Chingy-One Call Away(down 5 positions)
St. Louis' Howard "Chingy" Bailey seems cartoonish and insubstantial but his Jackpot CD is one of the biggest hits of the last year. One Call Away is Chingy's third hit. A lot of the credit for Chingy's success should go to Alonzo Lee and Shamar Daugherty, also known as Trak Starz. Trak Starz(not to be confused with Trackboyz, who also produced music by St. Louis artists including Nelly's Air Force Ones and J-Kwon's Tipsy) wrote and produced most of the songs on Jackpot, including Right Thurr and One Call Away. On One Call Away, they use Chingy the way he should be used, as a colorful, goofy supporting player. One Call Away's main appeal is its catchy chorus, with Jason "J. Weav" Weaver suavely singing "you can call if you wanna bump over me." Trak Starz created a sound that's smooth, with a steady hand clap beat and easy guitar sound, but also has good texture with a bass drum sound and percussion that sounds like a woodpecker pecking. Chingy roams around the verses in an entertaining, innocuous way, sounding like Eminem in a clowning mode. Most of One Call Away's lyric is surprisingly sweet. Chingy describes meeting a woman in a bank, starting a relationship slowly and respectfully and not being afraid to show affection in front of his homeboys. The lyric suddenly turns stupid on the third verse as Chingy announces that he's a player, offers her a "puff on a blunt" and "a pint of Hen" and threatens "if you got an attitude, I could treat you like a hoe." Just as suddenly, he returns to the song's general theme of being the guy who's there for her, rapping "just be true and there's nothing I won't do for ya." Chingy's contribution is mixed but mostly appealing. He largely fills space until One Call Away gets back to the chorus' charming hook.
Beyonce-Naughty Girl(up 4 positions)
Beyonce Knowles continues her impressive run with Naughty Girl, the fourth hit from her Dangerously In Love CD. Naughty Girl apparently won't match Crazy In Love and Baby Boy, which went to #1 on the pop charts, but after a dip with Me, Myself and I, it brings Beyonce back near the top of the top 40. Naughty Girl was produced by Beyonce with Scott Storch who did Baby Boy, Pink's Family Portrait, Justin Timberlake's Cry Me A River and Christina Aguilera's Fighter and Can't Hold Us Down. Naughty Girl doesn't have a lot of heart but it sounds good. Like Baby Boy, Naughty Girl uses exotic sounds to give a good but not great song more edge. Beyonce and Storch constructed a sensual sound that matches Naughty Girl's come ons. Over a brittle beat, Naughty Girl repeats a tense riff with icy synth interjections for additional tension. Backing vocals join Beyonce for whispered enticements. Naughty Girl is obviously inspired by Donna Summer's Love To Love You Baby, which Naughty Girl liberally quotes. It's always a bit of a tease when a pop star claims she's available for sex. But Beyonce is different from Summer. Summer always seemed to believe the fantasy that she wanted to sleep with you. On Naughty Girl, as usual, Beyonce seems somewhat distanced and calculated. She makes it clear that she's a tease. A mediocre rap (including a line about wanting a naughty girl not a good one and one about wanting a relationship not a one night stand) by Houston's rising star Lil' Flip emphasizes that Naughty Girl is a performance, not a depiction of a real erotic encounter. But Beyonce's juxtaposition of seduction and reserve still works. Beyonce does a very sexy vocal. Beyonce does a pretty good sales job, kind of sounding like she means it when she sings about "feeling sexy" and wanting to "hear you say my name." But while saying "the rhythm's got me feelin' so crazy", she's leaves no doubt that she's in control and she'll decide if "I just might take you home." Though it's product from an artist who makes it clear that she makes her decisions with her brain, not her hormones, Naughty Girl is charged and alluring.
