41. Neutral Milk Hotel, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. This bad boy just seems to get more and more popular with time. Apparently, when it was released, a lot of critics felt that singer/songwriter Jeff Mangum was dabbling in mere sophistry. But time has vindicated Mangum and his wildly inventive work. It's hard to listen now and not be amazed by the way this album incorporates everything from New Orleans funeral marches to Anne Frank references into a dazzling, cohesive whole.
And by the way, I have no idea what "dabbling in mere sophistry" actually means. I just thought those words sounded pretty good together. Especially in a music review.
40. Quasi, Featuring Birds. I'm not gonna lie to you people: I did a little research in putting my Top 50 together. Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Metacritic, etc etc. Not so much to steal other people's opinions; no, no, this was to make sure I diverged from other people's opinions as much as possible. And to make sure I didn't overlook any truly deserving artists.
I haven't seen Featuring Birds ranked on anyone else's "Best Albums" list. But I challenge you to listen to it, and then say that it doesn't belong. I challenge you, dammit! Janet Weiss and Sam Coomes may be better known for their work with Sleater-Kinney and Elliot Smith, respectively, but in my opinion this is their masterpiece. There isn't a single wasted song on here.
39. Pearl Jam, Ten. I saw Pearl Jam play in Lollapalooza right after their landmark debut album was released. I can't remember the last time I saw a crowd that hyped up, especially for a mid-afternoon performance. They just grew from there; and of course, all this was going on out in Seattle right after I'd left town for a 2-year stint back in upstate NY. Damn!
Vs. was a pretty solid follow-up to Ten, but I just lost interest and lost track of their music after that. Except for that song "Wish List": after hearing it a few times, I decided it was one my least-favorite songs of all time. But I've always respected Pearl Jam for their fight against Ticketmaster (yeah! Kiss my ass, Ticketmaster!), their political activism, and their powerful first release.
38. Spoon, Gimme Fiction. A tip of the hat has to go here to my friends Dean and Caroline, who introduced me to Spoon. Actually, I stole this CD from them while housesitting during their trip to England. But later, I felt bad about it, and returned the CD one night when they had me over for dinner and weren't looking. But I burned a copy of it, so I guess I've also stolen from Spoon. (This whole episode is like some sort of sick morality tale ...)
So here's the payback: I am including Spoon not only in my Top 50, but in my Top 40. I don't know how much they're going to make from this plug, but I'm confident it'll be more than enough to cover all the Spoon CDs I've burned over the years. "I Summon You" is one of my favorite songs of all time, and I will publicly state that Britt Daniel may be the best American songwriter of the new millenium. Anyone out there disagree? Who's better, then? Prove me wrong, people! Prove me wrong ...
37. The Police, Synchronicity. Obviously, The Police had a few good albums in their heyday. So what gives Synchronicity the edge over Ghost in the Machine? Well, I still remember when this one came out, and the huge pressure on them to follow up with another major smash on the heels of Ghost. And The Police knocked this one out of the park. Play it safe? Hell no! There was the artsy primary-color cover, the bombastic videos, and the daring inventiveness of Synchronicity I and II. Even today, when "Synchronicity II" comes on the radio, it sets itself apart from other songs with its ripping guitar and understory about the Loch Ness Monster. My one grievance: Andy Summers' guitar "solo." (Did you, uh, forget to play some notes or something, Andy? You could have totally shredded here, and instead you just dither around until the melody returns!)
Minor details, though. This one belongs, solidly, in anyone's Top 50. At #37. Nowhere else. It has to be at #37.