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Top 15 Babyface Singles

We took a look back at Babyface’s impressive list of hits and picked our 15 favorites.



Top 15 Babyface Singles

5. Karyn White, “Secret Rendezvous”

Babyface may have become a household name in the ‘90s thanks to his crossover ballads by Toni Braxton, Boyz II Men, and others, but his groove-driven dance-pop tracks, as evidenced by this list, are some of his most enduring. Atop a new jill swing beat and Middle Eastern-tinged synth strings, White sings, vamps, and, yes, raps about the imminent titular encounter, even squeezing in a reminder for her furtive beau to bring the wine. Cinquemani

4. Paula Abdul, “Knocked Out”

On the album, it wins on points, but doesn’t quite land a “Love TKO.” But pair Babyface’s tangy R&B chorus with the post-production artistry of remixer Shep Pettibone, who elongated the juiciest bits, let the maladroit flourishes (those cheerleader chants! “Hi!” “Hello there!”) hang provocatively out to dry, and otherwise turns Paula Abdul inside out, and “Knocked Out” suddenly seems like Forever Your Girl’s sleeper MVP. Henderson

3. Bobby Brown, “On Our Own”

Don’t Be Cruel was a masterpiece because it embodied every paradox of new jack swing. It was hard and urban, but also soft and pop, nasty and masculine, but also sweet and adolescent, safely dangerous. The title track and “My Prerogative” zigged to one end of the continuum, while “Roni” and “Every Little Step” (the song I will never not imagine Eddie Winslow rocking out to) skewed in the opposite direction. “On Our Own,” the song Babyface and Brown contributed to the soundtrack of Ghostbusters II (which easily eclipses Ray Parker Jr.’s title track from the original), wraps all those contradictions up in one state-of-the-art package, five minutes of soul singing, “too hot to handle, too cold to hold” playground flow, and smooth, house music-derived piano licks. Henderson

2. Toni Braxton, “Breathe Again”

While Whitney, Mariah, and Celine were singing songs designed to flaunt the power of their pipes, Babyface was churning out less showy compositions like “Breathe Again,” the quintessential Babyface ballad. Toni Braxton became a star not for her impressive vocal range, but because of the texture and tone of her voice, for which “Breathe Again” was the perfect showcase. Cinquemani

1. Whitney Houston, “I’m Your Baby Tonight”

It’s called new jack swing, not new jack shuffle. But, as though under orders to change up his game for the future “Queen of the Night,” Babyface made the latter happen with a tune simultaneously among his best and most incongruous, a Skinemax-tinged bump-n’-grinder that put Houston, whose persona back then was still about as Teflon as they came, into pretty incongruous territory herself. No longer concerned with whether or not the children are the future, no longer making “somebody who loves me” the prerequisite for filling her dance card, no longer sure whether her name is or is not Susan, “I’m Your Baby Tonight” gets Houston to lay all her cards on the table before sweeping them aside and pulling the guy she never laid eyes on until that night on top of her new jack sinuating body. Babyface might not have a reputation for it, but with “I’m Your Baby Tonight,” he gave Houston good love. Make that the best love. Henderson

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Every Mariah Carey Album Ranked

We’ve ranked all of the singer’s albums, from Mariah Carey to Caution.



Mariah Carey
Photo: Sarah McColgan

On May 15, 1990, Mariah Carey quietly released her debut single, “Vision of Love,” a contemporary R&B ballad marked by its retro swing and, of course, that voice. Though it gave birth to a thousand singing competition contestants caterwauling their way to instant fame, the song is more restrained than you might remember. Yes, “Vision of Love” introduced the world to that famous whistle register like a stripper popping out of a cake, and Mariah seems to express an entire song’s worth of emotion in one final vocal run, but it also boasts an economy of language, both musical and otherwise, that she’s recaptured rarely over the years.

“Vision of Love” took its time to reach its sweet destiny—four weeks at #1 on the pop chart—setting the stage for a career with very long legs. If Mariah’s handlers—her then-husband, Sony Music president Tommy Mottola, among them—wanted her to be a crossover queen in the key of Whitney, the singer evidently had other ideas. By the end of the ‘90s, both Mariah’s wardrobe and voice—not to mention her album sales—began to shrink. But she’d become a far more interesting artist, savvily incorporating hip-hop elements into her work, which surely extended her commercial viability even as it limited her audience, and developing a singular, idiosyncratic voice as a lyricist.

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of “Vision of Love,” and her self-titled debut—released in June of 1990—we’ve ranked all 13 of her non-holiday studio albums.


13. Charmbracelet (2002)

The sense that Charmbracelet was rushed out to try and control the damage left in Glitter’s wake is inextricably tied in with the album’s DNA. At the time, we admit to feeling admiration that she was at least giving off the impression of dusting it off and stepping back up to the plate…or the hoop, given that the most enduring takeaway from the whole project remains her momentary penchant for basketball jersey scootchie dresses. But in hindsight, the album’s place at the bottom of her discography is incontestable. Throughout, the sense that her genre interpolations reflect a piece of her campy-kitschy persona consistently takes a back seat to the realization that now was not the time to lean into idiosyncrasies, with the one possible semi-exception being the incongruously chipper G-funk detour “Irresistible (West Side Connection).” I mean, on what other Mariah album would a track entitled “Clown” sound like the zero-calorie AC version of Timbaland this one does? Eric Henderson

Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel

12. Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel (2009)

Having then-It producers The-Dream and Tricky Stewart on the boards for all 17 tracks of 2009’s Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel makes the album one of Mariah’s most sonically consistent, but it also sounds cheap and same-y, lacking the fullness of her best work. Mariah is in fine voice throughout, and there are several standout tracks, including the hard-edged “Standing O,” the simmering “H.A.T.E.U.,” and “Up Out My Face,” on which she achieves a whole new level of lyrical ridiculousness involving Legos and an allusion to Humpty Dumpty. Lyrically, Mariah dips into her back catalog to depths unheard since 2002’s Charmbracelet, and the album’s final stretch devolves into a mess of rehashes: “Languishing” is a lazy rewrite of—take your pick—“Petals,” “Twister,” or “Sunflowers for Alfred Roy,” while the requisite ‘80s cover song, of Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is,” climaxes prematurely with a cacophony of screaming and gratuitous whistle notes. Cinquemani

Music Box

11. Music Box (1993)

Notable almost exclusively for its hit singles, Music Box is the album that, following the slightly less chart-domineering Emotions, made Mariah a bona fide superstar. One of those singles, “Hero,” was, tellingly, written for another artist before Tommy Mottola insisted she keep it for herself. One of Mariah’s signature ballads, the song trades in generic, often nonsensical platitudes and is surprisingly short on the kind of vocal histrionics that might overly stimulate listeners—the perfect combination for infinite rotation on multiple radio formats. By this point in her career, however, Mariah had devised a strategy to keep her label happy while stealing whatever bits of creative freedom she could. With its drum loop lifted from the Emotions by way of Big Daddy Kane, “Dreamlover” was her first foray into hip-hop (sorry, “Fantasy”), but it was David Morales’s dark, sultry house mix, along with David Cole and Robert Clivilles’s remix for another single, the gospel-infused “Anytime You Need a Friend,” that truly broke new ground for the singer. The album itself, though, is unchallenging and easy to swallow—everything Sony wanted Mariah to be. And 10 million people ate it up like Ovaltine. Cinquemani


10. E=MC² (2008)

The problem with having a winning formula is that, eventually, it’s going to boil down to just that: a formula. The irresistibly titled E=MC² stands shoulder to shoulder, at least according to my TI-85, with The Emancipation of Mimi in that I honestly prefer Mariah in the loopier, more freewheeling territory of Rainbow and Glitter, but I can’t deny the dogged efficiency in action. Even if I wasn’t exactly sure what the “E” was supposed to mean in the album’s title at first (emotion? Ear-splitting melisma? Surely not energy…oh, it stands for “emancipation,” duh), there’s little doubt that “MC” stands for our own master of ceremonies, and she even threw in a little nod to her own public schizophrenia for good measure. But those who were hoping for reinvention would, in addition to being radically unfamiliar with Mariah’s career trajectory, be dismayed that the “2” also stands for “Mimi, Part 2.” E=MC² doesn’t dawdle long enough for you to ever discern just how overly deliberate it is: It’s an album composed entirely of radio edits. There’s a big mathematical difference between pop instincts and pop manufacturing, and most of E=MC² demonstrates the latter. Henderson


9. Glitter (2001)

Especially in light of a #JusticeForGlitter Twitter campaign that shot the soundtrack to the top of the iTunes chart 17 years after its release on September 11, 2001, it’s tempting to look back fondly at Glitter as an overlooked gem that simply suffered from a case of bad timing. Indeed, the album is dotted with authentically ‘80s-inspired treasures—the sensual Rick James-penned “All My Life,” the squelchy Eric Benet duet “Want You,” and a beat-for-beat recreation of Cherelle’s “Didn’t Mean to Turn You On” among them. But Glitter is also marred by a series of misguided hip-hop excursions, in which Mariah serves as a mere hook girl, and a bunch of middle-of-the-road ballads that make Music Box’s adult contemporary slush sound radical by comparison. The real injustice of Glitter’s failure is the effective erasure from the singer’s canon of the camp-tastic “Loverboy”—the final piss take in Mariah’s series of sample-driven uptempo singles. Cinquemani


8. Rainbow (1999)

It’s funny to think that, chronologically, only two studio albums separate Mariah’s most lyrically and musically chaste effort, Music Box, with this, her most unbridled album to date. Butterfly gets all the credit for the singer’s personal and sexual liberation, but you won’t find Mariah dog-whistling herself to orgasm for nearly six minutes on that album as she does on “Bliss,” which suggests a cross between “Love to Love You Baby” and Janet Jackson’s “Any Time, Any Place” as sung by Minnie Riperton. There’s a series of inferior rewrites here, including “Heartbreaker,” “After Tonight,” and “Can’t Take That Away (Mariah’s Theme).” But the album also explores new adventures in frivolity, like the trend-chasing “X-Girlfriend” and the catty hip-hop nursery rhyme “Did I Do That?” But it’s “Crybaby,” featuring a tour-de-force vocal performance that finds Mariah exploiting the rough edges of her newly worn voice for the first time, that stands out amid all the slick commercial pop. On an album filled with artifice (just take a look at that cover), she never sounded so real as when she allowed herself to get ugly. Cinquemani

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The 25 Greatest Neil Young Songs

These songs comprise a guide for the singer-songwriter’s signature brand of rock and mastery of poetic memoir.



