Unwell is the second single from the More Than You Think You Are CD. It's an improvement over Disease, a lame attempt at a rocker and pale imitation of Smooth, Rob Thomas' Santana collaboration. Unwell has the soothing, easy, well crafted sound that helped make the band big. The chorus is catchy and hard to resist. But generally, Unwell is bland. It's so tastefully innocuous that it barely registers. A banjo in the beginning and end adds a little flavor but Unwell could use a lot more. It doesn't help that Unwell, like Disease, is another tale of how screwed up Thomas is. Especially now that Matchbox 20 is an established, very successful band, Thomas' repeated tales of woe are increasingly tiresome. Unwell is more optimistic than some of them. Thomas thinks "I'm headed for a breakdown and I don't know why" but he also feels like he'll soon get things together.
Avril Lavigne-Im With You(down 4 positions)
Avril Lavignes major label recording career is off to an incredible start with three #1 pop singles. Like its predecessors from the Let Go CD, Im With You always seemed destined for the top. Depending on who you believe Lavigne, a former Shania Twain wannabe, has succeeded by presenting a calculated image or presenting herself as is. Regardless, her music is good, especially for teen pop. Lavigne has established her cred with a rebellious but not weird image and songs that rock and are also catchy. The kids obviously dont think her wimpy for doing a fairly standard ballad. Im With You has many of the trappings of an easy listening hit. With fairly heavy strings and power chords and drums crashing in on the chorus, Im with You follows power ballad conventions. The verses are fairly drab and Lavignes voice is thin in patches. But Lavignes sincerity gives Im With You power. When she wails the title, Lavigne seems more real than the typical balladeer. Theres an appealing youthful openness to Im With Yous lyrics about being ready to unconditionally throw herself into a relationship with a special someone wholl find her, take her hand and end her loneliness.
Daniel Bedingfield-If You're Not The One(up 4 positions)
After coming out of nowhere with the dance hit Gotta Get Thru This, the title track from his CD, Daniel Bedingfield is back with another big hit. Most of the CD has a low budget feel that's not surprising since Bedingfield made most of the sounds himself, often at home on his computer. If You're Not The One has clanky, minimal synth and drum machine backing. I liked Gotta Get Thru This and its basic, giddy evocation of Michael Jackson's classic sound. But If You're Not The One, while heartfelt, is way too lame and Muzaky for me. If You're Not The One is inconsequential and, with its synth string effects, more than a little sappy. I guess the key to its success is Bedingfield's sincere vocal. He sounds like he means it when he celebrates how his hand fits with his love's and how she makes "my soul feel glad." Romantic female fans must love how Bedingfield admits that the idea of being without her brings him to tears.
Missy Elliott featuring Ludacris-Gossip Folks(unchanged)
Gossip Folks is the second hit from the Under Construction CD. Gossip Folks again shows that Elliott(with help from coproducer Timbaland) is one of the most inventive people making mainstream records. With a hard, edgy sound, Gossip Folks smartly communicates the nastiness of trash talking and her disdain for it. Gossip Folks never takes a break. The repeated, harsh honking sample nicely creates a charged atmosphere. After a gossiping intro, Elliott announces her anger through a hoarse, agitated squeal. Gossip Folks mocks the song's gossipers by having them talk gibberish in a childish voice. I've never been a Ludacris fan but his rap is nicely focused and keeps Gossip Folks' energy high. The song finishes by giving Elliott a chance to put down the gossipers and then tell a joke, asking the people she just dissed to buy her record. I can imagine people finding Gossip Folks' harsh riff irritating. Gossip Folks isn't as inviting or likable as Work It. But while Gossip Folks isn't the effervescent song Work It is, it is a good, exciting, challenging single.
Aaliyah-Miss You(up 1 position)
More than a year and a half after her death, Aaliyah is back on the charts with her second posthumous pop hit. Miss You is on the I Care 4 U CD, which includes eight of Aaliyah's hits and six new songs. I find Miss You, with tweeting bird effects presumably meant to evoke heaven, a touch creepy. On the video, popular artists lip synch Aaliyah's lines about missing a lover who went off to college as if they wrote the song about Aaliyah. It's a little weird but the performers' affection for Aaliyah is surely real. Miss You, written and produced by Johnta Austin and Teddy Bishop, is generally OK. Aaliyah's singing is fine and it's nicely mixed with good backing vocals. A quiet, simple beat and restrained keyboards don't interfere with the ethereal mood. Miss You's music is oddly similar to that of Minnie Ripperton's Lovin' You. It's very smooth and soothing. It's also so mellow it could put you to sleep.
