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All-Reviews.com Top 50 Songs*:
for the 2nd week of May, 2004

*based on airplay at alternative, pop and rock radio stations a cross the nation (reviews by LarryG)

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(songs 1-25)

  1. Yellowcard-Ocean Avenue    (up 3 positions)      buy it!
    Members of Yellowcard met in high school in Jacksonville, Florida. On the title track from the Ocean Avenue CD, Yellowcard remind me of The Ataris, who had hits last year with squeaky clean, straight ahead rockers. Ocean Avenue is fast and well played but it doesn't have a lot of edge. Ocean Avenue also resembles songs by emo kings Jimmy Eat World, especially A Praise Chorus. But in comparison, Jimmy Eat World's genial raveups are very substantial. Ryan Key doesn't seem like a great singer but he does an appealing, upbeat vocal, with a bit of yearning, that fits with Ocean Avenue's perky, very youthful pop. Longineu Parsons' drumming maintains an energetic, quick pace but Ocean Avenue still feels lightweight. Ocean Avenue's only distinctive touch is Sean Mackin's frantic violin playing, which gives the song a nice, dramatic finish. Otherwise, Ocean Avenue is likable but a bit innocuous. Like The Ataris' In This Diary, Ocean Avenue shows a nostalgic sense that's a bit odd for a singer who's only in his mid 20s and seems younger. He was the one who told her "this was goodbye" when she beg him not to leave. Still, Key longs for a teenage relationship where he used to stay up all night and "sit and talk with you." He tells himself that if he could "find you now", "things would get better."

  2. Usher-Burn    (up 5 positions)      buy it!
    I feel that Usher Raymond's music isn't quite good enough to justify its remarkable success. Nonetheless, Usher's impressive roll continues. Yeah!, a competently made and fairly exciting but unamazing and not very original dance song, spent a number of weeks at number one on the pop chart. Burn, the second single from the Confessions CD, returns Usher to the style that brought him many of his hits. Burn is a slow jam with a sensitive vocal. Before releasing Confessions, Usher ended his relationship with TLC's Chilli. Burn is one of Confessions' many breakup songs. Usher tells a woman that he doesn't want to leave her but "it's better for me to let it go now than hold on and hurt you." Though he claims it's best for both of them, he blames her because "I don't think you're gonna change" and admits he's doing it because "I'm hurting baby" and "there's so many other things I gotta deal with." Burn's twist is that by the second verse, they're apart and he's decided he's "made a mistake" and he'll "be burnin' 'til you return." Burn suffers by moving up the pop charts along with Mario Winans' I Don't Wanna Know, another slow, quiet jam with a wounded lover. Burn is well made but not as striking or original as I Don't Wanna Know. Burn, cowritten and produced by Jermaine Dupri and Brian Cox, sounds good. It has a crisp, unobtrusive beat. Burn's music and effects add flavor but stay inobtrusive and fit the song's sad, subdued mood. Usher's singing is pretty good. He shows emotion but doesn't go over the top. Still, Burn is a bit superficial and predictable and it's hard to be too concerned about Usher's dilemmas.

  3. Jessica Simpson-Take My Breath Away    (unchanged)      buy it!
    Jessica Simpson's cover of Take My Breath Away wasn't originally on her In This Skin CD but, taking advantage of Simpson's ever growing stardom, a new version of In This Skin, with Take My Breath Away and a cover of Robbie Williams' Angels, has been released. Take My Breath Away was written by disco king Giorgio Moroder(who's also back on the charts as Beyonce quotes Love To Love You Baby). It was originally recorded by Berlin and, partly thanks to inclusion on the Top Gun soundtrack, was their biggest hit. Take My Breath Away has been covered a bunch of times. It's a favorite of mediocre lounge singers for probably the same reasons that Jessica and her people chose it. Many people are familiar with Take My Breath Away from seeing Top Gun or hearing Berlin's version on the radio. Some probably have an emotional or romantic connection with the song. Take My Breath Away is a sturdy song which builds to a big finish and allows a female singer to do a big, dramatic performance. Simpson does a standard reading, pretty closely tracking the vocal by Berlin's Terri Nunn. Most of Simpson's singing is quite annoying. In the song's quieter first half, her voice is pinched, mannered and unappealing. She actually does better in the song's more challenging second half, holding her notes and stretching them out in a showy but fairly impressive way. Still, Simpson's singing doesn't add anything interesting or new to the original. I guess it's meant to show that Simpson can sing. She kind of can, but not any better than lots of contestants in local talent shows. The new version of Takes My Breath Away is pretty pointless. It has very bland elevator music style backing, with stiff drum machine beats and sterile synths. Like her edible body products, Simpson's cover of Take My Breath Away is a product meant to take advantage of Simpson's hot name, good looks and sexy/innocent image. Besides its familiarity, I don't see any reason for covering Take My Breath Away. It's an easy listening classic but it's also kind of a sappy bore. Take My Breath Away is filled with overheated romance novel imagery. It depicts lovers in a foolish game, "on this endless ocean" and knowing no shame. The singer returns to a "secret place inside" and watches "in slow motion" as he turns and says the song's title. The lyric also has crashed mirrors, fate, anticipation and guys seen "through the hourglass" and slipping away in time.

