John Mayer-No Such Thing(up 2 positions)
Further proving that you can't keep a mediocre, pleasant song down, No Such Thing, from the Room For Squares CD, has returned to the chart. No Such Thing was on the lower end of the top 50 for more than two months last winter thanks to play on "adult alternative" radio. With its mild sense of rebellion and John Mayer's genial, modest vocals, No Such Thing was perfect for that yuppie friendly format. Even after it dropped off the top 50, No Such Thing hung around some stations' playlists. Its innocuous charm eventually caught the attention of VH1 then pop radio. No Such Thing reminds me of well made, easy rock hits by thoughtful, poppy white guys like Marc Cohn, Sister Hazel and 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." Mayer, a Berklee College of Music dropout turned Atlanta based singer/songwriter, is only in his mid 20s and seems a little young to be making such smooth, familiar, unchallenging music. Mayer has been compared to Dave Matthews. No Such Thing is even tamer than Matthews' amiable music, which at least has a little jazzy edge.
Linkin Park-In The End(down 9 positions)
Linkin Park's first two singles from the Hybrid Theory CD communicated youthful turmoil with raging hard rock and Chester Bennington's loud, nasty yell. In The End is less harsh and confrontational as the band move into Limp Bizkit territory. In The End is effective but very familiar, closely tracking Limp Bizkit's angry but catchy mix of rap, hard rock and vaguely sinister keyboards. Linkin Park have a slight advantage over Limp Bizkit since Mike Shinoda's rap, while fairly simplistic, isn't as stupid as Fred Durst's typical rant. Shinoda and Bennington alternate vocals, looking back bitterly at a failed relationship.
Fat Joe featuring Ashanti-What's Luv?(down 2 positions)
What's Luv is the first mainstream hit for South Bronx native Joseph Cartagena. Fat Joe, like Ja Rule before him, has made the pop charts by placing his rough voice into a light hip hop setting. What's Luv is laid back and slight like Ja Rule's hits and perhaps even more engaging. What's Luv sounds like Ja Rule's Always On Time and the remixes of J. Lo's I'm Real and Always On Time, which is not surprising, considering that many of the same people were involved in making each record. Fat Joe's voice isn't polished but his parts are wrapped with a relaxed beat in a catchy, bubbly synth riff and surrounded by choruses with Ashanti's ultrasweet singing and Ja Rule's distinctively cocky voice. What's Luv's lyric doesn't say much beyond it's what's love got to do with it(as long as we trust each other) chorus. Fat Joe tells us he doesn't care if you've got a man or whether you're "the office type or like to strip" as long as you have "thick hips" and don't "talk too much." What's Luv is from Fat Joe's Jealous One Still Envy CD(his 1997 CD was called Jealous Ones Envy so he presumably will eventually get around to a CD called something like Jealous Ones Still Envy my Phat Heaviness).
Earshot-Get Away(up 6 positions)
Get Away is from the LA based band's Letting Go CD. Get Away has the intense, dramatic feel of Tool or A Perfect Circle. Singer/songwriter Will Martin does an agonized howl like Maynard James Keenan's. On the verses, Martin's vocal moves forward in jerks over an ominous, rumbling bass. Then on the chorus, Martin's wail gets tougher as the guitars begin to pound. Get Away's sound isn't very likable but it is big and powerful. On Get Away, Martin apparently complains about having to live through all kinds of tension and pressure because of all the sick and disturbing things that have come out since his partner started looking inside.