Neil Young
Photo: Gary Burden

For the last five-plus decades, Neil Young has been, along with Bob Dylan, one of North America’s most towering, influential rock figures. He’s that rare musical threat: a multifaceted songwriter, penning universally resonant acoustic ballads, crunchy electric stompers, and cryptic long-form epics; a virtuoso musician, pioneering novel proto-grunge and noise-rock textures and instrumental interplay; and an eternal maverick continually experimenting with sound and defying industry expectations, even at the expense of chart success.

Given the enormous shadow he casts on popular culture as well as a daunting discography (next month’s Homegrown, originally slated for a 1975 release, will be his 40th album), it’s difficult to know where to begin when exploring Young’s musical legacy. After leaving Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, the man nicknamed “Shakey” has forged a solo career not only long and winding but also—as in 1982’s Krautrock- and new wave-inspired Trans and 1991’s live noise collage Arc—thorny and more than a little unusual.

Just as there is no definitive Neil Young album—not even 1972’s Harvest, his most successful solo effort—there is no definitive core of Neil Young songs, and any best-of list is bound to leave many dimensions of his musical personality unaccounted for. That said, these 25 songs comprise a guide for the singer-songwriter’s signature brand of rock (“Cinnamon Girl,” “Rockin’ in the Free World”), his mastery of poetic memoir (“Thrasher,” “Ambulance Blues”), and his adventures in bursting structural and stylistic boundaries (“Cowgirl in the Sand,” “Change Your Mind”). Michael Joshua Rowin

25. “Change Your Mind”

“Change Your Mind” is one of Young and Crazy Horse’s most epic compositions. Like “Down by the River” and “Cowgirl in the Sand,” “Change Your Mind” possesses a basic verse-chorus framework broken up by extended jams, but this time Young’s solos are reflective and dreamy rather than propulsive and tense. That’s because “Change Your Mind” is about the redemptive power of love, and without being overly sentimental or naive. Indeed, the simple language Young uses to describe this power is often surprising, revelatory, and realistic: Love’s “magic touch” isn’t only “revealing,” “soothing,” and “restoring,” but also “destroying,” “distracting,” and “controlling,” proving it must be properly cared for and harnessed in order to truly, constructively “change your mind.” Rowin

24. “L.A.”

In 1972, on Harvest’s “Out on the Weekend,” Young was sweetly crooning about Los Angeles—his first home in the U.S.—as an idyllic locale where one could hope to “start a brand new day.” But just like the countless dreamers who have tried to “make it” there to no avail, it doesn’t take long for cynicism to set in. Just a year later, over a stinging blues-rock riff, Young was sneering about a “city in the smog” where “the freeways are crammed” and imagining the whole place collapsing into the ground. A standout cut from the once long out-of-print but captivatingly shambolic Time Fades Away, “L.A.” proves that Young at his nastiest was also often at his best. Jeremy Winograd

23. “Harvest”

The subtle title track of 1972’s Harvest has been undeservedly overshadowed by that album’s megahits: “Heart of Gold,” “Old Man,” “The Needle and the Damage Done.” Strumming a lulling, melancholic rhythm on his acoustic guitar, Young spins a mysterious tale concerning himself, a woman, and her mother. Just as Young asks a series of questions to the woman, so do listeners come away from the song asking their own: Why is the mother “screamin’ in the rain”? Who might be the “black face” the woman understands? What is the “change of plan” referenced in the chorus? Even if he refuses firm answers, Young offers several possibilities for his relationship: “Will I see you give more than I can take?/Will I only harvest some?/As the days fly past, will we lose our grasp?/Or fuse it in the sun?” For all its obscure scenarios, the low-key drama of “Harvest” ultimately hinges on the narrator’s full acceptance of and gratitude for love. Rowin

22. “Round & Round (It Won’t Be Long)”

Only a heart of stone will remain unmoved by Young’s plea for emotional vulnerability in “Round & Round (It Won’t Be Long),” one of two ballads on 1969’s Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere that examine the isolating cost of hardened egoism. Built on achingly strummed acoustic guitar chords and a beautifully harmonized vocal by Young and Robin Lane, “Round & Round” shows that repeated failures to recognize and express one’s pain “weave a wall to hem us in” from true companionship. In the final verse, Young hints at a solution: “And you see your best friend/Looking over the end/And you turn to see why/And he looks in your eyes and he cries.” Whether you confront your pain or not, you’re going to experience grief, but in confronting yourself you can empathize and connect with the pain of others rather than suffering in solitude. Rowin

21. “Borrowed Tune”

If Young’s famous mid-‘70s “ditch trilogy” was a literal ditch, “Borrowed Tune” would be its very lowest point. Hunched alone over a piano, his voice sleepy and threadbare, and his “head in the clouds,” Young sounds so drunk and worn out that he’s not even able to conjure up an original melody to get his thoughts out (by his own admission, he’s singing a tune lifted from the Rolling Stones’s “Lady Jane”). The level of intimacy Young allows in such a dark moment is as uncomfortable as it is spellbinding. Winograd

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The 10 Best Albums of 1989

We take a look back and reflect on the music that defined one of the most definable of decades.



The Cure
Photo: Rhino Records

In my introduction to Slant’s list of the 100 Best Albums of the 1980s, I noted that, while ‘80s pop culture is largely remembered for its frivolity, the social unrest that stirred beneath the decade’s brightly colored gloss and greed resulted in not just the guilt-driven good intentions of enterprises like the star-studded USA for Africa, but a generation of artists whose music genuinely reflected the state of the world. From political violence across the pond and the struggles and dreams of the American working class, to race relations, sexuality, and gender, no topic was left unexcavated by the pop, rock, and hip-hop artists of the Reagan era. As we enter the 2020s, an entire generation removed from the ‘80s, it seems as good a time as any to once again look back and reflect on the music that defined one of the most definable of decades. Sal Cinquemani

Honorable Mention: Lou Reed, New York; New Order, Technique; Soul II Soul, Club Classics Vol. One; Nirvana, Bleach; Neneh Cherry, Raw Like Sushi; The B-52’s, Cosmic Thing; Laurie Anderson, Strange Angels; Bonnie Raitt, Nick of Time; Queen Latifah, All Hail the Queen; Original Soundtrack, Batman

The Sensual World

10. Kate Bush, The Sensual World

It’s hard to pin down what makes Kate Bush’s music so completely infectious, but it probably has something to do with the reckless abandon with which she tackles what could otherwise be preposterous material. The topics on The Sensual World, ranging from a musical rendering of the epilogue of Ulysses to a love song directed at a computer program, are often wholeheartedly silly, and yet these songs never come off as anything less than totally and achingly believable. Blessed with one of music’s most wildly expressive voices, Bush takes each song further than she has to, resulting in an album that forms its own unique world. Jesse Cataldo


9. 808 State, 90

If 90 was “Pacific 202” and 30 minutes of tape noise, it’d still be a stone-cold classic. But 808 State’s signature song (here a truncated six minutes of sax, synth, and roiling, rubbery bass), is just the most successful condensation of the diverse sonic tendencies explored on 90. Paced like an excellent DJ set from guys who’d spent enough time in the club to know, 90 doesn’t build so much as it ebbs and flows between the assertively groovy and the totally blissed out. A thrilling expansion of the possibilities for acid house and arguably the best LP ever produced in the style, 90 shows that even a transient fad can be an impetus for world-making. Matthew Cole

Pretty Hate Machine

8. Nine Inch Nails, Pretty Hate Machine

Ever look back at your old junior high school yearbooks and see, with a shock, the last picture the kid voted “Most Likely to Shoot the Rest of Us Dead at Graduation” took before encasing himself inside that filthy, black trench coat? The last one he took with his natural hair color? The last one in which his eyes that would later reflect only cataracts of the soul still glinted with the hint of something obscene? That’s what it’s like to listen now to Trent Reznor scowl, “I’d rather die than give you control!” in “Head Like a Hole.” Before attempting suicide in The Downward Spiral and living with the wrist scars in The Fragile, Pretty Hate Machine sent out sleek, danceable warning shots. Eric Henderson

