Backstreet Boys-Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely(unchanged)
Beyond being teen idols, Backstreet Boys have been getting some respect recently. They got Grammy nominations and positive writeups from Robert Christgau of the Village Voice and Ann Powers of the New York Times. I still don't get it. I Want It That Way struck me as an insipid bore. Larger Than Life was generic dance music and the lyrics, allegedly a tribute to their fans, were so vague and unoriginal that their fans should be offended. At least Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely, the third single from the Millennium CD, achieves what it shoots for. It's fairly effective as a big weepy ballad and the singing isn't bad.
Christina Aguilera-What a Girl Wants(unchanged)
Her songs are about as dopey as those of her chart mates Jennifer Lopez and Britney Spears but Aguilera seems to have the best voice. What a Girl Wants isn't as musically striking as Genie in a Bottle, with its stark, crisp beat. It's more like crowd pleasing generic dance pop. Like Genie in a Bottle, What a Girl Wants makes some pretense of trying to show a strong, self respecting woman, but Aguilera seems a little too appreciative of the guy who gave her time to make up her mind.
Our Lady Peace-Is Anybody Home?(up 8 positions)
Is Anybody Home? is the second hit from Happiness . . . Is Not a Fish You Can Catch. Like most of the Canadian band's work, Is Anybody Home? is serious and intense. It also shows Our Lady Peace's ability to create a good atmosphere with interesting shifts of dynamic. The music varies from Mike Turner's hard rocking guitar to Raine Maida's a capella vocals. The lyrics say that everybody's needy, we're all scared.
Savage Garden-I Knew I Loved You(unchanged)
Like on their smash Truly, Deeply, Madly, Savage Garden seem like nice, sincere guys. They also seem a little boring. The vocals are sickly sweet. I Knew I Loved You, from the Affirmation CD, is inoffensively sweet but the lyrics of knowing I loved you before I met you are delivered very blandly.
Korn-Falling Away From Me(unchanged)
With Nine Inch Nails' sales way down on their new CD, veteran gloom rockers Korn could be the new kings of intense, paranoid, gothic influenced rock. Falling Away From Me is humorless and not fun, but Jonathan Davis' pain sounds real as he sings of being so tormented by his painful life and the voices in his head that he's given up hope and is flirting with suicide. The music is powerful with good, hard guitars and genuinely spooky, atmospheric effects.
No Doubt-Ex-Girlfriend(up 3 positions)
It's been 4 ½ years since No Doubt released their last album, the very successful Tragic Kingdom, which had the hits Don't Speak, Spiderwebs and Just a Girl. The pressure to follow it was apparently pretty heavy. No Doubt took forever to record the new Return of Saturn CD, discarding a lot of material along the way. Like New, their contribution to the Go soundtrack, Ex-Girlfriend has a fast, energetic appeal but doesn't have the broad appeal of their big hits. Ex-Girlfriend is best when the band creates a frenetic momentum and it's worst when it bogs down in Gwen Stefani's vocal mannerisms. She sings that she should have known better than to be with a love em and leave em guy and readily admits to jealousy of his next victim.
Lit-Miserable(up 7 positions)
The most notable about Miserable, the third chart hit from the band's Place in the Sun CD, is its video with Pamela Anderson playing a giant Amazon babe who's literally a maneater. Miserable doesn't have the fast stupid charm of My Own Worst Enemy and Ziplock. Miserable, with A. Jay Popoff singing about being unavoidably attracted to a woman who ruins his life and makes him miserable, is slower. It's fairly entertaining but unremarkable, with big power chords.
Celine Dion-That's The Way It Is(unchanged)
That's The Way It Is is one of the new songs on Dion's All The Way greatest hits record. Dion's music often tends towards banality. That's The Way It Is is particularly insubstantial. Its "everything will work out fine" lyrics have the depth of a greeting card and the music has the complexity of the background to a tv commercial. It's fairly inoffensive except to those who know that romantic problems aren't always easily solved.
Eiffel 65-Blue(Da Ba Dee)(down 2 positions)
As Mambo No. 5 has finally fallen down the charts, Blue is the latest big novelty hit. In its low budget sound and quirkiness, Blue brings to mind some of the fun, silly disco of the late 70's. Blue begins with the surreal tale of living in a world where everything, and he means everything, is blue. Then it just drifts along with lots of da da dee's, not totally unlike Crystal Waters' homeless song. You might enjoy it for a while until hearing it repeatedly drives you crazy.
Blaque-Bring It All To Me(unchanged)
Bring It All To Me has a nice easy groove and good crisp beats. Blaque's reedy vocals could be annoying under different circumstances but here everything is comfortable. Though their lyrics have a little too much emphasis on keeping it real for my liking, N Sync fit in well in their supporting performance.
A3-Woke Up This Morning(up 2 positions)
It's unlikely Woke Up This Morning would be a hit if there wasn't such a buzz around the Sopranos. The song has a cool, hip edge. But unlike the great HBO show, it seems a little gimmicky, with beeping electronic music. The writing of the series is usually more subtle then the lyrics of its theme, "woke up this morning, got myself a gun."
Stroke9-Little Black Backpack(down 16 positions)
Little Black Backpack, from the band's Nasty Little Thoughts CD, is nothing extraordinary but it is extremely catchy. It grabs your attention from the start with a slow Toad the Wet Sprocket type intro. Then it speeds up with rocking guitars and keeps changing tempo. The backpack reminds the singer of the ex-girlfriend who left it behind. He claims he doesn't want to tangle with her but wants to smash in the head of the guy who followed him.