Jessica Simpson-Take My Breath Away(up 7 positions)
Jessica Simpson's cover of Take My Breath Away wasn't originally on her In This Skin CD but, taking advantage of Simpson's ever growing stardom, a new version of In This Skin, with Take My Breath Away and a cover of Robbie Williams' Angels, has been released. Take My Breath Away was written by disco king Giorgio Moroder(who's also back on the charts as Beyonce quotes Love To Love You Baby). It was originally recorded by Berlin and, partly thanks to inclusion on the Top Gun soundtrack, was their biggest hit. Take My Breath Away has been covered a bunch of times. It's a favorite of mediocre lounge singers for probably the same reasons that Jessica and her people chose it. Many people are familiar with Take My Breath Away from seeing Top Gun or hearing Berlin's version on the radio. Some probably have an emotional or romantic connection with the song. Take My Breath Away is a sturdy song which builds to a big finish and allows a female singer to do a big, dramatic performance. Simpson does a standard reading, pretty closely tracking the vocal by Berlin's Terri Nunn. Most of Simpson's singing is quite annoying. In the song's quieter first half, her voice is pinched, mannered and unappealing. She actually does better in the song's more challenging second half, holding her notes and stretching them out in a showy but fairly impressive way. Still, Simpson's singing doesn't add anything interesting or new to the original. I guess it's meant to show that Simpson can sing. She kind of can, but not any better than lots of contestants in local talent shows. The new version of Takes My Breath Away is pretty pointless. It has very bland elevator music style backing, with stiff drum machine beats and sterile synths. Like her edible body products, Simpson's cover of Take My Breath Away is a product meant to take advantage of Simpson's hot name, good looks and sexy/innocent image. Besides its familiarity, I don't see any reason for covering Take My Breath Away. It's an easy listening classic but it's also kind of a sappy bore. Take My Breath Away is filled with overheated romance novel imagery. It depicts lovers in a foolish game, "on this endless ocean" and knowing no shame. The singer returns to a "secret place inside" and watches "in slow motion" as he turns and says the song's title. The lyric also has crashed mirrors, fate, anticipation and guys seen "through the hourglass" and slipping away in time.
Cassidy featuring R Kelly-Hotel(up 1 position)
Cassidy is a young rapper from Philadelphia who got attention with his work on mix tapes. He's been championed by Swizz Beatz, who's worked with Eve, Busta Rhymes, DMX and many others, the producer of much of Cassidy's Split Personality CD. Like Nick Cannon, Cassidy has the good fortune to be assisted on his first hit single by the ubiquitous R Kelly. Kelly's appearance is nearly a guarantee of success. The downside of Kelly's presence is that he makes more of an impression than Cassidy does. Kelly does a relaxed but strong vocal on the chorus, easily making himself the center of attention. Kelly is his usual pleasure loving self. As on the Ignition Remix, Kelly enjoys an after party, inviting a "cutie" to use his room key. Cassidy's rap isn't amazing but he's fine. Like so many rappers, he mostly has sex on his mind. He tells us "if that girl don't participate, well then I'm gonna take her friend." But compared with some songs(like the recent, similarly themed Holidae Inn), Hotel is pretty benign. Cassidy promises the ladies he will do whatever he can for them. Hotel's acoustic guitar riff and light mood remind me of another song with a big R Kelly presence, B2K's Bump, Bump, Bump. Hotel is better than the cheerfully stupid B2K song but it's also pretty slight. Still, it's pleasant and sounds fine. With the guitar underlining Kelly's vocal and a classic sounding beat that resembles the one for Marvin Gaye's Sexual Healing, Swizz Beatz gives Hotel a smooth sound.
Velvet Revolver-Slitherbuy it!
Velvet Revolver was put together by former Guns N' Roses guitar player Slash, bass player Duff McKagan and drummer Matt Sorum. They tried different singers then got together with Stone Temple Pilots' Scott Weiland for Set Me Free, for the Hulk soundtrack. The guys got along and after STP broke up, probably because of Weiland's drug use, Weiland was available for a full time gig. Weiland was invited, even if that meant interrupting recording for Weiland's court dates and rehab stay. Slither indicates that Velvet Revolver's members are working pretty well together. Slither, from the band's Contraband CD, is no nonsense hard rock with a classic feel. Slash is Slither's star, making all sorts of exciting sounds. Slash plays a memorable, tough central riff that, along with Sorum's dependable pounding and Dave Kushner's chunky, driving rhythm line, keeps Slither racing forward. Slash's fun, showy solo is reminiscent of ones he did on songs like Sweet Child O' Mine. While he can be a jerk and a screwup, Weiland is a good rock singer. Weiland stays focused and shows his ability to do be tough and slithery. He doesn't have Axl Rose's flamboyance. After Slash's solo, you half expect Rose's piercing shriek and it's a bit of a disappointment when, instead, you get Weiland sounding a bit like The Cult's Ian Astbury in a bad mood. Slither might not reach the same transcendence as Guns N' Roses' best songs but it is tight, vibrant hard rock. On Slither, Weiland sings about someone who destroys him, keeps him under her finger and cuts the rope and brings him to his knees. Weiland still sees "pleasure in my mind" and a chance to "wash away the sins of you and I."