Rhythm Nation

7. Janet Jackson, Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814

“Don’t get me in here acting all silly now.” Nice try, Janet, but with Rhythm Nation, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis got you in here acting all sober now. At least for three or four songs, anyway. The follow-up to Control‘s redux debut is in equal measure self-enlightened, self-defining, and self-pleasuring. The title track and “The Knowledge” lean heavy on new-jack beats, while “Alright” and “Escapade” radiate the Minneapolis sound at its warmest (she must’ve recorded them the one week it didn’t snow there). And with seven hits (the final of which reached number one almost a year and a half after the album was released), it was one of the decade’s biggest chartbusting juggernauts. Get the point? Good. Henderson


6. Pixies, Doolittle

The Pixies are rightfully credited as the progenitors of grunge, and to that end, Doolittle is their manifesto for ‘90s alt rock: dark, offbeat, slow-churning, humorously grim, and peppered with the kind of loud-soft dynamics that exemplify both the Pixies’ sound and the countless bands that followed in their wake. Arriving in 1989, Doolittle served as vanguard for modern rock both sonically and tonally, as evidenced by the descriptive, almost metaphysical nature of the band’s lyrics. When Black Francis screams, “God is seven!,” on “Monkey Gone to Heaven,” there’s little doubt about the gravity of the message—or where Billy Corgan found his inspiration. Kevin Liedel

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The 100 Best Films of the 1980s

The ‘80s, if mainstream filmmaking from the era is any indication, might be called the decade of the body.



The 100 Best Films of the 1980s
Photo: Universal Pictures

In 2019, Billboard teamed up with SiriusXM to determine the 500 best songs of the 1980s, with Olivia Newton-John’s 1981 pop hit “Physical” topping the list. It’s an apt choice for many reasons, foremost among them that the ‘80s, if mainstream American filmmaking from the era is any indication, might be called the decade of the body—of turning away from the more cerebral, auteurist cinema of the New Hollywood and toward star-driven genre vehicles, featuring the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Cruise, and Melanie Griffith, who in Brian De Palma’s delirious Body Double plays a porn star named—wait for it—Holly Body.

Conventional historical accounts of the decade see this transformation through the lens of box office, as studio practices tended toward market saturation, and stardom became dependent on the potential to make viewers feel rather than think. But that narrative overlooks the plethora of small, seedy gems made by Hollywood filmmakers starring well-known actors still vying to challenge audiences with daring visions of the modern world. Such as William Friedkin’s Cruising, Michael Mann’s Thief, and Martin Scorsese’s After Hours, whose nocturnal animals discover new, and often unwanted, shades of themselves while moving through city streets.

If the neon-lit cityscape is an essential image in ‘80s films for the way it expresses the allure and danger of living by night, it also points up how a fear of AIDS—and its association with city life—leapt into the collective consciousness. Maybe that’s partly why Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner seems to epitomize ‘80s aesthetics for many: The replicant, whose body often looks like an ideal and healthy human, is actually a machine. The city, though, need not be essential for the metaphor to work. In fact, author John Kenneth Muir argues that, in a film like John Carpenter’s The Thing, which is set in Antarctica, the necessity of a blood test to determine “what is really going on inside the human body” could be understood as a direct reference to the AIDS epidemic.

If that potentially sounds like a grim diagnosis of the decade’s films, it actually points to the vitality of the decade’s cinematic artistry, as filmmakers from across the globe emerged to share their haunted visions of sex, music, and voyeurism. In France, Jean-Jacques Beineix, Leos Carax, and Luc Besson each helped create cinéma du look as a hybrid strain of popular and art cinema with a lush visual style. Meanwhile, aging master Robert Bresson was making his last (and arguably finest) film. In Canada, David Cronenberg showed us how exploding heads, penetrative home video, and wayward twin gynecologists could encapsulate various maladies of the times. And in Taiwan, Edward Yang and Hou Hsiao-hsien were at the forefront of New Taiwanese Cinema, diagnosing the twin poles of urbanization and globalization as they started to define contemporary life.

The number of singular filmmakers who emerged in the decade is extensive. Auteurs such as Abbas Kiarostami and Souleymane Cissé created works that helped further introduce the realities of their respective countries to audiences around the globe, while, back in the U.S., Lizzie Borden and Donna Deitch were making their first feature films, each of which has endured as a classic of queer cinema. The decade’s films help us understand that, in order to see all titles of consequence, one needs to remain open to movies playing at the multiplex, the arthouse, and the grindhouse. The latter includes numerous slasher films, itself a subgenre enamored with the dangers and pleasures of the flesh. We must remember that, sometimes, wisdom comes from unlikely places, so consider this seemingly throwaway line from 1982’s The Slumber Party Massacre as words to live by: “It’s not the size of your mouth; it’s what’s in it that counts.” Clayton Dillard

Editor’s Note: Many of the films on our list can be found on the Criterion Channel, Netflix, and TCM.

The Atomic Cafe

100. The Atomic Cafe (Jayne Loader and Kevin and Pierce Rafferty, 1982)

The Atomic Café would merely be a collage-like parody of Cold War paranoia if it didn’t foreground its more satirical depictions of American hubris and buffoonery alongside horrifying images of the aftermath of atomic attacks on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. The juxtaposition reinforces how the perplexing behaviors of ignorant politicians are only funny when one isn’t immediately in harm’s way as a result. As directed by Jayne Loader, Kevin Rafferty, and Pierce Rafferty, the film runs the gamut of documentary footage, educational videos, and cultural detritus relating to atomic hysteria from the 1950s, with Anthony Rizzo’s 1952 social guidance film Duck and Cover becoming the headliner for announcing how helpless and laughable humanity often looks when confronting its imminent destruction. Dillard

Desert Hearts

99. Desert Hearts (Donna Deitch, 1985)

The lesbian relationship at the core of Donna Deitch’s Desert Hearts is contextualized by its characters’ ideological hang-ups, whether related to region, education, or sexuality, which inform the entire spectrum of their identities. Whereas Brokeback Mountain reduced its protagonists’ gay romance to the looming certainty of violence and tragedy in order to garner cheap pathos, Donna Deitch’s Desert Hearts reads between the lines of desire and self-assessment to locate the liminal place where the notion of personal identity begins and ends. That such a process entails convincing the self of its value as much it does convincing others is one of the film’s central arguments. At a casino, an unnamed woman leans over to Vivian (Helen Shaver), who’s scoping out the slot machines, and says that if one doesn’t play, one doesn’t win. Take that as the mantra of Desert Hearts, which advocates risk and consciousness in tandem as the only means to overcome the cold, repressive hand of so-called normative thought. Dillard

The Sacrifice

98. The Sacrifice (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1986)

Like Alexander (Erland Josephson), who inexorably moves toward an act that’s both foolhardy and awe-inspiring, The Sacrifice eventually transcends the flaws in its design. In its second half, the film embraces a dream logic that captures its protagonist’s mix of woozy terror and almost childlike guilelessness more elegantly than any of his early verbal musings could. Formal strategies that at first serve to demarcate states of reverie—from the use of slow motion and black-and-white stock footage, to disruptions in visual perspective and spatial clarity—start to impinge on the ostensible reality of the narrative space until the film inhabits a hallucinatory middle ground where an anemic bluish gray is the predominant shade. In doing so, Andrei Tarkovsky gives form to Alexander’s breakdown of rationality and adoption of a messianic state. Regardless of whether or not one accepts the legitimacy of his actions—Tarkovsky asks only that we respect his profound conviction—there should be little doubt as to the depth of his despair. Carson Lund

Laputa: Castle in the Sky

97. Castle in the Sky (Hayao Miyazaki, 1986)

Castle in the Sky is more beholden to formula than we now expect from Japanese animation maestro Hayao Miyazaki, but the dreamy brilliance of his later pictures was already beginning to take shape here, and the picture still has a marvelous swiftness of invention that shames contemporary sci-fi action extravaganzas. Most filmmakers lurch from one tone to the next—action here, comedy there, with a handy, usually hypocritical, ecological capper to send everyone out of the theaters feeling productive. Castle in the Sky is an adventure picture firstly and mostly, but Miyazaki’s concerns with the fragility and wonder of our less tangible surroundings haunt the picture without overpowering it. Miyazaki, even three pictures in, can land his blows softly. Amid the adventure, lovely retro stuff with pirates and various war-crafts battling it out in the blue skies, lies chilling little details that linger after the picture is over: a miner’s defeated regret over a lost mineral, a bad guy’s disgust with the beautiful labyrinth of flowers growing up around an ancient weapon, the titular floating island’s emergence from the clouds. The details of the world give the film texture and originality. Chuck Bowen