Nelly-Hot In Herre(up 4 positions)
The new Nellyville CD is sure to sell millions but its first single Hot In Herre sounds more like a soundtrack throwaway than a song meant to create frenzied anticipation of a new record. I've had mixed feelings about Nelly's previous hits. The lyrics were mostly rehashed gangsta rap but Nelly's fast, smooth style was undeniably impressive. Hot In Herre again shows off Nelly's cocky, seemingly effortless technique but it's very relaxed and feels less substantial or edgy than some of his previous work. Now that he's a big star, Nelly is less interested in rapping about guns, weed and the thug life and more about enjoying the perks of success. On Hot In Herre, Nelly shares his philosophy: "what good is all the fame if you ain't f---in the models." Nelly demonstrates an obsession with making ostentatious displays of wealth. Women figure in only as possessions that come with the big bucks. They're more than happy to undress or do whatever they can to please Nelly. Hot In Herre has a good, light beat and synth that moves the song along easily. The music and rap have a great flow. Hot In Herre is another Nelly song with hard to resist music and a very stupid lyric. Nelly is one of many very talented performers who's also a big jerk.
System Of A Down-Toxicity(down 17 positions)
It's probably not the main effect they're shooting for but I like System Of A Down because they're fun. Their powerful music and Serj Tankian's singing can shift in a moment from thoughtful to manic, creating an unpredictability that's nearly absent in contemporary rock. Toxicity's verses, with forboding guitar and Serj's brooding vocal, explode into choruses of Serj's rant and big guitars and drums. As Toxicity, the title track and second hit from the band's latest CD, reaches its conclusion, it becomes even more chaotic, finishing with fast hardcore style thrashing guitar and drums and Serj's bizarre chant: "when I became the sun, I shone life into the man's heart." I like System Of A Down's passion and the fact that their songs are about more than their petty personal problems. I'm not exactly sure what Toxicity is about but I guess it has something to do with capitalism and the fact that even if big business thinks it owns and can ruin the world it can't control the world's natural disorder.
Pink-Don't Let Me Get Me(down 1 position)
The former Alicia Moore tells us on Don't Let Me Get Me that since school, when she dated teachers and got into fights, she's done things that get her in trouble and make her hate herself. The context of the song is Pink's decision to toss the sleek dance pop sound of her Can't Take Me Home CD for the more rocking arrangements on Missundaztood. Pink seems genuinely conflicted. She knows that slick music and marketing made her a star and sounds genuine as she refers admiringly to Britney("she's so pretty"). Still, she resents the advice of Arista exec LA Reid to change "everything you are" and finds the music that made her successful irritating. Don't Let Me Get Me also avoids the calculated, synthetic sound of her first CD's hits but it isn't as striking a departure as the buoyant, raucous B-52's influenced Get The Party Started. Pink and her Missundaztood collaborator ex 4 Non Blonde Linda Perry have constructed a song with a pleasant, adult sound. Especially towards its end, when a yearning guitar kicks in, Don't Let Me Get Me reminds me of Natalie Imbruglia's Torn. Its crisp if unexciting beat and compact synth riff also brings to mind the kind of restrained synth pop hit that was common in the mid 80s.
Michelle Branch-All You Wanted(down 1 position)
I assume that a large number of Michelle Branch's fans are girls in their early teens who have outgrown or are too cool for Britney or Christina. Branch's songs have the feel of schoolgirl poetry and are probably heavily influenced by Alanis and Jewel's youthful, searching and intense work. All You Wanted doesn't have the rocking energy of Everywhere, the first hit from Branch's Spirit Room CD, but it has a similar sincere charm. Branch isn't a great singer but her voice has an open, innocent appeal. All You Wanted's music, with a steady, perky beat and good sprinklings of rock guitar is simple, modest and likable. All You Wanted is a sweet story of volunteering to "save" someone who seemed to have everything together but needs "someone to show you the way."
P.O.D.-Boom(down 1 position)
The first two singles from the San Diego band's Satellite CD described religious rebirth and a school shooting. P.O.D's third chart hit has a more standard topic for a rock rap song: celebrating and bragging about the band's success in rocking "the masses". Because it's less about the meaningfulness of Sonny Sandoval's pronouncements and more about the music and because it rocks harder, I don't dislike Boom as much as Alive and Youth Of The Nation. I still find Sandoval quite annoying. Boom sounds like lots of songs that mix hip hop and hard rock. At its best, it has the hard, no nonsense edge of Rage Against The Machine. At its worst(when Sandoval chuckles "is that all you got? I'll take your best shot."), it has Limp Bizkit's silly narcissism. Marcos Curiel creates a good, big guitar sound. In parts, Sandoval's rapping is tough and not bad. In other parts, he's just obnoxious.
