Avril Lavigne-Don't Tell Me(down 1 position)
Avril Lavigne, at 19, is apparently already entering the mature period of her career. Under My Skin, Lavigne's followup to her 10 million selling debut Let Go CD, must be one of the most anticipated records of the year but its first single met a fairly lukewarm initial response(though it's slowly climbed up the chart). For her new CD, Lavigne stayed away from Let Go's hitmakers The Matrix and Clif Magness. Under My Skin's writers and producers include ex-Evanescence co-leader Ben Moody and Canadian husband and wife pop stars Raine Maida(from Our Lady Peace) and Chantal Kreviazuk. Don't Tell Me was written by Lavigne and her guitar player Evan Taubenfield and produced by Butch Walker, formerly of Marvelous 3(one hit wonders for 1999's Freak Of The Week). On Don't Tell Me, Lavigne and Walker eschewed the youthful, rousing, in your face confidence of Lavigne's #1 hits Complicated and Sk8er Boi. Lavigne doesn't even get to do a really cathartic wail like on her other #1, I'm With You. On Don't Tell Me, Alanis Morissette's influence is even more obvious than usual. My guess is that Lavigne's audience liked Let Go's Morissette style angst but don't want her to be Morissette. Showing a reluctance to continue being the voice of feisty early teens, Lavigne's retains her intensity on Don't Tell Me without the perkiness of her previous hits. While it's less exciting than some of Lavigne's hits, Don't Tell Me is charming. Lavigne's idiosyncratically Canadian pronounciation, passionate singing and seriousness still mark her as an individual. Adults have derided the fact that, despite her punk posturing, Lavigne's music is more pop than punk. That ignores the fact that Lavigne resonated with kids as a distinctive, self assured role model. Don't Tell Me's music, with guitars and drums crashing in on the chorus, is generic pop rock. But Lavigne's heartfelt delivery, strong singing and personal phrasing make Don't Tell Me's typical youthful anguish fresh. As she has before, Lavigne projects big emotions in a way that makes her sound like a real teenager. Don't Tell Me's lyric depicts Lavigne as a sad but strong young woman. Lavigne is "upset" but she decides she's better off alone than with a guy who tried to get "into my pants." She tells him that he shouldn't try to tell her what to do and say and that she had told him she wouldn't "give it up" to him.
Yellowcard-Ocean Avenue(up 5 positions)
Members of Yellowcard met in high school in Jacksonville, Florida. On the title track from the Ocean Avenue CD, Yellowcard remind me of The Ataris, who had hits last year with squeaky clean, straight ahead rockers. Ocean Avenue is fast and well played but it doesn't have a lot of edge. Ocean Avenue also resembles songs by emo kings Jimmy Eat World, especially A Praise Chorus. But in comparison, Jimmy Eat World's genial raveups are very substantial. Ryan Key doesn't seem like a great singer but he does an appealing, upbeat vocal, with a bit of yearning, that fits with Ocean Avenue's perky, very youthful pop. Longineu Parsons' drumming maintains an energetic, quick pace but Ocean Avenue still feels lightweight. Ocean Avenue's only distinctive touch is Sean Mackin's frantic violin playing, which gives the song a nice, dramatic finish. Otherwise, Ocean Avenue is likable but a bit innocuous. Like The Ataris' In This Diary, Ocean Avenue shows a nostalgic sense that's a bit odd for a singer who's only in his mid 20s and seems younger. He was the one who told her "this was goodbye" when she beg him not to leave. Still, Key longs for a teenage relationship where he used to stay up all night and "sit and talk with you." He tells himself that if he could "find you now", "things would get better."
Thornley-So Far So Good(unchanged)
Ian Thornley used to front Big Wreck, a band that got together at Boston's Berklee College of Music. After Big Wreck broke up, Thornley went home to Toronto and got his new band signed to the label of Nickelback's Chad Kroeger, Thornley's friend and fellow Canadian. Sadly, it seems like Kroeger's generic, calculated rock influenced Thornley's new music. So Far So Good starts pretty well. Thornley seems like a decent singer as he fluidly slides through the first verse. But soon the song falls into Nickelback style histrionics, sounding like Nickelback's numbing hit Someday. Thornley rants and emotes over thudding drums and big, indistinct guitars. As the song progresses, Thornley relies more on the tight, tough guy vocal style used by Kroeger and his ilk. Like Nickelback and so many contemporary rockers, Thornley uses the quiet verse/roaring chorus form Nirvana perfected. Thornley resembles Three Days Grace, another Canadian band. Like I Hate Everything About You, as it approaches the chorus, So Far So Good sounds like it's going to become Heart Shaped Box. So Far So Good also throws in a bit of the drama of Aerosmith's Dream On. But So Far So Good is incomparable to its much better influences. It's a bloated, contrived bore. Thornley tells us on So Far So Good that his life is hard and it always gets screwed up. Apparently, he's now faking, pretending that things are ok and living "like there's no tomorrow."
