Derivative? Probably. Brilliant?
Not quite. Worth owning? Damn straight.
4) Belle & Sebastian, "The Boy With The Arab
Strap" - One of the
more prolific bands in recent memory (three EP's and two LP's in
the last 18 months), this Glaswegian sextet gets better and
better on each successive outing. From "Is It Wicked Not To
Care" (which delightfully recalls the twee sound of Talulah
Gosh) to the plaintive "Chickfactor" to the rollicking
title track, B & S is a band on the run.
3) Air, "Moon Safari" - Wow. I went to France last year, and
other than Julie Delpy Wartinsmooth, I thought all French people
sucked. I was wrong. "Moon Safari" perfectly describes
the journey this duo takes you on. Their subtle electronica sound
is cosmopolitan and hip without being pretentious...Serge
Gainsbourg meets the Orb over at Burt Bacharach's space age
2) Liz Phair, "whitechocolatespaceegg" - You know how when your little and you're
watching a flick with your parents and they tell you "You're
too young to understand this" and you laugh and go "Yeah
right, empathy's my middle name"? Well, anyone under 30 IS
too young to understand the complexities of this album (myself
included). Nonetheless, this album is richly rewarding, both
lyrically and musically. Alongside longtime producer Brad Wood,
Scott Litt helped Liz step away from the DIY school and make an
incredible studio record. Gems such as "Perfect World",
"Polyester Bride" and "Uncle Alvarez" stand
up to her best work from "Guyville", though it's
totally an apples and oranges sitch. Liz Phair is THE definitive
female artist of the 1990s.
1) Elliot Smith, "XO" - Kurt is dead and gone and the world of
music will never be the same. Every word he uttered was fraught
with a weird hybrid of self-loathing, fragility and hope; in that
sense, Elliot Smith is a kindred spirit. He's a grown-up version
of one of those kids you remember from high school who sat in the
back of the class and never raised their hand but when the
teacher called on them, they said something totally unexpected
and surprisingly brilliant. But instead of rocking out Pixies-style
like Cobain, Elliot follows in the sensitive singer/songwriter
sneakers of guys like Nick Drake. I mean, the guy wore a white
suit (!) when he performed his out of nowhere hit "Miss
Misery" on last year's Oscar ceremony, for chrissakes.
Anyway, the fourteen songs on this major label debut shine with
an amazing brilliance. "Waltz #2 (XO)" is the stand-out
track on the first listen, mainly due to the heavenly combination
of Smith's graceful acoustic guitar, engaging and fresh piano
solos, and sulking violins. Repeated listens are essential and
fun, especially when you are awarded with the brilliant
harmonizing on "Bled White" (you'll find yourself
listening to the song over and over, it's impossible not to), the
Sgt. Pepper-ish "Baby Britain", and the full orchestra
of "Waltz #1". But where this album really excels is in
the way Smith's smooth voice flows like warm caramel over rough
and poignant lyrics such as "...My feelings never change a
bit / I always feel like shit / I don't know why, I just do"
(on the brilliant acappella album closer "I Didn't
Understand"). This album will burrow its way into your
collection of favorite albums and reside on top of your stereo
for years to come, guaranteed.
Okay, there's the beef. Thanks to those of you who ventured this
far, and please feel free to exercise the First Amendment and let
me know what you think.
The Funk Soul Brotha,