Coldplay-The Scientistbuy it!
In My Place and Clocks, the first two chart hits from Coldplays A Rush Of Blood To The Head CD, were intricate and breathtakingly beautiful. The Scientist isnt as remarkable but its good. Once again, in a world of big guitars and drum machines, its refreshing to hear a song on the radio thats thoughtful and musically low key. On The Scientists first verse, only Chris Martins piano accompanies his voice. The uncluttered sound accentuates Martins sweetness as he tells a woman how lovely you are, reflects on the shame of breaking up and wishes they could go back to the start. Strings, Jon Bucklands strumming and Will Champions drums come in but the sound remains simple and unshowy. The result is likable and poignant. Martin has played the sensitive, heartbroken but ever hopeful spurned lover too many times but he is charming on The Scientist. Martins vocal is natural. The fact that he doesnt overplay the songs emotion helps make his sadness appealing.
Christina Aguilera-Fighter(up 6 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.
Disturbed-Remember(down 1 position)
Remember is the second chart hit from Disturbed's Believe CD. Remember is another piece of trash from the Chicago based band led by troubled singer David Draiman. Disturbed apparently weren't satisfied selling millions of their angry, edgy, threatening Sickness CD. Believe preserves Distubed's attacking, nasty sound but it also seems made with one eye to the market. Remember has a slightly calmer, commercial sound than the band's previous hits. Disturbed's attempt at mainstream rock success makes them seem lamer than ever. On Remember, Draiman again tells about his excruciating inner sickness. Draiman apparently had suppressed "pain I felt so long ago." He is no longer able to ignore the pain but he tries to hide it behind a mask. For a guy who comes on like such a tough guy, Draiman is quite a whiner.
Socialburn-Down(down 7 positions)
Socialburn are a new band from Tallahassee, Florida lead by singer/songwriter Neil Alday. Socialburns Where You Are CD was produced by John Kurweg, whos done a lot of work with Creed. Sadly, Socialburn dont show any more originality or charm than Scott Stapps kings of humorless, successful mediocrity. Sounding like Alice In Chains Layne Staley or Stone Temple Pilots Scott Weiland, Alday has the angry, serious delivery of so many of todays young rock singers. On Down, Alday repetitively voices the common modern rock complaint that an unnamed you says and does things that make me feel like nothing and fuel his inner torment.
Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow-Picture(down 2 positions)
Until Picture was released as a single, Kid Rocks Cocky CD wasnt selling and his career was in decline. Now, a year and a half after it was released, Cocky is another multiplatinum hit for Kid Rock. Ive never been a Kid Rock fan but Picture impresses me. Picture shows more smarts than I thought Kid Rock had. Picture, with its story of a guy cheating on the road while his woman cheats at home, has the feel of a country classic. Kid Rock uses the comfort of a traditional form but doesnt condescend. Pictures music gets an authentic feel from steel guitar but doesnt overdo the twang. The music stays nicely minimal with restrained drumming and organ and a good, simple guitar solo. Kid Rock isnt a great singer but hes decently controlled. As usual, vocal pro Sheryl Crow is solid. Shes a natural with a country ballad but she doesnt upstage Kid Rock. Picture is a big improvement over Kid Rocks previous hit ballad, the self pitying God Only Knows. Picture has a surprising sad sweetness. The adulterers regret their actions and both just want him to come back home.
John Mayer-Why Georgia(unchanged)
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."
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.
Sean Paul-Get Busybuy it!
Sean Paul Henriquez has moved from having dancehall hits in his native Jamaica to international stardom. Get Busy is from Sean Pauls Dutty Rock CD. Pauls loose, goofy rap has its charm. His admonitions for the ladies to shake their booties and get it on with him are harmless. His easy confidence and lack of self consciousness roll over your resistance. But Pauls cocky, lady loving Jamaican is such a stereotype that Get Busy is largely a novelty song. Get Busys saving grace is its infectious music. Get Busy was produced by dancehall veteran Steven Lenky Marsden, who suddenly has two big pop hits. As he did on Wayne Wonders No Letting Go, Marsden used a dawali rhythm on Get Busy. The diwali rhythm, produced by irregular handclaps accompanied by quietly ringing synths, creates a joyful noise and supplies a lot of Get Busys charm. Paul contributes by moving fast and keeping up with the buoyant spirit. Pauls lyric is dopey and innocuous but the musics energy makes Get Busy breezy fun.
Ataris-In This Diary(up 4 positions)
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.
Ja Rule featuring Ashanti-Mesmerize(down 6 positions)
I am really sick of hearing Ja Rule's self satisfied rasp of a voice on his and other people's hits. And I don't like the way Ashanti fits into Jeff Atkins' and Irv Gotti's "man's world" as the ideal, submissive woman. But, damn it, Ja and Irv know how to make catchy, if very lightweight, hits. On Mesmerize, from his The Last Temptation CD, Ja's croak is as annoying as ever. But Ashanti's sweet voice is as appealing as ever and the perky little synth riff is ridiculously catchy. I'd imagine that disses from 50 Cent and others would encourage Ja to toughen up his sound, but I guess, with the success he's had, he's crying all the way to the bank. Mesmerize is another opportunity for Ja to objectify women as he dissects the parts of a women that he loves and uninterestingly says how he wants to "do it" with her. Annoyingly, Ashanti's character mostly plays along, swooning and asking him to "take me tonight and do what you do to me baby."
