By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
The process is nothing if not scientific: At the end of every year, we contact each contributor to our music section and ask him/her to submit a roster of the 10 most overrated, mediocre, or generally offensive records released that annum. In order. These individual tallies are then painstakingly transcribed onto a master list, which gives each record a point value based on the amount of hatred it has inspired. Ties are broken using the editor's own prejudices. The mathematically correct super-list is chopped down to 10 finalists and re-submitted to the panel for final comment. The 1998 results follow.
The Canadian teen-queen's free ride continued on her second album, as a supplicant rock press dutifully repeated the hype that Jagged Little Pill sold more albums than any other female solo debut in history. Or something. Meanwhile, Morissette traded the tawdry movie-theater blowjobs for tales of finding God (or rather "The Goddess") while on vacation in India. How many critics pointed out that this was a lame move back when George Harrison did it? Not enough. They actually bought it when, on "Thank U," Alanis sang: "Thank you India/Thank you clarity." Enlightenment obviously makes one spell like Prince, but if it produced a dollop of clarity anywhere on this disc, it passed this listener by. Ultimately, though, the most unholy thing about this album is the music. Imagine bombastic pop-metal Poison clones playing Led Zep's "Kashmir" and interspersing it with schmaltzy, syrupy MOR ballads. Her defenders maintain that aging industry hack Glenn Ballard is Ruth Gordon to Alanis' Mia Farrow in Rosemary's Baby, but I think they're both Carrie's mom, and I'd like to see them meet a similar end.
Barenaked Ladies, Stunt, Reprise
Rarely does one encounter such a refined ability to annoy the living fuck out of people. Having previously built an undistinguished career by writing slight paeans to the likes of Yoko Ono and Brian Wilson, this collection of Canadian swine somehow turned a song called "One Week" into an inexplicable smash. No point in detailing the song's charms here; if you have a pulse and a radio, you've doubtless heard them for yourself. Nor is an active imagination required to envision the tuneless smarm that comprises the rest of Stunt. It's often said that to be mediocre is a far greater crime than to be actively bad. Consider "One Week" and every radio station that insisted on butchering it to be compelling evidence to the contrary. Uncommonly terrible, and not even funny.
Liz Phair, Whitechocolatespaceegg, Matador (25 points)
If Whip-Smart, Liz Phair's mediocre follow-up to her excellent debut Exile in Guyville, didn't totally out the singer-guitarist as a one-album wonder, then the long-awaited Whitechocolatespaceegg is the clincher. No longer bitter, depressed, or angry, Phair simply has little left to say. And she's not a particularly good faker, either: She casually sings a desperate line like "Love is nothing, nothing, nothing" (in "Love is Nothing"--duh) as if she were calling out lottery numbers. Such one-dimensional "emotion" becomes a serious detriment through the course of an entire album. On "Fantasize," she sings in an atonal drone, which makes the particularly bland backing (courtesy of R.E.M.'s Peter Buck, Mike Mills, and Bill Berry) even blander, and her irony-laced put downs ("Big Tall Man" and "Johnny Feelgood") don't possess nearly enough bile to make them effective. Even such kiss-offs as "Shitloads of Money" and "Go on Ahead" sound tepid, especially when compared to Exile's fist-raising "Fuck and Run." Given all that, it's no wonder that Phair fit right in on this year's Lilith Fair line-up; kinder and gentler, Phair's new attitude has garnered her little more than exile to Girlville.
Hole, Celebrity Skin, DGC (21 points)
Courtney Love's Hollywood peacock shtick would be fine--funny, even--if she could still produce some arresting rock. Apparently she no longer can--Pretty on the Inside and Live Through This were both great, but Hole has been overhyped ever since. Hole's much-lauded Lollapalooza performance in 1995 was a bloated, plastic snorefest, and Celebrity Skin is quite simply the worst big record of the year, a shameless waste of money that even knocks that awful Scott Weiland debacle out of the running. It is a glossy, stumbling, star-struck, numbingly overproduced ball of Fleetwood Glam confusion. Billy Corgan, whose limp Adore didn't win him any points either, would have been better off disowning this stinker entirely. Torn between the idea of singing on-key or in her guttural, off-key growl, Love sadly aims for something in-between--sort of an irritating bray. She sounds dimensionless, pretentious, and self-inflated, like she's lost touch with the real world entirely. The lyrics sometimes manage to stumble into meaning, but the music is just a hookless disaster: Neither punk nor pop nor rock, but wanting desperately to be all three. (You'd love to think that the record's arena-rock flourishes are tongue-in-cheek. They're probably not.) Flat, flabby, entirely joyless, this overinflated boat sinks long before it gets to "Malibu."
Creeper Lagoon, I Become Small and Go, NickelBag (20 points)
Dust Brother John King produced three songs on Creeper Lagoon's debut and, along with co-Duster Mike Simpson, released the album on their NickelBag Records imprint. The Brothers may have brought out the Beastie Boys' best on Paul's Boutique and helped Beck become a funk soul brutha with Odelay, but this much is certain: They have yet to learn how to polish a turd. The only way I Become Small and Go could bore more is if Creeper Lagoon used a drill during the recording sessions, and--judging by the liner notes--that's about the only thing it didn't: Magnetic tape loops, an AM radio, belt buckles, Bic lighters, and an oxygen oscillator all get shout-outs in the CD booklet. But even all the (literal) bells and whistles can't hide the fact that I Become Small and Go is a sub-par Toad the Wet Sprocket album, soggy pop-rock soaked in Beck's new pollution. The melodies disappear faster than found money, and so does the point. If there ever was one.