Lil' Lim featuring 50 Cent-Magic Stick(down 5 positions)
Lil' Kim went to the top of the pop charts as one of Lady Marmalade's vocalists. Now she's all over pop radio, appearing on Christina Aguilera's Can't Hold Us Down and on Magic Stick, from her La Bella Mafia CD, with 50 Cent. Everything 50 Cent touches these days becomes a hit but Magic Stick would probably be a hit even if 50 Cent wasn't the biggest recording artist in the U.S. 50 Cent and Lil' Kim are a good match. Neither has a classically impressive or pretty voice but both have plenty of charisma. At the same time, their styles are different. Some writers call 50 Cent's style mush mouthed. That's somewhat accurate but certainly not a complete description of his voice. 50 Cent's charm comes from a confidence that allows him to easily roll through his raps. He's established his street cred with tales of breaking the law and getting shot, but 50 has a likable humility. He stands out from rappers who need to show off their technique by being loud, showy and confrontational. Lil' Kim is also confident and unorthodox but she is much more in-your-face with her provocative, overtly sexual style. She's an Eartha Kitt for our time. Her assurance and sensuality compensate for the lack of standard skill in her raspy voice. Magic Stick finds both vocalists in a nice comfort zone. Magic Stick is totally about sex, a topic 50 Cent and Lil' Kim are comfortable with. They more or less get equal time. Lil' Kim has brags about her "magic clit" to match 50's claims about his member. Unlike most raps about sex, which celebrate the rapper's skills or the fact that everyone wants to be with them, Magic Stick's lyric has a giving tone. 50 and Kim express interest in the pleasure of their partner. Most of the boasting is about their skill in making someone else happy. Magic Stick's backing track, well constructed by the Fantom Of The Beat, is a good complement for the raps. Like 50 Cent's rap, Magic Stick's music moves at an easy, casual pace. It has a good, relaxed, crisp beat and a interesting, slowly twisting, clicking riff that's interrupted periodically by an emphatic crash of synths.
Fuel-Falls On Me(up 2 positions)
Falls On Me, from Fuel's Natural Selection CD, is another lame attempt by a band to reach a larger audience with an intense, overblown rock ballad. Fuel provided a prime example of the emotive hit with their Hemorrhage(In My Hands). Falls On Me is clearly an attempt to recapture Hemorrhage's success. Falls On Me isn't as overdone as Hemorrhage but it is pretty boring and obvious. The Hemorrhage similarity is pushed early on as Falls On Me starts with quiet, meaningful strumming then Brett Scallions does a quiet, meaningful vocal. Predictably, the big guitars soon come in. They're not so bad; Falls On Me has a decent sound. It's fairly catchy and has emphatic bursts of drums and guitar, but Falls On Me has no spark or excitement. Scallions' pretentious, self important vocal doesn't help things. Neither does the fact that Falls On Me is very familiar. Besides Hemorrhage, Falls On Me echoes Collective Soul's Heavy with a nearly identical hook: "all of your weight falls on me." Carl Bell's lyric apparently is about how a woman can break "my disease" so he can breathe.
Santana-Why Don't You & Ibuy it!
The success of Carlos Santana's two comeback CDs has got to be one of the oddest recent stories in pop music. Santana doesn't sing or write most of the songs. His contribution is mostly a bit of guitar doodling, his name and a hippie/classic rock vibe. The key to Santana's late career resurgence is the idea, originally hatched by Clive Davis, of pairing him with singer/songwriters who are less than half his age and popular with the kids. Santana's teammates seem to be getting steadily younger. The Shaman CD's first single teamed Santana with prototeen Michelle Branch. Why Don't You & I teams Santana with Alex Band, the 22 year old singer from The Calling. Why Don't You & I is very lightweight bubblegum pop but it is charming. Band's vocal is almost unbearably sunny but it fits the song's upbeat feel and is much more appealing than his showily earnest singing on The Calling's hit Wherever You Will Go. There's nothing new to Santana's playing but he has a great sense of crowd pleasing sounds. His easy riffs help the verses' breezy mood. Crunching power chords alternate with Santana's jamming to make the chorus irresistably catchy and Santana's solo is smart, tight and unshowy. The surprise about Why Don't You & I is that it was written by Nickelback's Chad Kroeger, who sings the album version. Light and fun are not words I associate with the normally lugubrious, overly meaningful Mr. Kroeger but Why Don't You & I has a nice light touch. Why Don't You & I's "heads we will and tails we'll try again" line is cute. So are the sweetly deployed cliches images(perfect for Mr. Band's youthful persona) of being "a lovesick puppy" with a stomach "filled with the butterflies" "bouncing round from cloud to cloud" and "walking around with little wings on my shoes".