Our Lady Peace-Somewhere Out There(down 6 positions)
Seeking an American commercial breakthrough, Canada's Our Lady Peace move into Creed/Goo Goo Dolls/Aerosmith territory for a string laden rock ballad that sounds like a hit. Somewhere Out There, from the Gravity CD, isn't my favorite Our Lady Peace song(the less sweeping ballad Clumsy probably is), but I find it less annoying than some rock ballads. Our Lady Peace singer Raine Maida has always been a rather serious, intense fellow so it's less jarring than for someone like Steven Tyler to hear Maida shift into mellow mode. Maida's hoarse, yearning singing doesn't have Scott Stapp's self important vanity and Somewhere Out There's sound isn't as bloated as on Creed's hits. Still, Somewhere Out There loses out by following a pop formula. I like Somewhere Out There's heartfelt verses but the song's personal touch is steamrollered when the big guitars and heavy orchestration come in. Somewhere Out There is about waiting "on a bed of nails" for the return of an old flame who transcended a feeling of being "lonely and out of place" by moving on to a new life.
Dirty Vegas-Days Go By(up 1 position)
Days Go By follows Start The Commotion by becoming a hit dance song after appearing in a Mitsubishi commercial. Dirty Vegas is an British electronic dance group featuring producers/lead musicians Paul Harris and Ben Harris and singer Steve Smith. With a mechanical techno beat and a vocoder effect that's been used in lots of trashy eurodisco songs, as well as Cher's Believe, Days Go By is nothing new but it's well made and has a more substantial feel than many dance songs. Days Go By effectively matches its starkness and the iciness the vocoder gives Smith's voice to its tale of days long bouts of romantic obsession. Days Go By's beats and haunting synths get people on the dance floor and, like classic mixes of songs by people like New Order and Bjork, create an interesting, ominous atmosphere.
Jennifer Lopez featuring Nas-I'm Gonna Be Alright(up 2 positions)
I'm Gonna Be Alright is another song that originally appeared on the J. Lo CD and reemerged in a significantly different form on the J To Tha L-O remix CD. The I'm Gonna Be Alright remix doesn't have the same pared down sound as the I'm Real and Ain't It Funny remixes but it does share the enjoyably laid back feel of those songs. The new mix of I'm Gonna Be Alright, like other J. Lo hits, is careful not to put too much focus on Lopez' thin, modest vocal. I'm Gonna Be Alright gets off to a good start with a strong, tough rap from remix veteran Nas(another remix with a more brittle beat and a more basic rap by 50 Cent isn't bad either). As on Ain't It Funny and Love Don't Cost A Thing, backup vocalists do much of the singing. Lopez' conversational voice humanizes the song and matches the song's deliberate, easy pace. I'm Gonna Be Alright is inconsequential dance pop but it's well made and nicely relaxed with a smooth bass dominated groove. After seeming to teasingly agree on the Ain't It Funny remix to the "you blew your chance when you had it" sentiment of P. Diddy's I Need A Girl, Lopez isn't as hard on I'm Gonna Be Alright's ex-boyfriend. Nas plays a jerk who reminds her of all the things he did for her but Lopez shows regret about leaving someone she still loves.
