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1993 top albums

May 14, 2012

Top 10, 1993

(Dec. 1996 notes: OK, so maybe I was blinded by love. Adam Schmitt’s second major-label effort is good, but not great. Certainly I don’t go back to it as often as the Nirvana or Liz Phair, or even the Carlene Carter. And the amazing thing about IN UTERO, which I just pulled out again recently, is that it got released at all. Is there a more obnoxious major-label release in existence? I mean, I love it just for that reason, but how did it sell 3 million copies?

All in all, this was a weak year in retrospect, for music in general and my choices in particular.

This originally appeared in the Decatur (Ill.) Herald & Review on Feb. 3, 1994.

Come to Illinois for the best in music.

To these ears, anyway. And what are these ears’ credentials? Just listening to a lot of music, and being really passionate about it. Pretty much the same as your credentials, really.

Except unlike most people, I don’t like U2 all that much.

Some of the best music in the country over the last 12 months has been made by Illinoisans, much of it recorded here as well. My No. 1 pick, Champaign’s Adam Schmitt, is a personal favorite who hopefully will get his true due down the line, while Chicago’s Liz Phair (No. 3 on my list) has received plenty of critical plaudits throughout the country.

Among other Illinois acts making big noise nationally were Smashing Pumpkins, Urge Overkill and Poster Children.

There’s a chance you might not have heard of some or most of the acts on this list. I’m not trying to be obscure. (If I were, I’d list Floating Men and Supreme Court and other acts even I’ve barely heard of.) It’s just that the best sustained album efforts this year arrived from well off the main stream path.

And as always, I reserve the right to change my mind. If I’d bothered to listen to En Vogue’s FUNKY DIVAS last year, it would have easily been in my Top 10. So here are this year’s picks, subject to revision:

1. Adam Schmitt, ILLITERATURE

If Paul McCartney ate some red meat once in a white, he might make music this good. And sure, the anthem ‘Flow’ might make you feel like you’re listening to ‘Lucky Man,’ what with all the synthesizer swoops and beeps. But ‘Flow’ is a great song, and I always liked ‘Lucky Man’ anyway. The brightest and most intelligent performer in pop music today, and the first performer to ever get my album of the year award with each of his first two albums.

2. Nirvana, IN UTERO

There are points where it’s easy to see what might have made record company types reluctant to release this. And there are points during which you can understand why this hadn’t sold 9 trillion copies, the way NEVERMIND did. And then there are points where it burrows into your skull and refuses to let go. I like all its points, though I’m probably the kind of guy Kurt Cobain would look at and hate for liking his music.

3. Liz Phair, EXILE IN GUYVILLE

The true Generation X album. She’s not going to make anyone think she’s Stevie Nicks, but that’s kind of the point. Phair’s probably the best new songwriter uncovered since…Adam Schmitt, maybe.

4. Barenaked Ladies, GORDON

Tuneful and funny, and more than a one-joke band. So if you’ve heard ‘Be My Yoko Ono,’ be aware these guys are more substantial but equally humorous throughout. ‘Box Set’ cuts right to the chase.

5. Joey Molland, THE PILGRIM

Where did this come from? Molland still tours as Badfinger, the ’70s Beatles-wannabes. Maybe it’s just me, but hearing a guy in his 40s rock out on a song called ‘You Make Me Sick’ is both outrageously funny and liberating. ‘No One Likes the Rain’ may be the heartbreak song of the year.

6. John Hiatt, PERFECTLY GOOD GUITAR

Has this guy ever written a bad song? There certainly aren’t any in evidence here. If only everyone could write lyrics half this intelligent. And the music has plenty of bite, too.

7. Beach Boys, 30 YEARS OF GOOD VIBRATIONS

I usually avoid putting compilations on a list like this, but this set is important for at least one reason: It made me realize I’m sick of apologizing for like this band. No apologies needed. All right, so things get a little thin when they reach the 70s (although ”It’s OK” and ”Good Timin” are unrecognized classics). There’s still enough previously unreleased stuff to make a collector salivate and a regular fan appreciate.

8. Gear Daddies, CAN’T HAVE NOTHIN’ NICE

What should have been a goofy album to mark time ends up being the swan song of the pride of Austin, Minn. Add bizarre choice of covers (including ‘Black Superman’ and ‘My Maria’), some entertaining new songs and some hilarious live stuff and you get the one Gear Daddies album you must own.

9. Goo Goo Dolls, SUPERSTAR CAR WAS

For those who missed the excitement of the Replacements the first time around, jump on the Goo Goo Dolls’ bandwagon. Paul Westerberg of the Replacements wrote lyrics to one of the songs, apparently passing the torch. Loud, obnoxious and fun.

10. Carlene Carter, LITTLE LOVE LETTERS

Carter may be the only person who can sing a heartbreak song that makes you smile. Carter’s ex-husband, Nick Lowe, only wishes he could still make records this entertaining. He did once, you know. No, really.

Not quite good enough for the Top 10: Midnight Oil’s EARTH AND SUN AND MOON; Clint Black (if he’d found more time record than nine songs and have an album that lasted over 25 minutes, he’d have made my Top 10); P.M. Dawn, THE BLISS ALBUM; Roseanne Cash, THE WHEEL; Stone Temple Pilots, PLUSH; Dada, PUZZLE; Paul Westerberg, 14 SONGS; Burns Brothers/Run C N W, IN THE TWANGY-FIRST CENTURY.

Songs of the Year:

‘Rain,’ Madonna

‘Sure Love,’ Hal Ketchum

‘Whomp! There It Is,’ (yes, I’m the idiot who likes it)

‘Hip Hop Hooray,’ Naughty By Nature

‘Flow,’ Adam Schmitt

‘Lumberjack,’ Jackyl

‘Plush,’ Stone Temple Pilots

‘Shoop,’ Salt-N-Pepa

‘Are You Gonna Go My Way,’ Lenny Kravitz

‘This Time,’ Janet Jackson

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENTS

Aerosmith, GET A GRIP: Would have made a great EP. Will these guys have any anything left by the time they switch back to Columbia?

PAUL McCARTNEY, in general: He writes his best song (‘Off The Ground’) since ”No More Lonely Nights,” then wraps it around drivel to make me actually wish for a minute that Linda was singing more. The, he puts out ANOTHER live album which means he’s released about five hours’ worth of live cuts and cover versions while releasing one mediocre album in the past few years.

Elvis Costello, THE JULIET LETTERS: Come back, Sting! You’re no longer the most pretentious weasel in pop music!

Lame cover versions of ’60s and ’70s soul songs (Hello, Michael Bolton. Please go away.)

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