  4. Audioslave-What You Are    (up 13 positions)      buy it!
    A year and a half after its release, Audioslave's debut CD is still yielding modern rock radio hits. What You Are is the fifth top 50 song for the band formed by Rage Against The Machine's musicians and Soundgarden's singer. All the chart hits been solid, ranging in quality from decent to very good. What You Are is unremarkable but fine. It's another showcase for Chris Cornell's quite incredible voice. Cornell's doesn't show much of a sense of fun but he's got quite a set of pipes. Cornell floats along easily with a pensive vocal on the verses. On the chorus he shifts, seeming effortlessly, into a full voiced howl that sounds like he's ripping up his throat's lining. Audioslave's musicians, who played flamboyant, charged music with Rage Against The Machine, have proved surprisingly competent as Cornell's dependable, unshowy backing band. What You Are has more sturdy music. Brad Wilk supplies a steady beat. Tom Morello rumbles quietly and effectively under Cornell on the verses then plays big, arena style power chords on the chorus. He only really musses things up on a short, pointedly unmelodic solo which isn't much but does supply a little variety. What You Are is workmanlike, listenable mainstream rock. Cornell's shifts in intensity reflect the lyric's content. The verses are a resigned recitation of all the things he did for his girlfriend("when you asked for for light, I set myself on fire", "when you wanted blood, I cut my veins"). The chorus reflects the release and exultation of being free from someone who always "wanted more."

  5. Jessica Simpson-With You    (down 5 positions)      buy it!
    I don't know much about Jessica Simpson except that she's married to some guy from boy group 98 Degrees and that she seems like an air head. Obviously, someone has decided that she should be a star because she's on tv a lot and she's gotten the star treatment with a carefully produced single that can't help be a hit. With You, from Simpson's In This Skin CD, is nicely constructed, if somewhat generic easy listening music. It reminds me of other hits including TLC's Unpretty or Natalie Imbruglia's Torn. With You, written by pop journeymen Billy Mann and Andy Marvel has a decent skittery beat and lite pop guitar, synths and backing vocals. Simpson's breathy voice is pleasant enough to help the song move along innocuously. The sensuality of her vocal has undoubtedly help it become a big hit. But Simpson's singing otherwise so lacks edge or substance that it helps confirm the impression of Simpson as fakey and a bit cartoonish and having little but her sexiness to offer. So does With You's video, which ridiculously depicts the fabulous babe starlet as a regular gal working around the house. With You's awful lyric is like a bad soft core porn script or the article around Playboy pictures. We're told that Jessica is a regular gal who wears Levis, likes to sit around "with nothing but a t-shirt on" and laugh all night and didn't feel beautiful before she was "with you."