Black Eyed Peas-Hey Mama(down 3 positions)
Where Is The Love, which featured Justin Timberlake's good, unshowy vocal on the chorus, was one of the biggest hits of 2003. Where Is The Love has a majestic quality. It sounds like classic r&b. The subsequent singles from the Elephunk CD have been significantly less substantial. As someone who knew Black Eyed Peas from Where Is The Love and Request Line, their Macy Gray collaboration, I've been surprised by Shut Up and Hey Mama, the silly followups to Where Is The Love. Both have a lightweight, chattery quality and give a lot of prominence to new Black Eyed Pea Stacy "Fergie" Ferguson. Fergie doesn't bring a lot of soulfulness or substance. But lead Pea William "Will.I.Am" Adams, who produced and cowrote Hey Mama and Shut Up, has to be held responsible for Hey Mama's dopeyness. Hey Mama is an knowingly stupid song with not much on its mind beyond asking a woman to "move your booty." With lines like "don't wanna squeeze triggers, just wanna squeeze tits" and "we drop bombs like we in the middle east", Hey Mama is moronic but basically harmless. The rappers' unrelenting perkiness sometimes gives me a headache. The other side of the song's empty headedness is that Hey Mama is unpretentious. Hey Mama is just about having a good time. With steady, good percussion, Hey Mama has jittery energy and good spirits. I don't find Hey Mama as irritating as some people do but it is pretty damn annoying.
Muse-Time Is Running Out(unchanged)
Time Is Running Out is from Absolution, the third studio album by the Devon, England band. Muse has a reputation of sounding like Radiohead. Time Is Running Out indicates the reputation was well earned. Muse's music resembles the records Radiohead made before getting really weird and spacy on Kid A and Amnesiac. Time Is Running Out has the hallmarks of Radiohead's earlier music. Matthew Bellamy is the impassioned, troubled singer who, like Thom Yorke, loses himself as he gains intensity and drifts into falsetto. Like a Radiohead song, Time Is Running Out has music that's big, dense and dramatic. The verses have huge drums and cold piano, guitar and percussion that echo Radiohead's icy, industrial sound. The bright side is Time Is Running Out has the excitement of a good Radiohead song. It's edgy and emotionally charged. Bellamy isn't as compelling or idiosyncratic as Yorke but he is an charmismatic singer with substantial presence. Dominic Howard's pounding and Bellamy's distorted guitar help create an ambitious sound with an impressively epic scope. Muse's music copies Radiohead's and, by definition, is less orignal and innovative. But Time Is Running Out is quite a thrilling copy. Time Is Running Out's lyric is a bit overwrought. It adds to the feeling that Time Is Running Out is less than fresh. Bellamy is "drowning" and "asphyxiating." He's "addicted" and under "the spell that you've created" but he also wants to "play the game" because "I want the friction." She'll be "the death of me" but "I won't let you murder it."
Christina Milian-Dip It Low(up 5 positions)
Christina Milian has already had an impressive career. She's appeared on a bunch of TV shows and movies including Love Don't Cost A Thing and cowrote Jennifer Lopez's song Play. Now Dip It Low, from her second CD It's About Time, is her biggest hit as a singer. Dip It Low was coproduced and cowritten by Polli Paul, who has worked with Black Eyed Peas but otherwise doesn't seem to have much of a resume. Dip It Low has a very effective sound. It's based around a sample of an exotic, Asian-sounding stringed instrument. Dip It Low also has a good thumping, sliding beat that speeds up to exciting effect on the chorus. Milian adds to Dip It Low's sensual feel with a delicate, confident vocal that's nicely draped in well matched backing vocals. Dip It Low's lyric is Milian's advise on "how to make your man say oh." She tells a friend to "take your time" and "make him wait for you", "meet him at the door with nothin' on" and, most importantly, "know just how to move." Along with the words, Milian's cool, controlled voice offers some instruction on seduction. The only thing on Dip It Low that doesn't really work is Fabolous' rap. He has decent wordplay but his low energy, self satisfied approach makes him seem like he's not worth Milian's effort.
Alanis Morissette-Everything(down 1 position)
Time(she turned 30 this spring), therapy and a new boyfriend have calmed Alanis Morissette. So-Called Chaos, Morisette's fourth studio album, has less rage and more introspection than her early records. Morissette seems less interested in being provocative. She also seems fairly uninterested in gaining new young listeners. She's apparently resigned to mostly selling records to longtime fans and baby boomers. Everything, So-Called Chaos' first single, isn't particularly surprising or exciting. It's pleasant listening. Everything has a spacy rock intro that sounds a little like Soundgarden's Black Hole Sun. Everything then settles into a fairly standard rock arrangement, with a steady beat, that has some variation. The chorus has a warm, layered sound with a simple, ringing guitar riff. Morissette's voice is fine and pretty open. Everything has a leisurely pace. Everything's sprawling recitation is reminiscent of Thank U, from Morissette's second record. The thanks go to her boyfriend, rather than Thank U's more random list of targets. Morissette appreciates how he sees all her sides. He digs the good things in her(she's wise with a kind soul and a brave heart). He doesn't pretend her bad side(she's moody, withholding and passive aggressive) doesn't exist and he even loves some of her darkness. I'm not that interested in Morisette's self explorations but Everything is very genial. It has a giving tone. Musically, Everything isn't very ambitious but it's inoffensive and goes by easily.
