Macy Gray - I Try
Weeks on Chart: 18 Peak: # 21 (March 2000) buy it!
Gray's On How Life Is was justifiably one of the most highly acclaimed records of 1999. There's a good smooth groove nearly throughout and the songs are very well made. Gray's raspy childlike voice takes some getting used to but she does communicate a joyful sense of wonder. I Try is actually a sad story. Gray sings that "we should be together but we're not." She's a prisoner of his love and her world crumbles when he's not near. However, the music and her voice soften the troubled lyrics. Keyboards with chiming and string effects create an understated elegance.
Madonna - American Pie
Weeks on Chart: 1 Peak: # 49 (March 2000) buy it!
The easy listening phase of Madonna's career continues. Beautiful Stranger, her single from the Austin Powers movie, was pretty mellow but it had a good retro mood. American Pie was presumably thrown together quickly for the Next Best Thing soundtrack. While I've never found it particularly profound, American Pie has always been catchy. This version has no bite. The vague singing and innocuous keyboards are so relaxed that it seems like everyone in the studio was anesthetized. Madonna's speaking voice has recently taken on an English accent and, similarly, her singing has lost her distinctive personality. I'd even rather hear Weird Al Yankovic's Phantom Menace recitation which used American Pie as its base.
Madonna - Beautiful Stranger
Weeks on Chart: 1 Peak: # 38 (Aug. 1999) buy it!
Beautiful Stranger, from the Austin Powers soundtrack, is good fun. With the exception of the great dance song of its title track, the mysticism of Madonna's last cd, Ray of Light, got a little too heavy. Madonna seems to have a good time with the breezy, unpretentious pop of Beautiful Stranger. The song is well crafted in a 90s way and is enhanced by cute 60s style psychedelic sound effects. Its relaxed feel fits well with the Austin Powers ethic.
Madonna - Die Another Day
Weeks on Chart: 10 Peak: # 22 (Nov. 2002) buy it!
James Bond films long ago lost their originality and flair and became a series of flashy, unmemorable moneymakers.Appropriately, the theme song from the new one, Die Another Day, is functional, competent, a bit stylish and insignificant. Die Another Day soundtrack sounds like it was slapped together in a hurry between Madonnas other projects. It was also Madonna an opportunity to make people forget the terrible reviews she got for Swept Away and work in the medium(music video) where she doesnt have to talk and does her best acting. Madonna wrote and produced Die Another Day with Mirwais Ahmadzai, who also worked on the Music CD. Die Another Day, like Musics title track, is a repetitive sketch thats mostly about beat and synth effects. Die Another Day doesnt go have as many shiny beeps as Music and its not as intent on evoking the golden age of disco. Die Another Day sounds like a remix distilled from a more substantial source but, to my knowledge, this is all there is. With its string effects, edgy electronics and breaks in the beat for Madonna to intone something defiant, Die Another Day tries for theatrical intensity. The attempt is silly and annoying. Its both overdone and completely lacking in substance. Still, as insignificant dance music, Die Another Day basically does the job with a sleek, catchy sound. Mirwais gave it a good, crisp beat. Presented straight, Madonnas singing is affected and unmelodic but Mirwais smartly plays with it, giving it a metallic edge that matches the musics icy, dramatic feel. Die Another Day has a dopey, empty lyric that the latest James Bond film with an innocuous, vaguely threatening title and extensive commercial tie ins probably deserves. Ridiculously, Madonna claims Im gonna avoid the cliches as she spews inanities like Im gonna shake up the system, a time to work, a time to play and, inevitably, its not my time to go.
Madonna - Don't Tell Me
Weeks on Chart: 13 Peak: # 23 (March 2001) buy it!
Don't Tell Me, the second single from the Music CD, was written by producer Mirwais Ahmadzai and a pop music odd couple, Madonna and her brother in law, atmospheric folk rocker Joe Henry. The lyrics are pretty familar. Telling Madonna to stop loving her man is like telling "the rain not to drop", the wind not to blow" and "the sun not to shine." Henry's minimal, twisted writing style isn't too evident, except maybe towards the end: "tell the bed not to lay, like the open mouth of a grave/not to stare at me, like a calf down on its knees." Don't Tell Me is pretty insubstantial but it has a good, easy mood. The sound is clear and simple with acoustic guitar, solid beats, strings and some silly sonic effects to spice things up. Madonna's vocals are pleasant and not too bad.
Madonna - Music
Weeks on Chart: 14 Peak: # 26 (Sept. 2000) buy it!
The title track from Madonna's new CD shows that an incredibly stupid song can be a hit if it's got a good beat and it's sung by a star. The broad, silly 70's tinged video for Music makes it clear that Madonna knows the song is dopey. That knowing irony, even combined with the occasional clever line like "music makes the bourgeoisie want to rebel", still doesn't stop Music from being a little annoying. You're supposed to be reminded of disco's mindless fun by the simple words: "hey mister d.j., put a record on, I want to dance with my baby." French studio wiz Mirwais Ahmadzai does a good job of laying down the beats and adding the house effects.
Madonna - What It Feels Like For A Girl
Weeks on Chart: 2 Peak: # 49 (May 2001) buy it!
