Mary J. Blige-Family Affair(down 6 positions)
Family Affair, from Blige's No More Drama CD, is Blige's biggest pop hit so far and it deserves its success. It has one of the best grooves of the year. Dr Dre's production is quite brilliant. The music, with an easy, shuffling beat and good backing vocals and keyboards, is relaxed but substantial. Blige has established a "don't mess with me" image but on Family Affair she sounds like she's having a good time, advising us to "leave your situations at the door" and "get it crunk", which apparently has something to do with dancing and having fun. Blige's vocal skills are on display as she smoothly scats around the beat.
Jennifer Lopez-Ain't It Funny(up 5 positions)
Ain't It Funny, the fourth single from the J. Lo CD, is pleasant, innocuous dance pop. With a touch of Latin flair, Ain't It Funny is similar to Madonna's La Isla Bonita but its rigid beat and repetitive, schematic shape mean it's less interesting. It seemed like a joke that Jennifer Lopez' last single was called I'm Real. Lopez' music has generally wrapped her voice in electronics, hiding her real voice in thick production. But Ain't It Funny and the Ja Rule version of I'm Real have given us a closer look at Lopez' voice. Lopez' vocal on Ain't It Funny sounds like her speaking voice. It's a little thin and whiny but at least it's fairly real, at least until the studio vocal pros take over on the slick, familiar chorus. Ain't It Funny is about trying to overcome differences and memories of romantic failure to make a relationship with a seemingly perfect guy work.
The Strokes-Last Nite(up 2 positions)
Quite a bit of hype, largely created by the British music press, surrounded the Strokes before they even had a record out. The hype is mostly justified by Is This It, one of the best CDs of 2001. Fans of late 70s/early 80s new wave are especially likely to enjoy Is This It's deft constructions. Julian Casablancas is appealingly confident as he channels cool alternative crooners like Lou Reed, Ian McCulloch and The Fall's Mark E. Smith while Nick Valersi lays down tight, jagged guitar lines reminiscent of Gang Of Four and, especially, Television's Richard Lloyd. Last Nite is kind of like Iggy Pop singing over Tom Petty's American Girl. With its steady, jaunty strumming and sturdy bass line, Last Nite is a good example of the Strokes' fun, basic sound. Last Nite is about having enough and walking away from a girlfriend who feels "so down" because no one understands her.
Alicia Keys-A Women's Worth(up 2 positions)
Inevitably, the novelty of Fallin's clean, retro sound faded after dozens of listens. And I've seen enough of Alicia Keys' blissfully confident face. Still, Keys' singles are oases of thoughtful, real sounding music in the fake, overproduced world of top 40 radio. A Women's Worth, like Fallin', has a smart sound that, with touches of atmospheric keyboards, percussion and psychedelic guitar, obviously alludes to classic mellow late 60s and early 70s soul but also shows Keys' smart, cool personality. Keys has a good voice but she again cleverly fills out a minimal sound with good backing vocals. Keys' lyrics advise men that the best way to win her and women in general is to treat them with respect. They naturally fit the song's easy but self assured sound.
Kylie Minogue-Can't Get You Out Of My Head(up 14 positions)
Kylie Minogue has been huge in England and Australia for more than a decade but her worldwide success Can't Get You Out Of My Head, from the Fever CD, is her first U.S. monster hit. Can't Get You Out Of My Head, with its la la las and mechanical beat, is obviously sterile, synthetic and dopey. Still, Can't Get You Out Of My Head, cowritten and produced by Cathy Dennis who once sang a dance pop hit called Touch Me(All Night Long), is well constucted and appealing. At times, it reminds of such disparate cold but compelling synth pop songs as New Order's Blue Monday and Cyndi Lauper's She Bop. The futuristic sound is less frantic than recent Eurodisco songs like Around The World and Blue. The music and Minogue's sultry vocal are confident, unhurried and cool. Unlike Madonna's Music, Can't Get You Out Of My Head doesn't try to be ironic and self mocking. It really is just about not being able to get a guy out of her head. The music is just about creating a good, inviting beat.
