Red Hot Chili Peppers-Zephyr Song(up 9 positions)
I was bored by some of the Chili Peppers' earlier attempts at a serious, adult sound but they've won me over with the By The Way CD's singles. Zephyr Song is fairly lightweight but it has the easy, natural flow of a classic. Zephyr Song follows a now common Chili Peppers pattern with a loose, goofy verse and a more serious, catchy chorus. But the verse isn't that goofy. Anthony Kiedes' vocal is playful rather than stupid. Kiedis' singing isn't great but he's became more comfortable as a balladeer. Zephyr Song's chorus is wonderful. Kiedis trades the verses' free association for a simple, elegant invitation to "fly away on my zephyr", promising "we'll find a place together." The song that came to mind the first time I heard Zephyr Song was Lulu's To Sir With Love. I still feel like the comparison is apt. Seemingly effortlessly, they both knock you out with a light, uplifting hook. Zephyr Song is a nice showcase for guitar player John Frusciante. He lays down a good fluid sound and plays a decent, unshowy doodle of a solo that fits the easy mood. Ending with majestic percussion crashes, the Chili Peppers sought a meaningful sound on Zephyr Song but they were smart enough to keep the mood relaxed.
Eve featuring Alicia Keys-Gangsta Lovin'(up 3 positions)
Eve's new CD is called Eve-Olution. Gangsta Lovin' has the same kind of easy, likably playful sound as Eve's first big pop hit Let Me Blow Ya Mind. Ja Rule/Ashanti producer Irv Gotti gave Gangsta Lovin' a good sound with a steady, relaxed beat and a catchy synth riff. Eve's rap is appealingly confident and straight forward. She's strong and subtly teasing as she tells a guy she's interested. Alicia Keys' vocal on the chorus is assisted by backing singers and hardly challenging but her smooth, laid back singing fits Gangsta Lovin's charming, breezy mood.
New Found Glory-My Friends Over You(unchanged)
The demand for fun, dopey, poppy guitar rock continues. Coral Springs, Florida's New Found Glory broke through with the fun, simple Hit Or Miss and have a similarly basic sound on My Friends Over You, the first single from the Sticks and Stones CD. My Friends Over You is like a less obnoxious version of SR-71's Right Now and it's not that far from Sum 41 or Blink 182. My Friends Over You is catchy and likable. It has a fairly clear sound, a positive feel and a restrained pace for a rocker. Chad Gilbert and Steve Klein create a good, varied guitar sound with crunching chords on the verses and a good hook on the chorus. Jordan Pundik's vocal isn't particularly impressive but at least it's unpretentious. Klein's lyrics apologize for leading a girl on but tell her their history makes it clear she's not worth as much as his friendships.
DJ Sammy & Yanou-Heaven(down 2 positions)
Heaven is quite a stupid song. At least, unlike Bryan Adams' soaring, bloated original, the new version doesn't have any pretentions of meaning. Adams' stream of cliches("you're all that I want", "we were young and wild and free", "nothing can take you away from me" and "through the good times and the bad, I'll be standing there by you") glide by easily. With a familiar melody, a big, obvious beat and lyrics that can be understood by people for whom English is a second language, Heaven has all the hallmarks of an international dance pop hit. Apparently, DJ Sammy is a Spanish mixmaster/producer who worked on Heaven with Dutch singer Do. With its frantic, eager to please beat, Heaven sounds more suited to a high impact aerobics class than a dance club. But Heaven's upbeat tone and high energy techno synths undoubtedly get people on the dance floor.
Mario-Just A Friend 2002(down 6 positions)
Just A Friend 2002 is from the Baltimore native's self titled CD. Mario, like Alicia Keys, who appears on the Mario CD, is on Clive Davis' J Records. Mario doesn't make the striking impression that Keys did but he does seem to have a strong voice, especially for a 15 year old. Just A Friend is a straight version of Biz Markie's 1989 hit. Biz Markie's off key goofing around is replaced by a Boys II Men style production. Sisqo producer Warryn Campbell created a good, sleek sound with crisp, solid beats, Mario's smooth vocal and good choral type female backup singers. The original was kind of thin so Just A Friend, with its very basic lyric about being rebuffed in trying to get closer to a woman, can't help but be a little repetitive and insubstantial but it goes by easily.