Thalia-I Want You(down 2 positions)
Thalia(born Ariadna Thalia Sodi Miranda) is a Mexican music and tv star and the wife of Sony music chairman(and Mariah Carey's ex-husband) Tommy Mottola. I've read that Thalia has a good voice but it's hard to tell from I Want You, the first single from Thalia, her first mostly English language record. Thalia gets the Jennifer Lopez treatment on I Want You, which was produced and cowritten by regular Lopez collaborator Cory Rooney. The blueprint generally guarantees a professional, pleasant, innocuous sound and that's the case on I Want You. I Want You has a breezy feel. It's well made and likable with a perky synth riff and crisp beat. I Want You has the obligatory star cameo presumably meant to add cred or familiarity. At least it's not Ja Rule. Fat Joe croaks a good natured, unmemorable rap. Thalia doesn't project the strong, distinctive personality of fellow Latina star Shakira. Thalia's vocal is charming but it sounds like it was flattened then enhanced in the studio. Especially in the context of the fairly dopey lyric, she comes across a bit empty headed. On I Want You, Thalia plays the Ashanti style adoring girlfriend asking herself what she did to deserve such a special man, complimenting his "sexy smile" and body that drives her wild and trying to convince him that "this love affair would be good for you and me." Trying to make Thalia seem less pathetic, Rooney has Fat Joe saying "I feel the same way."
Foo Fighters-Low(up 3 positions)
The Foo Fighters' One By One CD has been embraced by modern rock radio. All My Life and Times Like These have probably gotten as much rock airplay as the singles from any of the band's first three records. Times Like These's chart life was extended by the release of an acoustic version. It's as if Times Like These's kind of obvious "you gotta live life even when we're at war and the world is screwed up" message becomes more meaningful and powerful when Dave Grohl plays the song more quietly and slowly and enunciates better. I'm still of the opinion that One By One, one of Foo Fighters' hardest rocking records, isn't very good. All My Life is pretty exciting but nothing else is really memorable. Low is one of the better songs on One By One but it's a good example of how the new music rocks hard but is kind of pointless. Low is driven forward nicely by Grohl and Chris Shiflett's matching pair of guitar riffs and Taylor Hawkins' strong drumming but not much happens. Grohl restrains himself vocally, sticking to a fairly quiet voice that creates a little edge but not much energy. He even avoids the kinds of screams he usually works towards, trading the excitement of a climax for a steady, decent rock sound. Low is apparently an attempted pickup. He offers to pass through and take "you as low as you go."
Christina Aguilera-Can't Hold Us Down(up 6 positions)
Can't Hold Us Down, the fourth single from Christina Aguilera's Stripped CD, is another declaration of Aguilera's determination to overcome the obstacles she claims life throws at her. As on Beautiful, Aguilera is smart enough to couch her promise to overcome society's preconceptions in a broader context. On Beautiful, Aguilera could claim to represent all young women who don't fit a traditional definition of beauty. On Can't Hold Us Down, Aguilera says she's singing for all "my girls all around the world who've come across a man who don't respect your worth." Can't Hold Us Down doesn't have the subtlety, musically or lyrically, that writer/producer Linda Perry brought to Beautiful. Can't Hold Us Down was cowritten and coproduced by Scott Storch, who also did Fighter which, with a steadily wailing rock guitar having a decibal competition with Aguilera's shrill proclamation of self confidence, had the subtlety of a jackhammer. Can't Hold Us Down isn't as aggressively annoying as Fighter but it's not very interesting. Can't Hold Us Down's backing track is fairly lifeless, with an unchanging, flat beat and nothing to the music beyond an OK, repeated chiming effect. Aguilera is, typically, a bit of a vocal showoff but she gets your attention and shows her skills by quickly and fluidly snaking around the lyric. While she's never relaxed, Aguilera's singing has a bit of the playful, retro feel of Blu Cantrell's Hit Em Up Style. The world can always use another good song urging women to stand up for themselves. But Aguilera is hardly Aretha Franklin. Can't Hold Us Down's thoughts are pretty familiar and not that inspiring. Can't Hold Us Down's universal hopes get tied up with Aguilera's petty complaints about how people slander her "for popularity." But it can't be bad for young women to be encouraged to state their opinions and "respect your worth." Lil' Kim, Aguilera's Lady Marmalade teammate, adds a little more flavor and raspy attitude to Can't Hold Us Down though it's not her best work. Kim's rap fits with the lyric's general useful though not particularly original or insightful feel, complaining about double standards regarding how men and women can act towards the oppositie sex and declaring that "the table's about to turn."
