1. Rancid, Rancid (Hellcat)
The first couple of listens are misleading. It sounds as though Rancid has abandoned the quest for irresistible hardcare hooks that made And Out Come the Wolves... and Life Won't Wait masterpieces. But if there's a serious gesture toward the band's thrash roots, truth is the good stuff is still there, though its buried beneath an angrier, more uncompromising surface.
2. Ultimate Fake Book, This Will Be Laughing Week (Sony/550)
Three nerd punks from Manhattan, Kansas, make music to drive your car by. Lots of catchy riffs and self-lacerating lyrics. "She called me a four-eyes / And my glasses weren't on." Indie's Not Dead.
3. Sleater-Kinney, All Hands on the Big One (Kill Rock Stars)
More accessible than last year's The Hot Rock. "You're No Rock and Roll Fun" is the best single of the year � too bad no one's ever heard it. Party on, girls.
4. Queens of the Stone Age, Rated R (Interscope)
MC5 returns from the dead, and not a moment too soon. It's crunch time. Is this heavy metal? I hope so.
5. PJ Harvey, Songs from the City, Songs from the Sea (Island)
Nothing here quite as earth-shattering as Rid of Me's title track, but the songs are angry and articulate, the way they ought to be. "There's no one to blame / Just hold on to me."
6. U2, All That You Can't Leave Behind (Interscopel)
Pop seems a million years ago now. The boys are packed and waiting in the airport for the world to begin again. "Grace makes beauty / Out of ugly things." Who says stadium rock doesn't rock?
7. Moby, Mobysongs: The Best Of Moby 1993-1998 (Elektra)
In the year of Moby, it seems only right to acknowledge this retrospective of his most mysterious moods. Suggested leisure activity: Spot the next corporate theme song before the corporate honchos do it themselves.
8. Mt. St. Helens, OnTime Always
The most obscure CD on my list is available at www.wwa.com/~bgeier/mtsthelens.htm. The last track is too long, but count on it: these kids from the western suburbs of Chicago know more about rock and roll than you do.
9. Steely Dan, Two Against Nature (Warner Bros.)
Sure, the music is so clean you wonder why they didn't just skip the musicians and go straight to computer. But that was always the way with the Dan, and there's more celebratory cynicism here than in any ten punk CDs you can name.
10. Radiohead, Kid A (Capitol)
It's true that this album grows on you. And no one wants to be the cretin who says the boys in the band can't be artistes. Still, Radiohead was always at its best as a pop-rock band. Take away the synthesizers, I say, and give them back their guitars.