Incubus-Warning(down 2 positions)
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 Hives-Hate To Say I Told You So(down 1 position)
Cutting away the fat that alternative rock has grown over the years, Swedish band The Hives act like it's still the late 70s and they've only just learned of the thrills of making fast, short rock songs with tight, hard guitar riffs. Hate To Say I Told You So sounds a little like songs by Black Crowes and Buckcherry and it also brings to mind other post punk songs like Blur's Song 2 and Sonic Youth's most compact work. But the most obvious influence seems to be The Stooges' Search And Destroy. Pelle Almqvist always comes across, in interviews, on stage and on record, as a very confident guy. He has no problem projecting Iggy Pop's in your face narcissism, singing about how he does "what I want 'cause I can" and how he wants to "be ignored by the stiff and the bored." Hate To Say I Told You So, which is featured on the Spider-man soundtrack as well as the band's Veni Vidi Vicious CD, recalls the thrill of simple, exciting punk inspired music.
Jack Johnson-Flake(down 7 positions)
The Hawaiian native/champion surfer turned LA singer/songwriter's first chart hit is charmingly laid back. Johnson sings on Flake, from the Brushfire Fairytales CD, about likable slackers who lose out or let people down because of "ties" or because "often times we're lazy." Flake has relaxed guitars and drums and Johnson's smooth vocal comfortably matches the song's mood. He doesn't seem to exert himself too much even as he reaches for high notes in the song's "please don't drag me down" conclusion. Ben Harper, whose music has an easy, sensual appeal similar to Johnson's, plays good atmospheric slide guitar on Flake.
P. Diddy featuring Ginuwine-I Need A Girl Pt. 2(up 5 positions)
I Need A Girl Pt. 2 is from the We Invented The Remix CD. P. Diddy coproduced I Need A Girl Pt. 2 with Mario Winans. I liked I Need A Girl Pt. 1 for its breezy, smooth sound and Diddy's bizarre confession of loneliness but Part 2 is of much less interest to me. The music, with its synthetic steady beat and shiny synth riff, is OK but it's also an even more insubstantial, if perkier, variation on an already lightweight theme. The lyric is significantly less compelling than Part 1's apparent paean and mea culpa to J. Lo. P. Diddy's rap is standard issue. He tells us he wants a girl with potential wife credentials who's 5'5" with dimples and makes showy promises of being able to share 100 foot yachts and trips to San Tropez with his girl. Diddy's vocal is typically flat, uninflected and unmelodic. Loon's rap isn't great either with cliched images of lying in a bubble bath with a really big champagne glass and the questionable boast: "I'm smooth as Erik Estrada." Ginuwine and Winans do better with the singer role Usher had on Part 1 but they don't do much to change the song's generic feel.
Nelly-Hot In Herre(down 3 positions)
Hot In Herre, Nelly's latest combination of smooth rap skills and stupid boasting, is fairly lightweight but it sounds like a summer hit. The music and rap have a great, easy flow. On Hot In Herre, from the Nellyville CD, producers The Neptunes start with a riff that sounds like Steely Dan's Josie or FM and then easily move things along, attaching a good, light beat and synth to a sample from Chuck Brown's Bustin' Loose. Nelly's rapping isn't as awe inspiring as some of his fast, dense work on the Country Grammar CD. But even if he's more relaxed and less edgy than on some of hits, Nelly's cocky, seemingly effortless technique is still very impressive. As with his earlier hits, my problem with Hot In Herre is its lyrics. Nelly broke through with lyrics that were mostly rehashed gangsta rap. Now he's a big star, Nelly's less interested in 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 is obsessed with 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.
The Vines-Get Free(down 3 positions)
Get Free is from the Highly Evolved CD by the young band from Sydney, Australia. With a screaming lead singer and a basic, hard rocking sound, The Vines have a surface resemblance to another hot band from overseas: The Hives. While The Hives' Howlin' Pelle Almqvist goofs around and has fun, Vines frontman Craig Nicholls is very serious about his music. He openly emulates hero Kurt Cobain, especially in the band's older songs. The Highly Evolved CD also has songs similar to those of dreamier British bands like Coldplay and Doves but Get Free's Nirvana influence is clear. It reminds me of Breed, Stay Away and Scentless Apprentice as well as Big Bang Baby by fellow Nirvana fans Stone Temple Pilots. Get Free gets simple, exciting energy from Nicholls' unhinged yell, a slicing guitar line and a good, driving beat. On Get Free, Nicholls rages and drops fragments of desperation: "I'm gonna get free, right into the sun", "she never loved me, why should anyone?", "you know you're really alone" and "save me from here."