The third single from Madonna's Music CD has become a hit despite MTV's refusal to play its violent video, directed by Madonna's husband Guy Ritchie, depicting a woman's crime spree. What It Feels Like opens with a sample from the movie The Cement Garden which mirrors the lyric's mix of softcore titillation and genuine attempt to sympathize with the plight of a girl who's "strong inside" but encouraged to be weak. Madonna's vocal wisely doesn't tease. It's restrained and pleasant. The music, by Bjork collaborator Guy Sigsworth, has a simple beat and is good, relaxed and atmospheric.
Mandy Moore - I Wanna Be With You
Weeks on Chart: 8 Peak: # 35 (Aug. 2000) buy it!
The title track from Moore's I Wanna Be With You CD shows her to be even blander than her young female competition. I Wanna Be With You is a pretty wimpy, treacly ballad that uses strings and other lulling effects to create a smooth sound. Moore's vocals are pleasant but light and breathy as she sings about being head over heels over a boy. Girls with crushes will undoubtedly relate to Moore singing about not being able to think of "anything but you" and being happy for whatever attention he'll give her.
Marc Anthony - I Need to Know
Weeks on Chart: 16 Peak: # 32 (Jan. 2000) buy it!
Anthony is the latest Latin pop star to make the move to being an American pop star. It makes sense than Anthony makes a smooth transition since he grew up in New York and has English singing experience from starring on Broadway in Paul Simon's Capeman. The lyrics are fairly dopey. The song starts with Anthony singing that he heard a woman he likes asked about him. The rest of the song is just him repeating that he needs to know if it's true that she's interested. However, the key to the song is the music and I Need to Know has a nice, easy groove.
Marc Anthony - You Sang To Me
Weeks on Chart: 6 Peak: # 44 (April 2000) buy it!
You Sang To Me is the second hit from Anthony's self titled CD, the first primarily English language solo record for the Latin music star. Like on I Need To Know, the more danceable first single, Anthony comes across as a sweet, decent guy. You Sang To Me is a pleasant, if unremarkable, love song. Synths create an easy mood and there are touches of acoustic guitar and an accordion towards the end. You Sang To Me is about falling in love with a long time friend. Anthony is very sincere as he sings about how she "showed me what life needs to be."
Maria Mena - You're The Only One
Weeks on Chart: 1 Peak: # 50 (June 2004) buy it!
18 year old Maria Mena is a Norwegian singer/songwriter who's had hits at home since she was 15. You're The Only One, from Mena's White Turns Blue CD, made a very brief stop at the bottom of the top 50. It actually was in a virtual tie with Overnight Celebrity, another song with an impressively fast but somewhat exhausting Twista rap and Kanye West's skilled deployment of beats, riffs and sped up samples of female soul singers. You're The Only One originally struck me as an unremarkable mix of the work of Alanis Morissette and any of many confessional folkie women. But You're The Only One is quite charming. Mena is appealingly playful in her singing and lyric. Her voice is nicely varied. It's thin and hoarse in some places but it always displays an idiosyncratic, blithe spirit made even more likable by quirky English pronounciation. The lyric depicts Mena, like many teens, as simultaneously needy and confident. She mocks his boyfriend lovingly(saying he looks dumb when he dances) and cruelly(calling his penis small), explaining that she "likes to bring you down just to keep you around, 'cause the day you realize how amazing you are, you're gonna leave me." She wants him to know that she appreciates how he "holds my hair back when I'm drunk and get sick" and how he "knows exactly what I mean." You're The Only One was produced by Mena's main musician/songwriting partner Arvid Solvang. You're The Only One has a layered, pleasing, somewhat vague midtempo pop rock sound(like that for a Morissette or Barenaked Ladies song) with a variety of synth sounds, guitars and drumming that switches from minimal clicks on the verse to rock pounding on the chorus.
Marilyn Manson - Disposable Teens
Weeks on Chart: 4 Peak: # 44 (Dec. 2000) buy it!
Disposable Teens is from Marilyn Manson's Holy Wood CD. Especially since the shock value of his weird androgynous image has faded, everything about Manson seems kind of obvious. Disposable Teens has harsh, hard guitars but the sound is merely unpleasant, not overpowering like his role model Trent Reznor's. Manson's tough guy vocals are kind of silly. After some people held his music responsible for the Columbine killings, Manson is more self pitying than ever: "I've got a face made for violence and porn and I'm a teen distortion, survived abortion." Claiming to speak for today's youth, his rebellion shows the sophistication of a 13 year old: "the more you fear us, the meaner we'll get." He dares to allude to the Beatles, singing, "you say you want a revolution, I say you're full of shit."
Mario Winans featuring Enya and P.Diddy - I Don't Wanna Know
Weeks on Chart: 11 Peak: # 14 (June 2004) buy it!
