Rob Zombie-Never Gonna Stop(up 3 positions)
White Zombie, Rob Zombie's old band, combined hard rock and a big, flashy theatricality. Zombie's solo work gives greater emphasis to the hard rock part. Never Gonna Stop, from The Sinister Urge CD, is fairly standard hard rock. Zombie's lyrics(largely consisting of "never gonna stop me" and "scream if you want it, 'cause I want more") and howled vocals have tough guy attitude. Never Gonna Stop is quite stupid. At least, with its sprinkling of sweet, teenybopper style backing vocals, it's not as harsh as Feel So Numb, Sinister Urge's first chart hit.
N Sync-Girlfriend(up 1 position)
Girlfriend, the third single from N Sync's Celebrity record is my favorite from the record so far. On Girlfriend, the boys worked with very busy producers The Neptunes. Partly because N Sync are better singers, Girlfriend is more enjoyable than Britney Spears' I'm A Slave For You, which was a mess despite a striking, good Neptunes production. With a good borrowed riff and a light, steady beat, Girlfriend has a relaxed, breezy feel. N Sync's harmonies are impressive and fit nicely with the easy mood. N Sync's chief hunk Justin Timberlake, who wrote Girlfriend with The Neptunes, plays a guy trying to convince a girl that while the boy she's likes "doesn't even know you're there", he'll "treat you good." The lyrics are typical boy band fodder but neither they nor some silly whispered interjections negate Girlfriend's charm.
Jack Johnson-Flake(up 17 positions)
The Hawaiian native/champion surfer turned LA singer/songwriter's first chart hit is charmingly laid back. Johnson sings on Flake, from the Brushfire Fairytales CD, about likable slackers who lose out or let people down because of "ties" or because "often times we're lazy." Flake has relaxed guitars and drums and Johnson's smooth vocal comfortably matches the song's mood. He doesn't seem to exert himself too much even as he reaches for high notes in the song's "please don't drag me down" conclusion. Ben Harper, whose music has an easy, sensual appeal similar to Johnson's, plays good atmospheric slide guitar on Flake.
Sheryl Crow-Soak Up The Sun(up 5 positions)
Soak Up The Sun is the first single from Sheryl Crow's fourth studio record C'mon C'mon. While there were some signs on The Globe Sessions that she might be losing her touch, Crow has been able to put together an impressive string of hits by balancing, in varying degrees, pop simplicity and catchiness with a sense of rock craft and substance. The balance was best seen on substantial but still fun singles like Everyday Is A Winding Road. Soak Up The Sun's emphasis is on simplicity. It's reminiscent of, and even less complicated than, Crow's early good time hit All I Wanna Do. From its principle desire to "tell everyone to lighten up" to its dopey final line("I've got my .45 on so I can rock on"), Soak Up The Sun is proudly mindless. It has a schematic, get back to the chorus feel that will probably soon prove tiresome. But if Crow's playing dumb, at least she's playing it nicely with lines like "it's not having what you want, its wanting what you've got." Soak Up The Sun has a catchy singalong chorus and is likably modest. It's solidly constructed with a sturdy guitar riff. I like Crow's light, seemingly helium enhanced vocal on the "everytime I look around" bridge.
Pete Yorn-Strange Condition(up 5 positions)
The New Jersey native/LA resident singer and songwriter's following continues to slowly grow. His debut CD is still getting radio play nearly a year after its release. In my mind, Bob Dylan's Love and Theft is the only 2001 rock CD that's better than Yorn's Musicforthemorningafter and The Strokes' Is This It is the only other one that might be as good. The CD has consistently strong songs: great, fun rockers and cool, brooding ballads. Brad Wood, who produced and played on records for Liz Phair, played a similar role for Yorn, another striking, confident young talent. Music . . . was apparently a low budget production but the songs are carefully constructed with layers of instruments, giving even the quietest songs a likable, textured feeling. Strange Condition follows Life On A Chain as Yorn's second chart hit(For Nancy fell just short of the top 50). R Walt Vincent's harmonica, layered over Yorn's acoustic guitar, contributes to a good, moody feel. Yorn is cool, as always, playing a tortured soul on Strange Condition.
Unwritten Law-Seein' Red(up 2 positions)
Unwritten Law's Elva CD is mostly fast, youthful, good natured, lightweight hip hop informed Sum 41 style hard rock. Seein' Red is not characteristic of the rest of the CD but it's not surprising that it's the song getting the record company push. Seein' Red is a sensitive rocker that fits solidly within the Staind/Nickelback model of what radio wants to play. Seein' Red is painfully predictable, following the standard pattern of meaningful, restrained verses that explode into hard rocking choruses. Over quiet guitar picking, Scott Russo does an earnest vocal. Seein' Red's "follow the leader" chorus is catchy. I like the scratchy little riff between the power chords. But the song keeps coming back to the crappy verse. A boring, cliched guitar solo doesn't help things either. Seein' Red is about Russo's anger at foolish lies he's been told. He alternates between mocking and giving someone a last chance to choose to make a relationship work.