Goo Goo Dolls-Big Machine(unchanged)
Goo Goo Dolls keep putting out a mix of tame, soaring rock ballads and harder, but still poppy, rockers in an effort to maintain mainstream pop success and hold onto their older audience. Dizzy Up The Girl followed pop rocker Slide with lofty ballad Black Balloon. The first single from the Gutterflower CD was mellow Here Is Gone and the new one is mid tempo rock song Big Machine. Big Machine is a glossy rocker that's a lot like Slide with a little less concision, energy and distinction(I enjoyed how the drums came in right before the chorus on Slide). I still basically enjoy Big Machine. lt's totally forgetable but amiable. Johnny Rzeznik plays good guitar. Tight power chords alternate with a ringing guitar line that I like but reminds me of the one from 10,000 Maniacs' pleasant but hardly rocking Candy Everybody Wants. The lyrics have the "you're screwed up but I'm still sad you don't want to be with me" theme of songs by sensitive rockers like Weezer's Gone Fishin'. Rzeznik sings about waiting, torn in pieces for a woman who's "so vain" and living in a world moving "way too fast" where "nothing's real and nothing lasts."
John Mayer-Your Body Is A Wonderland(unchanged)
Your Body Is a Wonderland is the second chart hit from the Atlanta based singer/songwriter's Room For Squares CD. Like No Such Thing, Your Body Is a Wonderland is pleasant and almost proudly inconsequential. Unlike No Such Thing, where Mayer tried so hard for whimsical cheekiness, Your Body Is a Wonderland mostly keeps things nicely understated. His voice, in a tone not much more forceful than a whisper, effectively communicates the song's sly confidence. His guitar playing is also unassuming but pretty cool. Its only flourish is a short Steely Dan style riff towards the end. A skinny young white guy can't help but seem a little leering singing a song about pleasuring a lady but his admiration of a woman's looks is generally appealing. A bit too much bravado accompanies Mayer's promise to take a while making love and discovering a woman's body but he generally avoids the objectification that often accompanies songs complimenting the female shape.
Foo Fighters-All My Lifebuy it!
All My Life is from the One By One CD. It's long been clear that Dave Grohl won't approach the brilliance and significance with Foo Fighters former bandmate Kurt Cobain did with Nirvana. But Grohl has already achieved a longevity that Cobain sadly could never have and amassed a solid body of work. Foo Fighters have continued to make decent music and retain a fan base, even as the rock audience's taste has changed. Grohl's music has remained fairly uncomplicated and ungimmicky and he still has a good knack for a hook. While not obviously following trends, Grohl has also kept an eye on the competititon, most recently playing drums for good hard rockers Queens Of The Stone Age. Like a lot of Foo Fighters music, All My Life is not great but good. While it doesn't have their personality, All My Life is very reminiscent of the Foos' best intense rockers like This Is A Call, Monkey Wrench and Everlong. It's fast, fun and lean. Grohl keeps the crunching guitar coming. Grohl isn't the best singer but he's aware of his limitations and, as usual, it's a hoot when he whips himself into such a frenzy that he can't help but scream. On All My Life sings and rants about how he's always been "searching for something", presumably love, but the "something never comes." Haunted by a ghost of someone from the past, Grohl simultaneously rues and exalts in the fact that with women it's "done, done then one to the next one."
Vanessa Carlton-Ordinary Day(up 1 position)
Ordinary Day is the second single from Vanessa Carlton's Be Not Nobody CD. It's nice that young girls have at least three people making music for them that's not totally awful. They can choose between hip, popular Avril Lavigne, sincere, slightly arty Michelle Branch and Vanessa Carlton, the smart, confident nerd who never misses a piano lesson. I guess I credit the many kids who have picked Carlton's mildly ambitious music but her popularity is also a little strange to me. At the risk of using a critical cliche, Ordinary Day is quite ordinary. There's not much to it except a sense of artistic pretention. Carlton's interesting piano playing plays a less prominent role than on A Thousand Miles. Producer Ron Fair overdoes the strings as if he's orchestrating a third rate production of Oklahoma. I guess the kids feel like that liking a song like Ordinary Day means they're listening to something more serious and important. The most appealing thing about Ordinary Day is Carlton's vocal and persona. She has Tori Amos' honesty without Amos' affectations and with an appealing youthful openness. The lyrics are a sweet story of a boy "looking to the sky" who "asked if I would come along".