Mon Oncle d’Amérique

96. Mon Oncle d’Amérique (Alain Resnais, 1980)

Alain Resnais’s Mon Oncle d’Amérique is a seamless fusion of fiction and documentary. The documentary portion is composed of interviews with physician and philosopher Henri Laborit as he discusses theories on human behavior and brain function. And these theories come to inform and enrich the fictional narrative of three intersecting lives: Janine (Nicole Garcia) an actress; Jean (Roger Pierre), a TV network developer and writer; and René (Gérard Depardieu), a factory manager. Janine and Jean are lovers, while Janine and René engage in business dealings. One of Mon Oncle d’Amérique’s most delightful elements is that each person closely identifies with a different French cinema star: Janine with Jean Marais, Jean with Danielle Darrieux, and René with Jean Gabin. In moments of tension, Resnais frequently cuts to scenes from those actors’ films, their gestures perfectly mirroring and evoking the feelings of the protagonists. Laborit proposes that, from the moment we’re born, we’re programmed on how to behave and function within society. Thus the lines between the past and future are tenuous—not only through the non-linearity of the film’s storytelling, but via the suggestion that our personal past, as well as the collective and assimilated past of humanity, pre-programs and in a way limits our future. Veronika Ferdman

Lost in America

95. Lost in America (Albert Brooks, 1985)

Albert Brooks’s Lost in America is a Reagan-era film that’s uncomfortable with our dependence on advertising and material possessions and with our fealty to the notion of actualizing ourselves with professional success. Throughout, Brooks finds the subtext of a scene, explodes it, and moves on before we’ve had a chance to digest his startling observations. As uproarious as the film frequently is, it’s also driven by the visceral terror of financial collapse, and Brooks allows the comedy to evolve into an acknowledgement of barely latent violence. And it remains resonant because it doesn’t superficially indict David Howard (Brooks) and his wife, Linda (Julie Hagerty), rewarding our unearned feelings of superiority. Brooks criticizes yet empathizes with the couple’s yearning to prove that they aren’t simply puppets on a corporate stage, and, in its way, this film is as searching and searing an exploration of a relationship in crisis as any that Ingmar Bergman produced. David and Linda are automatons who ironically achieve individuality by embracing conformity. Bowen


94. Sweetie (Jane Campion, 1989)

Mixing the hothouse environment of a Tennessee Williams drama with surreal, Kahlo-esque portraiture, Sweetie introduces Jane Campion as a world-class filmmaker from the start. The New Zealand auteur’s feature debut is a bifurcated character study of two sisters whose addled relationships to the world around them are as similarly chaotic as they are differently oriented. Mousy introvert Kay (Karen Colston) immediately exudes such terror over human interaction that her affair with a married man at the start of the film registers as wildly out of character. Meanwhile, her gregarious sister, Sweetie (Geneviève Lemon), is a perpetual child, willing to harm herself and others if she receives an insufficient amount of attention from others. With acidic humor, their dysfunction is further unpacked when the pair visit their parents, which brings to light the Elektra complexes and uneven distribution of parental affections that shaped them. Campion’s early shorts showed an almost preternatural mastery of film grammar, and here she uses angled compositions and varying focal lenses to distort the dimensions of her characters, giving people indefinite, funhouse-mirror dimensions reflective of their grotesque inner turmoil. Jake Cole

On the Silver Globe

93. On the Silver Globe (Andrzej Żuławski, 1988)

Started in 1976 as an epic adaptation of a turn-of-a-century philosophical sci-fi trilogy by the director’s great uncle, production on Andrzej Żuławski’s On the Silver Globe was abruptly stopped by Poland’s communist ministry of culture in 1977. Officially too expensive to continue, the film was in fact too politically incorrect to handle. It wasn’t until 1987 that Żuławski was allowed to tinker with the incomplete footage and assemble it into what it currently is: “a stump of a movie,” per his off-screen opening remark. The film presents itself both as a narrative and an essay upon its own making. The literal plot, having to do with a group of space travelers discovering a new planet and building a civilization from scratch, is juxtaposed with documentary footage of the crumbling failed experiment that was communist Poland. On the Silver Globe is immensely rich as an act of philosophical inquiry. Its dialogue full of expertly disguised nuggets borrowed from the likes of Norman Mailer and Karl Marx, the film is a desperate meditation on the hunger for religion, as well as our shared need of submitting ourselves to figures of authority. As such, it’s probably the bravest Polish film ever made. Michał Oleszczyk


92. Querelle (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1982)

Adapted from Jean Genet’s Querelle of Brest, the prolific Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s final film saw him addressing familiar themes of betrayal and power relations. Only this time the setting is a wildly theatricalized port called Brest, a mythical dominion where the borders of identity are patrolled and blurred. And at the center of it all is an impossibly beautiful thief and murderer, Querelle (Brad Davis), to whom everyone is drawn, and who’s an embodiment of every agony that possessed Genet and chased him throughout his life. The whole thing plays out in a kind of liminal space, where pain becomes inseparable from pleasure. Fassbinder’s style is one of multitudes, at once dreamlike and nightmarish, rigorous yet fluid, suggesting a memory being willed into beautiful being before its maker takes his last breath. Ed Gonzalez


91. Meantime (Mike Leigh, 1983)

Meantime already finds Mike Leigh in full command of his brand of working-class tragicomedy. Leigh captures the restless, maddening, emasculating, demoralizing stench of poverty and unemployment with an acuity and piquancy that’s nearly unrivaled in cinema. He understands the distilled rage such living conditions trigger, recognizing this rage for what it actually is: bottled energy that can’t be released. Seeking to exorcise this anger, the Pollocks are always engaged in domestic squabbling for its own sake, which follows a circular structure and grants no relief, only intensifying the futility of a situation that’s characterized by broken windows and faulty washing machines and purposeless waiting and wandering in bars and slums. In the context Leigh provides, we understand why someone would become a skinhead, seeking a righteous inner purging via social belonging that refutes the gilded indifference of the Thatcher administration. A shot of Coxy screaming and thrashing about in a large metal barrel could serve as the film’s master image. Bowen

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The 10 Best Albums of 1988

We take a look back and reflect on the music that defined one of the most definable of decades.



Public Enemy
Photo: Def Jam Records

In my introduction to Slant’s list of the 100 Best Albums of the 1980s, I noted that, while ‘80s pop culture is largely remembered for its frivolity, the social unrest that stirred beneath the decade’s brightly colored gloss and greed resulted in not just the guilt-driven good intentions of enterprises like the star-studded USA for Africa, but a generation of artists whose music genuinely reflected the state of the world. From political violence across the pond and the struggles and dreams of the American working class, to race relations, sexuality, and gender, no topic was left unexcavated by the pop, rock, and hip-hop artists of the Reagan era. As we enter the 2020s, an entire generation removed from the ‘80s, it seems as good a time as any to once again look back and reflect on the music that defined one of the most definable of decades. Sal Cinquemani

Honorable Mention: Jane’s Addiction, Nothing’s Shocking; U2, Rattle and Hum; Morrissey, Viva Hate; Lucinda Williams, Lucinda Williams; The Go-Betweens, 16 Lovers Lane; Was (Not Was), What Up, Dog? ; k.d. lang, Shadowland; Eric B & Rakim, Follow the Leader; Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Tender Prey; Sarah McLachlan, Touch

The Great Adventures of Slick Rick

10. Slick Rick, The Great Adventures of Slick Rick

Rap’s premier storyteller, London-born Richard Walters burst onto the scene in 1988 with The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, an album with such a unique style that it changed hip-hop. Rick weaves compelling narratives from the first and third person, using the Queen’s English and a devilish sense of humor to make each of these 12 tracks quirky and utterly irresistible listens. Relishing in whimsical wordplay, Rick adopts a hilarious high-pitched squeal for the dialogue of his female characters, and makes shifts in style when stepping into alter egos like the Ruler and MC Ricky D. Of course, there are times when Rick’s tales can fringe on vulgar and misogynistic, but his storytelling prowess is second to none. Huw Jones

Isn’t Anything

9. My Bloody Valentine, Isn’t Anything

It’s easy to dismiss Isn’t Anything as Loveless-lite, but My Bloody Valentine doesn’t attempt anything quite as epic or ambitious on their debut as they would just two years later. But even when they’re less grandiose, the shoegazing pioneers’ music is just as fascinating and hypnotic. Guitarist and songwriter-in-chief Kevin Shields employs reverb, feedback, pitch bending, and heavy distortion throughout, creating music that’s capable of simultaneously soundtracking our most ethereal dreams and most violent nightmares. Isn’t Anything beautifies all that should be ugly, and deserves a spot as a lo-fi masterpiece in its own right. Jones


8. R.E.M., Green

Though it might be hard to imagine now, R.E.M.’s deal with Warner Bros. in the late 1980s was rather controversial. It probably didn’t help that Green sounded quite a bit different from the band’s output on I.R.S. Records, with Peter Buck largely eschewing his usual jangly riffs and Michael Stipe singing loudly and clearly. But for every fan they lost on charges of “selling out,” the band gained many more on the strength of their early forays into styles that would catapult them into the big leagues. There are bleeding-heart, mandolin-based ballads (“Hairshirt,” “You Are the Everything”) that presage Automatic for the People; there are also hints of the scowling, overblown rock of Monster (“Turn You Inside Out”). But Green is best remembered for its embrace of pure bubblegum influences that the band would take to extremes on 1991’s “Shiny Happy People.” Thirty years later, “Pop Song 89,” “Get Up,” and the near-novelty, diabolically catchy “Stand” still provide dizzying sugar rushes. Jeremy Winograd

