112 - Peaches & Cream
Weeks on Chart: 1 Peak: # 50 (Sept. 2001) buy it!
Peaches & Cream is from the Part III CD by the Atlanta based group who are part of P. Diddy Combs' entertainment empire. On their previous r&b hits, 112 generally presented themselves as smooth, sensitive crooners. Their attempt to show a harder, sexier side on Peaches & Cream is a little silly. They seem genuinely worshipful of women but try too hard. Daron Jones and the guys seriously overdo the comeons, making it clear early on that I "wanna sex" and "that I'm a fiend gettin' freaky in my Bentley limousine" and repeating the same ideas unimaginatively with obvious double entendres for sex and the female anatomy. Peaches and Cream has a good beat but the sound is cold and gimmicky, with annoying beeping.
3 Doors Down - Away From The Sun
Weeks on Chart: 10 Peak: # 11 (March 2004) buy it!
Away From The Sun is the title track and fourth chart hit from the Mississippi band's second CD. Like 3 Doors Down's other mellow hits, Away From The Sun vaguely has a rock veneer. Its formulaic chorus has booming drums and power chords. But, with its strings and bland, inoffensive sound, it's clearly intended to be a hit on pop and easy listening radio. Away From The Sun is a big bore. It's like 3 Doors Down's last hit, Here Without You, but even more anonymous. Away From The Sun has finger picking guitar meant to evoke a thoughtful feel and a big, empty chorus. The best things I can say about Away From The Sun are that it's smooth, in an innocuous kind of way, and Brad Arnold's vocal is fairly restrained and not too melodramatic. Away From The Sun is another 3 Doors Down song with self pitying lyrics. Arnold sings that he is "so far down" that he's "missed the colors of the world" and that he's "tired of living in the dark." He wants to "make this life make sense" and "find my way back into the arms that care about the ones like me."
3 Doors Down - Here Without You
Weeks on Chart: 31 Peak: # 1 (Oct. 2003) buy it!
3 Doors Down's savvy, radio friendly strategy has, oddly, placed them among the top pop acts. Here Without You, the third chart hit from the Away From The Sun CD, is poised to surpass its very successful predecessor When I'm Gone and become(including Kryptonite, from their Better Life debut) their third megasmash. 3 Doors Down's popularity is both confusing and unsurprising. On the one hand, frontman Brad Arnold isn't particularly handsome, charismatic or much of a singer. The band totally lacks distinctiveness. 3 Doors Down's songs(with the possible exception of Kryptonite) aren't very interesting or orginal. There's no sign that the band has extraordinary musical talent. On the other hand, 3 Doors Down seem to know their limitations and they know how to make familiar, accessible music. Usually, the most obvious comparison is to Matchbox 20 though Rob Thomas is, at least, a slightly better and more interesting singer and more distinctive songwriter than Arnold. On Here Without You, the model seems to be Creed's lofty, dramatic and very popular rock ballads, especially With Arms Wide Open. Arnold doesn't show the narcissism of Creed singer Scott Stapp but all the other elements are present. Here Without You starts with quiet guitar and Arnold's impassioned vocal. While drums eventually come in to add a touch of a rock feel, the song never gets loud in a way that might offend lite radio listeners. I suppose 3 Doors Down deserve points for avoiding the bombast of some rock ballads(including When I'm Gone) but while Arnold isn't too showy, the stiffness of his voice keeps Here Without You from achieving beauty or subtlety. Producer Rick Parashar also worked with humorless, radio friendly Nickelback, who are even stiffer and less likable than 3 Doors Down. Parashar follows rock ballad conventions here, adding a layer of strings that build as the song approaches an overdramatic, cloying climax. People love rock ballads and Here Without You isn't the worst one. 3 Doors Down smartly built an emotional song destined to be a hit but it really is a calculated, soulless piece of garbage. Here Without You's lyric is similar to When I'm Gone's but it's not quite as unappealing as that song's needy plea for his girlfriend to always think loving thoughts of him. Arnold is again away from his beloved. He wants her to be comforted by the fact that he's thinking and dreaming about her.
