Eminem-Without Me(up 21 positions)
The anticipated first single from The Enimen Show is no disappointment unless you expect Marshall to suddenly become mature. Like most of Eminem's work, Without Me is a mix of good music, very strong rap technique and lyrics that are simultaneously smart, stupid, interesting, offensive and ridiculous. Musically, Without Me is as impressive as anything he's ever done. Without Me is a little like The Real Slim Shady but it's tougher and sharper. Dr. Dre has wisely dropped the broad, cartoonish sound he used on Slim Shady and other songs in favor of an austere sound that's mostly just a driving beat. Eminem's rap is amazingly tight. He doesn't seem to take a breath as the words race out of his mouth. Aided by Dre's menacing touches, Eminem is more aggressive and focused than ever but he still displays the distinctive personality and his words still flow smoothly. Without Me has Eminem's usual mix of rants, good jokes and idiocy. While his negative image is largely self inflicted and has undoubtedly sold records, Eminem's paranoia is somewhat justified. It's hard to argue with his premise that the same media that "try to shut me down" likes it when his controversial acts give them material. But Eminem shows the same anger over trivial grievances as substantial ones. Calling Moby a "36 year old baldheaded fag" seems like a strained effort to be provocative by obviously showing he's still homophobic. Given the issues he could address, dissing N Sync again seems like a waste. Eminem shows his skills at packing in a lot of topics so we also get Eminem cursing his mother out for suing him, his backhanded boast that he uses "black music so selfishlessly", "to get myself wealth" and a reference to Malcolm McLaren's Buffalo Girls. Without Me is another look at Eminem's often foolish, self centered worldview but also another interesting, musically compelling work.
Hoobastank-Crawling In The Dark(unchanged)
Crawling In The Dark, from the L.A. band's self titled major label debut, is another song that sounds pieced together from other successful rock songs. It's got Korn style atmospheric guitar, a serious, troubled singer, big power chords and a vague Faith No More/Limp Bizkit style hip hop sensibility. But Crawling In The Dark also has good tempo shifts and it's more interesting than much of the similarly imitative music on rock radio. I like the way the song speeds up and gains energy on the chorus. Doug Robb keeps things from getting too draggy as he sings about "looking for the answer" and trying to find direction in life.
P. Diddy-I Need A Girl(up 5 positions)
I Need A Girl is from the P. Diddy & The Bad Boy Family CD. Rapping has never been P. Diddy's main talent. On I Need A Girl, the artist formerly known as Puff Daddy does a flat, speaking voice rap that's not particularly interesting or melodic. But I Need A Girl's draw is its content and P. Diddy's conversational style matches the lyric's confessional tone. It's fairly remarkable that P. Diddy, an extremely successful artist and entrepreneur who usually seems confident and in control, would present a slightly pathetic persona, worrying about women "usin' me" and pining for "a wife at home" "that could stand me" and "raise me a family." Even more striking is the verse regretting screwing up a relationship that closely resembles the one he had with Jennifer Lopez(he says it's not about J. Lo). He appreciates that she "took the whole ride for me" when "I caught a case" and regrets that because "I made her cry for me", she didn't stick around to have his child. I Need A Girl sounds like a lot of recent hits but it's a particularly enjoyable sounding version of a familiar formula. I Need A Girl has the lightweight but likably breezy sound of Usher's hits. Like songs including What's Luv and Ja Rule's hits, I Need A Girl matches a rough rapper with a much smoother singer. Usher provides a good vocal on the chorus. I Need A Girl splits vocals between P. Diddy, Usher and Loon but maintains a steady, relaxed groove, repeating a good, unobtrusive synth riff and beat.