Spirit of Eden

7. Talk Talk, Spirit of Eden

Opener “The Rainbow,” a deconstructed blues song splayed out over seven minutes, sets the perfect tone for Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden, the song’s blown-out harmonica wheezing over barebones soft-jazz backing. The album presents a series of similarly deliberate excursions, whose sustained focus on individual elements, like the harmonica and rudimentary blues arrangement of that opening song, twists and transforms them. Despite the initial air of chilled-out simplicity, each of these songs is actually a twitching patchwork of carefully blended elements, with twinkling piano crawls that blossom into sustained electronic explosions, all bracketed by a mystical, quasi-religious style of lyrical wordplay. Jesse Cataldo

Tracy Chapman

6. Tracy Chapman, Tracy Chapman

Both the pop music landscape and political climate of the ‘80s were defined by a me-first sense of opulence and entitlement, nearly a full decade of the haves flaunting their wares and promising the have-nots that, someday, those wares would trickle down to them too. Tracy Chapman’s unassuming, self-titled debut laid bare the fundamental injustice and dishonesty behind the prevailing policies of the day; she wasn’t just “Talkin’ About a Revolution,” she aimed to start one. But what makes Tracy Chapman more than just a leftist course-correction or an antidote to hair metal are Chapman’s unabashed sincerity and empathy and the robust quality of her songwriting, which make songs like “Fast Car” and “Baby Can I Hold You” no less powerful or moving today. Jonathan Keefe

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20 Years of IFC Films, 20 Must-See Movies

We’re celebrating the 20th anniversary of IFC Films by spotlighting 20 of its most important releases.



20 Years of IFC Films, 20 Must-See Movies
Photo: IFC Films

The 20th anniversary of IFC Films just so happens to coincide with many of us suddenly having a lot more time on our hands. Since a sizable portion of the population is using social distancing for self-betterment—if social media brags can be believed—then this feels like an ideal time for a deep dive into the company’s vaults through their video on demand channel, IFC Films Unlimited.

IFC Films has spent the last two decades championing some of the world’s most innovative cinema in a no-fuss, under-the-radar manner. Less attention-grabbing than distribution houses like A24, IFC also cast a wider net of aesthetic styles than distributors such as Grasshopper and Oscilloscope. Across its 20 years, the company has continued to release a fairly eclectic grab-bag of movies—from mumblecore to earnest kitchen-sink drama to more unclassifiable what-the-fuckery—that other labels would likely have passed on.

You can spend weeks trawling through the foreign and domestic dramas in IFC’s extensive archives, which mostly range from the serious (Matteo Garrone’s Gomorrah) to the very serious (Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days), with the occasional event film that the studio took an unusually big gamble on, most notably Steven Soderbergh’s Che and Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, scattered in between. Along the way, they also built a small but potent sideline in comedies with the meanest of stingers, from Armando Iannucci’s feature-length debut, In the Loop, to Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip series.

One way that IFC mimicked such rivals as Miramax and, later, Magnolia was by launching an offshoot label devoted to sci-fi, thrillers, and especially horror. Because of the studio’s IFC Midnight line, their streaming service is also well-stocked with dozens of low-budget screamers and spookers. A number of these look no different than the bottom-drawer horror product what you might find on other streaming services, though you can occasionally find some less-classifiable genre offerings like Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook.

More than anything else, it’s the element of surprise that makes time spent in the IFC backlist worthwhile. Any place where The Human Centipede and Y Tu Mamá También can be neighbors is probably worth visiting. Below is a list of some of our favorite films released by the studio across the last 20 years. Chris Barsanti

Editor’s Note: Click here to sign up for IFC Films Unlimited.


Antichrist (Lars von Trier, 2009)

Lars von Trier’s two-hander psychodrama Antichrist draws heavily from a rich tradition of “Nordic horror,” stretching back to silent-era groundbreakers like Häxan and Vampyr (and Carl Theodor Dreyer’s later Day of Wrath), in particular their interrogation of moral strictures and assumptions of normalcy. In the wake of their son’s death, He (Willem Dafoe) and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg) follow a course of radical psychotherapy, retreating to their wilderness redoubt, Eden, where they act out (and on) their mutual resentment and recrimination, culminating in switchback brutal attacks and His and Her genital mutilations. Conventional wisdom has it that von Trier’s a faux provocateur, but that misses his theme and variation engagement with genre and symbolism throughout, which renders Antichrist one of the most bracingly personal, as well as national cinema-indebted, films to come along in a while. It’s heartening to see that real provocation still has a place in the forum of international cinema. Bill Weber


Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 2014)

Mason Evans Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) is an avatar of both endless becoming and endless stasis. His journey from video game-obsessed six-year-old to artistically inclined teenager, charted by director Richard Linklater in three surprisingly breezy hours, is a revelation of accumulated knowledge that extends far beyond the visual impact of watching Mason (and his family) age 12 years before one’s eyes. In fact, Boyhood’s greatest achievement is that even amid constant change (the fallout of friendships, the shuffling of abrasive stepfathers, the acquisition of new skills and fears), Mason at 10 (or 12, or 15, or 18) remains so recognizably Mason at six (or eight, or 11, or 14): laconic, eager to please, observant but weary of expressing said observations. Thus, Boyhood isn’t about the creation of a soul, but about the unburying of one: The most crucial difference between the cloud-gazing little boy of the first shot and the lovestruck, scruffy young adult of the final shot is simply that the latter has found a voice with which to articulate the wonder he has always felt whenever he stares up at the sky. David Lee Dallas

Certified Copy

Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami, 2010)

Certified Copy is a roaming two-hander that’s by turns haunting, confounding, uplifting, and sad. Unnamed art-dealer She (Juliette Binoche) and visiting author James Miller (William Shimmell) wander through the streets of a rustic Italian village, encountering presumptuous baristas, sacred shrines, and hordes of hopeful brides, who blow into the frame like gusts of windblown flowers. Under the guiding hand of an eminent humanist like Abbas Kiarostami, what’s essentially a rambling argument between two often-unlikable people turns into an extended examination of authenticity and imitation, expanding its characters’ love for copies from art to architecture to humanity itself, an open tap endlessly spewing reproductions of itself. Less formally explosive than The Tree of Life, Certified Copy nevertheless solidifies Kiarostami’s reputation as an international director, capable of porting his usual wistful themes and rigorous style onto a modern European setting, telling a story that’s achingly specific but also beautifully universal. Jesse Cataldo

The Exterminating Angels

The Exterminating Angels (Jean-Claude Brisseau, 2006)

A sober surrealist, Jean-Clause Brisseau is charting terrain that has been of similar interest to both Catherine Breillat and David Lynch—only he shuns the sometimes repellent intellectualism of the former and the exhilarating visual pretenses of the latter. Like Lynch’s films, The Exterminating Angels rattles and hums with metaphysical interruptions. Ghosts and angels make their appearances, unseen to everyone except for the audience, plotting interference and pointing to François’s shame about what he may be doing to his women. A man, the Devil perhaps, narrates with chatter about a great blue desert and calls to order, multiple references to “three times” suggesting that François’s (Frédéric Van Den Driessche) search for the perfect actresses isn’t so much a matter of casting as it is a matter of life and death. In the film’s standout sequence, he takes two potential stars of his movie to dinner, where the women begin to touch each other. Nothing is ever one thing in The Exterminating Angels, and what starts as an improvisational exercise becomes something almost mystical when the secret things that go on beneath the dinner table catch the attention of the restaurant’s hostess. François and his women aren’t just testing moral waters, they’re also building an army. Ed Gonzalez

Frances Ha

Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach, 2012)

The visual language of Frances Ha’s poster and trailer promises an alienating kind of hipster sensibility, an ode to quirkiness built on mumblecore affectation and “farmer’s market” irony. Director Noah Baumbach, however, rediscovers the sincerity of the original behind the inane copy in the way his New York City twentysomethings parade around like mumblecore caricatures, but laugh and suffer with pit-in-the-stomach gravitas. Theirs is a kind of hipster drag, the feigning of a communal style as a way to ensconce oneself from the solitude of cosmopolitan adulthood. Frances’s non-story, played with disarming and infectious honesty by Greta Gerwig, doesn’t thrive on the inside-jokeness of Brooklynite cool, but the cool of jazz, early Woody Allen, American sass, wit, and humanizing inelegance. Baumbach knows American film wins when it embraces the pedestrian-ness of its people and language. The beauty in the film isn’t in the literal poesis of its words, but in the unabashed way the characters are allowed to roam around this world of non-productive play without the burden of pretty. Diego Semerene

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All 82 Madonna Singles Ranked

From “Everybody” to “I Don’t Search I Find,” we’ve ranked all 82 of the Queen of Pop’s singles.



Every Madonna Single Ranked
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this list was originally published on August 1, 2018.

In 2013, Billboard named Madonna the top Hot 100 solo artist of all time, second only to the Beatles. She holds the title for the act with the most Top 10 singles in the United States, and reigns as the female with the most #1 singles in the U.K. According to Mediabase, the music industry service that monitors radio airplay in the U.S., there are currently a dozen Madonna songs in regular rotation on adult-contemporary and classic radio stations across the country. By every objective measure, she’s the most successful singles artist of all time.