Counting Crows-American Girls(unchanged)
American Girls is from Counting Crows' fourth studio record Hard Candy. Sheryl Crow sings harmonies on American Girls. Adam Duritz doesn't sing about what SPF he's using but American Girls, like Soak Up The Sun's, intentionally loosens things up and achieves a fun, summery feel. American Girls resembles previous good midtempo Crows songs like Rain King and Have You Seen Me Lately, with a little less rock heft than those songs. American Girls maintains its energy and buoyancy thanks largely to a good, driving beat and a nicely uncoiled guitar riff. Duritz can't help but show a little narcissism but American Girls avoids the heaviness of a lot of Counting Crows' music. Not surprisingly, the song's frothy tribute to how American Girls make "me feel so incredible" is largely ironic. American Girls bemoans the bad luck of meeting an emotionally fragile woman who leaves, taking "almost every thing from me." The lyric's unhappy ending doesn't negate the music's enjoyable, if slight, appeal.
Box Car Racer-I Feel So(up 1 position)
The Box Car Racer CD is a side project for Tom DeLonge and Travis Barker, the guitar player and drummer from Blink 182. Box Car Racer's members also include guitarist Dave Kennedy and bass player Anthony Celestino but Box Car Racer is clearly DeLonge's show. I Feel So is like Stay Together For The Kids and other Blink work that contrasts the band's usual fast, stupid, youthful rock songs with mid tempo songs that have a kid's earnestness. Like on Stay Together, DeLonge yells the chorus. But he also sings a quieter verse like Mark Hoppus did on Stay Together. Because the Blink boys seem to have the potential to move beyond their fun but limited main style, I'm encouraged by a song like Adam's Song or I Feel So which shows signs of growth. I Feel So still rocks. It has a good, big guitar sound on the chorus and DeLonge does his trademark bratty vocal. But I Feel So also has a sweet, simple sincerity. DeLonge's ability to convey adolescent confusion is impressive. He sings about wishing he was a better person, apparently so he would be better equipped to deal with a troubled relationship.
Shakira-Underneath Your Clothes(down 4 positions)
Before she made the Laundry Service CD, Colombian pop star Shakira Mebarak apparently studied American pop. Especially in its first half, Underneath Your Clothes sounds a lot like The Bangles' Eternal Flame. Like that song, Underneath Your Clothes is corny but gets real poignance from a sincere vocal and solemn backing. With subdued drums and keyboards, Underneath Your Clothes maintains has a serious tone. However Shakira's singing, with her tendency to pinch certain vocal lines and add little yodels to others, can't help but spice things up. The lyrics also find a slightly new and odd way to express a standard love song idea. Instead of beneath the surface or in his heart or soul, she finds her man's "endless story" and the place where she gets credit for "being such a good girl" underneath his clothes. With Penny Lane style horns, Underneath You Clothes achieves a goofy majesty.
Jimmy Eat World-Sweetness(up 8 positions)
Sweetness is the second chart hit from the CD originally called Bleed American that, since September 11, the record company wants known as just Jimmy Eat World. Sweetness is a good example of why Jimmy Eat World has been labeled an emo rock band and of why the Arizona based band can be so appealing. Everything about Sweetness is done with great intensity and sincerity and its eager attempt to ingratiate is successful. Jim Adkins is very likable. His full voiced vocal never flags. Stopping and starting on a dime, Tom Linton and Adkins's impressive barrage of guitars gives Sweetness a rock and roll edge but doesn't overwhelm the band's open, positive sound. Sweetness reminds me of a big, glossy Cheap Trick song like Surrender or Dream Police, with good natured seriousness taking the place of that band's tongue in cheek goofiness. Sweetness rocks harder than Jimmy Eat World's surprise monster hit The Middle but like that song, it has high energy that seems to keep building. Instead of The Middle's Major Tom synth riff, Sweetness builds to a climax by adding a perky, one finger piano line. Considering the music's upbeat mood, Sweetness has a surprisingly dark subject matter. Adkins sings that a relationship used to be like a sweet game but, feeling tethered, he doesn't want to play the game anymore. I still find Jimmy Eat World's over the top, innocent enthusiasm tough to take in large doses but short shots like Sweetness are hard to resist.
