Two end-of-the-year roundups into this job, and I'm finally starting to understand why critics put themselves through this. Nobody tours during the holidays. Sure, all your local faves will be playing their Christmas Eve and New Year's gigs at whatever haunt has been nicest to them over the past twelve months, but that's pretty well standard operating procedure -- hard to work up a good frothy news hook for that stuff.
Year-end roundups are the easy way out. We slap around a few opinions for temporary posterity and give you, the reader, your easiest target of the year. In a full-fledged article, the critic has the benefit of waffling qualifiers, partial disclaimers and adjectival softeners, so even if you disagree, there's a good chance that I've disguised the point of contention so cleverly that you can't find a solid peg on which to hang your beef. Year-end roundups, though, are simple lists, and you can swipe that red pen across the page with wicked effectiveness.
Here's some of what I thought of the musical year. Go at it.
Ten Most Beautiful Rock-and-Roll Records I Heard All Year:
Extra Width / Jon Spencer Blues Explosion / Matador -- White blues at the boiling point, drained of everything but the chewy scum on top. Points up blues's future and the ultimate irrelevance of Robert Cray, all in just under 38 minutes.
Last Splash / The Breeders / 4AD/Elektra -- Horrifyingly overexposed, unstoppably addictive, gorgeously seductive guitar pop.
Transmissions From the Satellite Heart / The Flaming Lips / Warner Brothers -- More psychodrama than your last boy/girlfriend, and almost as loud.
Thirteen Years / Alejandro Escovedo / Watermelon -- It's poor form to deify singer-songwriters, but Escovedo's stylishly raw vision is tempting.
Houdini / Melvins / Atlantic -- An underrated, overwrought masterpiece of guiltless metal indulgence.
In on the Kill Taker / Fugazi / Dischord -- The beating heart of punk rock. Fugazi do it their way, because they can, and because nobody else will.
Cure for Pain / Morphine / Rykodisk -- Sort of like Fleetwood Mac's Tusk for the 1990s: opens all sorts of previously locked musical doors that, in all likelihood, nobody will walk through.
Tramp on Your Street / Shaver / Praxis International -- This sort of honky-tonk is where rock came from, and if it wants to stop back in for a visit now and then, all the better by me.
Rid of Me / PJ Harvey / Island -- Over-hyped, over-intellectuallized, over-compared and, in a rare occurrence, worth the hoopla.
Anodyne / Uncle Tupelo / Sire/Reprise -- It's country. It's rock. It ain't been done like this before.
Ten More Really Beautiful Records That May or May Not Rock
Night Train / Bill Morrissey / Philo
Blacktronic Science / Bernie Worrell / Gramavision
History / Loudon Wainwright III / Charisma Records America
Black Sunday / Cypress Hill / Ruffhouse/Columbia
Spinning Around the Sun / Jimmie Dale Gilmore / Elektra
Reachin': A New Refutation of Time and Space / Digable Planets / Pendulum/Capitol
Cats and Dogs / Royal Trux / Drag City
Tribal Thunder / Dick Dale / Hightone
Hey Man... Smell My Finger / George Clinton / Paisley Park
Bubble and Scrape / Sebadoh / Sub Pop
1993 Catch Phrases Overdue for Retirement:
"Stone Temple Pilots"
"Post-Nirvana feeding frenzy"
Bad Things That Won't Go Away:
Anybody naked on the cover of Rolling Stone
Those sticky little silver things on CDs
Cover bands on Richmond
Bad Things That Came Back:
Most Inexplicably Popular Single:
Blind Melon's "No Rain" sounded like a Yes hairball coughed up by a bunch of uninterestingly tattooed alternahicks. Who could care?
Most Depressing Single:
The Gin Blossoms' "Hey Jealousy," from New Miserable Experience. So annoying, and so worn out of its welcome, that songwriter Doug Hopkins recently killed himself.
Best Single to Hear in a Car:
"Mary Jane's Last Dance," from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' Greatest Hits. There's a bias towards recent memory working here, not to mention a weakness for Petty's Dylan imitation, but this thing's got a hook I can't get off.
Photos I Never Want to See Again:
Eddie Vedder and Neil Young smiling at each other.
Eddie Vedder looking pensive by himself.
Eddie Vedder with his band.