Mario Winans' family have been among the biggest stars in gospel music for more than two decades. Mario left that world to pursue a career in r&b. Winans has appeared on hits by other people, including P. Diddy's I Need A Girl Pt. 2, but I Don't Wanna Know is his first hit as a lead singer. Among the showy, heavily produced songs on the radio, I Don't Wanna Know's stark, subdued sound stands out. A big part of I Don't Wanna Know's appeal comes from its haunting, elegant backing track. I Don't Wanna Know uses a sample from Enya's Boadicea(which Fugees also used on Ready Or Not). I Don't Wanna Know works because Winans' sad, restrained singing matches the backing track. I Don't Wanna Know is best when the muted Enya sample matches Winans' simple, unshowy vocal. It's worst when P. Diddy shows up. Winans records for Diddy's Bad Boy label. That's the only explanation for using P. Diddy's rap. Diddy destroys I Don't Wanna Know's delicate sound. He sounds even more awkward, complacent and unmelodic than usual. Hopefully, Diddy's Broadway acting is smoother and subtler. I Don't Wanna Know's stark arrangement, with a big, simple beat and sadly atmospheric backing, brings Bruce Springsteen's poignant Philadelphia to mind. Winans' sincere reading of the title reminds me of James Ingram's sappy but sweet I Don't Have The Heart. I Don't Wanna Know presents Winans as sad and pathetic. Because a yes would be too painful, Winans can't bring himself to ask his girlfriend if she's cheating. If she's "playin' me", he'd prefer that she'd "keep it to yourself." P. Diddy doesn't have time for such delicacy. He says he knows "my love you abusin'." His strategy for keeping a woman is reminding her that he "put you in the SUV", and gave her so much ice, "I made you freeze." Except for P. Diddy's intrusion, I Don't Wanna Know works. I Don't Wanna Know makes Winans sound like a loser but it has a striking, appealing sound.
Mario - Just A Friend 2002
Weeks on Chart: 9 Peak: # 24 (Sept. 2002) buy it!
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.
Mark Knopfler - What It Is
Weeks on Chart: 12 Peak: # 38 (Oct. 2000) buy it!
Since the huge success of Dire Straits' 1985 Brothers In Arms record, Mark Knopfler has kept a fairly low profile, working on soundtracks and not trying to be too commercial in his subsequent Dire Straits and solo work. What It Is is from Knopfler's new Sailing To Philadelphia CD. What It Is is reminiscent of Knopfler's great work before Money For Nothing. It's a distinctive, textured rocker like Making Movies' Tunnel Of Love. Knopfler's guitar playing is seemingly effortless as he unshowily sprinkles interesting riffs. His assuming voice easily twists around the shifting meters. What It Is is nicely detailed with vignettes about a small Scottish town and lots of observations including the fact "everybody's looking for somebody's arms to fall into."
Maroon 5 - Harder To Breathe
Weeks on Chart: 18 Peak: # 22 (Oct. 2003) buy it!
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."
Maroon 5 - This Love
Weeks on Chart: 21 Peak: # 2 (May 2004) buy it!
Maroon 5 used to make bouncy alternative pop as Kara's Flowers. When their records didn't sell very well, they retooled and came back, with nearly the same personnel, as Maroon 5. The makeover worked. This Love is Maroon 5's second big hit from their debut Songs About Jane CD. Harder To Breathe was slick pop with a good hook but it struck me as cynical and cold. This Love was also carefully constructed with an eye on the pop charts but it's a little looser and warmer. This Love reminds me of the perky 70s pop of The Partridge Family and others. This Love's scratchy guitar riff, keyboards and steady beat give it a bouncy sound. Adam Levine's singing is a bit narcissistic but it's mostly relaxed and playful. Levine sings that a relationship with a girlfriend who acts like love is "a game, pretending to feel the same then turn around and leave again" is taking its toll. But on This Love's buoyant bridge he vows to keep making "sure everything's alright", " 'cause I know that's what you want me to do." This Love is disposable but very well made and charming pop.
Mary J. Blige - Family Affair
Weeks on Chart: 19 Peak: # 16 (Dec. 2001) buy it!
Family Affair, from Blige's No More Drama CD, is Blige's biggest pop hit so far and it deserves its success. It has one of the best grooves of the year. Dr Dre's production is quite brilliant. The music, with an easy, shuffling beat and good backing vocals and keyboards, is relaxed but substantial. Blige has established a "don't mess with me" image but on Family Affair she sounds like she's having a good time, advising us to "leave your situations at the door" and "get it crunk", which apparently has something to do with dancing and having fun. Blige's vocal skills are on display as she smoothly scats around the beat.
Mary J. Blige - No More Drama
Weeks on Chart: 4 Peak: # 29 (March 2002) buy it!
Mary J. Blige follows the very fun, relaxed Family Affair with a much more serious statement of purpose.Your opinion of the second hit and title track from Blige's No More Drama CD has to be depend on how interesting a character you find Blige. Blige mocks her often overly dramatic, confrontational image by using the theme from The Young and The Restless soap opera as a base but it doesn't change the fact that No More Drama is heavy stuff that uses a melodramatic sound to declare an end to a dramatic life. Blige's vocal, as usual, is strong and compelling but, especially at the end when the otherwise minimal sound swells and she and backing singers try to outdo each other, her singing verges on emoting. Blige rues the lesson learned from having her heart broken and, using the power of positive thinking, pledges to never cry again, vowing: "I choose to win."
Matchbox 20 - Bent
Weeks on Chart: 26 Peak: # 1 (June 2000) buy it!
It's hard to imagine, but since Matchbox 20's debut CD Yourself or Someone Like You sold eleven million copies and Smooth was the biggest single of 1999, Rob Thomas is probably the most successful rock singer around these days. With its appealingly familiar, slightly adventurous and mildly rocking sound, Bent, the first single from the Mad Season CD, keeps the string of success going. Thomas' lyrics are typically cliched and his vocals emotive as he again plays the beleaguered male. At least he's not dreaming of pushing a woman around and taking her for granted as he asks his lady to pick him up, dust him off and be his breath so he can walk. The music does have a good atmospheric edge and restrained mood.
