Thursday, December 11, 2008

"I used to be with it, but then they changed what "it" was. Now, what I'm with isn't it, and what's "it" seems weird and scary to me..."

And we're back! Here's a link to our 1990-1999 playlist.

Mark's Picks

1990: Violator by Depeche Mode: I like to think that Depeche Mode listened to the Cure's "Disintegration" (Kyle's and my pick as the album of 1989), and decided, in the spirit of Crocodile Dundee's "you call that a knife?", to release a TRUE downer of an album the next year. One might argue that since grunge roared in like a runaway train in 1991, 'Violator' was the last hurrah for the synthesizer pop-rock sound that defined the 1980's. The album brought the world Personal Jesus, Enjoy The Silence, Policy Of Truth and the video where Dave Gahan walks around dressed like Graham Chapman in Monty Python And The Holy Grail.

Best song: Waiting For The Night is pretty good, but there's only one clear winner of this category. 'Policy Of Truth' is so good I've
already written a post about it.

Honourable mention for 1990: Volume Three by Traveling Wilburys

Kyle: wow...two in a row (unless, because we're talking about two different posts, there's some sort of "Gretzky's consecutive point scoring streak doesn't count because it spans two regular seasons" rule--I still find this exceptionally stupid, btw, and I don't even give a damn about hockey--I'm not aware of). Anyway, we agree here, so there's not a lot else to talk about--except to say: while this may well have been the last great synth-pop album, it pleases me that DM's influence is still being felt by the likes of Editors, The Killers (their better stuff), and Franz Ferdinand (hey, remember them?).

1991: Achtung Baby by U2: A fair number of bands have one masterpiece. Few bands have two masterpieces. Even fewer bands have two masterpieces that sound nothing like each other. This is what makes Achtung Baby stand out as one of the great albums of all time, and my personal favourite record ever. Just four years after Joshua Tree, U2 decided to pretty much ignore the formula that made them the world's biggest band and released an album that sounded completely different. And yet, it was an equally big hit. This is right up there with Babe Ruth going from pitching to hitting, folks. Or, if Meryl Streep got a sex change operation and then won a Best Actor award. Achtung Baby led to the phenomenally successful ZooTV Tour, which was probably U2's creative peak. All in all, it's probably the best album ever named after a throwaway line of dialogue from Mel Brooks' original film version of The Producers.

Best song: Objectively, it's probably One. But I've heard that song so many times over the years (including the wretched Mary J. Blige version) that it's lost a bit of its luster. Ergo, after giving appreciative nods to Mysterious Ways and Until The End Of The World, I'll take The Fly, a song that still fires me up no matter how often I hear it. If I ever become a UFC fighter, this will be my entrance music on the way to the ring. No wait, that doesn't make any sense, let me correct that sentence. WHEN I become a UFC fighter....

Honourable mention for 1991: Wow, there were some really, really great albums released in 1991. Metallica's Black Album, GNR's Use Your Illusion duo, Blur's Leisure, MJ's Dangerous, R.E.M.'s Out Of Time, Soundgarden's Badmotorfinger, the Chilis' Bloodsugarsexmagik....what an epic year. In the end, my runner-up prize goes to Pearl Jam's Ten. I actually used to look down on this album a bit, oddly enough --- my thinking was that aside from the big five classics, the rest of the songs on the disc were pretty weak. This is the same crack-headed logic that would make someone say, 'Aside from Jordan, Pippen and Rodman, the 1996-97 Bulls weren't very good.' Coming in last on the honourable mention list for the year is Nevermind, which will be #1 if Kyle and I ever do a 'worst albums of our lives' list.

Kyle: Three in a row! Quit pandering to me, Shuk, you know what a huge U2 fan I am (oh, wait...). Good observation re: the quality of music in 1991. If I may provide an SAT analogy--> music in 1991 : music in 1999 :: movies in the 1970s :: movies in the 1980s.

Anyway, your discussion of U2 having multiple masterpieces in reminiscent of Jemaine talking about relationships on Flight of the Conchords:

Jemaine: it's just that I think she might be the one.
Bret: Sally?
Jemaine: yeah.
Bret: How do you know?
Jemaine: [sighs] you just know. When it happens to you, you'll know.
Bret: said Michelle was the one.
Jemaine: yeah, she's the one.
Bret: you said Claire was the one.
Jemaine: yeah, she's another one.
Bret: so you've more than one one.
Jemaine: [shrugs] some people are lucky. I've had a few ones.
Bret: so how many ones can you have?
Jemaine: five.
Bret: how many have you had?
Jemaine: three.

Having quickly perused the rest of your list, I can see that, aside from this pick, we've got one other match...and probably won't have any (speculating here) in our final post. Ah, well. It's been a wild ride. Plus, agreeing with you is never much fun (I believe it's the same principle behind me reviewing The Big Bang Theory, but not The Shield).

Mark: There were loads of great movies in the 1980's. It's just that none of them ever showed up at the Academy Awards. And you can totally have multiple masterpieces. The Beatles had five in five years, a Boston Celtics-esque streak that will never again be matched.

1992: Fully Completely by the Tragically Hip: You literally can't go more than an hour without hearing a Hip song on Canadian rock radio, and the odds are about 35-40% that said song will be from this album. The Hip released a Thriller-esque seven (!) singles, all of which are still in heavy rotation today. 'Fifty-Mission Cap' kept the legend of Bill Barilko alive, 'Courage' outed Gord Downie as a closet Bruins fan and 'At The Hundredth Meridian' taught a generation of geography students what exactly a meridian is. I'll go ahead and say it right now --- Gord Downie, one of the five best lyricists in rock history. Check it.

Best song: 'Wheat Kings' kicks ass. End of story.

Honourable mention for 1992: Gordon, by the Barenaked Ladies. Boy, here's a band you probably didn't expect to see pop up anywhere on the list. But damned if BNL's debut still sounds pretty good and only mildly dated.
Their album cover, on the other hand, ye gods. An album cover like that would drive someone to cocaine. Oh wait....

Kyle: too soon? Re: Downie: not a chance...but Fully, Completely is a terrific album...and a nice (if extraordinarily white) choice. I'd put it just behind Day For Night and Phantom Power (with Music @ Work dead last) in the Hip catalogue.

Mark: Downie is legitimately great, I won't hear another word against him. And, dear readers, just remember that Kyle called Fully Completely 'extraordinarily white' after you're done reading his honourable mention album for 1990.