Seether-Driven Underbuy it!
Seethers Fine Again, a decent Nirvana knockoff featuring Shaun Morgans serious, intense vocal, had a long run on rock radio. Morgan is even more serious and intense on Driven Under, the second chart hit from the South African bands Disclaimer CD, and the song is even less fun. Fine Again was kind of catchy, with some resemblance to the annoying but undeniably hooky How You Remind Me. Driven Under just drags and plods along. Seether get a little distinction from the apparent realness of the pain in Morgans voice. But Driven Under is generic contemporary rock. Its got the humorless, showily meaningful sound of so many other bands. The big, hard rocking guitars predictably crunch in on the chorus. Driven Under is apparently about confronting a girlfriend(do you think that I am blind). The surprising response is that she has a gun that she presumably used before on another guy and is now ready to use on Morgan.
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.
Sum 41-The Hell Song(up 8 positions)
Like Still Waiting, the first chart hit from the Does This Look Infected? CD, The Hell Song indicates that, after depicting themselves as dopey goofballs, the Canadian band wants to be taken seriously. The Hell Song isn't as overreaching as Still Waiting, which assumed that we wanted the kind of dopey band's thoughts about a world filled with hate. The Hell Song is more personal and shows some maturity. While he still sings in a annoyingly bratty voice, Derick Whibley sings that he's learned that we don't always get to choose how "things that matter the most" end up and that "everybody's got their problems." He's also trying to solve problems when he can, learn from hardship and not get overwhelmed by the randomness of life. Hell Song is a hard, straight forward rocker. Hell Song is similar to Still Waiting but it has an even tougher sound. Hell Song has no lulls. It's very tight. Dave Baksh and Whibley keep the guitars coming. Hell Song doesn't have any sense of originality. It's generic fast post punk. But the band keep the music so tight that, while it's not distinctive, Hell Song is exciting. The Hell Song is supported by a good video that, consistent with the band's original youthful image, makes fun use of dozens of action figures representing contemporary stars.
The Used-Buried Myself Alive(down 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."
Finch-What It Is To Burn(unchanged)
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.
Avril Lavigne-Im With You(down 6 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.
All-American Rejects-Swing Swing(unchanged)
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.
Pete Yorn-Come Back Home(up 4 positions)
Pete Yorn has followed his very good debut CD, Musicforthemorningafter, with Day I Forgot. If you know Musicforthemorningafter, there's not much surprising about Come Back Home. Come Back Home features Yorn's cool low rumble of a voice. After receiving good notices for his first record, Yorn hasn't much changed his strategy. On most of Day l Forgot, Yorn and R. Walt Vincent, Yorn's partner on Music ..., played all the instruments. On Day I Forgot, the music again sounds low budget, basic and a little synthetic. Yorn laid down the beat and it has a drum machine predicability. Yorn's stiff, pretty boy singing risks self parody. Yorn's music isn't as fresh the second time around. There's diminishing returns in basically rehashing the same sound. Come Back Home sounds like the rockers from the first record. But Yorn is still making good, interesting music. Come Back Home has good driving guitars and a fun, exciting sound that really kicks in on the chorus. I like the way Yorn and Vincent create great energy by layering a bunch of instruments. Vincent's synth is appealingly cheesy. On Come Back home, Yorn tells a friend to come home and argues that "you're strong enough" to deal with some sort of loss.
Cold-Stupid Girlbuy it!
Jacksonvilles Cold have always seemed like just another hard rocking band with a serious, intense singer and an unoriginal, hard rocking sound. Stupid Girl, from the Year Of The Spider CD, doesnt do much to change that impression. Scooter Ward does a tough guy vocal, ranting out his ambivalence(wanna love ya, wanna bug ya) about a girl whos leaving him. The surprise fact is that Weezers Rivers Cuomo co-wrote and played guitar on Stupid Girl. Its unclear whether Ward or Cuomo, whos often written about being unlucky in love, contributed the self pity(Im a loner, Im a loser) but its a safe bet that Cuomo had a lot to do with Stupid Girls catchy chorus. The chorus simplifies the lyrics to shes going away, whats wrong with my life today. The sound is seductively smoothed out with an appealing wash of power chords. Unfortunately, Stupid Girl keeps returning to verses with standard hard rock theatrics and Wards silly barking and draggy enunciation. Stupid Girl is half fun, dopey arena classic and half, lame routine modern rocker.