But Madonna cast aside her reputation as a “singles artist” relatively early in her career, with albums like Like a Prayer, Erotica, and Ray of Light making a case for the singer as a consummate artist. (Listen to our list of Madonna’s greatest album cuts and B-sides here.) Her colossal success on the pop charts, which generally rewards familiarity and predictability, was possible not because she bucked the system—though from “Live to Tell” to “Justify My Love” to “American Life,” she’s rarely played it safe—but because she struck a balance between embracing trends and setting them.

Earlier this year Madonna hit another milestone, when “I Don’t Search I Find” became her 50th #1 hit on Billboard’s club play chart—extending her record as the artist with the most #1’s on any Billboard chart in history. In honor of this achievement, we’ve updated our ranking of the Queen of Pop’s singles to include four songs from her latest album, Madame X. (Though she released several music videos to promote the album, our criteria for eligibility includes songs that were serviced to radio or clubs.)

The bottom of our list is, not surprisingly, populated largely by Madonna’s most recent singles. But the decline in the quality of her latter-day output is a mere footnote in a nearly four-decade career that has spanned—and, for the most part, mastered—pop, R&B, dance, electronica, and beyond, while simultaneously tackling taboo topics, elevating underground trends, empowering minorities, and pushing the boundaries of so-called good taste. Let’s get to it. Sal Cinquemani

82. “Revolver”

From the new songs on 1990’s The Immaculate Collection to…whatever the hell this is. Forget the uncharacteristic desperate crassness of choosing the then-hot Lil Wayne as a collaborator—much less deciding that he, of all people, is who you want adorning 2009’s Celebration, your most comprehensive greatest-hits package yet, one which still managed to find no room for “Deeper and Deeper” or “I’ll Remember.” Also, ignore the half-heartedness of the track’s electroclash gestures. What you have left is a clumsy sex-equals-guns metaphor that, with each passing year in America, grows more and more tone deaf. Eric Henderson

81. “Another Suitcase in Another Hall”

That Evita turned ostensibly liberal musical nerds into authoritarian apologists by emphasizing only the most superficial aspects of Peronism would be sinful enough, but in typical Andrew Lloyd Webber fashion, its songs are musically rote and lyrically bludgeoning. So goes “Another Suitcase in Another Hall,” a sleepy travelogue set to schmaltzy acoustic guitar and saxophone and a male chorus echoing Eva Perón’s—and by extension Madonna’s—self-pitying complaints about moving from one place to another. Political and psychological nuance, meanwhile, are nowhere in sight. Paul Schrodt

80. “Bitch I’m Madonna”

Yes. Yes, you are. And you fucking ought to know better. Henderson

79. “Girl Gone Wild”

The poison running through 2012’s “Girl Gone Wild” isn’t really its evidently deliberate disposability. Madonna could’ve covertly made a mockery of Benny Benassi’s crude David Guetta sheen if she’d been on her game. But the crassness of her performance reads sadly oblivious, and the demands to have fun are left sounding desperate. Like a Tumblr-meme version of “Get Together,” “Girl Gone Wild” is a rabbit hole of repurposed content (right down to the somewhat sacrilegious “Act of Contrition” swipe), ready for you to share if you want but of which you’ll unquestionably be done with by the time you hit “send.” It may not be the nadir of Madonna’s career, but I can think of few moments that feel as much like a betrayal of her legacy than the way she deadpans “It’s so erotic” right before chirping “This feeling can’t be beat.” Henderson

78. “You Must Love Me”

We have no particular qualm with Alan Parker casting Madonna as Eva Peron to sell tickets. In the ‘90s, movie musicals just didn’t sell themselves, and they needed any extra help they could get. We also have no problem with Madonna winning the Golden Globe for Best Actress over Frances McDormand in Fargo, an oh-so-Hollywood Foreign Press Association choice that AMPAS even more predictably rendered irrelevant when they didn’t give Madonna an Oscar nomination. If “You Must Love Me” just barely misses taking the dishonor of being ranked the worst of the singles released from the soundtrack, it certainly chides that its entire mad existence was to push Andrew Lloyd Webber that much closer to an EGOT. Henderson

77. “Celebration”

Recorded for Madonna’s 2009 greatest-hits collection of the same name, “Celebration” was clearly intended as a throwback to her early dance anthems. And it’s an embarrassing failure. Producer Paul Oakenfold’s incessant, four-on-the-floor beat may as well have come from a generic EDM sample pack. Worse is Madonna’s beleaguered singing, which sounds like a Gen-Z wannabe’s imitation of the Queen of Pop. “If it makes you feel good, then I say do it,” she tosses off through garish digital vocal effects, coming off like a Real Housewife too sauced on rosé to actually care one way or another. Benny Benassi added some much-needed sonic interest and rumbling bass on the superior remix, which Madonna was at least smart enough to use both for the music video and on tour. Schrodt

76. “Give Me All Your Luvin’”

“Every record sounds the same/You gotta step into my world,” Madonna sings on “Give Me All Your Luvin’,” the lead single from 2012’s MDNA. Even if the song didn’t really sound like anything on the radio at the time, it also didn’t sound like what “Justify My Love” sounded like in 1990, what “Frozen” sounded like in 1998, what “Music” sounded like in 2000, or even what “Hung Up” sounded like in 2005. The song is catchy, sure, but its few charms—‘60s surf-pop guitar, vintage video-game effects, and references to her past songs—are fleeting at best. “Beautiful Stranger,” which shares more than a few similarities with “Give Me All Your Luvin’,” at least sounded like it was being sung by a grown woman rejuvenated and exhilarated by love at first sight. Here, Madonna’s just playing head cheerleader for a team of one—and despite the presence of Nicki Minaj and M.I.A. The issue isn’t Madonna’s age (she’s made a career out of thwarting expectation and convention, which is why she still matters), but authenticity: The difference between, say, “Into the Groove” and “Give Me All Your Luvin’” is that Madonna’s demand for us to give her all our money—err “luv”—is coming from a queen on a throne, not an unknown hipster on the dance floor with the whole world at her fingertips. Cinquemani

75. “4 Minutes”

The 2008 hit “4 Minutes” is so meta—and its creators so egomaniacal—that it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that Madonna and Justin Timberlake actually sat down with the intention of writing a song that could literally save the world and, instead, wound up writing a song about the hassle of writing a song that could literally save the world. Put simply, the song’s lyrics—which at first seemed confusing and muddled to those who expected it to be about, you know, saving the world from climate change or the AIDS pandemic in Africa—seem to attempt to illustrate what it’s like to write or perform a pop song that could actually succeed at doing one of those things, or at making the bourgeoisie and the rebel come together in every nation. Thank God for that colossal, ridiculously infectious horn riff. Without it, “4 Minutes” would be nothing but a busy assemblage of dubious clichés, irritating vocals, and Timbaland’s marching-band beats and irksome “ick-y ick-y” banter. Cinquemani

74. “One More Chance”

Madonna’s ballads are often refreshingly understated compared to those of her contemporaries, her voice homing in on a specific emotional texture rather than bludgeoning you with shrill vocal gymnastics. Though she drifts toward maudlin on “One More Chance,” recorded for 1995’s slow-jam compilation Something to Remember, her pleas for a lover to come back so she can prove her worth are expressive. Regretting her tendency to “play the Queen of Hearts,” however, she sounds downright pitiable. Schrodt

73. “Turn Up the Radio”

Among MDNA’s many disparate attempts at pop relevance, “Turn Up the Radio” is an innocuous but pleasurable enough anthem. The lyrics, aping “Music” without the ironic wit, praise the restorative power of blasting tunes on a drive and forgetting your problems (“We gotta have fun, if that’s all that we do” goes one clunker). In the end, though, Madonna isn’t able to put a distinctive stamp on the track, succumbing to producer Martin Solveig’s relentless beats and supersized bass. Schrodt

72. “Ghosttown”

With its rote production and gratuitous use of Auto-Tune, 2015’s “Ghosttown” is far from one of Madonna’s more searing ballads, but its portrait of a couple’s steadfast commitment even amid the ravages of a post-apocalyptic world feels poignant and relevant, evoking the personal impact of institutional collapse. Schrodt

71. “American Life”

If you can forget that “American Life” contains possibly the worst white-girl rap of all time, rhyming “soy latte” with “double shot-ey” and in the process making Debbie Harry sound like Jay-Z, then it’s actually an admirably gutsy lead single for an album that would effectively end Madonna’s reign on the U.S. pop charts. She and producer Mirwais fuse a dreamy acoustic chorus with harsh skittering drums and laser-like synth sounds, and the disorienting shift reflects Madonna’s state of mind in the lyrics, questioning the demands of the Dream Factory and moving toward something resembling personal satisfaction. It’s pop as bomb-throwing protest. Too bad her list of extensive household staff doesn’t exactly help make the point. Schrodt

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The 10 Best Albums of 1987

We took a look back and reflect on the music that defined one of the most definable of decades.