Matchbox 20 - Bright Lights
Weeks on Chart: 11 Peak: # 20 (Jan. 2004) buy it!
I'm a bit of a sucker for a schmaltzy, heartfelt ballad so I mostly like Bright Lights, the third hit from Matchbox 20's More Than You Think You Are CD. I certainly prefer Rob Thomas' sappy mode to the slick, harder edged commercial pop rock mode he was in for Disease, the awful thudding, slick single he wrote with Mick Jagger, and the whiny, drab, mediocre single Unwell. Bright Lights is a bit like If You're Gone, probably my favorite Matchbox 20 song. Bright Lights starts nicely with Thomas and a piano. A steel guitar underlines the vulnerability in Thomas' voice. Bright Lights' lead guitar and drums are initially fairly subdued. As on If You're Gone, Thomas trades his typical clenched fist rock star voice for a more modest, realer sound. Unfortunately, unlike If You're Gone, which built to a quite lovely horn assisted climax, Bright Lights is unable to sustain its appeal. About halfway through, there's a terrible guitar solo and, suddenly, we're in a bad Journey song. The guitars wail and Thomas is an over emoting rock star again. The big finish undercuts Bright Lights' charms. On Bright Lights, Thomas' character is once again romantically disappointed. He's pathetic but fairly sweet, hoping that the "baby" who left him with no one to "save me from all I'm up against out in this world" will feel unwelcome in Manhattan and "come on home."
Matchbox 20 - Disease
Weeks on Chart: 17 Peak: # 11 (Dec. 2002) buy it!
Matchbox 20 has made a career of catchy pop songs with a touch of rock edge. None of their singles are great art but they're usually easy to listen and there's occasionally something interesting going on. The band's knack seems absent on Disease off the More Than You Think You Are CD. Disease's familiarity will get it a lot of airplay but it's pretty bad. Disease sounds a lot like Smooth, Rob Thomas' contribution to Santana's Supernatural CD. Its "'til I'm free of my disease" fade out sounds just like Smooth's "Or else forget about it." Disease doesn't have the light feel and easy flow Santana's rhythm based music gave Smooth. Disease is pretty heavy. Thomas does a dramatic vocal but the song doesn't have the substance to support the emoting. Thomas wrote Disease with Mick Jagger, who presumably chose not to include it on his Goddess In The Doorway CD. I don't really understand Disease's lyrics. On the first verse, Thomas chastises a partner for making "somebody's heart break" and taunts her: "I am stronger than you know/I have to let you go." After that, he tells us "my world is comin' down" and "I can't live without you" and he needs her to "keep your distance from me" until his obsession fades.
Matchbox 20 - If You're Gone
Weeks on Chart: 24 Peak: # 10 (Jan. 2001) buy it!
The second single from Matchbox 20's Mad Season is wimpy but nice. I'm not a big ballad fan but If You're Gone is one of my favorite mellow songs of the year. Rob Thomas' singing is often overdramatic but here it's nicely understated. The music, with inobtrusive guitar and keyboards, fits the sad, resigned song as Thomas sings, "I think I've already lost you." But the song also has some hope. Thomas has finally been roused to action and is willing to try harder: "I think I can need this in my life." Horns rising at the end of the song match the cautiously optimistic feeling.
Matchbox 20 - Mad Season
Weeks on Chart: 5 Peak: # 36 (May 2001) buy it!
Mad Season's title track and thrid hit is like its first single Bent. It's a mellow rock song that's a little draggy but also has some edge and atmosphere. Kyle Cook's guitar line is cool and langorous. Like on Bent, Rob Thomas does a self pitying vocal about how screwed up he is("I'm lost and I'm hopeless, bleeding and broken/though I've never spoken I come undone") and asks for a woman to save him("are you gonna help me out, you need to be together now, I need you now").
Matchbox 20 - Unwell
Weeks on Chart: 33 Peak: # 6 (July 2003) buy it!
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.
Matthew Good Band - Hello Time Bomb
Weeks on Chart: 4 Peak: # 45 (March 2001) buy it!
Sadly, Hello Time Bomb's tale of someone "ready to go off" is as timely today as it was when the song first came out on the Canadian band's Beautiful Midnight CD in 1999. Hello Time Bomb seems exploitative and obvious, with its ticking sound and sinister effects on the verses, angry guitar power chords on the chorus and Good's cold, cocky vocals. Hello Time Bomb tells of a young man whose life finds a reason and an answer for a life that can "push and push 'til it hurts" as he presumably plans an act of mass destruction and dares the world to "see if I'm kidding."
Melissa Etheridge - Angels Would Fall
Weeks on Chart: 13 Peak: # 10 (Oct. 1999) buy it!
Angels Would Fall, from Etheridge's new CD Breakdown, is typical Etheridge; it's earnest and heartfelt without actually being exciting. The music is more pop than rock. She seems to be slowing down and getting a little slicker and more melodramatic as she ages. The lyrics are the real attraction here. Especially given Etheridge's role as a lesbian role model, the words about worshipping a friend without daring to let her know are bound to get attention. The religious imagery is a little heavy handed and the concept of someone whose sweetness is so great that angels would be lured to Earth is not as amazing as Etheridge seems to think.