Hoobastank-Crawling In The Dark(unchanged)
Crawling In The Dark, from the L.A. band's self titled major label debut, is another song that sounds pieced together from other successful rock songs. It's got Korn style atmospheric guitar, a serious, troubled singer, big power chords and a vague Faith No More/Limp Bizkit style hip hop sensibility. But Crawling In The Dark also has good tempo shifts and it's more interesting than much of the similarly imitative music on rock radio. I like the way the song speeds up and gains energy on the chorus. Doug Robb keeps things from getting too draggy as he sings about "looking for the answer" and trying to find direction in life.
Lenny Kravitz-Stillness Of Heart(unchanged)
Dig In, the first single from the Lenny CD, showed a side of Lenny Kravitz that he hadn't shown much before. Dig In was a light, fun rocker that lacked the heavy attitude than often drags down Kravitz' music. Stillness Of Heart doesn't have Dig In's lightness and excitement but it's still a good, if not great, second single. Stillness Of Heart's melody is very similar to that of his second to last hit: Again. Stillness Of Heart achieves a good edge by holding back and going nice and slow. Heavy bass and drums create a good, slow jam on the verses and are joined on the chorus by a solid, steady guitar strum. Unlike Dig In, Stillness Of Heart doesn't really sound like a hit. Nothing really happens. It's got a good atmosphere but doesn't grab you. Kravitz' typically complacent vocal doesn't help. On Stillness Of Heart, Kravitz sings about trying to calm and center himself so that he can move on after a tough romantic experience. I'm not questioning Kravitz' pain but his way of expressing it is hardly great poetry. This is the second verse: "I got more than I can eat, a life that can't be beat/yet still I feel this heat, I'm feeling incomplete/What am I buying, my soul is crying."
The Hives-Hate To Say I Told You Sobuy it!
Cutting away the fat that alternative rock has grown over the years, Swedish band The Hives act like it's still the late 70s and they've only just learned of the thrills of making fast, short rock songs with tight, hard guitar riffs. Hate To Say I Told You So sounds a little like songs by Black Crowes and Buckcherry and it also brings to mind other post punk songs like Blur's Song 2 and Sonic Youth's most compact work. But the most obvious influence seems to be The Stooges' Search And Destroy. Pelle Almqvist always comes across, in interviews, on stage and on record, as a very confident guy. He has no problem projecting Iggy Pop's in your face narcissism, singing about how he does "what I want 'cause I can" and how he wants to "be ignored by the stiff and the bored." Hate To Say I Told You So, which is featured on the Spider-man soundtrack as well as the band's Veni Vidi Vicious CD, recalls the thrill of simple, exciting punk inspired music.
Craig David-Walking Away(up 1 position)
Craig David has come close to replicating in the U.S. the huge success he's had in England. Walking Away is the third single from the Born To Do It CD he made when he was 19. Walking Away, like David's first two hits, has an appeal that's modest at best. David seems like an unremarkable rehash of relaxed American R&B singers. My favorite part of Walking Away is the riff taken from U2's One, which gives the rather bland song most of the flavor it has. But Walking Away does what it's supposed to. It's a smooth, soothing ballad, with a steady, decent beat, that's softened further by strings. David's singing isn't amazing but it's genial. He doesn't have that annoying cockiness he had on his first two hits. David sings on Walking Away about leaving a woman who was too prone to fight and listen to gossip about him.
Moby-We Are All Made Of Stars(down 5 positions)
Moby's new CD is called 18, reportedly because the songs are based on music Moby was listening to in the early 80's when he was that age. You have to go back a few years earlier to We Are All Made Of Stars's most obvious influence: David Bowie's 70's work; most specifically Heroes. We Are All Made Of Stars has Heroes' patient pace and soaring guitar line. As on Heroes, an icy musical atmosphere contradicts the lyrics' optimism. In a distanced, filtered voice, Moby sings about being part of an unstoppable, growing movement that heralds the future. We Are All Made Of Stars also brings to mind Bowie's Starman, futuristic synth songs like Gary Numan's Cars and Porcelain from Moby's great 1999 Play CD. Nothing about We Are All Made Of Stars quite strikes me like the "this is goodbye"s of Porcelain's stark masterpiece of a dream evocation and the music isn't as original as on many of Play's brilliant constructions. Still, I find We Are All Made Of Stars' contrast between cold, synthetic verses and a warmer chorus, where Moby's earnest vocal overcomes the dark, mechanical mood, compelling and moving.