Outkast-The Way You Move(down 2 positions)
Outkast's popularity has grown the last few years. They made our top 50 with Stankonia's Ms. Jackson and The Whole World, from the Big Boi and Dre Present collection. Still, I thought Outkast, who seem more interested in doing what they want than in selling records, were a bit too weird to become big pop stars. So it's a bit of a surprise that Outkast are currently the biggest pop stars around. Outkast dominated the Grammy awards winning, among others, Album of the Year and The Way You Move immediately followed Hey Ya, which spent a bunch of weeks at #1, to the top of the pop charts. Outkast's huge success is especially remarkable since the duo seemed on the verge of breaking up when they released their two CD set, which is really two solo records. Andre 3000 and Big Boi are almost totally absent from each other's disc. Hey Ya is on Andre 3000's weird, silly, inconsistent but fun The Love Below, which doesn't fit under any musical label. The Way You Move is on Antwan "Big Boi" Patton's Speakerboxx, which has a variety of sounds but is mostly tight, danceable hip hop. The Way You Move is a great example of Speakerboxx's smart, state of the art sound. The Way You Move is brilliantly constructed. With its crisp hand clap like drum machine beats and Big Boi's remarkably adroit rap, The Way You Move is slick and efficient. It also gets a retro, human feel from real horns playing a catchy riff and Sleepy Brown's falsetto singing, which doesn't have the Marvin Gaye style sexiness he shoots for but does add warmth to a very polished song. Big Boi's incredibly quick rap deserves special credit. Among raps I've heard recently only Jay Z, on Change Clothes, is comparable in terms of being fast, relaxed and in control and Big Boi is even more impressive. He squeezes in a ton of words and never lets us see him sweat. Big Boi tells us that "Outkast is everlastin', not clashin'", expresses his love for all women, especially the "big girls", and admires a woman's move while the room watches his. In the last few months, Outkast has given us Hey Ya, one of the most fun singles of the last year and The Way You Move, one of the coolest.
The Offspring-Can't Get My Head Around You(up 2 positions)
Can't Get My Head Around You isn't as unpleasant and irritating as Hit That, the first chart hit from The Offspring's Splinter CD, but it reinforces the feeling I got from Hit That: The Offspring really don't seem to have anything else to say, musically or lyrically. Head Around You sounds like other Offspring songs, especially Gotta Get Away, a similar but better song. Head Around You is pretty fast. With Dexter Holland racing through his vocal and Noodles playing speedy, varied guitar parts, Head Around You gains decent momentum. Noodles nicely mixes up different hard rock lines. But besides being familiar, Head Around You isn't very appealing. The reason for that is singer Dexter Holland. Holland's vocal is so harsh and unlikable that you don't want to know what he's ranting about, you just wish he'd shut up. Head Around You's lyric also makes Holland seem kind of like a jerk. He can't understand why someone doesn't see the hole "inside your soul." He complains that "you've managed to bring me down too" and accuses the person of faking. Sounds like the person needs help, not an account of how their problems are hurting Dexter. At least, Can't Get My Head Around You is pretty short and its music is decent and energetic. But we've heard it before when Holland was less annoying.
Mario Winans featuring Enya and P.Diddy-I Don't Wanna Knowbuy it!
Mario Winans' family have been among the biggest stars in gospel music for more than two decades. Mario left that world to pursue a career in r&b. Winans has appeared on hits by other people, including P. Diddy's I Need A Girl Pt. 2, but I Don't Wanna Know is his first hit as a lead singer. Among the showy, heavily produced songs on the radio, I Don't Wanna Know's stark, subdued sound stands out. A big part of I Don't Wanna Know's appeal comes from its haunting, elegant backing track. I Don't Wanna Know uses a sample from Enya's Boadicea(which Fugees also used on Ready Or Not). I Don't Wanna Know works because Winans' sad, restrained singing matches the backing track. I Don't Wanna Know is best when the muted Enya sample matches Winans' simple, unshowy vocal. It's worst when P. Diddy shows up. Winans records for Diddy's Bad Boy label. That's the only explanation for using P. Diddy's rap. Diddy destroys I Don't Wanna Know's delicate sound. He sounds even more awkward, complacent and unmelodic than usual. Hopefully, Diddy's Broadway acting is smoother and subtler. I Don't Wanna Know's stark arrangement, with a big, simple beat and sadly atmospheric backing, brings Bruce Springsteen's poignant Philadelphia to mind. Winans' sincere reading of the title reminds me of James Ingram's sappy but sweet I Don't Have The Heart. I Don't Wanna Know presents Winans as sad and pathetic. Because a yes would be too painful, Winans can't bring himself to ask his girlfriend if she's cheating. If she's "playin' me", he'd prefer that she'd "keep it to yourself." P. Diddy doesn't have time for such delicacy. He says he knows "my love you abusin'." His strategy for keeping a woman is reminding her that he "put you in the SUV", and gave her so much ice, "I made you freeze." Except for P. Diddy's intrusion, I Don't Wanna Know works. I Don't Wanna Know makes Winans sound like a loser but it has a striking, appealing sound.
