This year we've asked some of our favorite writers and editors to tell us what albums
stood out in '98. Today, SonicNet's Kembrew McLeod supplies his top 10.
1. Beastie Boys, Hello Nasty (Grand Royal): Here it is ... BAM! Another
poke in the eyes from the Larry, Moe and Curly of pop music. On their fifth long-player,
these merry pranksters effortlessly weave together another couple of hundred cultural
references without coming off studied or museumified.
2. Lauryn Hill, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (Columbia): What does it
say about an artist when she sends one of her best songs off to hidden bonus
track-land? Perhaps nothing, especially because Miseducation is chock-full of
memorable near-classic songs that fuse Curtis Mayfield/Stevie Wonder smooth '70s soul
with a hip-hop vibe.
3. Rialto, Rialto (Sire): These British unknowns serve up a lush, beautiful
package of melodic mope-rock masterpieces. Mixing pure pop instrumentation with
depressing-as-hell lyrics, Rialto do the best job of mining The Smiths' aesthetic terrain
without sounding anything like them.
4. Busta Rhymes, Extinction Level Event (Elektra): Spewing wit, wisdom
and weirdness, Busta rewires his listeners' synapses with volleys of funky-fresh blips,
bleeps and battering-ram rhymes. This stands as Busta's best album, though he still has
yet to serve up a single as over-the-top and catchy as "Woo-hah!!"
5. The Mavericks, Trampoline (MCA): What happens when a country
band from Miami led by a Cuban-American songwriter records an album of horn- and
string-embellished originals that sound like covers of long-forgotten classics? The music
falls through the genre cracks on the sidewalk and the album tanks -- that's what
6. Jonathan Richman, I'm So Confused (Vapor): Thoroughly sad and
uncomfortably honest, I'm So Confused serves as a 1990s update of Marvin
Gaye's post-divorce, cringe-fest Here, My Dear.
7. Emmylou Harris, Spyboy (Eminent Records): With a guitar, three
bandmates and her own bad self, this silvery-haired siren reworks her catalog, from the
career-defining "Love Hurts," up through her adventurous work on 1995's Wrecking
Ball, and beyond.
8. Billy Bragg and Wilco, Mermaid Avenue (Elektra): Billy Bragg and his
American buddies Wilco aren't content to treat Woody Guthrie's long-lost lyrics as
museum pieces. Sure, these guys gallop down the trad-folk-country-rock alleyway, but
unlike others mining this genre, they haven't forgotten how to make the music sound
9. Ani DiFranco, Little Plastic Castle (Righteous Babe): Those who still
think of Ani DiFranco as a humorless, woman-with-guitar icon need to drop their
preconceptions. Little Plastic Castle is her most varied and best album to date.
10. Rancid, Life Won't Wait (Epitaph): This motley crew of mohawked
bubble-ska-punkers are the best group of cartoon characters to pick up instruments
since the Jackson Five. Without forgetting the almighty hook, Rancid juggle their way
through a three-ring circus that includes ska, punk and even power-balladry.