Our Lady Peace-Somewhere Out There(up 1 position)
Seeking an American commercial breakthrough, Canada's Our Lady Peace move into Creed/Goo Goo Dolls/Aerosmith territory for a string laden rock ballad that sounds like a hit. Somewhere Out There, from the Gravity CD, isn't my favorite Our Lady Peace song(the less sweeping ballad Clumsy probably is), but I find it less annoying than some rock ballads. Our Lady Peace singer Raine Maida has always been a rather serious, intense fellow so it's less jarring than for someone like Steven Tyler to hear Maida shift into mellow mode. Maida's hoarse, yearning singing doesn't have Scott Stapp's self important vanity and Somewhere Out There's sound isn't as bloated as on Creed's hits. Still, Somewhere Out There loses out by following a pop formula. I like Somewhere Out There's heartfelt verses but the song's personal touch is steamrollered when the big guitars and heavy orchestration come in. Somewhere Out There is about waiting "on a bed of nails" for the return of an old flame who transcended a feeling of being "lonely and out of place" by moving on to a new life.
Jennifer Lopez-Ain't It Funny(down 5 positions)
Ain't It Funny, the fourth single from the J. Lo CD, is pleasant, innocuous dance pop. With a touch of Latin flavor, Ain't It Funny is similar to Madonna's La Isla Bonita but its rigid beat and repetitive shape mean it's less interesting. Lopez' voice is slightly less hidden in electronics than usual. Lopez' vocal on Ain't It Funny sounds like her speaking voice. It's thin and a little whiny but at least it sounds fairly real, at least until the studio vocal pros take over for the slick, familiar chorus. Ain't It Funny is about trying to overcome differences and memories of romantic failure to make a relationship with a seemingly perfect guy work. Like I'm Real, Ain't It Funny has been rereleased in a "remix" featuring Ja Rule which is nearly a totally different song. With a minimal beat and sly, relaxed synths, the new version of Ain't It Funny, available on the new J To Tha L-O remix CD, is significantly better and more interesting than the generic dance pop of the original though it is hampered by a similarity to the I'm Real remix. Lopez is comfortable with a cool, restrained vocal which doesn't show her limitations as much as when she sings all out. Her confident singing matches the new lyrics. Unlike the original where she anxiously hopes that things can work out with her guy, the remix finds her taunting a guy who played around when they were together with the fact that he blew his chance. Lopez has found a dynamite formula: releasing a record with perky, heavily produced dance pop versions of her songs that appeal to mainstream pop stations then releasing sleek, minimal versions that establish her cred with urban R&B audiences. The best part is she gets a lot of people to buy both records.
Weezer-Dope Nose(down 3 positions)
Weezer took until last year to release a followup to their commercially disappointing second record, 1996's Pinkerton. Now that they're selling again, Weezer wasted little time coming back with their fourth release: Maladroit. From what I've heard of Maladroit the songs aren't as tight and don't have the same pop gloss as those on last year's green album but they do have that record's rock heft. With its loose sense of fun and chunky guitar chords, Dope Nose reminds me of the songs from Pinkerton, particularly The Good Life, perhaps my favorite Weezer song ever. Dope Nose has a goofy charm. The band sings their ho-oh-oh-ohs to a tune that sounds like The Flinstones' theme. Brian Bell and Rivers Cuomos's steadily driving guitar work, which includes Bell's exciting and characteristically short, unshowy solo, gives Dope Nose a high energy sense of fun. Rock radio is unlikely to be as receptive to Dope Nose's giddiness as it was to Hash Pipe's heavy metal rumble. But Dope Nose, which clocks in at less than two minutes and 15 seconds, is a simple, good time that extends Weezer's impressive streak of quality music. Dope Nose apparently tells us that dope helps Cuomo to "bust rhymes real slow." Cuomo also throws in the fact that "cheese smells so good on a burnt piece of lamb."
Lenny Kravitz-Stillness Of Heart(down 1 position)
Dig In, the first single from the Lenny CD, showed a side of Lenny Kravitz that he hadn't shown much before. Dig In was a light, fun rocker that lacked the heavy attitude than often drags down Kravitz' music. Stillness Of Heart doesn't have Dig In's lightness and excitement but it's still a good, if not great, second single. Stillness Of Heart's melody is very similar to that of his second to last hit: Again. Stillness Of Heart achieves a good edge by holding back and going nice and slow. Heavy bass and drums create a good, slow jam on the verses and are joined on the chorus by a solid, steady guitar strum. Unlike Dig In, Stillness Of Heart doesn't really sound like a hit. Nothing really happens. It's got a good atmosphere but doesn't grab you. Kravitz' typically complacent vocal doesn't help. On Stillness Of Heart, Kravitz sings about trying to calm and center himself so that he can move on after a tough romantic experience. I'm not questioning Kravitz' pain but his way of expressing it is hardly great poetry. This is the second verse: "I got more than I can eat, a life that can't be beat/yet still I feel this heat, I'm feeling incomplete/What am I buying, my soul is crying."
