By Chris Gray
By Corey Deiterman
By Jef With One F
By Chris Gray
By Rocks Off
By Rocks Off
Meredith Brooks, Blurring the Edges: Thanks for nothing, Alanis.
Rolling Stones, Bridges to Babylon: The Glimmer Twins recast Tattoo You for the '90s -- and came up with pretty much the same old moldy routine.
Smash Mouth, Walkin' on the Sun: This featured every dorky neo-ska cliche on the planet. Plus, it was delivered with a shrill, unfun cockiness that sent anyone with sense scrambling for the old Madness imports.
Will Smith, Big Willie Style: Further proof that once you're immortalized on the multiplex screen, everything else pales in comparison. (Hobart Rowland)
Stereolab, Dots and Loops: Falling somewhere between Muzak and postmodern lo-fi pop, the unclassifiable Stereolab turned out another minor masterpiece.
Pavement, Brighten the Corners: Loose, smart indie rock with a wicked sense of humor; the band's best since the incomparable Slanted and Enchanted.
The Chemical Brothers, Dig Your Own Hole: They may not be brothers, but their relentless, gunpowder-charged grooves are so impulsive and unaffected that their origins could only be genetic.
Bjork, Homogenic: An Icelandic stew of techno, torch and Tchaikovsky from one of the most irrepressibly original talents in pop music.
Wyclef Jean, Wyclef Jean Presents the Carnival: Sheer hip-hop genius with a bold eclecticism and a rugged star power that, thankfully, had virtually nothing in common with the Puff Daddy family.
Lori Carson, Everything I Touch Runs Wild: Soft, poignant, deceptively difficult lullabies for quiet evenings at home.
The London Suede, Coming Up: Shrugging off reports of the death of Brit-pop, the London Suede turned up their noses at the departure of guitarist Bernard Butler and strutted out with a release so good that Oasis and Blur should have been vying for its leftovers.
David Bowie, Earthling: Having survived the half-century mark, the original karma chameleon played the fresh-faced kid with the spiky orange hair and Union Jack trench coat, oozing futuristic stream-of-consciousness poetry, sweeping sonic resourcefulness and pummeling drum and bass.
Gene, Drawn to the Deep End: On their second release, Smiths clones Gene turned the tables on critics by embracing the anthemic, gentle symphonics of Queen and latter-day R.E.M.
Clan of Xymox, Hidden Faces: Opting out of the dance/techno scene just as it was beginning to get interesting, Xymox let their hair down and exposed their lush, Gothic roots.
The Crystal Method, Vegas: Crystal Method paid homage to their hometown with an abrupt sensory implosion laced with vice and vengeance.
Forest for the Trees, Forest for the Trees: If hip-hop had somehow taken hold in the 1960s, and a sudden technology boom had given Brian Wilson access to a sampler and a drum machine, Pet Sounds might have sounded something like this.
Matthew Sweet, Blue Sky on Mars: Sweet's trademark love-gone-astray laments, buoyed by more hooks than Charles Barkley's golf game. (Compiled by Hobart Rowland from suggestions by Carrie Bell, Stephen Gershon, Seth Hurwitz and Hobart Rowland)
The Texas 15
The Hollisters, The Land of Rhythm and Pleasure: Houston finally has a country band to rival any in Texas; this was the most impressive homegrown debut of the year.
Delbert McClinton, One of the Fortunate Few: Delbert came back, and we found out that he's still funky after all these years.
Trish Murphy, Crooked Mile: In the Year of the Woman, this Houston-bred songstress alternated between sassy and touching with remarkable polish and grace.
Old 97's, Too Far to Care: A buff combination of pop hooks and country twang that sounded best when played very loud.
Wayne Hancock, That's What Daddy Wants: The enigmatic son of Butch went big band (sort of), and the slight change in surroundings more than suited him.
Slobberbone, Barrel Chested: Anyone still lamenting the breakup of Uncle Tupelo could have done worse than dipping into this bracing sophomore effort from one of alt-country's most misunderstood bands.
Good Medicine Band, Spirit of the Sharecroppers: Some disciples of the Band fell under the spell of a brisk dose of premillennial angst -- and of Axl Rose.
Kacy Crowley, Anchorless: This was hardly the astonishing debut many were predicting from this earnest East Coast transplant, but it was a scintillating enough approximation of her Patti Smith-meets-Joni Mitchell aura.
Jimmy LaFave, Road Novel: With hardly a glance back, LaFave keeps on churning out uniformly moving roots rock at an impressive rate, and Road Novel was no exception; it's Born to Run for ranch hands.
David Garza, The 4-Track Manifesto: All Dah-veed, all alone (almost), all pop, all great.