John Mayer-Why Georgia(up 4 positions)
Why Georgia is the third chart hit from the young singer/songwriter's Room For Squares CD. More than a year after No Such Thing first hit the chart, my thoughts about Mayer are basically the same. Mayer has a mellow, mildly whimsical style that would normally be consistent with an older artist who is tired and slowing down or bemused after years of facing life's absurdities. It's odd to me that someone in his mid 20s seems so unambitious and self satisfied. The frankly sexual Your Body Is A Wonderland was charmingly cheeky but Yes Georgia is just more pleasant, vague, easy listening. Mayer again deploys a vocal that's sly and engaging but has little force. Mayer is apparently a good guitar player but he's careful not to be too showy, only displaying his skills in very limited bursts. I don't know whether it symbolizes an urge to leave his mild, smooth work behind and make more challenging music but on Why Georgia, Mayer sings about being tempted to leave his drab, lonely Georgia life behind, asking "am I living it right?" Mayer asks whether he should take a chance and tells himself he can't be satisfied with "everything happens for a reason."
Eminem-Sing For The Moment(up 16 positions)
When The Eminem Show came out, its rock songs, Sing For The Moment and White America seemed like an attempt to hedge bets by an artist who had sold millions of records but had yet to have a big pop or rock radio hit. Eminem's hits have since crossed over to nearly every format so the rock inflected songs have proven commercially unnecessary. But Sing For The Moment has provided another good single from a good album. Dream On is a fairly obvious song to sample for a hip hop track. It's familiar and dramatic. Especially with Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry doing a new, showy solo, Sing for The Moment is over the top and overloaded with meaningful sounds. But melodrama is a natural mode for Eminem. On the verses, over a big, basic beat and muted guitar, Eminem again gets to show off his rap's slithery facility as he powerfully drives the song forward. The intensity of Sing For The Moment's music matches Eminem's typical sense of self dramatization. He declares that his "ideas are nightmares for white parents" and that the parents' "worst fear" is kids emulating him since that would show that what the parents say "has no bearing." Eminem gets a chance to vent his paranoia, saying that while kids "worship us", "critics crucify you", attorneys all want "to get they hands on every dime you have" and "prosecuters wanna convict me." Eminem's defense is "if my music is literal and I'm a criminal", how can I raise a little girl? Eminem assumes that criminals will blame his music for the crimes they commit, concedes that violent imagery helps his sales and credits himself for giving hope to kids "who don't have a thing except for a dream." With its heavy feel, Sing For The Moment isn't as fun as some of Eminem's hits but it maintains a good sense of urgency and again shows that Eminem is a gifted rapper and fascinating personality.
Jason Mraz-The Remedy(unchanged)
Jason Mraz is a young singer/songwiter from Virginia who made his way to San Diego. The Remedy is from Mraz' Waiting For My Rocket To Come CD, which was produced by John Alagia, who's worked with Dave Matthews and John Mayer. Mraz wrote The Remedy with The Matrix(Lauren Christy, Graham Edwards and Scott Spock), who wrote Avril Lavigne's hits. The Remedy is cute and catchy but it doesn't measure up to Lavigne's best work. The Matthews/Mayer connection is apt since Mraz is another cocky, glib young white guy though, to be fair to Matthews and Mayer, Mraz is glibber and his music seems less substantial. The Remedy is pleasant and boomer friendly but its relentless cheerfulness is too much. On its "I won't worry my life again" chorus, The Remedy's catchiness is undermined by a slick shallowness worthy of a TV commercial. Mraz does a white hipster rap on the verses of a sort that gave Barenaked Ladies and others hits but has fallen out of favor on the pop charts the last couple years. The Remedy's music is appropriately perky with a bouncy bass and guitar and cheap sounding synths.