No Doubt featuring Lady Saw-Underneath It All(up 3 positions)
In little more than a year, Gwen Stefani has totally turned around her image from the pathetic, pining for Gavin Rossdale thing she played on Return Of Saturn's Ex-Girlfriend and Simple Kind Of Life. Thanks to appearances on hits by Eve and Moby and the singles from the Rock Steady CD, she's reestablished herself as a cool, confident woman. Underneath It All's lyrics strike me as kind of sad wishful thinking. Stefani tries to convince herself that while her relationship "seems incomplete", her guy is really lovely and trying hard and understands her like no one else. Still, in her vocal and on the video, Stefani has an easy self assurance that belies the lyrics' insecurity. No Doubt have mixed a ska feel into their music for years. Sometimes, the music has been a bit too showy or frenzied. Underneath It All, written with Eurythmics' Dave Stewart, like Hey Baby, was produced by reggae legends Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare. It has a good, understated languor, with horns, subtle clavinet and synths, crisp but laid back drums and Shakespeare's rubbery bass. Jamaican dance hall diva Lady Saw nicely adds to the cool, poised feel.
Sheryl Crow-Steve McQueen(unchanged)
Steve McQueen, the second single from the C'mon C'mon CD shows that the empty headed feel of Soak Up The Sun was a strategy rather than an aberration. Soak Up The Sun at least had a likable, relaxed flow to it. On Steve McQueen, Crow awkwardly tries to show she can make stupid rock music as well as a guy. Steve McQueen grinding rock guitar sound is OK but everything else about is ridiculously dumb. Crow cops the ooh-oohs from Steve Miller's Take The Money And Run. Crow is usually a reliable singer but, especially on the chorus, she sounds shrill and as self satisfied as Lenny Kravitz watering down Americna Woman. Crow sings about wanting to "rock and roll this party" and ride a fast machine like Steve McQueen. Crow's social commentary about "rock stars in the White House" and pop stars who "look like porn" seems particularly lame.
Unwritten Law-Up All Night(down 3 positions)
Seein' Red showed Unwritten Law's sensitive side. On Up All Night, the second chart hit from the Elva CD, the Southern California band is back in a rocking mode. Like many of their punky pop contemporaries, Unwritten Law combine a bunch of influences into a accessible mix. Like Sum 41's hits, Up All Night has hard rock guitars and crisp, fluid drums but it's more serious minded than the lighthearted songs of Sum 41, The Offspring or New Found Glory. Strangely for a song about smoking cigarettes and weed and sittin' back relaxin', Scott Russo angrily spits out his vocal like he thought he was in Bad Religion. The chorus is catchy but Russo's voice is flat as if bad singing was an indication of authenticity. Jagged guitar and bass lines on the verses give Up All Night an edge that could belong to punk or ska. Up All Night has some rock power but it's not a lot of fun.
Ashanti-Happy(up 4 positions)
Down 4 U fell just short of the top 50 but, generally, the Murder Inc. steamroller shows no sign of slowing down. The endless parade of easy, listenable but unambitious hits produced by Irv Gotti with vocals by Ja Rule and/or Ashanti is becoming increasingly mind numbing. Happy, the second single from the Ashanti CD, is pleasant enough. It's perkier than Ashanti's smash, Foolish. The music and Ashanti Douglas' voice are both sunny, smooth and inoffensive. But they also largely lack personality. Happy is extremely modest in its aspirations and execution. With its laid back feel, Happy resembles the "remix" version of Jennifer Lopez' I'm Real. But Lopez, while no great singer, had more presence and sexy attitude than Ashanti has in her competent, innocuous vocal. Happy repeats a vaguely annoying, chirpy synth riff and a wind blowing sound not much different from the effect in Foolish. Happy's backup singers are pretty good but they're forced to sing a melody line strangely reminiscent of the one from 80s easy listening megahit On My Own. After the obligatory Ja Rule introduction, Ashanti, in a fairly inane lyric, tells her man how he she's "so glad you fell in love with me" and that she "couldn't see me without you."
John Mayer-No Such Thing(down 9 positions)
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.
His band is apparently still together but during a break between records, Bush leader Gavin Rossdale recorded Adrenaline, which is on the XXX soundtrack. Not surprisingly, the world is a lot more interested in Rossdale marrying No Doubt's Gwen Stefani than in his new single. In 1994, Bush released its first CD. Sixteen Stone was justifiably criticized as unoriginal and derivative of better music by people like Nirvana but it did have a couple edgy, exciting singles, Machinehead and Everything Zen. Since then Rossdale has kept making edgy music but the excitement is long gone. While Adrenaline is a solo project, nothing differentiates it from Rossdale's Bush music. He again does a tight, agitated vocal over dense music that, with guitars and electronics, creates a tense atmosphere. But Adrenaline is painfully familiar and like much of Bush's music, Adrenaline never reaches the greater depth or emotional payoff that the initial tension promises and the writing isn't interesting or detailed enough to go beyond the song's initial surface appeal. I suppose Adrenaline is appropriate for a Vin Diesel movie, which like Bush's music, is more about atmosphere and looking good than actually creating something new or imaginative. Rossdale's lyric includes all kinds of macho posturing about "going to extremes", getting "closer to the thrill" and how "you don't even feel the pain." Brags about not being "the kind to lay down and die" are pretty meaningless without any information about what's getting the adrenaline flowing.
