Love him or loathe him, Em's flat-out the best pop lyricist, most clever, most zeitgeist, out there, and the music
is sublimely accessible—
avant-garde and bubblegum, high-brow and low-brow all at once.


What Was Good About the First Half
of a Trying 2002? Plenty.
At last! For the first time this year, most of us are getting an actual four-day weekend (and some of us are even getting five). If we weren’t already planning on celebrating, this extended downtime would in itself be cause for celebration. In honor of the event, the halfwits here at the ol’ website have provided you, our reader, with a typically ill-informed look back at the last six months in music, movies and pop culture. If you buy any of the opinions expressed below, we’ve got a slightly damaged French water company for sale. Have fun, kiddies.

1. Eminem: No, he's not perfect, but he's the best we've got right now at connecting to what's left of a pop-culture vein. For once, the vox populi has spoken, and the most popular record in the U.S. also happens to be the most fun. Love him or loathe him, Em's flat-out the best pop lyricist, most clever, most zeitgeist, out there, and the music is sublimely accessible—avant-garde and bubblegum, high-brow and low-brow all at once. "My Dad's Gone Crazy," with back-up vocals by daughter Hailie, is the single scariest, yet most irresistible, nursery rhyme you'll hear this year. And to top it all off, he's ready to become a movie star in Curtis Hanson's 8 Mile this fall. It's definitely a Marshall Mathers year.

2. Return of Garage Rock: Yeah, why not? If the kids have to graduate from NSYNC and Backstreet Boys to something, wouldn't it be cool if it were a combination of Nuggets, early Stooges and Eddie & the Hot Rods, complete with mod suits and skinny ties? You betcha. The Hives' Veni, Vidi Vicious is fun, if minor. All that was missing from their steamy, cathartic 50-minute set at L.A.'s Roxy was Dee Dee Ramone yelling out, "1-2-3-4." Also, two of the year's best live shows were by neo-garage bands White Stripes at El Rey and The Strokes at the Hollywood Palace.

3. Joey Ramone: Joey's Don't Worry About Me (Sanctuary) was easily the year's most touching album, a moving paean to the redemptive powers of rock & roll from his deathbed. As for Dee Dee, I read his clear-eyed tale of survival, Lobotomy, less than a week before he died in L.A. of an overdose, which made his demise that much more disturbing

4. Comebacks: Good solid returns for veterans like Elvis Costello, David Bowie, Bryan Ferry, Elvis Costello, the Breeders, Paul Westerberg, Tom Waits, Wayne Kramer, Van Morrison, Los Lobos and Neil Young (especially the fabulous Jimmy McDonough bio, Shakey). Even if they weren't quite commercial successes, they proved you can still make relevant records well into middle age. And speaking of old-timers, The Band's Last Waltz (Rhino) and the accompanying DVD were the half-year's best reissues. Second best: the deluxe edition Velvet Underground reissue on Polydor/Universal.

5. Y T Mama Tambien: Alfonso Cuaron's steamy road movie through the languid, yet charged Mexican countryside is a true rock & roll movie filled with the kind of erotic energy absent from 99% of American movies.

6. Pink: She's got great attitude and a cool persona, and her album is yet another example of someone who can please the public and nail the art part, too. The record's chock full of singles; the latest, the arena-rock anthem "Just Like a Pill" is even better than "Get the Party Started" and that was so damn good, it was ridiculous. And “Don’t Let Me Get Me” was no slouch, either. At the Wiltern Theater last Friday (6/28), marking the end of her headlining tour (she now goes out with Lenny Kravitz), she drew a veritable Rainbow Coalition of outsider types that included gays, hipsters, punks, kids and adults of all ethnic stripes. Her set list ran the gamut from a soaring cover of 4 Non Blonde’s “What’s Up” to a medley of Janis Joplin songs and guests that included idols like Linda Perry and Slash from Guns N’ Roses. Definitely hipper right now than either Madonna or Courtney Love.

