Baby Bash-Suga Suga(down 4 positions)
Baby Bash is from Tha Smokin' Nephew CD by the California born/Texas based rapper. Suga Suga was co-written by Baby's Texas buddy Frankie J, whose Don't Wanna Try was a hit earlier this year. Suga Suga is one of the more surprising hits of the year, passing songs by bigger names on its way to the top of the pop charts. Everything about is smooth and appealing. With relaxed beats and a good looped guitar riff, Suga Suga is a very easy ride. Baby Bash's rapping on the verses and Frankie J's singing on the chorus flow nicely into each other. Both are cool, confident and alluring. Suga Suga also has a sped up tape sound that adds some flavor but don't disturb Suga Suga's cool flow. Suga Suga is very well constructed. I feel like it's good rather than great and don't totally understand how it's become such a big hit but there's no question that Suga Suga is seductive and very easy to listen to. Suga Suga has a pretty basic lyric. Frankie J thanks his girl for lifting him and wonders how she got so fly.
Lostprophets-Last Train Home(unchanged)
It was inevitable that the hard but atmospheric sound that has dominated American rock radio the last few years would make it overseas. Welsh band Lastprophets join Linkin Park, Hoobastank and so many others in their generation of serious post-grungers. Perhaps they belong in the slightly better company of AFI, Story Of The Year(Last Train Home mixes nicely with Girl's Not Grey and Until The Day I Die) and The Used, whose music resembles the intense, hard rocking Last Train Home. Much of Last Train Home is kind of generic. Last Train Home doesn't stand out much from many similar songs. Singer Ian Watkins' voice has power and emotion but it also has the humorlessness and self importance of many of his colleagues. Last Train Home is still pretty good. Watkins is a strong singer who seems to have some charisma. Last Train Home gets decent tension from a mix of guitar sounds, which range from hard to melodic, interesting, angular drumming and a simple, vaguely menacing piano line. Last Train Home has a catchy chorus that flows into an appealing heartfelt bridge. On that bridge, Last Train Home transcends its formula and reaches an appealing early U2 type idealism as Watkins alternates with hollered backing vocals charmingly chanting "we sing." Last Train Home is impressively big and ambitious and it also has sweetly endearing parts. On Last Train Leaving, Watkins sings about trying to "forget the sorrow" of a love that's disappeared, primarily by deciding to "sing without a reason."
A Perfect Circle-The Outsider(down 3 positions)
It's difficult for me to imagine listening to an entire Maynard James Keenan CD in one sitting. It's hard for me to make it through each dark song of thick guitars, booming drums and Keenan's howling and raging. The Outsider isn't A Perfect Circle's best song but it's another example why, with APC and Tool, Keenan is one of the best of the many angry young white rock guys. Keenan and APC co-founder Billy Howerdell, who produced and wrote The Outsider, know how to create a dramatic sound. The music gains force by moving slowly, with layers of guitars in place all along the way. Keenan's vocal warily moves forward in irregular spurts, as if he's trying to keep things in but his rage forces him to blurt things out and then work himself into a frenzy. Band member Josh Freese, who's also a very in demand studio drummer for everyone from Avril Lavigne and Kelly Clarkson to The Offspring and Good Charlotte, heightens The Outsider's tension with his pounding. The Outsider has a potent, focused sound, which loses appeal only because we've heard it before. The Outsider's lyric is more problematic. The targets of Keenan's rage are usually better chosen than on the nasty, angry Outsider, where Keenan seems more mean than troubled. It can be frustrating to deal with a depressed person who seems to talk about suicide just to get attention but The Outsider crosses the line from frustration to callousness. Keenan tells a girlfriend, who's given in to her "reckless dark desires", that he doesn't "wanna watch you" "throw it away like this." Just to make it clear that "I'm over this", he calls her a medicated, "narcissistic drama queen" and a "suicidal imbecile." Keenan finishes The Outsider with the sweet thought: "if you choose to pull the trigger, should your drama prove sincere, do it somewhere far away from here."
Hoobastank-The Reasonbuy it!
