Justin Timberlake-Senorita(up 3 positions)
Justin Timberlake has impressively moved on from being a member of a very successful singing group to being even more successful as a solo artist. Even more impressive is that Timberlake has escaped N Sync's squeaky clean, lightweight pop image and built some cred as an r&b singer. A lot of credit for Timberlake's makeover has to go to The Neptunes(Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo), who wrote and produced seven songs on the Justified CD including Like I Love You, Rock Your Body and Senorita. Senorita, Justified's fourth hit, is insubstantial and not that impressive but it(along with Timberlake's nice contribution to Black Eyed Peas' Where Is The Love) helps solidify the idea of Timberlake as a respectable artist. Unlike some of Timberlake's previous singles, Senorita doesn't show a need to overwhelm us with overdone instrumentation or breathless Michael Jackson imitations. Senorita is a smooth ride with relaxed confidence. The Neptunes again show their skill at putting together an appealing song. Senorita's chief asset is a very likable, easy keyboard riff. Senorita is also helped by a minimal percussive beat and touches of horns. Timberlake is once again aided by good, well placed backing vocals. Timberlake's singing seems fine. He's pretty charming, though I could do without the cocky guys/ladies finale. Senorita has a typical lyric. Timberlake tries to convince a woman that the guy who upsets her "doesn't love ya" and offers his "real love" in exchange.
Michelle Branch-Are You Happy Now?(down 5 positions)
For her new Hotel Paper CD, Michelle Branch stuck with John Shanks, who's worked with Sheryl Crow, Stevie Nicks and Melissa Etheridge and produced Branch's The Spirit Room CD. The result on Are You Happy Now is radio friendly but not very exciting. Alanis Morissette's influence on Branch is quite apparent. The similarity is especially there on Are You Happy Now, which is basically You Oughta Know light. The 21 year old Morissette was fascinating, raging furiously against a betraying boyfriend. The 20 year old Branch merely sounds whiny and self pitying. The other appropriate comparison is to Avril Lavigne. Branch has played the weepy, sensitive second banana to Lavigne's confident, in your face punk rock fan. Are You Happy Now, written by Branch and Shanks, shows awareness of the competition. Branch's screaming on the chorus and the simple, rock guitar driven dramatic music brings Lavigne to mind. Are You Happy Now has some of the thrill that dynamic shifts from quiet to boisterous bring but it doesn't have the energy of Lavigne's best songs. The verses drag by with an uninteresting drum machine beat and vague synth embellishments. Are You Happy Now's lyric perpetuates Branch's persona as the girl who doesn't quite fit in and is doomed to wallow in disappointment. Are You Happy Now is about looking for satisfaction in the fact that the guy who left her isn't happy either. The good news for Branch is that at least as many young women in Branch's target preteen and early teen audience relate to Branch's awkward misfit as to Lavigne's cocky popular girl. Branch's voice is annoyingly girlish and thin but enough girls relate to Branch's insecurities and her very youthful voice to make Are You Happy Now a big hit.
Matchbox 20-Unwell(down 1 position)
Unwell is the second single from the More Than You Think You Are CD. It's an improvement over Disease, a lame attempt at a rocker and pale imitation of Smooth, Rob Thomas' Santana collaboration. Unwell has the soothing, easy, well crafted sound that helped make the band big. The chorus is catchy and hard to resist. But generally, Unwell is bland. It's so tastefully innocuous that it barely registers. A banjo in the beginning and end adds a little flavor but Unwell could use a lot more. It doesn't help that Unwell, like Disease, is another tale of how screwed up Thomas is. Especially now that Matchbox 20 is an established, very successful band, Thomas' repeated tales of woe are increasingly tiresome. Unwell is more optimistic than some of them. Thomas thinks "I'm headed for a breakdown and I don't know why" but he also feels like he'll soon get things together.
