Pink-Family Portrait(down 2 positions)
When her M!ssundaztood CD came out, Pink proclaimed that she was taking a huge chance by abandoning a safe musical formula. As its turned out, Pink just traded one radio friendly style for another slightly different one. In retrospect, the real chance Pink took was in filling M!ssundaztood with all kinds of biographical information. The risk has paid off. Pink was a fairly generic dance pop artist. Now she has a very identifiable image as feistily overcome obstacles life has thrown at her. Family Portraits success is the clearest sign yet that a large audience is willing to follow Pinks search for self discovery wherever it goes. Pinks previous hits were catchy enough that listeners could just have been tolerating the self expression because the music helped it go down easily. The only purpose of Family Portraits music is to accentuate the poignant mood and stay out of the way of Family Portraits story. Family Portrait is unadorned enough and apparently so much about Pink that much of its appeal must come from its vicarious look at Pinks youth. Family Portraits soap opera style piano brings Mary J. Bliges No More Drama to mind. But unlike that songs self dramatizing portrayal of not being dramatic, Family Portrait keeps things fairly subdued until pushing the emotional buttons by closing with a kiddie chorus. Family Portrait, with Pinks character feeling responsible for and trying to fix up her parents screwed up relationship, doesnt say anything about domestic strife that hasnt been said in dozens of TV movies but Pinks pained delivery sounds real enough that her simple portrayal of a dysfunctional family packs some emotional power, even with its cliches. Nothing about Family Portraits music gets my attention. And in conjunction with its video, with a tv commercial cute kid playing young Pink, Family Portrait is too much of an ego massage for my liking. But Pinks fans surely appreciate the chance to fill in her back story.
Socialburn-Down(up 3 positions)
Socialburn are a new band from Tallahassee, Florida lead by singer/songwriter Neil Alday. Socialburns Where You Are CD was produced by John Kurweg, whos done a lot of work with Creed. Sadly, Socialburn dont show any more originality or charm than Scott Stapps kings of humorless, successful mediocrity. Sounding like Alice In Chains Layne Staley or Stone Temple Pilots Scott Weiland, Alday has the angry, serious delivery of so many of todays young rock singers. On Down, Alday repetitively voices the common modern rock complaint that an unnamed you says and does things that make me feel like nothing and fuel his inner torment.
Sum 41-Still Waiting(unchanged)
Sum 41's new CD is called Does This Look Infected? Sum 41 broke through with the youthful, poppy, punky hits from All Killer, No Filler CD. Still Waiting shows signs that the band is making the huge mistake of wanting to grow up and be taken seriously. Still Waiting's video reveals jealousy at the critical respect The Strokes receive. On Fat Lip, the band just demanded the chance to have a good, stupid time. Now they want us to believe that they're looking for "hope to believe" in a world full of hating. It seems clear that Sum 41 is best suited to make dopey, fun music and that's what people want from them. Still Waiting, with its attempt at lyrical significance and Derick Whibley's meaningful ranting, has an uncomfortable resemblance to the lesser work of The Offspring, whose music seems to get stupider the more they try to seem smart. Still Waiting does show benefits of Sum 41's new intensity. I don't love the darkness of the singing and Whibley and Dave Baksh's guitar but I do like that Still Waiting is fast, energetic and focused, without the foolishness that has made some of their music more cutesy than fun.
Justin Timberlake-Cry Me A River(up 2 positions)
On Just Like I Love You, the first single from the N Sync pretty boys Justified CD, Justin Timberlakes worked too hard to show his urban cred and ended up with a slavish, fairly lame Michael Jackson imitation. The more relaxed Cry Me A River works better and is actually soulful. The production lets polished studio singers take over for large portions and move the song forward smoothly. Cry Me A River has a relaxed pace and a fairly uncluttered sound but its also scuffed up a little by a stuttering beat and synths that trumpet and dissolve into a draggy dissonance. Timberlakes singing is pretty innocuous on the verses but things improve when the backup singers help him out and when he reaches for an impassioned falsetto. Cry Me A Rivers lyric plays out the fantasy of many who have been taken advantage by a romantic partner. Timberlake gets to tell the woman who left him all alone, but is asking for him again, that its her time to cry.