Out Of Control, the first chart hit from The Reason, didn't last long on the chart. It looked like Hoobastank might disappear for lack of anything to distinguish them from other sensitive hard rockers. But Hoobastank guaranteed themselves a longer shelf life, taking the logical step for a rock band seeking a larger pop audience: putting out a big rock ballad. The Reason CD's title track is the California band's biggest hit. In a compliment and an insult, The Reason has been called the prom theme of 2004. The Reason connects with high school kids' heightened but basic emotions. It's expertly constructed. Doug Robb's vocal is very sensitive. With gentle picking on the verses and power chord strumming on the chorus, Dan Estrin's guitar provides decent variety and dynamics. The Reason effectively reaches a climax with ladled on strings and Robb's heartfelt cry: "the reason is you." The Reason's strengths are its weaknesses. I understand how its emotional approach sweeps people up but The Reason is quite bland. It's very predictable, familiar and a bit heavy handed in its button pushing. The Reason reminds me a lot of Cheap Trick's The Flame, among others. The Reason is basically criticism proof. No matter how banal The Reason is, if people feel that it expresses their emotions who am I or anyone else to say they're wrong. I do feel that the same emotions could be expressed in a more musically interesting way. Robb's lyric is sappy but sweet. He admits that he's made mistakes that put her through pain but he wants a woman to know that she gives him a reason to "continue learning" and "change who I used to be."
Twista-Slow Jamz(up 2 positions)
The hit version of Slow Jamz is on Twista's Kamikaze. A slightly different version is on Kanye West's The College Dropout CD. Producer West seems to deserve much of the credit for Slow Jamz' appealing sound. West is on a roll with his production of Alicia Keys' stylish if slightly dry You Don't Know My Name and his own terrific hit Through The Wire. Through The Wire samples Chaka Khan's Through The Fire. Slow Jamz also makes good use of classic r&b, using a sped up piece of Luther Vandross' A House Is Not A Home. Slow Jamz mixes different sounds and vocalists with different styles but, using the sample to provide consistency and a timeless quality, West makes it work. Slow Jamz uses two singers who aren't technically great but have great presence. Foxx clearly enjoys his chance at being an R&B crooner. His affection for great soul singers is charming, as he recites a litany of favorites for entertaining the ladies. He hams it up a bit but does a good job, sounding like he's reenacting private moments singing along with favorite records. West's verse has some cliched hip hop misogynism and a very relaxed vocal but West sounds so good natured that he's hard to dislike. He also has some great goofy rhymes including "bring some friends you cool with, I'm gonna bring the Cool Whip" and "I'm gon' play this Vandross, you gon' take your pants off." West also has the lines about the girl with a light skinned friend and a dark skinned friend, both of whom look like Michael Jackson. Twista gets top billing but he's a bit of a supporting player. His two verses are stuck at Slow Jamz' back. Slow Jamz uses Twista well. He's incredibly fast. When he was known as Tongue Twista, Twista was listed in the Guinness Book Of Records as the world's fastest rapper. But Twista's flood of words would be exhausting over the length of a sound. West wisely places Twista among a bunch of other interesting sounds. The speed of Twista's skittering rap is remarkable but he goes by as a bit of a blur. Especially when he's going on about "smokin' on my cannibus" and "sippin' Hennessy", it's hard to care. Things improve when Twista slips into the song's raucous, name dropping spirit with fun, dopey rhymes about getting "your sheets wet listening to Keith Sweat" and bending your ass while "you be bumpin' Teddy Pendergrass." Slow Jamz sounds great. It has a good, crisp beat and backing that matches its vocalists. A smooth 70s chimes, keyboard and acoustic guitar sound backs Foxx. An appropriate nervous, racing riff accompanies Twista. Slow Jamz is a great cocktail of sounds.
Finger Eleven-One Thing(unchanged)
Finger Eleven are a band from Burlington, Ontario, Canada whose music usually fits within the alt-metal category. They made their latest record with Disturbed producer Johnny K. Bands generally establish their cred with a few hard rock hits before they have their big rock ballad hit but Finger Eleven's first song to get substantial airplay is a "hold up your lighters" song. I'm not a big fan of rock ballads so I don't love One Thing, the single from Finger Eleven's self titled third CD. One Thing is very familiar resembling, among others, Poison's Every Rose Has Its Thorn. One Thing is too drab and earnest for me but it is an effective rock ballad. With a spare sound of spooky synths, simply whacked drums and sensitive acoustic guitar, One Thing has the emotional power people want. Scott Anderson's singing is a bit boring but very sincere. Considering the context, he and the song don't get too showy or emotive. I don't understand why rock fans are suckers for mushy, ultraserious ballads but they are and the sappy One Thing isn't the worst.