X Ecutioners-It's Going Down(unchanged)
It's Going Down is from the Built From Scratch CD by New York turntable experts X Ecutioners. X Ecutioners have worked with a number of guest vocalists and musicians. It's Going Down features rapper Mike Shinoda and DJ Joseph Hahn from Linkin Park. It's Going Down sounds like a good Linkin Park song. The absence of Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington is a plus in my mind. Bennington's angry wail is undoubtedly a big part of Linkin Park's huge success but I mostly find it unpleasant. X Ecutioners have laid down a tight mix with a good, hard sound. Working with a tough guitar riff, solid beats, samples, record scratching and Shinoda's rap, they've created a no nonsense collage of sound that keeps coming. It's Going Down is about how the song's "audible odyssey" "reflects the complex hybrid dialect" and "melting pot of a super futuresque style." Raps bragging about the originality of a musical style are nothing new but It's Going Down's lyric, like the song itself, is solid and unpretentious.
Leann Rimes-Can't Fight The Moonlight(down 2 positions)
At 19, Leann Rimes apparently is no longer satisfied being America's innocent sweetheart. With a mature look on the cover of her I Need You CD and Can't Fight The Moonlight's synthetic dance pop production, Rimes is clearly pushing for a piece of Britney and Christina's audience. She's probably succeeded with a fairly state of the art sound but Can't Fight The Moonlight is so uninteresting and unoriginal that it makes a song like Genie In A Bottle seem remarkably loose and fresh in comparison. Can't Fight The Moonlight's drum machines sound particularly recycled. The song uses the same kind of latin guitar that's shown up on songs by at least half of the dance pop artists of the last few years. In the past, Rimes has shown signs of a decent voice but here her voice is processed to fit the beat to the point where she could be J. Lo or a lesser Aguilera. Rimes played it safe for I Need You's first single, using a song written by Diane Warren, who wrote Rimes' biggest hit How Do I Live and assembly line hits like Starship's Nothing Gonna Stop Us Now and Aerosmith's I Don't Want To Miss A Thing and tends to sprinkle her songs with cliches. Can't Fight The Moonlight, with lines promising "there's no escaping love" and "we'll be lost in the rhythm so right, it will steal your heart tonight", couldn't have taken more than a few minutes for Warren to throw together.
Korn-Here To Staybuy it!
In the past, Korn has done some interesting hard rock with an ominous electronic atmosphere. Here To Stay, from the Untouchables CD, feels like a cut and paste rehash of Korn's previous work and that of many similar bands that, with dense music and troubled singers, have proliferated over the last few years. Jonathan Davis' angry bark is very familiar. So are Here To Stay's rumbling guitars and sinister synths. On Here To Stay, Davis sings about a self loathing that makes him "take my face and bash it into a mirror" so "I won't have to see the pain." He also tells us his hurt is turning "into hating". There's enough nastiness to Davis' venting that I find it hard to sympathize about his inner turmoil.
Craig David-7 Days(down 8 positions)
I'm somewhat surprised that Craig David has been able to replicate his British success in the U.S. With Fill Me In's reference to an answer phone and 7 Days' lyric about a six digit phone number, David is awfully English and the appeal of his music is quite modest. I guess David's easy confidence and his smooth, mild music is irresistable to ladies on both sides of the Atlantic. 7 Days, the second hit from David's Born To Do It CD, uses the somewhat hackneyed formula of reciting the days of the week to describe a fast moving relationship. After cockily bragging about how quickly he got her into bed, David spends the rest of 7 Days trying to convince her that this isn't just a one night stand. 7 Days' backing of acoustic guitar and a mellow beat is tasteful and a touch boring. David's vocal has a relaxed charm but I find his lady killer act a little smarmy.
Michelle Branch-All You Wanted(up 2 positions)
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."
Dave Matthews Band-Everyday(down 11 positions)
The Dave Matthews Band's Everyday CD isn't great but it does have quite a few decent ballads. The best ones keep things simple and relaxed. Everyday's title track is probably the best song on the record. Vocals by South African singer Vusi Mahlasela help create a joyful feel. Everyday shows off the band's strong musicianship. Backing vocals, guitar, horns and Carter Beauford's drums all contribute to Everday's light and playful but rich sound. Everyday's "all you need is love" refrain is nothing new but it fits a song about reducing things to the basics that advises us to "get your hands dirty" and seek love.