J-Kwon-Tipsy(down 4 positions)
Jerrell "J-Kwon" Jones follows Nelly and Chingy as the latest St. Louis rapper with a big hit. 18 year old J-Kwon was supposedly living on the streets, having run away from home in Bellville, Missouri, when he was discovered by the Trackboyz producing team. An audition with Jermaine Dupri(famous for producing hit records and being Janet Jackson's boyfriend) led to J-Kwon getting signed to Dupri's So So Def label. The Trackboyz, Mark Williams and Joe Kent, have worked on hits including Nelly's Air Force Ones and Work It. They produced most of J-Kwon's Hood Hop CD. Trackboyz created a sound on Tipsy that Dupri is said to have described as a fusion of hip hop and a We Will Rock You style rock sound. Tipsy's music, with its crashing big beat, is compelling and stirring. Tipsy's beeping synth noises, which invite comparisons to The Neptunes' production style, give Tipsy a bit of flavor and complete the song's full, powerful sound. Scoring a big hit with the first single from his first CD, J-Kwon has immediately established himself as one of rap's most promising young stars. J-Kwon's voice has a confidence and strength that's remarkable for someone just starting out. His presence is impressive as he slowly and patiently works his way through his rap in a way that says he knows he's good. I like Tipsy's sound. My only beef is with its subject matter. At the risk of sounding like an old fool, I think it would be a better world if teenagers weren't making music, purchased by younger teenagers, presenting a positive view of getting drunk and living a thug life. Tipsy's has pretty typical hip hop lyrics but it's a bit disturbing to hear them from someone so young. Besides celebrating getting drunk, J-Kwon tells us, in a lyric he wrote, about having and threatening someone with a gun, smoking "my blunt", "gettin' head", having a woman "feelin' on my johnson" and needing two condoms.
Dashboard Confessional-Vindicatedbuy it!
It's been noted that Christopher Carrabba, Dashboard Confessional's sincere, earnest singer/songwriter, is a kindred spirit for Spiderman's sincere, earnest alter-ego Peter Parker. A Spiderman movie that matched Dashboard Confessional's music would be heavy on Peter thinking about Mary Jane's safety and light on crime fighting and action. Still, it's appropriate that Dashboard Confessional provided the lead track on the Spider-Man 2 soundtrack. Carrabba is an appealing, genuine personality. His big emotions and optimism are striking even when compared to other idealistic emo performers. The downside of Dashboard Confessional's songs is that they're monochromatic. Carrabba is forever the 13 year old who just had his first kiss. He seems unwilling to take steps towards more complicated situations that could lead to disappointment, even if they could lead to richer, more interesting experiences. Dashboard Confessional's music has an alluring purity. Vindicated uses a small number of intense, ambitious sounds. It has a big, simple beat, a ringing, grinding guitar sound, a few piano chords and Carrabba's yearning vocal(apparently backing up himself as he joyfully howls on the chorus). Vindication probably sounds great along with a sweet, dramatic cinematic moment. It's a powerful song that's among the band's best work. But Vindication's lack of complexity or subtlety means that, like a lot of the band's music, it loses impact on repeat listens. Carrabba sings about finding hope and vindication for his choices in a supportive girlfriend who helps him see positive things in himself. The lyric climaxes nicely in a sensual moment where she turns up the corner of her lips, parts them and feels his fingertips and he lets himself slip away in a romantic current.
Dave Matthews-Oh(up 3 positions)
The first two singles from Dave Matthews' Some Devil solo CD made a good argument that Matthews should never work without the band that has ably supported him for more than a decade. Gravedigger is ridiculously pretentious and missed the Dave Matthews Band's light touch. Save Me, Some Devil's second single was better but still left the impression that Matthews' self satisfied doodling with buddy Trey Anastasio is less appealing than Matthews' better DMB music. Oh is Some Devil's best single. It's a reminder that, regardless of who he works with, Matthews can create an endearing, simple ballad. Oh is short and fairly insubstantial. It keeps circling back to the same hooks. But Oh is also sweet and likable. It has Crash Into Me's charming understatement. Matthews does an easy, sincere vocal over a warm, basic melody. On Oh Matthews sings that, even when the world is blowing up or caving in, the memory of someone he loves "oh so well" makes things OK.