Korn-Did My Time(down 6 positions)
Did My Time is in the movie Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle Of Life but it's not on the movie's soundtrack. It's supposed to be on Korn's next record, which is due by the end of the year. Apparently, 2002's Untouchables, Korn's last record, was a disappointing seller and not a fan favorite. So the band is back in the studio promising that the new record will be more rocking and "not so overproduced." I've admired some of Korn's work for the band's ability to make music that rocks and has interesting atmosphere. But I'm certainly not a fan. Their music often seems silly and overdramatic. If Did My Time is a sign of what's to come, it looks like they're getting stupider and goofier. Did My Time is the same old tale of self loathing that Korn and other theatrical hard rock bands have done for years. It sounds like self parody when Jonathan Davis sings "I feel the anger changing me." He also intones familiar lines like "realize I can never win", "feel like I have failed" and "my mind is laughing at me." Davis' singing, a combination of barking, roaring and whining, is awful. Davis does a good job of communicating his agitation but it's unpleasant listening. Did My Time's music and playing is competent but it's not original or interesting. Hard rock guitars and drums crunch under Davis' vocal and create a typical dark atmosphere.
Jason Mraz-The Remedy(up 16 positions)
The Remedy made the top 50 last spring thanks mostly to play on adult alternative radio. The Remedy returned to the chart as, not surprisingly, its annoyingly catchy perkiness has been embraced by pop radio. Jason Mraz is a young singer/songwriter who grew in Virginia and established himself playing in San Diego's coffee houses. Mraz' Waiting For My Rocket To Come CD was produced by John Alagia, who worked with Dave Matthews and John Mayer. Mraz wrote The Remedy with The Matrix(Lauren Christy, Graham Edwards and Scott Spock), who wrote Avril Lavigne's hits. The Matrix's gifts for writing catchy, upbeat tunes is evident but The Remedy doesn't measure up to Lavigne's best feisty, idiosyncratic work. Since Mraz is another cocky, glib white guy, the Matthews/Mayer comparison may be more apt but, to be fair to Matthews and Mayer, Mraz is glibber and his music seems less substantial. The Remedy is pleasant and boomer friendly but its relentless cheerfulness is too much. The catchiness of the "I won't worry my life away" chorus is undermined by a shallow slickness worthy of a TV commercial. Mraz does a white hipster rap on the verses of a sort that gave Barenaked Ladies and others hits but has fallen out of favor on the pop charts the last couple years. Mraz' cutesy gots (as in "you gots the poison, I've gots the remedy) make me think that Mraz needs a good ass kicking to wipe that smirk of the song's face. The Remedy's music matches the sunny vocal and lyric with a bouncy bass and guitar and cheap sounding synths.
Evanescence-Going Under(up 1 position)
Going Under doesn't have the mediocre raps that helped made Bring Me To Life sound like an odd Linkin Park tribute. Otherwise, Going Under is a lot like the hugely successful first single from the Arkansas band's Fallen CD. Once again, the band is wildly over the top. Shooting for a cold, futuristic sound, Evanescence throw together crunching guitar chords, atmospheric keyboard effects and Amy Lee's overdramatic art rock vocals as well as strings and layers of backup singing. Lee again sounds like a self important, hysterical version of Sarah McLachlan or Tori Amos. Brian Moody's sledge hammer guitar playing is pretty uninteresting and his short solo pretty awful. Hopefully the novelty value of Evanescence's theatrical music is fast ebbing and they're not a harbinger of a wave of female led melodramatic neo grunge bands. Going Under's lyric is slightly surprising. Lee sings about all the pain her lover has caused but also vows that she'll "save myself" and "won't be broken again."
Kelly Clarkson-Miss Independent(down 1 position)
Miss Independent, the first single from the Thankful CD, is a good move for the American Idol '02 winner. Clarkson could probably get a few more hits sticking with the big, emotive ballads that are so popular with American Idol's audience. But Clarkson undoubtedly realizes if she wants a long career, she'll need to connect with the majority of Americans who aren't fans of the easy listening American Idol sound. So, like balladeers including Whitney and Celine, Clarkson is sure to alternate dance pop with her slow, dramatic songs. Miss Independent indicates that Clarkson has taken Christina Aguilera as a role model for her dance pop. Clarkson was pushed in that direction by producer Rhett Lawrence. Lawrence wrote Miss Independent with Aguilera. When it didn't make Aguilera's Stripped CD, Lawrence brought it to Clarkson who supposedly, with Lawrence, reworked it. Miss Independent still sounds just like a Christina Aguilera song(it's odd to hear it back to back with Aguilera's Fighter) and not a great one. Still, in my mind, anything is an improvement over big, showy, empty, generic ballads like Clarkson's first hit: A Moment Like This. Miss Independent is better than Fighter, simply because it doesn't overdo things. The backing is relatively restrained and functional. The verses get good edge from a steady riff with the sound of a tight electric guitar strum and a crisp angular beat. The chorus, with chords crunching in under Clarkson's singing, is very familiar but it is effectively dramatic, Clarkson's vocal doesn't show much distinctive personality but it stays strong, twisting around and not getting overwhelmed by the song's electronics. Miss Independent's lyric doesn't really match Clarkson sweet, regular gal image. It reads more like an attempt, like Beautiful, to redefine Aguilera's unlikable persona. Miss Independent is about a woman who, after working hard at projecting a harsh aura of self sufficiency, drops her defenses and falls hopelessly in love.
