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POP MUSIC : 20 BANDS THAT MATTER : From hard rock to rap, the music still talks to us with passion and purpose

December 02, 1990|ROBERT HILBURN | Robert Hilburn is The Times' Pop Music Critic.

3 Public Enemy--At a time when rap is often portrayed as a rival of rock for both artistic dominance and social relevance in pop, it may seem odd to include a rap group in a rock discussion. But that wall between rock and rap is largely an artificial one--the result of years of conditioning by radio stations whose formats in the '70s and '80s systematically eliminated country and black artists from rock. The result: a scandalously narrow perception of rock. Half the members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame--from Fats Domino and Little Richard to Otis Redding and the Impressions--would have been considered outsiders under today's thinking. Public Enemy, in fact, represents today's most noteworthy link with the urban, black-music tradition of James Brown and Sly & the Family Stone since Prince--and leader Chuck D. may be the most powerful voice of the social outcast since Bob Marley.

4 Stone Roses--Some rock groups take time before they display commanding vision, but many demonstrate enough of a glimmer of greatness in their first albums to stamp them as significant forces: for example the Sex Pistols, Talking Heads, R.E.M. and U2. The Roses, who have yet to tour the U.S., may never make another album as good as their 1989 debut "Stone Roses," but that collection spoke with a youthful innocence and independence that suggests the Roses are capable of leading more than merely the Manchester, England scene. As independent (and opportunistic) as the Pistols and occasionally as alluring as the Jesus and Mary Chain, the Roses mix some jangly folk-rock and steamy funk, suggesting an equal fondness for the Byrds and Curtis Mayfield.

5 Faith No More--These working-class heroes didn't seem much like champs-in-the-making when they opened recently for Billy Idol at the Forum. Instead of responding to the indifference of the Idol fans by going all-out to win over the crowd, the San Francisco-area quintet just went through the motions and headed home. Still, "The Real Thing" remains a championship album--the most appealing mainstream hard-rock collection since Guns N' Roses' "Appetite for Destruction." The hit single "Epic" is another reason to have faith in the band. It's a smartly designed rap 'n' metal package that may prove to be the "Satisfaction" of the '90s. "Falling to Pieces" is an even more desperate statement of youthful confusion and doubt. Sample lyrics:

Indecision clouds my vision

No one listens . . .

6 The Jesus and Mary Chain--The chances of this British band's ever catching fire in America appear dim, since its intoxicating blend of sweet, seductive melodies, tormented themes and tenacious guitar feedback hasn't struck a nerve yet after four magnificent albums. So brothers Jim and William Reid, the creative center of the band, may be destined to be this generation's Velvet Underground. Their sound has already begun to influence bands from Love & Rockets to the Stone Roses, and the influence is certain to grow.

7 Jane's Addiction--Led Zeppelin may stand as the biggest hard-rock band ever, but there were nights around Los Angeles when Black Flag--with the heart of a punk band and the brute force of a metal band--would have blown them off the stage. On its best nights, Perry Farrell and his mates in Jane's Addiction come breathtakingly close to Flag's intensity and power--adding odd, fascinating layers of arty, psychedelic-accented experimentation to the mix. Farrell, a major artist, seems to have the naive idealism of a child of the '60s, and the steely nerve and energy of a '90s realist.

8 Los Lobos--Like the Band after leaving Bob Dylan in the '60s, this East Los Angeles quintet has created a soulful, thoughtful body of work that speaks of the aspirations and disappointments of a nation in songs that seem at once traditional and contemporary. Los Lobos' significance isn't merely that it is the first great band of Mexican-American heritage--though its success might open a door for more bands with that background. More importantly, the group's success will inspire other bands to strive for the same eloquence of statement and integrity of style. David Hidalgo is one of the most affecting singers in rock, and he and Louie Perez are one of the most gifted writing teams.

9 The Replacements--The biggest question here isn't whether the Replacements deserve a place on the list, but whether the band, which mixes garage-rock instincts and soulful songwriting character, still exists. By most measures, the recent "All Shook Down," where the full band played together on only one track, was as much a solo album as Tom Petty's "Full Moon Fever" or Springsteen's "Nebraska." To be honest, this has always been Paul Westerberg's band, and he matches the haunting, lonely fibers and emotional depth of the group's album "Tim" more consistently in the new album than in any collection since that splendid 1986 work. On his own or with the Replacements, Westerberg remains a major figure.

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