New Found Glory-All Downhill From Here(up 3 positions)
There haven't been many bratty punky pop hits recently so I guess it's time. Not much distinguishes All Downhill From Here, on New Found Glory's Catalyst CD, from the band's 2002 hit My Friends Over You or songs by Simple Plan and other similar acts except that New Found Glory are a little older and have been around a little longer than some of the other successful, perky hardcore fans. All Downhill From Here isn't terrible. Its sound keeps coming and stays upbeat. The guitars are tight and incisive. Neil Avron, who's produced Yellowcard, SR-71, Everclear and New Found Glory's previous records, created a full sound. All Downhill From Here is just very familiar. Nothing separates it from the pack. Jordan Pundik's vocal is good natured but annoying. Pundik isn't a very good singer. He's simultaneously nasal and whiny. On All Downhill From Here, Pundik sings about an on and off relationship that's going bad again. His girlfriend's actions contradict her claim that she still wants him around. She's going through the motions and "pulling me down."
My Immortal is the least irritating of the three chart hits from Evanescence's hugely successful Fallen CD. Bring Me To Life had rock guitar, rapping, goth touches and a big, atmospheric production. It gave the impression that the band was trying to please everyone and gave me a headache. On My Immortal, Evanescence are the sappy but effective folkie pop band I always thought they were under the rock trappings. It will be interesting to see if Evanescence can survive and thrive now that Ben Moody, who co-founded the band and cowrote all the songs on Fallen, has left. Whether she goes solo or stays with the band, singer Amy Lee will probably do fine. Lee has striking looks and a good voice. My Immortal again shows Lee to be a Tori Amos/Sarah McLachlan fan. My Immortal is reminiscent of simple, emotional, piano based Amos songs like Silent All These Years. Evanescence is unable to stay in a delicate Amos type mode for a whole song. My Immortal is more cliched than a good Tori Amos song. Its strings and the way the drums and guitars crash in for a climactic last run through the chorus make it more formulaic. But My Immortal generally maintains an appealing delicacy. Lee's singing is strong and not too showy. Her voice and simple piano playing easily carry the song. Evanescence have a preference for big, dramatic images. While it could be about an old boyfriend, My Immortal's lyric is apparently about being haunted by the memory of a dead lover whose "presence still lingers." The overripe emotion of Evanescence's songs, which millions have taken to, is too much for me. Heavy strings and Lee's painfully sincere vocal make My Immortal a bit precious. But Lee's intensity, her riveting presence and a direct, stripped down sound make My Immortal compelling.
Los Lonely Boys-Heaven(up 7 positions)
Los Lonely Boys are brothers from San Angelo, Texas who started out in their father's band. They recorded their self titled debut CD at Willie Nelson's Austin studio. Los Lonely Boys' name, harmonies and Latin-inflected sound invite comparison to Los Lobos, the best Hispanic American band. I Like Los Lonely Boys' harmonies. Otherwise, Los Lonely Boys fall considerably short. Heaven doesn't have the depth and texture of a good Los Lobos song. Heaven is better than most music on easy listening radio. It's pleasant and smooth. The brothers come across as good guys. Heaven is charming and inoffensive but, eventually, the band's desire to ingratiate is a bit numbing. Surely, Henry Garza can play something more interesting than Heaven's syrupy guitar doodles. Los Lonely Boys CD was produced by John Porter, who worked with The Smiths and has more recently done records for blues musicians like B.B. King and Keb' Mo'. Heaven sounds fine but bland. It could use a little edge. Perhaps Heaven is tamer than the rest of Los Lonely Boys' music. Their single Real Emotions was more interesting. Knowing "I need to change" Jojo pleads on Heaven for God to save him from misery. My favorite part of Heaven is the brief section where Jojo sings in Spanish, asking you who is in heaven to send down a blessing. That little piece of Heaven gives a little spice to a genial, innocuous song.
Switchfoot-Dare You To Move(up 2 positions)
Dare You To Move is the second chart hit from The Beautiful Letdown CD by the Christian rockers from San Diego. On Dare You To Move, Jonathan Foreman encourages someone who's been through a tough time to get up and try to be "who you could be." The lyric is heavy with non specific, religious advice, telling the person to seek redemption, forgiveness and salvation. Fortunately, Dare You To Move doesn't feel as sanctimonious as the lyric makes it seems. Dare You To Move isn't as rousing as Meant To Live, Switchfoot's big hit, which used the big, melodic guitar sound of bands like Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins. But Dare You To Move, despite its epic intentions, sounds more personal than Switchfoot's previous hit. Moving slowly and maintaining a clear, open sound, Dare You To Move gains anthemic force. Foreman's voice is focused and ungimmicky. He projects warm purity. A jangly guitar riff carries Dare You To Move forward on the verses then on the chorus power chords boom, echoing the idealistic ambition of Foreman's vocal. The sound builds in fairly predictable rock ballad ways, as strings come in and the drum sound builds for a big finish. Dare You To Move uses a bunch of cliched rock sounds. It isn't as stirring as the yearning U2 ballads it seems modeled on. I find its overt proselytizing offputting. Still, Dare You To Move is powerful and it has a thoughtful, optimistic sound that's unusual in contemporary rock.