Good Charlotte-Girls And Boys(up 3 positions)
Good Charlotte's previous singles were fast punky pop. Girls And Boys, the third hit from the Young and the Hopeless CD, shows that Good Charlotte can make fun, kind of dopey music in different styles. Girls and Boys uses sounds from the shiny pop of the early 70s and late 80s. Girls and Boys is ridiculously catchy. The band keeps a string of hooks coming. Girls and Boys has a primitive sounding keyboard line reminiscent of Gary Numan's Cars. The climactic guitar break is like the one on Rick Springfield's Jessie's Girl. The chorus, with its crunching power chords, has the simple exuberance of a good emo song(e.g. Jimmy Eat World's Lucky Denver Mint). Singer Joel Madden doesn't have much range. His vocal isn't versatile enough to match Girls and Boys' transitions but his basic yelling matches the song's simple, upbeat feel. The lyric is fairly harsh for a perky pop song. Joel sings that girls atttracted to wealthy guys are "losing their souls in a material world." But the cynical lyric hardly detracts from Girls and Boys' lightweight charm.
Guster is a Boston band that developed a large following playing lots of gigs with two acoustic guitars and bongos. The guys have since gone electric but they've maintained a simple upbeat sound. Amsterdam, from the Keep It Together CD, is a strong candidate for feel good song of the summer. It's lightweight but very charming. On Amsterdam, Guster remind me of the jangly, perky guitar bands that sprung up in the mid 80s after REM had their initial success. It rides forward easily with a variety of vigorous but smooth strums, a bit of jangling and a crisp, clicking beat. Amsterdam has a pleasant, shiny sound. Ryan Miller's voice isn't amazing but it is warm and good natured. Amsterdam lacks edge and it's kind of saccharine. It does have a likable, clean cut sound with a nice, positive energy. While Amsterdam has a jaunty sound its lyric, written by drummer Brian Rosenworcel, is quite nasty. Amsterdam's giddiness apparently reflects the joy of a spurned lover at the prospect of finding revenge in a nasty letter.
Thalia-I Want You(down 2 positions)
Thalia(born Ariadna Thalia Sodi Miranda) is a Mexican music and tv star and the wife of Sony music chairman(and Mariah Carey's ex-husband) Tommy Mottola. I've read that Thalia has a good voice but it's hard to tell from I Want You, the first single from Thalia, her first mostly English language record. Thalia gets the Jennifer Lopez treatment on I Want You, which was produced and cowritten by regular Lopez collaborator Cory Rooney. The blueprint generally guarantees a professional, pleasant, innocuous sound and that's the case on I Want You. I Want You has a breezy feel. It's well made and likable with a perky synth riff and crisp beat. I Want You has the obligatory star cameo presumably meant to add cred or familiarity. At least it's not Ja Rule. Fat Joe croaks a good natured, unmemorable rap. Thalia doesn't project the strong, distinctive personality of fellow Latina star Shakira. Thalia's vocal is charming but it sounds like it was flattened then enhanced in the studio. Especially in the context of the fairly dopey lyric, she comes across a bit empty headed. On I Want You, Thalia plays the Ashanti style adoring girlfriend asking herself what she did to deserve such a special man, complimenting his "sexy smile" and body that drives her wild and trying to convince him that "this love affair would be good for you and me." Trying to make Thalia seem less pathetic, Rooney has Fat Joe saying "I feel the same way."
