Matchbox 20-Unwell(up 6 positions)
Unwell is the second single from the More Than You Think You Are CD. It's an improvement over Disease, a lame attempt at a rocker and pale imitation of Smooth, Rob Thomas' Santana collaboration. Unwell has the soothing, easy, well crafted sound that helped make the band big. The chorus is catchy and hard to resist. But generally, Unwell is bland. It's so tastefully innocuous that it barely registers. A banjo in the beginning and end adds a little flavor but Unwell could use a lot more. It doesn't help that Unwell, like Disease, is another tale of how screwed up Thomas is. Especially now that Matchbox 20 is an established, very successful band, Thomas' repeated tales of woe are increasingly tiresome. Unwell is more optimistic than some of them. Thomas thinks "I'm headed for a breakdown and I don't know why" but he also feels like he'll soon get things together.
Christina Aguilera-Beautiful(down 2 positions)
After Dirrty, Christina Aguilera's update of Redman's Let's Get Dirty, had a fairly short stay in the pop top 20, there was a lot of talk that poor song selection and image presentation would lead Aguilera's career into a nose dive. Aguilera has proved the doubters wrong. Beautiful, the second single from Aguilera's Stripped CD, is one of Aguilera's biggest hits. Aguilera wisely worked on Beautiful with writer/producer Linda Perry, who did Get The Party Started for Pink and is sure to be an extremely sought after collaborator for the forseeable future. Beautiful is smartly constructed. It starts with very minimal music and slowly builds from Perry's piano. The strength of Aguilera's voice has never been in doubt. She again shows impressive range and, while her singing will never be subtle, Aguilera shows some restraint. Lyrically, Beautiful gets off to a bit of a shaky start. Aguilera shares her insecurity about her fame before declaring that her detractors can't "bring me down." But, in conjunction with a good video and an empathetic musical feel, Beautiful's uplifting message of self respect take on a more universal feel that young listeners have latched onto.
Jack Johnson-The Horizon Has Been Defeatedbuy it!
The Horizon Has Been Defeated is on the former pro surfer/filmmaker's new On and On CD. Like his buddy Ben Harper, Johnson backs up his cool, confident style with a mix of various musical sources. On The Horizon Has Been Defeated, Johnson's laidback flow is supported by a soulful groove with a reggae taste. The lyrics feature Johnson's easygoing philosophizing. At 27, Johnson has decided that "as we grow older", "things can go bad" but we're less likely to run away because the horizon has begun to fade and look less tempting. He also muses on a world where "machines become our hands" and reminds us that we're just animals with "fancy shoes" and "too many tools."
All-American Rejects-Swing Swing(down 3 positions)
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.
Justin Timberlake-Rock Your Bodybuy it!
Rock Your Body, the third hit from the Justified CD, is a mindless but fun dance song. It's Justin Timberlake's best single so far. Timberlake and writer/producers The Neptunes(Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo) have worked out a partnership sure to produce hits. The teen idol provides the hunkiness and Williams and Hugo bring the great grooves. Following Like I Love You, where Timberlake was encouraged to do a slavish Michael Jackson imitation, Rock Your Body seems to comfirm that Williams and Hugo had Jackson in mind when they wrote and arranged songs that made Justified. Rock Your Body particularly brings to mind the great dance beats and chunky groove of Jackson's Off The Wall. Rock Your Body's big bass and scratchy guitar also resembles the sound, made by Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers on songs like Good Times, that was borrowed in tons of dance songs(even Queen's Another One Bites The Dust). Timberlake's voice is just one of the parts that Williams and Hugo used to construct Rock Your Body. Timberlake's vocal is largely unremarkable and nearly unnoticable. It's often hard to know where his singing ends and the very effective backing vocals begin but, at least, Timberlake, doesn't get in the way of the groove. Credit for Rock Your Body and its easy, likable flow should go to its producers. Rock Your Body's lyric is basically Timberlake's request to a girl to not walk away and instead give him a chance to seduce her on the dance floor.