Franz Ferdinand-Take Me Out(up 6 positions)
Take Me Out is from the self titled debut CD by the Scottish band named for the Austro-Hungarian Archduke whose assassination led to World War I. Franz Ferdinand are in the fairly large group of current bands(e.g. Hot Hot Heat and Interpol) who echo the late 70s/early 80s new wave sound. Take Me Out indicates that unlike some bands, who do slavish imitations of their heroes, Franz Ferdinand bring energy, novelty and wit to their retro sound. With Modest Mouse's Float On and Take Me Out topping the modern rock charts, maybe there's hope for the normally numbingly familiar, unimaginative format. Franz Ferdinand and Modest Mouse have similar surreal videos and present themselves as genial oddball Talking Heads fans. Take Me Out doesn't have a David Byrne soundalike vocal like Isaac Brock does on Float On. But Take Me On's chaotic, strangely joyful spirit and shifting rhythms bring early Talking Heads songs like Tentative Decisions, Psycho Killer and I Zimbra to mind, especially when the song slows down and beefs up the beat. Take Me Out starts with Singer Alex Kapranos crooning over a simple driving guitar line like the band is a sincere U2 or Coldplay knockoff. But a minute in, Take Me Out becomes gloriously messy. Working around a killer attacking riff, Nick McCarthy and Kapranos trade guitar lines that thrust, stomp and twist over Paul Thomson's appropriately muddied beat while Kapranos rants with a Byrne-like combination of confidence and disorientation. Synth effects complete Take Me Out's trippy soundscape. Take Me Out's is goofily melodramatic. Kapranos knows "I won't be leaving here with you" but keeps begging "take me out", warning otherwise "you'll leave me broken, shattered."
Petey Pablo-Freek-A-Leek(up 1 position)
Freek-A-Leek is on Still Writing In My Diary: 2nd Entry by the rapper from North Carolina whose given name is Moses Barrett. Freek-A-Leek was produced and cowritten by Jonathan "Lil' Jon" Smith. Lil' Jon only seems to know how to write one song but that song has done well for him. Lil' Jon slightly altered his hit Get Low to make Usher's Yeah and Freek-A-Leek. Freek-A-Leek is very much in Get Low's spirit. It has a very similar edgy, steady synth riff, rowdy, raucous mood and profane lyric. Despite its similarity, Freek-A-Leek doesn't come off as a ripoff of Get Low because of Pablo's strong personality. Pablo's forceful, confident vocal is compelling. Like Lil' Jon and Sean Paul, Pablo has a big, deep, cocky voice. The way Pablo lists women's names brings to mind Paul's Get Busy. Pablo's voice is rougher than Paul's. Sean Paul is a bit of a clown and a fool. Pablo's gravelly rap makes it clear he's not kidding around. It also makes Pablo's frank, obscene lyrics seem a bit threatening. But in Pablo's defense, he wants the ladies to know in advance what he has in mind. He doesn't seem to want to coerce anyone who doesn't share his proclivities. Freek-A-Leek is almost all about Pablo's sexual predilections. The radio version I've heard has dozens of words edited out. It revolves around Lil' Jon's yells "would you do it from the front? Would you do it from the back." It sounds like Petey Pablo's ideal woman is a prostitute. He wants a woman who'll "come over any time a nigga call" and "keep her business to herself." She should "sniff a little coke, take a little x, smoke a little weed, drink a little bit." He needs "a girl I can freak wit' and wanna try shit." He wants his woman to get oral sex from "another bitch, 'cause I ain't drunk enough to do that." To emphasize what a coarse fellow he is, Pablo closes out Freak-A-Leek with "a shoutout to Seagram's gin 'cause I drink it and they paying me for it." Freek-A-Leek presents Petey Pablo as a pretty unsavory character but Lil Jon's catchy skipping riff and Pablo's assured voice make it interesting.