Hoobastank-Running Away(up 12 positions)
Crawling In The Dark, Hoobastank's first chart hit, had a likable energetic chorus and modest lyrics about looking for the answer. Crawling In The Dark was also wildly derivative of other rock songs and after repeat listens, I soon found it uninteresting. Running Away, the second single from Hoobastank's self titled CD, regrets that a woman "never gave us chance to be" and ran away just when they were getting close. The lyrics have a charming humility("I don't want you to feel sorry for me") but the music is painfully over the top. At times, Running Away sounds like Incubus as it combines a touch of mystical synth sound with Doug Robb's sincere vocal. But, especially on the chorus, Running Away is a bombastic classic rock wannabe with big but meaningless guitar and drums. Running Away slowly drags along with a cliched arena sound.
Incubus keep giving us likable, unremarkable atmospheric rock songs. Warning, third chart hit from the Morning View CD, is appealing. Warning is even more laid back than I Wish You Were Here and Nice To Know You but it has a similar vibe. On the verses, Brandon Boyd's vocal drifts along with some minimal guitar and sonic effects. The chorus, with Mike Einziger's electric guitar strumming, is harder and more focused, but the song retains it's dreamy feel. Warning is positive and spacy, advising that as you float "in this cosmic jacuzzi", "count your blessings", "don't ever let life pass you by" and love yourself. Warning seems intentionally inconsequential but it is quite appealing.
The first two singles from the San Diego band's Satellite CD described religious rebirth and a school shooting. P.O.D's third chart hit has a more standard topic for a rock rap song: celebrating and bragging about the band's success in rocking "the masses". Because it's less about the meaningfulness of Sonny Sandoval's pronouncements and more about the music and because it rocks harder, I don't dislike Boom as much as Alive and Youth Of The Nation. I still find Sandoval quite annoying. Boom sounds like lots of songs that mix hip hop and hard rock. At its best, it has the hard, no nonsense edge of Rage Against The Machine. At its worst(when Sandoval chuckles "is that all you got? I'll take your best shot."), it has Limp Bizkit's silly narcissism. Marcos Curiel creates a good, big guitar sound. In parts, Sandoval's rapping is tough and not bad. In other parts, he's just obnoxious.
Usher-U Don't Have To Call(up 8 positions)
U Don't Have To Call is the third "U" hit from Usher Raymond's 8701 CD. Like the earlier hits, U Don't Have To Call is pleasant listening but nothing spectacular. U Don't Have To Call was produced by the ubiquitous Neptunes. They deploy the same bomb dropping effect they used on Britney's I'm A Slave For U but otherwise give U Don't Have To Call a considerably less intense sound. Usher's voice is strong enough that The Neptunes don't have to create the kinds of distractions they did for Britney. At its best, U Don't Have To Call recalls the great, easy flow of Michael Jackson's Off The Wall. Mostly, the song amiably but inconsequentially breezes by. Usher's vocal is comfortable and likable but unremarkable. Usher tries to be a sensitive man women adore and a tough guy men respect. On U Don't Have To Call, he doesn't criticize the girl he loved and sacrificed for when she says she's leaving but he's already ready to go out tonight and look for someone else.
Bonnie Raitt-I Can't Help You Now(up 3 positions)
In 1989, Bonnie Raitt had a huge comeback when the Nick Of Time CD became the biggest seller of her career. Nick Of Time's title track, which touchingly explored midlife female romantic anxiety and provided a happy ending, and Raitt's nicely raunchy cover of John Hiatt's Thing Called Love provided models for much of her 90's work, which has been smooth and mature with a little bluesy edge and slide guitar. On 1998's Fundamental, Raitt wisely chose to work with Mitchell Froom to muss up a sound that had become a little predictable. Part of Fundamental's charm was the tension between Froom's clangy production and Raitt's predilection for smooth combinations of traditional blues and easy 70s style singer/songwriter music. Raitt's new Silver Lining CD is also produced by Froom but Raitt's sound seems to have moved back into its smooth, mature mode. I Can't Help You Now is very comfortable and easy listening. It has a cool mood, a little bit of rock edge and, as usual, Raitt's voice is smart, strong and sexy. I Can't Help You Now seems very familiar, like other Raitt songs or a restrained version of Something To Talk About. On I Can't Help You Now, Raitt tells a guy she once loved and pined for that he's too late in declaring his interest.