Ben Harper-With My Own Two Hands(unchanged)
Ben Harper's new CD is called Diamonds on the Inside. Harper often integrates various world musics into his music. He's done other songs with a reggae flavor but With My Own Two Hands is probably his most complete evocation of the Bob Marley & The Wailers sound. With My Own Two Hands sounds very authentic. It's got the right keyboard skank, a big, rubbery bass and nice light, slinky drums. With My Own Two Hands sounds right but it doesn't do anything for me. It shows an ability to recapture a sound but doesn't add anything new or personal to that sound. I prefer The Horizon Has Been Defeated, the recent single by Harper's buddy Jack Johnson, which has a reggae flavor but also has a distinctive personality. Harper's vocal is always confident and it's usually appealingly cool. But especially in the unoriginal context, Harper comes across as complacent. It's hard to argue with the message that we can all make the world a better place but Harper seems a little too pleased with himself for having the idea.
Ginuwine-Hell Yeah(up 4 positions)
Ginuwine's previous big top 40 hits, Pony and Differences, were slow ballads with Ginuwine playing the intense lover. Ginuwine has done dance songs before but Hell Yeah, from his The Senior CD, is the first one that's really crossed over. Ginuwine was written and produced by R. Kelly. Kelly's had lots of success over the years but this must be the hottest period of his career. In early 2003, he's had a #1 pop hit with Ignition and two more big hits that he wrote and produced: Bump, Bump, Bump and Hell Yeah. Hell Yeah ranks somewhere between the brilliant Ignition and catchy, annoying Bump, Bump, Bump. Hell's Yeah's beeping synth line and light, sweeping beat create a relaxed, slithery, steady jam. Hell Yeah is also repetitious and feels pretty lightweight. Baby from Big Tymers does an unremarkable rap about "big pimpin'" and how "we fresh" with Lexuses, guns and minks but Ginuwine's vocal is controlled, strong, quick and supple. He gives some weight to a pretty slight song. Kelly again lacks the brilliance lyrically he has musically. When I first heard Hell Yeah, I thought, with its evocation of head bobbin' thugs and booty shakin "chicks", it was mocking the standard celebration of submissive women and free flowing, expensive champagne and other alcohol. Instead, Hell Yeah is the standard celebration, though Kelly adds his own distinctively odd love of women, paying tribute with the line: she's"givin' me head like she's a brain donor."
The Wallflowers-How Good It Can Get(down 8 positions)
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.
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.
The Jayhawks-Save It For A Rainy Daybuy it!
The Jayhawks have made thoughtful, smart music with great harmonies for more than a decade. On the bands last three records, Jayhawks leader Gary Louris has shown an extraordinary ability to shape sound in beautiful, heartbreaking ways. The sound on the new Rainy Day Music CD is even more calm and melodic than usual. Rainy Day Music emphasizes Louris connection with early 70s country rock and late 60s harmony based folk rock. Louris disavows most of the trappings of contemporary music, relying on acoustic guitars, country string instruments and layers of vocals. Louris fairly limited ambitions result in a record thats good but doesnt have much variety and doesnt achieve the consistent greatness the Jayhawks have reached before, especially on their Sound Of Lies CD. Rainy Day Music has moments of excellence including Save It For A Rainy Day. Starting with inviting guitar picking by Louris and producer Ethan Johns, who plays a lot of Rainy Day Musics instruments, Save It For A Rainy Day has a comfortable, relaxing feel. Louris uses his gift for vocal arrangement, nicely placing the lush harmonies of drummer Tim OReagan and Stephen McCarthy under his voice. Louris voice has the empathetic sweetness hes shown before and it perfectly matches Save It For A Rainy Days lyric. The words dont always seem so sympathetic(Louris tells a friend that she looks like a train wreck). But Louris tone leaves no doubt about his compassion as he tries to convince a woman whos carrying as burden thats more than one soul could ever bear that theres another part to play.
Avril Lavigne-Losing Gripbuy it!
At this point, anything Avril Lavigne puts out is sure to be a hit. But Losing Grip doesnt have the megahit feel of the first three singles from the multi-platinum Let Go CD. Not coincidentally, Losing Grip is the first Let Go single not written by the trio known as The Matrix. Losing Grip, like much of Let Go, was cowritten and produced by Clif Magness. Magness has been around for a while but only recently became hot, working on O-Towns O2 and Kelly Clarksons Thankful. Though Losing Grip isnt going to be a smash, I like it. Losing Grip is less gimmicky than Lavignes other hits. Lavignes detractors claim that she displays punk rock trappings but is not a real rocker. The criticism is basically accurate but pointless. Even if shes a former country pop fan supported by a record companys calculated promotional push, Lavignes young fans sense a realness that fits her image. I like Lavignes intensity as she yells out the chorus as well as the idiosyncratically Canadian way she says alone(on the second hit in a row). I also like the shamelessly catchy way power chords underline Lavignes vocal on the chorus and create a rock and roll charge. Losing Grip is a decent, no frills pop rocker. Lavigne sings about feeling invisible to a guy whos never there for her. She claims to have decided not to care about him but sounds like she still wants him by her side during a really bad time.