1. THE GORGE -- Dave Matthews Band
Weeks on chart: 1
Style: Concert verite jam-band documentary.
Objectionable material: "Rapunzel" (double entendres).
Worldview: "I am no Superman. I have no answers for you. / I am no hero. Oh, that's for sure" ("Where Are You Going").
Overall quality: With 14 songs on two CDs and 11 more on the DVD (and nine of them already presented live on Live at Red Rocks 8.15.95), too much for anyone but the already converted.
2. THE CURE -- The Cure
Weeks on chart: 1
Style: Maelstrom-like alternative rock.
Objectionable material: "Before Three," "Us or Them" (obscenity).
Worldview: "Death is with us all. / We suck him down with our first breath / and spit him out as we fall. / There is no terror in my heart, / no dread of the unknown, / desire for paradise to be."
Overall quality: The effort and the desperation feel real, but without catchy melodies, Robert Smith's prolixity and pained yelping grate.
3. A GHOST IS BORN -- Wilco
Weeks on chart: 2
Style: World-weary rock, alternative folk division.
Objectionable material: "Company in My Back" (obscenities).
Worldview: "Theologians, they don't know nothing / about my soul. / . . . They thin my heart with little things / and my life with change / in so many ways. / I find more missing every day."
Overall quality: An inchoate hybrid of the harrowing grimness of Neil Young's Tonight's the Night and the luminous lethargy of Big Star's Third.
4. MAGNIFICENT DISTANCE -- Chris Robinson
Weeks on chart: 1
Style: Hard, Southern-flavored blues-rock with mystical, quasi-biblical echoes.
Worldview: "Sinking ships and dead-end streets, / long goodbyes and dirty sheets, / empty bottles, forgotten songs, / pick your poison. To each his own" ("Surgical Glove").
Overall quality: Giving off more than a whiff of the '60s, this ambitious attempt to give voice to Mr. Robinson's id struggles against but eventually collapses beneath the same faux heaviness that felled the likes of Jim Morrison.
5. TO THE 5 BOROUGHS -- Beastie Boys
Weeks on chart: 3
Style: An enthusiastic return to the brash, late-'80s rap style that the Beastie Boys themselves pioneered, brought up to date with cruder language and liberal politics.
Objectionable material: Most of the 15 tracks (profanity, obscenity, vulgarity, blasphemy).
Worldview: "Maybe it's time that we impeach Tex and the military muscle that he wants to flex. By the time Bush is done, what will be left?"
Overall quality: Half-man, half-boy.
In the spotlight
Controversy surrounds many aspects of John Kerry's past, but with the re-release of The Electras, a nondescript frat-rock album recorded by Mr. Kerry and five of his high-school friends in 1962, one issue can be put to rest: He doesn't rock much. Granted, as the bassist, his was a supporting rather than a leading role. But bassists are traditionally dull, and in a presidential campaign during which he's trying to overcome his image as a stiff, he might prefer that The Electras remain obscure. The music is competent but tepid (hardly the sort of thing to inspire voter turnout), and the cover photo showing the future senator looking sepulchral even as a youth suggests that Botox may not solve his current problems. Contentwise, it's track six ("Summertime Blues") that deserves the closest attention. It contains the following eerily prophetic couplet: "Gonna save two weeks, gonna have a fine vacation. / Gonna take my problem to the United Nations."