The Used-Buried Myself Alive(up 5 positions)
Buried Myself Alive is from the self titled CD by the band from Orem, Utah fronted by Kelly Osborne's ex(he dumped her after the Osbornes connection brought unwanted attention). I liked The Used's first chart hit, The Taste Of Ink, which featured Quinn Allmann's tight, crunching guitar and Bert McCracken's impassioned vocal. Buried Myself Alive is much more routine neo-grunge. It starts with a processed guitar riff that's a lot like the one Puddle Of Mudd used on Blurry. The riff seems like an attempt to give Buried Myself Alive a meaningful feel but it's mostly just annoying. The song gets better when Allman's guitar gets harder and bigger and McCracken gives up serious, intense singing and starts shrieking and going nuts. But even then, Buried Myself Alive isn't so different from songs by so many other angry, confused young rockers. The Used's music doesn't seem as calculated for commercial success as that of many of their modern rock contemporaries. They have the potential to make interesting, distinctive music but Buried Myself Alive isn't it. McCracken sings that he was hurt so badly that he "buried myself alive on the inside." After puking the day away, he decides to turn the tables, putting "my foot on your neck" and telling her "if you want me back, you're gonna have to ask nicer than that."
B2K and P. Diddy-Bump, Bump, Bump(down 1 position)
Bump, Bump, Bump is from the Pandemonium CD. B2K, P. Diddys young proteges, have shown little talent except for the ability to look good and confident in their videos but a year after hitting the charts with the dopey, catchy Uh Huh, they have an even bigger hit with the equally dopey and even catchier Bump, Bump, Bump. B2K owe R. Kelly, who wrote and produced Bump Bump, Bump, for the songs success. Bump, Bump, Bump has the single minded focus on sex and pleasure of much of Kellys previous work. With a sensual bass drum beat, a good acoustic guitar riff and an emphatic synth underlining the title, Bump, Bump, Bumps music is enticing. I see why Bump, Bump, Bump is a hit but I still find it very annoying. Starting with the cliched sending this out to all the ladies, the boys lines and delivery are so heavy handed and uninspired that I dont see what theyre so cocky about. The lyrics dont go much beyond admiring a girls sexy style and requesting that she start pleasin me. Im no fan of P. Diddys flat, low energy raps but his portion of Bump, Bump, Bump has a little more substance than B2Ks lightweight singing. I only find Bump, Bump, Bump tolerable when I ignore the vocals and focus on the groove.
Jennifer Lopez and LL Cool J-All I Have(down 9 positions)
Jennifer Lopez impressive string of hits continues with the second single from her This Is Me Then. Lopez apparently isnt a great actress but she has a decent career in solidly constructed, unmemorable films built around her appealing presence. Similarly, Lopez is an unremarkable singer and her songs charm rarely outlive their chart life. But her musical star vehicles are even more impressive than her movies. All I Have is fairly unambitious but its very likable and comfortable. All I Haves tale of a woman bouncin^ from a relationship with a charming, untrustworthy guy isnt new but its singers star quality gives it a larger than life, cinematic feel. LL Cool J is particularly convincing playing charming, cocky and irresponsible, making Lopez decision whether to hold onto her pride seem real. Lopez essentially plays straight man to Cool Js scene stealing Lothario but her singing is more interesting than usual. She gets added personality by copying the vocal hiccup from Deborah Laws Very Special, the song that supplies All I Haves catchy sample. The sample, the singers chemistry, and an easy beat and chiming effects create a smooth easy to take sound.
Christina Aguilera-Fighter(up 13 positions)
Christina Agulera made great progress in fixing her image problems with Beautiful, the second hit from her Stripped CD. Beautiful allowed Aguilera, who had developed a narcissistic, weird persona, to present herself as needy and empathetic with all her fans who have self image problems. On Fighter, Aguilera reverts to an image of self interest and unpleasant ambition. Aguilera has an undeniable vocal gift. But her voice is so big that she can seem like she's just showing off. On Beautiful, Aguilera benefitted from the fairly light touch and commercial sense of producer Linda Perry. On Fighter, producer Scott Storch not only doesn't restrain Aguilera's showboating tendencies but encourages her to go way over the top. Fighter is strewn with a big hard rock guitar sound that totally lacks subtlety. Fighter soon becomes a showdown between the guitars and Aguilera's voice that results in a shrill, headache inducing mess. Aguilera seems to be referring to a boyfriend who used her but, with its references to cheating and greed and cheating, Fighter could just refer to a record company rep who dared challenge her. Either way, Fighter's gritted teeth confidence and bombastic sound hardly has Beautiful's charming vulnerability. Many may have been surprised by Beautiful's expression, written by Perry, of self doubt. It will be news to few that Fighter, written by Aguilera, declares that Aguilera is determined to succeed.