7) Paul McCartney at Staples Center: Yeah, yeah, yeah, it probably wouldn't have resonated quite so much if I weren't there with my kids, but it put a lump in my throat anyway…either a sign of creeping mortality or creepy sentimentality—you be the judge. But it will remain memorable mostly for Paul's truly genial generosity in sharing the moment with a graying baby-boomer audience (and its offspring) all too eager to connect.

8. Six-Month Soundtrack: Moby's "We Are All Made of Stars" (best video too), Nickelback's "How You Remind Me," Jimmy Eat World's "The Middle," India.Arie's "Video," Sheryl Crow's "Soak up the Sun," Patti Smith Group's “When Doves Cry," No Doubt's "Hey Baby," Linkin Park's "In the End," The X-ecutioners' "It's Going Down," The Calling's “Wherever You Will Go," Lenny Kravitz's "Dig In," Wilco's “Heavy Metal Drummer,” Andrew W.K.’s “It’s Time To Party,” Badly Drawn Boy’s “Something To Talk About,” Custom’s “Hey Mister,” The Hives' "Hate to Say I Told You So.” And let’s hear it for Kelly Osbourne's “Papa Don't Preach”—the fact it's so bad is part of its charm.

9. The Rise of the Gen Y Singer-Songwriter: Intelligent, thoughtful, dare I say, adult pop from several artists in their 20s and 30s that bodes well for establishing yet another more sophisticated, "real" tributary for the teen-pop audience spill-off. Sony has a particularly promising stable, with John Mayer heading a group that includes Pete Yorn, Howie Day and John Ondrasik. On the distaff side, you gotta admire the breakthrough of Norah Jones, as well as the next generation of pop princesses in Avril Lavigne, Vanessa Carlton and Michelle Branch, even if they're not as edgy as their spiritual forebear Alanis Morissette, whose Universal Amphitheatre concert was a rather pleasant surprise.

10. Pushing the Envelope: Doves' The Last Broadcast gives Capitol the four leading contenders for the next Pink Floyd, as the Manchester trio joins Radiohead, Coldplay and Ed Harcourt, while Interscope’s …Trail of Dead broke new ground for punk-metal. Kudos also to Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot for fleecing corporate America into paying twice for the same album. Now if only we could get the consumer to do that, the record biz would be back on its feet in no time.

Looking Forward To: The record industry’s comeback, 8 Mile, Sam Mendes' The Road to Perdition, Bruce Springsteen's The Rising, Mo Vaughn starting to hit, Lou Reed's POE-try (the album of his theatrical collaboration with Robert Wilson), Jeromy Burnitz starting to hit, the other shoe dropping, Rolling Stones live, the real Robbie Alomar to show up. Roy Trakin

1. Robby Gordon acting like a doofus after tanglin’ with Junior at Bristol.
2. Jeff Gordon gittin’ deevorced.
3. Sterling Marlin workin’ on his car during the red flag at Daytonee.
4. Kevin Harvick gittin’ busted for messin’ with Biffle and Bristol and Gibbs at Martinsville.
5. The return of Dick Trickle. —Guy W.T. Goggles


Most Seamless:
Doves, The Last Broadcast (Capitol):
The second album from the ambitious Manchester trio has a dual nature, offering thematic coherence and soaring, richly ornamented aural architecture on the one hand, and a nonstop rollout of seductive melodies and extra-base hooks on the other. There’s a breathtaking grandeur to the album’s linchpin songs, “Words,” “Satellites,” the brilliant lullaby/anthem “There Goes the Fear” and the climactic “Caught by the River.” The band juxtaposes these beauties with the burnished atmospherics of “Friday’s Dust” and the King Crimson-derived “M62 Song,” while the aptly titled “Pounding” provides a heart-pumping jolt of affirmation. This fully realized masterwork demonstrates that the art of classic album-making is alive and well in the MP3 era.

Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (Nonesuch):
The spooked narrative and claustrophobic music of Wilco’s fourth album tell us that something is broken, or about to break—a psyche, a relationship, a belief system, a heart or two. At first, the album’s roiling torment forms a barrier to conventional appreciation, but over time it leads the listener toward openings in its gnarly, rusted-out surface, revealing a bleak but breathtaking subterranean beauty. At its lacerated core are Jeff Tweedy’s fallen angel’s voice, graceful melodies and withering candor. Once you get inside, you can’t help but believe this guy, to feel what he’s feeling. Easy listening it ain’t, but music this adventurous and arresting doesn’t grow on fake plastic trees.