1993: Vs. by Pearl Jam: Pearl Jam had about as much of a sophomore slump as Albert Pujols did, as PJ followed up 'Ten' with a record that was arguably better from top-to-bottom. It should be noted that whereas pretty much every grunge band stubbed their toes on their second albums, Pearl Jam were one of the few who actually elevated their game. Of course, PJ weren't and aren't really a 'grunge' act, but that's another argument for another time. The crazy thing about Vs. is that it could've actually been even better; the legendary 'Better Man' and the superb b-side 'Hard To Imagine' were last-minute cuts from the tracklist. Hell, even 'Crazy Mary' was recorded during these sessions. The inclusion of those songs would've put Vs. high in the running for album of the decade.

Best song: This is another one where my tastes might change in five minutes, but as of this moment and after another listen of the album, I'm really feeling Animal right about now. Incidentally, that last sentence was also uttered by many a groupie backstage at a Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem concert in the 70's. That was a wild scene, man. Animal plowing through groupies like they were going out of style, Floyd and Janice snorting lines of coke, and Dr. Teeth just locked in his dressing room, praying to his lord and saviour Jesus Christ.

Honourable mention for 1993: Exile In Guyville by Liz Phair. Would it have killed Liz Phair to bill herself as 'The Nature Girl'? Part of me wishes that "Ten Summoner's Tales" had been a better disc, so I could've relived early 90's WCW wrestling by putting Phair against Sting. Phair would've won thanks to a run-in from Sid Vicious.

Kyle [spends 10 minutes googling "Electric Mayhem"]: wow.

Yes, but imagine how bad Vitalogy would've been without "Better Man." [Shudders] Vs. is my favorite PJ album, so I don't begrudge this selection, though I maintain that "Daughter" and "Go" are both better songs (if not necessarily sexy picks). Question: if PJ in their prime were more like The Killers in terms of temperament (meaning: having zero social conscience) and U2 in terms of embracing celebrity, what would their approximate level of fame be right now? (Or am I being way too esoteric?) I'm of the mind that they'd likely be the biggest band in the world. On an unrelated note: I'm embarrassed to admit it took me a full two minutes to figure out what you were doing with that Phair-Flair stuff. I feel like I've failed you.

Mark: Wow, stumped you on not one, but TWO references in the same paragraph. I think this means I get to be captain for our inevitable World Series Of Pop Culture team (working name: The Boom Kings). Whenever you don't get a reference, just presume it has something to do with pro wrestling. N.B. how awesome does The Wrestler look? Aronofsky directing, Marisa Tomei half-naked, Rourke with an Oscar-worthy (!) performance, and even a Springsteen song for the closing credits.

Re: your Pearl Jam query. Interesting theory. It's hard to fully create that alternate reality, however, since if PJ had indeed been all about the fame, there's no way they would've released an album like Vitalogy, so you'd have to speculate about what album they *would* have released in 1994 from some Vitalogy tracks and b-sides of the era. If they had been bigger, keep in mind, more people would've been disappointed by No Code, which might have been a bigger setback than it was for the real Pearl Jam. Basically, under your scenario, I can see that PJ being on or around the same level as the Red Hot Chili Peppers today....which, you could argue, they pretty much are at anyway in terms of approximate fame. This feels like TWOP's old 'Fametracker' section.

1994: Monster by R.E.M.: There's a lot of weird stuff on what was allegedly a return-to-rock album for R.E.M., but then again, a lot of R.E.M.'s straight-forward rock stuff in the 80's was pretty dull. It wasn't until they started getting more experimental during the late 80's that the band really kicked things into high gear. 'Monster' represents probably the ideal melding of those two sides of R.E.M.'s music. The album was also a bit of a statement from the band. In a year when alternative music was taking off, R.E.M. stepped up and reminded all of the young whippersnappers that they were alternative before alternative was mainstream. There's no truth to the rumour that Michael Stipe went to Lollapalooza* and told all the bands to get off his lawn.

* = 'Lollapalooza' is in my spell-checker? Wow, my Textbook is hip.

Best song: Not the most original choice, but 'Strange Currencies' is a pretty kick-ass tune. I was tempted to cite 'Let Me In' (i.e. the song written about Kurt Cobain's suicide) just so I could make a joke about it being better than anything Cobain wrote himself. Kyle, I'm glad you share my general antipathy-bordering-on-hatred about Nirvana. Had you put any of their music on your list, this post would've been twice as long due to a foul-mouthed rant from me that would've put Buster's bleeped rant about Lucille to shame.

Honourable mention for 1994: Day For Night by the Tragically Hip. I'm not going to go into too great detail about this one since I suspect Kyle may pick it for his 1994 record, but needless to say it's another outstanding disc from the Hip. In fact, pound for pound, it's probably their best album. It was a tough call between it and Monster for the #1 spot for the year. My final decision may have been unconsciously influenced by the fact that the 'Thugs' video really bothered me years ago. I'm not sure what my problem was; back in 1995, that video just really annoyed the hell out of me. I blame puberty. I had fur where there was no fur before!

Kyle: I probably should've put this in my response to your 1991 entry, but, let me be clear: I actually like Nirvana (and, when I was 13, loved them). If Unplugged in New York came out in a weaker year (cough1999cough), it'd be my #1 album--it's just, seventeen years later, I seem to have lost the taste for their stuff, particularly their harder material. (I'm the same way with Jack Daniels.) Case in point: when driving home from London a few weeks ago, Carrie and I caught an episode of Albums That Matter on FM96. For the uninitiated, it's a show where this guy takes an important album from the 90s, Wikipedias all the songs, then plays the album song by song, jumping in with comments along the way. Anyway...In Utero happened to be on, which made me very excited. However, after getting "Heart-Shaped Box" and "Rape Me" my ears almost started to bleed.

Oh, right, your pick. Of the two, I'd give the nod to Day For Night (fun fact: I have a friend who swears his life was transformed by seeing a stripper dance to "So Hard Done By"). Monster--backstory to "What's the Frequency Kenneth" aside--never really did it for me.

Mark: I just don't like Nirvana, period. Their current historic status is based solely on the fact that Cobain shot himself. If it had been Layne Staley who killed himself in 1994, then Alice In Chains would've been the ones venerated today. Re: your friend. Ask him what the stripper did during the 'the stripper stopped in a coughing fit' line. Did she mime coughing? Or just grab her breasts in an approximation of a chest cold?