Melissa Etheridge - Breathe
Weeks on Chart: 10 Peak: # 37 (Feb. 2004) buy it!
I vaguely recally a time when Melissa Etheridge's music showed a bit of imagination and rock and roll energy. But for a while she's been churning out overwrought, sub-Springsteen crap with an adult contemporary radio friendly gloss. On Breathe, from her Lucky CD, Etheridge again tries too hard for emotion power. Etheridge goes into a fists clenched intensity after only a few bars and Breathe has nowhere to go. Breathe stays in a heavy, anthemic mode and lacks any nuance, subtlety or shifts in dynamics. Breathe is carefully produced but, with strings and big drums, it tries for pathos with a blugeoning, sledgehammer sound that keeps coming back to a formulaic chorus. Breathe is obvious easy listening disguised as personal rock music. The shame about Breathe and similar songs is that Etheridge clearly has real, sincerely felt emotions but she expresses them in a hackneyed, impersonal way. Breathe is about missing a former partner. Etheridge sings about longing for home, "a feeling buried in you."
Melissa Etheridge - Enough of Me
Weeks on Chart: 4 Peak: # 48 (May 2000) buy it!
Like Angels Would Fall, the first single from the Breakdown CD, and most of Etheridge's recent music, Enough Of Me is sincere, emotional and heartfelt but not particularly enjoyable. Etheridge used to rock. Now she makes glossy, overblown pop that just drags. It seems to me that unless you're really interesting in Etheridge's persona, her screaming how she gave everything(her soul, every ounce of control, her skin, her original sin, her shame, her eternal flame) for her lover who has left her is not that interesting.
Melissa Etheridge - I Want To Be In Love
Weeks on Chart: 8 Peak: # 43 (Aug. 2001) buy it!
The descriptions of Melissa Etheridge as a female Springsteen used to seem somewhat appropriate but, especially as her career has entered its VH1 phase, it's clear that while she shares Bruce's sincere intensity she sorely lacks his rock and roll energy and detailed, evocative writing. I Want To Be In Love, from Etheridge's Skin CD, is typically earnest but unremarkable. She doesn't do justice to the transcendent love she wants to feel by expressing it with cliched images about climbing highest mountains, wrestling with demons and looking for a heart of gold . The music is sleek but vague with a pleasant beat and tasteful keyboards. The main thing I Want To Be In Love has going for it is Etheridge's passionate vocal.
Metallica - I Disappear
Weeks on Chart: 21 Peak: # 8 (June 2000) buy it!
I Disappear is from the Mission Impossible 2 soundtrack. Their S&M live CD loosened up their sound a little and added some melody with the help of a symphony orchestra. I Disappear is a return to their typical humorless, harsh guitar driven sound. The lyrics are as depressing as ever with James Hetfield's angry vocals about how he suffers and that there's "no mercy left for me." It's a tough life apparently. "Just as soon as I belong then it's time I disappear."
Metallica - No Leaf Clover
Weeks on Chart: 20 Peak: # 11 (Feb. 2000) buy it!
Metallica's music is pretty overblown under any circumstances. Playing with an orchestra in the concerts recorded on the S & M CD would seem to play to their worst, most bombastic instincts. Somehow, while it's way too much and a little silly, the band does find some beauty and meaning in the new setting. No Leaf Clover is pretty pretentious musically but it also has some melodic appeal. The lyrics have the band's typical pessimism. The message is that when things seem to be going well, your luck is bound to change: "that light at the end of the tunnel is just a freight train coming your way."
Metallica - St. Anger
Weeks on Chart: 9 Peak: # 11 (June 2003) buy it!
St. Anger is Metallica's first record of all new material since the Load and Reload records of '96 and '97. St. Anger's title track is a bit of a mixed bag. Metallica distinguish themselves with a confident, free flowing sound that puts to shame the cautious, imitative rockers Metallica have influenced. I like St. Anger's fast parts. Lars Ulrich's ridiculously fast drums, aided by Kirk Hammett and James Hetfield's big, stomping guitars, whip up a great frenzy of energy. I often find James Hetfield's incredibly intense wail overwrought and a little silly. In my mind, the problem is compounded on St. Anger by Hetfield's account of inner pain. Hetfield sings about having anger "round my neck", wanting "my anger to be healthy" and wanting to "set my anger free." Hetfield's turmoil is undeniably real but, since so many lesser bands have exploited their struggle to control their rage, the self centered lyrics make Metallica less interesting than they've been in the past. The rapped interjections of "it's rushing out" help maintain St. Anger's striking momentum but they also invite comparisons to the rap metal bands who borrowed from Metallica in creating cynically commercial music. Still, St. Anger is one of the best rock songs of recent times. St. Anger gets great rock force from guys singing and playing hard and fast. St. Anger is also admirably ambitious. Its distinct, everchanging segments stir up a fun, anarchic spirit.
Michael Andrews featuring Gary Jules - Mad World
Weeks on Chart: 13 Peak: # 14 (April 2004) buy it!