Echo is the third chart hit from Trapt's self titled CD. Trapt's Headstrong was one of the biggest hits of 2003. Headstrong was fairly typical angry rock but it had a big, powerful sound. Chris Brown's vocal shifted in and out of rage mode with the suppleness of a decent rapper. Echo also shows signs Trapt may be more interesting than some hard rock bands. Trapt is less loud and furious than Still Frame, Trapt's other top 50 hit, and Headstrong. It has decent contrast. The verse has an open, dreamy sound that floats on a rotating keyboard riff. It's like a verse by Incubus(who also have a song called Echo) but Brown's anchored vocal makes sure it's not quite as spacy. Power chords soon come in, effectively adding heft without overwhelming Echo's searching feel. Trapt are hardly the first band to use the quiet/loud contrast that Nirvana and other grungers popularized and many 21st century rockers have copied. The fluid doodling that Simon Ormandy does before and during the verses is interesting but it sounds a lot like what he did on Headstrong. Brown doesn't scream on Echo like he does on other songs but he's still very serious. His singing doesn't communicate the lyric's joy and energy. Echo isn't that different from other serious midtempo rock but it sounds good. Echo has a personal, varied sound and it isn't too showy or overdone. On Echo, Brown accepts that he "can't change the past I hold inside" and decides to "let go of this pride" and "run away with you by my side."
Puddle Of Mudd-Away From Me(down 5 positions)
Puddle Of Mudd's hits from their Come Clean CD had all the annoying traits of the neo-grunge music that dominated rock radio and crossed over to the pop charts a couple of years. The music was cynical, taking the commercially appealing aspects of early 90s rock without adding anything original or personal. Wes Scantlin's lyrics were self pitying but his singing seemed narcissistic. It's an indication of how much I disliked Puddle Of Mudd's earlier work that, while I don't really like Away From Me, it feels like an improvement. Away From Me, the first single from Puddle Of Mudd's Life On Display CD, sounds a lot like Come Clean's Control. Scantlin's vocal isn't the nasty rant that made Control unpleasant but also helped set it apart and made it a hit for the angry rock kids. Scantlin's voice still has an mean snarl but Away From Me doesn't seem to be quite as much about Scantlin's singing as previous POM songs. Away From Me is a pretty tight, focused rocker. It has a good, big, steady, unshowy guitar sound that crunches home in a fairly catchy chorus. Away From Me is competent hard rock but Scantlin's unlikable presence limits its appeal. Away From Me is good and familiar enough to give it a run on modern rock radio but its mediocrity, the shifting of popular tastes(I hope) and the lack of charm of POM's front man will prevent it from reaching further success. On Away From Me, Scantlin plays a pathetic character, obsessively worrying that his woman is "f—ing someone else" and "always afraid" that she's leaving.
Especially in a downloading world where sales are down, Norah Jones is a goddess of the music business. Her debut Come Away With Me CD has sold more than eight million copies in the US alone. Feels Like Home, her followup, sold one million copies the week it came out and two million in its first month. The consensus regarding Feels Like Home is that it's fairly cautious. Jones is apparently most comfortable in a mellow mode. It does seem like there's more going on in Feels Like Home than there was on Come Away With Me, which was well played and sounded good but, at its worst, had a polite, boring, elevator music quality. On Feels Like Home, some of the songs have an alt country feel but Jones' music still generally fits somewhere between jazz, lite pop and country. Feels Like Home is a bit more confident and personal. As before, the saving grace of Jones' music is her supple, quite amazing voice. Jones' singing nicely carries Sunrise, one of the best things she's done. Jones shows confidence in eschewing a big beat and letting Sunrise's arrangement stay muted. Good, quiet playing twists around Jones' voice. Sunrise has an unshowy jazzy looseness with a mandolin and an unobtrusive, throbbing bass. Jones even plays a good little piano solo. Sunrise has Jones' typical modesty but it's also warm and relaxed. Like much of Jones' music, Sunrise is easy listening but it's not pandering and button pushing. Sunrise is charming. It sounds like Jones and friends are having good, if subdued, fun. Sunrise, written by Jones with bass player and boyfriend Lee Alexander, is about a couple spending a relaxed day in bed with a broken clock stuck at 9:15. Jones shows mild surprise that "we've made it through another day."
