The Day That She Met Me
2000 YEAR-END BALLOT1. "Sour Girl," Stone Temple Pilots: After a false start, Stone Temple Pilots' junky Nirvana imitation has become much livelier and more unpredictable than Pearl Jam's ever-more lugubrious one. (The radio agrees: Toronto stations continue to play "Even Flow" and "Alive," the two Pearl Jam songs with some forward momentum, to death, more or less ignoring everything else.) Actually, on "Vaseline" and "Interstate Love Song" and "Trippin' on a Hole," there wasn't much of an attempt at all to mimic Nirvana--"Interstate Love Song" is a title that belongs on a Marshall Tucker Band album, and the song itself has some of that group's same feel for wide-open spaces. Having said all that, even those songs seem clumsy next to "Sour Girl," whose free-floating weightlessness is touched by pop genius. As with Alice Deejay below, the lyrics function mostly as mantra: the subtle inversion around the title--sour the day she meets him, happy the day she leaves--and the stalker-like suggestiveness of "What would you do if I followed you?" And in the middle break, a line that should have provoked more offense than any of the Eminem singles: "The girl got reasons/ They all got reasons." In a very casual, offhanded way, that's a lot of ill- will squeezed into eight words: hostile, patronizing, infantile, dismissive, kind of hateful even. It's the purest, most unguarded bit of male smugness I've come across since my favorite moment of the Simpson trial, the one time when I felt like cheering Johnnie Cochran: (looking askance at Judge Ito after waiting out one of Marcia Clark's worst-abuse-of-the-criminal-justice-system- ever harangues) "Is she finished yet?" 2. "Brand New Low," Treble Charger: Buzz and howl under the influence of 1985. The shift into "And I wanna know..." each time the chorus comes around is my favorite leap up the vocal scale since the chorus of Green Day's "Walking Contradiction." 3. "My Music at Work," Tragically Hip: Two in a row from home--hey, you're acting like you never seen a Canadian before. I heard a DJ correctly point out how it could be Ethel Merman singing here; the name Foghorn Leghorn comes to mind too. But I think this is the Tragically Hip's second great single in two years. I'm just as surprised this time as I was with "Fireworks," so I guess I still expect the worst from them. 4. "All the Small Things" and 5. "Adam's Song," Blink 182: None of the boy- or girl-bands appeal to the nine-year-old in me, but Blink 182 stirs the 13-year- old in there. I remember hearing "Hey Jude" on the radio one night in grade 9, when I was wracking my mind over whether or not to ask Nancy Phillips to a dance, and convincing myself that the song was addressed to me personally, urging me to go forward. (What a middlebrow Beatles song to be receiving secret messages from. I never would have lasted in the Manson Family.) The first time I really noticed "Adam's Song" was when Adam Pugsley played it last spring at my grade 6 class's year-end party. Me: "What's that?" Adam: "'Adam's Song.'" Must be wonderful to be that age, the exact moment when adolescent boys start to move from Top 40 to what my own little group refers to as "older-brother music," and have a strange new punk song belong to you without even having to embellish. I felt like an intruder just asking. 6. "Bring It All to Me," Blaque: Warm and fuzzy girl group R&B, Jean Arthur in soft-focus to Destiny Child's (or forebears En Vogue's) Barbara Stanwyck. Instead of a forefinger admonishing some guy over all the things he's not, Blaque invites him to bring along "your special brand of 'G'" and settle back. (Seventeen different websites have the lyric as "your time, your love, your space, your energy," but obviously they're all wrong.) Somewhere along the way, "G" passed from the concrete noun that Dr. Dre and Warren G celebrated into the realm of abstraction--it's now an essence, like courage or thrift or humility. Self-help books are on the way: "G" FOR THE SOUL. PATHWAY TO "G." HOW TO CONTROL YOUR "G" BEFORE IT CONTROLS YOU. 7. "Better Off Alone," Alice Deejay: Very elliptical: a single question, "Do you think you're better off alone?", played off over and over again against a trailing afterthought, "Talk to me." It's not clear whether the singer is a girlfriend, an ex-girlfriend, a friend-friend, or a bad conscience. In any case, it's a good question. 8. "Porcelain," Moby: The beauty in "Porcelain" does not sound effortless the way it does in "Eight Days a Week," "Till the Morning Comes," or anything else I'd place in the very first-rank of pop-song bliss. It's a very clinical, academic kind of beauty, the kind you get in Terence Malick films. But it's something to lose yourself in anyway. 9. "I Wanna Know," Joe: There's an instrumental curlicue throughout "I Wanna Know" that sets it apart from any other soul ballad I heard this year, a little three- or four-note flourish that punctuates the verse lines, and that's what gets it on the list. Whether I'll remember the curlicue or anything else about the song five years from now, I don't know. As Winston Churchill famously said, the soul ballad in the era of Mary J. Blige is a wisp wrapped inside of a fragment wrapped inside of a mirage. There are a number of them from the past decade that I either listed on my year-end ballot or reviewed favorably at the time--"Twisted," "Lady," "G.H.E.T.T.O.U.T.," "Touch Me, Tease Me," "Candy Rain," "He's Mine"--that I draw a complete blank on right now. That's not a knock, just an observation. "I Wanna Know" was BILLBOARD's fourth-biggest single of the year. 10. "Independent Women Part 1," Destiny's Child: Independent young women--the minute they wake up, only 263 people start to go to work on them. The smile that I wear, I bought it; the way I move my arm, I bought it. I'm being unfair--Bob Dylan told some tall tales too. The strings have some dramatic swoop to them, some twilight cityscape, and the histrionics that strangle this group's other singles are kept to a minimum, sort of. Rough translation: I pine for Lucy Liu. COLD LATE NIGHTS, SO LONG AGO: I love "Sour Girl," but this is the third year running that a film has been a much richer pop-music experience for me than any one piece of music. You could, I suppose, find the same fault with THE VIRGIN SUICIDES that I do with "Porcelain" above, and absent Heart, Todd Rundgren, Carole King, and Air, Sofia Coppola's movie probably would collapse into a somnambulant pretty picture--I'm no fan of PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK. But with the songs in place, the dreaminess of the pacing, the narration, and the cinematography coalesces into something very felt: the music gets at something deeper than the words and the images can on their own, and Coppola has the good sense (or the good counsel, if you believe speculation--I don't) to let the soundtrack take over at those moments. It's disappointing to see THE VIRGIN SUICIDES get only scant attention in year-end polls (a few stray votes here and there, even fewer than what BOOGIE NIGHTS or RUSHMORE got), especially when it gets passed over in favor of what is also essentially a mood piece, the Ang Lee film, but a sillier one. Film critics are impressed by subtitles. If Adam Sandler movies had subtitles, they'd be programming them at art galleries.