Missy Elliott-Work It(down 5 positions)
After having her pop breakthrough with Get Ur Freak Out, one of the best singles of 2001, Missy Ellott has come back in 2002 with another great single thats an even bigger hit. Everything about Work It, from Elliotts Under Construction CD, is cool, smart and appealing smooth. Work It, produced by Timbaland, is ingenious. Tight editing, unrelenting music and Elliotts fast, fluid vocal create an irresistable urgency but Work It also feels relaxed and unrushed. Elliots rap is both confident and playful and unpretentious. Work It refreshingly presents a young woman whos overtly sexual but is neither a slut nor a maneater. Elliott knows that she doesnt look like a Halle Berry poster but shes lost a few pounds and knows her smarts accentuate her sexiness. Work Its sound, with emphatic sonic effects in place of naughty words and tape reverses, is appropriately loose and irreverent. Work It keeps moving with a sensual looped sample and a good, inobtrusive, percussion laced beat thats steady except for breaks allowing Elliott to emphasize key points. Like Eminems best 2002 work, Work It combines skilled technique, smart production and a confident persona, to make one of the best singles of the year.
Nelly-Air Force Ones(up 2 positions)
Air Force Ones is the the third hit from the Nellyville CD. Taking four minutes to pay tribute to Nellys sneakers and endlessly repeating a not great record scratching riff, Nelly is proudly unambitious on Air Force Ones. Like much of Nellys music, Air Force Ones succeeds by staying relaxed and creating an irresistable groove. Nelly lets his buddies do most of the rapping. Most of them arent particularly impressive but Air Force Ones effectively keeps the raps coming one after another. As is often the case with Nellys music, what hes saying is less enjoyable than how he says it. Nelly and his posse test the patience of any listener whos not a Nike aficionado by detailing shoe sizes and favorite colors and making silly brags about only wearing a pair once then discarding it. I do like the cool way they pronounce pair as "par".
Dave Matthews Band-Grey Street(up 5 positions)
Grey Street is the third chart hit from the Busted Stuff CD. With Matthews pleasant, empathetic vocal, Grey Street has the comfortable, familiar, well played feel of a lot of Dave Matthews Band music. Leroi Moores sax and Boyd Tinsleys violin give Grey Street the lurching, stop and start flow of a song like Ants Marching. Grey Street is about a woman trapped in her home by depression. Matthews shows his knowledge of dynamics, letting the music rise as the character is offered an opportunity to experience the world. But just as the woman chooses to stay inside, Matthews mostly chooses to stay within his familiar, comfortable musical form.
Jay-Z featuring Beyonce-03 Bonnie & Clyde(up 1 position)
03 Bonnie & Clyde, from The Blueprint 2: The Gift and The Curse, is Jay-Zs biggest pop hit so far(yeah Im pretty sure its even bigger than that Hard Knock Life song). Not being the most knowledgable hip hop fan, I thought of Coolios Gangstas Paradise when I first heard 03 Bonnie & Clyde. Of course, the most direct influence on 03 B & C is Tupac Shakurs Me and My Girlfriend. Jay-Z reminds me of his fellow ultra successful entrepreneur P. Diddy. They both arent so skilled as rappers but get by with their spoken voice style on confidence and a forceful personality. Especially on 03 B & C, my votes with Jay-Z. His rap is fairly uninflected but it has an appealing directness and doesnt have the silliness and ego that can plague Diddy. With a good, steady beat and acoustic guitar riffs, Jay-Zs unstoppable vocal and the soft, sexy contributions of Jay-Zs real life girlfriend Beyonce Knowles, 03 B & C has an appealingly smooth, relaxed flow. The lyric paints a sweet picture of domestic bliss. Depicting he and B as the new Bobby and Whitney(an unusual choice of romantic role models), Jay-Z describes a relationship of free communication(except when Bs watching Sex and The City) where each would do anything necessary for the other and disses dudes that treat the one that you lovin with the same respect as the one that you humpin.