R. Kelly-Ignition(up 18 positions)
Apparently, accusations of having sex with a minor and possessing child porn won't kill your career if you know how to put together good pop hooks. The Ignition remix, from Kelly's Chocolate Factory CD, is a great testament to Kelly's skills. Kelly's vocal quickly darts around the lyric and mixes up speeds to create different moods while staying very cool. The music has the smooth confidence of a soul classic with easy, fluid keyboards and a relaxed handclap beat. Kelly smartly uses backing singers, creating a moment of excitement with their toot toots and beep beeps. Kelly's lyric is pretty awful. The title comes from a charming sexual metaphor promising "to take my key and stick it in the ignition." Kelly's comeons have the usual brags about an opulent lifestyle and compare a girl to his Lexus and a football coach("the way you got me playin' the field"). Luckily, Ignition sounds so good that you don't focus on its silly words.
AFI-Girl's Not Grey(up 2 positions)
AFI's Sing The Sorrow CD is the California band's seventh record. Through the late 90s, A.F.I. tried different styles, principally hardcore and gothic. Their following kept growing to the point that AFI is now on a major label and they could work on Sing The Sorrow with big time producers Butch Vig(Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins) and Jerry Finn(Blink 182). AFI have mostly taken advantage of their opportunity. AFI leader Davey Havok has become more confident and focused. Girl's Not Grey is solid and well made. AFI are clearly Bad Religion fans and Girl's Not Grey has the serious, intense sound of a good Bad Religion song. I like the way Girl's Not Grey shifts speed. Guitarist Jade Puget and drummer Adam Carson pick up the pace on the chorus and parts of the verses to exciting effect. Puget generally keeps things interesting with a variety of riffs. I don't love Girl's Not Grey. It's a little too tightly structured and Havok is kind of humorless. Still, his singing doesn't have the pretension and narcissism of so many contemporary rock singers. He reminds me of Joe Jackson in an earnest, hard rocking mode. Girl's Not Grey has a good, big, ungimmicky sound. When it gets juiced up, it's quite thrilling. Girl's Not Grey might be about finding a moment of calm before creating the art that "does drown" and "will swallow whole."
Aaliyah-Miss You(up 9 positions)
More than a year and a half after her death, Aaliyah is back on the charts with her second posthumous pop hit. Miss You is on the I Care 4 U CD, which includes eight of Aaliyah's hits and six new songs. I find Miss You, with tweeting bird effects presumably meant to evoke heaven, a touch creepy. On the video, popular artists lip synch Aaliyah's lines about missing a lover who went off to college as if they wrote the song about Aaliyah. It's a little weird but the performers' affection for Aaliyah is surely real. Miss You, written and produced by Johnta Austin and Teddy Bishop, is generally OK. Aaliyah's singing is fine and it's nicely mixed with good backing vocals. A quiet, simple beat and restrained keyboards don't interfere with the ethereal mood. Miss You's music is oddly similar to that of Minnie Ripperton's Lovin' You. It's very smooth and soothing. It's also so mellow it could put you to sleep.
Jason Mraz-The Remedy(up 3 positions)
Jason Mraz is a young singer/songwiter from Virginia who made his way to San Diego. The Remedy is from Mraz' Waiting For My Rocket To Come CD, which was produced by John Alagia, who's worked with Dave Matthews and John Mayer. Mraz wrote The Remedy with The Matrix(Lauren Christy, Graham Edwards and Scott Spock), who wrote Avril Lavigne's hits. The Remedy is cute and catchy but it doesn't measure up to Lavigne's best work. The Matthews/Mayer connection is apt since Mraz is another cocky, glib young white guy though, to be fair to Matthews and Mayer, Mraz is glibber and his music seems less substantial. The Remedy is pleasant and boomer friendly but its relentless cheerfulness is too much. On its "I won't worry my life again" chorus, The Remedy's catchiness is undermined by a slick shallowness worthy of a TV commercial. Mraz does a white hipster rap on the verses of a sort that gave Barenaked Ladies and others hits but has fallen out of favor on the pop charts the last couple years. The Remedy's music is appropriately perky with a bouncy bass and guitar and cheap sounding synths.
T.A.T.U.-All The Things She Said(down 8 positions)
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.