The Wallflowers-How Good It Can Get(unchanged)
I enjoyed When You're On Top, the first chart hit from the Red Letter Days CD, and its icy, synth dominated atmosphere and self loathing lyrics. How Good It Can Get is more standard Wallflowers fare. It's got a smooth, pleasant sound but it's nothing new. The lyrics are a nice message to a friend that things will get better. But How Good It Can Get is pretty insubstantial.
Ataris-In This Diarybuy it!
In This Diary is on So Long, Astoria, The Atari's major label debut after a bunch of independent releases. The Ataris fit somewhere between rocking, idealistic emo bands and perky pop punk bands like Blink 182 and Sum 41. With its clean, high energy, optimistic sound, In This Diary resembles the music of emo kings Jimmy Eat World's. The Ataris play hard and fast and even use JEW's scratchy guitar sound. Jimmy Eat World's music has an mature, intelligent feeling that In This Diary lacks. In This Diary's "the only thing that matters is just following your heart" lesson is the kind of trite writing you don't usually get outside bad teen comedies and TV movies. But the charm of Kris Roe's writing and singing is that he proclaims that line and the one about being grown up not being half as much fun as growing up with incredible sincerity as if, after a long period of contemplation, the thought just hit him. Roe expresses such unjaded nostalgia for a summer of his youth that he seems even younger than his 25 years. While Roe's sweet perkiness is charming, In This Diary is so lacking in edge or depth, musically and lyrically, that it's basically uninteresting.
Fleetwood Mac-Peacekeeper(up 9 positions)
Say You Will is Fleetwood Mac's first record of all new material featuring Rumours era members Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie(Christine McVie chose not to participate) in 16 years. Buckingham and Nicks both wrote nine songs that made Say You Will. Maybe the new record isn't just an excuse for a lucrative tour. Peacekeeper is a bit of a mess but it's a worthy addition to Fleetwood Mac's oeuvre. Peacekeeper is clearly a Buckingham composition. It has the combination of weirdness and Beach Boys style harmonies and pop sonics that made Buckingham my favorite Mac member(and made me a big fan of his 1992 Out Of The Cradle solo CD). Buckingham's vocal is a little scary. Nicks is as hoarse as ever but her harmony softens things up and makes Peacekeeper a little more melodic. There's something comforting about hearing familiar voices, more than 25 years after Fleetwood Mac's commercial peak, fighting the challenges that age presents. Buckingham smartly wrote a song that's both likable and interesting. The verses, with a good snappy beat and Buckingham's basic guitar line dissolve into the very catchy chorus that lets the harmonies shine. There's also a good, quiet bridge before the last verse. Peacekeeper ends with a nice, big finish. Buckingham lets loose a little with his singing and plays a good guitar solo with reassuring similarity to ones from other Fleetwood Mac songs(like Go Your Own Way). Despite its title and the timing of its release, Peacekeeper has little to do with war. The lyric is some vague message about how we screw things up and should fight for the "sweet surprise" that is love.
Bowling For Soup-Girl All The Bad Guys Want(up 5 positions)
Until this year, Texas band Bowling For Soup had a fairly small following and were best known for novelty songs like The Bitch Song. Girl All The Bad Guys Want has brought them to a new level, delivering a surprise Grammy nomination for best pop performance by a group and their first pop hit. Bowling For Soup fit with all the punky pop bands like Good Charlotte and Sum 41 who have followed Blink 182 into the top 40. Girl All The Bad Guys Want, from the Drunk Enough To Dance CD, isn't much different from other similar hits but it is a good example of the genre. In the song and the video(which takes off from the line about "singers that are mad at their dad" to mock the pretensions of Fred Durst and Staind's Aaron Lewis), Bowling For Soup seem a little more grown up than their contemporaries. Jaret Reddick has the standard bratty, juvenile voice but he uses it in a smarter way. Chris Burney and Reddick play the usual guitar riffs but vary them, stomping, scratching and spinning as the sound keeps coming in an exciting way. The lyric is a fairly standard tale of unrequited love but it has a light hearted charm. The implicit joke is that it's probably a good thing that Reddick can't win this girl who likes rap metal, wrestling and guys with a moustache.