Guster is a Boston band that developed a large following playing lots of gigs with two acoustic guitars and bongos. The guys have since gone electric but they've maintained a simple upbeat sound. Amsterdam, from the Keep It Together CD, is a strong candidate for feel good song of the summer. It's lightweight but very charming. On Amsterdam, Guster remind me of the jangly, perky guitar bands that sprung up in the mid 80s after REM had their initial success. It rides forward easily with a variety of vigorous but smooth strums, a bit of jangling and a crisp, clicking beat. Amsterdam has a pleasant, shiny sound. Ryan Miller's voice isn't amazing but it is warm and good natured. Amsterdam lacks edge and it's kind of saccharine. It does have a likable, clean cut sound with a nice, positive energy. While Amsterdam has a jaunty sound its lyric, written by drummer Brian Rosenworcel, is quite nasty. Amsterdam's giddiness apparently reflects the joy of a spurned lover at the prospect of finding revenge in a nasty letter.
Evanescence-Going Under(up 1 position)
Going Under doesn't have the mediocre raps that helped made Bring Me To Life sound like an odd Linkin Park tribute. Otherwise, Going Under is a lot like the hugely successful first single from the Arkansas band's Fallen CD. Once again, the band is wildly over the top. Shooting for a cold, futuristic sound, Evanescence throw together crunching guitar chords, atmospheric keyboard effects and Amy Lee's overdramatic art rock vocals as well as strings and layers of backup singing. Lee again sounds like a self important, hysterical version of Sarah McLachlan or Tori Amos. Brian Moody's sledge hammer guitar playing is pretty uninteresting and his short solo pretty awful. Hopefully the novelty value of Evanescence's theatrical music is fast ebbing and they're not a harbinger of a wave of female led melodramatic neo grunge bands. Going Under's lyric is slightly surprising. Lee sings about all the pain her lover has caused but also vows that she'll "save myself" and "won't be broken again."
Eve 6-Think Twice(down 3 positions)
The sure touch that brought Eve 6 hits on their first two records(Inside Out on Eve 6 and Here's To The Night on Horrorscope) has apparently eluded them on the new It's All In Your Head CD. Max Collins does some annoying, cliched self dramatizing rock singing. He starts by slowly and meaningfully intoning every syllable in a style Weezer mocked on their sweater song. The songs shifts to an anonymous chorus with slamming power chords. Then it speeds up a bit with Jon Siebels playing a decent scratchy guitar sound. Think Twice starts to sound a liitle like Inside Out but without that song's intensity. Generally Think Twice lacks Inside Out's energy and excitement. In an inevitable climax, Collins ends up screaming but Inside Out never gets interesting. I find it so boring that it's a struggle to listen all the way through. Think Twice has a pretty unpleasant lyric. Collins partly tries to convince his lady that his love is better than a rival's. But Think Twice is mostly a thuggish warning to the rival that if he touches her "I'll let you feel the burn."
Nickel Creek-Smoothie Song(down 5 positions)
Nickel Creek are a bluegrass group from San Diego. Their modern sensibility has given them supporters beyond the genre's usual fans. Contemporary bluegrass queen Alison Krauss produced Nickel Creek's two CDs. Krauss has succeeded by giving her music a country folk flavor. Like Krauss, Nickel Creek show that they respect bluegrass history and can play traditional instruments and are also aware of other genres. Moves like covering Pavement's Spit On A Stranger show that Nickelback's musical tastes are even broader than Krauss'. Nickel Creek's music is very charming. It's smart and well played and has a sweet modesty. The Smoothie Song, from the This Side CD, is an instrumental written by Nickel Creek mandolin/banjo player Chris Thile which features the interplay of the group's principal players: Thile, fiddler Sara Watkins and guitar player Sean Watkins.
