Who gives a Hootie?

Farewell to 1995, a year in music we'd rather forget

In the post-Nirvana world, the most popular of pop music exists contrary to Kurt Cobain: Where Cobain gave us revelations without confessions (especially on In Utero), the current crop of post-grunge rockers foist upon us imitations without hesitation. Rancid offers nothing but a pale Clash-Specials copy right down to their leather clown outfits; Green Day, whose Insomniac was a better record than Dookie and sold less to prove it, is the Who on a Buzzcocks kick; and Bush and Silverchair emasculate music until it's no less a formula than 2+2.

There's so little honesty in rock anymore, so few musicians from whom you get the sense that they need to make music. Sure, PJ Harvey does (her demons could kill Sinéad O'Connor's); Dave Grohl does (like a shotgun blast); Geraldine Fibbers frontwoman Carla Bozulich does (the ex-junkie's lament); Brian Wilson does (he might go...crazy). But what does Live have to say? Or Darius Rucker? Or Natalie Merchant? They just offer up the same trite aphorisms set to lullaby melodies: "I alone love you;" "I only wanna be with you;" songs about River Phoenix ("This star fell down on Hollywood Boulevard"). Shut the fuck up.

Top 10 of 1995, give or take
1. Foo Fighters, Foo Fighters (Capitol/Roswell). "I don't owe you anything," Dave Grohl growls during "I'll Stick Around," declaring his independence from the myth and legacy of Nirvana. There's no dismissing this album (for which the former Nirvana drummer wrote every song and played every instrument) as a glorified solo project by a drummer-turned-frontman; it's a mission statement, palpable in its emotion--from Grohl's frenzied guitar playing to the constant threat in his voice to the songs that somehow balance '70s pop-rock melody with punk-rock fury. When "Weenie Beenie" erupts, the guitar building to a climax over which Grohl's distorted voice can be heard saying "One shot, nothing," it's rock's finest moment of 1995.

2. To Bring You My Love, PJ Harvey (Island). She's a blueswoman to the core, Howling Wolf born in the fragile, pale body of a 26-year-old British woman who sings about her "Long Snake Moan." There's nothing easy about Polly Jean Harvey--not her harshly gorgeous voice, not the distorted guitars atop the string sections atop the haunting background organ, not the subject matter that finds the Devil wanting to have the Lord's baby. Unlike Rid of Me, on which every song began as a whisper then exploded into a roar, To Bring sustains one note throughout; it seethes, it growls, it drones, it mutters, but it never yells--it never exorcises its demons, suckling them instead.

3. Lost Somewhere Between The Earth and My Home, The Geraldine Fibbers (Virgin). The Fibbers' full-length debut opens with the sound of a fiddle whining in the dark as a bass guitar drones in the distance. Then, from nowhere, electric guitars and drums kick in, transforming the caress into a punch. This is an epic record, a collection of literate short stories narrated by Carla Bozulich--a former junkie whose tales of sin and salvation are undercut by a constant hopelessness--and set to a dissonantly beautiful punk-rock beat with a country hitch. Singing in a voice that's almost androgynous, Bozulich crafts tales of losers who are almost beyond redemption; they're lost, self-hating, haunted by their pasts even when they do kick their habits. "I never knew nothing 'cept hunger and fear," she sings from the "Outside of Town," waiting for the bus that will take her to heaven--or hell. "I'll never be nothing--I'm ready to go."

(Tie) 4. A.M., Wilco (Reprise); Tomorrow the Green Grass, The Jayhawks (American Recordings); Trace, Son Volt (Warner Bros.). Standing in the Sons of Hermann Hall bar hours before Wilco's May show, frontman Jeff Tweedy came up with a catchy catch-all nickname for his--and the Jayhawks', and Son Volt's--brand of music: "rural contemporary," he called it, hinting at the country and rock and roll contained within. If nothing else, 1995 was the year "roots-rock" meant something: These three bands, Dwight Yoakam (whose Gone approached country as though it were Top 40 from 1964), and Geraldine Fibbers ("grievous angels who looked down from the heavens and spit"), prove country no longer belongs to the clones Nashville keeps dropping off the assembly line.

Wilco and Son Volt are the two sides of Uncle Tupelo revealed independently of each other for the first time--Tweedy's giddy pop songs set to a hillbilly backbeat; Jay Farrar's moody scene-setting country played like he was fronting Crazy Horse. If Tweedy's music seems lightweight in spots, it is only because it is hopeful and open: "If you'll come back again, I'll still be your friend" is his idea of a breakup; and "Passenger Side" is the best ode to drunk-driving written by a guy who's been clean and sober for years. Farrar, though, leaves little room in his claustrophobic travelogue through America's black heartland; his is a desolate, wind-swept, abstract ghost town for which he provides the equally stark sound track, no matter how elaborate the instrumentation. The Jayhawks, who have since broken up, split the difference between the lush and heartbreaking ("Blue," "Two Hearts," "Nothing Left to Borrow") and dense and moody rockers ("Real Light," "Pray for Me"). Like Uncle Tupelo's Anodyne, Tomorrow plays out like a bittersweet farewell, at the very least.

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