Foo Fighters-Low(down 10 positions)
The Foo Fighters' One By One CD has been embraced by modern rock radio. All My Life and Times Like These have probably gotten as much rock airplay as the singles from any of the band's first three records. Times Like These's chart life was extended by the release of an acoustic version. It's as if Times Like These's kind of obvious "you gotta live life even when we're at war and the world is screwed up" message becomes more meaningful and powerful when Dave Grohl plays the song more quietly and slowly and enunciates better. I'm still of the opinion that One By One, one of Foo Fighters' hardest rocking records, isn't very good. All My Life is pretty exciting but nothing else is really memorable. Low is one of the better songs on One By One but it's a good example of how the new music rocks hard but is kind of pointless. Low is driven forward nicely by Grohl and Chris Shiflett's matching pair of guitar riffs and Taylor Hawkins' strong drumming but not much happens. Grohl restrains himself vocally, sticking to a fairly quiet voice that creates a little edge but not much energy. He even avoids the kinds of screams he usually works towards, trading the excitement of a climax for a steady, decent rock sound. Low is apparently an attempted pickup. He offers to pass through and take "you as low as you go."
Pete Yorn-Crystal Village(up 5 positions)
Crystal Village is the second chart hit from Pete Yorn's second CD Day I Forgot. Crystal Village is the best song on the not bad but not great CD. Jeff Buckley is clearly a role model for Yorn. Yorn has often tried to emulate Buckley's intensity and the thrills Buckley was able to produce with dramatic songs that swooped back and forth between quiet and charged. On Crystal Village, Yorn achieves that kind of excitement. Like most of Yorn's best songs, Yorn creates a rich sound playing multiple instruments along with R. Walt Vincent. Crystal Village's music is theatrical but not overdone. Crystal Village builds and adds compelling emotion. It starts out with only a finger picked guitar then adds Yorn's drums, Vincent's string effects and, finally, slashing electric guitar, to epic effect. Yorn's deep, heavy voice can be too much when he doesn't have an interesting song. But on a great song like Crystal Village, Yorn's singing completes a powerful, sweeping sound. Crystal Village is apparently about Yorn trying to resuscitate a relationship that "was good in the beginning" by taking his partner's hand and showing her bright "lights arranging twilight sages."
Eve 6-Think Twice(unchanged)
The sure touch that brought Eve 6 hits on their first two records(Inside Out on Eve 6 and Here's To The Night on Horrorscope) has apparently eluded them on the new It's All In Your Head CD. Max Collins does some annoying, cliched self dramatizing rock singing. He starts by slowly and meaningfully intoning every syllable in a style Weezer mocked on their sweater song. The songs shifts to an anonymous chorus with slamming power chords. Then it speeds up a bit with Jon Siebels playing a decent scratchy guitar sound. Think Twice starts to sound a liitle like Inside Out but without that song's intensity. Generally Think Twice lacks Inside Out's energy and excitement. In an inevitable climax, Collins ends up screaming but Inside Out never gets interesting. I find it so boring that it's a struggle to listen all the way through. Think Twice has a pretty unpleasant lyric. Collins partly tries to convince his lady that his love is better than a rival's. But Think Twice is mostly a thuggish warning to the rival that if he touches her "I'll let you feel the burn."
Jack Johnson-Wasting Time(unchanged)
The Horizon Has Been Defeated, the first chart hit from Jack Johnson's On And On CD, was one of the year's more likable singles. The Horizon Has Been Defeated, a wry shot at corporate greed, showed Johnson at his charming best. Horizon's good, reggae inflected music fit Johnson's positive vibe and was a little more substantial than some of Johnson's work. Wasting Time, written by Johnson with drummer Adam Topol and bassist Merlo Podlewski, has an even more overt reggae flavor and an interesting guitar sound. Wasting Time isn't quite as irresistable as Horizon but it is appealing, easy listening. Johnson often walks the line between relaxed and complacent but his music is generally appealing and usually works, at least as background music. Wasting Time's lyric is typical Johnson. He often depicts himself as a stoner with a very laidback but confident approach to women. As on Flake, Wasting Time paints a world of people barely energetic enough to care about anything. Wasting Time has a cutesy theme: "I'm just a waste of her energy and she just wasting my time, so why gon't we get together and we could waste it all tonight."