Tori Amos-A Sorta Fairytale(up 1 position)
Tori Amos had some mainstream radio success with songs like God, Silent All These Years and Crucify from her early solo CDs Under The Pink and Little Earthquakes. Recently, Amos' career has taken a slightly more obscure path, concluding with 2001's Strange Little Girls, her collection of songs originally done by guys. A Sorta Fairytale, supported by a bizarre video with an oddly poignant conclusion, is Amos' first hit in the four years we've been doing the All-Reviews top 50. A Sorta Fairytale, from Amos' Scarlet's Walk CD, is a nice reminder of Amos' gift for mixing melody, classicism and eccentricity. A Sorta Fairytale shows Amos' ability to subtly grab our attention. A Sorta Fairytale starts quietly with Amos' delicate piano playing and an effective, fairly inobtrusive drum machine beat. It builds a little on the chorus which has David Torn's good, simple guitar riff. A Sorta Fairytale also varies its subdued sound with a slightly brighter bridge. Amos sings slowly. Her vocal is restrained but her thoughtful, interesting personality still shines through. A Sorta Fairytale's sound matches its lyrics. Amos sadly relates how an apparent "life long thing" relationship was lost.
No Doubt featuring Lady Saw-Underneath It All(down 3 positions)
In little more than a year, Gwen Stefani has totally turned around her image from the pathetic, pining for Gavin Rossdale thing she played on Return Of Saturn's Ex-Girlfriend and Simple Kind Of Life. Thanks to appearances on hits by Eve and Moby and the singles from the Rock Steady CD, she's reestablished herself as a cool, confident woman. Underneath It All's lyrics strike me as kind of sad wishful thinking. Stefani tries to convince herself that while her relationship "seems incomplete", her guy is really lovely and trying hard and understands her like no one else. Still, in her vocal and on the video, Stefani has an easy self assurance that belies the lyrics' insecurity. No Doubt have mixed a ska feel into their music for years. Sometimes, the music has been a bit too showy or frenzied. Underneath It All, written with Eurythmics' Dave Stewart, like Hey Baby, was produced by reggae legends Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare. It has a good, understated languor, with horns, subtle clavinet and synths, crisp but laid back drums and Shakespeare's rubbery bass. Jamaican dance hall diva Lady Saw nicely adds to the cool, poised feel.
Red Hot Chili Peppers-Zephyr Song(unchanged)
I was bored by some of the Chili Peppers' earlier attempts at a serious, adult sound but they've won me over with the By The Way CD's singles. Zephyr Song is fairly lightweight but it has the easy, natural flow of a classic. Zephyr Song follows a now common Chili Peppers pattern with a loose, goofy verse and a more serious, catchy chorus. But the verse isn't that goofy. Anthony Kiedes' vocal is playful rather than stupid. Kiedis' singing isn't great but he's became more comfortable as a balladeer. Zephyr Song's chorus is wonderful. Kiedis trades the verses' free association for a simple, elegant invitation to "fly away on my zephyr", promising "we'll find a place together." The song that came to mind the first time I heard Zephyr Song was Lulu's To Sir With Love. I still feel like the comparison is apt. Seemingly effortlessly, they both knock you out with a light, uplifting hook. Zephyr Song is a nice showcase for guitar player John Frusciante. He lays down a good fluid sound and plays a decent, unshowy doodle of a solo that fits the easy mood. Ending with majestic percussion crashes, the Chili Peppers sought a meaningful sound on Zephyr Song but they were smart enough to keep the mood relaxed.
Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow-Picture(up 2 positions)
Until Picture was released as a single, Kid Rocks Cocky CD wasnt selling and his career was in decline. Now, a year and a half after it was released, Cocky is another multiplatinum hit for Kid Rock. Ive never been a Kid Rock fan but Picture impresses me. Picture shows more smarts than I thought Kid Rock had. Picture, with its story of a guy cheating on the road while his woman cheats at home, has the feel of a country classic. Kid Rock uses the comfort of a traditional form but doesnt condescend. Pictures music gets an authentic feel from steel guitar but doesnt overdo the twang. The music stays nicely minimal with restrained drumming and organ and a good, simple guitar solo. Kid Rock isnt a great singer but hes decently controlled. As usual, vocal pro Sheryl Crow is solid. Shes a natural with a country ballad but she doesnt upstage Kid Rock. Picture is a big improvement over Kid Rocks previous hit ballad, the self pitying God Only Knows. Picture has a surprising sad sweetness. The adulterers regret their actions and both just want him to come back home.
