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1992 top albums

May 14, 2012

Top albums, 1992

(Dec. 1996 thoughts: This is a pretty solid list, with at last eight albums that I still listen to with some regularity. I’m still not apologizing for liking the first Color Me Badd album. And this was the first of two times this decade that I thought Prince had released his best album. Wow.)

This story originally appeared in the Decatur (Ill.) Herald & Review in March of 1993.

This is MY list.

We’ve already sat through the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences’ version of the best records from the last 12 months or so. And I submit that my list has at least as much to do with the real world as theirs, even though mine includes Julian Cope.

There’s no possible way to listen to everything that comes out, so no one’s pretending this list is all-inclusive. The absence of Garth Brooks, Arrested Development and Ices Cube and T only means I never listened to them. I’m interested, but not $10 or $15 interested. Give me a tape, and maybe I’ll become a fan.

In fact, that’s the way a number of things on this list (and other lists I’ve composed over the years) get there: at least three albums in this year’s Top 10 are there because somebody taped them for me and I enjoyed them. I wouldn’t have heard them otherwise.

Since this is a subjective list (my 10 favorites of the past year or so, not the 10 best), it’s only fair to explain what kind of music I like. All discussion of pop music on my terms begins and ends with the Beatles. Elvis Costello is my favorite middle-period pop artist, and I really like Nirvana, too.

But everything is subject to change. Ten years ago, I was championing the Long Ryders as one of the greatest groups ever. Their stuff has aged horribly. Kind of like Paul McCartney.

Finally, a list of some of my recent No. 1 albums (this may be an even better indicator of my tastes): 1991: Adam Schmitt (a Champaign native), WORLD SO BRIGHT; 1990: No No. 1, a tie for No. 2 between Janet Jackson, RHYTHM NATION 1814 and Faith No More, THE REAL THING; 1989: Lou Reed, NEW YORK; 1988: Robyn Hitchcock, QUEEN ELVIS; 1987: Prince, SIGN O THE TIMES; 1986: Elvis Costello, KING OF AMERICA; 1985: R.E.M., FABLES OF THE RECONSTRUCTION.

And here are my top 10 for ’92:

1. Lindsey Buckingham, OUT OF THE CRADLE

This isn’t for everyone, and half the people for whom I taped it will probably never listen to it again. But as far as I’m concerned, this guy defines the current state of pop music, and this is the neatest sounding guitar CD I’ve heard in a while. Now if he’d only hire Elvis Costello as his lyricist ….

2. Matthew Sweet, GIRLFRIEND

Technically a 1991 release, I didn’t hear it until 1992. And I’ll still be hearing it in 2002. What’s the difference between music recorded in 1972 and music being recorded now? In a lot of ways, you could hear distinct differences in the instruments 20 years ago. This album brings back that sound, instead of being recorded mush. Catchy melodies, and a great cover photo.

3. Prince, SCREWY UNISEX SYMBOL

His best album ever (and yes, I AM the guy who made SIGN O THE TIMES his No. 1 album in 1987). Sure, there’s a couple of lame songs on here, but the album’s almost 75 minutes long. I’ll cut him some slack. This is the kind of music James Brown would be making if he came along today. And am I the only person who finds it amusing that his best song ever (”Sexy M.F.”) is one that can’t be played on the radio in the U.S.?

4. Los Lobos, KIKO

Their most accessible ever. Moody, dark and deep. If they’d put THIS out after ”La Bamba,” they’d be bigger than Springsteen. Come to think of it, right now, they ARE bigger than Springsteen.

5. Emmylou Harris, AT THE RYMAN

Four points: A. The Nash Ramblers are (gasp!) a better band than her old backup group, the Hot Band. B. She can sing ANYBODY’s songs without embarrassing herself. C. This is the bestalbum of her career. It’s seamless. Her reading of ”Lodi” is the only non-Creedence version of that song that I’ve ever been able to stomach. D. Ashcan the boots.

6. Julian Cope, PEGGY SUICIDE

The best album title ever. And while the ”concept” slides a little toward the end of the second side, you can’t argue about 70-plus minutes of music. ”Hanging Out and Hung Up on the Line” is about my third-favoritest song this year, behind ”Sexy M.F.” …

7. Color Me Badd, C.M.B.

.. and ”All 4 Love.” Jeez, this is just like 1972 bubblegum (the Jackson Five, as much as anybody might think otherwise, didn’t suck). Color Me Badd could have pulled eight hit singles off this album, and ”I Wanna Sex U Up” is the lousiest song here. Boyz II Men should be so good. And proud.

8. Chris Bell, I AM THE COSMOS

Speaking of 1972, that’s when this was recorded. After clearing up numerous legal hassles, it came out this year. This is like finding a new John Lennon album. Tortured sounds still holding up 20 years after the fact is a pretty impressive accomplishment. And if ”Look Up” doesn’t tug at your heartstring a little, you probably have no soul.

9. Happyhead, GIVE HAPPYHEAD

Where the Shriekback reunion failed, this succeeded (due in no small part because it features a Shriekback founding member). It’s dance music with an attitude, alternative with a beat, and it’s also pretty funny.

10. Neil Young, HARVEST MOON

No, it isn’t a sequel. No, it’s not as good as his last two or three. Is that a bad thing? ZUMA didn’t stink just because it wasn’t as good as AFTER THE GOLDRUSH or EVERYBODY KNOWS THIS IS NOWHERE. I’d rather have this Neil than Country Neil, and remember what HARVEST led to after its release (TONIGHT’S THE NIGHT, one of his best). I’m calling myself a Neil Young fan again.

Honorable mention: Yikes! How come I didn’t have room for these: Pearl Jam, TEN; FREEWHEELERS; Jayhawks, HOLLYWOOD TOWN HALL; R.E.M., AUTOMATIC FOR THE PEOPLE (probably at least as good as OUT OF TIME, which was well up on my top 10 last year); Shriekback, SACRED CITY (what are the odds of my favorite post-Beatles group reuniting and putting out a decent album that DOESN’T make my Top 10?); XTC, NONESUCH (come on, Andy Partridge, get immature again).

Great singles:

”To Be With You,” Mr. Big

”Girlfriend,” Matthew Sweet

”Life is a Highway,” Tom Cochrane

”I Feel Lucky,” Mary-Chapin Carpenter

”You Don’t Love Me Anymore,” Weird Al Yankovic

”Like A Drug,” They Eat Their Own

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