Justin Timberlake has impressively moved on from being a member of a very successful singing group to being even more successful as a solo artist. Even more impressive is that Timberlake has escaped N Sync's squeaky clean, lightweight pop image and built some cred as an r&b singer. A lot of credit for Timberlake's makeover has to go to The Neptunes(Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo), who wrote and produced seven songs on the Justified CD including Like I Love You, Rock Your Body and Senorita. Senorita, Justified's fourth hit, is insubstantial and not that impressive but it(along with Timberlake's nice contribution to Black Eyed Peas' Where Is The Love) helps solidify the idea of Timberlake as a respectable artist. Unlike some of Timberlake's previous singles, Senorita doesn't show a need to overwhelm us with overdone instrumentation or breathless Michael Jackson imitations. Senorita is a smooth ride with relaxed confidence. The Neptunes again show their skill at putting together an appealing song. Senorita's chief asset is a very likable, easy keyboard riff. Senorita is also helped by a minimal percussive beat and touches of horns. Timberlake is once again aided by good, well placed backing vocals. Timberlake's singing seems fine. He's pretty charming, though I could do without the cocky guys/ladies finale. Senorita has a typical lyric. Timberlake tries to convince a woman that the guy who upsets her "doesn't love ya" and offers his "real love" in exchange.
Uncle Kracker featuring Dobie Gray-Drift Away(down 9 positions)
Considering that his main goal seems to be making genial, innoucuous pop, Uncle Kracker(born Matt Shafer) has had a decent career. But he hadn't really been able to follow up on Follow Me from his debut CD. In A Little While, which had Uncle Kracker's typical mellow, modest style, was a minor hit. It took a cover of an extremely familiar song to give Uncle Kracker a big hit from his No Strange To Shame CD, which came out last summer. The new version of Drift Away is a remake in the strictest sense. It's a nearly exact copy of Dobie Gray's 1973 hit. It's pleasant but totally unnecessary. The nice thing about Drift Away 2003, I guess, is that it gives Gray another chance in the spotlight. Now in his 60s, Gray still sounds good. Gray's strong, full voice easily outdoes Uncle Kracker's thin, indistinct singing. Drift Away isn't the most remarkable of pop classics. It's a soothing song about how music can provide calm in a troubling life. Drift Away's chief attribute is that it's appealing smooth and relaxed. Uncle Kracker leaves in place the easy, pleasing keyboards and guitars that made Drift Away a lite hits radio staple. But he doesn't add anything that makes the song better or more interesting than the original. I guess one other benefit of the new version is that it settles a question I've had since I was a kid. Yes he says "beat boys" not Beach Boys.
Good Charlotte-Girls And Boys(up 2 positions)
Good Charlotte's previous singles were fast punky pop. Girls And Boys, the third hit from the Young and the Hopeless CD, shows that Good Charlotte can make fun, kind of dopey music in different styles. Girls and Boys uses sounds from the shiny pop of the early 70s and late 80s. Girls and Boys is ridiculously catchy. The band keeps a string of hooks coming. Girls and Boys has a primitive sounding keyboard line reminiscent of Gary Numan's Cars. The climactic guitar break is like the one on Rick Springfield's Jessie's Girl. The chorus, with its crunching power chords, has the simple exuberance of a good emo song(e.g. Jimmy Eat World's Lucky Denver Mint). Singer Joel Madden doesn't have much range. His vocal isn't versatile enough to match Girls and Boys' transitions but his basic yelling matches the song's simple, upbeat feel. The lyric is fairly harsh for a perky pop song. Joel sings that girls atttracted to wealthy guys are "losing their souls in a material world." But the cynical lyric hardly detracts from Girls and Boys' lightweight charm.