Tantric-Mourning(down 2 positions)
Mourning is the third chart hit from the debut CD by the musicians who have recaptured success after getting kicked out of Days Of The New while Travis Meeks' second version of Days Of The New has sunk without a trace. It's a shame that Tantric's tale of resurrection isn't accompanied by better music. Tantric seem like decent musicians but they're making very standard angry rock. Hugo Ferreira, the singer the ex-Days picked, is just another intense, deep sub-Vedder voice. The lyric starts by claiming he's learned about himself and can deal with another woman hurting him but soon accuses her for "all the lies" and how she "conned me into thinking that all I had was you."
Eddie Vedder-You've Got To Hide Your Love Away(up 7 positions)
The I Am Sam soundtrack is all covers of Beatles songs. Most of the music, like Rufus Wainwright and Aimee Mann & Michael Penn's contributions, is nice and well made but extremely predictable. I wish more of the artists were a little less respectful and took some more chances. Eddie Vedder's You've Got To Hide Your Love is quite good but also basically what you would expect. As usual, Eddie is serious and deep voiced though not as serious and deep voiced as he can be. It's just him, his acoustic and a little of his harmonica on a pleasant throwaway version of John Lennon's brilliantly simple evocation of the pain of getting dumped(and feeling like the world is laughing you) after you've trusted love and made yourself vulnerable.
After seven months, Schism has finally ended its chart run, only to be replaced by the title track from Tool's Lateralus CD. Lateralus is a similarly angry, sprawling work. I don't find Lateralus as striking as Schism. Lateralus is typical of Tool's work as it combines art rock and heavy metal. Lateralus methodically moves forward, starting with percussive atmosphere and building into a harder sound with crunching power chords. Maynard James Keenan's howls with a great sense of meaning. But Lateralus does have good intensity and texture and Lateralus' lyrics are actually kind of hopeful. Keenan castigates himself for missing opportunities by ignoring his intuition and overthinking and overanalyzing. He urges himself to "cross the line" and look to life's "infinite possibilities."
Ja Rule-Always On Time(up 4 positions)
Jeff Atkins is ubiquitous these days. While Livin' It Up was still on the chart, Always On Time, the third chart hit from his Pain Is Love, crossed over from the R&B charts to the pop charts. Like Livin' It Up, Always On Time is lightweight and enjoyable. Ja Rule's rough vocal is again matched with a much more melodic voice. The music is easy and enjoyable with a relaxed beat, a good guitar riff and sweet vocals from Ashanti and background singers. Always On Time is pretty stupid, bragging about Ja Rule's talent as a lover("I got two hoes" "and I keep 'em drugged up off that ecstasy") while he apologizes for behavior that led to restraining orders and asks for another chance. Ja Rule's rapping skills are little more than competent but he and producer Irv Gotti have hit upon a successful formula. His voice adds edge but doesn't overpower his smooth, tuneful music.
System Of A Down-Chop Suey(unchanged)
Finally, after so many serious, self pitying, soundalike bands have dominated rock radio, a hard rock band has a hit that sounds different and shows a sense of humor. With tough guitars and hardcore fast drums, Chop Suey, from the Toxicity CD, has the chops necessary to keep the headbangers happy but it's also refreshingly weird. Serj Tankian's over the top vocal takes Chop Suey all over the map, starting as a punk rant, slowing down for a meaningful croon that may be mocking his self important contemporaries("I don't think you trust in my self righteous suicide") and eventually shifting to a spacy, gothic conclusion.
Alien Ant Farm-Movies(up 1 position)
Movies was actually the first single from the Anthology CD. It spent a couple weeks on the chart last spring. After the success of Alien Ant Farm's nasty but ingenious rocking cover of Smooth Criminal, Movies is getting another chance. Movies again shows the band's skill at making music that's rocking but catchy. As on Smooth Criminal, a lot of the credit should go to Terry Corso, whose alternately stuttering and booming guitar playing gives Movies a big, energetic sound. Movies doesn't quite have Smooth Criminal's momentum and I find Dryden Mitchell's vocals somewhat obnoxious. Still Movies, about suggesting a graceful end to a relationship that's gone wrong, is an appealingly buoyant rocker.