All-American Rejects-Swing Swing(down 6 positions)
The All-American Rejects are a young band from Stillwater, Oklahoma who fit somewhere within the emo genre. They share a love of a big, basic, upbeat, enthusiastic sound with Jimmy Eat World and other emo practitioners. Swing Swings mix of crunching guitars and shaggy goofiness brings to mind emo predecessors and godfathers Weezer. The way it adds cheesy keyboards to glossy guitar rock recalls an earlier generation of bands like Cheap Trick and Split Enz. Swing Swing is a good time, easily shifting musical focus from a jagged guitar riff to the keyboards to a good bass line. Tyson Ritter is appealingly earnest as he intensely yells. On Swing Swing, Ritter admits being devastated by a breakup but puts on a brave face, promising to find someone new.
Christina Aguilera-Beautiful(down 6 positions)
After Dirrty, Christina Aguilera's update of Redman's Let's Get Dirty, had a fairly short stay in the pop top 20, there was a lot of talk that poor song selection and image presentation would lead Aguilera's career into a nose dive. Aguilera has proved the doubters wrong. Beautiful, the second single from Aguilera's Stripped CD, is one of Aguilera's biggest hits. Aguilera wisely worked on Beautiful with writer/producer Linda Perry, who did Get The Party Started for Pink and is sure to be an extremely sought after collaborator for the forseeable future. Beautiful is smartly constructed. It starts with very minimal music and slowly builds from Perry's piano. The strength of Aguilera's voice has never been in doubt. She again shows impressive range and, while her singing will never be subtle, Aguilera shows some restraint. Lyrically, Beautiful gets off to a bit of a shaky start. Aguilera shares her insecurity about her fame before declaring that her detractors can't "bring me down." But, in conjunction with a good video and an empathetic musical feel, Beautiful's uplifting message of self respect take on a more universal feel that young listeners have latched onto.
Dave Matthews Band-Grey Street(down 2 positions)
Grey Street is the third chart hit from the Busted Stuff CD. With Matthews pleasant, empathetic vocal, Grey Street has the comfortable, familiar, well played feel of a lot of Dave Matthews Band music. Leroi Moores sax and Boyd Tinsleys violin give Grey Street the lurching, stop and start flow of a song like Ants Marching. Grey Street is about a woman trapped in her home by depression. Matthews shows his knowledge of dynamics, letting the music rise as the character is offered an opportunity to experience the world. But just as the woman chooses to stay inside, Matthews mostly chooses to stay within his familiar, comfortable musical form.
David Gray-Be Mine(unchanged)
Be Mine is the second chart hit from David Gray's A New Day At Midnight CD. To Gray's credit, it doesn't seem like he made himself crazy trying to make a commercial hit to follow Babylon. Gray is still making pleasant, unassuming music. Gray's lyrics are often gloomy but Be Mine is upbeat, celebrating the woman who "reached right into my head and turned on the light inside" and made "all the dreams I held in my heart" come true. She isn't smitten like he is yet but Gray, in his low key way, is optimistic, feeling that a love so strong can't be wrong.
Nivea-Don't Mess With My Man(down 3 positions)
Don't Mess With My Man is from Nivea Hamilton's Nivea CD. Don't Mess With My Man is quite lightweight but it's also quite likable. Don't Mess With My Man features Jagged Edge's Brian and Brandon Casey. It's got the easy feel of Jagged Edge's Where The Party At and I find Don't Mess even more enjoyable. With a catchy doodle of a synth riff and a steady beat, Don't Mess With My Man goes by easily. Nivea's voice is pleaant but doesn't show much personality. The Caseys add a little flair with their amiably macho contribution. The lyrics don't go much beyond the title's threat except that the Caseys repeat them and change genders.