White Stripes-Seven Nation Army(up 14 positions)
White Stripes have followed the surprise million selling White Blood Cells CD with the even more successful Elephant. Seven Nation Army is their biggest radio hit so far. Like White Blood Cells, Elephant is a very good record that throws all sorts of ideas together. Singer/songwriter Jack White alternates(sometimes in the same song) between sincere and cynical and between goofy pop and serious, intense power chord laden hard rock. White's songs are unified by a seemingly natural weirdness and a good sense of a hook. White Stripes are still just guitar player Jack and drummer Meg White but Jack varies the sound and keeps it interesting. Unlike most of White Stripes' music, Seven Nation Army has a bass line(apparently played on a processed guitar). The verses, with Meg banging and Jack playing the big, basic bass line, give Jack space for his odd, strangely compelling vocal. Instead of shifting to a chorus, Seven Nation Army adds an electric guitar that basically tracks the bass line but creates a squealing intensity as the song dissolves into a fun jam before returning to another verse. Seven Nation Army is great, partly because its recurring riff is so good and memorable. Seven Nation Army has the kind of weird lyric that adds to White Stripes' charm. Sounding crazy and paranoid but also like he might have a point, Jack alternately promises to fight and ignore an unnamed enemy. He finally decides to avoid the struggle, go to Wichita and "work the straw." On Seven Nation Army, White Stripes music is again unpolished, odd and powerful.
John Mayer-Why Georgia(up 2 positions)
Why Georgia is the third chart hit from the young singer/songwriter's Room For Squares CD. More than a year after No Such Thing first hit the chart, my thoughts about Mayer are basically the same. Mayer has a mellow, mildly whimsical style that would normally be consistent with an older artist who is tired and slowing down or bemused after years of facing life's absurdities. It's odd to me that someone in his mid 20s seems so unambitious and self satisfied. The frankly sexual Your Body Is A Wonderland was charmingly cheeky but Yes Georgia is just more pleasant, vague, easy listening. Mayer again deploys a vocal that's sly and engaging but has little force. Mayer is apparently a good guitar player but he's careful not to be too showy, only displaying his skills in very limited bursts. I don't know whether it symbolizes an urge to leave his mild, smooth work behind and make more challenging music but on Why Georgia, Mayer sings about being tempted to leave his drab, lonely Georgia life behind, asking "am I living it right?" Mayer asks whether he should take a chance and tells himself he can't be satisfied with "everything happens for a reason."
The Wallflowers-How Good It Can Get(down 5 positions)
I enjoyed When You're On Top, the first chart hit from the Red Letter Days CD, and its icy, synth dominated atmosphere and self loathing lyrics. How Good It Can Get is more standard Wallflowers fare. It's got a smooth, pleasant sound but it's nothing new. The lyrics are a nice message to a friend that things will get better. But How Good It Can Get is pretty insubstantial.
Eminem-Superman(down 9 positions)
Superman is the third hit from The Eminem Show CD. In 2002 Eminem had his two biggest pop hits so far, Without Me and Lose Yourself, songs where the raps were so fluid and the music had so much momentum that it almost seemed irrelevant whether Mr. Mathers is a screwed up, misogynist jerk. Superman isn't as appealing. It gives a listener a chance to remember what's annoying about Eminem. On Superman, Eminem offers glimpses of his fast, smooth rapping skills but it's largely bad jokes and a fairly uninteresting, unvaried backing track. Superman is mostly stupid and pointless. It's basically about how "I'll never let another girl bring me down" and how he's basically resigned to a life of one night stands with "tricks" he'll more likely than not dis once they're done. In a mock sensitive voice, Eminem goofs on the idea of a caring guy "here to save you girl" and grow together with her. In case you don't get the joke, he follows that with "bitch, you make me hurl." He also says "don't put out, I'll put you." Dina Rae plays the role of the object of Eminem's affection and hostility. As often is the case with Eminem, you have to choose between whether to like him as a gifted artist or despise him as a hateful person. Superman, unlike most of Eminem's music, isn't musically likable enough to let you overlook his deficiencies. I don't really understand why Superman was released as a single(and why the mediocre rock rap of Sing for The Moment is the next single) when The Eminem Show has so many good songs(I would vote for one of the Hailie songs). And why isn't the fun, loose title track from 8 Mile a single? The main appeal of Superman is the insight it gives into a messed up brain. If you believe the lyrics, Eminem's experiences have made him so fearful and paranoid that he's doomed to shallow, unsatisfying relationships.
Dave Matthews Band-Grey Street(unchanged)
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.
