Words + Guitar (+ Beats + Skronk)

What mattered and what splattered in pop, 1997

4) Hermenaut No. 11/12 "The Digest of Heady Philosophy for Teens," truant from the newsstands since last year's Bruce Lee spectacular, is back with a thick issue on camp. It mines the predictable sources (Liberace, Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood, Tiny Tim) with equal parts humor and critical bile, proffers twin tributes to irony kingpins Oscar Wilde and S¿ren Kierkegaard, and blames Susan Sontag for almost everything.

5) Stay Free!'s "Marketing to Kids" issue This supersmart zine, formerly a melange of music, cultural criticism, and random bubble-bursting, is now devoted solely to the exploration of consumerism. The current issue features ad spoofs alongside writing about how toy marketers induct tiny, diapered pawns into a lifetime of brand loyalty and character fetishism.

6) Rolling Stone's "Women of Rock" 30th-anniversary issue Yes, that's women of rock, not women in rock. Gerri Hirshey's history of the XX chromosome in the male musical treehouse rocked like it needed to, but the interviews throughout the rest of the issue found a surprising number of women unwilling to expand the definition of the word "feminism" to include their own groundbreaking selves. That done, the magazine scrambled to fulfill its naked-women-on-the-cover quota before year's end; the underwear-clad "Girls of Scream 2" foldout followed shortly after.

7) Matthew Sweet, Blue Sky on Mars Cynical lyrics and starry-eyed, synth-heavy arrangements ("Where You Get Love"; "Behind the Smile") reappear on this record about love that's not of this Earth. This is pop music for the people, especially when the people are watching The X-Files in syndication, following Hale-Bopp across the sky, and obsessing about alien autopsies.

8) Cleavage TV Between Tori Spelling, Kim Fields, Cybill Shepherd, Kirstie Alley, and Kathy Najimy, prime time's women are putting the boob back in boob tube. Russ Meyer employs more subtlety, but it's somehow gratifying to see zaftig women -- particularly older ones like Alley, Shepherd, and Najimy -- flaunting their natural bounty amid sassy one-liners. Spelling, whose ill-placed silicone rises ever chinward, just looks like a train wreck in a tanning salon.

9) Helium, The Magic City The lavender-hued, unicorny lyrics and song titles ("Lullaby of the Moths"; "Lady of the Fire") of The Magic City's retro-prog-rock are thoroughly belied by singer/guitarist Mary Timony, a tree goddess in high dudgeon fucking shit up in the court of the Crimson King.

10. The Spice Girls Currently rivaling smoking as far as guilty pleasures go, with everyone protesting that they only do it socially. Can't wait for the movie.

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