Blink 182-First Date(down 6 positions)
It'll be interesting to see who gets tired of Blink 182's simple but fun songs first, the band or alternative radio. First Date, the third single from Blink 182's Take Off Your Pants and Jacket CD, sounds like The Rock Show, What's My Age Again and lots of other Blink songs. It's even more basic than most of their fast, good spirited, bratty vocaled songs. The only even slightly different thing about First Date is its chorus, where the guitar and drums slightly change tempo and emphasis. First Date is a throwaway but, like the other singles from Take Off Your Pants And Jacket, it has a charming sweetness. The band still flaunt a juvenile personality and, while their teen years are long behind them, they still easily carry off the sweet, innocent tale of a boy nervous about making a date work.
Pete Yorn-Strange Condition(down 2 positions)
The New Jersey native/LA resident singer and songwriter's following continues to slowly grow. His debut CD is still getting radio play nearly a year after its release. In my mind, Bob Dylan's Love and Theft is the only 2001 rock CD that's better than Yorn's Musicforthemorningafter and The Strokes' Is This It is the only other one that might be as good. The CD has consistently strong songs: great, fun rockers and cool, brooding ballads. Brad Wood, who produced and played on records for Liz Phair, played a similar role for Yorn, another striking, confident young talent. Music . . . was apparently a low budget production but the songs are carefully constructed with layers of instruments, giving even the quietest songs a likable, textured feeling. Strange Condition follows Life On A Chain as Yorn's second chart hit(For Nancy fell just short of the top 50). R Walt Vincent's harmonica, layered over Yorn's acoustic guitar, contributes to a good, moody feel. Yorn is cool, as always, playing a tortured soul on Strange Condition.
Nelly-Hot In Herre(up 10 positions)
The new Nellyville CD is sure to sell millions but its first single Hot In Herre sounds more like a soundtrack throwaway than a song meant to create frenzied anticipation of a new record. I've had mixed feelings about Nelly's previous hits. The lyrics were mostly rehashed gangsta rap but Nelly's fast, smooth style was undeniably impressive. Hot In Herre again shows off Nelly's cocky, seemingly effortless technique but it's very relaxed and feels less substantial or edgy than some of his previous work. Now that he's a big star, Nelly is less interested in rapping about guns, weed and the thug life and more about enjoying the perks of success. On Hot In Herre, Nelly shares his philosophy: "what good is all the fame if you ain't f---in the models." Nelly demonstrates an obsession with making ostentatious displays of wealth. Women figure in only as possessions that come with the big bucks. They're more than happy to undress or do whatever they can to please Nelly. Hot In Herre has a good, light beat and synth that moves the song along easily. The music and rap have a great flow. Hot In Herre is another Nelly song with hard to resist music and a very stupid lyric. Nelly is one of many very talented performers who's also a big jerk.
White Stripes-Fell In Love With A Girl(down 5 positions)
White Stripes are either a brother and sister(if you believe them) or a current or former couple(if you believe the rock press) from Detroit. Fell In Love With A Girl is from White Stripes' eclectic and quite wonderful 2001 CD White Blood Cells. I sometimes find Jack White's weird, confident persona a little hard to take but I can't resist Fell In Love With A Girl's simple burst of joy. Fell In Love With A Girl is easily the shortest song to make the All-Reviews top 50. But even at 1:45, Fell In Love With A Girl is a complete rock experience. Just banging away on his guitar fast and loud and screaming about a girl with "red hair with a curl", Jack White recalls the spirit of early rock and roll by stripping away any excess to find a pure rock essence. Meg White's drumming is basic but effectively matches the buoyant mood. White Stripes very impressively create a big sound with just a guitarist and drummer. They bring to mind Local H's similar ability to make a huge noise with two players. White Stripes' tale of the thrill of ignoring the "left brain"'s message that love is fleeting is one of the most fun songs around.