Evanesence-Bring Me To Life(down 3 positions)
Evanescence is a Little Rock, Arkansas band started by former camp buddies Amy Lee and Ben Moody. Bring Me To Life is on the Daredevil soundtrack and Evanescence's Fallen CD. It was inevitable that someone would take the pop metal sound that's dominated rock music the last couple years and make it more glossy and even poppier. Bring Me To Life strikes me as one of the silliest hits of recent times. It brings to mind a bizarre mix of Linkin Park and the bloated Meat Loaf influenced hits Bonnie Tyler had in the early 80s. Bring Me To Life is also a touch gothic. Singer Amy Lee comes on like a spacier Sarah McLachlan though, to McLachlan's credit, she's never been as overdramatic as Lee is. With sweeping strings, crunching guitars, vaguely ominous synths and guest vocalist Paul McCoy playing Mike Shinoda(Linkin Park's rapper), Bring Me To Life throws in everything but the kitchen sink to make a hit. I can imagine how Bring Me To Life's over the top style could work on the soundtrack of a movie about a superhero but out of that context, it's ridiculously overblown. Bring Me To Life is fairly bad poetry. Lee appreciates how a guy can "see into my eyes like open doors leading you into my core" and asks him to wake her numb, soulless, sleeping spirit and "save me from the nothing I've become."
Mya-My Love Is Like... Wobuy it!
My Love Is Like Wo... is from Mya Harrison's Moodring CD. My Love Is Like was cowritten and coproduced by Missy Elliott. My Love Is Like doesn't have the inventiveness and energy of Elliott's hits but it does have those songs' appealing confidence and sensuality. My Love Is Like is one of many R&B songs where a women promises she's going to please her man but it gives the usual idea a nice spin. She knows the guy will be happy with her because she's quite happy with herself. The fun of the song is how Mya's need to satisfy someone else seems less important than how she's satisfied with herself. My Love Is Like's music is unremarkable and a touch light but it's smooth and controlled and nicely matches the lyric's easy assurance. My Love Is Like has a good, simple beat and quietly dramatic piano, string and synth effects. Mya's voice is relaxed when she's on her own and the singing is playful and strong when she harmonizes and trades lines with backup singers.
Rancid-Fall Back Down(up 1 position)
It's been a good year for Rancid singer/co-songwriter Tim Armstrong. Diamonds and Guns from Transplants, Armstrong's side project was a minor hit. Now Fall Back Down from Indestructible, Rancid's first CD since 2000, is Rancid's biggest hit since Ruby Soho and Time Bomb off their 1995 And Out Comes The Wolves record. The success of bands like Good Charlotte, Sum 41 and Simple Plan, who do poppy versions of punk, has made radio more ready to embrace bands like Rancid again. After hearing the glossy, youthful versions of punk, it's good to hear Rancid's purer, less gimmicky, more adult version getting a chance. There's nothing remarkable or groundbreaking about Fall Back Down. While they may have influenced the latest generation of punks, they're still open to accusations that they closely mimic their predecessors, especially The Clash. Armstrong's rough rasp is pretty generic. He sounds a little that guy who rants in the Outback steakhouse advertisements. Still, Armstrong's singing is charmingly direct and he avoids cuteness. Similarly, Fall Back Down is likably straight forward. It has an appealing, upbeat feeling. Fall Back Down has good, slicing guitar playing and drummer Brett Reed and bass player Matt Freeman make sure Fall Back Down stays fast and fun. On Fall Back Down, Armstrong vows that despite his enemies and, especially, a woman who "betrayed me", with the help of "my crew", I'm gonna make it alright."
Eastmountainsouth-You Dance(down 3 positions)
Eastmountainsouth is Kat Maslich and Peter Adams, southerners who met in LA and formed a duo making country tinged folk. You Dance is on their self titled debut. You Dance is a thoughtful, very sweet love song. Its sound is a bit on the adult, tasteful side for me but You Dance is very charming. Adams has a basic, sincere voice. You Dance's music is appealingly minimal. It matches the lyric's account of pure, ungimmicky love. Adams' nice, simple, unshowy piano is accompanied by very restrained drums. Maslich's harmonies are very appealing. She reminds me of Syd Straw, a favorite background singer of 80's and 90's alt country bands. You Dance is a touch boring but it's very pleasant. Its avoidance of flash is a refreshing contrast to most contemporary music. You Dance's lyric has lots of likable images. Adams sings about wanting to "carry you away" and "wake you every morning" and asks if he can "wander every day beside you."
