By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Rolling Stones, No Security, Virgin (18 points)
Keith Richards is a charming man. And since the '80s, he's continuously repeated his commitment to taking rock and roll into old age. It's almost enough to convince the world that the Rolling Stones still matter. They don't, and it has nothing to do with age or changing tastes or any other cheap shot tossed their way. The Glimmer Twins are simply not trying anymore. Listen to this live album, and you'll hear a band playing the old hits as well as anyone could hope; it's as satisfying as any Beach Boys nostalgia concert or some Glenn Miller tribute orchestra. Listen to Mick Jagger sing and hear a man whose vocal chops have only grown richer with time. The problem is not the performance; it's that the band has ceased to be a creative force. And they can blame only themselves--not their producers, their sidemen, their fans, their critics. Jagger and Richards were once inspired by the blues, literature, and sexual tension. They once wrote some of the most important music in rock. Now their primary interest is economics. Every three or four years, they gather in some island paradise for a few days of songwriting before entering a studio to rush out an album in time for a lucrative world tour, all the while hoping their fans won't be able to tell the difference. As if that were difficult--even the title of No Security lies; it's all about security. The band's, not the listener's.
Marilyn Manson, Mechanical Animals, Interscope (18 points)
On which Marilyn Manson managed to woo people by simply not being awful. Tossing aside the horror-show makeup and the goth-metal badness, he mutated into yet another '70s-humping nightmare: Forget Alice Cooper--meet David Bowie with breasts! Manson was better off as the grotesque ghoulie whose only real musical ambition was to filter "Sweet Dreams" through The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black. He always seemed to know his strengths: He's a great ad-man, an awesome PR flak, and he's mastered the power of shock and the importance of good packaging. He once managed to be interesting simply as a status-quo foil, an anti-indie weirdo, and a hard goose to the Christian Right. But somewhere along the line, he got the idea that he is a musician. Can you imagine? Say this about him: He's still got the PR routine down cold, convincing many a listener that his purported musical transformation (read: glam-rock/Bauhaus rehash) was actually good. Marilyn Manson may be a lot of things, but "interesting songwriter" is not chief among them. Thankfully, by year's end, he was back to trashing hotel rooms and being sued by journalists for assault. So maybe there's still hope.
Korn, Follow The Leader, Immortal/Epic
The success of Korn is a compelling argument against child abuse, but it's not like we need another one. The worst cliches of four-chord metal and lame-white-guy rap rolled up into one bludgeoning, bellowing package, Follow The Leader is essentially the same wretched song 14 times in a row (counting the painfully straight-faced "hidden" cover of Cheech & Chong's "Earache My Eye"), though we can count our blessings that only two of them involve human-beat-boxing. Ice Cube and one of the Pharcyde make guest appearances, because getting a rapper who'd made a good record in the last four years would have been a lot tougher. Korn's selling point is supposedly that Jonathan Davis articulates the rage of tormented youth, but there is more to rage than screaming "fuck" every five seconds. Articulating it usually involves directing it at something or other, and resorting to the language of reflexive misogyny (cf. basically all of "Cameltosis") suggests that what's actually up in your head isn't being articulated at all. And, uh, sense of humor? Oh, yeah--that's when you scream "faggot" every five seconds instead, right? Loathsome.
Madonna, Ray of Light, Maverick (16 points)
She "traded fame for love" when she should have swapped producers and found someone who understood "electronica" instead of merely aped its OK-computer conventions. Just when she thinks she's caught up to the future, Madonna becomes irrelevant, passe...no, mundane; laughable, too, around the time she's proclaiming herself your "Candy Perfume Girl" (how, like, True Blue). The disco queen of the 1980s stepped out on the dance floor in 1998 and looked more like Seinfeld's Elaine doing the spastic herky-jerk; nothing like trend-hopping to render the "revolutionary" inconsequential. Methinks the platinum lady doth spend too much time painting Hindu tats on her fingers than writing songs (half-completed notions do not count), which no doubt explains the Enya moves (sans grooves) that render Ray of Light moot--it's all so new-age and self-pitying before you ever get to the meat. And in case you missed her performance at the MTV Music Video Awards, the lady can't even sing these days. Elvis Costello was too kind during an interview with the Dallas Observer in which he compared her left-the-keys-in-the-car rendition of "Ray of Light" to Cameron Diaz' karaoke outing in My Best Friend's Wedding. When did Madonna become such a caricature, such a joke? Seriously? That long ago?