Trey Anastasio-Alive Againbuy it!
While Phish is on hiatus, frontman Trey Anastasio has worked on a number of projects. Alive Again is from Anastasio's self titled debut solo record. While Phish has been around for more than a decade and have a huge following, they still seem to work in Grateful Dead's shadow. Alive Again isn't Anastasio's most Dead-like work but it does stay within the format of starting with a fairly simple song then letting bandmembers riff around. Still, Anastasio has made a move away from The Dead and Phish with the jazzy flavor of his solo work. Alive Again is fairly slight but it has a very good, cool mood and strong playing. Alive Again maintains a very appealing, relaxed sound with steady, atmospheric percussion, a big horn sound and Anastasio's likably unassuming singing and guitar playing. On Alive Again, Anastasio asks for a "review" and some signs of action from someone waiting on the fence, hoping to feel alive again.
Norah Jones-Don't Know Whybuy it!
Come Away With Me is the debut CD by 23 year Norah Jones, who is sitar legend Ravi Shankar's daughter but was raised in Texas by her mom. Come Away With Me has justifiably become a yuppie and boomer favorite. Like Cassandra Wilson, Jones is a jazz singer who has touches of folk, r&b and pop in her music. But Jones' voice also has an unshowy charm that sets her apart. On Don't Know Why, Jones plays a basic, sturdy piano line and her voice has an appealing yearning quality. With smooth playing from Jones' rhythm section, Don't Know Why, written by Jones' guitar player Jesse Harris, has a classic simplicity. On Don't Know Why, Jones sings that, while it makes her feel teary, empty and needing wine, she needs to stay away from a guy who has never run to her.
Aaliyah-More Than A Woman(up 1 position)
Aaliyah's tragic death at age 22 cut short what would likely have been a long, successful music and acting career. At least, the continued success of her self titled CD means that the last memory of Aaliyah won't be the awful movie Queen Of The Damned, which even her charisma couldn't save. We Need A Resolution and Rock The Boat, Aaliyah's previous singles, fell short of the top 50 but More Than A Woman gives her another pop hit. Aaliyah's voice was adequate rather than remarkable but she also had a real presence and a cool, strong, distinctive image. Her gifts are nicely displayed on More Than A Woman. More Than A Woman was produced by Timbaland, who worked with Aaliyah on her One In A Million CD and on Romeo Must Die's Try Again. More Than A Woman is not as striking as Try Again but it's a good and smooth with a crisp beat, a likable keyboard riff and strong backup singers to fill out the sound. Aaliyah again presents a confident persona. She's unsure if a guy is ready for her but encourages him to "tempt me". She's ready to give in to passion and promises him an exciting life with her if he proves himself.
Avril Lavigne-Complicatedbuy it!
Complicated is from the 17 year old Canadian's Let Go CD. Lavigne follows Michelle Branch as a young Alanis fan providing teens a folk pop alternative to Britney and Christina. Unlike Branch, who presents a sincere, vulnerable image, Lavigne comes across as very self confident. Lavigne's music also has some resemblance to the more rocking but still poppy recent work of labelmate Pink. Complicated is fairly insubstantial but appealingly perky. Some of Complicated's synth flourishes are unnecessary but it generally has an appealingly simple sound that's given a bit of edge by its hip hop style drum machine beat. On Complicated, Lavigne vents her frustration at a guy who's good and relaxed when they're alone but becomes a foolish, showy person around others.