  6. Black Eyed Peas-Hey Mama    (up 3 positions)      buy it!
    Where Is The Love, which featured Justin Timberlake's good, unshowy vocal on the chorus, was one of the biggest hits of 2003. Where Is The Love has a majestic quality. It sounds like classic r&b. The subsequent singles from the Elephunk CD have been significantly less substantial. As someone who knew Black Eyed Peas from Where Is The Love and Request Line, their Macy Gray collaboration, I've been surprised by Shut Up and Hey Mama, the silly followups to Where Is The Love. Both have a lightweight, chattery quality and give a lot of prominence to new Black Eyed Pea Stacy "Fergie" Ferguson. Fergie doesn't bring a lot of soulfulness or substance. But lead Pea William "Will.I.Am" Adams, who produced and cowrote Hey Mama and Shut Up, has to be held responsible for Hey Mama's dopeyness. Hey Mama is an knowingly stupid song with not much on its mind beyond asking a woman to "move your booty." With lines like "don't wanna squeeze triggers, just wanna squeeze tits" and "we drop bombs like we in the middle east", Hey Mama is moronic but basically harmless. The rappers' unrelenting perkiness sometimes gives me a headache. The other side of the song's empty headedness is that Hey Mama is unpretentious. Hey Mama is just about having a good time. With steady, good percussion, Hey Mama has jittery energy and good spirits. I don't find Hey Mama as irritating as some people do but it is pretty damn annoying.

  7. Avril Lavigne-Don't Tell Me    (up 6 positions)      buy it!
    Avril Lavigne, at 19, is apparently already entering the mature period of her career. Under My Skin, Lavigne's followup to her 10 million selling debut Let Go CD, must be one of the most anticipated records of the year but its first single met a fairly lukewarm initial response(though it's slowly climbed up the chart). For her new CD, Lavigne stayed away from Let Go's hitmakers The Matrix and Clif Magness. Under My Skin's writers and producers include ex-Evanescence co-leader Ben Moody and Canadian husband and wife pop stars Raine Maida(from Our Lady Peace) and Chantal Kreviazuk. Don't Tell Me was written by Lavigne and her guitar player Evan Taubenfield and produced by Butch Walker, formerly of Marvelous 3(one hit wonders for 1999's Freak Of The Week). On Don't Tell Me, Lavigne and Walker eschewed the youthful, rousing, in your face confidence of Lavigne's #1 hits Complicated and Sk8er Boi. Lavigne doesn't even get to do a really cathartic wail like on her other #1, I'm With You. On Don't Tell Me, Alanis Morissette's influence is even more obvious than usual. My guess is that Lavigne's audience liked Let Go's Morissette style angst but don't want her to be Morissette. Showing a reluctance to continue being the voice of feisty early teens, Lavigne's retains her intensity on Don't Tell Me without the perkiness of her previous hits. While it's less exciting than some of Lavigne's hits, Don't Tell Me is charming. Lavigne's idiosyncratically Canadian pronounciation, passionate singing and seriousness still mark her as an individual. Adults have derided the fact that, despite her punk posturing, Lavigne's music is more pop than punk. That ignores the fact that Lavigne resonated with kids as a distinctive, self assured role model. Don't Tell Me's music, with guitars and drums crashing in on the chorus, is generic pop rock. But Lavigne's heartfelt delivery, strong singing and personal phrasing make Don't Tell Me's typical youthful anguish fresh. As she has before, Lavigne projects big emotions in a way that makes her sound like a real teenager. Don't Tell Me's lyric depicts Lavigne as a sad but strong young woman. Lavigne is "upset" but she decides she's better off alone than with a guy who tried to get "into my pants." She tells him that he shouldn't try to tell her what to do and say and that she had told him she wouldn't "give it up" to him.

  8. Chingy-One Call Away    (down 2 positions)      buy it!
    St. Louis' Howard "Chingy" Bailey seems cartoonish and insubstantial but his Jackpot CD is one of the biggest hits of the last year. One Call Away is Chingy's third hit. A lot of the credit for Chingy's success should go to Alonzo Lee and Shamar Daugherty, also known as Trak Starz. Trak Starz(not to be confused with Trackboyz, who also produced music by St. Louis artists including Nelly's Air Force Ones and J-Kwon's Tipsy) wrote and produced most of the songs on Jackpot, including Right Thurr and One Call Away. On One Call Away, they use Chingy the way he should be used, as a colorful, goofy supporting player. One Call Away's main appeal is its catchy chorus, with Jason "J. Weav" Weaver suavely singing "you can call if you wanna bump over me." Trak Starz created a sound that's smooth, with a steady hand clap beat and easy guitar sound, but also has good texture with a bass drum sound and percussion that sounds like a woodpecker pecking. Chingy roams around the verses in an entertaining, innocuous way, sounding like Eminem in a clowning mode. Most of One Call Away's lyric is surprisingly sweet. Chingy describes meeting a woman in a bank, starting a relationship slowly and respectfully and not being afraid to show affection in front of his homeboys. The lyric suddenly turns stupid on the third verse as Chingy announces that he's a player, offers her a "puff on a blunt" and "a pint of Hen" and threatens "if you got an attitude, I could treat you like a hoe." Just as suddenly, he returns to the song's general theme of being the guy who's there for her, rapping "just be true and there's nothing I won't do for ya." Chingy's contribution is mixed but mostly appealing. He largely fills space until One Call Away gets back to the chorus' charming hook.