Nivea-Don't Mess With My Man(down 5 positions)
Don't Mess With My Man is from Nivea Hamilton's Nivea CD. Don't Mess With My Man is quite lightweight but it's also quite likable. Don't Mess With My Man features Jagged Edge's Brian and Brandon Casey. It's got the easy feel of Jagged Edge's Where The Party At and I find Don't Mess even more enjoyable. With a catchy doodle of a synth riff and a steady beat, Don't Mess With My Man goes by easily. Nivea's voice is pleaant but doesn't show much personality. The Caseys add a little flair with their amiably macho contribution. The lyrics don't go much beyond the title's threat except that the Caseys repeat them and change genders.
Justin Timberlake-Cry Me A River(down 13 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.
Chevelle-The Red(down 15 positions)
The Red is from the Wonder What's Next CD by the Chicago based band formed by the Loeffler brothers. The Red is the latest rock radio hit with threatening atmosphere and a singer seriously intoning about a young man with a troubled mind. It's hardly surprising that two hit songs this year have been based on the idea of "seeing red." At least half of rock music these days is about being pissed off. The Red's repeated riff effectively creates a tense mood, slowly grinding forward with Joe Loeffler's good bass line and Pete Loeffler's crunching guitar. But after The Red creates a stark impression, nothing much happens. As the riff repeats again and again, it loses some of its power. Unlike other current rock singers, Pete generally avoids pretension and overemoting but he's not particularly memorable, until the predictable cathartic climax when he rants "seeing red again." The Red is about a guy unable to control himself after repeatedly being singled out and called a freak.
David Gray-Be Mine(unchanged)
Be Mine is the second chart hit from David Gray's A New Day At Midnight CD. To Gray's credit, it doesn't seem like he made himself crazy trying to make a commercial hit to follow Babylon. Gray is still making pleasant, unassuming music. Gray's lyrics are often gloomy but Be Mine is upbeat, celebrating the woman who "reached right into my head and turned on the light inside" and made "all the dreams I held in my heart" come true. She isn't smitten like he is yet but Gray, in his low key way, is optimistic, feeling that a love so strong can't be wrong.
Daniel Bedingfield-If You're Not The Onebuy it!
After coming out of nowhere with the dance hit Gotta Get Thru This, the title track from his CD, Daniel Bedingfield is back with another big hit. Most of the CD has a low budget feel that's not surprising since Bedingfield made most of the sounds himself, often at home on his computer. If You're Not The One has clanky, minimal synth and drum machine backing. I liked Gotta Get Thru This and its basic, giddy evocation of Michael Jackson's classic sound. But If You're Not The One, while heartfelt, is way too lame and Muzaky for me. If You're Not The One is inconsequential and, with its synth string effects, more than a little sappy. I guess the key to its success is Bedingfield's sincere vocal. He sounds like he means it when he celebrates how his hand fits with his love's and how she makes "my soul feel glad." Romantic female fans must love how Bedingfield admits that the idea of being without her brings him to tears.
Bowling For Soup-Girl All The Bad Guys Want(unchanged)
Until this year, Texas band Bowling For Soup had a fairly small following and were best known for novelty songs like The Bitch Song. Girl All The Bad Guys Want has brought them to a new level, delivering a surprise Grammy nomination for best pop performance by a group and their first pop hit. Bowling For Soup fit with all the punky pop bands like Good Charlotte and Sum 41 who have followed Blink 182 into the top 40. Girl All The Bad Guys Want, from the Drunk Enough To Dance CD, isn't much different from other similar hits but it is a good example of the genre. In the song and the video(which takes off from the line about "singers that are mad at their dad" to mock the pretensions of Fred Durst and Staind's Aaron Lewis), Bowling For Soup seem a little more grown up than their contemporaries. Jaret Reddick has the standard bratty, juvenile voice but he uses it in a smarter way. Chris Burney and Reddick play the usual guitar riffs but vary them, stomping, scratching and spinning as the sound keeps coming in an exciting way. The lyric is a fairly standard tale of unrequited love but it has a light hearted charm. The implicit joke is that it's probably a good thing that Reddick can't win this girl who likes rap metal, wrestling and guys with a moustache.