Yellowcard-Ocean Avenue(up 5 positions)
Members of Yellowcard met in high school in Jacksonville, Florida. On the title track from the Ocean Avenue CD, Yellowcard remind me of The Ataris, who had hits last year with squeaky clean, straight ahead rockers. Ocean Avenue is fast and well played but it doesn't have a lot of edge. Ocean Avenue also resembles songs by emo kings Jimmy Eat World, especially A Praise Chorus. But in comparison, Jimmy Eat World's genial raveups are very substantial. Ryan Key doesn't seem like a great singer but he does an appealing, upbeat vocal, with a bit of yearning, that fits with Ocean Avenue's perky, very youthful pop. Longineu Parsons' drumming maintains an energetic, quick pace but Ocean Avenue still feels lightweight. Ocean Avenue's only distinctive touch is Sean Mackin's frantic violin playing, which gives the song a nice, dramatic finish. Otherwise, Ocean Avenue is likable but a bit innocuous. Like The Ataris' In This Diary, Ocean Avenue shows a nostalgic sense that's a bit odd for a singer who's only in his mid 20s and seems younger. He was the one who told her "this was goodbye" when she beg him not to leave. Still, Key longs for a teenage relationship where he used to stay up all night and "sit and talk with you." He tells himself that if he could "find you now", "things would get better."
Trapt-Echo(down 13 positions)
Echo is the third chart hit from Trapt's self titled CD. Trapt's Headstrong was one of the biggest hits of 2003. Headstrong was fairly typical angry rock but it had a big, powerful sound. Chris Brown's vocal shifted in and out of rage mode with the suppleness of a decent rapper. Echo also shows signs Trapt may be more interesting than some hard rock bands. Trapt is less loud and furious than Still Frame, Trapt's other top 50 hit, and Headstrong. It has decent contrast. The verse has an open, dreamy sound that floats on a rotating keyboard riff. It's like a verse by Incubus(who also have a song called Echo) but Brown's anchored vocal makes sure it's not quite as spacy. Power chords soon come in, effectively adding heft without overwhelming Echo's searching feel. Trapt are hardly the first band to use the quiet/loud contrast that Nirvana and other grungers popularized and many 21st century rockers have copied. The fluid doodling that Simon Ormandy does before and during the verses is interesting but it sounds a lot like what he did on Headstrong. Brown doesn't scream on Echo like he does on other songs but he's still very serious. His singing doesn't communicate the lyric's joy and energy. Echo isn't that different from other serious midtempo rock but it sounds good. Echo has a personal, varied sound and it isn't too showy or overdone. On Echo, Brown accepts that he "can't change the past I hold inside" and decides to "let go of this pride" and "run away with you by my side."
Damien Rice is a critically acclaimed Irish singer/songwriter. Rice's 2003 O CD won him the Shortlist music prize, a new but fairly prestigious award given to the best non-mainstream artist of the year. While it's hard for me to believe that a record of fairly standard folk pop could be the best of the year, I agree that O is a good, ambitious record. Rice is clearly a Van Morrison fan. He shares some of Morrison's intensity and songwriting skills. Rice's sincere, personal songs are also reminiscent of David Gray's work but Rice's have a bit more edge. Cannonball is a good example of Rice's poetic, well crafted music. Rice's singing is strong but sensitive and idiosyncratic. His pained delivery makes it clear that his writing is deeply felt. Rice accompanies himself with heartfelt strumming. My problem with Rice is that he's too serious. His intensity sometimes comes off as humorless self importance. On Cannonball, Rice sadly and cautiously reflects on a lost relationship with a woman he can still "taste in my mouth." Rice "can't say what's going on" but armed with the newly gained knowledge "that you just don't know", he's apparently trying to find the courage to give it another try as she steps "a little closer."
I feel that Usher Raymond's music isn't quite good enough to justify its remarkable success. Nonetheless, Usher's impressive roll continues. Yeah!, a competently made and fairly exciting but unamazing and not very original dance song, spent a number of weeks at number one on the pop chart. Burn, the second single from the Confessions CD, returns Usher to the style that brought him many of his hits. Burn is a slow jam with a sensitive vocal. Before releasing Confessions, Usher ended his relationship with TLC's Chilli. Burn is one of Confessions' many breakup songs. Usher tells a woman that he doesn't want to leave her but "it's better for me to let it go now than hold on and hurt you." Though he claims it's best for both of them, he blames her because "I don't think you're gonna change" and admits he's doing it because "I'm hurting baby" and "there's so many other things I gotta deal with." Burn's twist is that by the second verse, they're apart and he's decided he's "made a mistake" and he'll "be burnin' 'til you return." Burn suffers by moving up the pop charts along with Mario Winans' I Don't Wanna Know, another slow, quiet jam with a wounded lover. Burn is well made but not as striking or original as I Don't Wanna Know. Burn, cowritten and produced by Jermaine Dupri and Brian Cox, sounds good. It has a crisp, unobtrusive beat. Burn's music and effects add flavor but stay inobtrusive and fit the song's sad, subdued mood. Usher's singing is pretty good. He shows emotion but doesn't go over the top. Still, Burn is a bit superficial and predictable and it's hard to be too concerned about Usher's dilemmas.