3 Doors Down - When I'm Gone
Weeks on Chart: 39 Peak: # 1 (Feb. 2003) buy it!
Kryptonite, Three Doors Down's breakthrough single off their The Better Life CD, wasn't brilliant but it was at least spirited and gave some sense that the Mississippi band weren't run of the mill rockers. When I'm Gone Away From The Sun is very run of the mill. It's another offering from the intense, humorless school of Creed and their brethren. Brad Arnold's clenched teeth, tough guy delivery is a bore. When I'm Gone definitely isn't fun. Everything about it is meant to show how serious the band is. The power chords pound and When I'm Gone slowly slogs forward. The lyric isn't awful but it's a lot like those by other sensitive hard rockers and its vulnerability is undercut by his vocal's self righteous tones, making his needy requests sound like orders. Arnold tells his love he lives in darkness burdened with secrets. He's partly redeemed by the depth of his love but he's very dependent, needing her to "hold me when I'm scared" and love him even when he's gone.
311 - Amber
Weeks on Chart: 17 Peak: # 10 (Sept. 2002) buy it!
After spending seven weeks on the top 50 in the spring Amber, the third single from 311's From Chaos CD, is back on the chart. It makes sense that Amber, with its very easy, lazy, summery feel, would do well in the hottest part of the year. 311's music is often pretty mellow. I'll Be Here Awhile, the CD's second single was laid back, genial and inconsequential. 311 are even more relaxed than usual on Amber but the mellow mood works. Amber has a likable hippie vibe that's consistent with the goofy "amber is the color of your energy" hook. 311's typical ska flavoring goes down especially easily thanks to good, crisp drumming and loose, jazzy guitar lines including one that has a rubbery preamped bounce. Nick Hexum's voice can be annoyingly innocuous but on Amber the way it floats effortlessly is just right. Amber is a tribute to a distant friend whose voice still "rings like a bell" who glides "through my head blind to fear."
311 - Come Original
Weeks on Chart: 12 Peak: # 30 (Oct. 1999) buy it!
Come Original is from 311's Sound System record. 311 had a moment of greatness with Down, an excellent mix of rap, dance, ska and rock guitars which had the success it deserved. Their subsequent singles, All Mixed Up, the followup from the 311 CD and Beautiful Disaster and the title track from the Transistor CD were pleasant enough dance pop but weren't as striking. Come Original, with a fairly mindless lyric about urging other musicians to be original, is a return to Down's great combination of sounds. It doesn't have quite the same edge as Down but it is fun with fast ska toasting, good guitars and a strong beat.
311 - Creatures
Weeks on Chart: 12 Peak: # 18 (Aug. 2003) buy it!
A while ago it seemed that 311, whose biggest hit was 1995's Down, was fading away, making pleasant but predictable and unimportant music. Recently they've shown some staying power, producing decent variations on their stoner ska rock theme. Last year's mellow, blissed out Amber, from their From Chaos CD, was 311's biggest hit in a while. Creatures, from the new Evolver CD, is another likable single that has 311 rocking a little harder than usual. As on their best songs, 311 keep things interesting on Creatures by mixing the band's disparate elements without overemphasizing any of them. Nick Hexum's loose, spacy croon has a smooth charm but on its own it can be vapid. So Creatures combines Hexum's voice with Tim Mahoney's tough, tight guitar. Creatures also has bursts of fun, silly synth effects, S.A. Martinez' concise, effective rap, Chad Sexton's hard, crisp drumming and good, full harmonies. The result is an enjoyable free flow. Creatures never gets stuck. It varies its flavors as it moves inobtrusively from section to section. Creatures isn't particularly great or ambitious but it is an easy, good time. Creatures' lyric is fairly silly. It's about the pros and cons of being energetic and living an exciting life and the fun of going nuts and having a volatile personality.