  9. Five For Fighting-100 Years    (down 4 positions)      buy it!
    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.

  10. Yeah Yeah Yeah-Maps    (unchanged)      buy it!
    Fever To Tell, Yeah Yeah Yeahs' first full length CD, has been a critics' favorite but it's not very commercial. Surprisingly, a year after the CD's release, the New York band has achieved some mainstream success, including a lot of MTV play. Maps is not very representantive of Fever To Tell. The first 70% of Fever To Tell has the raw, edgy, punky sound that originally gave Yeah Yeah Yeahs their reputation. I find that music interesting and exciting but I don't know how much I like it. With her ranting and shriek, Singer Karen O is a compelling figure, sounding a little unhinged and like she wants to make us uncomfortable. Nick Zinner creates an exciting, driving sound with an arsenal of jagged guitar riffs. Things calm down on Fever To Tell's last few songs. Y Control is my favorite and the least wild of the CD's other rockers. Modern Romance and hidden track Porcelain are stark with subdued vocals. But Maps is Fever To Tell's real standout. It has an epic quality. Maps is unhurried but it's moved along by Brian Chase's simple pounding and Nick Zinner's processed guitars. Zinner's varied, evocative guitar sounds give Maps texture. A bass sound periodically scrapes along Maps' bottom before exploding with a climactic U2-like fury. Maps' uncluttered, haunting soundscape heightens the poignance of Karen O's uncharacteristically unmannered vocal and Maps' concise lyric. Swearing "they don't love you like I love you" Karen O, sounding a bit like Chrissie Hynde, pleads "wait" and "don't stray."

  11. Michael Andrews featuring Gary Jules-Mad World    (down 10 positions)      buy it!
    Singer/songwriter Gary Jules and pianist/composer Michael Andrews have made music, together and apart, since they were teenagers in San Diego in the 80s. They recorded a cover of Tears For Fears' Mad World in early 2001 for Andrews' soundtrack to the movie Donnie Darko. Jules put Mad World on his Trading Snakeoil For Wolftickets CD. Jules toured extensively, playing the songs on Trading Snakeoil, which he basically put out himself. He didn't have a big commercial breakthrough until late 2003 when Mad World became a huge hit in England. Stripping down a song to piano and vocals is a standard way to do a cover. Still, Andrews was fairly brilliant in seeing potential in a song from Tears For Fears' 1983 The Hurting CD. With an ominous mood created by dark, cold synths and vocals, the original is very serious, a bit overdone and very much a creation of the early 80s. Jules, a distinctive, idiosyncratic singer and writer, does a sad, understated, unpretty vocal that makes a cover seem very personal. Jules' vocal and the music, Andrews' classical sounding piano with some subtle strings, are haunting and they connect with Donnie Darko's odd, troubled main character. I feel like the subdued voice and piano form naturally leads to pretension. I'm not a huge fan of the new Mad World but it is thoughtful, well made and not particularly self indulgent. The lyric, by Tears For Fears' leader Roland Orzabal, is a harrowing portrayal of a disturbed mind. Mad World's character has "dreams in which I'm dying" which are "the best I've ever had" and wants to "drown my sorrow" and see "no tomorrow." He also has depressed feelings which are easier to relate to. He sees, everywhere he looks, people with "worn out faces" running in circles and "going nowhere." He describes feeling, even as a child, that "no one knew me" and that teachers "look right through me."

