Admittedly, I was never any good at drinking. But I clearly remember those around me doing it like professionals! They'd get up the next day, shake off the afternoon headache and get back to work! Their dedication was admirable. But they eventually gave in to societal pressures and started showing up for work, regularly, and some even found women to take them seriously.
Our lives may be more like something off The River these days, but we once all had time to make educated judgements on the value of the musicians listed below. Nowadays? Most of us just see the guy in the Black Keys with a cool guitar and figure he must be OK. Then we see him on the cover of Rolling Stone and figure he sucks.
This is where I come in, of course. As a professional, I'm paid to assess the value of today's music and people depend on me to speak the truth. My advice? Wait twenty years and see what I say about them in the inevitable blog: Where Did These Twenty More Years Go? 2012! Before The Removable Teeth!
25) Pavement -- Slanted and Enchanted: It really didn't help their cause that they were so loved by certain "alternative" magazines. Jaded and Overrated is what I remember people I trusted telling me. Then I cocked an ear and thought Yo La Tengo had a friend who liked The Fall. Some of the lyrics were smart and funny. So I filed them under Loudon Wainwright III.
24) The Lemonheads -- It's A Shame About Ray: The original album, without their cover of "Mrs. Robinson," lasted about a half-hour, which is still a perfect amount of time for an album that doesn't have a song over ten minutes on it. Dando came off like a stoner/ airhead in interviews and there was nothing particularly exciting about the album. But it was hummable and when you consider how many bands complicated this strategy in the 1990s, well, why not? It doesn't last long enough to hurt.
23) Various Artists -- Singles, Motion Picture Soundtrack: Cameron Crowe knew Seattle well, before the big money showed up to tear friendships apart. Why shouldn't he make a lighthearted movie that had an informed soundtrack? Crowe's always been a cock-eyed optimist! And he's always loved music. And he even moved Paul Westerberg's geography from Minneapolis to Seattle just so he could make sure nobody forgot about him.
22) Pantera -- Vulgar Display of Power: Phil "Snow In San" Anselmo is not somebody you want to argue with. This album is, according to senior metal experts, a seminal recording that no metal record collection should be without. My head, unfortunately, is made of wood and likely to splinter.
21) Eric Clapton -- Unplugged: Hey, listen, I'm thinking of opening a cigar bar and I need some music to play on the stereo. I'm thinking something that's bluesy rock 'n' roll but, you know, more refined. I don't want to scare any of the patrons. They have money to spend and the last thing I need is them leaving because the electric guitar is annoying them. These people are sophisticated and they think they have an edge. Any ideas?
20) Neil Young -- Harvest Moon: Well, Neil had already done the loud thing a couple times in a row and his 250,000 acre compound could use running water down by the southlands. Harvest sold pretty good back in the 1970s and he really didn't feel like having to call up Stephen Stills. Time for Harvest II.
19) Loudon Wainwright III -- History: His dad died and since Loudo was always a personal songwriter, you could figure where this was going to go. Despite being a pretty good jokester, he's always been even better when he's telling the truth about himself. So, it's no surprise when this album turns out to be one of the keepers in the deep catalog and he puts the rest of his generation of boomers to shame for managing to do the keep-on-keepin' on that they have outsourced to do right, man.
18) Alice In Chains -- Dirt: Heroin isn't for everyone.
17) Soul Asylum -- Grave Dancers Union: Soul Asylum were signed to Sony at this point and Sony had a way of making their alt.rock bands sound like Journey. I don't know if it was in the mastering process or whether they got to their musicians before they entered the studio. I hope Dave Pirner has enough money to block out the catcalls of former friends who think he got silly along the way.
16) Gin Blossoms -- New Miserable Experience: Maybe not anymore, but for decades you couldn't keep all good pop bands down. You could keep most of them down, but not all. Gin Blossoms were the 1990's Knack, its Greg Kihn Band, its Tommy Tutone. A couple great singles and they were out. But that's nothing to be ashamed of. Just don't be surprised if the audience goes for a Coke when you play the deep cuts.
14) R.E.M. -- Automatic for the People: Here's the tipping point. The great shark jump. Reviews were stellar, but you can't listen to reviews. The album had a few decent points of light -- "Nightswimming," the first thousand times -- but most of it was the sound of a band losing the thread. Yet, its audience seemed to thrill on the dullness.
13) Stone Temple Pilots -- Core: I still remember the parking lot I was in when I first shoved the promo cassette for this album in the deck. I remember driving around thinking this was a joke, right? I mean, "I AM smelling like a ROSE that somebody gave ME on my birthDAY deathBED!" sung as if Black Oak Arkansas were coming back? And what's up about that song where the guy's "gonna learn ya my philosophy"? And the other one sounds like Nirvana! And the other could be Pearl Jam? Pretty sharp! It took Bush (the band) another two years to split the formula!