Best Below-the-Radar:
Jay Bennett & Edward Burch, The Palace at 4am (Part I) (Undertow):
Bennett’s first post-Wilco project is an explosion of ear candy, starting with the impossibly dense “Puzzle Heart,” in which his smoky baritone meshes with new partner Burch’s sweet tenor amid Tijuana brass and Badfinger-like dual slide guitars. At nearly 70 minutes, the LP’s as broad as it is deep—apparently, Bennett had a lot to get off his chest—but catharsis never sounded any more appealing than it does on this gloriously excessive record.

Best Soundtrack:
 I Am Sam (V2):
This project—which doubles as the first truly high-profile tackling of the Beatles songbook—amounts to a quest for a rock-era interpretive milieu. A gratifying number of these efforts bear fruit, especially the ones that hew to the original structures, from bare-bones (Sarah McLachlan's pristine “Blackbird,” Paul Westerberg’s haunted “Nowhere Man”) to filled-out (the Wallflowers' rousing “I'm Looking Through You,” The Vines’ sizzling "I'm Only Sleeping"). The record’s most stunning moment is also its most succinct: Ben Folds’ 1-minute-40-second mini-epic “Golden Slumbers.”

Most Critically Undervalued:
Sheryl Crow, C’mon, C’mon (A&M):
Guess I’ll have to find a new guilty pleasure now (BBMak? Eminem?). A few weeks ago in the Village Voice, the ultimate arbiter of what is hip below 14th St., writer Jane Dark lauded Crow’s consistency, called her the best country singer in rock and opined that C’mon, C’mon is her best yet—“almost perfect,” Dark raved. Highlights include “Steve McQueen,” an insanely clever throwback rocker whose “Whoo-hoo” payoff is quintessential Steve Miller, the ubiquitous (for good reason) “Soak Up the Sun,” a worthy inheritor of the Beach Boys’ summer-anthem legacy, and "Weather Channel," a memorable duet with Emmylou Harris.

Most Unlikely Breakthrough:
Norah Jones, Come Away With Me (Blue Note):
Wherein a 21-year-old with an ageless voice purrs her way through a pot luck of country classics and jazzy originals written by her accompanists and somehow strikes a chord with the reawakened adult audience. As with the similarly jazz-inflected John Mayer (see below), Jones’ early momentum came purely from word of mouth, with those who discovered her getting an extra perk: the validation of their own taste and discernment.

Most Vital New Music From an Old-Timer (tie):
Neil Young, Are You Passionate? (Reprise); Elvis Costello, When I Was Cruel (Island):
On his latest, Ol’ Neil returns to a familiar theme, dealing with loss—an issue obviously more urgent in one’s sixth decade than the third, and you can hear his agitation throughout this harrowing work. As he ponders mortality, Young demonstrates the viability of rock & roll as a medium of grown-up reflection as well as youthful rebellion. So does Costello, whose LP juxtaposes the energy of his early classics with a mature perspective. Key song: the opening “45,” a multileveled, metaphor-loaded three-and-a-half-minute autobiography. Other strong work from veterans: Neil Finn, One All (Nettwerk America); Tom Waits, Alice and Blood Money (Epitaph); Chris Isaak, Always Got Tonight (Reprise).

Best Value-Added Package:
Pete Yorn, musicforthemorningafter (Columbia):
One of last year’s most impressive debuts gets upgraded in a limited-edition revamp that adds a remake of current single “Strange Condition,” covers of classics from Springsteen (including a vivid “New York City Serenade”), Bowie and the Smiths, plus four video clips.