Counting Crows-Accidentally In Love(up 1 position)
Hard Candy, Counting Crows' last studio record, didn't yield any big hits. Since that record's release the band has had a bit of a mainstream resurgence with three poppy songs: their cover of Big Yellow Taxi on the Two Weeks Notice soundtrack; She Don't Want Nobody Near from the band's best of CD and now Accidentally In Love, the band's biggest hit since the 90's. Accidentally In Love landed a sought after slot on the soundtrack to Shrek 2, one of 2004's biggest movies. Accidentally In Love isn't as sure a thing to appeal to the 2 to 12 crowd as Shrek 1's featured songs: Smash Mouth's All Star and I'm a Believer cover. Still, Accidentally In Love's sunny simplicity is well suited to open a cheerful kids movie. Accidentally In Love isn't too complicated for preteens to digest and it's easy to bop to. Counting Crows have always done upbeat mid tempo rockers. Accidentally In Love resembles Rain King, Einstein On The Beach and Daylight Fading. Accidentally In Love has a tight, likable central guitar riff of the sort that modestly improved a number of Counting Crows rockers. Counting Crows' lighter songs are generally their best because of their buoyant mood and because they discourage Adam Duritz from his ponderous, self important mode. Duritz can be a skilled and, sometimes, even an appealing singer. On Accidentally In Love, Duritz is smooth and relaxed. Accidentally In Love is pretty superficial but it's warm and charmingly perky. With bright, full backing vocals, sturdy drumming and a string of shiny guitar sounds, Accidentally In Love's high spirits build and keep coming. Accidentally In Love is steadily joyful and beguiling. Accidentally In Love has a goofy, giddy lyric. Duritz initially sings "I don't know nothin' 'bout love" and refers to love as a problem that needs a cure. Soon, he decides "there's no escaping your love" and he surrenders, singing about sunlight, blue skies and strawberry ice cream.
Godsmack-Running Blind(down 8 positions)
The Other Side is a seven song acoustic ep that includes new songs and new versions of older Godsmack songs. The Other Side seems like an attempt to show that Godsmack are serious artists like Alice In Chains and Nirvana, who released similar acoustic records. Knowing that Staind and others scored top 40 hits with restrained, introspective rock, Godsmack may also be trying to cross over from modern rock to pop radio. Current fans may appreciate the new spin on Godsmack's sound, but it's unlikely it will gain the band a lot of new fans. Running Blind's problem is Sully Erna. I prefer quiet Sully to howling Sully but Erna really isn't suited to doing mellow and thoughtful. Though it's hard to feel sympathy for someone who regularly makes offensive, obnoxious music and has millions of young male fans, Running Blind kind of makes me feel sorry for Erna. I assume he really is trying to make a sensitive statement, he just has no idea how to do it. He doesn't have an empathetic, vulnerable voice. Instead of sounding depressed or sad, Erna still sounds pissed off. He also sounds like he might have a bad stomachache. Erna's cliched songwriting doesn't help. Erna doesn't come up with any imagery that hasn't been used repeatedly in songs by troubled young guys. He has "broken wings" and is "crawling on my knees" and looking for something "to keep me from drowning." Apparently, Sully took a woman for granted thinking: "if I showed you I could fly, wouldn't need anyone by my side." Running Blind's music is fine. With earnestly strummed guitars and quiet percussion, it has all the trappings of a decent MTV Unplugged performance. Tony Rambola plays a pretty good acoustic guitar solo. But Erna's rigid, cold vocal keeps Running Blind from being interesting or appealing.
Ashlee Simpson-Pieces Of Mebuy it!
19 year old Ashlee is Jessica Simpson's younger sister. Jessica's overblown, empty cover of Angels, Robbie Williams' poignant Elton John soundalike ballad, fell just short of the top 50. So Ashlee is currently the Simpson with the bigger hit. Ashlee Simpson starred on Seventh Heaven and her MTV reality show and now has released her first CD, Autobiography. She's marketed as the bubble headed blond's regular gal sister. Ashlee is apparently also supposed to be a less angry Avril Lavigne. Pieces Of Me is carefully constructed teen pop product. It's not that different from Hilary Duff's breezy So Yesterday. It was written by John Shanks and Kara Dioguardi, who wrote Duff's Come Clean and produced by Shanks, who did Are You Happy Now and Breathe with Michelle Branch. Pieces Of Me is still pretty good. The music is fairly gimmick free pop rock. Like The Matrix did for Lavigne, Shanks creates a sound that's catchy and tuneful and also suggests that the singer has a personality. I'm probably giving Simpson and Pieces Of Me too much credit but I'm reminded at times of Suzanne Vega's Tom's Diner recitation and Jill Sobule's nasal idiosyncracy. Simpson starts the chorus in a way that's like the chorus for Jason Mraz' overly facile The Remedy. But Simpson mostly seems comfortable with an unremarkable voice that breaks into screams of joy. Simpson doesn't go as far as Lavigne in presenting herself as a strong, distinctive person but, like Lavigne, she has the voice of a natural and feisty young woman. On Pieces Of Me, Simpson recognizes that she can be hard to deal with. She expresses appreciation for the guy who's "come to rescue me" for understanding the different pieces of her personality.
Donavon Frankenreiter-Freebuy it!
