Could there possibly be 25 more albums worth making slightly informative comments about from 1996? Yes, yes there are. Just look at this list. Some were even bought! How quaint! But then, weren't most of us on dial-up? You think I wanted to download an album that would take 14 hours to complete, provided the connection wasn't lost?
The 'bad ol' days' of computers were the 'almost tolerable days' of music. If one follows this logic, it can be proven that music got worse because of the Internet! Maybe because of this very blog! It also got worse because of CDs. So, it was vinyl that made music great and paper magazines. Neil Young knows this. Now you know it. But let's grab mp3s of the following and be really disappointed!
25) Screaming Trees — Dust: Ah, yes, the fading days of grunge are captured nicely by this psychedelic-garage band who learned to play the blues. It was all for the best, since singer Mark Lanegan never seemed suited to being a team player.
24) Johnny Cash — Unchained: Rick Rubin realized that discovering talent was hard, so rediscovering it would make it easier on him. He could pick out the songs he always dreamed of having Johnny Cash sing and then it would come true.
23) Porcupine Tree — Signify: By focusing on the sounds and not getting tangled in concepts that would age poorly (no telepathic unicorns need apply), Steven Wilson made progressive rock that people with great sound systems could listen to without having to make excuses. For this one, he tried something novel. He let other musicians play some of the parts, like it was a real band or something.
22) Beth Orton — Trailer Park: There was a time in the 1990s when "Electronica" was going to be the next big thing. But then it never caught on and all we were left with were a few interesting albums like this one where the singer plays her folk tunes and has the producer turn it into something more. Who needs new ideas in music when you can reissue old ideas in deluxe box sets? Even this album got the 2009 "Legacy" treatment.
21) Tricky — Pre-Millennium Tension: Tricky had been successful as a "trip-hop" artist. But it bugged him. So he listened to those "Come to Jamaica" commercials and made an album that was angrier and darker and not even close to laidback. Twenty years earlier he'd be punk. But in 1996, he was alone.
20) Stereolab — Emperor Tomato Ketchup: Often considered to be the album to own if you're only going to own one Stereolab album, Emperor is jammed tight with ephemera until it congeals into something longer-lasting, more deeply satisfying. At this point, I'm not sure what product I'm selling.
19) Tortoise — Millions Now Living Will Never Die: Who doesn't want to get into "post-rock"? It sure sounds more enticing than asking someone if they want to listen to an album of progressive instrumental music. Why that would suggest the music wasn't cutting edge at all. If you want to sell music, you have to convince people it's new. But these days it's even better if you tell them it's new old stuff. So maybe it's just the regressive feel of the word progressive? Or maybe people prefer singers.
18) Palace Music — Arise Therefore: My co-worker's sister-in-law makes $82 every hour on the laptop. She has been without a job for 5 months but last month her paycheck was $7292 just working on the laptop for a few hours. This is my comments section, isn't it?
17) Smog — The Doctor Came At Dawn: Slowing things down until they sound like Lurch being stretched over the torture rack became quite the thing to do in the 1990s. Having seen Bill Callahan (Mr. Smog) live in concert during this tour, I can assure you even the air felt slow and heavy.
16) R.L. Burnside — A Ass Pocket of Whiskey: Feel for the bluesman who has to decide whether or not it's a good idea to let a couple of young white boys play alongside him. When you hear what the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion has done to the blues, it makes you wonder a lot of things.
15) The Olivia Tremor Control — Music From The Unrealized Film Script, Dusk at Cubist Castle: It's always been of great wonder to me as to how underground bands become noticed. Plenty of fine groups have soldiered on and never come close to recognition of any sort, while the Elephant 6 Collective scored with The Olivia Tremor Control, The Apples In Stereo and Neutral Milk Hotel. I'm all for their tuneful weirdness. But how did we decide to pay attention at this point?
14) Gillian Welch — Revival: And with this debut album, I decree that the year is not 1996 as first thought, but 1896 and Gillian Welch is an influence on all depression-era musicians to come.
13) Placebo — Placebo: OK, let me try this. Singer Brian Molko has been compared to Geddy Lee! Their androgyny is like David Bowie at his best! They're as solid as those Brit-pop bands like Oasis and Blur. They're as loud as Radiohead. Members of R.E.M. and The Kills have sung with them. You can put them on a playlist with Lil Wayne, Kanye West, Led Zeppelin, Elvis Presley and Britney Spears and they'll sound completely awesome.
12) 2Pac — All Eyez On Me, The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory: 1996 turned out to be a terrible year for Tupac Shakur, but it was only the beginning of his posthumous legacy. All Eyez On Me was the last album released while he was alive. The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory was the last album he completed and was released two months after his death. From here, the legacy gets complicated with quite a few albums bearing his name. Death guarantees you will never flounder in the changing marketplace. But your family might.
10) Rage Against The Machine — Evil Empire: Some bands I prefer to read about. Standing up to the man is always a good thing. The man deserves to be stood up to. However, I admit, I prefer to sit.
9) Vic Chesnutt — About to Choke: Vic Chesnutt made one record for a major label. This one. Yet, try figuring out what's different about it. It's possible the sound is upgraded, but no one's ever listened to Vic for audiophile dreams. He went back to the minors without a hitch. Because he never believed those big city dreams. He just liked the ride.
8) Counting Crows — Recovering The Satellites: Initially, Counting Crows were seen to be in the tradition of Van Morrison, Bruce Springsteen, even Pearl Jam. That is, a band who would take their audience to new places by turning their concerts into one of a kind experiences. Yet, somewhere along the way — maybe here — they decided to go for the hits. And the weird, moody artistry that critics thought was there turned out to be the Gin Blossoms with roots.
7) Nirvana — From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah: You had to figure there'd be a live album. Even if he Cobain had lived, there'd be a live album, with electric instruments. Only question is, would Kurt have insisted on a double LP gatefold? Or at least a better title like Nirvana Comes Alive!
6) The Wallflowers — Bringing Down the Horse: Though it was 1996, there was still a generation raised on classic rock radio and they had certain expectations. So, who better to give them what they want than a name they can trust? Dylan…ask for it by name.
5) Paul Westerberg — Eventually: I'm in a weird minority of people who has enjoyed Paul Westerberg's solo work as much as his stuff with the Replacements. He's always been erratic. So it shouldn't surprise anyone when his solo work is uneven. But I'll take a guy who strikes out quite a bit and still hits it out of the park over a guy who keeps bunting for average.
4) Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers — She's The One: Forgive them the fact that this is the soundtrack to a film by Ed Burns and figure it was nice of them to cover Lucinda Williams and Beck.
3) Soundgarden — Down On the Upside: Having found the balance between the experimental and the rocking with Superunknown, Soundgarden went back to reinforce the rocking part. Which is what hard rock bands need to do from time to time to remind themselves of what it is they do. Apparently, it also tired them out. It was their last album.
2) Metallica — Load: Don't worry Metallica fans! There's still St. Anger to look forward to. The grunge years really knocked bands for a loop. Of course, by the time Metallica got around to releasing their new album, the era was about over. On a positive note, it is also the band's longest album.
1) Bush — Razorblade Suitcase: Nothing says credibility like having "recorded by Steve Albini" on your record. Though, really, he's available to anyone who has a few bucks and wishes to visit Chicago. You'd think a band so commonly considered to be a grunge-rip-off band would do something to avoid making it look so obvious. But then it's the obviousness that made them stars.