Singer/songwriter Gary Jules and pianist/composer Michael Andrews have made music, together and apart, since they were teenagers in San Diego in the 80s. They recorded a cover of Tears For Fears' Mad World in early 2001 for Andrews' soundtrack to the movie Donnie Darko. Jules put Mad World on his Trading Snakeoil For Wolftickets CD. Jules toured extensively, playing the songs on Trading Snakeoil, which he basically put out himself. He didn't have a big commercial breakthrough until late 2003 when Mad World became a huge hit in England. Stripping down a song to piano and vocals is a standard way to do a cover. Still, Andrews was fairly brilliant in seeing potential in a song from Tears For Fears' 1983 The Hurting CD. With an ominous mood created by dark, cold synths and vocals, the original is very serious, a bit overdone and very much a creation of the early 80s. Jules, a distinctive, idiosyncratic singer and writer, does a sad, understated, unpretty vocal that makes a cover seem very personal. Jules' vocal and the music, Andrews' classical sounding piano with some subtle strings, are haunting and they connect with Donnie Darko's odd, troubled main character. I feel like the subdued voice and piano form naturally leads to pretension. I'm not a huge fan of the new Mad World but it is thoughtful, well made and not particularly self indulgent. The lyric, by Tears For Fears' leader Roland Orzabal, is a harrowing portrayal of a disturbed mind. Mad World's character has "dreams in which I'm dying" which are "the best I've ever had" and wants to "drown my sorrow" and see "no tomorrow." He also has depressed feelings which are easier to relate to. He sees, everywhere he looks, people with "worn out faces" running in circles and "going nowhere." He describes feeling, even as a child, that "no one knew me" and that teachers "look right through me."
Michael Jackson - You Rock My World
Weeks on Chart: 2 Peak: # 34 (Oct. 2001) buy it!
MTV and VH1 are regularly playing the kind of silly(Michael Jackson, with his pale, doelike mask of a face, is no one’s idea of a tough guy) and undoubtedly ridiculously expensive(with brief, gratuitous appearances by movie stars like Marlon Brando and Chris Tucker) video for You Rock My World. Video play is a factor in calculating the top 50, so You Rock My World made the chart. However, top 40 radio play is a bigger factor and with pop radio quickly abandoning You Rock My World, it won’t last long on the chart. Apparently, programmers don’t find it as exciting or catchy as Alien Ant Farm’s flashy rock cover of Jackson’s Smooth Criminal. I likeYou Rock My World, the first single from Jackson’s Invincible CD. While it’s a little innocuous and not as striking as Jackson’s biggest hits, it has the easy confidence of his smooth 80’s songs like Off The Wall.You Rock My World is an unrushed jam with a steady but unobtrusive beat. Jackson’s voice doesn’t quite have the personality it used to but it still has a cool fluidity. One minor problem: Jackson has always had little vocal affectations but on You Rock My World his grunts sound a little like he’s gasping for breath. On You Rock My World, Jackson asks a woman, who might be the "perfect love" he’s searched for, to stay and "fulfill my dreams."
Michelle Branch - All You Wanted
Weeks on Chart: 20 Peak: # 18 (May 2002) buy it!
I assume that a large number of Michelle Branch's fans are girls in their early teens who have outgrown or are too cool for Britney or Christina. Branch's songs have the feel of schoolgirl poetry and are probably heavily influenced by Alanis and Jewel's youthful, searching and intense work. All You Wanted doesn't have the rocking energy of Everywhere, the first hit from Branch's Spirit Room CD, but it has a similar sincere charm. Branch isn't a great singer but her voice has an open, innocent appeal. All You Wanted's music, with a steady, perky beat and good sprinklings of rock guitar is simple, modest and likable. All You Wanted is a sweet story of volunteering to "save" someone who seemed to have everything together but needs "someone to show you the way."
Michelle Branch - Are You Happy Now?
Weeks on Chart: 16 Peak: # 15 (Aug. 2003) buy it!
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.
Michelle Branch - Everywhere
Weeks on Chart: 9 Peak: # 25 (Oct. 2001) buy it!
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.
Michelle Branch - Goodbye To You
Weeks on Chart: 8 Peak: # 38 (Oct. 2002) buy 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.
Mick Jagger - God Gave Me Everything
Weeks on Chart: 8 Peak: # 17 (Dec. 2001) buy it!
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.
Mighty Mighty Bosstones - So Sad To Say
Weeks on Chart: 5 Peak: # 39 (June 2000) buy it!
So Sad To Say is from the Bosstones' new Pay Attention CD. Dickie Barrett's singing, while enthusiastic and likable, is always rough and his range is limited. Most of the band's songs sound somewhat similar; So Sad To Say is a little like the band's hit The Impression That I Get and the Rascal King from Let's Face It. Still, it's a lot of fun. So Sad To Say is about bitterness about getting dumped. Barrett sings, "you'll get what you deserve." Luckily, the band doesn't let the anger of the lyrics dampen the exuberance of the music. Horns and short, tight guitar lines create an energetic, good time mood.
Mis-teeq - Scandalous
Weeks on Chart: 7 Peak: # 25 (June 2004) buy it!
