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OutKast is all about dichotomies and polyglotness. The melding of rap and rock and funk works so well because the generation loving them has grown up on MTV’s United Colors of Music, where you get Marilyn Manson, then Snoop Dogg, then R.E.M. in a world of patchwork families and rampant biracialism.
Brooklyn, New York
Acid funk guitars, Spanish trumpets, and soul synths dog-piled on a state-of-the-African-American-Nation thesis almost as weird and every bit as wonderful as Dre’s camouflage tights.
Port Austin, Michigan
For every hip-hop stomp there’s an equally profound humble mumble. For every boast that Big Boi spits, Andre 3000 offers penitence.
St. Louis, Missouri
Stankonia is funky like putting on a dirty pair of heavy, coarse jeans after afternoon sex without a shower in some humid hemisphere.
Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea is The Joy of Sex meets The Art of Loving. It is desire, in a world where guitars still signify.
I have the exact same reaction listening to PJ Harvey’s Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea as I did when I would watch TV around age seven and people would start kissing. “Oooooh, gross! Stop! Mushy!”
“Dear Aunt Polly, Thanks for the amazing new sweater. It may take me a season or two to grow into, but it promises to be an incredible wait.”
Among the charges: Too slow. Like watching paint dry. Can’t understand what the tortured Thom Yorke is saying. All true, and for these reasons, Kid A was a telling barometer of the vanishing American attention span. The people who hunkered down with it on headphones and soaked up the pit-of-the-stomach cosmic churn were astounded. Everybody else couldn’t be bothered with the shredding dissonance, the colors-bleeding-together washes. There was no big bang, no easily identified climax. And that was the point.
In a year of cruel reality checks, Kid A was the perfect letdown for white kids looking for an R.E.M. of their own.
While it didn’t make my Top 10, I’d like to take this opportunity to say that Kid A presages dystopian music with a dazed, pained disorientation which challenges an old comfortable idiom. It isn’t a particularly good album, but it presages dystopian music with a dazed, pained disorientation which challenges an old comfortable idiom.
Weehawken, New Jersey
I can’t do anything while listening to The Marshall Mathers LP. I can’t drive my car. I can’t make dinner. I can’t fold my laundry. I can’t even talk on the telephone. It makes me completely unable to function. Am I frightened? Angry? Sad? No, just fascinated. Eminem, I hate you I hate you I hate you I love you. But if I ever met you I probably wouldn’t be able to speak.
Eminem smacks you with the lyrical complexity and detailed narratives of Biggie, the hilarious is-he-kidding-or-not button-pushing of Howard Stern, the disaffected angry white boy-ness of Fight Club, and the fearless, renegade, I’ll-say-anything, kill-me-if-you-can energy of Tupac—along with a macabre imagination, an incredible ability to create new rhyme patterns, a frightening proclivity to spit venom in one moment and humor the next, and a neverending slew of jaw-drop punch lines. He’s a monster MC.
Brooklyn, New York
Once Shelby Lynne headed out of crimped-hair country-music hell, she gained direct access to that raw, wounded part of herself that is all over I Am Shelby Lynne. Some guy in Alabama is crying his eyes out because he let her get away.
Nestled between Christopher Cross and Taco on the in-store muzak in a Home Depot came Shelby Lynne’s “Your Lies,” trumpeting through like a Dusty Springfield oasis in the muck. The construction guy buying drywall was singing along by the third verse.
“But the songs don’t go anywhere,” griped a friend about Voodoo. He’s right; they don’t, and that’s the point. Taking its cue from feminine rather than masculine sexual energy—from pleasure’s ebb and flow rather than climax or consummation—it’s all bump and grind, all about getting way down inside a groove and riding it rather than trying to get anywhere. Which isn’t to say that the getting there ain’t good, just that there’s no reason to hurry when the goin’ feels fine.
After enduring an infinity of Voodoo‘s murky clit tease, I recalled the insistent advice of D’Angelo’s main man, Marvin Gaye: Come on, come on, come on, come on, come on, stop beating around the bush.
The Marvin Gaye and Al Green comparisons aren’t entirely off base, but D’Angelo’s claustrophobic rhythm and blues is as much dystopian dream world as love-unlimited orchestra, the sonic progeny of such headphone funk forebears as There’s a Riot Goin’ On, Maxinquaye, and, most of all, Prince’s weird, sexy “Adore.”