Jennifer Lopez and LL Cool J-All I Have(up 7 positions)
Jennifer Lopez impressive string of hits continues with the second single from her This Is Me Then. Lopez apparently isnt a great actress but she has a decent career in solidly constructed, unmemorable films built around her appealing presence. Similarly, Lopez is an unremarkable singer and her songs charm rarely outlive their chart life. But her musical star vehicles are even more impressive than her movies. All I Have is fairly unambitious but its very likable and comfortable. All I Haves tale of a woman bouncin^ from a relationship with a charming, untrustworthy guy isnt new but its singers star quality gives it a larger than life, cinematic feel. LL Cool J is particularly convincing playing charming, cocky and irresponsible, making Lopez decision whether to hold onto her pride seem real. Lopez essentially plays straight man to Cool Js scene stealing Lothario but her singing is more interesting than usual. She gets added personality by copying the vocal hiccup from Deborah Laws Very Special, the song that supplies All I Haves catchy sample. The sample, the singers chemistry, and an easy beat and chiming effects create a smooth easy to take sound.
Beck-Lost Cause(up 1 position)
Beck showed that hes not just a studio genius obsessed with beat and samples on Mutations, a record of serious country rock, but he still surprised people with the mellowness of his Sea Change CD. Theres a difference of opinion out there about whether the subdued Sea Change is a subtly beautiful tour de force or kind of a bore. Still, its hard for me to imagine much criticism of Lost Cause, Sea Changes strikingly delicate single. With acoustic guitar and quiet, dreamy synths and chimes, Beck simply creates a moving mood. Becks downbeat vocal communicates Lost Causes mix of sadness and frustration with a screwed up friend hes tired of fighting for but also finds hard to leave alone. Lost Cause also suggests a touch of hope in slightly optimistic chord changes. Lost Cause is a fragile, thoughtful masterpiece.
Pearl Jam-Save You(up 8 positions)
Save You, the second chart hit from the Riot Act CD, is a good, uncomplicated straight ahead rocker. There isnt much of a sense of growth on Pearl Jams new CD. But after showing signs of fading away on their last couple records, especially 2000s Binaural, Pearl Jam seem engaged on Riot Act. Riot Act has a number of songs that match up favorably with tracks on their classic records. Pearl Jam have done rockers like Save You, such as Hail Hail, Brain Of J and Spin The Black Circle, before but Save You is still fun and exciting. It must sound great live. Mike McCreadys guitar riff rips through Save You and, along with Jeff Aments matching bass line and Matt Camerons pounding drums, sends it barelling forward with nonstop energy. Under its tough music Save You has a sweet lyric. Eddie Vedder sings about selfishly wanting to keep a screwed up friend around because hes too important to me. Deploying his naturally dramatic voice as loosely as he can, Vedder promises to save the friend whether he wants it or not. Pearl Jam obviously influence the neo-grungsters like Puddle Of Mudd and Creed but, admirably, they largely avoid the new generations narcissism and cynical commercialism.
Tracy Chapman-You're The One(up 2 positions)
On her self titled 1988 debut CD, Tracy Chapman was a striking new talent making music that was political and personal. She seemed to have the potential to move folk music in exciting new directions. Chapman has since made pleasant, thoughtful music but the deeper she gets into career, the more her work leaves the impression of unfulfilled potential. You're The One, from the Let It Rain CD, has a sweet Chapman vocal and a nice, positive feel but it's so lightweight and unambitious it's barely noticable. I assume Chapman is trying to pare her music to its essentials but she's also pared away what can be interesting about her writing and music. You're The One's lyric is charming. Chapman promises to stand by a lover who others say is crazy, uncouth and no good.
Jimmy Eat World-A Praise Chorus(unchanged)
The fun, exuberant songs keep coming from the year and a half old Bleed American CD. A Praise Chorus, the third chart hit is faster and even less subtle than Bleed Americans last two singles, using a scratchy, stuttering guitar sound like The Middles. A Praise Chorus is just fast, straight ahead rock that doesnt let Zach Linds beat, Rick Burchs bass or Jim Adkins and Tom Lintons guitars stop for a second. Its nearly as hard to resist as Jimmy Eat Worlds other hits. A Praise Chorus is an exhortation to make a move and stop standing in the back, looking around. A Praise Chorus also pays tribute to the power of music, throwing in pieces of Madness Our House, They Might Be Giants Dont Lets Start and, most obviously Tommy James Crimson And Clover. I admit that I underestimated Bleed American when it first came out but Ive been gradually won over by Jimmy Eat Worlds intense but upbeat and positive sound.
