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1999: The Year in Music

by Tim McMahan


nsync2.jpg (6563 bytes) We can only hope that the current state of popular music in no way reflects what's to come in the so-called "new millennium." The 1900s were ushered out of our collective psyches under the rattle and hum of the worst possible soundtrack for the end of anything, let alone the '90s.

If this year is remembered from a popular music standpoint, it will be for the rise of perhaps the two most vacant and uninteresting musical trends in recent memory: boy groups and Goon Rock.

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It was impossible to ignore the rise of "boy groups," such as Backstreet Boys, 98 Degrees, 'N Sync (and the female equivalent -- this year's Debbie Gibson/Tiffany known as Britney Spears). Back in the heyday of New Kids on the Block, children (mostly young women) "ooohed" and "aaaahed" over those five post-pubescent, lip-synching wunderkids whose faces adorned such rough-hewed music publications as Tiger Beat and 16. Adults certainly didn't take Menudo or the New Kids seriously. They smiled at the popularity of say, Vanilla Ice, and laughed warmly during the annual Christmas parties when little Jason or Caitlin would be dragged out to the living room in their footie pajamas to imitate the dance steps of their favorite Saturday morning cartoon boy groups. Soon, New Kids quietly disappeared into the "where are the now" category.

Things certainly have changed. Look at the year in review issue of Rolling Stone, regarded as one of the premium rock music journals of our day, and you'll see large, full-page photos of Backstreet Boys lauded as one of the best groups of '99. Throughout the year respected music publications have featured chin-rubbing analyses of the lyrical content of the latest 'N Sync opus, along with embarrassing, sacrilegious comparisons of acts like 98 Degrees and Britney to the great musical artists of the '50s. MTV, once (and very briefly) a bellwether for important pop musical trends, quickly found itself with its pants down, fondly stroking off the 'N Sync boys during "serious interviews" in the TRL studios. It is painful to watch a once-respected rock journalist like Kurt Loder seriously interview five dancing puppets who haven't written a single note of music, who in a time well-past would have been laughed off as the limp-syncing aerobic instructors that they are. A breathless following -- not only of children but also mini-van-driving adults -- has given boy groups credibility that before would have been reserved only for serious musicians.

Put simply, those sexy, soon-to-flameout boy groups ruled in '99, but they weren't alone.

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Rising from the ghettos of suburban Los Angeles and the posh, baggy-Gap-adorned mini-malls across the U.S. rose the dumbest of dumbed-down heavy-metal rawk. Call it "Goon Rock" for a lack of a better term. The playas: Limp Bizkit, Kid Rock, the Kottonmouth Kings (note the bizarre use of the letter K in all these band names?) Insane Clown Posse and Eminem. The music: poorly played and conceptualized white-boy rap, where the constituents brag about being playas and "keeping it real" with such mundane lyrics as "I did it for the nookie/And you can take this cookie/And stick it up your Yeah." Limp Bizkit is the fully realized commercialization of white-boy pseudo-urban music taken to new levels of oafishness. And the kids loved it.

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It wasn't all shit in '99. There were a number of highlights, few of which were heard on your radio. Among the best CDs of the year:

  1. Those Bastard Souls -- Debt & Departure
  2. Nine Inch Nails -- The Fragile
  3. Guster -- Lost and Gone Forever
  4. Burning Airlines -- Mission Control
  5. The Faint -- Blank Wave Arcade
  6. Pet Shop Boys -- Nightlife
  7. Pavement -- Terror Twilight
  8. Shannon Wright -- Flight Safety
  9. Built to Spill -- Keep It Like a Secret
  10. Reset -- My Still Life
  11. Folk Implosion -- One Part Lullaby
  12. Beck -- Midnight Vultures

In addition to Reset and The Faint, other notable releases by local bands included Simon Joyner's The Lousy Dance, (given a four-out-of-five rating in the latest issue of Alternative Press); Bright Eyes' Every Day and Every Night EP (which, along with The Faint, continues to climb the CMJ charts), and Ravine's soundtrack to the movie Killing Diva.

Saddle Creek Records' bands continue to be the shining hope for relevance of the Omaha music scene. If 2000 sees any breakthroughs locally, it'll come from Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes), who will release a full-length CD this year that will push him to the next level of national exposure and acceptance. But before we get into predictions for 2000, let's take a look at how I did last year. In my '98 year-in-review column in The Reader, I predicted: the death of swing (hit!), a loud-then-soft reaction to a new Nine Inch Nails CD (hit again!), the rise of Oi! music (miss!), the continued rise in Internet music promotion (no duh!), another major Omaha signing a la Mulberry Lane (miss!), the opening of a new Omaha showcase lounge and the closing of a beloved one (The Music Box, although its yet to actually open its doors; the closing of the Stork Club, though I thought The Cog Factory would be the victim). Four for six, not too bad…

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Here's some predictions for 2000:

 

The Return of Grunge. Perhaps as a reaction to the boy group and Goon Rock phenomena, a more elegant -- and intelligent -- grunge-style music will rise from the ashes. Call it the evolution of Emo, but it'll have the same angst-ridden intensity as its forbears. nirvana.gif (18385 bytes)

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Chicago-style house music also will be back. Electronica and techno music followers will begin to tire of the static content of their genre and begin dancing to the thump-thump-thump, pseudo-disco beat that launched the first wave of raves in the late '80s.

Watch for great new albums by Yo La Tengo, Modest Mouse, Red House Painters, Morrissey, The Cure and Chavez. Don't be surprised if there's a Soundgarden reunion in 2000.
The violence suggested at the embarrassing, failed Woodstock festival will be rekindled somewhere during next summer's round of festivals. Could the Family Values Tour become a bonfire?
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Marilyn Manson will release a dark, violent, hate-filled opus that will finally give parents a real reason to hate him. This time he goes too far, and the few fans he kept after the abysmal "Mechanical Animals" will finally see him for the novelty act that he's become.

 

Non-touring Omaha original bands, such as Twitch, Five Story Fall, Silicon Bomb, The Get, Oil and Jank 1000, will continue to garner a loyal following, waiting for some sort of miracle to get them to the next level. It'll never happen. Watch half of these bands break up in 2000.

 

The free-form radio format of Omaha's The City 106.9 FM will prove to be too "free form." While a hot property at first, people will soon tire of a format that puts oldie college alt songs by The Cure and The Replacements next to lame swing or blues songs. It will keep listeners tuned to 89.7 The River once and for all.

 

An Omaha musician or band (or former Omahans) -- other than 311 or Mulberry Lane -- will appear on either David Letterman, SNL, Leno or Conan O'Brien.


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Originally printed in The Reader January 6, 2000. Copyright 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.