311 - I'll Be Here Awhile
Weeks on Chart: 3 Peak: # 49 (Dec. 2001) buy it!
The second chart hit from the From Chaos CD has the strengths and limitations of the typical 311 single. On I'll Be Here Awhile, 311 are likable but even more laid back than usual. You'd figure that even 311's biggest fans would be growing a little tired of the sameness of much of the band's music by now but I guess the familiar, comfortable nature of 311's work is part of their charm. With a crisp beat, Nick Hexum's good natured croon, pleasant guitar doodles and a hint of a skanky keyboard, I'll Be Here Awhile has the band's trademark easy ska sound. The lyrics are also somewhat unambitious but genial, promising to be as loyal and steady as ever even when the pace of life is maddening and life seems like an "uncertain game of chance."
311 - Love Song
Weeks on Chart: 20 Peak: # 9 (May 2004) buy it!
The Cure haven't released a new record in four years but they and Robert Smith are red hot. Smith sings lead on a good song from Blink 182's new record, the Hewlett Packard advertisements featuring Pictures Of You are all over the tv and 311's cover of Love Song is a hit. The soundtrack for Adam Sandler's 50 First Dates features covers of 80's new wave songs, including Love Song and Friday I'm In Love, mostly done by reggae and ska acts. Love Song also marks another comeback for 311, whose 2003 Evolver record disappeared fairly shortly after it was released. They always find a way of coming back when it looks like their career has faded. 311's version of Love Song is pretty much what you'd expect from the amiable, laid back LA based guys who got together in Omaha in 1980. They keep the original's melody and guitar riffs and add a ska skank, crisp beat and mellow vibe. 311's Love Song works both as a faithful, well played tribute to the original and as smooth, easy to listen stoner music. It's not exciting or daring but it sounds good. The only surprise about Love Song is that guitar player Tim Mahoney sings lead. There's no sign that Mahoney is much of a singer. You can hear him struggling to hit notes. But Mahoney's unpolished vocal gives the song a personal feel. I can imagine the slick, glib job Nick Hexum, 311's regular singer, would have done. It's not a pretty picture. 311's Love Song isn't remarkable but it is charming. Love Song is notable as about the most positive song The Cure ever did. Smith avoided his usual doubt and ambiguity to write a very sweet, simple love song. The song just says that a woman makes him feel home, whole, young, fun, free and clean again and that he'll always love her. Its universality and lack of pretension and the sincerity Smith and Mahoney bring to it keep it from being cliched or maudlin.
311 - You Wouldn't Believe
Weeks on Chart: 10 Peak: # 34 (July 2001) buy it!
311 have maintained the same basic formula, mixing rock, ska and hip hop. You Wouldn't Believe, the first single off their From Chaos CD, sounds like Down, 311's commercial and artistic high point, and their other music, with Douglas Martinez' raps interspersed between Nick Hexum's crooned vocal lines. Still, You Wouldn't Believe, about a guy having a tough time after getting dumped, is a good example of the band's formula. It's enjoyable, with skittery, ska drums, and tough, with good guitars and a focused sound.
3LW - No More
Weeks on Chart: 1 Peak: # 46 (April 2001) buy it!
3LW are the latest successful female R & B trio. Except for the stupid trick of repeating the last word of each line, No More, from the group's self titled debut, is pretty good if inconsequential. The lyrics, complaining about a guy's frontin' and jealousy, are nothing new but No More has good, minimal beat and bass backing. The singing is supple with a distinctive personality.
50 Cent - 21 Questions
Weeks on Chart: 11 Peak: # 22 (July 2003) buy it!