Kylie Minogue-Love At First Sight(down 13 positions)
Kylie Minogue continues to proudly recreate Madonna's 80s sound. Love At First Sight, the second American hit from Minogue's Fever CD isn't as irresistable as Can't Get You Out Of My Head but it has the same intent: to be upbeat, very dancable and not particularly meaningful. With cheesy disco era synths, a steady beat and glossy, relentlessly cheery, electronically enhanced vocals, Love At First Sight largely does the job. Minogue and writer/producers Richard Stannard and Julian Gallagher want us to be reminded of dance pop classics. Good Times, Madonna's Holiday and, as the song fades out, Donna Summer's I Feel Love all come to mind. Love At First Sight is stupid, unoriginal, unmemorable and not particularly inspired but it is catchy and familiar enough to give Minogue another hit. On Love At First Sight, Minogue sings about how she was "thinking 'bout giving up" but then "everything went from wrong to right" when she met her baby.
Norah Jones-Don't Know Why(up 1 position)
Come Away With Me is the debut CD by 23 year old Norah Jones, who is sitar legend Ravi Shankar's daughter but was raised in Texas by her mom. Come Away With Me has justifiably become a yuppie and boomer favorite. Like Cassandra Wilson, Jones starts from a jazz background but plays songs that can be categorized as folk, r&b and pop. Jones' voice even resembles that of country pop singer Shelby Lynne. Don't Know Why is a good showcase of Jones' unshowy but sultry charm. On Don't Know Why, Jones' voice is appealingly yearning and delicate. Jones' piano and rhythm section are easy and inobtrusive, adding to the song's understated poignance. Don't Know Why, written by Jones' guitar player Jesse Harris, has a classic simplicity. Jones sings that, while it makes her feel teary, empty and needing wine, she has to stay away from a guy who has never run to her.
Satellite is the title track and fourth chart hit from Payable On Death's breakthrough record. As radio gets deeper into the Satellite CD, the San Diego band's success becomes more mysterious and irritating to me. There were logical reasons P.O.D.'s previous singles were hits. Alive, with its supposed positivity, was the right song after 9/11. Youth Of The Nation had a hot topic(school shootings). Boom had a good, big beat and rock guitar sound. Satellite also has decent edgy, slashing guitars but the focus is on Sonny Sandoval's annoying vocal. Sandoval seems bad in lots of way. His attempts to project menacing toughness seem lame. He comes across to me as unpleasant and unskilled and a pale imitation of sharper rappers. Satellite is another religious paean. There's nothing particularly terrible about Satellite's lyrics. Sandoval tells us that His "love constricts my chest" and "now I can see" and asks God to "never take your eyes off me." As with Alive, I find Satellite uninteresting because Sandoval never goes beyond what God means to him to think of others. And maybe I'm close minded but Sandoval's harsh snarl doesn't seem like the best way to express his devotion. His singing strikes me as more about establishing rock cred and selling records than communicating with the Almighty.
Michelle Branch-Goodbye To Youbuy it!
The musical appeal of the previous hits from Michelle Branch's The Spirit Room CD was fairly modest but at least something was going on. Everywhere was a likable pop rocker. All You Wanted was a sweet rescue fantasy. Goodbye To You doesn't offer much. It's quite a routine ballad. It's different from Vanessa Carlton's string heavy Ordinary Day but, like that song, Goodbye To You's main asset is the singer's unaffected, natural style. Branch's singing with Santana on Game Of Love hints that she might loosen up in the future but, so far, sincerity and lack of pretension have been the keys to Branch's success. She outdoes even Carlton in those categories. Goodbye To You is like singles by people like Britney and Christina but at least it doesn't have the fakey, manufactured feel of some similar songs. Branch doesn't have the strongest voice but it sounds like a teenager's. As she quavers and reaches for high notes, her quirks and effort make the song feel real and adds to a sense of yearning. Goodbye To You doesn't add much to the breakup song genre but it keeps things simple and undoubtedly connects with girls in their early teens who feel like Branch is the only one who understands their heartache. Branch sings about the pain of trying to put a long relationship behind her.