Chris Isaak-Let Me Down Easy(down 2 positions)
While Chris Isaak seems like a mellow guy, he obviously has savvy businessmen behind him. In January, Isaak achieved big time synergy as, nearly simultaneously with the release of Isaak's new Always Got Tonight CD, Showtime began the second season of Isaak's genial, slight rock sitcom and VH1 played a marathon of the show's first season. In 1985, Isaak came on the scene with his spare, haunted, Roy Orbison influenced Silvertone record. Since then, Isaak has mostly omitted the raw, stark feel but, especially since Wicked Game gave him his one big hit, otherwise continued to make the same kind of moody, adult, country flavored records. Isaak's songs often involve Isaak getting his heart broken and/or being haunted by the memory of the ideal woman who left. While Isaak's music is predictable and a little too smooth, it's still good. His songs are well played and have good atmosphere. Isaak's vocals are cool and self confident with a self deprecating charm that also suits him well(despite minimal acting skills) on his sitcom. Let Me Down Easy is similar to Somebody's Crying and other mellow midtempo Isaak songs but it's likable. Let Me Down Easy has a mechanical beat but it has a good ringing guitar riff. On Let Me Down Easy, Isaak again broods about falling hard for a woman who doesn't reciprocate his feelings.
Injected-Faithless(up 4 positions)
Faithless is from the Atlanta based band's Burn It Black CD. Faithless is fairly standard guitar rock but it does has a good combination of rock toughness and pop energy. Faithless is well made with a likable, polished sound. Stomping guitars, bass and drums give way to a bright, uplifting chorus. I have a pet peeve about young rock singers who use a deep, serious old sounding vocal. Injected's Danny Grady fits that desciption to a certain extent but, at least on Faithless, he doesn't sound as pretentious and self satisfied as his contemporaries in Calling, Default and Creed. Faithless is about a guy who's played the fool in a relationship but keeps his spirits high even after seeing his girlfriend's shamelessness.
Shakira-Underneath Your Clothes(up 4 positions)
Before she made the Laundry Service CD, Colombian pop star Shakira Mebarak apparently studied American pop. Especially in its first half, Underneath Your Clothes sounds a lot like The Bangles' Eternal Flame. Like that song, Underneath Your Clothes is corny but gets real poignance from a sincere vocal and solemn backing. With subdued drums and keyboards, Underneath Your Clothes maintains has a serious tone. However Shakira's singing, with her tendency to pinch certain vocal lines and add little yodels to others, can't help but spice things up. The lyrics also find a slightly new and odd way to express a standard love song idea. Instead of beneath the surface or in his heart or soul, she finds her man's "endless story" and the place where she gets credit for "being such a good girl" underneath his clothes. With Penny Lane style horns, Underneath You Clothes achieves a goofy majesty.
No Doubt-Hey Baby(down 16 positions)
I find Hey Baby, from the Rock Steady CD, really annoying but it does show that No Doubt still have the ability to make music destined for the top of the charts they had on the Tragic Kingdom CD but seemed to lose on Return Of Saturn. Hey Baby sounds like a pop hit. It's simple, catchy and easy to sing along with. On Hey Baby, No Doubt return to the combination of ska and commercial pop they used at the start of their career. With a bouncy keyboard skank and Bounty Killer's good natured toasting, Hey Baby uses some of ska's more appealing aspects. Still, Hey Baby's gimmicky sound bugged me on first listen and I can only imagine how irritating it will seem by the end of its chart run. From Gwen Stefani's cutesy vocal to the video game style beeping sound effects, I dislike all of Hey Baby's shiny perkiness. Hey Baby casts Stefani as an observer of boys and girls and their "flirty ways."
Adema-The Way You Like It(down 1 position)
The Way You Like It is the second single from Adema's self titled CD. Adema is perhaps the best example of what's wrong with today's mainstream rock. They inspired a bidding was among record labels, presumably partly because Adema's singer Mark Chavez is the half brother of Korn front man Jonathan Davis and partly because they sound so much like other bands that have had big record sales. There is a similarity between Korn and Adema in the way they try to mix hard rock guitar and synths to create a meaningful atmosphere. The difference between them is that Korn sometimes actually achieves real meaning while Adema's music is garbage that resembles more meaningful work. With a high pitched, spooky riff, The Way You Like It tells us from the start that it's grasping for significance. But even more than Adema's first single Giving In, which at least had an interesting topic(an alcoholic's inabiliy to avoid self destruction), The Way You Like It has a dark surface but no substance. On The Way You Like It, Chavez is apparently already complaining about how fame attracts fake friends and nasty gossip. Adema partly resemble Linkin Park, whose angry hard rock Hybrid Theory CD was the biggest selling CD of 2001(how 'bout that for a depressing sign of the times). But Adema doesn't have Linkin Park's hip hip fluidity. The only thing vaguely hip hop about The Way You Like It is its complaint about player hating. The Way You Like It's crunching guitar and Chavez' staccato, often yelled, vocal are hostile enough to make it on rock radio but it's not good or interesting.