12) Nine Inch Nails -- Broken EP: In terms of dudes who knew how to work the vicious doo-dads of the time, Trent Reznor was king. Had he pulled this stunt a decade earlier, he'd likely have been stuck in downtown Noo Yawk City dodging junkies on the Lower East Side, playing No Wave for credibility. Or he'd be home in his bedroom lamenting the day he'd have to get a real job. Music is timing.
11) Freedy Johnston -- Can You Fly: He sold his family's farm in Kansas to finance the album and to get the hell out of Kansas. He got plenty of critical praise and a major label picked him up and let him wrack up a hit single in "Bad Reputation" before they forgot what to do with him and he gave up trying to please them. The good parts of this record should rank with the best of them. Just don't let Freedy tell any more jokes.
10) Peter Gabriel -- Us: I learned the hard way you don't go telling hardcore Peter Gabriel fans you really liked this album. By liked, I mean the half of the album I still play. I know people like Gabriel for all the loony visuals and the advanced mathematics he's conquered in finding new sounds. But I'm simpler than that. I follow his voice.
9) Sonic Youth -- Dirty: Dirty consumerism helped this band out generously. They had the drones down. But they needed real hooks to hang them on. So, the art students lower themselves to write for the commoner and -- surprise, surprise -- it's the mega-avant-man, Lee Ranaldo, who turns in the best hook. To hell with "Lee Is Free." Keep him shackled to the Brill Building and watch the hits bleed out of him.
8) Dr. Dre -- The Chronic: You couldn't escape this record at the time. Those airy, foreboding keyboard lines had everyone feeling paranoid even if they never hit the actual chronic. The words are fine, showing heart and juvenilia and lots of poses and bad jokes, but it's the music that makes you turn up the remote. Dre de-cluttered the East Coast sample-packed holiday and found a way to be the Eagles to Public Enemy's New York Dolls. History doesn't repeat, but it rhymes.
7) Julian Cope -- Jehovahkill: "That'll Be The Decide." Except Cope meant 'The Deicide." Oh, well, 18 feet, 18 inches, it's all just a brick in the Stonehenge. People who wonder what Jim Morrison would be doing if he left his tent in Africa would be well-served to follow Cope's loopy-loo. This isn't likely what Jimbo would do -- there aren't any Top 40 love songs to infiltrate the state -- but it's what he should be doing. Lizard Kinging is sticky business.
6) Human Touch / Lucky Town -- Bruce Springsteen: Yes, yes, "What could possibly be better than a new Bruce Springsteen album? How about TWO new Bruce Springsteen albums?" It's not exactly "rock and roll future," but that time had passed. Who knew twenty years later people would still be arguing over which one is worse? I still pick Lucky Touch over Human Town. This was still back when we made cassettes to edit out the crap we didn't want to hear and then made a tape of the stuff we left off because we were worried we got it wrong.
5) Nirvana -- Incesticide: I'll never fault the Kurdt Cobain Trio for turning in halfway decent Vaselines covers. How could you? And I think there are a few other cool things on this album, but I have to admit I haven't felt the need to check for 18 years. Maybe in another ten I will. After all, I'm listening to Crime and the City Solution as I type this and I wouldn't have predicted that either.
4) Red House Painters -- Down Colorful Hill: My name graces the liner notes to their Retrospective as 'Rob O'Condor' because someone at 4AD has a wicked sense of humor. I wrote the notes because I believed in them. I still do. Whether it's called Mark Kozelek or Sun Kil Moon, the voice still draws me in and makes me think I'm listening to the most successful artist of the past 20 years. Then I stare at the Billboard charts and think, "What's up with that?"
3) Tom Waits -- Bone Machine: True story, I insisted this album receive 4 stars in the Rolling Stone magazine and I was told no. 18 years later or so, I get a check and a copy of Rolling Stone's "Best of the 1990s" book or whatever it is, and, sure enough, Bone Machine is listed among the best albums of the decade. Please note, it sounded that way to me the first time around.
2) Leonard Cohen -- The Future: This is not the most consistent album in the Cohen catalog, but its highlights are as essential as anything from those first three albums that the devoted have committed to memory. Cohen gave up singing out of his range and realized people wanted to hear him channel the voice of God, Allah, Mohammed or the leading deity of their choice. I'm still waiting for him to the sing The Book of Revelations!
1) Ride -- Going Blank Again: Had you told me in 1992 I'd be singling out this album as a superior listen, I would've looked at you weird. But having switched over to headphone listening in the home, I find the layers of sound much more enticing than the folk music that I blared from actual speakers in my youth. Though, if you play those early Dylan albums through a chorus pedal, oh my.