The SPIN Alternative Record Guide is a great read for anyone who deems 120 Minutes great television. With few exceptions, the write-ups of more than 400 mostly post-MTV artists are easy to digest and damn entertaining, meaning the Guide isn’t often hampered by the comprehensible-is-uncool ‘tude that can render the monthlySPIN a pain. The Guide is billed as containing “[t]he essential artists of punk, new wave, indie rock, and hip hop.” Each musician’s entry kicks off with adiscography, complete with a chronology of albums and a rating of each recording on a scale of one to 10. The compendium also includes lightweight features like contributors’ lists of theirtop 10 discs, and an all-time “Top 100 Alternative Albums” roster.
In selecting who gets in and who doesn’t, the editors have employed a home-grown and not altogether clear definition of “alternative”: Abba and Salt-N-Pepa are listed, Frank Zappa isn’t. On the positive side, this lets editors Eric Weisbard and Craig Marks give props to artists who’ve never gotten much more than name-dropped in college rock reviews. Ornette Coleman, for example, rates the book’s longest entry, and Lubbock’s countrified Flatlanders—whose only disc was 1972’s presciently titled More a Legend Than a Band—garner only slightly less verbiage. The dark side of this strategy is that it gives some critics, in the vernacular of the medium, enough rope to hang themselves: Chuck Eddy not-so-cutesily throws albums by Quarterflash and Loverboy into his top 10.
But, when the day is done, who cares if the cover constitutes false advertising? Nobody gets too pissed when a French word shows up in an English dictionary. Besides, the Kiss blurb surely would’ve been bumped if things were played too close to the vest.