Alicia Keys-Fallin'(down 6 positions)
Alicia Keys' Songs In A Minor is probably the most remarkable success story of 2001. Keys' only previous credits were a couple soundtrack songs and a little backup work but her CD debuted at number one and has been near the top of the charts ever since. Fallin' is striking on first listen and goes a long way in explaining the CD's success. Unlike the overproduced work of other female pop singers, Fallin' shows the confidence to let Keys' singing stand on its own and her strong, sexy voice is up to the task. Fallin' has a good, minimal production. Strong backing vocals and Keys' piano playing create a classic, soulful sound. There isn't much to the lyric, about the confusion of a relationship that brings lots of pleasure and pain, but its simplicity fits the song's stylish, retro feel.
N Sync risked alienating a large number of their fans with Pop, the title track and first single from their new CD, and its cold, harsh sub-Michael Jackson sound, paranoid boasts and ridiculous challenge to critics who don't respect them. The second single plays it safe, letting heartthrob Justin Timberlake pour his heart out about his pain and longing for a lost love while the rest of the boys harmonize behind him. The vocals are nicely restrained and quite good. The music, acoustic guitars and strings, is so tastefully minimal that it's a little boring.
Kid Rock-Forever(up 6 positions)
His new CD is called Cocky but Kid Rock seems defensive on Forever. Perhaps knowing that his rhymes are pretty stupid, Kid Rock anticipated criticism, warning "do not hate or question the music I make." He brags "I ain't changed nothing" but that's part of the problem with Forever. It's a retread of his previous work with little new inspiration. He's bragged before about his skills at mixing rock and hip hop and how he's "got money like Fort Knox." Still, while Kid Rock will never recapture his Devil Without A Cause/Bawitdaba success, there will always be some attracted to a proudly white trashy guy who confidently does old school rhymes. And there is a simple appeal to Forever's basic beat and grinding guitar line.
Puddle Of Mudd-Blurry(up 2 positions)
On Blurry, the second single from Puddle Of Mudd's Come Clean CD, Wes Scantlin follows Staind's Aaron Lewis, a fellow Fred Durst protégé, in showing his mellow side. Blurry really strikes me as lame; another rocker showing his troubled, sensitive side. Blurry's verses have a fairly interesting atmosperic guitar effect but its melody is surprisingly similar to Duncan Sheik's adult pop hit Barely Breathing. On the chorus the band, of course, has to show they can rock so the guitar sound gets bigger and Scantlin's vocal approaches the fury he showed on Control. The young males can't get enough of songs about how awful a guy feels about being mistreated by his ex. On Blurry, Scantlin seems to want her back, singing about how meaningless things are after she left him. But he also rages at her, complaining about how she could "take it all away" and shove his pain in his face.
Coldplay's Parachutes is a nice, good sounding record. Chris Martin's singing is appealing modest. Trouble, Parachutes' third chart hit, is a good example of Martin's unassuming charm. On Trouble, Martin apologizes for "all the stupid things I've done" swearing, "I never meant to do you wrong." Trouble's music is sweet and inobtrusive with a good piano, elegant line.
Mick Jagger-God Gave Me Everything(up 11 positions)
A few songs on Mick Jagger's Goddess In The Doorway CD go the Supernatural route with Mick hoping young musicians will give him good songs and renewed relevance. He even follows Santana in working with Wyclef Jean and Rob Thomas. Lenny Kravitz serves Mick well on God Gave Me Everything. Mick's vocal has the loose, frivolous feel of much of his late career work but Kravitz keeps him pretty well reigned in with a no nonsense, if not particularly memorable, song and arrangement. God Gave Me Everything has an exciting sound with a good, big beat and a driving guitar and bass line that evoke Gimme Shelter's thrills. The lyrics, delineating all the little blessing Mick appreciates, are basically jibberish, but God Gave Me Everything is still a lot of fun.