Fuel-Falls On Me(up 1 position)
Pop radio has embraced Falls On Me, the first single from Fuel's Natural Selection CD, so it's returned to the top 50. My opinion of Falls On Me hasn't improved. It still seems like another lame attempt to reach a larger audience with an intense, overblown rock ballad. Fuel's Hemorrhage(In My Hands) provided a prime example of the emotive hit. Following a similar blueprint, Falls On Me has recaptured Hemorrhage's success. Falls On Me isn't as overdone as Hemorrhage but it's pretty boring amd obvious. The Hemorrhage similarity begins early as Falls On Me starts with quiet, meaningful strumming then Brett Scallions does a quiet, meaningful vocal. Predictably, big guitars soon come in. They're not so bad. Falls On Me has a decent sound. It's fairly catchy and has emphatic bursts of drums and guitar but Falls On Me has no spark or excitement. Scallions' pretentious, self important vocal doesn't help. Neither does Falls On Me's familiarity. Besides Hemorrhage, Falls On Me echoes Collective Soul's Heavy with a nearly identical hook: "all of your weight falls on me." Carl Bell's lyric apparently thanks a woman for breaking "my disease", so "I can breathe."
Staind-How About You(down 16 positions)
I regret my dismissive slam of So Far Away, the hit second single from Staind's 14 Shades Of Grey CD. Repeat listens reveal a delicate beauty to So Far Away's waltz. So Far Away is a poignantly gloomy song about feeling happier. Aaron Lewis' lyric expresses amazement at his emotional upswing. I still don't love So Far Away. It's too draggy and heavy for me. But especially juxtaposed with Nickelback's awful, heavy handed Someday, which was #2 to So Far Away's #1 for six weeks, it's not bad. How About You doesn't have So Far Away's 1-2-3, 2-2-3 elegance but it does resonate. Lewis uses his affinity for minor keys to give a rocker a sense of drama and depth. The verses create stark intensity by matching Lewis' warily rolling voice with a big beat and not much else. On the chorus, Mike Mushok's large, slicing guitar underlines Lewis' voice. Slowly climbing chords push the reticent Lewis to use a higher, harder voice. After So Far Away's guarded trip into happiness, Lewis is back to his usual downbeat self on How About You. How About You expresses disappointment with a musician friend's foolish lyrics, superficiality and lack of empathy for those less fortunate. Rather than anger, Lewis' vocal expresses weary resignation. Lewis' refusal to drop his guarded, pessimistic persona is a bit ridiculous. But his slow, wobbly, deliberate delivery is striking and unique. When Lewis' voice is combined with decent, challenging music, the result can be compelling. How About You doesn't totally overcome its front man's dourness but it is an interesting, thoughtful song that's also a decent rocker.
Jet-Cold Hard Bitch(up 6 positions)
Are You Gonna Be My Girl, the big hit from Jet's Get Born CD, seems like a tribute to late 60s/early 70s psychedelic rock by bands like The Faces and The Stones. With crunching guitar reminiscent of fellow Australians AC/DC, Cold Hard Bitch shows a different, harder side of Jet's music. Jet only want Cold Hard Bitch to be big, tough, stupid hard rock and they reach that goal. Nic Cester shows that he's knows, from repeat listens to You Shook Me All Night Long and Highway To Hell, how to play tight, blugeoning power chords. Cam Muncey has the voice to carry off Cold Hard Bitch. His ragged but assertive howl is strong enough to fight with the guitars and have enough left for a Daltreyesqe climactic wail. Cold Hard Bitch has the stirring power of good simple arena rock. It's effective but dopey. Cold Hard Bitch brings to mind The Darkness' ridiculously faithful reenactments of 70s rock. The Darkness make their songs, especially I Believe In A Thing Called Love, work by lovingly mocking the music they skillfully bring back to life. Muncey's punctuating yeahs and the too provocative to be serious title imply that Cold Hard Bitch is a bit of a goof. But the joke isn't as fun or inclusive as The Darkness'. Cold Hard Bitch is best appreciated as well made, no frills head banging rock. Cold Hard Bitch's title is apparently meant as a compliment. Muncey sings that at first she was "just a kiss on the lips" then "I was on my knees" waiting for her.