Coldplay-Trouble(down 12 positions)
Coldplay's Parachutes is a nice, good sounding record. Chris Martin's singing is appealing modest. Trouble, Parachutes' third chart hit, is a good example of Martin's unassuming charm. On Trouble, Martin apologizes for "all the stupid things I've done" swearing, "I never meant to do you wrong." Trouble's music is sweet and inobtrusive with a good piano, elegant line.
Leann Rimes-Can't Fight The Moonlight(up 8 positions)
At 19, Leann Rimes apparently is no longer satisfied being America's innocent sweetheart. With a mature look on the cover of her I Need You CD and Can't Fight The Moonlight's synthetic dance pop production, Rimes is clearly pushing for a piece of Britney and Christina's audience. She's probably succeeded with a fairly state of the art sound but Can't Fight The Moonlight is so uninteresting and unoriginal that it makes a song like Genie In A Bottle seem remarkably loose and fresh in comparison. Can't Fight The Moonlight's drum machines sound particularly recycled. The song uses the same kind of latin guitar that's shown up on songs by at least half of the dance pop artists of the last few years. In the past, Rimes has shown signs of a decent voice but here her voice is processed to fit the beat to the point where she could be J. Lo or a lesser Aguilera. Rimes played it safe for I Need You's first single, using a song written by Diane Warren, who wrote Rimes' biggest hit How Do I Live and assembly line hits like Starship's Nothing Gonna Stop Us Now and Aerosmith's I Don't Want To Miss A Thing and tends to sprinkle her songs with cliches. Can't Fight The Moonlight, with lines promising "there's no escaping love" and "we'll be lost in the rhythm so right, it will steal your heart tonight", couldn't have taken more than a few minutes for Warren to throw together.
City High-Caramel(up 4 positions)
With its provocative justification of prostitution as a way to support a family and its smart, sleek sound, What Would You Do was a striking debut from City High's self titled CD. Their second chart hit Caramel is O.K. but less interesting lyrically and musically. While similar to other recent music, Caramel's music isn't bad. It's smooth, mellow hip hop with Claudette Ortiz' appealing vocal, a good, uncluttered sound and a crisp, restrained beat. The lyrics are pretty dopey. It starts with Ortiz' self satisfied description of herself. We learn that she likes "going out, taking walks and stuff", has everything she wants and(exactly like Mya on her 2000 hit Free) is happy being "5'5" with brown eyes." Then comes an even stupider section where one of City High's male singers invites a girl to "spend the night popping" champagne in the hot tub. On the remixed single, guest rapper Eve lifts the song from its complacency with a good, feisty rap, telling us she's not about "gift chasin'" and not impressed with champagne poppin'.
Ryan Adams-New York, New York(down 4 positions)
New York, New York is from Gold, the former Whiskeytown frontman's second solo record. Adams' music continues to evolve from alt country to more mainstream rock. New York, New York shows the different sides of Adams' sound. His loose, rapid fire delivery evokes a Dylan song like Tangled Up In Blue but New York, New York also resembles songs by The Allman Brothers and Billy Joel. New York, New York has gotten attention because of its eerie video, filmed September 7th, showing Adams singing in front of a view of New York's downtown skyline with the Twin Towers in the center of the shot. But New York, New York also deserves attention because it's a darn good song. It has a great, fun feel with buoyant guitar and keyboards. Adams' flood of words is very charming. On New York, New York, Adams pays tribute to his adopted home but decides that, since his memories of the city are so intertwined with those of the love that broke his heart, it's time to go.