John Mayer-Your Body Is A Wonderland(down 2 positions)
Your Body Is a Wonderland is the second chart hit from the Atlanta based singer/songwriter's Room For Squares CD. Like No Such Thing, Your Body Is a Wonderland is pleasant and almost proudly inconsequential. Unlike No Such Thing, where Mayer tried so hard for whimsical cheekiness, Your Body Is a Wonderland mostly keeps things nicely understated. His voice, in a tone not much more forceful than a whisper, effectively communicates the song's sly confidence. His guitar playing is also unassuming but pretty cool. Its only flourish is a short Steely Dan style riff towards the end. A skinny young white guy can't help but seem a little leering singing a song about pleasuring a lady but his admiration of a woman's looks is generally appealing. A bit too much bravado accompanies Mayer's promise to take a while making love and discovering a woman's body but he generally avoids the objectification that often accompanies songs complimenting the female shape.
David Gray-The Other Side(unchanged)
Its to his credit that David Gray hasnt tried to follow the huge, surprising success of his White Ladder CD and the Babylon single with a big, flashy sound. The Other Side, from Grays A New Day At Midnight CD, doesnt veer from White Ladders basic, minimal sound. Large portions of The Other Side are just Grays subdued voice and his simple piano. Even when the drum machine beat comes in, the sound remains restrained. The downbeat sound matches The Other Sides sad lyric. The Other Side, like much of White Ladder, is about romantic disappointment. Admitting that I still dont know what love is, Gray is painfully self critical. Hes unable to be courageous and offer you my hand, pull you up onto dry land, when all I got is sinking sand. Grays unsentimentalized melancholy is somewhat fascinating and The Other Side maintains a perverse integrity by being an intentionally uncommercial single. But The Other Side is basically uninteresting and a little drab. It certainly doesnt do anything to change the perception of Gray as a one hit wonder.
B2K and P. Diddy-Bump, Bump, Bumpbuy it!
Bump, Bump, Bump is from the Pandemonium CD. B2K, P. Diddys young proteges, have shown little talent except for the ability to look good and confident in their videos but a year after hitting the charts with the dopey, catchy Uh Huh, they have an even bigger hit with the equally dopey and even catchier Bump, Bump, Bump. B2K owe R. Kelly, who wrote and produced Bump Bump, Bump, for the songs success. Bump, Bump, Bump has the single minded focus on sex and pleasure of much of Kellys previous work. With a sensual bass drum beat, a good acoustic guitar riff and an emphatic synth underlining the title, Bump, Bump, Bumps music is enticing. I see why Bump, Bump, Bump is a hit but I still find it very annoying. Starting with the cliched sending this out to all the ladies, the boys lines and delivery are so heavy handed and uninspired that I dont see what theyre so cocky about. The lyrics dont go much beyond admiring a girls sexy style and requesting that she start pleasin me. Im no fan of P. Diddys flat, low energy raps but his portion of Bump, Bump, Bump has a little more substance than B2Ks lightweight singing. I only find Bump, Bump, Bump tolerable when I ignore the vocals and focus on the groove.
Jack Johnson-Bubble Toes(unchanged)
Bubble Toes is the second chart hit from the former surfing champ's Brushfire Fairytales CD. Johnson's Flake was pretty whimsical and Bubble Toes ups the whimsy level to the point where cutesy is a better description. I also have a problem since Bubble Toes' cocky white boy flow of words reminds me of the Brenda & Eddie parts of Billy Joel's Scenes From An Italian Restaurant. Still, Johnson is genuinely appealing. His singing is unpretentious with a light, easy flow that allows Johnson to pull off Bubble Toes' goofy la da da da da das. Bubble Toes is a tribute to the woman he loves whose "beauty will follow wherever she goes" and to himself for the charm she eventually won't be able to resist.
All-American Rejects-Swing Swingbuy it!
