Papa Roach-She Loves Me Not(down 10 positions)
Lovehatetragedy is the new CD by the Northern California band whose lead singer, formerly known as Coby Dick, wants to be known by his given name Jacoby Shaddix. Papa Roach broke through with the Infest CD. Like many rock hits, Infest's Last Resort and Broken Home had lyrics about a young mind troubled by memories of a sad childhood and music, dictated by Dick's alternately yelled and rapped vocal, that mixed hard rock and hip hop. They didn't particularly stand out among similar songs on the radio. She Loves Me Not, which may turn out to be the rock song of the summer, is a big step forward. She Loves Me Not's lyrics, about being torn apart by anxiety caused by a girl who toys with his emotions, are typically serious. But, unlike Papa Roach's previous hits, She Loves Me Not is about the music more than Shaddix' personality. Papa Roach have effectively tightened their music on She Loves Me Not for a sound that's big but concise. She Loves Me Not has the rock heft and urgency of a Sevendust song without that band's heavy metal excess. Jerry Horton's tough, economical guitar playing and Dave Buckner's big drum sound give She Loves Me Not good force and momentum. Until he does a mediocre rap, Shaddix' vocal is nicely focused and unshowy. Given the lyrics' torment and the music's rock charge, Shaddix finishes appropriately, ranting "life's not fair."
Eve featuring Alicia Keys-Gangsta Lovin'(unchanged)
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(unchanged)
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.
P. Diddy featuring Ginuwine-I Need A Girl Pt. 2(up 4 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.
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.
No Doubt featuring Lady Saw-Underneath It All(up 9 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.
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.
Avril Levigne-Sk8er Boibuy it!
Complicated was one of the biggest pop hits of 2002. The followup from the young Canadian's Let Go CD is another song that sounds like a hit on first listen. But Sk8er Boi isn't as novel or distinctive as Complicated. It's a standard pop rocker. Its central riff is stolen from last year's hit Flavor Of The Week. Sk8er Boi is unlikely to have Complicated's long chart life. Story songs soon become less interesting once you know how the story ends, especially when the story's not that great to start with. Sk8er Boi ends with Levigne taunting another about following the advice of her "stuck up" friends and blowing her chance to be with the guy who's now famous and going out with Levigne The presumably fictional lyric is obnoxious and less appealing than Complicated's tale of frustration. Still, Sk8er Boi's music is fast and fun. It has good energy and rocks harder than any of the hits by Levigne's rivals for the teen audience. And it's not the worst thing that North American girls have taken the confident, straight forward Levigne as a role model.
Mario-Just A Friend 2002(down 5 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.
The Vines-Get Free(unchanged)
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."
Vanessa Carlton-Ordinary Day(up 3 positions)
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".
Sheryl Crow-Steve McQueen(up 4 positions)
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.
John Mayer-Your Body Is A Wonderland(down 1 position)
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.
Goo Goo Dolls-Big Machine(down 3 positions)
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."
Seether-Fine Againbuy it!
Seether are the latest of many glum, post-grunge bands to hit the top 50 though the first to come from South Africa. On Fine Again, from Seether's Disclaimer CD, singer/songwriter Shaun Morgan sounds a lot like Puddle Of Mudd's Wes Scantlin, the most successful of the recent mopey Cobain clones. Morgan doesn't have Scantlin's arrogance and Morgan's lyric and delivery make it clear that his pain is real, not the showy posturing Scantlin sometimes engages in. Seether effectively use the grunge conventions. Morgan's intense emotion can pull you in, in a Lithium kind of way, as can the way the power chords underline his vocal. But Fine Again sounds so familiar and inferior to the music Morgan clearly loves that it's hard to stay interested. Also, Morgan's depression is apparently so deep that he can't vary his flat affect or Fine Again's fairly monotonous melody. Morgan can't even muster the cathartic wail that is often grunge's saving grace. Fine Again is about being told he should get over his breakup but feeling stuck in a world where every day is gray and the same and feeling "like I'm dying."
Jack Johnson-Flake(down 9 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.
Justin Timberlake-Like I Love Youbuy it!
The first single from teen pop's top hunkshows that Justin Timberlake can be successful outside N Sync but fails to show that he's developing a distinctive musical personality. On record and especially in the video, Like I Love You seems to be a Michael Jackson tribute. Timberlake mimics Jackson's look and moves but he doesn't have the gloved one's visual or vocal presence. Like I Love You, from the Justified CD, is apparently intended to introduce an adult, urban image for Timberlake. Timberlake does OK with the Jacko-like falsetto parts. Hovever, Like I Love You's spoken, tough guy parts are, if not quite ridiculous, a little silly, though his young fans undoubtedly find them cool and sexy. Otherwise, Timberlake's vocal is uninteresting but amiable, floating nearly unnoticably along with the beat. The Neptunes do their usual competent production. Like I Love You basically works as disposable dance pop. It's got a good crisp beat and a decent repeated guitar based riff. Like I Love You isn't helped by the Neptunes trademark beeping effects, which have almost always been annoying and now are annoying and cliched. The Neptunes try to give the very white Justin some edge by including a rap from Clipse(who happen to have the first record released by the Neptunes' new label). Clipse's rap doesn't work as well as Nelly's on N Sync's fun Girlfriend remix. It's pretty drab with cocky come ons("grab a friend, see I can have fun with two") that don't mesh with Timberlake's more polite approach. Like I Love You's lyric is mostly an inoffensive attempt to charm a woman and get her to drop "your front face" though the effort to be simultaneously tough and respectful results in some stinker lines like "you're a good girl and that's what make me trust ya."
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."
Unwritten Law-Up All Night(down 2 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.
Chad Kroeger with Josey Scott-Hero(down 37 positions)
Hero is from the Spiderman soundtrack. Hero has a big, anthemic tone appropriate for a big budget, wildly successful film about a mythic superhero. But Hero lacks the movie's sense of action and fun. It confirms my suspicion that a lot of today's pop rock stars are really mediocre folkies at heart. Hero asks questions common to folk songs about why peoples' passions lead to "killing and blood spilling" and offers its only solution in the fuzzy imagery of holding "onto the wings of the eagles." Hero plods along with little energy or imagination but, as on Nickelback's hits, Kroeger's humorless but very sincere delivery has its charm. He's down and doesn't expect a savior but still has the capacity to love. People love a solemn rock ballad so Hero's a slam dunk hit. But it's pretty tame, contrived and formulaic. Hero doesn't even have the rock drive of Nickelback's hits. It's not that different from the Hero songs done by Enrique, Mariah and many others. My favorite part of Hero is Josey Scott's participation. With his band Saliva, Scott sings cartoonish but hard edged rap inflected rock but he easily fits into Hero's serious mood. He overemotes his verse which includes the grammatically questionable claim that he was told "love will all save us."
P.O.D.-Satellite(up 2 positions)
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 You(up 2 positions)
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.
Norah Jones-Don't Know Why(down 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.
Nelly-Hot In Herre(down 15 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.