1995: Different Class by Pulp: There's an old saying that claims the music that's popular when you're in your first year of high school will always carry a soft spot in your heart, regardless of what your future musical tastes end up being. In my case, I started attending high school during that six-month span in 1995 when Britpop was the bee's knees. MuchMusic included the likes of Oasis, Blur, Elastica, Supergrass, Dodgy, etc. regularly in its video rotation, and yet the best single of them all was 'Common People,' Pulp's legendary ode to the lower class. While my interest in all of these other Britpop acts has waned (in large part due to many of them outright sucking), I've always stayed a fan of Pulp. Jarvis Cocker has a solo album out that I've been irritatingly unable to find here in Canada, so I may have to break down and (shudder) order it on Amazon.

Best song: I guess after noting that Common People was 'legendary,' I should probably note that it was the best song on the album. I'm not a Barney Stinson, throwing around the L-word casually. As great as Common People is, however, 'Disco 2000' and 'Mis-Shapes' are almost as good.

Honourable mention for 1995: The Bends by Radiohead. It narrowly takes the prize ahead of What's The Story Morning Glory and Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness (holy crap, 1995 gives 1991 a run for its money in the 'classic releases' contest). Melon Collie might've had a shot if a full quarter of the songs weren't total garbage stuck on to fill out the double disc. Maybe I'm still bitter over a Grade 10 English class assignment where we had to analyze a song lyric and my examination of 'Cupid de Locke' got merely a B-minus. Why in the hell I picked that mediocre song is beyond me. Maybe it was a foreshadowing of my eventual adoption of John Locke as a personal hero. But, in summation, The Bends was an excellent album.

Kyle: I do like "Common People," but that's where my interest in Pulp begins and ends. With all due respect (always a tip-off that I'm going to offend you) and while acknowledging that taste in music is incredibly subjective: there's simply no fucking way Different Class is better than Morning Glory. Have you ever noticed that Jarvis Cocker looks exactly like Bryan Fuller, creator of Wonderfalls and Pushing Daisies? I have no follow-up comment--I'm genuinely curious. Carrie showed me Cocker's appearance on Da Ali G Show. Have you seen it? Funny stuff.

Mark: That's funny, my friend Brian also looks exactly like Jarvis (and, I guess, Fuller) except that Brian is Chinese. I love how uniquely British it is that a comedian as subversive as Cohen could host an old-timey variety show. This clip, btw, is amazing.

1996: Pinkerton by Weezer: I can't think of this album without thinking of meeting my friend Dan. We were up at a newspaper staff retreat up in Collingwood, and when the music (Pinkerton) was playing and the booze was flowing, Dan went on a hilariously enthusiastic running commentary throughout this entire record. I have rarely heard anyone get as fired up about anything as Dan was about listening to Pinkerton. And really, he had a right to be excited: this was a terrific album, heavily unappreciated in its own time. Not sure why the critics dumped on Pinkerton as much as they did in 1996. Given the mediocrity of Weezer's latest releases, panning Pinkerton must've seemed, in hindsight, like confidently passing up a $40-grand offer on Deal Or No Deal only to later end up meekly going home with the $200 in your case. The Weezer of the 2000's seems like literally a different band than the one that rose to glory with Pinkerton and the Blue Album. Maybe this is why I heard an FM96 DJ refer to Island In The Sun as 'a track from Weezer's first album' the other day. This forced me to stay on the station until the next interlude so I could check if the DJ had been fired on the spot for unbelievable incompetence and replaced with someone else. Island In The Sun off the debut record....for fuck's sakes.

Best song: 'The Good Life.' To use Dan's quote about the song, "It keeps stopping and starting, and just when you think it's going to wind down....IT GETS GOING AGAIN!!!!!!!!" I wish there was a way to put a repeater sign over those exclamation marks so I could fully convey Dan's excitement in print. Here's something weird...I decided to look up the video on YouTube for old time's sake, and the pizza delivery girl in the video is played by none other than Mary Lynn "Chloe from 24" Rajskub. Holy shit! I need to do a 'best starring roles in music videos from future notable actors' Listamania STAT. Alicia Silverstone may end up with the top five all to herself.

Honourable mention for 1996: Unchained (American Recordings II) by Johnny Cash. Arguably the best of Cash's American series, featuring his instantly-legendary covers of I've Been Everywhere and Soundgarden's Rusty Cage. It should be noted that this was the entry in the American series that wasn't mostly acoustic, since Cash had no less than Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers as his backing band. I wonder if this made the Heartbreakers feel doubly insignificant, as they were now a two-degrees-of-separation backing band. How did that work, anyway? What is the tipping point that makes a band decide to bill itself as 'Somebody and the Somethings' rather than just 'The Somethings'? Did it ever devolve into a hardcore dispute over naming rights, the kind of which that ruined that great Canadian rock band Rod Torfulson's Armada featuring Herman Menderchuk?

Kyle: gross incompetence at FM96, eh? Well I won't hear of it and I won't respond to it.

Match! I enjoy how, even when you're trying to compliment Weezer by way of a Deal or No Deal analogy, you're really only able to muster faint praise (40k and $200, instead of, I don't know, a million dollars and $5,000). But that's really neither here nor there. Great selection. I find it really interesting that the reviews were so poor initially, that Cuomo himself came to think the album was awful...and only came around to the fact that it was actually a near-classic in the last few years. Score one for peer pressure.

That backing band thing is a puzzler. I kind of like the idea of a Shadow School for people on-the-cusp-of-being-but-not-quite-famous: backing bands, backup dancers, extras, stunt doubles, stand-ins, token liberals on Fox News.

1997: OK Computer by Radiohead: it's freakin' OK Computer, man. Nuff said. Radiohead could release this album tomorrow and it would still sound cutting-edge. It out-Pink Floyds Pink Floyd. It was inarguably the most influential rock record of the late 1990's, with the most influential record overall being the Spice Girls' debut. I'm not joking...its success paved the way for teen-centric pop music, which begat the Backstreet Boys, which begat N*Sync, which begat Britney, which begat a whole bunch of shit that has more or less ruined the music industry. Rant over. I felt I needed to pad this section out a bit more rather than just end things after "nuff said."