A short time after being "discovered" by Eminem, 50 Cent has reached the kind of success his mentor took years to achieve. In Da Club is one of the biggest hits of 2003. 21 Questions, 50 Cent's second pop hit, reenforces the fact that the buzz and hype that preceded 50 Cent's Get Rich Or Die Tryin' CD was justified. 50 Cent has separated himself from the hip hop crowd with a style that's distinctively laid back and confident. Like In Da Club, 21 Questions has a vocal and backing track that are interesting on their own and work great together. The rap and music both create a good texture. 50's rap is natural and plainspoken but it's also sneakily rhythmic as he snakes around the already twisty track. Nate Dogg(who's worked previously with Warren G, 2Pac, Snoop Dogg and Eminem) does the singing on the chorus. Dogg fits the song's style with a vocal that's smooth but not too pretty. Like 50's rap, 21 Questions' repeated guitar like riff is a little awkward but it's more interesting because it doesn't sound like everything you've heard before. The riff punctuates the end of each of 50 and Dogg's lines, adding a little edge, taking a split second longer than it has to. 50 Cent has amassed enough cred that 21 Questions, which presents him as a kind of sensitive, vulnerable guy, is unlikely to lose him any fans. 50 is simultaneously tough and light hearted even while asking questions that make him seem needy. His soft spoken style makes it clear that 21 Questions is a request for encouragement rather than a jealous interrogation. 50 doesn't just want to know if she would stand by him if he "got locked up" or lost his fancy cars and "flipped burgers at Burger King." He also wants confirmation that she's his "soulmate" and that she wouldn't freak if he wrote her a love letter or "didn't smell so good."
50 Cent - In Da Club
Weeks on Chart: 19 Peak: # 15 (April 2003) buy it!
Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson's Get Rich Or Die Tryin' CD was preceded by all kinds of buzz. Eminem "discovered" 50 Cent, who had previously been signed and dumped by Columbia, got him signed to his label, trumpeted 50 Cent's talents and put his Wanksta on the 8 Mile soundtrack. Before the CD came out, 50 Cent's music was all over the place on mix tapes. 50 Cent had an image and street cred from a history of selling drugs, being shot numerous times and getting arrested. The good news is that 50 Cent's music lives up to the hype. In Da Club is an early candidate for single of the year. Where Eminem is wired and always trying to prove himself, 50 Cent's delivery is confidently low key. Still, there's a similarity in their ability to easily slide around the beat and establish a magnetic presence. 50 Cent comes on as laid back but he's sneaky quick with a rap that has staccato emphasis and a smooth, easy flow. Dr. Dre's deserves some credit for In Da Club's success. His production is great, putting together a great groove. Repeating a catchy synth riff, mixing up the way he presents it and putting a tight, ticking bass sound under it, Dre shows his ability to create a dramatic, exciting sound without letting things get cluttered or showy. With its steady, hand clap beat, In Da Club is also a great dance track. The lyrics are fairly standard gangsta rap, celebrating fancy cars and bottles of "bub" and Benz. In Da Club doesn't go beyond the standard objectification of women. 50 is "into havin' sex" and "ain't into makin' love." But In Da Club is mostly about enjoying his new success. 50 sounds like he's having a good time but he's not arrogant, saying he's "still on the grind", trying to get them "to love me like they love 'Pac." In Da Club is the sound of someone who's confident, at ease but still trying to prove himself.
50 Cent - P.I.M.P.
Weeks on Chart: 7 Peak: # 27 (Oct. 2003) buy it!