Photo: Island Records

In my introduction to Slant’s list of the 100 Best Albums of the 1980s, I noted that, while ‘80s pop culture is largely remembered for its frivolity, the social unrest that stirred beneath the decade’s brightly colored gloss and greed resulted in not just the guilt-driven good intentions of enterprises like the star-studded USA for Africa, but a generation of artists whose music genuinely reflected the state of the world. From political violence across the pond and the struggles and dreams of the American working class, to race relations, sexuality, and gender, no topic was left unexcavated by the pop, rock, and hip-hop artists of the Reagan era. As we enter the 2020s, an entire generation removed from the ‘80s, it seems as good a time as any to once again look back and reflect on the music that defined one of the most definable of decades. Sal Cinquemani

Honorable Mention: Depeche Mode, Music for the Masses; Pet Shop Boys, Actually; Dinosaur Jr., You’re Living All Over Me; Big Black, Songs About Fucking; Boogie Down Productions, Criminal Minded; Public Enemy, Yo! Bum Rush the Show; Pixies, Come On Pilgrim; 10,000 Maniacs, In My Tribe; INXS, Kick; Jody Watley, Jody Watley

Strangeways, Here We Come

10. The Smiths, Strangeways, Here We Come

Whether or not Strangeways, Here We Come ended the Smiths’s brief career with their best album has been the subject of considerable debate for nearly a quarter century, but it definitively stands as the band’s most lush, richest work. Johnny Marr’s signature guitar work is at its most varied and widest-ranging here, and, thanks to producer Stephen Street, the contributions of Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce’s rhythm section are actually given the chance to shine, which was rarely the case on the band’s first three albums. Morrissey, for his part, contributes lyrics that are dense and heady, steeped in imagery of death that reflects the demise of one of modern rock’s most influential bands. Jonathan Keefe


9. Sonic Youth, Sister

Overshadowed both critically and commercially by its successor, Daydream Nation, Sonic Youth’s Sister is the last great punk album of the Reagan era and the first great pop album to emerge from the American underground. The chiming, bending guitars of “Schizophrenia” interject a gorgeous haze into a sad, understated song about a friend’s crazy sister that immediately signaled a new era in the band’s development. Across the album, tightly interwoven textures of machine noise, feedback, and distortion are balanced out by shimmering harmonics and unprecedented warmth. Sure, the album still seethes with disaffection, but the avant garde never sounded so inviting. Matthew Cole


8. George Michael, Faith

Written, arranged, composed, and produced by George Michael almost entirely by himself, Faith put the former Wham! singer in the same league, if not on the same team, as Prince, and its blockbuster status and franchise of hits gave the King of Pop a run for his money in the late ‘80s. The album fuses pop and R&B with funk and jazz elements (the three-part “I Want Your Sex” alone traverses no less than four or five different styles), and just as the tracks are composed of a mix of canned Synclavier loops and live instruments, Michael himself is presented as one part slick lothario and one part socially conscious crusader. When he wasn’t luring some young thing into his bed with gin and tonic and pleas of “c-c-c-come on,” the middle stretch of the album found him sounding off on such patented ‘80s signposts as materialism and heroin addiction. Cinquemani


7. Michael Jackson, Bad

Michael Jackson’s Bad, perhaps the most highly anticipated album of all time, took the multi-format approach of 1982’s Thriller and magnified it to larger-than-life proportions. The pop was poppier, the rock was rockier, the dance was dancier. (Notably, R&B took the form of carefully placed elements as opposed to the bedrock of the songs.) The album was sonically more adventurous than its predecessor, resulting in more missteps but perhaps even more rewards. Bad found Jackson taking more creative control, composing the majority of the songs on his own, making the breadth of album’s variety all the more impressive and solidifying many of the artistic and personal quirks and preoccupations that would come to define him in the last two decades of his life. Cinquemani

The Lion and the Cobra

6. Sinead O’Connor, The Lion and the Cobra

The title of Sinéad O’Connor’s debut was culled from Psalm 91, in which God promises to protect his people from the lion and the snake—symbols of bold and sly danger, respectively. O’Connor is more lion than snake, of course; she purrs like a kitten you’re fully aware is capable of lunging for your throat at any moment, and she often does—shrieking at dead lovers, admonishing her country’s leaders. The Lion and the Cobra is regal, majestic, and allegorical, an album rife with images of war, slain dragons, and ghosts, and it’s one of the most electrifying debuts in rock history. Cinquemani

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The 100 Best Video Games of All Time

Greatness is about the way a game can capture the imagination regardless of genre or canonical status.



The 100 Best Video Games of All Time
Photo: Nintendo

Two years doesn’t sound like a long enough time to justify updating a list, but as a medium, video games move in bounding strides. Trends come and go, hardware changes, and brand-new games emerge as towering influences on the medium. When we published our initial list of the 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time in 2014, the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 were only a year old. The same can be said with the Nintendo Switch and our 2018 iteration of the list. If four years is just about an eternity, two years is only slightly less so. The medium continues shifting, regardless of when we decide to stop and take stock.

Some games from the two prior iterations of our list have shifted positions, while others are absent entirely; old favorites have claimed the spots of what we treated as new classics, and vice versa; and some of the ones that vanished have triumphantly returned. Those changes speak to the fluidity of an evolving medium as well as to the broadness of experiences to be had within it. How can the same narrow handful of games, the accepted canon that looms large over every games list, hope to represent that diversity? How can a list of the greatest ever be anything but constantly in flux?

When compiling this list, my colleagues and I elected to consider more than historical context. Greatness, to the individual, isn’t just about impact and influence. It’s as much about feeling, about the way a game can capture the imagination regardless of genre or release date or canonical status. The titles on this list come from every corner of the medium—represented for the precision of their control or the beauty of their visuals or the emotion of their story. We’ve chosen to cast a wide net, so as to best represent the individual passions incited by saving planets, stomping on goombas, or simply conversing with vivid characters. Steven Scaife

Editor’s Note: Click here for a list of the titles that made the original incarnation of our list on June 9, 2014.


100. Ico (2001)

Single-player video games are lonely. Ico made loneliness feel magical by giving you a companion, even as it constantly reminded you how alien her mind must be. Just like Princess Yorda’s gnomic utterances imply a story that she just can’t share with you, so does the game’s environment imply a vast narrative of which this story is only a part, creating a potent illusion of context through the very act of withholding backstory. While the gameplay itself is basic puzzle-solving and crude combat, it’s the mood that makes it special, the constant sense that there’s something vast just outside the frame. Daniel McKleinfeld

The Talos Principle

99. The Talos Principle (2014)

The Talos Principle articulates the conflict between skepticism and the order of God. This juxtaposition comes in the context of a series of puzzles, implying that human and deity have a natural interest in making sense out of chaos. Without moralizing about sin or catering to secularist values, the game implies that inquisitiveness mechanically binds humanity to a common fate. This conflicted but life-affirming perspective trumps the adolescent nihilism that oversimplifies player choice as an illusion. Even if the philosophical angle in The Talos Principle didn’t exist, the game would still be outstanding. The world design allows you to bounce between puzzles while also requiring a certain degree of completion to try higher challenges. Developer Croteam’s gradual integration of several puzzle types is as accessible as it is shrewdly brain-twisting. Jed Pressgrove

Spec Ops: The Line

98. Spec Ops: The Line (2012)

The ever-shifting sands of Dubai make for a good setting in Spec Ops: The Line: It’s an unreliable environment that matches what turns out to be the game’s unreliable narrator. The military, squad-based action also fits with the theme of responsibility, frequently forcing players to choose between two equally unsavory options. The game’s “Damned If You Do” and “Damned If You Don’t” achievements, earned from killing either a soldier or a civilian, make it clear just how blurry that titular “line” is. Spec Ops: The Line never permits players to rest easily in the distance or abstraction of a long-range war or the novelty of a video game. Players can only focus on the beauty of a blood-orange sandstorm for so long before it dissipates, revealing the gruesome consequences of your violence within it, just as the bird’s-eye view from a dispassionate drone eventually gives way to the revelatory moment in which your squad must wade through the charred bodies of the innocent civilians they just mistakenly dropped white phosphorus upon. The horror, the horror indeed. Aaron Riccio

Hitman 2

97. Hitman 2 (2018)

In the exclusive VIP room of the Isle of Sgàil castle, the five members of the Ark Society council gather to discuss their plans to hold power over the world. During this Illuminati-esque gathering, the members of this privileged elite wear masks to conceal their identities—to discuss how they will profit from fixing the climate change disaster they created. But unbeknownst to them, one member isn’t who he seems. The elusive Agent 47, having earlier tossed member Jebediah Block over a balcony, has infiltrated their ranks, and he sets out to murder them all, dishing out his unique brand of darkly comedic justice. Hitman 2, a fusion of escapist wish-fulfillment and satire, has the player deploy its familiar and new stealth mechanics across inventive scenarios. Whether in an exotic jungle or a Vermont suburb, 47 exploits the hyper-detailed nature of his surroundings to complete his executions, and frequently in hilarious disguise. The game gives players the tools to make their own amusing stories within various open worlds, from choking an F1 driver while disguised in a flamingo outfit, to blowing up a Columbian drug lord using an explosive rubber duck, to reprogramming an android so it can gun down an MI5 agent turned freelance assassin played by Sean Bean. Ryan Aston

Conker’s Bad Fur Day

96. Conker’s Bad Fur Day (2001)

Considering the reason so many of us play video games, it’s odd how often most titles follow a very specific set of unspoken rules. Not so with Conker’s Bad Fur Day, a recklessly unfiltered romp through a parody of inanely inoffensive titles like Banjo-Kazooie. Conker cursed and solved puzzles by getting drunk enough to extinguish flame demons with his piss, blithely sent up pop culture as diverse as A Clockwork Orange, Saving Private Ryan, Alien, and The Matrix, and still had time to lob rolls of toilet paper down the gullet of a giant operatic poo monster. For sheer balls, lunatic ingenuity, and crass charm, there’s never been anything like it. Riccio