Best song: Fitter Happier. Take that Kanye, Radiohead beat you to the robo-voice by over a decade!....ok, seriously, my favourite song on the album is probably Electioneering, though on a record this diverse, picking one song as definitively better than the rest is awfully hard.

Honourable mention for 1997: Pop by U2. This decade's list seemed to come down to a lot of years when it was touch-and-go between a pair of albums (Pinkerton vs. Unchained, Monster vs. Day For Night, the upcoming 1998 entry), but this one was the toughest of all. OK Computer is an obvious classic, hailed by every music critic and their mother, but Pop is one of the most underrated albums of all time. Part of this is U2's own doing, as they freely admit that they wish they had taken more time to 'finish' the songs and have openly stated their disappointment with the finished copy. But holy lord, this album is unbelievable. 'Mofo' and 'Please' deserve a spot on any list of U2's best songs. I'd go so far as to say that it's clearly U2's third-best album after Achtung Baby and Joshua Tree. Yet when it was released, the majority of critics either ignored it or panned it. As we've seen in politics, once a theme takes hold in the media, it's hard to shake loose, which is why so many seemed to buy into the myth that 'U2 put out a dance record, and they finally had their first flop.' I stand by my thesis that if Pop had been the first album released by an unknown band, it would've been hailed as a masterpiece. Yet because U2 made it, people just couldn't handle it.

Kyle: While you're certainly entitled to change your mind over the past 20 or so months, I just wanted to point out that in your "Best Albums of the 90s" post
in March 2007, you had OK Computer at #13 and Pop at #4. Concerned you were going to cruise past the TH/U2/Springsteen O/U (7.5)?

Anyway, OK Computer is undeniably great (though choosing "Fitter Happier" as the best track is somewhat inexplicable--have you ever put it on a mix CD?), but out Floyding Floyd? I gotta take issue with that. Comparisons between OK and Dark Side of the Moon are probably inevitable and not unwarranted, but I think the key difference is that the latter reveals itself to you over time, while the former, being deliberately opaque, doesn't...because it was never intended to.

Mark: 'Fitter Happier' wasn't my actual favourite song, for goodness' sake. And yeah, it's amazing how different that "best of the 90's" list would look if I wrote it up today. I just realized in looking back at it that I completely left off Violator, of all albums.

1998: Yield by Pearl Jam: PJ's 'comeback album' of sorts given the relative disappointment that many felt in the wake of No Code. Yield is actually my favourite Pearl Jam disc. It's loaded from back to front with great songs, and it's totally free of the meandering nonsense that ruined Vitalogy and weakened No Code. Well, not totally free, since there is the 'Red Dot' song in the middle of the playlist, but hell, it's only a minute long. That's about one-eighth as long as Foxymophandlemama, which will be the song playing on the elevator if I ever end up on my way to hell. Yield was, in a way, Pearl Jam's return to normalcy after all of the drama surrounding the band's crusade against Ticketmaster and refusal to do videos and all of its other mid-1990's controversies, and Yield showed that PJ could, in fact, thrive just making music, touring at their own leisure and being the first major band of the decade that didn't totally bend over to MTV's will.

Best song: Lots of well-known classics on this disc, but I'll be unique and select the heavily underrated 'No Way.' Impossibly, Pearl Jam have played it only a few times in concert. This is near-tragic; it seems like the kind of tune that would really lend itself well to a face-melting Mike McCready solo when performed live.

Honourable mention for 1998: Phantom Power by the Tragically Hip. Wow, I wouldn't even call myself a big Hip fan, and yet it's a sign of just how embedded their music is into the Canadian consciousness that they've shown up three times on my list. It was a tough call between this one and Yield for the overall 1998 title. Phantom Power was greatly aided by the presence of my favourite Hip song, and one of my favourite songs ever, 'Fireworks.'

Kyle: I'm actually not very familiar with Yield, having given up on PJ for several years in the wake of Vitalogy--to the point where I had to listen to "No Way" while compiling the playlist to verify that it's the song I thought it was (no)--so I'm not really fit to comment. It amuses me that Yield lost out on the #1 album spot on the Billboard chart to the Titantic soundtrack. Again, I demand that things like this be mentioned during Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies.

I've always been partial to "Escape is at Hand for the Travelling Band" and found "Fireworks" to be just a tad too earnest, but, agreed, PP is terrific.

Mark: Ah, poor Vitalogy. I could never tell if that was a good album with a few awful tracks on it, or an awful album with a few great tracks on it.

1999: Stop Making Sense (15th Anniversary Special Edition) by Talking Heads: Kyle and I had to discuss whether this one specifically counted as a 1999 release, given that the original Stop Making Sense film and concert album came out in 1984. But here was my case: the 1984 version featured just nine tracks from the film, and not even the 'true' live tracks; Chris Frantz's drumming was replaced by samples. (By the way, how frickin' disappointing would this album have been in 1984?! Imagine seeing SMS, getting all pumped about the great music in the film, and then buying this incomplete, doctored live disc? David Byrne must've been snorting some strong coke on the day he thought up that plan.) The 1999 version, however, was re-mastered and featured all 16 performances from the Stop Making Sense film, only the greatest concert film of all time, bar none. I've talked a lot about Talking Heads on these lists thus far [Kyle: yes], and for those of you wanting to get into the band, look no further than Stop Making Sense. I myself was only mildly aware of the band in the autumn of 2007 before hearing this record's rendition of 'Take Me To The River' on the radio. This led to tracking down the rest of the SMS cuts on YouTube, and the rest is history.

Best song: Hmmm....after some intensive thought, I'd go with Life During Wartime. Not only is the song great, but David Byrne's weird dancing is worth the price of admission alone. He dances like a man trying to escape a life-sized Pez dispenser.

Honourable mention for 1999: White Ladder by David Gray. To paraphrase Christina Aguilera's "Candyman," White Ladder is the one-stop shop to make women's panties drop. This was one of the staple make-out albums of the early 2000's. For those who forget or never heard of David Gray, imagine a better Damien Rice, or a James Blunt that you could listen to without shame.

Kyle: OK...I finally broke down and listened to the '99 version of SMS. Verdict: very good, but not (to my mind) great. (My snap judgment is that "This Must Be the Place" is the best track--love that intro.) I'll be honest, there's something about David Byrne's voice that I simply cannot stand, a fact that clearly precludes me from endorsing the band wholeheartedly. As for your assertion it's the greatest concert film ever? Having not seen the film, I'll go with: I dunno. But if you're going to make the jump from that to "greatest concert CD ever," I'd certainly put Unplugged in New York and Led Zeppelin's How The West Was Won ahead of it (to name just two).