The All-American Rejects are a young band from Stillwater, Oklahoma who fit somewhere within the emo genre. They share a love of a big, basic, upbeat, enthusiastic sound with Jimmy Eat World and other emo practitioners. Swing Swings mix of crunching guitars and shaggy goofiness brings to mind emo predecessors and godfathers Weezer. The way it adds cheesy keyboards to glossy guitar rock recalls an earlier generation of bands like Cheap Trick and Split Enz. Swing Swing is a good time, easily shifting musical focus from a jagged guitar riff to the keyboards to a good bass line. Tyson Ritter is appealingly earnest as he intensely yells. On Swing Swing, Ritter admits being devastated by a breakup but puts on a brave face, promising to find someone new.
Susan Tedeschi-Alonebuy it!
Alone is on the Boston bred singer/guitarists second record: Wait For Me. On Alone, Susan Tedeschi sounds a lot like Bonnie Raitt. I dont know if Tedeschi has Raitts vocal talent but she has her relaxed confidence. Like Raitt, Tedeschi has a love of the blues that helps her seem comfortable rather than showy in trying to emulate the style of her heroes. Alone is quite a bit like Raitts 2002 single I Cant Help You Now. Unlike in that song, where Raitt told a guy who dumped her then asked for a second chance that he was too late, Tedeschi admits her loneliness, takes the blame for their problems and asks him to come back. The lyrics make Tedeschi seem like a doormat but her self assured vocal keeps her sounding strong. Alone was written by Tommy Sims, who cowrote Eric Claptons Change The World. Alone resembles Change The World. Alone isnt particularly original and theres a sense that, with its smooth sound, tasteful horns and minimal keyboards, its designed to be an easy listening hit like Change The World. But while Alone isnt exciting, Tedeschis singing and unshowy guitar playing keep things cool and likable.
T.A.T.U.-All The Things She Saidbuy it!
A lot of contemporary European music is garbage. People on the continent seem to love music that takes 70s disco and makes it even more glossy and superficial. However, All The Things She Said reminds me of how, after listening to American pop carefully produced to sound familiar, European music, with its love of big sounds, over the top dramatics and odd subjects, can be refreshing. All The Things She Said, from T.A.T.Us 200 Km/h In The Wrong Lane CD, with its big beat and power chords, cheesy synths and anguished vocals, is currently one of my favorite pop songs. The frantic emoting of Julia Volkova and Lena Katina, T.A.T.U.s young Russian singers(who are probably not real life lovers), effectively matches All The Things She Saids story of tortured lesbian attraction. All The Things She Said is packed with intense, passionate soap imagery of passion thats opened my eyes but made her feel totally lost and like shes lost my mind and crossed the line. It would be inaccurate to imply that All The Things She Said travelled, without alteration, from Russian dance clubs to American airwaves. All The Things She Said was polished by producer Trevor Horn who in his work with, among others, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, The Buggles and Yes, practically defined a flashy, dramatic early 80s dance rock sound. Either Horn is trapped in his production style of 20 years ago or he realized it would work well on All The Things She Said. Regardless, his retro sound helped create a very fun final product.
With Beyonce Knowles in Destiny's Child and Nelly on the hit Dilemma(which appears on Nellyville and Kelly Rowland's Simply Deep CD) Rowland has allowed her costar to get most of the attention. Rowland has the spotlight to herself on Simply Deep but continues her unassuming ways. On Stole, Rowland's vocal is decent and unshowy. Stole is smooth and well made though not particularly distinctive. Stole was written and produced by industry pros Steve Kipner(who worked on Olivia Newton John's Physical and Christina Aguilera's Genie In A Bottle and many other hits) and Sean Hosein and Dave Deviller(O-Town and 98 Degrees among others). Stole has an easy mood with good, subtle ringing and scratching effects and guitar matching the climactic line about "playing angry chords." Stole effectively layers Rowland's voice with good backup singing. Stole is the latest song to address school shootings. We find out the shooter was the brightest kid in school but he was bullied and put down and didn't fit in. Stole means well. It's not offensive(unless you're a grammarian troubled that she doesn't say stolen) but it's even less insightful than P.O.D.'s Youth Of The Nation because its invented mass killing doesn't feel real. Stole tells us that one victim "could have been a movie star" and another would have "had a try out with the Sixers", as if Columbine-type deaths are less tragic if their victims weren't destined for stardom.