1996 In Review:
Another year ends, sliding seamlessly, soundlessly into the new...

By John Everson


The past 12 months have seen their share of both adventurous and tepid musical endeavors, and Iíve striven to point out some of the high points along the way. Naturally, I had my personal favorites, which, despite an ever-burgeoning pile of new discs awaiting review, I returned to listen to time and again. Here is a list that spotlights those faves of 1996:

1) Counting CrowsRecovering The Satellites (DGC):
When your first album is darn near perfect, coming up with a followup is a difficult feat indeed. But late in 1996, the Crows released a second disc as engaging as their first.

2) The CureWild Mood Swings (Elektra):
For two decades The Cure have epitomized the gloomy goth rock scene. But this album concentrated on the bandís undeniably catchy, upbeat side.

3) Paula ColeThis Fire (Imago/Warner):
Working in the same soul fields as Sarah McLachlan and Tori Amos, Coleís sophomore release is melodic, moving, exciting and eclectic.

4) Cowboy Mouth Are You With Me? (MCA):
Blending country, rock, warm harmonies and self-effacing humor, Cowboy Mouthís debut was a celebration of pure, honest songcraft.

5) Hoodoo GurusBlue Cave (East West):
This Down Under act has been turning out consistently good alternative rock-pop records for a decade. Blue Cave has everything from songs about Miss Muffet (ďMind the SpiderĒ) to songs about wanting to stay in bed all day. Itís a pure fun album of driving rock.

6) Mickey HartMickey Hartís Mystery Box (Rykodisc):
The rhythm man for The Grateful Dead proves with Mystery Box that he not only knows how to make a drum talk, but he can craft some pretty catchy, danceable rock tunes, with the help of a group of female singers.

7 Leah AndreoneVeiled (RCA):
With both punky rock overtones and singer-songwriter confessional moments, this was a quirky and provocative debut from the 23-year-old Californian.

8) FastballMake Your Mama Proud (Hollywood):
Working in the Green Day tradition of simple three-chord songs with manic guitars, Fastball threw a home run with this catchy-as-all-get-out CD. Unfortunately, rock radio was busy watching Madonna have her baby and missed the score.

9) No DoubtTragic Kingdom (Trauma):
Who wouldíve guessed four years ago when this band released its debut — a loopy collection of ska-rock tunes — that they would reemerge to become the poster band for alternative pop. Tragic Kingdom perfectly marries often Madonna-esque sweet melodies to the alternative rock guitar, and throws in some south-of-the-border horns and Spanish guitar for good measure.

10) CranberriesFor The Faithful Departed (Island):
It took this one a while to take hold, but once it did...This is the deepest, most complex and best Cranberries effort yet.

11) The CardigansLife (Minty Fresh):
Nostalgic girl-pop.

12) Bel CantoMagic Box (Lava/Atlantic):
Ethereal & danceable.

13) Angelique Kidjo Fifa (Mango/Island):
African electro-pop.

14) LushLove Life (4AD/Reprise):
British ďcheekyĒ alternative rock.

15) Gin Blossoms Congratulations, Iím Sorry (A&M):
Jangly guitar singalongs.

16) Elysian FieldsBleed Your Cedar (Radioactive):
Moody, ethereal, provocative, jazzy...

17) TuscaderoThe Pink Album (Elektra):
Bubblegum fun.

18) The PosiesAmazing Disgrace (DGC):
Beatlesque rock.

19) Aimee MannIím With Stupid (DGC):
Sharp-witted pop.

20) Primitive Radio GodsRocket (Columbia):
Rock/dance with lyrical bite.

* * * Biggest Disappointments * * *

Sting, George Michael, Tori Amos, Journey and R.E.M. all returned with albums that just didnít come near the inventive level of quality that all have demonstrated in the past.