Yeah Yeah Yeah-Maps(up 12 positions)
Fever To Tell, Yeah Yeah Yeahs' first full length CD, has been a critics' favorite but it's not very commercial. Surprisingly, a year after the CD's release, the New York band has achieved some mainstream success, including a lot of MTV play. Maps is not very representantive of Fever To Tell. The first 70% of Fever To Tell has the raw, edgy, punky sound that originally gave Yeah Yeah Yeahs their reputation. I find that music interesting and exciting but I don't know how much I like it. With her ranting and shriek, Singer Karen O is a compelling figure, sounding a little unhinged and like she wants to make us uncomfortable. Nick Zinner creates an exciting, driving sound with an arsenal of jagged guitar riffs. Things calm down on Fever To Tell's last few songs. Y Control is my favorite and the least wild of the CD's other rockers. Modern Romance and hidden track Porcelain are stark with subdued vocals. But Maps is Fever To Tell's real standout. It has an epic quality. Maps is unhurried but it's moved along by Brian Chase's simple pounding and Nick Zinner's processed guitars. Zinner's varied, evocative guitar sounds give Maps texture. A bass sound periodically scrapes along Maps' bottom before exploding with a climactic U2-like fury. Maps' uncluttered, haunting soundscape heightens the poignance of Karen O's uncharacteristically unmannered vocal and Maps' concise lyric. Swearing "they don't love you like I love you" Karen O, sounding a bit like Chrissie Hynde, pleads "wait" and "don't stray."
Norah Jones-Sunrise(down 1 position)
Especially in a downloading world where sales are down, Norah Jones is a goddess of the music business. Her debut Come Away With Me CD has sold more than eight million copies in the US alone. Feels Like Home, her followup, sold one million copies the week it came out and two million in its first month. The consensus regarding Feels Like Home is that it's fairly cautious. Jones is apparently most comfortable in a mellow mode. It does seem like there's more going on in Feels Like Home than there was on Come Away With Me, which was well played and sounded good but, at its worst, had a polite, boring, elevator music quality. On Feels Like Home, some of the songs have an alt country feel but Jones' music still generally fits somewhere between jazz, lite pop and country. Feels Like Home is a bit more confident and personal. As before, the saving grace of Jones' music is her supple, quite amazing voice. Jones' singing nicely carries Sunrise, one of the best things she's done. Jones shows confidence in eschewing a big beat and letting Sunrise's arrangement stay muted. Good, quiet playing twists around Jones' voice. Sunrise has an unshowy jazzy looseness with a mandolin and an unobtrusive, throbbing bass. Jones even plays a good little piano solo. Sunrise has Jones' typical modesty but it's also warm and relaxed. Like much of Jones' music, Sunrise is easy listening but it's not pandering and button pushing. Sunrise is charming. It sounds like Jones and friends are having good, if subdued, fun. Sunrise, written by Jones with bass player and boyfriend Lee Alexander, is about a couple spending a relaxed day in bed with a broken clock stuck at 9:15. Jones shows mild surprise that "we've made it through another day."