AFI-Silver and Cold(up 1 position)
Before their latest CD, AFI never had a big radio hit but their Sing The Sorrow CD has given them three chart hits. Silver and Cold isn't as good as Girl's Not Grey but it's better than The Leaving Song, Pt. 2. AFI worked up some energy and excitement on Girl's Not Grey's impassioned chorus. The rest of AFI's music seems more boring. Silver and Cold has a big sound but it's very serious and a bit stiff. Davey Havok's voice is sincere but his howl shows no subtlety or modulation. With big, impassioned vocals, Silver and Cold's chorus has an anthemic appeal. But Havok's writing is wildly overdone. He sings "you, in somber resplendence, I hold" and "as a rapturous voice escapes, I will tremble a prayer." Silver and Cold is apparently a love song and it has an appealing sweeting. But any joy is overwhelmed by pounding drums, thick guitars and Havok's hysterical, agitated singing. Silver and Cold's emotion seems appealingly real but it's presented in an overwrought package.
Melissa Etheridge-Breathe(down 2 positions)
I vaguely recally a time when Melissa Etheridge's music showed a bit of imagination and rock and roll energy. But for a while she's been churning out overwrought, sub-Springsteen crap with an adult contemporary radio friendly gloss. On Breathe, from her Lucky CD, Etheridge again tries too hard for emotion power. Etheridge goes into a fists clenched intensity after only a few bars and Breathe has nowhere to go. Breathe stays in a heavy, anthemic mode and lacks any nuance, subtlety or shifts in dynamics. Breathe is carefully produced but, with strings and big drums, it tries for pathos with a blugeoning, sledgehammer sound that keeps coming back to a formulaic chorus. Breathe is obvious easy listening disguised as personal rock music. The shame about Breathe and similar songs is that Etheridge clearly has real, sincerely felt emotions but she expresses them in a hackneyed, impersonal way. Breathe is about missing a former partner. Etheridge sings about longing for home, "a feeling buried in you."
Simple Plan-Perfect(down 10 positions)
Simple Plan scored a hit with I'd Do Anything, punky pop that was basic and dopey enough for preteens to understand and love. On Perfect, the third hit from the Canadian band's debut No Pads, No Helmets... Just Balls CD, they've basically done the same thing with angst rock. It's hard to hate Perfect. Singer Pierre Bouvier sounds very sincere as he relates the pain inflicted by an unsupportive dad. Bouvier isn't as pretentious as older, deeper voiced singers, like Staind's Aaron Lewis, who've told a similar tale. But Perfect has little appeal for someone over 16. Bouvier's youthful voice and Perfect's simple, unremarkable lyric are best appreciated by kids. For an emotional rock ballad, Perfect shows admirable restraint. Perfect's first half has minimal backing. A good wash of power chords are limited to introducing the verses. The downside of Perfect's stripped down portions is that they focus attention on Bouvier's bratty vocal, which is more appealing than usual but still a bit annoying. Towards its end, Perfect's music becomes more that of a generic mellow rocker but the guitar is still pretty good if not particularly original. Perfect is about regretting that it's too late to try to fix a relationship with a father who was never satisfied with what his son did.