  12. Switchfoot-Meant To Live    (unchanged)      buy it!
    Switchfoot, a band formed in San Diego by the Foreman brothers, are the latest artists to cross over from the Christian music world to success on the pop charts. Switchfoot have tried out some different sounds and seem to have decided on a grungy rock style. I'm naturally prejudiced against the many recent bands who borrow the big but melodic guitar rock sound of Nirvana and their contemporaries but, on Meant To Live, Switchfoot do a pretty good job. Meant To Live's guitar line is largely lifted from Smells Like Teen Spirit(especially Kurt Cobain's guitar's tic as he leaves the chorus). It also sounds like Smashing Pumpkin's Cherub Rock . But Meant To Live doesn't show the commercial cynicism or over the top hostility of a lot of the music by today's grunge fans. Jonathan Foreman makes a big, pure guitar sound that reminds me of interesting mid 90s atmospheric guitar rockers Hum. Meant To Live, from Switchfoot's The Beautiful Letdown CD, isn't as showy as much contemporary rock. Foreman's vocal avoids the nastiness and vanity of the many modern rock singers obsessed by unfaithful girlfriends and/or a world that doesn't understand them. He also doesn't haven't have the self righteousness of a faith obsessed singer like Creed's Scott Stapp. Besides encouraging the idea of not replaying "the wars of our fathers"(good luck on that), the lyric doesn't give many specifics on how we can "live for so much more." Given the band's religious focus and the lines about how everything "screams for second life" and about wanting "more than this world's got to offer", Meant To Live seems like a call to get in touch with a higher power.

  13. Alanis Morissette-Everything    (up 3 positions)      buy it!
    Time(she turned 30 this spring), therapy and a new boyfriend have calmed Alanis Morissette. So-Called Chaos, Morisette's fourth studio album, has less rage and more introspection than her early records. Morissette seems less interested in being provocative. She also seems fairly uninterested in gaining new young listeners. She's apparently resigned to mostly selling records to longtime fans and baby boomers. Everything, So-Called Chaos' first single, isn't particularly surprising or exciting. It's pleasant listening. Everything has a spacy rock intro that sounds a little like Soundgarden's Black Hole Sun. Everything then settles into a fairly standard rock arrangement, with a steady beat, that has some variation. The chorus has a warm, layered sound with a simple, ringing guitar riff. Morissette's voice is fine and pretty open. Everything has a leisurely pace. Everything's sprawling recitation is reminiscent of Thank U, from Morissette's second record. The thanks go to her boyfriend, rather than Thank U's more random list of targets. Morissette appreciates how he sees all her sides. He digs the good things in her(she's wise with a kind soul and a brave heart). He doesn't pretend her bad side(she's moody, withholding and passive aggressive) doesn't exist and he even loves some of her darkness. I'm not that interested in Morisette's self explorations but Everything is very genial. It has a giving tone. Musically, Everything isn't very ambitious but it's inoffensive and goes by easily.

  14. Outkast-The Way You Move    (unchanged)      buy it!
    Outkast's popularity has grown the last few years. They made our top 50 with Stankonia's Ms. Jackson and The Whole World, from the Big Boi and Dre Present collection. Still, I thought Outkast, who seem more interested in doing what they want than in selling records, were a bit too weird to become big pop stars. So it's a bit of a surprise that Outkast are currently the biggest pop stars around. Outkast dominated the Grammy awards winning, among others, Album of the Year and The Way You Move immediately followed Hey Ya, which spent a bunch of weeks at #1, to the top of the pop charts. Outkast's huge success is especially remarkable since the duo seemed on the verge of breaking up when they released their two CD set, which is really two solo records. Andre 3000 and Big Boi are almost totally absent from each other's disc. Hey Ya is on Andre 3000's weird, silly, inconsistent but fun The Love Below, which doesn't fit under any musical label. The Way You Move is on Antwan "Big Boi" Patton's Speakerboxx, which has a variety of sounds but is mostly tight, danceable hip hop. The Way You Move is a great example of Speakerboxx's smart, state of the art sound. The Way You Move is brilliantly constructed. With its crisp hand clap like drum machine beats and Big Boi's remarkably adroit rap, The Way You Move is slick and efficient. It also gets a retro, human feel from real horns playing a catchy riff and Sleepy Brown's falsetto singing, which doesn't have the Marvin Gaye style sexiness he shoots for but does add warmth to a very polished song. Big Boi's incredibly quick rap deserves special credit. Among raps I've heard recently only Jay Z, on Change Clothes, is comparable in terms of being fast, relaxed and in control and Big Boi is even more impressive. He squeezes in a ton of words and never lets us see him sweat. Big Boi tells us that "Outkast is everlastin', not clashin'", expresses his love for all women, especially the "big girls", and admires a woman's move while the room watches his. In the last few months, Outkast has given us Hey Ya, one of the most fun singles of the last year and The Way You Move, one of the coolest.