Avril Lavigne-Don't Tell Me(unchanged)
Avril Lavigne, at 19, is apparently already entering the mature period of her career. Under My Skin, Lavigne's followup to her 10 million selling debut Let Go CD, must be one of the most anticipated records of the year but its first single met a fairly lukewarm initial response(though it's slowly climbed up the chart). For her new CD, Lavigne stayed away from Let Go's hitmakers The Matrix and Clif Magness. Under My Skin's writers and producers include ex-Evanescence co-leader Ben Moody and Canadian husband and wife pop stars Raine Maida(from Our Lady Peace) and Chantal Kreviazuk. Don't Tell Me was written by Lavigne and her guitar player Evan Taubenfield and produced by Butch Walker, formerly of Marvelous 3(one hit wonders for 1999's Freak Of The Week). On Don't Tell Me, Lavigne and Walker eschewed the youthful, rousing, in your face confidence of Lavigne's #1 hits Complicated and Sk8er Boi. Lavigne doesn't even get to do a really cathartic wail like on her other #1, I'm With You. On Don't Tell Me, Alanis Morissette's influence is even more obvious than usual. My guess is that Lavigne's audience liked Let Go's Morissette style angst but don't want her to be Morissette. Showing a reluctance to continue being the voice of feisty early teens, Lavigne's retains her intensity on Don't Tell Me without the perkiness of her previous hits. While it's less exciting than some of Lavigne's hits, Don't Tell Me is charming. Lavigne's idiosyncratically Canadian pronounciation, passionate singing and seriousness still mark her as an individual. Adults have derided the fact that, despite her punk posturing, Lavigne's music is more pop than punk. That ignores the fact that Lavigne resonated with kids as a distinctive, self assured role model. Don't Tell Me's music, with guitars and drums crashing in on the chorus, is generic pop rock. But Lavigne's heartfelt delivery, strong singing and personal phrasing make Don't Tell Me's typical youthful anguish fresh. As she has before, Lavigne projects big emotions in a way that makes her sound like a real teenager. Don't Tell Me's lyric depicts Lavigne as a sad but strong young woman. Lavigne is "upset" but she decides she's better off alone than with a guy who tried to get "into my pants." She tells him that he shouldn't try to tell her what to do and say and that she had told him she wouldn't "give it up" to him.
Black Eyed Peas-Hey Mama(unchanged)
Where Is The Love, which featured Justin Timberlake's good, unshowy vocal on the chorus, was one of the biggest hits of 2003. Where Is The Love has a majestic quality. It sounds like classic r&b. The subsequent singles from the Elephunk CD have been significantly less substantial. As someone who knew Black Eyed Peas from Where Is The Love and Request Line, their Macy Gray collaboration, I've been surprised by Shut Up and Hey Mama, the silly followups to Where Is The Love. Both have a lightweight, chattery quality and give a lot of prominence to new Black Eyed Pea Stacy "Fergie" Ferguson. Fergie doesn't bring a lot of soulfulness or substance. But lead Pea William "Will.I.Am" Adams, who produced and cowrote Hey Mama and Shut Up, has to be held responsible for Hey Mama's dopeyness. Hey Mama is an knowingly stupid song with not much on its mind beyond asking a woman to "move your booty." With lines like "don't wanna squeeze triggers, just wanna squeeze tits" and "we drop bombs like we in the middle east", Hey Mama is moronic but basically harmless. The rappers' unrelenting perkiness sometimes gives me a headache. The other side of the song's empty headedness is that Hey Mama is unpretentious. Hey Mama is just about having a good time. With steady, good percussion, Hey Mama has jittery energy and good spirits. I don't find Hey Mama as irritating as some people do but it is pretty damn annoying.
AFI-Silver and Cold(down 9 positions)
Before their latest CD, AFI never had a big radio hit but their Sing The Sorrow CD has given them three chart hits. Silver and Cold isn't as good as Girl's Not Grey but it's better than The Leaving Song, Pt. 2. AFI worked up some energy and excitement on Girl's Not Grey's impassioned chorus. The rest of AFI's music seems more boring. Silver and Cold has a big sound but it's very serious and a bit stiff. Davey Havok's voice is sincere but his howl shows no subtlety or modulation. With big, impassioned vocals, Silver and Cold's chorus has an anthemic appeal. But Havok's writing is wildly overdone. He sings "you, in somber resplendence, I hold" and "as a rapturous voice escapes, I will tremble a prayer." Silver and Cold is apparently a love song and it has an appealing sweeting. But any joy is overwhelmed by pounding drums, thick guitars and Havok's hysterical, agitated singing. Silver and Cold's emotion seems appealingly real but it's presented in an overwrought package.
Nickelback-Someday(down 11 positions)
Nickelback are back with The Long Road CD, making the same kind of ultraserious, overblown, cliched arena rock that brought them the megahit How You Remind Me. On Someday, Chad Kroeger and friends stuck to the formula that worked. Someday isn't quite as bombastic as How You Remind Me but it's otherwise incredibly similar. You can sing "this is how you remind me" and other parts of that song over portions of Someday. The appeal of Someday, and Nickelback's music in general, is lost on me. Kroeger's voice is so stiff and humorless that he's just a bore. He intones his thought about his relationship playing out "like a paperback novel" with gravity and emphasis to make sure you catch the brilliance of his simile. Someday's music and playing are coldly competent but lack any surprise or originality. Familiar hard rock riffs repeat over and over again. On Someday, Kroeger asks a partner to stay in a screwed up relationship, promising he's "gonna make it alright."
Lenny Kravitz-Where Are We Runnin' ?buy it!