Star Fox 64

95. Star Fox 64 (1997)

The N64 was an awkward era in Nintendo’s history, as the company was getting its sea legs as it was transitioning into 3D gaming. And because of that weird third leg protruding obnoxiously from the center of the system’s controller, it wasn’t exactly easy to play the second title in the Star Fox series. But the controls were responsive, meaning it was at least easy for players to endure Star Fox 64’s steep learning curve. Reminiscent of games like 1985’s Space Harrier and 1995’s Panzer Dragoon, this compelling on-rails space shooter gave us anthropomorphic animals piloting what were ostensibly X-Wing starfighters in a galactic battle against Andross. The game featured local co-op, which made it even more enjoyable because of the multitude of additional explosions on screen. And though it came out toward the end of the 20th century, Star Fox 64 was very clearly inspired by cubist art, making it a perturbing and exciting departure from the vibrant and richly detailed worlds players were exploring in other Nintendo titles. Unsurprisingly, we’re still doing barrel rolls to this day, so we can thank Peppy Hare for the tip all those years ago. Jeremy Winslow

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

94. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (2017)

Ninja Theory’s Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is unusually sensitive for a horror game, rejecting as it does the trend of using mental illness for cheap scares. As disturbing as the contradictory voices in the titular protagonist’s head might be, her fractured psychological state doesn’t exist to leave players feeling frightened, but to serve up a philosophical inquiry with universal resonance. Between fights with scores of mythic beings (the one-versus-all war in the Sea of Corpses is among the most ominous action spectacles in gaming history), the player learns that Senua loathes the voices within her as much as she does anything else—and that self-hatred must be recognized and managed in order for her to attain some form of peace. This dark but life-affirming parable amplifies its emotional power through mesmerizing audiovisuals, where hallucinatory whispers argue over whether you’re ever going the right way and motion-capture graphics ironically seem like reality when juxtaposed against full-motion video. Pressgrove

Cart Life

93. Cart Life (2010)

Video games usually de-personalize business management. They shift the perspective upward, letting us look down on workers and customers as they go about the mechanical tasks we designate from on high. Designer Richard Hofmeier’s Cart Life keeps things street level, building a life sim around its business management. Its monochrome characters barely scrape by, stretching cash as far as they’re able while making time to feed cats or pick daughters up from school. Though the game can easily wear you down, it also gives weight to the small victories, like selling enough to keep going. Video games have considerable power to communicate experiences to the player, and it’s used most often for saving worlds and amassing collectibles and jacking cars. Cart Life is a reminder of the humanity the medium is capable of. Scaife


92. Ikaruga (2001)

The standard shooter tasks players with dodging enemy fire and collecting power-ups while unleashing a steady torrent of bullets at one’s foes. Ikaruga masterfully bucks that trend by introducing a polarity system, wherein your ship can only be damaged by bullets of the opposite color of your ship. The game stands apart from other titles in the subgenre of shoot ‘em up known as bullet hell by, well, leaning into the hell of gunfire. This bold choice, which turns like-colored bullets into tools, stylishly revitalizes the genre, forcing players to unlearn old habits and adapt to new ones that see them boldly flying into a stream of white lasers, swapping polarity, and then releasing a barrage of fully charged black homing missiles on one’s foes. Everything in these often claustrophobic corridors becomes an elegant puzzle, one where players must, judo-like, turn the enemy’s barrage against it. High-score runs and harder difficulties require even more elegance and precision, as these modes now also expect players to pinpoint foes so as to kill identically colored targets in combo-creating sets of three, or to recharge ammunition by bathing in enemy bullets. Every single bullet is an opportunity in Ikaruga, assuming the player is bold enough to make them count. Riccio

Xenoblade Chronicles

91. Xenoblade Chronicles (2010)

Xenoblade Chronicles, like fellow 2012 JRPG revivalist (and Chrono Trigger-indebted) Final Fantasy XIII-2, cleverly uses the thematic components of shifting destinies and humankind versus higher powers as ways in which to depict the oscillating mental states of its central characters. You won’t be likely to find a more fleshed-out batch of heroes than 18-year-old sword-swinger Shulk and his ragtag group of Mechon-battlers. Creator Tetsuya Takahashi clearly understands that a great RPG starts and ends with its cast, and how well players can identify with their specific, often extrinsic, ambitions and dreams. Monolith Soft’s ambitious epic is beautiful, challenging, emotionally gripping, and, above all, effortlessly transporting. Mike LeChevallier

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The 10 Best Albums of 1986

We take a look back and reflect on the music that defined one of the most definable of decades.



Beastie Boys
Photo: Columbia Records

In my introduction to Slant’s list of the 100 Best Albums of the 1980s, I noted that, while ‘80s pop culture is largely remembered for its frivolity, the social unrest that stirred beneath the decade’s brightly colored gloss and greed resulted in not just the guilt-driven good intentions of enterprises like the star-studded USA for Africa, but a generation of artists whose music genuinely reflected the state of the world. From political violence across the pond and the struggles and dreams of the American working class, to race relations, sexuality, and gender, no topic was left unexcavated by the pop, rock, and hip-hop artists of the Reagan era. As we enter the 2020s, an entire generation removed from the ‘80s, it seems as good a time as any to once again look back and reflect on the music that defined one of the most definable of decades. Sal Cinquemani

Honorable Mention: The Bangles, Different Light; Afrika Bamabaataa & Soulsonic Force, Planet Rock: The Album; Metallica, Master of Puppets; Talk Talk, The Colour of Spring; New Order, Brotherhood; Dwight Yoakam, Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.; The Robert Cray Band, Strong Persuader; Throwing Muses, Throwing Muses; Randy Travis, Storms of Life; The Go-Betweens, Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express


10. Sonic Youth, EVOL

Jittery and eclectic, 1987’s EVOL stands far apart from the later, more cohesive Daydream Nation; it’s a difficult album that’s nonetheless one of the best latter-day invocations of no-wave chaos. Full of sustained bursts of cathartic noise, the album kicks off with the jagged squeal of “In the Kingdom #19,” which employs Minuteman bassist Mike Watt over a spoken-word account of a car crash, months after the death of bandmate D. Boon in similar circumstances. Lydia Lunch contributes vocals to the blown-out wasteland “Marilyn Moore,” adding to the weird collegial air of one of the group’s strangest albums. Jesse Cataldo


9. XTC, Skylarking

The story behind the recording of XTC’s Skylarking is that the band absolutely hated working with producer Todd Rundgren, whom they found overbearing and snide, but none of that behind-the-scenes tension translated into the finished product, as joyous and buoyant a pop album as has ever been recorded. The songwriting is balanced between Andy Partidge’s more twee impulses and Colin Moulding’s grounded, dry wit, while Rundgren’s on-point production splits the difference between the band’s Pet Sounds inspiration and new wave’s bounce. Even when the band explores headier themes, such as the working-class disaffect on standout “Earn Enough for Us” and the potent defense of atheism on minor-hit single “Dear God,” their melodies are outsized and sunny. Skylarking might not have been fun to record, but it’s still a blast to listen to. Jonathan Keefe

Raising Hell

8. Run-DMC, Raising Hell

It wasn’t the album that made hip-hop “safe” to white, middle American audiences (that didn’t come along until M.C. Hammer’s Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em), but Run-D.M.C.’s landmark Raising Hell was the album that truly gave a broader pop audience an entry point into hip-hop music. That Run-D.M.C. were able to break through on such a massive scale without sacrificing their aggressive sampling of harder-edged rock music or their inimitable lyrical flow speaks to the skill, unrivaled at the time, that they displayed on Raising Hell. Thanks to producers Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons, the fans who were initially hooked by the group’s cover of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” discovered the depth of sound, purposeful use of samples, and razor-sharp wordplay that made the mid-’80s rap music’s golden age. Keefe

True Blue

7. Madonna, True Blue

Sure, some of the production choices on True Blue sound chintzy and dated in comparison to those on Madonna’s other ‘80s releases, but there’s no getting around the fact that five of the album’s nine tracks are among the strongest individual singles of her career. More importantly, though, True Blue was the album on which it became readily apparent that Madonna was more than just a flash-in-the-pan pop star. It’s when she began manipulating her image—and her audience—with a real sense of clarity and purpose and made sure she had quality songs to back up her world-dominating ambition. Keefe

Lifes Rich Pageant

6. R.E.M., Lifes Rich Pageant

In which the college (rock) kids graduate and head into the real world, ready to take over. And, in R.E.M.’s case, they came pretty close to doing just that. Lifes Rich Pageant stands as a nearly seamless transition between the band’s formative period and their commercial dominance. The ragged, frenetic energy of R.E.M.’s early work is captured on “Just a Touch” and “These Days,” while “Fall On Me” and their cover of the Clique’s “Superman” showcase a newfound emphasis on pop hooks. In striking that balance, Lifes Rich Pageant is a template for how the “alternative” music the band was largely responsible for originating would, less than a decade later, become the dominant narrative in the music industry. Keefe

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