Donavon Frankenreiter and Jack Johnson were pro surfers in Hawaii. They became buddies and made music together. Frankenreiter has followed Johnson into the music business, making a record for Johnson's Brushfire Records label. Frankenreiter wrote Free with Johnson, who also performs on the record. Like Johnson's music, Free has a confident, relaxed feel. Frankenreiter has a good natured, assured voice that suggests many hours listening to Jerry Garcia and The Grateful Dead. With its laid back, warm, idealistic stoner vibe and very simple, positive singalong chorus, Free sounds like a late 60's hippie rock classic. The downside is that there's a thin line between seemingly effortless simplicity and boring complacency. Johnson's modest music sometimes seems self satisfied or unadventurous but he often comes up with a subtle spin to make things interesting. Free is smooth and comfortable but there are no surprises. With a leisurely beat and groovy organ sound, Free breezes by easily. Free isn't very challenging but it's smooth, cool and very easy to listen to(especially if you're high). Free's lyric depicts a relaxed couple drifting along, drinking and waiting "until the trade winds blow."
Usher-Confessions Part 2buy it!
Usher is on an amazing run with Confessions, 2004's best selling CD. He's the first solo artist with three songs at the same time among Billboard's top 10 pop hits(The Beatles and Bee Gees also achieved the feat). Usher's success is remarkable to me because his songs, while well made and pleasant to listen to, aren't particularly interesting or original. Usher admits that he pays attention to what music is popular at the time and tries to make music in that style. He got Lil' Jon to help him remake Get Low for Usher's monster hit Yeah. Confessions Part 2's skittery beat reminds me of R. Kelly's terrific Ignition remix, which was a hit just about the time Usher recorded the Confessions CD. But Confessions Part 2 isn't as distinctive or appealing as the Ignition remix. Like the CD's hit ballad Burn, Confessions Part 2 was cowritten and produced by Brian Cox and veteran hitmaker Jermaine Dupri. Like all three of the CD's hits, Confessions 2 sounds fine. It has sleek, seductive music with that good skippping rhythm and an insinuating synth sample. Confessions 2 is smooth but unsurprising. Usher is a pretty good singer. His voice's warmth and openness lets him get away with cliched lyrics. He does a decent job working his ladies man charm without overdoing it. But Usher seems manipulative and fakey. Usher's current image is obviously marketable but it's kind of lame. His lyrics painstakingly present him as sensitive and a bad boy. Like Yeah, Confessions Part 2 has Usher admitting to his girlfriend that he's been with someone else. His "chick on the side said she got one on the way." While he's been playing around, he tries to convince her he's caring. He claims "this gon' be the hardest thing I ever had to do" and that he "damn near cried when I got that phone call." Everything about Usher seems calculated. His expressions of regret are glib. He presumably drives the ladies wild with a spoken plea for another chance but he seems more cool than concerned.
Norah Jones-What Am I To You(up 1 position)
Norah Jones' Feels Like Home CD apparently won't match her debut CD's extraordinary sales but, with more than four million sold in 5 months, it's solidified her position as one of music's biggest successes. I guess the secret to Jones' success is that her songs seem exotic or challenging to her adult listeners but they're never so exotic or challenging that they turn those listeners off. What Am I To You, Feels Like Home's second chart hit, is more modest, tasteful, mildly edgy music. On What Am I To You, Jones does the blues. Predictably, her music don't go so far as to suggest real pain. Still, What Am I To You isn't just a smooth, good sounding ride. What Am I To You has flavor and real feeling. Jones' voice often gives her material depth that isn't in the music. Her vocal has longing and evokes an image of her in a thoughtful, private place. I also like guest Levon Helm's jagged beat. It gives a rough jerkiness to the otherwise serene music. Jones' piano has an authentic sounding bluesy moodiness but it might be better if she went beyond her typical minimalism. What I Am To You's slide guitar is fine but never surprising. What Am I To You is the only song on Feels Like Home for which Jones received sole writing credit. It has the same combination of dreaminess and resignation as Come Away With Me's title track, another Jones composition, as well as her breakthrough hit Don't Know Why. Like Don't Know Why, What Am I To You is about looking for a sign of affection from a guy she adores. She sings "you are the sea." She wants to be the person he goes to "when you're feeling low." She'd "give you my last shirt because I love you so" but wonders "if my sky should fall, would you even call." The personal feeling of Jones' voice elevates her easy, nice sounding adult pop.