Jennifer Lopez-I'm Real(down 6 positions)
Even with a synth riff that reminds me of The Hustle, the third hit from the J.Lo CD is effective dance pop. I'm Real has good rhythm and is less mechanical sounding than Lopez' last single Play. Lopez' voice is pleasant but bland and basically overwhelmed by the beats. The lyrics to I'm Real are fairly vapid. Lopez declares her realness uninterestingly, telling her man not to feel insecure or worry about what she's doing when she's not with him. MTV and some radio stations are now playing a "remix" of I'm Real, basically a new song with almost totally different lyrics and music. The new version, a duet with Ja Rule, was written by Ja Rule and appears on his Pain Is Love CD. It actually has a real feel that's been missing from Lopez' heavily produced music with a clear, relaxed sound of minimal synths and a good, basic beat, The lyrics are also more relaxed. They're riffs off the original that include the publicity grabbing request for "niggas" to "mind they biz."
Pink-Get The Party Started(up 10 positions)
Get The Party Started, from Pink's second CD M!ssundaztood, is a pleasant surprise. On the hits from her first CD, Pink showed a distinctive personality in her singing and videos but the music was fairly standard, if effective, contemporary dance pop. Linda Perry, whose band 4 Non Blondes had a big hit with What's Up, produced and cowrote Get The Party Started. I wasn't a big fan of What's Up, but she's done a great job on Get The Party Started helping Pink break genre walls with a big, loose 70s funk groove. Get The Party Started is reminiscent of the B-52's joyful invitations to the dance floor. Overdubbing on the chorus even makes Pink sound a little like she's both Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson. Get The Party Started has Pink's standard narcissism. She brags about her Mercedes and gold diamond rings and loves the idea of a party where "everybody's waitin' for me to arrive" and "everybody's dancin' for me." Luckily the music, with its fun feel and big, thumping beat, has a more generous tone than the lyrics.
Calling-Wherever You Will Go(up 7 positions)
Wherever You Will Go, from the Camino Palmero CD, got rock radio play and spent six weeks on the chart this summer. Now pop radio has returned the song to the chart. Calling join Lifehouse as the first of presumably many bands to follow Creed's model for success. Calling's Alex Band is another singer with a deep, serious, prematurely old sounding voice. Wherever You Will Go sounds a lot like Creed's With Arms Wide Open, complete with that song's sincere, overdone sound. At least it doesn't have Creed's meaningful religious overtones. Wherever You Will Go is pleasant folky rock but it's mostly bland and unimaginative. The writing is quite awful: "if I could, then I would, I'll go wherever you will go/way up high or down low." The lyrics, pining for a woman who dumped him and hoping for a way "to make it back some day", are sweet but slightly pathetic.
Dave Matthews Band-Everyday(up 5 positions)
The Dave Matthews Band's Everyday CD isn't great but it does have quite a few decent ballads. The best ones keep things simple and relaxed. Everyday's title track is probably the best song on the record. Vocals by South African singer Vusi Mahlasela help create a joyful feel. Everyday shows off the band's strong musicianship. Backing vocals, guitar, horns and Carter Beauford's drums all contribute to Everday's light and playful but rich sound. Everyday's "all you need is love" refrain is nothing new but it fits a song about reducing things to the basics that advises us to "get your hands dirty" and seek love.
Destiny's Child-Emotion(up 2 positions)
If you've seen Destiny's Child on an awards or benefit show, you've probably seen them doing a good, short a capella thing. The message is clear: we're not just a studio creation, we can really sing. Emotion, the third single from the Survivor CD, is a similar display of the ladies' vocal talents. The backing is minimal, mostly from an acoustic guitar and a very simple beat. The singing stands up well on its own and is mostly not overly showy . The harmonies are smooth, tight and good. The thing about Destiny's Child's version is that it's so polite and sedate that it's not much more than a vocal exercise. The Bee Gees' crazy high pitched intensity gave the original undeniable drama. It also fit better with the song's emotional lyrics, with their lines about being "caught up in sorrow" and crying "me a river", about how "heartache lives on inside" since a breakup.
John Mellancamp-Peaceful World(unchanged)
More than two decades into his career, John Mellancamp mostly works in adult contemporary mode but he still has an uncanny knack of making appealing singles. As on his good cover of Wild Night, Mellancamp works with a distinctive African American singer and produces a very likable result. Mellancamp is sometimes stupidly self righteous, pretentiously speaking lines decrying hypocrites and saying he's "sick and tired of being politically correct" but India.Arie's vocals provide a nice balance. They're serious but warm and unaffected and right for the song's utopian message. The music on Peaceful World, from Mellancamp's Cuttin Heads CD is also good, with a loose, edgy beat.
