Tom’s Top 5’s: Albums of 1993

1993 is the first year of which I have any distinct memories as a child. I remember going on a hike in the Black Hills, where I grew up, with my father and our yellow lab, Rio, and finding a sun-bleached cow skull. I also remember the day that my little brother was born, and that my parents “bribed” me into accepting this new addition to our family by buying me a Lego (Legos were/are my fave). Ironic, then, that the first year I can recall finds me, musically, looking to the past, to artists who reached their commercial (many would also say artistic) peaks long before I was even born. But that’s nothing new for these lists so far, is it?

5. RIVER OF DREAMS (Billy Joel)

River of Dreams

It’s something of a critical passtime to slag Billy Joel’s output generally, but especially after about 1983. And it’s true, by the time we get to River of Dreams, we aren’t in the glory days of Turnstiles or The Stranger anymore. But Joel closes his recording career with far more grace than you’ve been lead to believe: “The Great Wall of China” wouldn’t have felt out of place on The Nylon Curtain, the title track is a joyous gospel sing-along, and someday I will sing “Lullaby” to my daughter and weep.

4. OFF THE GROUND (Paul McCartney)

Off the Ground

Paul McCartney has been written off entirely too frequently since 1970. Had John Lennon recorded “C’mon People,” it would’ve become an anthem. As it is, it’s merely a highlight of one of Paul’s most underrated albums. There are one or two of the by-now-expected judgment lapses; but on the whole, Macca maintans a high standard of well-crafted, mature, melodic-as-only-Macca-can-be pop/rock, including two more (wonderful) collabs with Elvis Costello and some of the most socially conscious material of Paul’s career.

3. SPILT MILK (Jellyfish)

Spilt Milk

Spilt Milk is Bellybutton cranked up to 11. “Sebrina, Paste & Plato” is twee-er, “All Is Forgiven” heavier, “He’s My Best Friend” sillier, “Brighter Day” more elaborate and carnival-like, than anything on Jellyfish’s debut. And if that makes for a more scattershot, at times almost cartoonish listening experience, the best songs are every bit the match of “Baby’s Coming Back”: “New Mistake,” “Bye Bye Bye,” “The Ghost at Number One,” “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late”… an awful lot of perfect pop music right there.

2 BAT OUT OF HELL II: BACK INTO HELL (Meat Loaf)

Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell

Bat Out of Hell II has more of an arena rock feel than its predecessor, but arena rock was never this self-aware, and only rarely this grandiose. Many of these songs had already turned up on past Steinman projects (e.g., Bad for Good), but the newer songs are just as big, dumb, and magnificent as the older ones, and all of them are improved by having Meat Loaf sing them at last. BOOHII isn’t for everyone; but for those who like their music like they like their life–everything louder than everything else–it’s hard to top.

1. KAMAKIRIAD (Donald Fagen)

Kamakiriad

Donald Fagen seems to come out with a new solo album about once a decade; but if we have to wait ten years for likes of Kamakiriad, it’s worth it. Critics have decided that this album is inferior to The Nightfly or Morph the Cat. I am unable to detect this supposed inferiority; I simply hear some of the most effortlessly sophisticated music of which I am aware. And it gave us the best (only) Becker-Fagen original in years (“Snowbound”) and got the Dan out on the road and, eventually, back into the studio. I have no complaints.

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