D12 featuring Eminem-My Band(down 15 positions)
D12(aka The Dirty Dozen) originally formed in the early 90s. D12's main claim to fame is that in the mid 90s, before becoming a huge solo star, Eminem was a member. Eminem has stuck by D12 and continued to work with them. D12's Devil's Night CD did pretty well but didn't approach the sales of Eminem's solo work. Not surprisingly, D12's pop breakthrough comes on a song focusing on Eminem doing a showy performance. On Eminem Show's Hailie's Song, the most notable previous song where he sang instead of rapped, Eminem did some very sincere singing but started by saying "I can't sing." Eminem seems considerably more confident on My Band, from the D12 World CD, jokingingly whining/singing the chorus. His singing is pretty awful but, like much of what Eminem does, it's strangely compelling and hard to ignore. My Band starts with a spoken section where Eminem sounds like he's doing Ed Norton. Eminem raps a verse in a voice that's less dramatic and more like his speaking voice than usual. As usual, Eminem's rapping is thick with words and theatrics. His technique is typically remarkable as he playfully races through his rap, quick but always in control. He easily slips into a caricature of a groupie crying "dude you fuckin' rock", "won't you please let me suck your cock." My Band presents a slightly parallel world where, rather than the star helping out his rap friends, Eminem is the lead singer of a boy band. The lyric has fun with the dynamics between the pop idol and formerly equal bandmates. Eminem, playing the clueless star, is very funny. He claims to be confused about how "everybody's all jealous" of his devoted female following and the fact the he gets to "do my a capellas." He accuses bandmates of "tryin' to steal the light from me" and "pulling a knife on me 'cause I told him Jessica Alba's my wife to be." My previous impression of D12's other members was pretty terrible. On My Band, their contributions vary from not atrocious to pretty good. They comfortably play the envious colleagues. Swifty McVeigh does an OK hard rap, complaining that "we in a van and in a tour bus" and about a small dressing room and being confused for another member of the group. Kuniva and Kon Artis's verse is an amusing skit. They call Eminem "a punk ass thinkin' he the shit" for "takin' on a flick" and get dissed by him as a group interview becomes a solo. They complain that "our mics are screwed up and his always sound best." When Eminem asks "you got something to say", they clam up, then blame each other("I was 'bout to talk right after you.") Proof does a decent, fast rap, asking why "he get 90 and we only get 10 percent." Bizarre is My Band's coolest and second most entertaining rapper, bragging about his "big ass stomach" and listing the Eminem videos where "I was in the back." Eminem has long had a problem with boy bands. Boy bands have been in decline for a while but Eminem keeps taking shots, mocking the heartthrob emoting "girls why can't you see you're the only one for me and it just tears my ass apart to know that you don't know my name." My Band ends on an appropriately goofy note with Eminem affecting an odd Indian accent as he claims "my salsa makes all the pretty girls want to dance." As with many Eminem songs, My Band has stupid parts but it's packed with interesting bits. Generally, it's quite hilarious. Beneath the kidding around about the spot Eminem and D12 hold in the success food chain, My Band also expresses a sense of affection between Eminem and his old rapping friends. Eminem produced My Band. The recurring, vaguely spooky riff sounds like ones Eminem and Dr. Dre have used before but it's very effective. My Band's music is catchy and the way it matches the notes of Eminem's singing nicely reinforces the song's amusing central theme of a world revolving around Eminem.
Kanye West featuring Syleena Johnson-All Falls Down(down 2 positions)
In the last year, with his The College Dropout CD and production of other artists, Kanye West has established himself as one of the most important and appealing figures in pop music. All Falls Down is College Dropout's third hit. Through The Wire and Slow Jamz very effectively used classic r&b samples. All Falls Down is a slight variation on that technique. It gets its hook from Mystery Of Iniquity, a song from Lauryn Hill's Unplugged CD. Instead of sampling Hill's vocal, West has Syleena Johnson singing a piece of Hill's lyric. The liberally used sample has a very pleasing sound. Having a good, steady beat and a strong hook as an anchor frees West to do a relaxed, comfortable rap. West doesn't seem like the most skilled rapper. But All Falls Down, like Through The Wire, shows West to be a natural, likable presence. The first verse is about a young woman who stays in college though "she has no idea what she's doing" there. The character ends up with a daughter, making money doing people's hair, a "single black female addicted to retail." The other two verses are searching meditations on a "self conscious" African American culture obsessed with possession. He depicts a foolish quest for showy, expensive belongings but largely attribrutes it to feeling hated and stereotyped by a racist white society and the desire to want to own a piece of our country.
Story Of The Year-Anthem Of Our Dying Daybuy it!
Nearly a year after its release, Story Of The Year's Page Avenue CD is still getting airplay. Until The Day I Die made the top 50 last winter. The St. Louis band is back with Anthem Of Our Dying Day. Until The Day I Die was very typical, familiar emo but I kind of liked it. There was no denying that the passion of the band and, especially, singer Dan Marsala translated into invigorating energy. Story Of The Year has passion on Anthem Of Our Dying Day but I don't feel that energy. Marsala is very earnest but Anthem is very by the book. It plods forward with Marsala's sincere singing and unremarkable power chords and guitar effects. I like Anthem's brief, quiet acoustic bridge but soon it's back to more heartfelt yelling and atmospheric guitar. Marsala eventually does the cliched agitated rant the genre seems to require, even if it's not approriate to the song. With Marsala "pouring my heart onto these rooftops" and stars crying "the blackest tears", Anthem Of Our Dying Day has the kind of dramatic lyric the band is fond of. Marsala exults in the idea that "the tide would swallow every inch of this city." I like the intensity and genuine feeling Marsala and Story Of The Year bring to their music. I just wish they could use those things in a more interesting, original way.