311-Love Song(up 5 positions)
The Cure haven't released a new record in four years but they and Robert Smith are red hot. Smith sings lead on a good song from Blink 182's new record, the Hewlett Packard advertisements featuring Pictures Of You are all over the tv and 311's cover of Love Song is a hit. The soundtrack for Adam Sandler's 50 First Dates features covers of 80's new wave songs, including Love Song and Friday I'm In Love, mostly done by reggae and ska acts. Love Song also marks another comeback for 311, whose 2003 Evolver record disappeared fairly shortly after it was released. They always find a way of coming back when it looks like their career has faded. 311's version of Love Song is pretty much what you'd expect from the amiable, laid back LA based guys who got together in Omaha in 1980. They keep the original's melody and guitar riffs and add a ska skank, crisp beat and mellow vibe. 311's Love Song works both as a faithful, well played tribute to the original and as smooth, easy to listen stoner music. It's not exciting or daring but it sounds good. The only surprise about Love Song is that guitar player Tim Mahoney sings lead. There's no sign that Mahoney is much of a singer. You can hear him struggling to hit notes. But Mahoney's unpolished vocal gives the song a personal feel. I can imagine the slick, glib job Nick Hexum, 311's regular singer, would have done. It's not a pretty picture. 311's Love Song isn't remarkable but it is charming. Love Song is notable as about the most positive song The Cure ever did. Smith avoided his usual doubt and ambiguity to write a very sweet, simple love song. The song just says that a woman makes him feel home, whole, young, fun, free and clean again and that he'll always love her. Its universality and lack of pretension and the sincerity Smith and Mahoney bring to it keep it from being cliched or maudlin.
Story Of The Year-Until The Day I Die(down 7 positions)
St. Louis' Story Of The Year are the latest success from the world of emo and screamo. Story Of The Year's debut Page Avenue CD was produced by Goldfinger's John Feldmann, who also produced the debut by screamo kings The Used. Until The Day I Die has a sweet lyric. Marsala vows that even if he sometimes hates her, he'll always be devoted to his love, he'll always "take the fall for you" and that if she died right row, he'd die too. Until The Day I Die strikes me more as worthy than actually enjoyable but there is a lot to like about it. Dan Marsala's screamed intensity is a little cliched. His endlessly full lunged, serious vocal gets a little boring. It could use a little variation besides an end of song howl which, having been done by so many bands, seems more inevitable than cathartic. Still, Marsala's passion feels very real and, if you let yourself get swept up, it can be invigorating. Until The Day I Die is well constructed. Until The Day I Die is energized by Josh Wills' good pounding drums, a nice repeated guitar riff on the verses and Ryan Phillips and Phillip Sneed's effective lattice of power chords and driving guitar riffs on the chorus. It has a good galloping, crunching finish. Until The Day I Die isn't startlingly novel but it is exciting, well played and charmingly sincere.
Guster-Careful(down 1 position)
Guster appeared on MTV2's Album Covers show, playing the songs on the Violent Femmes' first record. Their precise versions showed that Guster are good musicians with a taste for jagged, idiosyncratic music that's surprisingly for a band with such a genial, clean cut sound. The faithfulness of the covers, the refusal to deviate in any significant way, also was a reminder of the lack of surprise and edge in Guster's music. Careful, the second chart hit from Guster's Keep It Together CD, is another example of Guster's likable, fairly predictable style. Careful is well played and inviting. It has warm harmonies and Ryan Miller's lead vocal is appealingly unpretentious. Guster have largely stuck with the simple acoustic arrangements that first got people's attention. Their shiny jangles and strums are clean and crisp. Brian Rosenworcel gives Guster's music good texture with good quiet, varied percussion that avoids standard rock drummer pounding. Careful's downside is that it's awfully like a lot of Guster's other songs. Its sound is so smooth and easy to take that it's kind of boring. Like Amsterdam, Careful has a dark lyric that belies its sunny music. Careful warns a girlfriend who walks out "when I asked you to stay" that she'll "hurt yourself" in a world where "others lie." Miller tells her he's the one who tells her the truth and she'll be "back again" to him.