Dig In, from Lenny Kravitz' 2001 Lenny CD, was a pretty perfect piece of psychedelic rock. It was tight and fun. It showed its influences but sounded fresh. Where Are We Runnin', from Kravitz new Baptism CD, is a lot like Dig In but not as perfect. Where Are We Runnin' isn't as developed as Dig In. It's really just a couple of guitar riffs. In some ways, Where Are We Runnin' is just an uninspired classic rock pastiche. As on many Kravitz songs, Sly Stone's anarchic spirit is present. But, especially when Kravitz does a spoken part, the odor of BTO's stale 70's hit Takin' Care Of Business is there too. The start of each verse also resembles ZZ Top's Sharp Dressed Man. Where Are We Runnin' isn't very original but it is mostly enjoyable. Where Are We Runnin' is an unpretentious retro rocker. It doesn't have the attitude of some Kravitz songs. Like Dig In, Where Are We Runnin' has a big, buoyant beat. It also has a fun, fuzzy metallic guitar sound. Where Are We Runnin' is a little like Are You Gonna Go My Way. It doesn't have that song's energy but it also doesn't have that song's sense that Kravitz is showing off that he can replicate his guitar heroes' moves. Where Are We Runnin' is short, simple decent guitar rock. On Where Are We Runnin', Kravitz decides that a life "chasin' the money" in the fast lane is "cloggin' up our soul" and that "we need some time to clear our heads."
The Vines-Ride(down 3 positions)
The Vines debut CD, Highly Evolved, arrived with a lot of advance buzz, much of it created by an adoring British music press. The CD was pretty good but except for Get Free, its exciting single, Highly Evolved was a bit disappointing. The band's rep was further dented by reports of intraband squabbling and silly, self important rock star behavior by Vines leader Craig Nicholls. Ride, the first single from The Australian band's Winning Days CD, is a good effort to get back on course. Ride has an excitement similar to Get Free's. It's also nicely focused. Nicholls came up with a killer guitar riff for Ride. Along with drummer Hamish Rosser, who joined the band on the Highly Evolved tour, Nicholls creates a driving sound that always keeps the song moving forward. Nicholls builds intensity in ways including shifting from his lone voice to harmonies doing the same vocal line in a bigger way. Ride is tight, with no waste, but it still has time to mix things up with a good stomping bridge and a decent guitar solo. Nicholls' raw vocal hints at his wild stage persona, giving the sense that he's uninhibited and always pushing himself. On Ride, as usual, Nicholls' love of Cobain shows(Ride's momentum and ever uncoiling energy reminds me of About A Girl). But Ride also has a personal feeling. The Winning Days CD has gotten mixed reviews but its single is pretty clearly terrific. Ride's minimal lyric has some psychedelic trippiness about "colors through your loaded mind." But the message is basically that Nicholls doesn't want to "hate alone" so he wants her to "ride with me."
Kimberly Locke-8th World Wonder(up 1 position)
Kimberly Locke is the third American Idol contestant to make the top 50. Locke was eliminated when Clay Aiken and eventual winner Ruben Studdard made the finals but she has defeated Studdard on the charts. 8th World Wonder is a bigger pop hit than Studdard has had so far. Nothing about 8th World Wonder, from Locke's debut One Love CD, changes my opinion that American Idol is making pop music blander. Most of American Idol's successes have been competent but innocuous, appealing to the most middle American viewers by being inoffensive and familiar. Unlike Kelly Clarkson, who has tried to add a bit of edge to the squeaky clean American Idol prototype, Locke sticks with the show's safe sound on 8th World Wonder. 8th World Wonder reminds me of one of Shania Twain's lite pop hits though, to her credit, even at her most cloying and manipulative, Twain is never this boring. Locke's singing is very colorless. It's remarkable that Locke, an African-American, conveys even less soul than Clay Aiken, perhaps the whitest guy in the world. 8th World Wonder was produced and cowritten by Shaun Shankel, whose credits include work with easy listening favorites Michael Bolton and Amy Grant. There's nothing distinctive or interesting about 8th World Wonder's music. Shankel uses drum machines, synths and rock guitars but makes sure nothing gets too loud or challenging. Eight World Wonder's writers have Locke playing the swooning, adoring girlfriend. I know that a romance's early days can be intoxicating but 8th World Wonder really makes Locke seem like an idiot, raving about how amazing the guy she's known for seven days is. 8th World Wonder's lyric is overblown trying, with thunder and rising water, to achieve some sort of biblical force.