Mis-teeq are three women(Su-Elise Nash, Sabrina Washington and Alesha Anjanette Dixon) who got together in London in the late 90s. Mis-teeq have been scoring hits in England for more than three years. Scandalous is on Mis-teeq's self titled US debut CD, which includes their UK hits. British critics have compared Mis-teeq to Destiny's Child. Before I hear more of their music, I'll say the resemblance to Spice Girls is at least as strong. Scandalous was produced by the Norwegian Stargate team(Mikkel Eriksen, Tor Erik Hermansen and Hallgeir Rustan) who have had light dance pop hits in England with S Club 7 and Samantha Mumba. Scandalous sounds like other European imitations of American hip hop that don't quite get it right. With its steady beat and synth riff and vaguely threatening sound effects, Scandalous is slickly efficient with a bit of edge. It also is synthetic, cold and repetitive. The vocals are similarly icy. The women seem like competent singers but their attempts to seem tough comes across a little fakey. They claim "you should be scared of us" but Scandalous' lyric isn't daring enough to justify the song's confrontational attitude. It's just a song about a guy with "looks to kill" whose "touch gives me chills" and "got me feelin' weak." The female character only really asserts herself during a bridge when she asks him for "a little conversation" and to "show a little patience." Scandalous moves well and has a decent forboding atmosphere but it's also silly and overdramatic.
Missy Elliott featuring Ludacris - Gossip Folks
Weeks on Chart: 7 Peak: # 24 (March 2003) buy it!
Gossip Folks is the second hit from the Under Construction CD. Gossip Folks again shows that Elliott(with help from coproducer Timbaland) is one of the most inventive people making mainstream records. With a hard, edgy sound, Gossip Folks smartly communicates the nastiness of trash talking and her disdain for it. Gossip Folks never takes a break. The repeated, harsh honking sample nicely creates a charged atmosphere. After a gossiping intro, Elliott announces her anger through a hoarse, agitated squeal. Gossip Folks mocks the song's gossipers by having them talk gibberish in a childish voice. I've never been a Ludacris fan but his rap is nicely focused and keeps Gossip Folks' energy high. The song finishes by giving Elliott a chance to put down the gossipers and then tell a joke, asking the people she just dissed to buy her record. I can imagine people finding Gossip Folks' harsh riff irritating. Gossip Folks isn't as inviting or likable as Work It. But while Gossip Folks isn't the effervescent song Work It is, it is a good, exciting, challenging single.
Missy Elliott - Work It
Weeks on Chart: 10 Peak: # 22 (Dec. 2002) buy it!
After having her pop breakthrough with Get Ur Freak Out, one of the best singles of 2001, Missy Ellott has come back in 2002 with another great single thats an even bigger hit. Everything about Work It, from Elliotts Under Construction CD, is cool, smart and appealing smooth. Work It, produced by Timbaland, is ingenious. Tight editing, unrelenting music and Elliotts fast, fluid vocal create an irresistable urgency but Work It also feels relaxed and unrushed. Elliots rap is both confident and playful and unpretentious. Work It refreshingly presents a young woman whos overtly sexual but is neither a slut nor a maneater. Elliott knows that she doesnt look like a Halle Berry poster but shes lost a few pounds and knows her smarts accentuate her sexiness. Work Its sound, with emphatic sonic effects in place of naughty words and tape reverses, is appropriately loose and irreverent. Work It keeps moving with a sensual looped sample and a good, inobtrusive, percussion laced beat thats steady except for breaks allowing Elliott to emphasize key points. Like Eminems best 2002 work, Work It combines skilled technique, smart production and a confident persona, to make one of the best singles of the year.
Moby - Porcelain
Weeks on Chart: 3 Peak: # 50 (Jan. 2000) buy it!
Moby's great Play CD has yielded a half dozen singles. That is justified since so many songs on Play, including those based on samples of old blues songs, are remarkable, deserving and standing up to close attention. Currently, Natural Blues, Moby's reshaping of Vera Hall's stirring Trouble So Hard, and Porcelain are getting airplay on different formats. Unlike many of the singles from Play, Porcelain is not primarily based on a sample of another song. Most of the vocals are Moby's. His eerie, electronically altered singing matches the song's haunting tone as he sings about dreams of dying. The striking music is fleshed out by a simple, elegant piano.
Moby - South Side
Weeks on Chart: 24 Peak: # 5 (March 2001) buy it!
So many songs on Moby's Play CD, beyond being great dance songs, are brilliant little works of art. More than 1½years after its release, new people are still learning how great Play is. South Side, the 7th single from Play, is Moby's biggest hit yet. South Side has been remixed as a duet with No Doubt's Gwen Stefani. Her vocals give the new version a slicker, less menacing feel than the edgy album version. Even on the original, Moby's quavering falsetto on the chorus made it hard to believe him as a tough guy out with his boys, prepared for a gun fight and hoping "we won't die." Still, his slicing guitar, moody synths and tough beat create a good, foreboding atmosphere.
Moby - We Are All Made Of Stars
Weeks on Chart: 12 Peak: # 21 (May 2002) buy it!