Hoobastank-Crawling In The Dark(up 9 positions)
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.
Saliva-Click Click Boom Boom(down 7 positions)
Click Click Boom Boom, the second chart hit from Saliva's Every Six Seconds CD, isn't as goofy and derivative as Your Disease but it's still pretty goofy and derivative. Click Click Boom Boom has the Soundgarden meets Kid Rock mix of rapping and big beat with power chords that Limp Bizkit has so successfully sold to the male teens. Josey Scott angrily yells lyrics that share Fred Durst's combination of boasting and paranoia and lamely try to seem meaningful. Scott tells us how all his time "up in my room" has paid off in "a new style" that's "buck wild." The only part of Click Click Boom Boom I really like is his gratuitous shot at the "cryin' ass bitchin" of his fellow rockers' complaints about their troubled childhood.
Sum 41-In Too Deep(up 4 positions)
Sum 41 continue to follow Blink 182's bratty but lovable punk popster formula. On In Too Deep, the second hit from the young Canadians' All Killer, No Filler CD, Sum 41 use the same basic guitar riff as they did on Fat Lip. At least this time they don't rap. In Too Deep is very simple but likable. The guitar sound is big and tight. There's nothing original or particularly smart about In Too Deep. But even more than Fat Lip, which vaguely wanted to be a youth rebellion anthem, In Too Deep has a lack of pretension and youthful good spirits that are hard to resist. In Too Deep's lyric seems young as well. It's about a guy overwhelmed by a woman who's never satisfied with their relationship.
Craig David-Fill Me In(down 13 positions)
Englishman Craig David's vocals are appealingly confident as he quickly glides through Fill Me In. Everything else about Fill Me In, from David's Born To Do It CD, is pleasant but a little innocuous. David's lyrics about a couple closely monitored by the girl's parents while "we were just doing things young people in love do" seem carefully calculated to be sexy and still easy to relate to for kids of different ages. Fill Me In's music, with a mechanical sounding beat and synth strings, is pretty tame and repetitive.
After seven months, Schism has finally ended its chart run, only to be replaced by the title track from Tool's Lateralus CD. Lateralus is a similarly angry, sprawling work. I don't find Lateralus as striking as Schism. Lateralus is typical of Tool's work as it combines art rock and heavy metal. Lateralus methodically moves forward, starting with percussive atmosphere and building into a harder sound with crunching power chords. Maynard James Keenan's howls with a great sense of meaning. But Lateralus does have good intensity and texture and Lateralus' lyrics are actually kind of hopeful. Keenan castigates himself for missing opportunities by ignoring his intuition and overthinking and overanalyzing. He urges himself to "cross the line" and look to life's "infinite possibilities."
Backstreet Boys-Drowning(up 7 positions)
Drowning is the only new song on Backstreet Boys' The Hits: Chapter One. Much more than N Sync's strikingly spare current single Gone, Drowning goes for a comfortable, familiar sound. It resembles Boys hits like Shape Of My Heart and, somewhat ironically, also sounds quite a bit like All Or Nothing, the smash for Backstreet/N Sync facsimile O Town. Drowning starts quietly with subdued vocals and piano but soon shifts to a typical lush, overproduced sound with a bad, fakey beat. The harmonies are O.K. but very tame. On Drowning, The Backstreet Boys split the vocals on Drowning, playing a wimpy guy who's totally under the control of a woman with "the power to make me weak inside." Their young fans undoubtedly cherish the dream of being the girl the Boys mean when they sing "only you can save me."
Britney Spears-I'm A Slave For Ubuy it!
On I'm A Slave For U, from the Britney CD, hot hip hop producers The Neptunes do what they can with Spears' limitations, smartly matching her thin, fake sounding but somewhat sexy voice with cold, synthetic but sultry backing. I'm A Slave's rubbery, clanging sounds and tight beat create an interesting, exotic feel. But after a few listens I'm A Slave seems like a gimmicky novelty and there's only so much The Neptunes can do with Britney's pinched, pouty voice. As for Britney, it's hard to blame her for working the sex angle hard these days; being sexy is clearly her best talent. But considering that she's a 20 year old millionaire, her new CD's "I'm not a girl but I'm not a woman" theme is somewhat ridiculous. It's a slightly desperate attempt to keep her preteen fans on board. I'm A Slave For U's imagines a world of people who "look at me like I'm a little girl" and claims dancing as an act of defiance. The lyrics are more about wanting to dance with a guy than being a slave to him.