It's been more than six years and Sarah McLachlan has had a baby since the release of Surfacing, her last studio record. But surprisingly little about McLachlan's sound has changed. Fallen, the first single from McLachlan's Afterglow CD, sounds a lot like Building A Mystery and other McLachlan songs. It's disappointing that McLachlan hasn't changed her style at all. She can come across as self satisfied and could use an edge. The same sound is bound to have less impact when repeated. Still, while Fallen is familiar and unsurprising, the formula it follows is a good one. Fallen is listenable and quite insinuating. Fallen shares with Building A Mystery a patient pace that creates a good dramatic feel. It's carefully constructed, with strings, piano and electric guitar deployed in a fairly discrete manner that creates a modest kind of excitement. McLachlan's voice is clear and controlled with a touch of sensuality but, as with her music, you can wish that McLachlan didn't seem so comfortable with her singing and took more chances. On Fallen, McLachlan sings, in fairly melodramatic terms, that she's "sunk so low" after messing up a relationship where she got "caught up" in an offer with a cost that "was so much more than I could bear."
Hilary Duff-Come Clean(up 3 positions)
Come Clean is the second single from Hilary Duff's Metamorphosis CD. So Yesterday was perky pop mainly intended to connect with the young fans Duff made playing Lizzie McGuire. Come Clean indicates greater ambitions, to make Duff a pop star with an older audience. Duff sounds less comfortable on Come Clean than on the chirpy So Yesterday. She isn't helped by Come Clean's generic drum machine and icy synths. Come Clean is very familiar, bringing to mind Here Comes The Rain Again, among other songs. Come Clean was written and produced by John Shanks, who has done songs with Michelle Branch(including her pretty good recent top 50 near miss Breathe), and Kara Dioguardi, who's worked with Enrique Iglesias and Kylie Minogue. Come Clean sounds pieced together from other pop songs, particularly Branch songs like Breathe. Branch's voice is better than Duff's and Branch brings more of a feeling of substance. Come Clean is pleasant and innocuous. It sounds fine. It won't alienate a large young following glad to follow her career where it goes and its sleek, tasteful, sterile sound will attract older listeners too.
Indigo Girls-Perfect World(down 1 position)
Perfect World is a pleasant, good sounding song from All That We Let In CD, Indigo Girls' ninth studio record. Perfect World has an appealing lyric that urges us "to be a ripple in the water." The Girls ask us not to "look the other way" but to "look a little closer" and to work towards a perfect world. As on many Indigo Girls songs, there's a sense of preaching to the chorus. The people Indigo Girls have in mind are unlikely to appreciate being criticized for their cell phone dependence or being help complicit for "the killing."
Five For Fighting-100 Years(unchanged)
John Ondrasik, the guy who made Superman a new age wimp on his 2000 hit, is back with more sentimental crap by his band Five For Fighting. On 100 Years, from Five For Fighting's The Battle For Everything CD, Ondrasik again tries to make us think. Ondrasik moves back and foward from his current age, appreciating highlights, remembering that life is short and apparently advising a 15 year old that "there's still time for you." There's nothing wrong with 100 Years' concept but, lyrically and vocally, Ondrasik isn't insightful enough to justify the smug self righteousness he projects. He's so sensitive and thoughtful and so lacking in edge or self doubt that he seems a little lame. On 100 Years, Ondrasik shifts from an undramatic voice to a high vocal that seems intended to match the tone of his piano but is annoyingly reedy. With strings and his showy but bland piano playing, Ondrasik tries for a sweeping sound but the uninteresting result makes me long for Bruce Hornsby's similar but better songs.
Nick Cannon-Gigolo(up 1 position)
Nick Cannon was previously best known as a comedian and an actor on his Nickelodeon tv show and in the movies Drumline and Love Don't Cost A Thing. Gigolo is on Cannon's self titled CD. Cannon got help for his first full length CD from hit maker R. Kelly, who co-wrote, produced and sang backup on Gigolo. Three things are usually true about Kelly's songs: they sound good and they have some odd sonic touches and fairly crude images of women. They're all true about Gigolo. Kelly sings the chorus. Typically, he's got money and women on his mind, bragging that he's "spending lots of dough" and is "always surrounded by so many 'hos." Cannon does the raps, playing the cocky star looking for a one night stand "wit' a groupie" not a girlfriend. Cannon doesn't have a particularly distinctive voice but he is fast, smooth and appealingly confident. Gigolo's chorus has an atmospheric riff that sounds like it should be on a dreamy techno track. Otherwise, Gigolo is good if unremarkable. It has a crisp beat and a good guitar sample repeated throughout. Gigolo's vibe is pretty laid back. It doesn't knock you out with its inventiveness like Kelly's Ignition remix did. Gigolo is another Kelly track with a decent sound and a questionable attitude towards women.
