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Words + Guitar (+ Beats + Skronk) 

What mattered and what splattered in pop, 1997

Wednesday, Dec 31 1997
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Page 4 of 7

5) Lynyrd Skynyrd biography on VH1 "Free Bird" sounds so much more poignant after the gruesome details of the plane crash.

6) Portishead, Portishead Singer Beth Gibbons is possessed -- gorgeously, eerily -- by the ghosts of dance halls past.

7) Jonathan Fire*Eater live at the Kilowatt New York City showmen preach the gospel at a rock 'n' roll revival; the enthralled capacity crowd leaves feeling like they've been privy to something major.

8) Israeli singing sensation and swoon-worthy teen-age heartthrob Halil Elohev in Saint Clara at the Roxie Oh, to be 16 again, just for the weekend.

9) Jazz crooner Jimmy Scott live at Stern Grove Maybe it was just the afternoon sun that melted our butter.

10) Anticipation for the January release of the Donnas' American Teenage Rock 'n' Roll Machine, after tantalizing previews Teen gals plug in, get loaded, flip Mom and Dad the bird, stay out past curfew, and grab a piece of boy action. Excellent.

1997 Booby Prize "I'm very much against live music in bars" -- Chron staff writer Sam Whiting, approving the Kilowatt's decision to stop booking bands, in the execrable "What's Shakin' on 16th Street: A Guide to the Hippest Nabe in the City" (Datebook, Nov. 30-Dec. 6).

Paul Kimball's Best Music of 1997 (In no special order)

1) Shudder to Think, 50,000 BC Departing from the standard indie script on their second major label release (where you reach back to the fans who brung ya), Shudder to Think went from the art-punk weirdness of 1994's Pony Express Record to the strangest pop album of 1997.

2) Machine Head, The More Things Change The corpse of heavy metal twitches again, lunges forward, grabs you by the hair, and forces you to crank up this excellent disc from Oakland's Machine Head.

3) Pink Noise Test, Plasticized Pink Noise Test take the best of late-'80s goth-pop (the Cure, Love & Rockets) and mix it with teen-punk energy, New York cool, and bursts of squiggly electronic noise.

4) The singles from Sublime OK, the album's been on the Billboard charts for 73 weeks as of this printing, so it's pretty stupid to count it as a "best of 1997" anything. That being said, it seems like every month of the past year has seen the release of a new single from the record, each one a cheerfully intoxicating mix of tough-guy sentimentality and beachfront bluster. "What I Got," "Santeria," "Wrong Way," "Doin' Time," and "Caress Me Down" are all great examples of why some bands live forever on the FM dial, despite the brevity of their hit-making careers.

5) Old 97's, Too Far to Care Clever lyrics can murder a good rock tune. But the Old 97's manage just the right balance of cleverness and sincerity on Too Far to Care, turning thin-soled country-rock cliches into rousing sing-along anthems. Intense enthusiasm allows the sharp turns of lyrical phrase to emerge as signatures, not the ironic forgeries of novelty.

6) Built to Spill, Perfect From Now On Doug Martsch and his band, Built to Spill, show just how much can be said in the transitions between lyrical images, between musical phrases, and between parts of a song. Perfect From Now On is a collection of beautiful transitional gestures drawn in guitar, bass, and drums that confidently asserts the enduring ability of traditional rock instrumentation to communicate complex moods and thoughts. So far six songs have taken turns being my favorite on this record, and I'm still not done with it.

7) Foo Fighters, The Colour and the Shape Dumb lyrics, great hooks, huge guitars, enormous drums: The Foo Fighters valiantly strive to be the AC/DC of the '90s.

8) Reef, Glow The Rolling Stones to Oasis' Beatles, Reef lean heavily on rhythm and blues while stomping around in full Britpop swagger. The album's power comes from the impressive vocals of singer Gary Stringer, who carries his tunes like a throaty (young) Mick Jagger.

9) Moloko, "Fun for Me" A delightful slice of electronic trip-pop, this funky, punchy single buried itself in my brain from the moment I first heard it; I still haven't found a place to drop it off. One caveat: "Fun for Me" is by far the best song on Do You Like My Tight Sweater?, the album it comes from.

10) Steve Earle, El Corazon When Steve Earle sings you a story on El Corazon, you believe him. Whether he's singing as an oil worker going to his first brothel, a "colored boy" visiting a redneck town alone, or a lonely man seeking solace on the streets, Earle uses his oak-bark-rough voice and pick-heavy guitar playing to imbue his songs with a grizzled veracity. El Corazon has all the markings of a classic, including the occasional sure-to-sound-dated studio gimmickry.

Eight Things That Mattered to Martin Johnson in 1997

1) Erykah Badu and Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott Instead of working opaque sex appeal like L'il Kim, Foxy Brown, Total, SWV, and just about every other black female performer young enough to still get carded, these two took self-definition seriously; that is, they controlled the selves they were defining. That control underpins their recordings -- Badu's Baduizm and Live, and Elliott's Supa Dupa Fly -- where the singers alter the urban contemporary song form to fit their own statements, not vice versa.

2) Puff Daddy's "I'll Be Missing You" Unlike anger, grief isn't a particularly artful emotion, and unlike Biggie Smalls -- for whom the track is a eulogy -- Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs isn't a particularly artful rapper. But as the sample of the Police's "Every Breath You Take" proves, Combs is an excellent recycler. The ubiquity of this song made a stronger statement about the senselessness of black-on-black crime than any other singer, rapper, or self-appointed black spokesperson.

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