Nelly-#1(down 1 position)
Without resorting to too much novelty or commercial pandering, Nelly is already one of the most successful rappers, in terms of pop hits, of all time. Nelly's appeal has partly been in his use of familiar gangsta rap tough guy imagery but the most obvious reason he's done so well is that he's a good rapper. On #1, from the soundtrack to the movie Training Day, Nelly is again fast and fluid with a good edge and personality. #1 wisely keep things fairly simple with a steady beat and a good synth riff. Having established his cred and sold millions of copies of Country Grammar, Nelly doesn't feel the need to show his love for bullets and blunts like he did on his earlier hits. But Nelly is still more appealing for his skills than for the personality his lyrics reveal. #1 is about making sure he's treated with the proper respect, boasting about how rappers want to be like him and dissing critics and less successful competitors.
Chris Isaak-Let Me Down Easy(up 6 positions)
While Chris Isaak seems like a mellow guy, he obviously has savvy businessmen behind him. In January, Isaak achieved big time synergy as, nearly simultaneously with the release of Isaak's new Always Got Tonight CD, Showtime began the second season of Isaak's genial, slight rock sitcom and VH1 played a marathon of the show's first season. In 1985, Isaak came on the scene with his spare, haunted, Roy Orbison influenced Silvertone record. Since then, Isaak has mostly omitted the raw, stark feel but, especially since Wicked Game gave him his one big hit, otherwise continued to make the same kind of moody, adult, country flavored records. Isaak's songs often involve Isaak getting his heart broken and/or being haunted by the memory of the ideal woman who left. While Isaak's music is predictable and a little too smooth, it's still good. His songs are well played and have good atmosphere. Isaak's vocals are cool and self confident with a self deprecating charm that also suits him well(despite minimal acting skills) on his sitcom. Let Me Down Easy is similar to Somebody's Crying and other mellow midtempo Isaak songs but it's likable. Let Me Down Easy has a mechanical beat but it has a good ringing guitar riff. On Let Me Down Easy, Isaak again broods about falling hard for a woman who doesn't reciprocate his feelings.
Ja Rule-Livin' It Up(down 9 positions)
Livin' It Up, the second hit from the former Jeff Atkins' Pain Is Love CD, is an easy, slight, enjoyable song. The best thing about Livin' It Up is the melody line taken from Stevie Wonder's Do I Do but everything about Livin' It Up gives it a likable flow and a positive feel. Irv Gotti's production, with a simple, steady beat and keyboards repeating the Do I Do hook, keeps things moving enjoyably. As on the second version of Jennifer Lopez' I'm Real, Ja Rule's edgy, throaty voice is nicely contrasted with a sweeter, less dynamic singer as he alternates lines with Case on the chorus. Ja Rule's rap has a typically rough edge but it fits well within pop confines and gives the song a good momentum. On Livin' It Up, Ja Rule notes his suspicion that "ladies just wanna hold the name Ms. Atkins" but tells his woman "I'mma love"and that their relationship "ain't your typical, everyday, one night thing." He also salutes "all my thugs that be living it up."
John Mayer-No Such Thing(up 1 position)
With its very mild sense of rebellion and Mayer's pleasant, modest vocals No Such Thing, from the Room For Squares CD, is perfectly designed for adult contemporary radio. No Such Thing reminds me of previous well made, easy rock hits by aging young white guys like Marc Cohn, Sister Hazel and Mayer's current competitor, Five For Fighting. No Such Thing's whimsical lyrics gently protest a world that tells you "stay inside the lines" and proclaim that "the real world" is "just a lie you've got to rise above." The first hit from the Atlanta based singer/songwriter is smoothly genial but very familiar and mild.
N Sync-Girlfriendbuy it!
Girlfriend, the third single from N Sync's Celebrity record is my favorite from the record so far. On Girlfriend, the boys worked with very busy producers The Neptunes. Partly because N Sync are better singers, Girlfriend is more enjoyable than Britney Spears' I'm A Slave For You, which was a mess despite a striking, good Neptunes production. With a good borrowed riff and a light, steady beat, Girlfriend has a relaxed, breezy feel. N Sync's harmonies are impressive and fit nicely with the easy mood. N Sync's chief hunk Justin Timberlake, who wrote Girlfriend with The Neptunes, plays a guy trying to convince a girl that while the boy she's likes "doesn't even know you're there", he'll "treat you good." The lyrics are typical boy band fodder but neither they nor some silly whispered interjections negate Girlfriend's charm.