Most Essential Reissue:
Little Feat, Waiting for Columbus (Warner Bros./Rhino):
OK, so I wrote the liner notes—that doesn’t change the fact that Columbus is as compelling a live album as any to come along in the rock era, documenting one of the great players’ bands at the peak of its powers. This two-disc set adds several previously unreleased performances to further expand the pan-stylistic panorama that comprised the original 1978 double album. Lowell George & Co. belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The 2001 Album With the Biggest Impact in 2002:
John Mayer, Room for Squares (Aware/Columbia)
: This kid’s got the whole package: eloquent songs, an expressive voice, rarefied guitar chops, cover-boy looks and personality to burn. Mayer’s stardom is based on substance; in an age of ephemera, he’s a legitimate career artist. Bud Scoppa

TiVo. OK, I was a latecomer, so this is for those of you who are still holding out. Talk about your paradigm shift! Did you ever imagine a device could completely realign your approach to TV? Yeah, the digital video recorder’s much-ballyhooed ability to pause and rewind live programming is a real kick in the pants—but what are you doing watching live programming? Features like Season Pass (grab my fave shows whenever they’re on, please), searches by name and Wish List (show me a list of horror flicks airing on cable in the next few weeks. What Billy Wilder films will be on? If anyone airs Lost Horizon, just go ahead and record it) and even TiVo’s own recommendations (who knew I wanted to see a Mexican vampire movie? But I watched it, by God) will fill up your hard drive and make you feel like the networks are programming just for you. Plus, I love that little clucking sound it makes when you punch the buttons on the remote. I’m never looking back…and I’m pondering the upgrade to Series 2.

Creative Nomad. My jury-rigged 40-gigabyte version of the popular (albeit bulky) MP3 jukebox has changed everything for me. With the ability to hold thousands and thousands of tunes (four times the memory capacity of the biggest iPod), the Nomad lets me load in pretty much all the music I could possibly listen to and take it anywhere. That means I can check out band demos in the car, work out to Fatboy Slim at the gym, chill to the Ella songbooks in the mountains or even terrify my girlfriend with my complete library of obscure ’80s art-rock, just by punching a few buttons on the same machine. I can combine ripped tracks, downloads, burns from vinyl and even straight-to-digital recordings into one egalitarian database. With the playlist feature, I can create hours of randomized radio. CDs? A primitive medium!

Harman Kardon CDR 20. Yes, I just said CDs were a primitive medium. But when you need to burn ’em in a hurry (not for piracy purposes, I hope), this handsome dual deck, which connects to your stereo gear, is decidedly preferable to those capricious computer gizmos. In addition to straight dubbing at various speeds and the ability to create mixes, there’s an analog input—which means you can finally digitize your vinyl, cassettes, eight-tracks and whatever all else.

George Foreman Grill. Veggies taste like candy. Catfish is succulent beyond belief. Even tofu has character. When I first plugged mine in, I cooked some bacon down to a relatively lean, delicate consistency. Healthier bacon! Then I looked down at the little plastic tray filled with bacon grease and knew I’d be making gravy. Hey, nobody said this grill would improve your diet.
Simon Glickman

1. Charlie Daniels, “This Ain’t No Rag, It’s a Flag
2. Toby Keith, “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (the Angry American)
3. Dennis Madelone, “America, We Stand As One
4. Anonymous, “Silent Night 911 (The God Song)” (courtesy WYAY Atlanta)
5. Robert Tomarkin, “Silent Night 91101” (CreativeCom, Tulsa, OK)
—Nicole Tocantins & Jon O’Hara

Men In Black II
(Columbia Pictures):
Can it be that rare sequel that outdoes the original? Given director Barry Sonnenfeld’s track record since with bombs like The Wild Wild West and this year’s Big Trouble, it seems unlikely even returning stars Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones can recreate the magic of the first film. MIB was a sleeper box-office hit that earned more than $250 million in the U.S. after similarly opening over July 4th weekend in 1997. This time around, Smith uncovers a diabolical plot masterminded by Lara Flynn Boyle’s evil alien, who happens to disguise herself as a sexy lingerie model, and has to convince Jones, now happily retired in civilian life, to return and help him save the world from ultimate destruction. There are a whole new bunch of alien sidekicks featured on the official MIIB alien identifier, among the many features on the spiffy, futuristic website at www.sonypictures.com/movies/meninblack/, including games downloads and cast and crew “disinformation.” The Columbia Records soundtrack includes Danny Elfman’s original score along with the Will Smith single, “Black Suits Comin’ (Nod Ya Head),” also available on Smith’s new album, Born to Reign.