Pete Yorn-Crystal Village(unchanged)
Crystal Village is the second chart hit from Pete Yorn's second CD Day I Forgot. Crystal Village is the best song on the not bad but not great CD. Jeff Buckley is clearly a role model for Yorn. Yorn has often tried to emulate Buckley's intensity and the thrills Buckley was able to produce with dramatic songs that swooped back and forth between quiet and charged. On Crystal Village, Yorn achieves that kind of excitement. Like most of Yorn's best songs, Yorn creates a rich sound playing multiple instruments along with R. Walt Vincent. Crystal Village's music is theatrical but not overdone. Crystal Village builds and adds compelling emotion. It starts out with only a finger picked guitar then adds Yorn's drums, Vincent's string effects and, finally, slashing electric guitar, to epic effect. Yorn's deep, heavy voice can be too much when he doesn't have an interesting song. But on a great song like Crystal Village, Yorn's singing completes a powerful, sweeping sound. Crystal Village is apparently about Yorn trying to resuscitate a relationship that "was good in the beginning" by taking his partner's hand and showing her bright "lights arranging twilight sages."
3 Doors Down-Here Without Youbuy it!
3 Doors Down's savvy, radio friendly strategy has, oddly, placed them among the top pop acts. Here Without You, the third chart hit from the Away From The Sun CD, is poised to surpass its very successful predecessor When I'm Gone and become(including Kryptonite, from their Better Life debut) their third megasmash. 3 Doors Down's popularity is both confusing and unsurprising. On the one hand, frontman Brad Arnold isn't particularly handsome, charismatic or much of a singer. The band totally lacks distinctiveness. 3 Doors Down's songs(with the possible exception of Kryptonite) aren't very interesting or orginal. There's no sign that the band has extraordinary musical talent. On the other hand, 3 Doors Down seem to know their limitations and they know how to make familiar, accessible music. Usually, the most obvious comparison is to Matchbox 20 though Rob Thomas is, at least, a slightly better and more interesting singer and more distinctive songwriter than Arnold. On Here Without You, the model seems to be Creed's lofty, dramatic and very popular rock ballads, especially With Arms Wide Open. Arnold doesn't show the narcissism of Creed singer Scott Stapp but all the other elements are present. Here Without You starts with quiet guitar and Arnold's impassioned vocal. While drums eventually come in to add a touch of a rock feel, the song never gets loud in a way that might offend lite radio listeners. I suppose 3 Doors Down deserve points for avoiding the bombast of some rock ballads(including When I'm Gone) but while Arnold isn't too showy, the stiffness of his voice keeps Here Without You from achieving beauty or subtlety. Producer Rick Parashar also worked with humorless, radio friendly Nickelback, who are even stiffer and less likable than 3 Doors Down. Parashar follows rock ballad conventions here, adding a layer of strings that build as the song approaches an overdramatic, cloying climax. People love rock ballads and Here Without You isn't the worst one. 3 Doors Down smartly built an emotional song destined to be a hit but it really is a calculated, soulless piece of garbage. Here Without You's lyric is similar to When I'm Gone's but it's not quite as unappealing as that song's needy plea for his girlfriend to always think loving thoughts of him. Arnold is again away from his beloved. He wants her to be comforted by the fact that he's thinking and dreaming about her.
Apparently Nelly is so huge that even people who kind of sound like him are destined to have hits. Chingy(born Howard Bailey Jr.) is, like Nelly, from St. Louis. The local dialect seems to include a relaxed slur. So where Nelly had Hot In Herre, Chingy has Right Thurr. Right Thurr, like Nelly's music, has a confident, sprawling, repetitive quality. That's basically where the similarity ends. Chingy doesn't have Nelly's unbelievable fast, easy rapping skills or high energy backing. Chingy's mentor is Ludacris, who is the executive producer of Chingy's debut Jackpot CD. Right Thurr has the broad, jokey quality of some of Ludacris' music. Right Thurr is solidly constructed. It's comfortable with a good, steady beat, repeated synth riff and Chingy's easy rap. Chingy has a good time and his joy is infectious. On the verses, he sounds a little like Eminem in a mischievous mode. The downside is that Right Thurr is really repetitious. Nothing happens to keep your attention as the same riff repeats over and over again. Chingy's repeated, mannered enunciation of the title also gets a little tired. Generally, Right Thurr is genial but slight.
Jack Johnson-Wasting Timebuy it!