P.I.M.P, the third hit from his Get Rich Or Die Tryin' CD, supports the theory that 50 Cent can release anything these days and it'll be a hit. P.I.M.P.'s success was probably aided by 50's flamboyant performance with Snoop Dogg on the Video Music Awards. P.I.M.P. is a slight novelty song but it is appealing. P.I.M.P. rolls along easily on the Caribbean sound of steel drums and a steady, if slightly irritating, scraping beat. 50's rap has even more relaxed charm than usual. His style is very effective. He's fast and confident but his easy, unshowy, slightly mushed mouthed, regular guy delivery make his rap very accessible and likable. On P.I.M.P., 50 Cent is working hard, keeping a seemingly endless string of lines coming, but he's still very much at ease. P.I.M.P.'s whimsical sound disguises the obnoxious nature of the lyrics. P.I.M.P. is apparently about the fact that, when it comes to women, 50 has the cold, bottom line oriented attitude of a pimp. 50 Cent tells us how he can charm the ladies but P.I.M.P. is mostly about how "a bitch can't get a dollar out of me." The third verse has some nasty, pointless details of the pimping business, threatening that if you "put my other hoes down, you get your ass beat" and ordering his girls to do tricks and "make a pimp rich." P.I.M.P. shows how 50 Cent has been able to appeal to different audiences. His violent personal history, criminal past and gritty urban tales give him street cred. But he also appeals to a mainstream audience because his music sounds good.
702 - Where My Girls At?
Weeks on Chart: 8 Peak: # 43 (Sept. 1999) buy it!
The hit from the female vocal group's 702 CD is well crafted with a good beat and a nice shifting dynamic though you might feel like you've heard it before. The song is fairly repetitive, always getting back to the warning not to "try to take my man."
8Stops7 - Question Everything
Weeks on Chart: 9 Peak: # 15 (Aug. 2000) buy it!
In the hands of today's hard rockers the rock ballad, especially when it involves a white young male trying to figure out what it all means, is a form that's doomed to an overdone combination of wildly dramatic singing and big guitars to keep the young males interested. Question Everything is the followup to Satisfied, 8Stop7's chart debut from the In Moderation CD. The music isn't as overblown as it could have been. Evan Sula-Goff's vocals are very serious but appropriate for a song about deciding how to deal with an intolerant, unloving as he nears death and is no longer an imposing force.
8Stops7 - Satisfied
Weeks on Chart: 1 Peak: # 45 (April 2000) buy it!
8Stops7 are another rock band with a big, assaultive guitar sound and lyrics about how tough life is. Toby Wright, who produced the band's In Moderation CD, has worked with Korn and the guitars have a little of Korn's electronic feel. Evan Sulla-Goff sounds a little like an angry Eddie Vedder as he sings about how he feels nothing and nothing feels right. The song, with screamed choruses about how he needs another hit to feel satisfied, seems identical to a lot of contemporary hard rock.
98 Degrees - Give Me Just One Night(Una Noche)
Weeks on Chart: 9 Peak: # 34 (Oct. 2000) buy it!
Give Me Just One Night was probably an attempt to jump on the Latin pop bandwagon. The craze was probably peaking just as the group was recording their Revelation CD. Still, the song has a good, jumpy beat, an uncluttered arrangement and an easy energy. There's a chance that Give Me Just One Night's sound could be too sophisticated for the group's pre-teen following but the girls will probably love the cocky persona the dopey lyrics project. Nick Lachey confidently sings, "your lips keep telling me you want me", "I know that deep inside you need me" and "no one else can make it right."
98 Degrees - I Do(Cherish You)
Weeks on Chart: 12 Peak: # 31 (Sept. 1999) buy it!
98 Degrees sometimes show signs of being a little more soulful than their teen idol competition but I Do is the kind of predictable big ballad crooning the girls want. From their 98 Degrees and Rising cd, I Do is a cover of Mark Willis' country hit.
98 Degrees - My Everything
Weeks on Chart: 4 Peak: # 40 (Feb. 2001) buy it!
I quite liked Give Me Just One Night, the first single from the Revelation CD but My Everything is bland, even by boy band standards. You'd figure even the preteen girl target audience would be bored by the endless string of wimpy declarations of love for the girl who saved him when "my eyes had no more tears to cry": "nothing your love won't bring, my life is yours alone/the only love I've ever known", "all my hopes and all my dreams are suddenly reality" and "every night I pray on bended knee." My Everything sounds like other easy listening favorites like I Believe I Can Fly but its treacly sound, with piano and ladled on strings, is even tamer.