Again from your March '07 list: The Masterplan at #14; White Ladder at #25. Also: I know you know that I like Damien Rice, but I'm not taking the bait here. All of that said, White Ladder is excellent.

Mark: What puts SMS ahead of the rest is that it's an actual concert film, not just a camera set up to record five guys sitting playing songs (i.e. Unplugged In New York). SMS's director was Jonathan Demme, for crying out loud. An Oscar winner, Jerry!

Kyle's Picks

1990: Violator by Depeche Mode:
for about the fortieth time, I will mention that I love this album so much that I named my major fourth year paper (about Leni Riefenstahl) "The Policy of Truth." I will never, ever get tired of listening to Violator.

Best song: "The Policy of Truth"--I know: shocker! Weird fact: this song isn't on their Greatest Hits album, which sense at all.

Runner up: To The Extreme by Vanilla Ice. It's basically indefensible for me to put this ahead of PE's Fear of a Black Planet (my #3), but, whatever, I enjoyed TTE more. Bonus points for it being referenced in Step-Brothers.

Mark: I also picked Violator, so I have nothing more to say about that, but.....Vanilla Ice?!?!?! Good lord. I'm speechless. And, also, somewhat pleased, since now I have a rebuttal for anything in the rest of the list. Can I redo my 1997 selection? "Mark, you put U2's Pop ahead of both Radiohead and the Verve?!" "At least I didn't pick Vanilla Ice." "Sigh...." "Lawyered." Re: the greatest hits thing. That is indeed annoying as hell. Incomplete greatest hits albums are a pet peeve. My dad has a Kenny Rogers greatest hits disc that doesn't include (get ready for this) The Gambler! Is that even allowable by law?

Kyle:'s only been 36 hours and already I'm regretting the Vanilla Ice pick. Definitely should've opened with the PE thing. My half-hearted defense is that picking a runner-up album is like picking a running mate: i.e., it's only an issue when the album of the year gets dropped in a tub or shot or something. It's the exact same principle that allowed James Monroe to pick an inveterate drunk as his #2 and Benjamin Harrison to nominate a rabid grizzly bear.

Re: the greatest hits thing. Man...I'm so pissed that I used "indefensible" in my original write-up, because now I have to frantically search for a synonym to describe the omission of "The Gambler"--"unconscionable" is the leader in the clubhouse, but it seems slightly hysterical given the context. I'm not even sure if I can name a Rogers hit aside from "The Gambler." Is the CD eleven minutes long?

Mark: So, that Vanilla Ice pick was your answer to Sarah Palin? I had to double-check that Kenny CD, and there is a logical explanation. The album is actually a greatest hits disc for Kenny Rogers & The First Edition, which was apparently Rogers' band from the mid-60's to the mid-70's before he went solo and became Mr. Gambler. The First Edition's best-known song is probably "Just Dropped In To See What Condition My Condition Is In," from the Big Lebowski soundtrack.

1991: Achtung Baby by U2: from my
Best Albums of the 90s post back in March (and omitting all my unprovoked attacks on Zooropa...I sure have come a long way in nine months, eh, Shuk?):
"I think it's a tribute to this album that I bought it (on tape!) for "Mysterious Ways," which I listened to over and over and over again (to the exclusion of all other tracks) and now I think it's probably only the fifth best song ["Ultraviolet," "Who's Going To Ride Your Wild Horses?" "One," and "Even Better Than The Real Thing"] on the album. Tremendous."
Since Shuk's list is preceding mine this time around (and I'm absolutely certain he's included this album), I'll shut up now.

Best song: tough one! Very briefly: my pick in 1991: "Mysterious Ways;" my pick in 2001: "Who's Going to Ride Your Wild Horses;" my pick now: "Ultraviolet."

Runner up: 10 by Pearl Jam, thus continuing my trend of mercilessly snubbing Nirvana in all my music posts.

Mark: Two for two in albums agreed upon! Boy, this list won't be very contentious at all (famous last words....). WGTRYWH was the song it took the longest for me to warm up to, and I still can't help but think that there's a better mix of the song somewhere in the depths of Daniel Lanois' archives. But yeah, Mysterious Ways is unbelievable and Ultraviolet would've been a hit single for any other band. Don't worry, I didn't pick Zooropa for 1993, though I obviously think it's way better than you do.

Kyle: "Ultraviolet" ended up on the (very, very good) Diving Bell and the Butterfly soundtrack, so hopefully some people born after, say, 1987 were exposed to it.

1992: Core by Stone Temple Pilots: I vividly recall buying this CD and absolutely loving it, only to be made fun of repeatedly by most of my friends, who found it to be too derivative. OK, technically what they actually said was "these guys totally fucking ripped off Pearl Jam"--still. While Purple, released two years later, is arguably a better album, Core remains an edgier, angrier, more interesting product, and, at the risk of making everyone's heads explode, I think it's the quintessential grunge album. There, I said it.

Best song: gotta by "Sex Type Thing," though the whole album holds up exceptionally well.

Runner up: Dirt by Alice in Chains. A very close #2, I'll note. (Fun fact: Dirt and Core were released on the same day.) Together, these two albums (at a combined 110 minutes) make for a bitchin' road trip mix. Now...if only I knew two cities that were roughly two hours apart...

Mark: Picking STP and Alice in Chains as the best albums of 1992 just seemed a bit too era-specific for me. For one, I was never a big Alice fan. For two, Core is one of those albums that seems to get about 2% worse every time I listen to it. I wouldn't call STP a rip-off of Pearl Jam as much as I would say they're like the Empty Nest to PJ's Golden Girls. That said, I recently included Sex Type Thing on a mix album, so clearly the Pilots had something going for them. Question: if Jason Lee's kid grows up to a dermatologist and Scott Weiland one day walks into the clinic to have a mole examined, would that make the younger Lee into Dr. Pilot Inspektor, Pilot Inspector? (This laboured pun is ignoring the fact that Weiland has little chance of surviving the decade, let alone the time it would take P.I. Lee to graduate from med school.)