The Horizon Has Been Defeated, the first chart hit from Jack Johnson's On And On CD, was one of the year's more likable singles. The Horizon Has Been Defeated, a wry shot at corporate greed, showed Johnson at his charming best. Horizon's good, reggae inflected music fit Johnson's positive vibe and was a little more substantial than some of Johnson's work. Wasting Time, written by Johnson with drummer Adam Topol and bassist Merlo Podlewski, has an even more overt reggae flavor and an interesting guitar sound. Wasting Time isn't quite as irresistable as Horizon but it is appealing, easy listening. Johnson often walks the line between relaxed and complacent but his music is generally appealing and usually works, at least as background music. Wasting Time's lyric is typical Johnson. He often depicts himself as a stoner with a very laidback but confident approach to women. As on Flake, Wasting Time paints a world of people barely energetic enough to care about anything. Wasting Time has a cutesy theme: "I'm just a waste of her energy and she just wasting my time, so why gon't we get together and we could waste it all tonight."
Eastmountainsouth-You Dancebuy it!
Eastmountainsouth is Kat Maslich and Peter Adams, southerners who met in LA and formed a duo making country tinged folk. You Dance is on their self titled debut. You Dance is a thoughtful, very sweet love song. Its sound is a bit on the adult, tasteful side for me but You Dance is very charming. Adams has a basic, sincere voice. You Dance's music is appealingly minimal. It matches the lyric's account of pure, ungimmicky love. Adams' nice, simple, unshowy piano is accompanied by very restrained drums. Maslich's harmonies are very appealing. She reminds me of Syd Straw, a favorite background singer of 80's and 90's alt country bands. You Dance is a touch boring but it's very pleasant. Its avoidance of flash is a refreshing contrast to most contemporary music. You Dance's lyric has lots of likable images. Adams sings about wanting to "carry you away" and "wake you every morning" and asks if he can "wander every day beside you."
Lumidee-Never Leave You(Uh-oh)(up 1 position)
Never Leave You proves the broad appeal of the diwali rhythm. Jamaicans Sean Paul and Wayne Wonder both had hits with the sound that was put on Get Busy and No Letting Go by producer Lenky Marsden. It turns out that the rhythm fits as well with the singing of Spanish Harlem's Lumidee Cedeno. Producer DJ Tedsmooth smartly found a new context where the hot, infectious, familiar beat works. On Never Leave You, Diwali sounds like a New York rhythm. Diwali feels like a natural variation on the double dutch beat that's accompanied kids jumping rope for years. The uh ohs and Lumidee's unremarkable slightly wobbly and thin voice help create a natural, unpretentious feel. Never Leave You is undeniably a novelty hit doomed to a fairly short life span. The uh ohs that are cute and catchy the first few listens become annoying after a while. Never Leave You is generally pretty ordinary. But Never Leave You does have that great beat and a comfortable atmosphere. Never Leave You's simple lyric is about convincing a boyfriend that "there ain't another" and that they're great together.
Coldplay-The Scientist(down 10 positions)
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.
Jason Mraz-The Remedy(up 2 positions)
The Remedy made the top 50 last spring thanks mostly to play on adult alternative radio. The Remedy returned to the chart as, not surprisingly, its annoyingly catchy perkiness has been embraced by pop radio. Jason Mraz is a young singer/songwriter who grew in Virginia and established himself playing in San Diego's coffee houses. Mraz' Waiting For My Rocket To Come CD was produced by John Alagia, who 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 Matrix's gifts for writing catchy, upbeat tunes is evident but The Remedy doesn't measure up to Lavigne's best feisty, idiosyncratic work. Since Mraz is another cocky, glib white guy, the Matthews/Mayer comparison may be more apt but, 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. The catchiness of the "I won't worry my life away" chorus is undermined by a shallow slickness 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. Mraz' cutesy gots (as in "you gots the poison, I've gots the remedy) make me think that Mraz needs a good ass kicking to wipe that smirk of the song's face. The Remedy's music matches the sunny vocal and lyric with a bouncy bass and guitar and cheap sounding synths.