  15. Modest Mouse-Float On    (unchanged)      buy it!
    Float On is a breakthrough hit for Modest Mouse, who formed in Issaquah, Washington more than a decade ago. Modest Mouse's Good News For People Who Love Bad News is a good and interesting CD. Isaac Brock uses different voices, including odd ones, and writes lyrics that are often wacky and bizarre. The rock songs on Good News take all sorts of forms. Without actually sounding like Pavement, they bring to mind that band's(as well as Flaming Lips' and Pixies') unpredictable, exploring rock. On a couple songs, Brock sounds like Talking Heads' David Byrne. Float On is the CD's closest Heads soundalike. Like a good Talking Heads song, Float On is weird but also sounds good and has an irresistible groove. Brock does the Byrne thing of sounding overwhelmed and a little crazy but also communicating a sense of wonder. With Brock's deliberate diction and Benjamin Weikel's shuffling beat keeping the song marching forward, Float On's strange, joyful ride reminds me of Road To Nowhere. Terrific, compact guitar riffs give the song added momentum. Spacy sonic effects accentuate the song's dreamlike feel. Float On has a great opening line. After backing into to a cop car, Brock decides that "sometimes life's OK" when the cop just drives off. Determining that the good comes with the bad, Brock looks on the bright side. "A fake Jamaican took every last dime" with a scam but Brock says "it was worth it just to learn some sleight of hand." Brock's cockeyed optimism mixes with Float On's gleeful music to produce one of the best singles of the year.

  16. Linkin Park-Numb    (down 24 positions)      buy it!
    Numb is the third chart hit from Linkin Park's Meteora CD but the first to get a big push at top 40 radio. Presumably Faint, which had a great, exciting riff, was considered too edgy for the mainstream. I like Numb, with its controlled sound, better than the songs featuring Chester Bennington's over the top screaming or Mike Shinoda's mediocre rapping but Numb isn't exciting or very interesting. Numb is better than average Linkin Park. Its spooky synth line effectively communicates its protagonist's turmoil. The way the guitars slam in on the chorus seems appropriate to the song's anger and less overdone than usual. Numb has a hook that resembles In The End and Crawling from Linkin Park's first CD but it benefits from a touch of restraint. Bennington still rages but with a lessened intensity that's right for a declaration of numbness. Bennington's straight forward singing on the verses isn't particularly good but it is charmingly sincere. Numb is fine. It's just ordinary and a little boring. With Numb's easily understood angst, Linkin Park continue delivering angry male rock to a wide suburban audience. Well intentioned and serious, Numb will appeal to teens looking for a meaningful sound they can relate to. But its solemn soul searching does nothing for me besides make me think if she makes you so unhappy, you should probably break up. Bennington sings in Numb about feeling smothered in a relationship with someone who sees his every step as a mistake and wants him to be "what you want me to be."

  17. Incubus-Talk Show On Mute    (up 7 positions)      buy it!
    The release of Megalomaniac as A Crow Left Of The Murder's first single implied that the newer record would have a harder edge than Incubus' previous CDs. It wasn't very well developed and Brandon Boyd's ranting was a little crazy but Megalomaniac had an energy and anger that was encouraging coming from the often laid back rock band. Talk Show On Mute shows that Crow Left Of The Murder doesn't completely lack the pleasant, spacy, mellow rockers that dominated the band's recent work. Talk Show On Mute has an easy, genial mood. It floats along inoffensively and has a decent flow. But even less happens on Talk Show On Mute than on other relaxed, midtempo songs like Drive, Wish You Were Here and Warning. Talk Show On Mute betrays a bit of narcissism on Boyd's part. The arrangement focuses on Boyd's vocal. The band is deferential to the point that it seems to have been decided that nothing musically interesting can interfere with appreciation of Boyd's brilliant lyric. To be fair to Boyd, his singing isn't narcissistic. He tries to sound humble to the point that his singing doesn't show any personality. Talk Show On Mute's music is smooth and well played but it's also pretty boring. On Talk Show On Mute, Boyd compares our society to the world in Orwell's 1984. His beef is with a country narcoticized by homogenized, cynically manufactured entertainment that pays "an audience to care." His solution is apparently to realize that "there's so much more." Unfortunately, Boyd's message is undermined by his bland, unvaried croon.