N Sync-Girlfriend(down 8 positions)
Girlfriend, the third single from N Sync's Celebrity record is my favorite from the record so far. On Girlfriend, the boys worked with very busy producers The Neptunes. Partly because N Sync are better singers, Girlfriend is more enjoyable than Britney Spears' I'm A Slave For You, which was a mess despite a striking, good Neptunes production. With a good borrowed riff and a light, steady beat, Girlfriend has a relaxed, breezy feel. N Sync's harmonies are impressive and fit nicely with the easy mood. N Sync's chief hunk Justin Timberlake, who wrote Girlfriend with The Neptunes, plays a guy trying to convince a girl that while the boy she's likes "doesn't even know you're there", he'll "treat you good." The lyrics are typical boy band fodder but neither they nor some silly whispered interjections negate Girlfriend's charm.
311's music is often pretty mellow. I'll Be Here Awhile, their From Chaos CD's second chart hit, was laid back, genial and inconsequential. On Amber, From Chaos' third single, 311 are even more relaxed than usual but the easy mood works. Amber has a likable hippie vibe that's consistent with its goofy "amber is the color of your energy" hook. 311's typical ska flavoring goes down especially easily on Amber thanks to good, crisp drumming and loose, jazzy guitar lines including one that's given a rubbery preamped bounce Nick Hexum's vocal can be annoyingly innocuous but it floats effortlessly on Amber in a way that's just right. Amber is a tribute to a distant friend whose voice still "rings like a bell" who glides "through my head blind to fear."
U2-In A Little While(down 2 positions)
The songs on U2's All That You Can't Leave Behind took on greater meaning after September 11th. Their empathetic, hopeful feeling seemed perfect for the times. U2 picked a great to move away from the ironic, superficial songs that characterized much of their 90s work and combine the hopefulness of their earlier work with a modesty appropriate for guys who've been around long enough to know that goals aren't always easily met. The singles from All You Can't Leave Behind have been big anthems but the CD also has good quiet songs like the simply idealistic Peace On Earth and the playful Wild Honey. In A Little While, the CD's fifth song to make the top 50, is a rich love song with a timeless quality. Brian End added subtle strings to The Edge's good, basic guitar riff. Bono remarkably kept his enormous ego in check nearly throughout All That You Can't Leave Behind. He's very sweet on In A Little While, promising a longtime friend "surely you'll be mine."
John Mayer-No Such Thingbuy it!
Further proving that you can't keep a mediocre, pleasant song down, No Such Thing, from the Room For Squares CD, has returned to the chart. No Such Thing was on the lower end of the top 50 for more than two months last winter thanks to play on "adult alternative" radio. With its mild sense of rebellion and John Mayer's genial, modest vocals, No Such Thing was perfect for that yuppie friendly format. Even after it dropped off the top 50, No Such Thing hung around some stations' playlists. Its innocuous charm eventually caught the attention of VH1 then pop radio. No Such Thing reminds me of well made, easy rock hits by thoughtful, poppy white guys like Marc Cohn, Sister Hazel and Five For Fighting. No Such Thing's whimsical lyrics gently protest a world that tells you "stay inside the lines" and proclaim that "the real world" is "just a lie you've got to rise above." Mayer, a Berklee College of Music dropout turned Atlanta based singer/songwriter, is only in his mid 20s and seems a little young to be making such smooth, familiar, unchallenging music. Mayer has been compared to Dave Matthews. No Such Thing is even tamer than Matthews' amiable music, which at least has a little jazzy edge.
Nickelback-How You Remind Me(down 23 positions)
How You Remind Me, from Nickelback's Silver Side Up CD, is practically a Nirvana sampler. You can play name that tune as it resembles Come As You Are, Lithium and countless other songs. Chad Kroeger is ever so serious and humorless as he sings about being "sick inside without a sense of feeling" after a breakup. Still, How You Remind Me works because it makes good use of familiar tools. Like Nirvana, Nickelback use the thrill of rock dynamics, shifting from quiet verses to choruses with sweeping power chords. How You Remind Me has a big, tight sound. The lyrics have the self pity of a lot of recent rock but avoid the nastiness and excess of many of Nickelback's contemporaries.