Foo Fighters-All My Life(unchanged)
All My Life is from the One By One CD. It's long been clear that Dave Grohl won't approach the brilliance and significance with Foo Fighters former bandmate Kurt Cobain did with Nirvana. But Grohl has already achieved a longevity that Cobain sadly could never have and amassed a solid body of work. Foo Fighters have continued to make decent music and retain a fan base, even as the rock audience's taste has changed. Grohl's music has remained fairly uncomplicated and ungimmicky and he still has a good knack for a hook. While not obviously following trends, Grohl has also kept an eye on the competititon, most recently playing drums for good hard rockers Queens Of The Stone Age. Like a lot of Foo Fighters music, All My Life is not great but good. While it doesn't have their personality, All My Life is very reminiscent of the Foos' best intense rockers like This Is A Call, Monkey Wrench and Everlong. It's fast, fun and lean. Grohl keeps the crunching guitar coming. Grohl isn't the best singer but he's aware of his limitations and, as usual, it's a hoot when he whips himself into such a frenzy that he can't help but scream. On All My Life sings and rants about how he's always been "searching for something", presumably love, but the "something never comes." Haunted by a ghost of someone from the past, Grohl simultaneously rues and exalts in the fact that with women it's "done, done then one to the next one."
Chevelle-The Red(down 4 positions)
The Red is from the Wonder What's Next CD by the Chicago based band formed by the Loeffler brothers. The Red is the latest rock radio hit with threatening atmosphere and a singer seriously intoning about a young man with a troubled mind. It's hardly surprising that two hit songs this year have been based on the idea of "seeing red." At least half of rock music these days is about being pissed off. The Red's repeated riff effectively creates a tense mood, slowly grinding forward with Joe Loeffler's good bass line and Pete Loeffler's crunching guitar. But after The Red creates a stark impression, nothing much happens. As the riff repeats again and again, it loses some of its power. Unlike other current rock singers, Pete generally avoids pretension and overemoting but he's not particularly memorable, until the predictable cathartic climax when he rants "seeing red again." The Red is about a guy unable to control himself after repeatedly being singled out and called a freak.
Finch-What It Is To Burnbuy it!
What It Is To Burn is the title track from the debut record by the band from Temecula, California. What It Is To Burn isn't awful but it is a fairly standard power ballad. The chorus, with a huge sound of crunching guitars and string effects, has a big, yearning feel reminiscent of Our Lady Peace's Somewhere Out There, with the power and excess that suggests. The verses, featuring showy guitar effects, are less interesting. Singer Nate Barcalow seems to have a good, big voice but he's very earnest. He mixes things up, staying restrained on the verses, getting intense on the chorus then going nuts and shrieking "she burns." His explosion into ranting would be more striking if it hadn't already been done on so many other modern rock hits. Finch's big rock anthem sound seems sincere rather than just calculated to make a hit but it's both overly familiar and over the top in being so serious and trying too hard to create a meaningful feel. What It Is To Burn has dramatic imagery. Barcalow wonders about the price of glory and, I guess, admires a woman who's taken chances.
Stacie Orrico-Stuckbuy it!
Sixteen year old Stacie Orrico got her start in Christian pop but has moved into slick hip hop flavored pop. Stuck, from Orrico's self titled record, is a pleasant trifle. On Stuck, Orrico worked with Dallas Austin, who has produced hits for Pink and TLC. Most relevantly, Austin was largely responsible for the sound of Blu Cantrell's smash Hit Em Up Style. Stuck sounds a lot like Hit Em Up Style. It's even more lightweight but it has the same kinds of old fashioned sound effects and a similar loose sound. Orrico's vocal is reminiscent of Cantrell's, except that Cantrell's attitude is replaced by with youthful exuberance. Orrico does a decent job, twisting playfully around the verses. The choruses aren't as interesting but they're catchy with good crunching chords for emphasis. The keyboards are a little fakey and the sound is too slick. Still, Stuck is enjoyably buoyant if insubstantial. Stuck's I hate you but I love you's lyrics, are helped by Orrico's frisky delivery. Stuck, cowritten by Orrico, tells a standard story of not being able to forget about a guy who doesn't treat her like he should.