Blink 182-Stay Together For The Kids(unchanged)
Blink 182 have easily shown a juvenile mentality on their stupider songs but they also are able to depict youthful inner turmoil in a real seeming, unshowy way. Stay Together For The Kids, from the Take Off Your Pants and Jacket CD, is even more basic than Enema Of The State’s Adam’s Song as it simply illustrates the effect of a couple’s troubled relations on their kid. The different personalities of Blink’s frontmen nicely illustrate the sides of the troubled kid’s mind. Mark Hoppus sincerely croons the verses and Tom DeLonge angrily yells the chorus. Stay Together For The Kids is similar to other Blink songs. Like on all their singles, they take an instrumental break to build the intensity before doing the verse one last time. But the band create a moving grandeur by slowing things down and building emotion as DeLonge’s guitar and Travis Barker’s drums gain in power.
Ryan Adams-New York, New York(unchanged)
New York, New York is from Gold, the former Whiskeytown frontman's second solo record. Adams' music continues to evolve from alt country to more mainstream rock. New York, New York shows the different sides of Adams' sound. His loose, rapid fire delivery evokes a Dylan song like Tangled Up In Blue but New York, New York also resembles songs by The Allman Brothers and Billy Joel. New York, New York has gotten attention because of its eerie video, filmed September 7th, showing Adams singing in front of a view of New York's downtown skyline with the Twin Towers in the center of the shot. But New York, New York also deserves attention because it's a darn good song. It has a great, fun feel with buoyant guitar and keyboards. Adams' flood of words is very charming. On New York, New York, Adams pays tribute to his adopted home but decides that, since his memories of the city are so intertwined with those of the love that broke his heart, it's time to go.
Michelle Branch-Everywhere(down 11 positions)
Everywhere, from Michelle Branch's Spirit Room CD, reminds me of the good, positive energy mid 90s rock of Letters To Cleo and Lisa Loeb. With its savvy mix of pop gloss and tight, energetic rock guitars and drums, Everywhere also sounds like the disposable but undeniably catchy Story Of A Girl. Everywhere is perfect for the soundtrack to Dawson's Creek or whatever the kids are watching these days. The 18 year old Branch's sunny innocence is hard to resist. Everywhere is about realizing the guy she's obsessed with isn't always there for her but still hoping he will be.
Praise, from Sevendust's Animosity CD, is a fairly good model of dark hard rock. With harsh, rumbling guitars, it captures the threatening tone the band presumably seeks. Lajon Witherspoon is one of the best singers in hard rock and he has the appropriate agitated wail and doesn't go too far over the top. Still, Praise is pretty unpleasant stuff. Its anger and unnerving sound will keep it from having an audience beyond troubled male teens. Praise's lyrics have the paranoia and anger central to much recent hard rock. Witherspoon sings of an unnamed someone whose "hate for me is strong" and is "oblivious to all of my cries."
Blu Cantrell-Hit Em Up Style(down 10 positions)
Hit Em Up Style is from Cantrell's So Blu CD. The fun thing about Hit Em Up Style is that it doesn't waste time getting angry at its cheating boyfriend, getting right to winning revenge by selling all his things and using his money to go on a shopping spree. It's silly but also light hearted and unpretentious with a relaxed beat. I imagine the repeated samples of chimes and an old timey horn riff will seem monotonous after repeat listens.
Ozzy Osbourne-Gets Me Through(down 1 position)
After serving so many successful young rock bands as a patron(through the Ozzfest tours) and a musical influence, it seems only fair that a 50-something Ozzy Osbourne should have another shot at a hit. Gets Me Through, which has a suitably cheesy video, is from the Down To Earth CD. Osbourne’s high, demented vocals combine the excesses of 70s art rock and heavy metal. Gets Me Through’s music is fairly standard crunching hard rock, complete with a showy, technically proficient guitar solo, but the song’s main appeal is as a short sample of Osbourne’s over the top dramatics. Osbourne sings about having lost his spirit and being haunted by nightmares and dark visions but still finding some solace in his fans’ love.