Chris Isaak-Let Me Down Easy(down 6 positions)
While Chris Isaak seems like a mellow guy, he obviously has savvy businessmen behind him. In January, Isaak achieved big time synergy as, nearly simultaneously with the release of Isaak's new Always Got Tonight CD, Showtime began the second season of Isaak's genial, slight rock sitcom and VH1 played a marathon of the show's first season. In 1985, Isaak came on the scene with his spare, haunted, Roy Orbison influenced Silvertone record. Since then, Isaak has mostly omitted the raw, stark feel but, especially since Wicked Game gave him his one big hit, otherwise continued to make the same kind of moody, adult, country flavored records. Isaak's songs often involve Isaak getting his heart broken and/or being haunted by the memory of the ideal woman who left. While Isaak's music is predictable and a little too smooth, it's still good. His songs are well played and have good atmosphere. Isaak's vocals are cool and self confident with a self deprecating charm that also suits him well(despite minimal acting skills) on his sitcom. Let Me Down Easy is similar to Somebody's Crying and other mellow midtempo Isaak songs but it's likable. Let Me Down Easy has a mechanical beat but it has a good ringing guitar riff. On Let Me Down Easy, Isaak again broods about falling hard for a woman who doesn't reciprocate his feelings.
Alanis Morissette-Hands Clean(down 13 positions)
Morissette made her name in her very early 20's with You Oughta Know, an angry note to a guy who dumped her for another. Now in her late 20's, she introduces us to her new Under Rug Swept CD with a less emotional (no memories of oral sex in a theatre in this one) but still angry look back at a now finished personal and professional relationship. Hands Clean seems to be about Glen Ballard, who produced and cowrote most of the songs on Morissette's last two records but is conspicuously absent from Under Rug Swept. Hands Clean remembers a condescending("if it weren't for me you would never have amounted to very much") older producer who seduced her then dumped her. Clearly, Alanis wants to show she can make it alone. She wrote and produced Under Rug Swept on her own and played most of the instruments. She did a good job on Hands Clean, making it sound familiar and fresh, smoothly shifting from verses with rapid torrents of confession to smooth, harder rocking choruses. Hands Clean is fairly disposable and similar to, if slightly tougher than, previous Alanis songs like All I Really Want and Head Over Feet but the sound is full, catchy and always moving forward.
Uh Huh is from the self titled debut CD by four LA singers, all still in their mid teens, whose name is apparently short for Boys of the New Millennium. B2K seem like a record company creation. They're good looking and present themselves as a little street smart but not threatening enough to worry their young fans' parents. Uh Huh, produced by Chris "Tricky" Stewart, has a safe, very familiar sound. It resembles Jagged Edge's Where The Party At and lots of poppy hip hop songs by people like Boyz II Men and New Edition. With a crisp, steady beat and a beeping synth sound, Uh Huh's sound isn't particularly memorable but it is smooth and effective with a little edge. On Uh Huh, the boys play a cocky character challenging a girl to show she can handle him. They walk the line of being tough and tender, singing about being "the thug" "that'll treat you right". They brag about running "girls from coast to coast" but also suggest a "walk through the mall."
India Arie-Video(down 2 positions)
Video, from the Acoustic Soul CD, has been around for a year. It's been on VH1's playlist for almost the entire year. Video finally moved near the top of the pop charts after India Arie Simpson got a bunch of Grammy nominations including for album of the year and best new artist. Hearing any song frequently over a long period can make you a little sick of it. At this point, I sometimes think about Video: I'm glad you love yourself but enough already. I generally still love Video. The message about being happy even if you don't look like a supermodel or have expensive clothes or cars is a very welcome reponse to the ostentatious displays of material wealth and idealized female beauty in countless MTV videos. Video has a very likable, relaxed sound. India Arie's vocal is appropriately confident but charmingly unassuming. She plays an appealing shuffling acoustic guitar riff over loose, varied percussion.