Moby's new CD is called 18, reportedly because the songs are based on music Moby was listening to in the early 80's when he was that age. You have to go back a few years earlier to We Are All Made Of Stars's most obvious influence: David Bowie's 70's work; most specifically Heroes. We Are All Made Of Stars has Heroes' patient pace and soaring guitar line. As on Heroes, an icy musical atmosphere contradicts the lyrics' optimism. In a distanced, filtered voice, Moby sings about being part of an unstoppable, growing movement that heralds the future. We Are All Made Of Stars also brings to mind Bowie's Starman, futuristic synth songs like Gary Numan's Cars and Porcelain from Moby's great 1999 Play CD. Nothing about We Are All Made Of Stars quite strikes me like the "this is goodbye"s of Porcelain's stark masterpiece of a dream evocation and the music isn't as original as on many of Play's brilliant constructions. Still, I find We Are All Made Of Stars' contrast between cold, synthetic verses and a warmer chorus, where Moby's earnest vocal overcomes the dark, mechanical mood, compelling and moving.
Modest Mouse - Float On
Weeks on Chart: 10 Peak: # 7 (July 2004) buy it!
Float On is a breakthrough hit for Modest Mouse, who formed in Issaquah, Washington more than a decade ago. Modest Mouse's Good News For People Who Love Bad News is a good and interesting CD. Isaac Brock uses different voices, including odd ones, and writes lyrics that are often wacky and bizarre. The rock songs on Good News take all sorts of forms. Without actually sounding like Pavement, they bring to mind that band's(as well as Flaming Lips' and Pixies') unpredictable, exploring rock. On a couple songs, Brock sounds like Talking Heads' David Byrne. Float On is the CD's closest Heads soundalike. Like a good Talking Heads song, Float On is weird but also sounds good and has an irresistible groove. Brock does the Byrne thing of sounding overwhelmed and a little crazy but also communicating a sense of wonder. With Brock's deliberate diction and Benjamin Weikel's shuffling beat keeping the song marching forward, Float On's strange, joyful ride reminds me of Road To Nowhere. Terrific, compact guitar riffs give the song added momentum. Spacy sonic effects accentuate the song's dreamlike feel. Float On has a great opening line. After backing into to a cop car, Brock decides that "sometimes life's OK" when the cop just drives off. Determining that the good comes with the bad, Brock looks on the bright side. "A fake Jamaican took every last dime" with a scam but Brock says "it was worth it just to learn some sleight of hand." Brock's cockeyed optimism mixes with Float On's gleeful music to produce one of the best singles of the year.
Muse - Time Is Running Out
Weeks on Chart: 8 Peak: # 30 (June 2004) buy it!
Time Is Running Out is from Absolution, the third studio album by the Devon, England band. Muse has a reputation of sounding like Radiohead. Time Is Running Out indicates the reputation was well earned. Muse's music resembles the records Radiohead made before getting really weird and spacy on Kid A and Amnesiac. Time Is Running Out has the hallmarks of Radiohead's earlier music. Matthew Bellamy is the impassioned, troubled singer who, like Thom Yorke, loses himself as he gains intensity and drifts into falsetto. Like a Radiohead song, Time Is Running Out has music that's big, dense and dramatic. The verses have huge drums and cold piano, guitar and percussion that echo Radiohead's icy, industrial sound. The bright side is Time Is Running Out has the excitement of a good Radiohead song. It's edgy and emotionally charged. Bellamy isn't as compelling or idiosyncratic as Yorke but he is an charmismatic singer with substantial presence. Dominic Howard's pounding and Bellamy's distorted guitar help create an ambitious sound with an impressively epic scope. Muse's music copies Radiohead's and, by definition, is less orignal and innovative. But Time Is Running Out is quite a thrilling copy. Time Is Running Out's lyric is a bit overwrought. It adds to the feeling that Time Is Running Out is less than fresh. Bellamy is "drowning" and "asphyxiating." He's "addicted" and under "the spell that you've created" but he also wants to "play the game" because "I want the friction." She'll be "the death of me" but "I won't let you murder it."
Mya - Case Of The Ex
Weeks on Chart: 14 Peak: # 25 (Dec. 2000) buy it!
Case Of The Ex is from the Fear Of Flying CD. Case Of The Ex sounds a little like Aaliyah's Try Again. It's got a sleek, stark sound with a good shifting beat. Mya's voice seems O.K. and it's adroitly covered for most of the song by good background vocals. Case Of The Ex is a fairly nasty tale. A guy's current girlfriend demands to know how he's gonna act when his ex wants him back. She figures the ex has heard he bought her a "brand new Benz" and wants a piece of the action. The girlfriend's not subtle. She reminds him the ex "turned trick" when they broke up and says she's seen the ex's picture and "she ain't even all that."
Mya - Free
Weeks on Chart: 5 Peak: # 42 (April 2001) buy it!
Free was added to later printings of Mya's Fear Of Flying CD after appearing on the Bait soundtrack. It's now the CD's second pop hit. Free was cowritten and produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and has the fun, frothy feel of the lighter work they did with Janet Jackson like When I Think Of You. Free is extremely lightweight dance pop but it has good energy and an effective beat. Mya easily slides quickly through the silly classified ad like lyric which advertises her attributes: "I got a four wheel drive, 5' 5", brown eyes" , "I'm free, single, sexy and sweet, makin' my own money." She "may let you share my fantasy" but she doesn't want a man "tryin' to tie me down" or "a playa who got kids all over town" with "his curl juice drippin' all over my Mercedes seat" or "a man who thinks he looks better than me."
Mya - My Love Is Like... Wo
Weeks on Chart: 9 Peak: # 24 (Oct. 2003) buy 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.