2) Beck, Odelay (DGC) Like Dennis Rodman, Beck received oodles of attention but little respect. Both performers' verbal and visual eccentricities threatened to overshadow the fact that they know what they're doing, and what they're doing is this: skillful, inspired, boundary-smashing work, and hard work at that.
3) Syd Straw, War and Peace (Capricorn) On "CBGB'S," when this startling singer keeps asking an old flame, "Hey -- remember me?" with so much unforgettable charm, you wonder, "How could he not?"
4) Patti Smith, Gone Again (Arista) With all the mourning widow's pique that preceded this record, I was dying to hate it. No such luck. These verdant songs, at turns pushy and sweet, argue for renaming the thing "Born Again."
5) Cibo Matto, Viva! La Woman (Warner Bros.) This jabbering Japanese foodcore (sip hop?) duo's seductively strange lyric "Let's eat carrots together" should have been the hipster pickup line of the year.
6) Team Dresch, Captain, My Captain (Chainsaw/Candy-Ass) A personal, passionate reconciliation of the punk politics of romance and the romance of punk politics.
7) Wilco, Being There (Reprise) A little bit country, a whole lot rock 'n' roll, Jeff Tweedy found his voice on this one, writing soulful, often impossibly lovely melodies with a pleasurable pop heart.
8) Fastbacks, New Mansions in Sound (Sub Pop) After all this time, why mess with imperfection?
9) In Their Own Voices: A Century of Recorded Poetry (Rhino Word Beat) Starring Walt Whitman as Donna Dresch, John Updike as Donovan, Sylvia Plath as Iggy Pop, and Leonard Cohen as himself.
10) Nirvana, From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah (DGC) Looking back, or rather, listening in, on a glorious past doesn't necessarily lead to nostalgia's debilitating defeatism. These often-staggering live performances sound too present-tense for that anyway.
And Then Some:
Best Reissue: Mekons' Edge of the World (Quarterstick) and Modern Lovers "Live" (Son of Beserkeley), tie. Depressant. Anti-depressant.
Best Radio Show: Professor Andrew Goodwin's Britpop, Saturday afternoon at 3 on KUSF. Two blissed-out hours of rhymey limeys and football, football, football!
Worst Rock Moment in American Cinema: Billy Corgan's boombox thrash playing in the mean kidnappers' basement apartment in Ron Howard's Ransom. Rock-child torturers, but you knew that.
Best Cover: Sleepy LaBeef's devastating take on "Mystery Train" at the DNA Lounge. Elvis who?
By Sarah Vowell