Like Mike (20th Century Fox): After his feature film debut in this basketball fantasy movie, you won’t have Lil’ Bow Wow to kick around anymore, mostly because 15-year-old Calvin Cambridge is dropping the Lil’ from his name. Bow Wow plays a youngster who retrieves a pair of “magical” thunderstruck sneakers that once were worn by Michael Jordan. The magic shoes turn him into a hoops superstar, challenging the likes of real-life b-ballers like Allen Iverson, Michael Finley, Steve Francis, Alonzo Mourning, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Dikembe Mutombo, Gary Payton, Jason Kidd, Tracy McGrady, Gary Payton, David Robinson, Rasheed Wallace and Chris Webber in real-life cameos. Hey, maybe the Knicks can pick him up. The film’s impressive supporting cast features comic Morris Chestnut, child star Jonathan Lipnicki, SCTV vet Eugene Levy, Crispin Glover, Anne Meara and Robert Forster. The movie was directed by John Schultz, who previously helmed the 2000 Melissa Joan Hart vehicle Drive Me Crazy and the ’95 young-rock-band comedy Bandwagon. The website at www.likemikemovie.com offers info about the movie, collector cards, downloads, official NBA video clips, various sweepstakes and a B-Ball Mixer that lets you record various game sounds over four rhythmic tracks. The hip-hoppin’ Columbia Records soundtrack features, naturally, four new tracks from Lil’ Bow Wow, along with various collaborations among Faith Evans, Da Brat, TQ, B2K and Fabolous.

The Powerpuff Girls Movie (WB): The Cartoon Network looks to take advantage of perhaps their major brand name with this animated feature on kiddie faves Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup, who must save the world before bedtime from the evil mutant monkey Momo Jojo. Voices include Tara Strong, Catherine Cavadini and E.G. Daily. The coming attractions make South Park look complex, and the competition is thick, with Lilo & Stitch, Hey Arnold! The Movie , Cimarron and Scooby-Doo all competing for the same market. The series creator, Cal Institute of the Arts grad Craig McCracken, gets to bring his original vision, which has attracted not only youngsters but fans of all ages, to the screen. The website, www.powerpuffgirlsmovie.com, offers games, artwork, a trailer, introductions to the characters, behind the scenes info, special Powermail e-cards and a place to shop for merchandise.

Harvard Man (Cowboy Pictures): This long-delayed movie from controversial director/screenwriter James Toback (Black & White, The Pick-Up Artist, Two Girls and a Guy) tells the story of a star basketball player (Adrian Grenier) at Harvard whose fast-lane lifestyle of drugs and gambling leads him into conflict with the mob and the FBI. Sarah Michelle Gellar goes the indie route as the daughter of a Mafia don who becomes romantically involved with Grenier. Shot two summers ago and originally slated to be distributed by Lion’s Gate, the film is undoubtedly on its way to video after a brief theatrical release. Also stars Joey Lauren Adams (Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, Dr. Dolittle 2, Big Daddy), b-baller Ray Allen (He Got Game), Rebecca Gayheart (supermodel, Noxzema girl and ex-galpal of director Bret Ratner whose career was put on hold after she ran over and killed a young man jaywalking across an L.A. street) and Eric Stoltz. Toback is an acquired taste, with an out-of-control ego that makes his projects at once fascinating and obnoxious. The movie is reportedly based on his own hedonistic experiences at Harvard back in the ’60s. —RT

New and massive (5/17a)
Coming-out party for a rockstat (5/17a)
He's ageless and tireless. (5/17a)
It's a metaphor. (5/17a)
Dude, that's some vertical leap. (5/17a)
The musical tapestry we know as R&B.
Predicting the next big catalog deal.
Once we all get vaccinated, how long before we can party?
How is globalization bringing far-flung territories into the musical mainstream?

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