  18. Damien Rice-Cannonball    (down 7 positions)      buy it!
    Damien Rice is a critically acclaimed Irish singer/songwriter. Rice's 2003 O CD won him the Shortlist music prize, a new but fairly prestigious award given to the best non-mainstream artist of the year. While it's hard for me to believe that a record of fairly standard folk pop could be the best of the year, I agree that O is a good, ambitious record. Rice is clearly a Van Morrison fan. He shares some of Morrison's intensity and songwriting skills. Rice's sincere, personal songs are also reminiscent of David Gray's work but Rice's have a bit more edge. Cannonball is a good example of Rice's poetic, well crafted music. Rice's singing is strong but sensitive and idiosyncratic. His pained delivery makes it clear that his writing is deeply felt. Rice accompanies himself with heartfelt strumming. My problem with Rice is that he's too serious. His intensity sometimes comes off as humorless self importance. On Cannonball, Rice sadly and cautiously reflects on a lost relationship with a woman he can still "taste in my mouth." Rice "can't say what's going on" but armed with the newly gained knowledge "that you just don't know", he's apparently trying to find the courage to give it another try as she steps "a little closer."

  19. Nickelback-Someday    (down 1 position)      buy it!
    Nickelback are back with The Long Road CD, making the same kind of ultraserious, overblown, cliched arena rock that brought them the megahit How You Remind Me. On Someday, Chad Kroeger and friends stuck to the formula that worked. Someday isn't quite as bombastic as How You Remind Me but it's otherwise incredibly similar. You can sing "this is how you remind me" and other parts of that song over portions of Someday. The appeal of Someday, and Nickelback's music in general, is lost on me. Kroeger's voice is so stiff and humorless that he's just a bore. He intones his thought about his relationship playing out "like a paperback novel" with gravity and emphasis to make sure you catch the brilliance of his simile. Someday's music and playing are coldly competent but lack any surprise or originality. Familiar hard rock riffs repeat over and over again. On Someday, Kroeger asks a partner to stay in a screwed up relationship, promising he's "gonna make it alright."

  20. Cassidy featuring R Kelly-Hotel    (down 12 positions)      buy it!
    Cassidy is a young rapper from Philadelphia who got attention with his work on mix tapes. He's been championed by Swizz Beatz, who's worked with Eve, Busta Rhymes, DMX and many others, the producer of much of Cassidy's Split Personality CD. Like Nick Cannon, Cassidy has the good fortune to be assisted on his first hit single by the ubiquitous R Kelly. Kelly's appearance is nearly a guarantee of success. The downside of Kelly's presence is that he makes more of an impression than Cassidy does. Kelly does a relaxed but strong vocal on the chorus, easily making himself the center of attention. Kelly is his usual pleasure loving self. As on the Ignition Remix, Kelly enjoys an after party, inviting a "cutie" to use his room key. Cassidy's rap isn't amazing but he's fine. Like so many rappers, he mostly has sex on his mind. He tells us "if that girl don't participate, well then I'm gonna take her friend." But compared with some songs(like the recent, similarly themed Holidae Inn), Hotel is pretty benign. Cassidy promises the ladies he will do whatever he can for them. Hotel's acoustic guitar riff and light mood remind me of another song with a big R Kelly presence, B2K's Bump, Bump, Bump. Hotel is better than the cheerfully stupid B2K song but it's also pretty slight. Still, it's pleasant and sounds fine. With the guitar underlining Kelly's vocal and a classic sounding beat that resembles the one for Marvin Gaye's Sexual Healing, Swizz Beatz gives Hotel a smooth sound.

