Pleading Guilty

The best-of awards have come and gone, but these overlooked tunes play on.

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T.A.T.U.: As guilty as pleasures get.
T.A.T.U.: As guilty as pleasures get.

Year-end top 10 lists are like Wonderbras: They make folks look better by disguising reality a bit. The albums any critic deems the best of the year aren't always the records he listened to the most. I'll admit it: In 2002, I listened to Bongzilla as much as Beck. So why did the latter top my best-of list, while the former was nowhere to be found? Because every year there's plenty of fun, flippant music that gets lots of play, but ultimately is as indefensible as Treasure Planet's budget. That doesn't make the music negligible; it just means that some records are meant to be taken seriously, some less so. Last week, we hit y'all with our picks for the finest albums of 2002; now it's time for a look at the guilty pleasures that have been in steady rotation on our stereo of late . . .

Bongzilla, Stash (Relapse) -- Every damn song is an ode to weed, with disturbingly obsessive lyrics: "I need to taste your breath every day/I need the love you bring/I just wanna live my life with you forever by my side," Muleboy growls midway through the THC tidal wave. Spicoliisms aside, though, Bongzilla's Moby Dick-sized riffing makes this record a must-have, along with a two-liter of Visine.

T.A.T.U., 200 KM/H in the Wrong Lane (Interscope) --"Have I crossed the line?" elfin T.A.T.U. chanteuse Lena Katina asks early on. Well, let's see here: Two hot, androgynous Russian teens who make it with each other and crank out tawdry Europop that's like digital Viagra. So Wrong, yet so right.

Dirty Vegas/Kylie Minogue, "Love at First Sight (Scumfrog Beauty and the Beast Vocal Mix)" (Ultra) -- A pair of 2002's ubiquitous dance-floor populists team up for a track of pure disco Velveeta. With beats as big as Paul Oakenfold's ego and Minogue moaning like Monica Seles in match play, this cut is so deliciously cheesy, you could serve it on a Ritz at your next cocktail party.

The Queen Symphony Orchestra, The Queen Symphony Orchestra (EMI) -- Queen's preening prog-pop was pretty bloated and pretentious to begin with, so naturally it fits well within the context of classical music. A symphony in six movements, performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and inspired by the works of Freddie Mercury and Co., this disc somehow makes Queen's repertoire even more grand and ostentatious. But without Mercury's operatic whinny -- about as appealing as carpooling with Diana Ross -- finally, Queen ceases to be such a royal pain in the ass.

Metallica/Ja Rule/Swizz Beats, "We Did It Again" (Dreamworks) -- Like a Steven Seagal film or dinner at Chi-Chi's, this cut is so bad, it's good. Metallica is notoriously reluctant to allow its material to be sampled, and even more hesitant when it comes to collaborations. What made the band greenlight this project is beyond us, but it provides more unintentional hilarity than George W. at a podium. Hearing Ja Rule rap about "fast cars and fast broads" -- along with just about every other rock cliché imaginable -- over big, burping guitars is the stuff of which punch lines are made. There's been talk of the decline of rap-rock recently, and this number could put the toe tag on the whole scene.

Various Artists, Hidden Beach Recordings Presents: Unwrapped Vol. 2 (Hidden Beach) -- An album of hip-hop standards and thug anthems reinterpreted as smooth jazz, this disc swaps Ludacris's 9 mm for a Super Soaker. Taking the nut-grabbing machismo out of these cuts allows the funk to come to the forefront and the music to really breathe, making the menace disappear quicker than Coolio's career.

King Missile III, The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (Instinct/Knitting Factory) -- More bent, beatnik hilarity from the man who brought you "Detachable Penis." Ella Fitzgerald's underwear, Jerry Van Dyke's pancreatic fluids, cheese enemas, and pictures of Satan humping a bunny can all be found here. Think Allen Ginsberg with a crappy drum machine and a pocket full of amyl nitrate, arguing that Lyndon Johnson was made of clothespins and Eisenhower was a cantaloupe. Better yet, don't think at all. It'll only spoil the fun.

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