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10. Tori Amos
"'97 Bonnie and Clyde," from Strange Little Girls (Atlantic)
With her cover of "Smells Like Teen Spirit," Tori Amos served as a translator for Nirvana fans, her hyperarticulate phrasing erasing all of Kurt Cobain's mumbled mysteries. Eminem speaks quite clearly, thanks, but Tori strips bare his sociopathic intent by placing his lyrics in the slit throat of this tune's murdered wife. It works -- her beyond-the-grave whispers and moans are nightmare-inducing.
11. Gorky's Zygotic Mynci
"Christina," from How I Long to Feel That Summer in My Heart (Mantra)
Seemingly pieced together from snippets of several equally gorgeous songs, "Christina" is an overture for some grand yet-to-be-made pristine piano-pop production. It opens with a sweeping symphonic wave, but after twenty seconds, it evolves into an easygoing ode to a ballerina. Later, it becomes even more sparse, as if the tune's lovestruck protagonist hired an orchestra for a serenade, blew his budget and was left to finish alone with his piano.
"Purple Pills," from Devil's Night (Interscope/Shady)
Eminem's six-man crew's mildly shocking rhymes became milder still when MTV memorably turned the tune into "Purple Hills," complete with maroon mountains on the horizon. But the lumbering bassoon-and-bass beat, wicked-nasty even before the harmonica kicks in, remained uncensored.
"Drowning," from Sometimes (Dreamworks)
One-man-band Jimmy Gnecco's occasionally overwrought vocals grate over the length of an entire album, but his wide-jawed wails fit this downbeat tune perfectly, even after it bleeds into a seemingly unrelated yet engaging acoustic epilogue.
"Disciple," from God Hates Us All (American)
Hate heals/You should try it sometime, Tom Araya screams during this tune's multilayered, technically flawless thrash-punk assault. It's unfortunate advice, especially coming from an album released on September 11, when the nation sought consolation. But when Araya later elaborates with I hate everyone equally, Slayer's brand of menace becomes strangely comforting. It's just a harmless caricature of the hellish conditions encountered on a daily basis in other countries, and, now that the group is touring months after the attacks, it's also a reminder that Americans have gone back to amusing themselves with potent fake evil instead of staying at home, petrified by the threat of the real thing. God bless you, Slayer.
"Izzo," from The Blueprint (Def Jam/Roc-A-Fella)
Freaking a more refined version of the Jackson Five sample that powered Naughty by Nature's "O.P.P.," Jigga spits lines such as Fo' schizzo my nizzel used to dribble down in VA, sending suburban kids out on a sheepish search for an urban-slang decoder ring.
16. The Flaming Stars
"Ten Feet Tall," from Ginmill Perfume (Alternative Tentacles)
What song released in 2001 did the most convincing impression of a Velvet Underground composition? If you named anything by the Strokes, sorry -- they were just second-bananas compared with the Flaming Stars' acid flashback "Ten Feet Tall." Singer Max Décharné nails Lou Reed's coolly detached delivery, and the band's simple attack -- an intoxicating organ hook, a running-in-place drumbeat that teases but never erupts and a precious few guitar strums used to maximum effect -- captures the essence of the original alternative outfit.