Kyle: know my thoughts on punning. And Golden Girls! (Amusingly, I was drafting up my "best TV of '08" post earlier today and I was working my way through a rant about how I'd put the five best from '08 up against any year in TV history, in the process throwing down the gauntlet for anyone to prove me wrong, and, paranthetically, I wrote this:
Note to Shuk: do not come back to me with a list that contains Golden Girls.
Good times. I continue to be amazed that you find early STP to be dated, as I'm finding that both Core and Purple hold up nicely. This has a lot to do with the pounding guitar riffs (can you say "pounding guitar riffs"? Oh, well, I just did...) making 99.9% of all current bands (Nickelback et al.) sound like the total pussies that they are.

Mark: I might have to think about this some more in depth, but off the top of my head....2004? S1 of Lost, S1 of Veronica Mars, S5 of Angel, 24 in its prime, Arrested Development in its prime, Curb Your Enthusiasm in its prime....that's a pretty strong year.

1993: Doggystyle by Snoop Doggy Dogg: this one was very close, since I'm very fond of the runner-up CD here, but Doggystyle (which I'm always tempted to devalue since it was the only thing of substance Snoop ever released) ultimately prevails because it gets my vote as the "best rap CD ever released" (though there's an entry on my 2000-2008 list that should be in the discussion). The whole thing is terrific (aside from the tedious "Serial Killa" and the morally questionable inclusion of "Murder Was the Case"), but standout tracks include "Ain't No Fun," "What's My Name," "Gin and Juice," "The Shiznit," "Pump Pump," and "Doggy Dogg World." It will, always and forever, remind me of the summer.

Best song: "Pump Pump"--totally underrated...even by me, until I purchased the Above the Rim soundtrack.

Runner up: Tuesday Night Music Club by Sheryl Crow. Back in March, I wrote: "TNMC aces the "can you listen to this CD from start to finish without itching to get up and skip the track" test, as, aside from "The Na-Na Song" (vaguely annoying, but mostly just forgettable) there isn't a weak cut here. It succeeds because she's able to do so many different things so well: catchy ("All I Wanna Do," "Can't Cry Anymore"), soulful ("Leaving Las Vegas," "No One Said it Would be Easy"), and flat-out gorgeous (I adore "I Shall Believe"--guaranteed to be played at the wedding)." Somewhat improbably, we didn't play "I Shall Believe" at the wedding, but it did find its way onto the wedding soundtrack (which, incidentally, if any Copyright lawyer ever sidles up to you while you're listening to it Shuk, so far as you know was assembled by me going through official channels and paying the appropriate licensing fees to all involved artists...) we gave out as a favor.

Mark: "Yes officer, Kyle definitely called Imogen Heap. I know this because she answered the phone with the vocoder still on, thus creating an awful feedback loop." Anyway, I'm no rap expert and thus am probably not the right person to ask, but I always thought Snoop stunk. Uninteresting beats, lyrics, personality....the whole anti-package. As for Sheryl Crow, that's not a bad selection, though for me 'Leaving Las Vegas' crosses the Joplin Line between 'soulful' and 'wow, this song would be something if a good singer was performing it.' Sheryl Crow of 2008 can sing it, but Sheryl Crow of 1993 butchered it.

Kyle: It's probably because you're so racist. Moving on.

1994: Definitely Maybe by Oasis: from my Best Albums post:
"The album that started it all. Released late in August 1994, I got this four months later (unrequested) from my Uncle John for Christmas--making it one of the savviest presents in history. What's so strange about Definitely Maybe is that, if Morning Glory never happened, this would be talked about as one of the "great" albums, but it did, so it isn't. (Though NME putting it as their #1 album of all-time does sort of undermine this theory.) As it stands, this album, while a bit more raw (rawer?), edgier, and more uneven than it's more celebrated big brother, is still a gem, and, lavish NME praise aside, wildly underrated."

Best song: "Supersonic"--remind me again why this isn't in
Rock Band?

Runner up: Day for Night by The Tragically Hip. Kind of bums me out that, (more or less) fifteen years on, I hardly ever listen to the Hip. The mature thing to do would be for me to acknowledge that my musical tastes have changed. But no. They've gotten worse. Anyway...I think this is the gem of their catalogue.

Mark: I'm holding out to see what the Hip's next album brings. At this point, I'm laying the blame for World Container on Bob Rock, but the fact he's producing their new disc isn't a good sign. Definitely Maybe was a very tough cut from my list. If you ask me again in two weeks, I might put it ahead of both Day For Night and Monster....those are three excellent albums.

Kyle: I'm rapidly coming to the conclusion that music producers are like NBA head coaches: they get too much credit when things go right, and too much blame when things go wrong. Here's who I really blame: the person (Gord Downie, I assume) that decided to name the album World Container. To borrow one of your staples: good grief.

1995: (What's the Story) Morning Glory by Oasis: from that same post:
"Now, did this album eventually ruin the band? Undeniably: yes. Don't believe me? Three points: (1) To quote Noel Gallagher back in '96: "we were bigger than, dare I say it, fucking God"--thankfully, hubris has never, ever undermined a band. Oh, wait. (2) Put on Be Here Now and give it a listen. (Go on, I'll wait.) No, it's nowhere near terrible (and, given that it was released in '97, is probably worthy of honorable mention status), but it did signal the beginning of the end...and paled in comparison to Morning Glory. (3) and let's never lose sight of the fact that 18 million (yes, that's how many copies of this album were sold worldwide--truly staggering) times, say, the $2.50 they probably got for each album buys you a lot of coke.

All of that said, this album is disgustingly good (I didn't even mention "The Swamp Song," the title track, "Champagne Supernova," or the fact that the B-sides off this album were themselves spun off into one of the better forgotten gems of the decade--The Masterplan--though see here for a hilariously bad Pitchfork review), my favorite ever, and as listenable to now as it was 12 years ago. I remember every second of the first time I listened to it (in my basement the day it came out) with Misha. Soaking in every note. Hearing "Wonderwall" for the first time and saying "this is going to be a fucking humongous hit." And just being in total awe. I still feel that way."
I particularly enjoy my use of "disgustingly good."

Best song: unquestionably "Wonderwall," but at this stage, I'm guessing there's very little groundswell for it to be included on yet another mix CD, so I'll go with "Don't Look Back in Anger" because it includes my favorite line in any song ever ("...please don't your life in the hands of a rock and roll band, who'll throw it all away...")

Runner up: Everything I Long For by Hayden: wonderful record.