Toya-I Do(down 5 positions)
I Do, from the St. Louis singer's debut Toya CD, is fairly standard dance pop with a familiar story of a woman trying to entice "a six foot stallion with the story of a thug" that she sees on the dance floor. I Do isn't ground breaking but it does have a pretty interesting, steady sound with chiming effects and a minimal, percussive beat.
Blink 182-First Datebuy it!
It'll be interesting to see who gets tired of Blink 182's simple but fun songs first, the band or alternative radio. First Date, the third single from Blink 182's Take Off Your Pants and Jacket CD, sounds like The Rock Show, What's My Age Again and lots of other Blink songs. It's even more basic than most of their fast, good spirited, bratty vocaled songs. The only even slightly different thing about First Date is its chorus, where the guitar and drums slightly change tempo and emphasis. First Date is a throwaway but, like the other singles from Take Off Your Pants And Jacket, it has a charming sweetness. The band still flaunt a juvenile personality and, while their teen years are long behind them, they still easily carry off the sweet, innocent tale of a boy nervous about making a date work.
Travis-Side(down 1 position)
Travis still haven't really had their U.S. commercial breakthrough and the UK sales of their Invisible Band CD haven't reached those of their massive The Man Who but their music, if anything, is improving. As with The Man Who, I find much of the latest CD too blandly mellow but I enjoy The Invisible Band's U.S. singles: Sing and Side. It makes sense that Side took months to make the top 50. It's subtle and not flashy but holds up to repeat listens. Side has a good, textured sound with layered, chiming guitars and light, airy keyboards. Fran Healy's vocals are typically modest and unspectacular. The lyrics are OK; they advise us not to get hung up on envy and foolish goals and to realize "there is no wrong, there is no right."
Starsailor-Good Souls(up 1 position)
You'd figure that the last thing the world needs is another British band doing restrained, atmospheric versions of middle period Radiohead songs. On Good Souls, from the Love Is Here CD, Starsailor seem even more sensitive than the recent bands(Coldplay, Travis and especially Doves) they resemble, if that's possible. James Walsh's painfully earnest, quavery vocal and his timid lyric, telling us he feels "sick after every meal" and crying out "I need to be loved" are a tad too precious. I still like Good Souls. Walsh's open, idealistic voice is compelling and well matched by Good Soul's dense but soaring keyboard propelled sound.
Adema-The Way You Like Itbuy it!
The Way You Like It is the second single from Adema's self titled CD. Adema is perhaps the best example of what's wrong with today's mainstream rock. They inspired a bidding was among record labels, presumably partly because Adema's singer Mark Chavez is the half brother of Korn front man Jonathan Davis and partly because they sound so much like other bands that have had big record sales. There is a similarity between Korn and Adema in the way they try to mix hard rock guitar and synths to create a meaningful atmosphere. The difference between them is that Korn sometimes actually achieves real meaning while Adema's music is garbage that resembles more meaningful work. With a high pitched, spooky riff, The Way You Like It tells us from the start that it's grasping for significance. But even more than Adema's first single Giving In, which at least had an interesting topic(an alcoholic's inabiliy to avoid self destruction), The Way You Like It has a dark surface but no substance. On The Way You Like It, Chavez is apparently already complaining about how fame attracts fake friends and nasty gossip. Adema partly resemble Linkin Park, whose angry hard rock Hybrid Theory CD was the biggest selling CD of 2001(how 'bout that for a depressing sign of the times). But Adema doesn't have Linkin Park's hip hip fluidity. The only thing vaguely hip hop about The Way You Like It is its complaint about player hating. The Way You Like It's crunching guitar and Chavez' staccato, often yelled, vocal are hostile enough to make it on rock radio but it's not good or interesting.