Alanis Morissette-Everything(up 1 position)
Time(she turned 30 this spring), therapy and a new boyfriend have calmed Alanis Morissette. So-Called Chaos, Morisette's fourth studio album, has less rage and more introspection than her early records. Morissette seems less interested in being provocative. She also seems fairly uninterested in gaining new young listeners. She's apparently resigned to mostly selling records to longtime fans and baby boomers. Everything, So-Called Chaos' first single, isn't particularly surprising or exciting. It's pleasant listening. Everything has a spacy rock intro that sounds a little like Soundgarden's Black Hole Sun. Everything then settles into a fairly standard rock arrangement, with a steady beat, that has some variation. The chorus has a warm, layered sound with a simple, ringing guitar riff. Morissette's voice is fine and pretty open. Everything has a leisurely pace. Everything's sprawling recitation is reminiscent of Thank U, from Morissette's second record. The thanks go to her boyfriend, rather than Thank U's more random list of targets. Morissette appreciates how he sees all her sides. He digs the good things in her(she's wise with a kind soul and a brave heart). He doesn't pretend her bad side(she's moody, withholding and passive aggressive) doesn't exist and he even loves some of her darkness. I'm not that interested in Morisette's self explorations but Everything is very genial. It has a giving tone. Musically, Everything isn't very ambitious but it's inoffensive and goes by easily.
Audioslave-What You Arebuy it!
A year and a half after its release, Audioslave's debut CD is still yielding modern rock radio hits. What You Are is the fifth top 50 song for the band formed by Rage Against The Machine's musicians and Soundgarden's singer. All the chart hits been solid, ranging in quality from decent to very good. What You Are is unremarkable but fine. It's another showcase for Chris Cornell's quite incredible voice. Cornell's doesn't show much of a sense of fun but he's got quite a set of pipes. Cornell floats along easily with a pensive vocal on the verses. On the chorus he shifts, seeming effortlessly, into a full voiced howl that sounds like he's ripping up his throat's lining. Audioslave's musicians, who played flamboyant, charged music with Rage Against The Machine, have proved surprisingly competent as Cornell's dependable, unshowy backing band. What You Are has more sturdy music. Brad Wilk supplies a steady beat. Tom Morello rumbles quietly and effectively under Cornell on the verses then plays big, arena style power chords on the chorus. He only really musses things up on a short, pointedly unmelodic solo which isn't much but does supply a little variety. What You Are is workmanlike, listenable mainstream rock. Cornell's shifts in intensity reflect the lyric's content. The verses are a resigned recitation of all the things he did for his girlfriend("when you asked for for light, I set myself on fire", "when you wanted blood, I cut my veins"). The chorus reflects the release and exultation of being free from someone who always "wanted more."
Finger Eleven-One Thing(down 6 positions)
Finger Eleven are a band from Burlington, Ontario, Canada whose music usually fits within the alt-metal category. They made their latest record with Disturbed producer Johnny K. Bands generally establish their cred with a few hard rock hits before they have their big rock ballad hit but Finger Eleven's first song to get substantial airplay is a "hold up your lighters" song. I'm not a big fan of rock ballads so I don't love One Thing, the single from Finger Eleven's self titled third CD. One Thing is very familiar resembling, among others, Poison's Every Rose Has Its Thorn. One Thing is too drab and earnest for me but it is an effective rock ballad. With a spare sound of spooky synths, simply whacked drums and sensitive acoustic guitar, One Thing has the emotional power people want. Scott Anderson's singing is a bit boring but very sincere. Considering the context, he and the song don't get too showy or emotive. I don't understand why rock fans are suckers for mushy, ultraserious ballads but they are and the sappy One Thing isn't the worst.
John Mayer-Clarity(down 5 positions)
Clarity is the second chart hit from John Mayer's Heavier Things CD. Mayer is a good natured, fairly skilled performer who has modest ambitions of making meaningful music but doesn't quite know how to do so. Clarity puts Mayer's ambition and modesty to good use. It's seriously made, enjoyable and not self important. Clarity goes farther into jazz than Mayer's previous singles. Clarity starts fairly well with a crisp drum machine beat and a looped piano line. Things improve and a nice momentum develops as Clarity's vibe loosens. ?uestlove from The Roots plays good, relaxed drums. Horns, including Roy Hargrove's trumpet, give Clarity some color and give the chorus a big sound. Mayer can't help but sound like a white guy and "ooh-ooh-ooh"s betray his easy listening leanings but Mayer's vocal is pleasant enough. Mayer does his typical restrained guitar doodling but Clarity has enough interesting things happening that it doesn't have the tentative feel of some of Mayer's songs. Clarity has substance but it's also breezy and likable. Clarity's lyric is a bit New Agey but nice and well suited to the song's relaxed mood. Mayer tells us that he's normally a worrier who "weighs three times my body." One morning, he's surprised to feel "a calm I can't explain." Clarity is about hoping the feeling "will last forever" or preparing to, at least, "pretend that it somehow lingered on."