Janet Jackson-Just A Little Whilebuy it!
It's a little stupid that everyone made a big deal about Janet Jackson's breast. There are so many much more offensive things on TV. That said, the question comes up whether Just A Little While bombed because of the Super Bowl controversy or whether Jackson and her people felt she needed a lot of publicity to sell a single that isn't so commercial. My guess is a bit of both. At a time when the pop and r&b charts are dominated by club ready grooves and beats, Just A Little While is basically poppy rock. Its breezy, too fast to dance to approach probably never had much of a chance. With pros like Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis helping put together the Damita Jo CD, future singles will inevitably be more urban radio friendly. The success of Jackson's dance pop and ballad singles will be the true indicator of her future prospects. Though Just A Little While had a short chart life, it's my favorite Janet Jackson single in a long time. For a while, Jackson's singles haven't been very exciting. They've been expertly constructed and mildly enjoyable but haven't been much fun. Just A Little While brings to mind the playful, energetic spirit of singles from Jackson's peak period like Control's When I Think Of You and Rhythm Nation's Escapade. Just A Little While was cowritten and produced by Dallas Austin, who's worked with lots of artists including Boys II Men, Madonna, Pink, TLC and Michael Jackson, another singer whose career has faded for a combination of reasons including controversy, getting older and losing his commercial touch. Just A Little While has a buoyant, light handed touch. It has an easy, skittering beat and a fun, simple, perky keyboard line. The compact guitar riff, which resembles the one from Sweet's Love Is Like Oxygen(which also inspired Sugar Ray's fine but lesser Mr. Bartender), gives the song additional momentum. Just A Little While never stops for breath, keeping its enjoyable ride moving. Just A Little While resembles Prince's uncategorizable romps which mixed rock guitar and insinuating, soulful beats and keyboards. Jackson's sexy, loose vocal confidence is also reminiscent of Prince. Jackson has presented a serious, artificial, mannered public persona in recent years. It's a pleasant surprise to hear her relaxed and apparently having a good time. A lot of Damita Jo is about sex and pleasure. Just A Little While's lyric expresses an easy, slightly mischievous assurance. Jackson tries to convince a guy "who's got somewhere to go" to love her for a little while but she sounds convincing when she says she can wait until later, taking care of herself until then by touching "all my favorite fruit."
The Thrills-One Horse Town(unchanged)
One Horse Town is a terrific, uplifting song from The Thrills' rich, very likable So Much For The City CD. My family has been listening and dancing to One Horse Town for months. My two year old daughter Isabel has constructed a back story that includes a visit for the lonely one horse from a horse friend. So Much For The City was one of 2003's delights. A couple songs have a heavy, serious sound that doesn't fit the band's personality but most of So Much For The City is buoyant fun. The Thrills, a band from Dublin, Ireland, are apparently partly sparked by an intoxicating vision of the U.S. that's based both on images from popular culture and personal experience(the band lived for a while in San Diego). The influence of the U.S. and its music can be seen in Conor Deasy's lyrics, which have five songs based in specified California towns and another one comparing a woman's love to Las Vegas, and in the use of country music instruments like banjo and steel guitar and arrangements which evoke The Beach Boys and Phil Spector. The Beach Boys/Spector comparison is particularly apt on One Horse Town which, with chimes, banjo and piano, has a full, layered sound. One Horse Town's horns and driving drums also give it the exhilarating feel of a Motown classic. One Horse Town's positivity, jangly guitar, tambourine and big "aah" backing vocals also bring to mind 60s California bands like The Mamas & The Papas and The Byrds. The sweet warmth of The Thrills' music starts with Deasy's singing and writing. Deasy's vocal is a fragile, raw quaver that sounds like that of Dinosaur Jr.'s J. Mascis or The Undertones' Feargal Sharkey. Deasy's wary voice is thin but charmingly unassuming. Deasy's lyrics often have an edge that's surprising, given the music's benign surface. On One Horse Town, Deasy regrets having settled down when everyone else was sleeping around and, feeling that his "baby" is "preying on a tender heart", decides to leave.