Limp Bizkit-Eat You Alive(up 1 position)
First, guitarist Wes Borland left Limp Bizkit. Then the band recorded and scrapped albums worth of material with new guitar player Mike Smith. Finally, Limp Bizkit is back with the Results May Vary CD. Eat You Alive, the CD's first single, doesn't do anything to resuscitate the career of the once hugely successful but now widely reviled Fred Durst. Almost everything about Eat You Alive is terrible. Durst's one talent was an ability, with Borland's help, to give his mediocre hard rock a decent groove. Eat You Alive totally lacks any kind of groove, forcing us to focus on Durst's weak, whiny singing and nasty lyrics and his band's lame attempts to make arty hard rock in the Tool/Korn vein. Eat You Alive is dominated by Durst's unappealing tough guy ranting and creepy personality. Guitars and drums pound away bombastically in the background but never really get anywhere. Eat You Alive depicts Durst as a leerer/stalker. Durst curses out a woman then tells her "I'm drawn to you." He notes that she's too cool to want anything to do with him, alternates hoots of "you're so hot" with apologies for his behavior and pathetically(and somewhat scarily) repeats "I just want to look at you all day; there ain't nothing wrong with that."
Ashanti-Rock Wit U(down 10 positions)
Rock Wit U is from Ashanti's Chapter II CD. Ashanti is still playing the sweet, agreeble, ideal woman she played when she sang harmonies on hits by Ja Rule and Fat Joe. At least she's in front now but while Ashanti always displays a sweet, likable voice, she's yet to display a distinctive personality. The same goes for her music. Like most of the hits produced by Irv Gotti and featuring Ashanti's vocal, Rock Wit U is pleasant and innocuous. Gotti and Ashanti wrote Rock Wit U. They long ago nailed a sound that's easy and inoffensive. Ashanti is accompanied by backing singers that are similarly breezy and appealing. Rock Wit U has a crisp, inobtrusive beat. Its synth effects add to a genial, dreamy feeling. But like many of Murder Inc.'s hits, Rock Wit U is benign sonic wallpaper. It's fine as Muzaky background music but has little substance. Ashanti sounds confident and like she's in control but it's depressing that she's still singing about being the supportive babe who just wants to love you babe.
Dashboard Confessional-Hands Downbuy it!
Dashboard Confessional is led by Christopher Carrabba, a singer/songwriter so sensitive that he makes his fellow sincere emo rockers seem brutish in comparison. Carrabba's serious, heartfelt delivery and clean good looks have won him worshipful fans who moon over him and sing along with his every word. Hands Down is from Dashboard Confessional's new A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar CD. On Hands Down, Carrabba gives his fans what they expect, making it clear how deeply he feels what he says. Hands Down's dynamics are its strong point. Carrabba creates good intensity, mixing up the song's volume and tempo, quietly emphasizing on certain sections and sharing the joy of release by yelling his heart on the chorus. The new CD was produced by modern rock veteran Gil Norton(Pixies, Belly, Foo Fighters). Hands Down is very listenable perky guitar pop that sounds good but the music is fairly routine and anonymous. Hands Down has the stuttering guitar and quiet to loud formula of The Middle and other Jimmy Eat World songs without that band's musical personality. Hands Down does have Carrabba's winning emotional purity. When he doesn't have a catchy tune to anchor it, Carrabba's sincerity can be too intense and a bit boring but Hands Down is heartfelt with good hooks. Hands Down's lyric is appealingly dramatic. Carrabba communicates the rapturous feeling that "this is the best day I can ever remember." Hands Down does a good job of capturing the heightened emotion of youthful romance. Carrabba sings that "my hopes are so high that your kiss might kill me." He willingly puts himself in his lover's hands and revels in how she "kissed me like you meant it."
Ben Harper-Diamonds On The Insidebuy it!
I found With My Own Two Hands, the first chart hit from Ben Harper's Diamonds On The Inside's CD, annoying. With My Own Two Hands was an impressive recreation of the Bob Marley sound but it didn't have much distinctive personality and seemed kind of pointless. Diamonds On The Inside's title track is much more comfortable and appealing. Harper's music includes all sorts of different kinds of folk music. He seems comfortable with the country folk of Diamonds On The Inside, which has the genuine, comfortable feel of a song like The Band's The Weight. Harper is a natural charmer but he tries modesty on Diamonds On The Inside, which sounds a little like a restrained version of his Steal My Kisses. Nothing much happens on Diamonds On The Inside but it sounds good. Diamonds On The Inside is anchored by Harper's strong, simple vocal and a solid acoustic guitar line. It builds a bit towards the end with a good, unshowy guitar solo, warm harmonies and a touch of steel guitar but Diamonds On The Inside remains a likably easy ballad with a positive vibe. On Diamonds On The Inside, Harper sings about a girl named Truth who "was a horrible liar", had everything "but couldn't be satisfied." Harper is a little full of himself, advising us to "make sure the fortune that you seek is the fortune you need" but the lyric generally fits Diamonds On The Inside's good feel.