Annie Lennox-Pavement Cracks(down 5 positions)
With Eurythmics, Annie Lennox was a playful figure with a good sense of a groove and an ability to work with many different types of music. Since she's gone solo, she's become old and boring, making various kinds of background music. Diva, her solo debut, sold a bunch of records but Medusa, Lennox's cover record, and her new Bare record don't have much of a point commercially or artistically. Pavement Cracks is a mess. It's got someone's idea of a hip, urban sound but it's quite lame. Pavement Cracks starts with overdone atmosperic instrumentation. After a sprinkling of piano, a generic disco beat comes in. There's showy guitar and Lennox does an awful "uh-huh" filled vocal that's supposed to sound streetwise. Pavement Cracks has a core of a sweetness when the music and Lennox's singing soften but, far too soon, Pavement Cracks reverts to mechanical backing and Lennox's vocal again grows cold. The lyric is overly poetic but it does have real sadness. Lennox sings about a world where "love don't show", "my water colors fade to black", "I'm going nowhere" and "my dreams have fallen flat."
Simple Plan-Addicted(down 4 positions)
Addicted, the second hit from the Montreal band's No Helmets, No Pads ... Just Balls CD, is one of the more annoying of the recent spate of poppy punk influenced hits. It's also one of the more successful one, assumedly because it's simple enough that preteens can easily get it. Addicted's big power chords and leisurely pace make it easy to sway to. Simple Plan's idea of a joke("I'm a dick, I'm addicted to you") probably goes over big with the junior high set. Pierre Bouvier sings with a bratty, childlike voice. Bouvier whines with youthful self pity "do you think I deserve this?" Addicted is about not being able to get over a girl who left even though he tried to make her happy. Addicted is harmless and I suppose it's only meant to be stupid fun but it's mostly just stupid.
Rancid-Fall Back Down(unchanged)
It's been a good year for Rancid singer/co-songwriter Tim Armstrong. Diamonds and Guns from Transplants, Armstrong's side project was a minor hit. Now Fall Back Down from Indestructible, Rancid's first CD since 2000, is Rancid's biggest hit since Ruby Soho and Time Bomb off their 1995 And Out Comes The Wolves record. The success of bands like Good Charlotte, Sum 41 and Simple Plan, who do poppy versions of punk, has made radio more ready to embrace bands like Rancid again. After hearing the glossy, youthful versions of punk, it's good to hear Rancid's purer, less gimmicky, more adult version getting a chance. There's nothing remarkable or groundbreaking about Fall Back Down. While they may have influenced the latest generation of punks, they're still open to accusations that they closely mimic their predecessors, especially The Clash. Armstrong's rough rasp is pretty generic. He sounds a little that guy who rants in the Outback steakhouse advertisements. Still, Armstrong's singing is charmingly direct and he avoids cuteness. Similarly, Fall Back Down is likably straight forward. It has an appealing, upbeat feeling. Fall Back Down has good, slicing guitar playing and drummer Brett Reed and bass player Matt Freeman make sure Fall Back Down stays fast and fun. On Fall Back Down, Armstrong vows that despite his enemies and, especially, a woman who "betrayed me", with the help of "my crew", I'm gonna make it alright."
Fleetwood Mac-Say You Will(unchanged)
Say You Will is Fleetwood Mac's first record featuring Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks doing all new material in 16 years. It hasn't inspired too much interest but it has given us two good singles. Peacekeeper was distinctively the catchy/interesting/slightly weird work of Lindsay Buckingham. Say You Will's title track is a Stevie Nicks song with a likable feel that reminds me of her Gypsy. Say You Will is one of Nicks' best songs in a while. It has a familiar sound that's right for a beloved band that's been around for a while. Nicks' voice started out with a little rough huskiness. It's even craggier now but in a way that's comfortable and endearing. Say You Will is always pleasant. It rolls forward effortlessly on Mick Fleetwood's easy, rolling beat. But Say You Will's real charm is in an upbeat, infectious chorus that practically begs you to sing along. The chorus has harmonies between Nicks and Buckingham that work and feel real and definitely not too pretty. Throughout Say You Will, Buckingham throws out a series of compact guitar riffs that are smart, sometimes showy but always appropriate to the song. He helps create the chorus' joyful, soaring feel with a slowly climbing guitar part. Nicks' lyric is sweet if somewhat slight. She salutes the guy who "brought out something that I've never been since." She asks for another chance, confident that she can change his mind "if I can get you to dance."