The link between one and many is U2’s obsession on every level: a band that thinks it’s an organism, from a small country that has preoccupied the world, composed of players who made their idiosyncrasies into musical definitions. By what miracle does anyone care about Edge’s cathedral chords, or Bono’s mendicant wails? At what point does U2’s striving matter only to itself? By still asking these questions, and so remaining within some embarrassingly deep mystery about music itself, U2 gets to sit on its hill delivering sermons that really do fill us up.
Brooklyn, New York
Spending the ’90s scrubbing themselves with the Brillo pad of irony, U2 successfully removed those embarrassing stains of sincerity and naive passion. Now, its job done, the irony has been ditched too. And so, finally, the band’s cleaned up enough to make a pretty good album. Believe you me, they’ll never do anything as callow as “Sunday Bloody Sunday” or that Martin Luther King song again.
Brooklyn, New York
And Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out is all emotionally squishy, impressionistic ballads that resonate on third listen as potently as anything they’ve ever howled. You knew they were romantics, but this is their first really Romantic album, divining an almost overwhelming sense of grace and peace from the simplest chord changes.
Married love reflected coolly in tunes you have to let yourself listen to or you just won’t hear them. Kinda like married love.
Santa Barbara, California
Floating like the ghost of Billie Holiday and stingin’ like fly-grrrl poet Ntozake Shange, Jill Scott conjures more wisdom and feelings about the man-woman thing than 100 Terry McMillans. All the while she’s scratching cute little Cupid behind the ears with one hand, her other hand is drifting below the belt-line equator of a satyr.
Rick de Yampert
Daytona Beach, Florida
If Jill Scott doesn’t become a hip-hop household name in the tradition of Erykah Badu, there’s no justice and there should be no peace.
Los Angeles, California
All Hands on the Bad One is not only the anti-Chocolate Starfish but the anti-Kid A. It’s a slumber party with Dorothy Parker, Joan Jett, and Gloria Steinem, at which everybody talks politics and nobody gets a makeover.
Like PJ, like Jimbaud, Sleater-Kinney are erotic politicians—champagne campaigners who stay on the road even after the election is over. Passionate and witty and lecherous and funny, they shake their fists at the Suits (incl. that “Male Model”) and the Audience and all Great Expectations and their own need for same.
If Aimee Mann were a short, pudgy, balding Jewish guy from New York, she’d be Paul Simon.
Little Rock, Arkansas
On Supreme Clientele, the crispy Condoleezza Rice burner earner spit the sticky green Rickles pickles.
Coming from a cool vamp whose whole career has been an attempt to disappear, Lovers Rock makes Sade sound like some stateless, invisible world-music icon—Caetano Veloso hiding in the wallpaper.
No songs by U2, Nick Cave, or Will Oldham were beatified during the making of Merle Haggard’s If I Could Only Fly.
Shaking it to “B.O.B.” is like mainlining caffeine, but “Ms. Jackson” wins because of those fractured beats, Andre 3000’s “Oooh” on the chorus, and the best lyric of the year.
“Stan” remains my single of the year—of the past few years—for that viral Dido melody, the smart epistolary conceit, the casually enjambed-on-it versifying, and the complex, compassionate “Leader of the Pack”-meets-The Mark David Chapman Story narrative. (Yes! Compassionate! Homophobes have hearts, too! Even for the lonely fan-boys who crush out on them! Isn’t this all terribly confusing?!)
Saugerties, New York
“B.O.B.” is the song of the year; the only everything-all-the-time-bomb that could give Beck a run in the Postmodernism Doesn’t Suck sweepstakes. Sounds: Kraftwerk via Bambaataa. Beats: Photek via Tag Team. Guitar: courtesy of Prince’s Hendrix. Chorus: like a prayer. Plus it has a cool dance that goes with it. The fact that “urban” radio couldn’t love it is a testament to the staying power of the thug, but doesn’t approach Modern Rock radio’s cowardice. “B.O.B” didn’t fit the desperate format for no reason but skin color. And that’s the most shameful thing about music this year.
Brooklyn, New York