Steely Dan-Cousin Dupree(down 16 positions)
Donald Fagen and Walter Becker actually worked together for much of the 90's, on Fagen's last solo record Kamakiriad and on the Steely Dan tour documented on the Alive In America CD. It's still great to have Two Against Nature, the first Steely Dan studio album in the two decades since Gaucho. Cousin Dupree, about being attracted to a family member now that she's all grown up, has the same mischievous sense of humor as classic Steely Dan like Hey Nineteen. The jazzy music has a light, fun feel that nicely complements the words.
Sugar Ray-Falls Apart(up 1 position)
The third hit from the band's 14:59 is another pleasant piece of pop. The band once tried to mix ska and fast punkish music but they've found success in genial, less ambitious, music. While the lyrics are about a young woman going through a tough time, the music doesn't get too heavy. It has a nice dynamic, shirting from mellower verses to rougher choruses when the guitars kick in.
Santana-Smooth(down 3 positions)
Carlos Santana hasn't had a hit in nearly 20 years but with Smooth, from his new record Supernatural, he's found a savvy, irresistable sound. The music is classic Santana. Carlos' guitar riffs are evocative and the percussion and horns create a great groove. The new element is the vocals of Matchbox 20's Rob Thomas. Matchbox 20 has been one of the most successful groups of the last 2 years with 5 hit singles from their Yourself or Someone Like You cd which still is getting radio play 3 years after its release. It's kind of funny that Thomas, whose success is largely based on a commercially calculated sound that works to appeal to rock fans without offending easy listening audiences, is singing about giving of your heart and not just being smooth. Nonetheless, it was smart for Santana to work with Thomas. Besides being a smart commercial move, using Thomas does work musically for Santana. His vocals are smooth and they invite you into Santana's cool world.
Tracy Chapman-Telling Stories(unchanged)
On her new CD, Chapman shows her weakness of often taking things a little too seriously. She relaxes a little on the title track. A nice loose electric guitar keeps things moving. Telling Stories also shows the positive side of Chapman's seriousness. Her writing and singing is characteristically simple, direct and poignant as she tells how a lie can be better than the truth.
Despite their tough music and attitude, a lot of today's young hard rockers, like Kid Rock and Limp Bizkit, want us to know they have a soul and women can hurt them. On Home, the rock ballad from Staind's Dysfunction CD, Aaron Lewis sings about sacrificing everything for a woman and being totally vulnerable to her: afraid to be alone, afraid she'll leave him when he's gone. It seems a little wimpy but the band makes sure they'll still appeal to the rock kids with crisp drums and power chords on the chorus breaking through the otherwise stark musical setting and heartfelt vocals.
AC/DC-Stiff Upper Lip(unchanged)
With Brian Johnson's gravity defying screech and the dopey lyrics about keeping a stiff upper lip and shooting from the hip, the title track of the new AC/DC CD comes close to self parody. Still, their fans will probably be happy. It sounds like AC/DC and a it's got a rockin' boogie guitar.
Rage Against the Machine-Guerrilla Radio(down 16 positions)
Guerrilla Radio is more driving, heartfelt guitar driven rock. Rage are probably the most popular political band around. While the excitement of their intense music probably attracts more fans than their left wing politics, the sincerity of their beliefs is part of their appeal. On Guerrila Radio, the band again comfortably mixes rock and rap. Zack de la Rocha sings optimistically, "it has to start something" and "can't stop us now."
Pardon Me resembles a lot of music on rock radio with its anthemic choruses and power guitar chords. The anguished lyrics about having had enough of the world and being on the verge of spontaneous combustion aren't that unusual these days. But Pardon Me does have some distinction with its good, jagged beat and interesting touches like the sound of scratching records.
Brian McKnight-Back at One(down 4 positions)
Back at One is pretty sappy: "one, you're like a dream come true; two, just want to be with you, three, it's plain to see you're the one for me." But McKnight's singing is heartfelt and stronger than most that of most of his contemporaries on the pop charts. The music is also nicely subtle, starting simply with a lone piano.
Kenny Wayne Shephard-Was(up 1 position)
Shephard's talent as a player and love of his blues rock predecessors is always more apparent than his originality. Was, from Shephard's Live On CD, starts well in a gritty, spare blues setting. Was has a pretty authentic feel but it evolves into his usual showing off and overdone music. The lyrics, about being under a woman's spell, feel pieced together from other songs, with their repeated references to moonlit nights and madman's walks.
The Tennessee band Lonestar is the latest poppy country act to have a mainstram hit. Amazed, from the CD Lonely Grill, is a sappy if effective love song written by Nashville hired guns about a feeling inside "almost more than I can take" that "blows me away", being able to "hear your thoughts" and "see your dreams" and generally being amazed by her.
Sonique-It Feels So Goodbuy it!
It Feels So Good, from the CD Hear My Cry, is reminiscent of the golden age of disco. It has an efficient, synthetic beat and dramatic string effects made by keyboards, but not much personality. The lyrics are extremely simple, a fairly dopey tribute to her love which keeps her alive, makes her smile when she's down, takes her higher, etc.
Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals-Steal My Kisses(unchanged)
Steal My Kisses is a particularly light, fun piece from Harper's Burn To Shine CD. Harper presents himself as a good natured rascal, persisting in working on a hard to get lady. The music keeps the mood easy with a loose electric guitar.