Eddie Vedder with his perm.
Photo I Really Want to See:
Eddie Vedder holding a gun to his head.
Top Ten Religious Concert Experiences of 1993, in No Particular Order:
George Clinton and the P-Funk All Stars at Rockefeller's West
Dick Dale at the Fabulous Satellite Lounge
Bloodfart at Catal Huyuk
Joe "Guitar" Hughes, Houston Blues Society Tribute to Jimmy ÒT-99Ó Nelson, at Dan Electro's Guitar Bar
Charles Brown at Rockefeller's
Eighties for AIDS Benefit at Numbers
Carolyn Wonderland and the Imperial Monkeys at Antone's
The Boredoms at Emo's
Diamanda Galas at the Wortham Center
Sade at the Summit
Eight Local Recordings That Make Me Glad to Live in Houston:
Destroy Me, Lover / Pain Teens / Trance Syndicate
Window / Crazy Killed Mingus / self-produced
The Awakening / Sat-n-Smooth / Flashpoint
The Science of Communication / Happy Fingers Institute / Bayou Logical Music
The Man With the Yellow Hat / Sprawl / Rastaman Work Ethic
Road Kings / Road Kings / Bullet Records
Down and Depressed: Dangerous / Joe "Guitar" Hughes / Munich Records
Speak! / TestosterTones / self-produced
Ten Reasons to Spend a Bunch of Weekends in Austin:
All those Lubbock transplants
Al Jourgensen is moving there
Their Emo's still has music, and it's still free
And Finally, the Real-Life Rock Top Five (with apologies to Greil Marcus) -- a highly subjective litany of those little moments that defined the rock tone, circa 1993:
1. Promoter and ex-Vatican partner Chris Harkness had big plans to re-open the old Vatican on Washington Avenue, and the initial word had it that huge local draws dead horse and Crazy Killed Mingus would play the inauguration. Wasn't it funny, then, to see the overkill bill of Butthole Surfers, dead horse and Crazy Killed Mingus selling out the Tower Theatre in a show booked by T.A.B. owner and ex-Vatican booker Tom Bunch? The Vatican's sequel has yet to open. I hear it's a nasty business.
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2. Poet and curmudgeon-about-town Malcolm MacDonald served as the original host of the dearly departed Catal Huyuk's dearly departed poetry slam, and months ago, when a dispute over door money led MacDonald to free willy and strut around the club's front room pissing on anyone and anything in his trajectory, the prescient among us could sense the beginning of the end.
3. Rock and roll got old this year. And nowhere was it more evident, suprisingly enough, than in Houston's own Heights. That's where Chronicle rock critic Marty Racine's home was awarded "lawn of the month" by his neighborhood civic association late last summer. Rumor has it that now that Marty's favorite haunt, the Bon Ton Room, has closed down only to be reincarnated as the loud, nasty, alt-rock-purveying Shimmy Shack, Marty will be taking over the Chron's gardening column. Send mulching tips and azalea queries to Marty "Green Thumb" Racine c/o the Houston Chronicle, 801 Texas, Houston 77002.
4. After the eternally innocent Jonathan Richman finished playing a whisper-quiet set to a full-house crowd at Fitzgerald's, a diehard fan (and aren't we all?) tried to walk through the backstage door in order to gain an audience with the notoriously friendly singer. You didn't have to be standing particularly close to the open door to hear Richman's less-than-gracious response to his uninvited guest: "Get the fuck outta here!"
5. Entertainment One, owners of the Yucatan Liquor Stand and the property at 6400 Richmond, entered into an agreement with Rockefeller's nightclub to launch Rockefeller's West at the 6400 address, site of the ill-fated Texas Live. It wasn't long (about three months) before both parties were scrambling for a way out. Since neither party wanted to say anything bad about the other, most of the presumably juicy gossip got glossed over in the disentanglement proceedings, but word did leak that Entertainment One planned to re-christen the club "Love Street" on December 15, when Rockefeller's was promised the return of its name. Yours truly took the opportunity to predict the demise of any venue with a name that stupid, and the folks at Entertainment One -- who apparently believe everything they read -- duly backed down. As of December 16, the new venue labors under the unwieldy title of "Bayou City Theater." If I'd known it was that easy, I'd have done something about Catal Huyuk.