College Countdown: 90FM’s Top 90 of 1996, 50 and 49

50. The Heads, No Talking, Just Head

Now this is a mess. A few years after the end of the amazing and fantastically important band the Talking Heads, an end largely precipitated by frontman David Byrne’s desire to move on (which is a desire presumably easy to arrive at for the person who’s getting the Time magazine cover), the three members who were less excited about seeing their main source of income fold decided to soldier on in a way designed to capitalize on past success while acknowledging the absence of the fourth member. Shortening the band name to simple the Heads and enlisting a fleet of guest vocalists. Byrne wasn’t happy, suing his former bandmates Chris Frantz, Jerry Harrison and Tina Weymouth, asserting that the new name was too close to the name they mutually owned. He was right, of course, putting the kibosh on any plans for future Heads efforts after a tour to support their debut, No Talking, Just Head (with former Concrete Blonde lead singer Johnette Napolitano handling lead vocals, undoubtedly thrilled to have a gig after her first outing after the dissolution of the band that made her name proved to be a dud). It would be easier to be sympathetic to the cohorts Byrne left behind if the album they made wasn’t quite so awful. While the foursome can be coerced to get back together for the odd special occasion, the prospects for any sort of prolonged reunion are about as bleak as they are for any other major rock ‘n’ roll act. That’s probably for the best. There are few things more disheartening than true ground-breakers reduced to a nostalgia act.

49. R.E.M., New Adventures in Hi-Fi

This, on the other hand, is magnificent. Undervalued at the time, largely because it was coming after the attention-getting blast of Monster (an album that’s undervalued now), R.E.M.’s tenth studio album is their last great record, the last outing that can be fairly filed alongside the bevy of masterworks that spotted the first fifteen years of their tenure. Largely conceived and recorded while the band was touring to support Monster, New Adventures in Hi-Fi has a welcome diversity to it. After a series of albums that stood as more cohesive statements, this was the sound of a smart, seasoned band willing to follow its collective muse wherever it went, in a manner that recalled Lifes Rich Pageant and, to a lesser extent, Green. It was less of a reinvention and more of an amalgamation, everything the band had ever been, swirled stupendously together across fourteen tracks. It was also the album that marked the beginning of the softening of the band’s commercial prospects, perhaps in part because of the downbeat quality of the first couple of singles was decisively out of step with the prevailing buzzsaw and bombast of the time. (I used to routinely cue up the wrong song at the commercial radio station, accidently playing album opener “How the West Was Won and Where It Got Us” instead of one of the two singles, and I convinced myself that I was playing the song that should’ve introduced radio listeners to the record. I was evidently wrong, as the track was eventually released as a single, becoming the first from R.E.M. that failed to chart either here or in the U.K. since 1989’s “Get Up.”) More notably in the long arc of the band’s career, New Adventures in Hi-Fi was the last album that included Bill Berry, the drummer retiring the next year in direct response to the medical scare he had during the Monster tour, collapsing on stage in Switzerland due to a ruptured brain aneurysm. The band lasted as a trio–with some added support from musicians like Scott McCaughey and Ken Stringfellow–for several years after Berry’s departure, finally announcing the dissolution of the group in September 2011.

An Introduction
–90 and 89: Antichrist Superstar and Three Snakes and One Charm
–88 and 87: No Code and Unplugged
–86 and 85: Greatest Hits Live and Gilded Stars and Zealous Hearts
–84 and 83: To the Faithful Departed and God’s Good Urges
–82 and 81: Billy Breathes and Sweet F.A.
–80 and 79: The Process and Test for Echo
–78 and 77: Supersexy Swingin’ Sounds and Breathe
–76 and 75: Bob Mould and Walking Wounded
–74 and 73: It’s Martini Time and Trainspotting soundtrack
–72 and 71: Aloha Via Satellite and Fever In Fever Out
–70 and 69: Hi My Name is Jonny and One Mississippi
–68 and 67: Everything Sucks and The Aeroplane Flies High
–66 and 65: First Band on the Moon and Razorblade Suitcase
–64 and 63: Comic Book Whore and Peachfuzz
–62 and 61: All Change and Rude Awakening
–60 and 59: 12 Golden Country Greats and Songs in the Key of X
–58 and 57: Brain Candy soundtrack and Pinkerton
–56 and 55: Sublime and Count the Days
–54 and 53: Wild Mood Swings and The Cult of Ray
–52 and 51: Bringing Down the Horse and Crash

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