Critic's Pick: Kembrew McLeod's Top Ten Albums Of 1998

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

happens.

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

alive.

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.