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1996 top albums

May 14, 2012

Top LPs, 1996

Gosh, this list looks familiar.

Hmmm. The Beatles. Marshall Crenshaw. Robyn Hitchcock. Prince. Am I suffering from Sade Disease? Am I repeating myself?

Oh, what the heck. This was a year where I easily spent a third of my listening time digging so far into the Frank Zappa catalog that I can tell you the differences between the four versions of ”Honey Don’t You Want a Man Like Me?” (two legal, two on live tapes). So I stuck with some proven winners.

1. I’M WITH STUPID, Aimee Mann

Held up for a year thanks to record company problems, Til Tuesday’s lead singer’s second solo effort was worth the wait. Want some subtle fun? The guitar solo on ”Superball” is repeated at the end of ”It’s Not Safe.” ”That’s Just What You Are” has one of the some simple yet beautiful verse music ever written. This woman is so full of hooks, she puts them in those verses. Wow.

2. ANTHOLOGY 2, Beatles

While 1968’s THE BEATLES (aka THE WHITE ALBUM) is my favorite record, this covers 1965-67, the most amazingly creative three-year stretch ever for any pop music artists. How do you go from ”Yes It Is,” no mediocre song itself, to ”Strawberry Fields Forever” in 12 months? Good Lord, if you can’t hear how great these guys are just by listening to these two hours, what the hell are you doing looking at this list anyway?

3. FRICTION, BABY, Better Than Ezra

More dense than DELUXE, it features ”Speeding Up to Slow Down,” a song that had me crying when I saw them in concert. I like it as much as DELUXE because at a time when they could have just thrown out a dozen pop ditties, they actually wrote some SONGS.

Thanks, guys. I just wish a few more people could have been troubled to purchase it.

4. GARBAGE, Garbage

Junkie music, but I mean that in a good way. Every time I hear the record, I think of heroin. And the music scares me so much with its dark tone, it thrills me. Wonder what these guys will do now that they’re huge and they don’t care?

5. MIRACLE OF SCIENCE, Marshall Crenshaw

Six of us bought this record, right? It’s his best since his debut, right? In a better world, you’d hear ”What Do You Dream Of” as much as the Macarena. I also like ”2541,” and as my pal Tom Weber wrote, ”you can almost hear him smirk on `The In Crowd.’ ”


What sophomore slump? As unhip as it is to say this, she’s put out a better record, although the lyrics are a little weaker this time around. But the first cut, ”Maybe Angels,” and the last, ”Ordinary Day,” don’t sound like anything else around right now.

7. LEGACY, Gillian Welch

So this is why Emmylou Harris didn’t make a record this year — Gillian Welch had already done it for her. ”Tear My Stillhouse Down” should have been on Emmylou’s AT THE RYMAN.


Uncle Bobby put out a decent CD, and released some even better stuff (including better versions of songs on the CD) on a limited-edition vinyl LP, which featured alternate versions and outtakes. OK, he’s always an acquired taste, but isn’t ”She was sinister but she was happy, and you can’t say that of everybody, can you?” an intriguing line?


Needs an editor. Always has. But I’m more and more convinced that he’s his generation’s Frank Zappa — always a step or six ahead of his fans, and his work will be best appreciated as a package several years from now. In the meantime, crank up ”Damned If I Do” and see if you agree with Mrs. Cain, who thinks it’s Prince doing Elvis Costello.

10. GROWN MAN, Loudon Wainwright III

A stunningly mature record, including a duet with his daughter where he apologizes to her for never being there when she needed him, then admitting he was writing the song hoping people would be impressed with his honestly. Wow, how brutal is that? It also features ”IWIWAL,” which includes the following lines: `I wish I was a lesbian, I’d like to be a dyke, I’d hang with kd lang, Mel Gibson take a hike.’ Well, maybe mature isn’t exactly the world I was looking for …

Almost made it:


ALL THIS USELESS BEAUTY, Elvis Costello and the Attractions



TINY MUSIC, Stone Temple Pilots

Singles of the year:

”That Thing You Do!” The Wonders

”’Til I Hear it From You,” Gin Blossoms

”Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” Deep Blue Something

”Cumbersome,” Seven Mary Three

”High and Dry,” Radiohead

”I’m Only Happy When it Rains,” Garbage

”Popular,” Nada Surf

”I Love You Always Forever,” Donna Lewis

”Mouth,” Merrill Bainbridge

”Lady Picture Show,” Stone Temple Pilots


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