The music trends of 1993 didn't hit us with anything amazing like the "grunge" outbreak and country explosion of 1992, yet subtle movements surfaced in the fragmented world of popular music.

The strength of women and minorities was most noteworthy. Several times this year every artist on the Billboard Top 10 was black, and women were everywhere: Whitney Houston had the No. 1 song and album of the year, and Janet Jackson and Mariah Carey enjoyed huge sales and airplay. Also, the all-female groups SWV, Salt-N-Pepa, Expose, Boy Krazy and Jade, the female-led bands the Cranberries, Belly and Sunscreem, and newcomer soloists Tasmin Archer, Toni Braxton and Robin S all were formidable chart forces. Meanwhile, Tina Turner staged a revival, and Gloria Estefan made a splash with an all-Spanish album.In other trends, Seattle's grunge scene faded only a tad, energized by strong releases from Nirvana and, especially, Pearl Jam. Although rap music remained strong, the genre was lost in redundancy.

Dance music also continued to be an important factor in the music business, though its creativity, like rap's, was on the downswing.

But across-the-board interest in country music dwindled. Garth Brooks and Billy Ray Cyrus failed to match their overwhelming 1992 successes with follow-up albums in '93, and no one else could fill their boots. Many new fans were converted to country in '92, but the mainstream has quit listening.

Scores of acts who were huge in the '80s tried comebacks in '93, and most made only a modest ripple or failed outright. Duran Duran had an impressive return, but Pat Benatar, Billy Idol, Tears for Fears, John Mellencamp, Taylor Dayne, Depeche Mode, Living Colour, Rick Astley and Boy George were minor successes.

In a new development, reggae enjoyed a mini-boom.

The best news of the year, however, was the continued evolution of the "adult alternative" scene. Many music fans are turning away from the predicability of pop, r&b, country, adult contemporary and even alternative music, which is becoming increasingly tedious and commercialized. So a loosely assembled genre has emerged, bringing together artists who toss aside formula and hybridize music. They sound very different from each other, but they are unified in their refreshing approach to creative musicmaking.

So here are my best (and worst) albums of 1993, which include many relatively unknowns of the "adult alternative" ilk. Good musicmay be harder to find these days, but the hunt can be rewarding.


1. "When I Was a Boy," Jane Siberry. Despite the whimsical title, this is serious stuff. The Canadian singer is an enigmatic genius, delving into dark confessionals and worldly observations with her rare, angelic voice, as complex instrumentation conveys moods that often are unsettling. Yet no song could be more gorgeously uplifting than the breathtaking track, "Sail Across the Water."

2. "Star," Belly. Tanya Donelly, formerly of the Throwing Muses and the Breeders, leads this Rhode Island group on its outstanding debut, an album rich in sweet melancholy. Donelly's childlike charm is enticing.

3. "00:00:02:42 Off," Front 242. The second album of the year for these Belgian techno pioneers is the group's best in its history (of more than 10 years). Instrumentalists Daniel B. and Patrick Codenys carefully craft this deeply textured adventure in synthetic sound, balancing aggressive rhythms with haunting vocals and alarming intensity with hypnotic subtlety.

4. "Into the Labyrinth," Dead Can Dance. The duo of Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard again blend a fascinating assortment of earthy, primitive, world music built on other-worldly synthesizer nuances and baroque styles - all creating an engaging liturgical effect. The album would be perfect if Perry didn't croon occasionally, but it's heavenly all the same.

5. "Four-Calendar Cafe," Cocteau Twins. Before there were Cranberries, there were the Cocteau Twins. This album is another in a series of exquisite offerings from the Scottish trio, featuring the usual serene dignity of Robin Guthrie and Simon Raymonde's music, capped by the the always beguiling vocals of Elizabeth Fraser. Subconscious thrills.

6. "Last Splash," The Breeders. Melodic vocals and fiery guitars mix with sly attitudes on this innovative package of short, hallucinogenic tracks. Led by ex-Pixie Kim Deal, the group created the year's most fun album with sardonic wit, carefree adventure and unexpected twists. The '93 debut by Frank Black, another former Pixie, was easily outdistanced by this gem.

7. "Lovebubble," Book of Love. This progressive dance band from New York alternates all four members at vocal for the first time, relieving the heavy but distinctive (and always commanding) vocals of lead singer Susan Ottaviano. The result is Abba-inspired bubblegum - endearing and light dance/pop music with unforgettable hooks.

8. "Very Necessary," Salt-N-Pepa. Rap music may be a man's domain, but these women (Salt, Pepa and DJ Spinderella) continue to brashly defy the misogynists in the genre.

9. "So Tonight That I Might See," Mazzy Star. The sophomore effort by this California twosome is a triumphant return. Stately and enchanting, the intoxicating album hinges on the cool downcast sound of vocalist Hope Sandovall and the wonderfully understated music of David Roback.

10. "Vs.," Pearl Jam. OK, maybe they're a little pretentious. Maybe a lot pretentious. But Pearl Jam, captained by domineering vocalist Eddie Vedder, exploits flash-point topics with such gutsy self-assuredness, it's hard not to be affected.


1. "Love's Alright," Eddie Murphy. What a pathetic singer this guy is. Why does he keep embarrassing himself?

2. "Exposed," Vince Neil. This bombastic garbage from the fired lead singer of Motley Crue would be funny if it weren't so bland.

3. "Show Me Love," Robin S. Dance music has never been more bereft of imagination.

4. "Soul Alone," Daryl Hall. The only soul on this album is in the title.

5. "Bump Ahead," Mr. Big. Warning: This album contains dangerously derivative music. Not recommended for people with brains.

6. "Rumble Doll," Patti Scialfa. Given this passionless performance, Mrs. Bruce Springsteen must be a terribly dull mate. And her singing stinks.

7. "Body & Soul," Rick Astley. The singer's rich voice is buried in insipid formula and wasted on his own astoundingly cliched lyrics.

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8. "Hummin' Comin' at 'Cha," Xscape. En Vogue has nothing to fear from these personality-free, seemingly untalented Atlanta teens.

9. "The One Thing," Michael Bolton. False emotion rings out with every note, yet his hordes of fans scream with adulation. Go figure.

10. "Native Tongue," Poison. This desperate attempt by the band to stay contemporary collapses into an incongruous mess.

Chuck Campbell writes for the Knoxville (Tenn.) News-Sentinel.

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