Year in Review, 1999: Top Music Recordings
In a year of musical extremes, the top recordings ranged from the Latin pop of hip-shaking sensation Ricky Martin to the slacker rock and hip-hop of the phenomenally successful Kid Rock.
by Kevin O'Hare
Candy pop acts like Britney Spears and Backstreet Boys sold millions of albums, but so too did bands that screeched into sonic overdrive like Limp Bizkit and Korn. And as the seconds ticked down on the 20th century, the fires and mayhem of Woodstock '99 left far more questions than there ever were answers.
Here's a subjective look at the year's most compelling albums, discs that stood out and discs that should stand the test of time:
Rage Against The MachineThe Battle of Los Angeles
|It may be too early to predict, but this pulverizing mix of hard rock and rap, loaded with political conviction, could be setting the stage for the sound of the new Millennium. The set kicks in immediately with the devastating Testify, a scorching blast at the news media's attempts to soft-sell war and other atrocities as mainstream entertainment. Straying far from the typical lightweight mutterings of the moment, singer Zack de la Rocha and his mates turn in a series of heavily politicized tales focusing on everything from downtrodden Mexican peasants and unemployed factory workers to corrupt landlords, deviant clergy members, and jailed Black Panthers.|
Red Hot Chili PeppersCalifornication
|Don't let their softer side sway you. It's true that a lot of the new Red Hot Chili Peppers disc is more contemplative and quieter than their typical fare, as typified by the slide-draped lead single "Scar Tissue." A departure it may be, but this also turns out to be one of the most consistent and mature works that the Chili Peppers have ever produced.|
|The alt-folk/alt-country rockers splash their sound with a healthy dose of mid-1960s pop, filled with echoes of Lennon and McCartney and Brian Wilson. The songs are sophisticated and charming, the production is exceptional and the band is firmly establishing itself as one of the most important acts of the decade.|
Luscious JacksonElectric Honey
|Luscious Jackson's third full-length album is the most fully realized of its career. Jill Cunniff, Gabby Glaser, and Kate Schellenbach have exquisitely melded their early 1980s punk roots with a healthy dose of hip-hop grooves, girl-group pop and alt-rock overtones for a wondrous pastiche. Playful and provocative, and packed with wickedly delectable tunes, Electric Honey kicks off with the dance-propelled funk of Nervous Breakthrough and slides right into the electronic-laced standout single Ladyfingers.|
|The current king of all rappers isn't about to abdicate his throne for anyone. The disc is Nas' best yet, packed with plenty of the street savvy poetry and power grooves that have been his calling card since his 1994 breakthrough Illmatic. This time out, he delivers and then some on tracks like the money-fueled duet with Puff Daddy, Hate Me Now, the take-no-prisoners sizzler I Wanna Talk to You, and the raunchy split-up saga K-I-S-S-I-N-G. One of the best songs on the album is the duet with Aaliyah on You Won't See Me Tonight, which shows the rhyme-master's softer side.|
Razor and Tie
|With a lineage that links The Bangles, the dB's, Dream Syndicate and The Cowsills, there's something sure captivating about Continental Drifters. Full of ragged acoustic and electric guitars, superb songs, and sublime harmonies, Vermilion offers a stirring dose of Americana that recalls the likes of The Band, Lucinda Williams, and even The Mamas and the Papas. Check out Susan Cowsill's wondrous and raspy vocal in Spring Day in Ohio, the lazy and infectious grooves in Drifters, or the snarling true grit of Peter Holsapple's Don't Do What I Did. It's all very far from slick, but the pieces fall together perfectly. The song structures are brilliant throughout, bringing life to spirited gems like Holsapple's Darlin', Darlin', the Faces-flavored "Meet Me in the Middle," and the band's blasting brand of Bakersfield twang, Christopher Columbus Transcontinental Highway. |
Vicki Peterson, late of The Bangles, provides plenty of surprises as well, most notably during the deeply reflective and achingly painful "Who We Are, Where We Live," which was written about her fiancee's death. Originally issued in Europe last year, this album has taken way too long to come out in the U.S. Yet its belated stateside release is a welcome one.
Nine Inch NailsThe Fragile
|Trent Reznor, the industrial art rocker behind Nine Inch Nails, has come up with a sprawling double disc that's filled with frenzy, fever, anguish, rage and paranoia — all wrapped into a devastatingly potent sonic attack. Awash in distorted keyboards, nearly unrecognizable guitars and crushing beats, the album provides a cacophonous counterpoint to the teen pop, rap, and hip-hop that have been dominating charts at the century's end. Of special note is a wondrous series of songs midway through the first CD, starting with the guitar maze of the title cut and continuing through the classical/industrial explosion on the instrumental "Just Like You Imagined," the sonar propulsion of "Even Deeper," and the chaotic "Pilgrimage," which sounds like the score for a biblical epic in Y2K.|
Steve Earle and the Del McCoury BandThe Mountain
|The post-prison Steve Earle career renaissance continues with this exquisite bluegrass collaboration with the esteemed Del McCoury Band. Inspired by the late great Bill Monroe, the album finds Earle and company tearing through banjo-riding raves like the set-opening "Texas Eagle," the fiddle-fired "Harlan Man," and "Carrie Brown," which Earle accurately describes as a "real-live-bad-tooth-hillbilly-murder ballad," in his liner notes. |
In those same notes he calls the title track one of the best songs he's ever written, and he's absolutely right. But even that doesn't come near the beauty of "Pilgrim," a gospel-styled song of faith, penned the morning of bassist Roy Huskey's funeral. It features Emmylou Harris on harmonies, and closes the set with reverence.
PretendersViva El Amor
|The group's first new studio set since 1994's Last of the Independents is a rock-solid return to form, loaded with first-rate fare such as the harp-wailing taunt "Popstar," the gutsy ballad "One More Time," and the revealing " Human," all of which feature some of Chrissie Hynde's finest vocals ever. Thankfully, she's lost none of her acerbic side either. Hynde wrote 10 of the disc's 12 cuts. And when she sings "Why did you send me roses?/Save it for someone's death" in the hook-filled "Baby's Breath," there is no mistaking the far-from-flowery intent.|
The RootsThings Fall Apart
|In contrast to so many flavor-of-the-week hip-hop acts, Philadelphia's Roots throw down mind-spinning rhymes and a real musical vision that sets them apart from the crowd. Things Fall Apart — the title is derived from a Chinua Achebe novel and Yeats' poem "The Second Coming"— casts the Roots as progressive idealists. The soul-stirring collaboration with Erykah Badu on the magnificent lead single "You Got Me" speaks volumes about The Roots ability to break down musical barriers.|