Mark: DLBIA is also my favourite song off the record. Clearly, the theme of the 90's picks so far seems to be total agreement, or total disagreement. But yeah, great record. Its only flaw is that some of the undercard tunes (Some Might Say, Hey Now, Cast No Shadow) all could've been 30 seconds shorter, the Swamp Songs interludes could've been cut, and then they would've had room for one or two of those great B-sides that ended up on Master Plan. And Hayden, boy, there's a name I haven't heard in a while. Nice pick.

Kyle: SMS and HN aren't, admittedly, stand-out tracks, but the treacly "Cast No Shadow" is probably the only song I wish hadn't been included on the album. Imagine if they had swapped it out for the infinitely better "Talk Tonight"? In that case, I'd probably have to make it my #1 and #2 album of the 90s. Wait, that doesn't make any sense...

1996: Pinkerton by Weezer: full disclosure: my first go-round, I neglected to include a '96 album (though I don't feel nearly as bad about this as I do about just discovering that I completely left NewsRadio of my Best TV of the 90s list--like, not even an honourable mention...atrocious), so it's easy to draw the conclusion that it was a dead year. But, no, it's just because I'm an idiot. Lots of good stuff came out in '96: STP's Tiny Music, R.E.M.'s New Adventures in Hi-Fi (which edges out Automatic for the People as my favorite R.E.M. album), Belle and Sebastian's If You're Feeling Sinister, and Beck's Odelay. Hell, even Fiona Apple was on her game in '96. Still, Pinkerton remains my favorite, partly because it was such an interesting departure from The Blue Album (which was good in its own right) and partly because it was fascinating to see Rivers Cuomo pour his heart out over 34 and a half minutes. I recall thinking that Weezer had actually broken up after their first album (because Cuomo was going--or was supposed to go; I can no longer recall what happened--to Harvard) and being stunned to discover this new album (which I'd heard nothing about) as I was wandering aimlessly through MusicWorld. Then, if memory serves, they actually did break up (technically, they were "on hiatus"). Of course, now they're back and, seemingly content churning out perfectly harmless pop tunes (I submit that their next album should absolutely be called Ephemera), so much bigger than they ever were in '96, but, for me, Pinkerton will always be their high point. I love how all the songs get in and out in three minutes or less (no lingering). I love the album cover. I love that this was originally conceived as a "space opera" (suck it, L. Ron Hubbard.) I it.

Best song: "Pink Triangle," which is somehow both heartbreaking and vaguely hilarious.

Runner up: New Adventures in Hi-Fi by R.E.M.

Mark: Damn, I totally forgot about New Adventures in Hi-Fi. That one might've eked out the Cash record as my list's 1996 runner-up. I've told you about how the situation in 'Pink Triangle' once sorta happened to me, right? (On the bright side, the situation in 'Tired Of Sex' has never happened to me.)

Kyle: I think you did, though I didn't want to force your hand by mentioning it here. On an unrelated note: Carrie informs me that "knackered," in its European form, actually means "tired of sex." Not quite sure if that was a wise inclusion. Perhaps we should move on.

1997: OK Computer by Radiohead or Urban Hymns by The Verve: by far the toughest pick of the decade for me (with 1993 being a distant second). On the one hand, Urban Hymns is one of my all-time favorite albums, a CD I listen to routinely and never find wanting, (to my mind) a perfect collection of songs; but OK Computer is OK Computer. to decide? How about this? Songs I love on Urban Hymns: "Bittersweet Symphony," "Sonnet," "The Rolling People," "The Drugs Don't Work," Space and Time," "Weeping Willow," "Lucky Man," and "This Time." Songs I love from OK Computer: "Electioneering," "Paranoid Android," "Air Bag," "Subterranean Homesick Alien," and "Exit Music." 8-5, just like the 1919 World Series (note: not true). Since that's way too superficial a method--and since I had OK at #2 and Hymns at #3 in my 90s ranking--I feel like I need to add something else, which is this: I admire the hell out OK Computer, but, for whatever reason, rarely feel the need to listen to it. Case in point: I listen to Urban Hymns every few weeks,while, according to iTunes, I haven't given OK a whirl since I bought my new laptop in September. So, while I realize this is flying in the/punching conventional wisdom in the face, I'm going with Urban Hymns.

Best song: "Weeping Willow"

Runner up: OK Computer--sorry, every music critic ever!

Mark: It's a good thing one of us picked OK Computer for 1997, lest the ghost of Lester Bangs haunt us from beyond the grave. I like the Verve and this album in general, though (like I mentioned earlier with some of Oasis' work), a lot of the tunes here probably could've benefitted from a bit of trimming. Lucky Man's running time is, approximately, four hours and 43 minutes long. BTW, does including Urban Hymns on this list mean that we have to give all proceeds to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards?

Kyle: you're start to sound like my this is his stock complaint when it comes to movies (110 minutes seems to be his magic number; incidentally, his #1 music complaint is a tie between "too twangy"--usually reserved for Blue Rodeo or Ryan Adams--and "too much rhythmic clapping"--usually directed at Feist). Anyway, two points here: (1) unlike a movie (which necessitates the dreaded and very final "walk out" if you think it's too boring, you can--and this is pretty revolutionary--always skip to the next song, and (2) in true law student fashion, as a counter-argument: how can you ever have too much of something that's awesome? Bringing it back to movies, I can't count the number of times I've turned to Carrie and said "this Godfather movie goes on forever. If only it's awesomeness were distilled to a more compact 95 minutes, so that I could spend more time doing things that were considerably less awesome."

And for the record, "Lucky Man" clocks in at 4:53, or roughly half the length of Springsteen's "Jungleland."

Mark: Well wait a minute, if I'm just skipping ahead to the next track, I can't in good conscience rate the album too highly. That'd be like stopping an NFL game at the two-minute warning and saying, "Okay, I've seen enough, good job everyone!" Then again, if this happened, Green Bay would have about four more wins right now. *sob*

1998: Mezzanine by Massive Attack:
to rehash, in the previous post, Shuk said "Even on their most atmospheric, synth-heavy tracks on the record, there's still a discernible catchy melody that can be distilled from the layers of sounds. This isn't some Massive Attack-esque nonsense that's just a mess of electronica and no actual song." My response: go fuck yourself. My slightly more grown-up follow-up response:

(1) Sorry...I had you confused with my friend that adores Radiohead.