Foo Fighters-All My Life(down 2 positions)
All My Life is from the One By One CD. It's long been clear that Dave Grohl won't approach the brilliance and significance with Foo Fighters former bandmate Kurt Cobain did with Nirvana. But Grohl has already achieved a longevity that Cobain sadly could never have and amassed a solid body of work. Foo Fighters have continued to make decent music and retain a fan base, even as the rock audience's taste has changed. Grohl's music has remained fairly uncomplicated and ungimmicky and he still has a good knack for a hook. While not obviously following trends, Grohl has also kept an eye on the competititon, most recently playing drums for good hard rockers Queens Of The Stone Age. Like a lot of Foo Fighters music, All My Life is not great but good. While it doesn't have their personality, All My Life is very reminiscent of the Foos' best intense rockers like This Is A Call, Monkey Wrench and Everlong. It's fast, fun and lean. Grohl keeps the crunching guitar coming. Grohl isn't the best singer but he's aware of his limitations and, as usual, it's a hoot when he whips himself into such a frenzy that he can't help but scream. On All My Life sings and rants about how he's always been "searching for something", presumably love, but the "something never comes." Haunted by a ghost of someone from the past, Grohl simultaneously rues and exalts in the fact that with women it's "done, done then one to the next one."
Rhett Miller-Come Around(down 1 position)
Rhett Miller is on a break from leading the alt country band Old 97's. Come Around is from Miller's solo record, The Instigator. Not surprisingly, Come Around sounds a lot like an Old 97's song. Old 97's have normally struck me as fine but not particularly exciting or interesting. Most of Come Around is draggy. Miller whines over unimaginative backing with basic drumming and strumming. The mopey mood is appropriate for a self pitying song where Miller obsesses over a breakup. Just when Come Around seems like it's going to keep dully droning, Miller comes up with a killer hook. The chorus is very catchy. Miller yearningly relates that unless she comes back, he's "gonna be lonely for the rest of my life." The problem is, the song keeps going back to boring verses and the chorus isn't quite as appealing as it continually recurs.
The Used-Buried Myself Alivebuy it!
Buried Myself Alive is from the self titled CD by the band from Orem, Utah fronted by Kelly Osborne's ex(he dumped her after the Osbornes connection brought unwanted attention). I liked The Used's first chart hit, The Taste Of Ink, which featured Quinn Allmann's tight, crunching guitar and Bert McCracken's impassioned vocal. Buried Myself Alive is much more routine neo-grunge. It starts with a processed guitar riff that's a lot like the one Puddle Of Mudd used on Blurry. The riff seems like an attempt to give Buried Myself Alive a meaningful feel but it's mostly just annoying. The song gets better when Allman's guitar gets harder and bigger and McCracken gives up serious, intense singing and starts shrieking and going nuts. But even then, Buried Myself Alive isn't so different from songs by so many other angry, confused young rockers. The Used's music doesn't seem as calculated for commercial success as that of many of their modern rock contemporaries. They have the potential to make interesting, distinctive music but Buried Myself Alive isn't it. McCracken sings that he was hurt so badly that he "buried myself alive on the inside." After puking the day away, he decides to turn the tables, putting "my foot on your neck" and telling her "if you want me back, you're gonna have to ask nicer than that."
Paul Simon-Father and Daughter(down 2 positions)
Paul Simon's projects of the last 10 years(The Capeman and You're The One) got relatively little mainstream attention but he's made our Top 50 for the first time and gotten an Oscar nomination for his song from the Wild Thornberrys Movie soundtrack. I'm a little creeped out by the fact that 60 year old Simon has a 7 year old daughter(with wife Edie Brickell) but I appreciate that she's inspired one of Simon's best songs in years. Simon has a history of overthinking things but on Father And Daughter he smartly keeps things simple. Though he Simon uses a full band, Father And Daughter feels like a low budget homemade labor of love. With a basic, chugging drum machine beat(credited to longtime Simon sideman Steve Gadd), Father And Daughter has an uncomplicated arrangement that lets Simon's sweet message connect. Father And Daughter's one adornment is a beautiful, shimmering guitar. Despite the presence of Vincent Ngiuni, Simon's guitar player since Rhythm Of The Saints, Simon apparently played the exotic sounding riff. As the father of the cutest girl in the world, I'm particularly susceptible to Father And Daughter's charms but Simon's heartfelt message of love should touch even the coldest heart. Simon's promises that he'll protect his daughter seem both personal and universal. And the chorus, featuring harmonies by Simon's 10 year old son Adrian, with its "there could never be a father who loved his daughter more than I love you" hook perfectly distills the song's direct, unembarrassed sentiment.