Maroon 5-Harder To Breathe(up 1 position)
Maroon 5 used to be Kara's Flowers, playing smart, catchy guitar pop that did well at college radio but didn't sell many records. After releasing Fourth World, Kara's Flowers became Maroon 5. They reworked their sound, played a lot of gigs and have now released their debut CD Songs About Jane. Judging from Harder To Breathe, Maroon 5 developed a cynical, radio savvy sound. Harder To Breathe sounds like a hit but it's not very fun or likable. Harder To Breathe is all jagged, hooky noises but, perhaps appropriately for a very angry song, it lacks warmth. Harder To Breathe does grab you with a big sound. The guitars and drums crunch in at sharp angles. The hard, cold music turns me off but it is distinctive. The same can be said for Adam Levine's cocky, stylized vocal but he really irritates me. I do concede that his falsetto at the end is pretty cool. Harder To Breathe's lyric is pretty nasty. It apparently is addressed to a girlfriend. Levine mentions his "tendency of getting very physical" and warns: "watch your step 'cause if I do you'll need a miracle." He sings you're "not fit to f---in tread the ground I'm walking on" and "you want to stay but you know very well I want you gone." He taunts her: "is it painful to learn that it's me that has all the control" and "you wish that you had me to hold."
Nickel Creek-Smoothie Song(down 2 positions)
Nickel Creek are a bluegrass group from San Diego. Their modern sensibility has given them supporters beyond the genre's usual fans. Contemporary bluegrass queen Alison Krauss produced Nickel Creek's two CDs. Krauss has succeeded by giving her music a country folk flavor. Like Krauss, Nickel Creek show that they respect bluegrass history and can play traditional instruments and are also aware of other genres. Moves like covering Pavement's Spit On A Stranger show that Nickelback's musical tastes are even broader than Krauss'. Nickel Creek's music is very charming. It's smart and well played and has a sweet modesty. The Smoothie Song, from the This Side CD, is an instrumental written by Nickel Creek mandolin/banjo player Chris Thile which features the interplay of the group's principal players: Thile, fiddler Sara Watkins and guitar player Sean Watkins.
Lil' Lim featuring 50 Cent-Magic Stick(down 9 positions)
Lil' Kim went to the top of the pop charts as one of Lady Marmalade's vocalists. Now she's all over pop radio, appearing on Christina Aguilera's Can't Hold Us Down and on Magic Stick, from her La Bella Mafia CD, with 50 Cent. Everything 50 Cent touches these days becomes a hit but Magic Stick would probably be a hit even if 50 Cent wasn't the biggest recording artist in the U.S. 50 Cent and Lil' Kim are a good match. Neither has a classically impressive or pretty voice but both have plenty of charisma. At the same time, their styles are different. Some writers call 50 Cent's style mush mouthed. That's somewhat accurate but certainly not a complete description of his voice. 50 Cent's charm comes from a confidence that allows him to easily roll through his raps. He's established his street cred with tales of breaking the law and getting shot, but 50 has a likable humility. He stands out from rappers who need to show off their technique by being loud, showy and confrontational. Lil' Kim is also confident and unorthodox but she is much more in-your-face with her provocative, overtly sexual style. She's an Eartha Kitt for our time. Her assurance and sensuality compensate for the lack of standard skill in her raspy voice. Magic Stick finds both vocalists in a nice comfort zone. Magic Stick is totally about sex, a topic 50 Cent and Lil' Kim are comfortable with. They more or less get equal time. Lil' Kim has brags about her "magic clit" to match 50's claims about his member. Unlike most raps about sex, which celebrate the rapper's skills or the fact that everyone wants to be with them, Magic Stick's lyric has a giving tone. 50 and Kim express interest in the pleasure of their partner. Most of the boasting is about their skill in making someone else happy. Magic Stick's backing track, well constructed by the Fantom Of The Beat, is a good complement for the raps. Like 50 Cent's rap, Magic Stick's music moves at an easy, casual pace. It has a good, relaxed, crisp beat and a interesting, slowly twisting, clicking riff that's interrupted periodically by an emphatic crash of synths.