(2) not to be too dickish, but I'm kind of hesitant to even dignify the "it's just sound" thing with a response, since it implies that, in some way, I support the notion that "ambient" or "electronica" is somehow lesser music on its face.

(3) but (and that the risk of entering "doth protest too much" territory): it's not just sound. Granted, the lyrics have a certain minimalist quality to them (note that "Angel" contains roughly four lines, which makes some of Sting's lazier stuff--as discussed in the previous post--seem Colin Meloy-like in their complexity), but, at least on this album, they're downright hypnotic. See my best song selection (as sung by Sara Jay) for a perfect example of this.

(4) As a mild concession, I feel obligated to note that I do think bands can be guilty of being--wait for it--"excessively minimalist" (for instance, try as I might--and aside from Takk, which I really dug--I can't seem to get into Sigur Ros. If you still read this, I'm sorry, Sarah!), I don't think Mezzanine can be accused of that. Some of their earlier stuff is, admittedly, a bit too laid back (cf. Protection), but Mezzanine has a much fuller, layered (and, to my mind: fascinating) sound.

Best song that isn't "Angel" (which, I think we can all agree, is the actual best track on the album--and is in the running--with "Come Pick Me Up"--for "darkest love song of all time," but has popped up in so many different places that I might as well call some attention to a lesser, but still deserving, track.): "Dissolved Girl"--which was to used to much critical acclaim (and, by that, I mean: by my brother and I) in the trailer for Drake's Fortune.

Runner up: The Masterplan by Oasis

Mark: You make good points, but honestly, I'm just not a fan of ambient music. I don't mind ambient aspects used in pop music (including, as you mentioned, Radiohead, but they certainly go overboard with the wall of synth from time to time), but overall I find it hard to listen to an entire album of electronica or trip-hop music. It makes me sound like a musical schmuck to say I'm a don't-bore-us-get-to-the-chorus kind of guy, but, well, at least I didn't pick Vanilla Ice. Lawyered. Pop quiz: what's the best song called Angel? The contenders are the songs by Massive Attack, Aerosmith, Sarah McLachlan, Eurythmics, Shaggy, and Bruce Springsteen.

Kyle: knew the first four...had to youtube the last two. I'll stick with Massive Attack, with Aerosmith and Shaggy duking it out for last.

1999: Beautiful Midnight by the Matthew Good Band: love this album! I bet you didn't know this, but famous (and occasionally exhausting) lefty blogger Matthew Good used to be a rock star. OK...that was pretty uncharitable. The truth is that I'm a huge MG fan, it's just that I wish the band hadn't broken up...and, while I've generally enjoyed his solo stuff (in particular: the truly awesome Avalanche and White Light Rock and Roll Review), his last effort (Hospital Music) was a total dud. I'm hoping the recently announced Vancouver (out in 2009) will be a return to form.

Anyway...this album is notable for being 64 minutes long and not sucking at any point. Seriously, out of the 14 cuts on the album, there isn't a single bad track. Please note: as much as I love iTunes, its existence allows me to comfortably say: this will never, ever happen again.

Best song: "I Miss New Wave"--Good's 5:04 tribute to entropy. Depressing as hell, but ever so lovely. Inexplicably, it's not on the U.S. version of the album (released by Atlantic Records), where it was jettisoned for some of the better tracks on Underdogs. Nice work, jackasses.

Runner up: With the ascension of boy bands, grunge officially dead and buried, the sudden (apparent) collapse of the Second British Invasion, and the rise of some of the better acts of the next decade (Foo Fighters, Coldplay, Eminem) still a couple of years (more or less) off, I'm going to go out on a limb and call this an especially bad year in music--easily the worst of the decade...and probably of my life. Want proof?
OK. Top five singles: (1) "Hit Me Baby One More Time," (2) "Mambo No. 5," (3) "Blue" by Eiffel 65 (do you remember them? Of course not.), (4) "No Scrubs" by TLC (which I quite like), and (5) "The Bad Touch" by the Bloodhound Gang. Yikes! The top ten album situation is nearly as bad, with FanMail being the only passable record on the list. My runner up pick is There is Nothing Left to Lose by Foo Fighters (spurred by the brilliance of the somehow-never-released-as-a-single "Aurora"). If you think that goes against my point that the bigger bands of the '00s hadn't broken through in '99, I should point out that TINLTL didn't come out until November and that "Learn to Fly" was the only track to sniff at the top ten (it peaked at #19).

Mark: Couldn't agree more about 1999. Did the year's overall crappiness impact your decision to allow me to use the re-issue of Stop Making Sense? Since if that hadn't been the pick, my bench included White Ladder, Sarah McLachlan's live album Mirrorball and....well, then it gets pretty thin. This may seem a shallow way of noting it, but I think what really cemented 1999 as a shitty year is that that was the year that the MTV Video Awards really went to hell. The show was good-to-great until 1997, good in 1998 and then just complete hog crap from then on. It's funny, I'll bet there are some kids today who probably say things like 'Yeah, the video awards were great until 2003, but then it all became too commercial, man. why can't they go back to honouring great artists like Linkin Park?" I weep for these young souls. As for Matthew Good, well, I've never actually heard the full album, but I did enjoy the singles. I'll have to check the rest out as per your educated recommendation.

Kyle: cool...I think you'll like his stuff. Agree completely re: the MTV Video Awards (another issue is that they only give out like five awards over three hours...four of which invariably go to Lil' Wayne). I thought Russell Brand made it somewhat watchable this year, though the monocle dropping/complete lack of sense of humor of anyone in attendance kind of diminished my enjoyment level.

OK...that's it for part two. Next week we'll have part three (2000-2008), featuring special guest blogger and long-time listener/first time caller: our pal Misha. Things to look forward to: will it exceed 15,000 words (we're hovering around 9k for this one)? Will Shuk include a non-rock album? Will Kyle find a way to get Ryan Adams a win? Will Misha give the nod to Guns n' Roses every single year (despite the fact that, strictly speaking, they've only released one album this decade...perhaps even resorting to honoring homemade compilations and/or, in a controversial turn that will threaten the very fabric of these team-ups, a magazine collage assembled in 2002)? To what extent will Misha excoriate Shuk and Kyle for shitting on Nirvana...and will this eventually culminate in him storming off and abandoning the project? And will there be one single match among the 24 selected albums? Stay tuned.

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