  21. Kimberly Locke-8th World Wonder    (unchanged)      buy it!
    Kimberly Locke is the third American Idol contestant to make the top 50. Locke was eliminated when Clay Aiken and eventual winner Ruben Studdard made the finals but she has defeated Studdard on the charts. 8th World Wonder is a bigger pop hit than Studdard has had so far. Nothing about 8th World Wonder, from Locke's debut One Love CD, changes my opinion that American Idol is making pop music blander. Most of American Idol's successes have been competent but innocuous, appealing to the most middle American viewers by being inoffensive and familiar. Unlike Kelly Clarkson, who has tried to add a bit of edge to the squeaky clean American Idol prototype, Locke sticks with the show's safe sound on 8th World Wonder. 8th World Wonder reminds me of one of Shania Twain's lite pop hits though, to her credit, even at her most cloying and manipulative, Twain is never this boring. Locke's singing is very colorless. It's remarkable that Locke, an African-American, conveys even less soul than Clay Aiken, perhaps the whitest guy in the world. 8th World Wonder was produced and cowritten by Shaun Shankel, whose credits include work with easy listening favorites Michael Bolton and Amy Grant. There's nothing distinctive or interesting about 8th World Wonder's music. Shankel uses drum machines, synths and rock guitars but makes sure nothing gets too loud or challenging. Eight World Wonder's writers have Locke playing the swooning, adoring girlfriend. I know that a romance's early days can be intoxicating but 8th World Wonder really makes Locke seem like an idiot, raving about how amazing the guy she's known for seven days is. 8th World Wonder's lyric is overblown trying, with thunder and rising water, to achieve some sort of biblical force.

  22. Beastie Boys-Ch-Check It Out    new to music chart      buy it!
    Ch-Check It Out is on To The 5 Boroughs, Beastie Boys' first new CD in six years. The Beasties are in their late 30s and have been recording for more than two decades. On Ch-Check It Out, they still seem like kids, goofing around, having a good time and trying to impress us with their rhymes as if they have something to prove. Ch-Check It Out is notably old school. It resembles previous hits like Intergalactic and So What Cha Want and shows little connection with contemporary rap. Ch-Check It Out sounds like a typical Beasties song but it's a well made one. A good, steady beat and a repeated, emphatic sound effect establish an exhilarating context for the barrage of raps. The raps are tightly edited and the rappers come on fast and confidently. Ch-Check It Out's energy never flags. Ch-Check It Out's lyrics are mostly willfully silly boasts but they're also fresh and funny enough to be consistently enjoyable. MCA, his voice sounding rougher than ever, opens by reminding us "I didn't retire." He threatens to snatch up detractors "with the needle nose pliers." Mike D still comes on like a prankish, showing off kid. He oddly brags "like Lorne Greene, you know I get paid" and compares himself to a Caprese salad with basil and to Nick at nite("with classics rerunning that you know all right"). Ad Rock thanks his friends and family for putting him in check "when I think I'm too good" and says "I'm no better than you, except when I rap." But he also works "magic like a magician" and has class "like pink champale." Ch-Check It Out is nothing new but it's a very fun statement that The Beasties still matter and are still making exciting music.

  23. John Mayer-Clarity    (up 2 positions)      buy it!
    Clarity is the second chart hit from John Mayer's Heavier Things CD. Mayer is a good natured, fairly skilled performer who has modest ambitions of making meaningful music but doesn't quite know how to do so. Clarity puts Mayer's ambition and modesty to good use. It's seriously made, enjoyable and not self important. Clarity goes farther into jazz than Mayer's previous singles. Clarity starts fairly well with a crisp drum machine beat and a looped piano line. Things improve and a nice momentum develops as Clarity's vibe loosens. ?uestlove from The Roots plays good, relaxed drums. Horns, including Roy Hargrove's trumpet, give Clarity some color and give the chorus a big sound. Mayer can't help but sound like a white guy and "ooh-ooh-ooh"s betray his easy listening leanings but Mayer's vocal is pleasant enough. Mayer does his typical restrained guitar doodling but Clarity has enough interesting things happening that it doesn't have the tentative feel of some of Mayer's songs. Clarity has substance but it's also breezy and likable. Clarity's lyric is a bit New Agey but nice and well suited to the song's relaxed mood. Mayer tells us that he's normally a worrier who "weighs three times my body." One morning, he's surprised to feel "a calm I can't explain." Clarity is about hoping the feeling "will last forever" or preparing to, at least, "pretend that it somehow lingered on."

  24. Trapt-Echo    (down 5 positions)      buy it!
    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."

  25. Norah Jones-Sunrise    (down 5 positions)      buy it!
    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."

Songs 1-25


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