Vanessa Carlton-A Thousand Milesbuy it!
A Thousand Miles is a slightly unwieldy but charming combination of breezy pop and more arty pretentions. 21 year old Vanessa Carlton has a likably modest, youthful voice that's similar to Michelle Branch's. Like Branch's hits, A Thousand Miles, from the Be Not Nobody CD, has a pleasant melody and sunny, optimistic sound that appeals to teenage girls too cool or too old for Britney. But A Thousand Miles also gives its pop ambitious accompaniment. There's a little too much going on but the big, slightly over the top music is appropriate for an expression of big, innocent emotions. Carlton plays smooth, flowery runs that show that Alicia Keys isn't the only young singer with keyboard skills. A Thousand Miles also has an orchestral arrangement with strings busily playing a riff that oddly resembles an old western tv show theme. It also has a bridge where Carlton and a guitar simulate a piece of Natalie Imbruglia's Torn. Carlton sings about missing a departed object of affection and wondering if he misses her.
Usher-U Got It Bad(down 5 positions)
Like U Remind Me, the first hit from Usher's 8701 CD, U Got It Bad is competent, familiar easy R&B. Producer Jermaine Dupri gives U Got It Bad a smooth, unexciting sound with a steady, restrained beat and tasteful touches of guitar. Usher Raymond has a presence that's helped him find success in music and movies but his voice, while pleasant, is unremarkable and certainly not among the best of the sensitive male ladykillers who have topped the charts over the years. On U Got It Bad Usher assures people who love obsessively that he's one of them and their behavior is fine.
U2-In A Little While(up 3 positions)
The songs on U2's All That You Can't Leave Behind took on greater meaning after September 11th. Their empathetic, hopeful feeling seemed perfect for the times. U2 picked a great to move away from the ironic, superficial songs that characterized much of their 90s work and combine the hopefulness of their earlier work with a modesty appropriate for guys who've been around long enough to know that goals aren't always easily met. The singles from All You Can't Leave Behind have been big anthems but the CD also has good quiet songs like the simply idealistic Peace On Earth and the playful Wild Honey. In A Little While, the CD's fifth song to make the top 50, is a rich love song with a timeless quality. Brian End added subtle strings to The Edge's good, basic guitar riff. Bono remarkably kept his enormous ego in check nearly throughout All That You Can't Leave Behind. He's very sweet on In A Little While, promising a longtime friend "surely you'll be mine."
Brandy-What About Us(unchanged)
In her music and as tv's Moesha, Brandy Norwood has established a sweet, slightly bland image. That image was emphasized when she played the good girl to Monica's tougher character on their hit duet The Boy Is Mine. On What About Us, the first single from the Full Moon CD, Brandy does a good job of adopting an attitude closer to that of Mary J. or the late Aaliyah, presenting a tougher, more adult persona. Brandy benefits from Rodney Jerkins' good production. What About Us has minimal backing with a hard, march style beat and limited electronic effects. Some studio tinkering gives Brandy's voice a sleek metallic edge. On What About Us Brandy complains about being neglected by a guy who made all sorts of promises to her and threatens that she won't put up with him if his behavior continues.
Lenny Kravitz-Stillness Of Heart(down 7 positions)
Dig In, the first single from the Lenny CD, showed a side of Lenny Kravitz that he hadn't shown much before. Dig In was a light, fun rocker that lacked the heavy attitude than often drags down Kravitz' music. Stillness Of Heart doesn't have Dig In's lightness and excitement but it's still a good, if not great, second single. Stillness Of Heart's melody is very similar to that of his second to last hit: Again. Stillness Of Heart achieves a good edge by holding back and going nice and slow. Heavy bass and drums create a good, slow jam on the verses and are joined on the chorus by a solid, steady guitar strum. Unlike Dig In, Stillness Of Heart doesn't really sound like a hit. Nothing really happens. It's got a good atmosphere but doesn't grab you. Kravitz' typically complacent vocal doesn't help. On Stillness Of Heart, Kravitz sings about trying to calm and center himself so that he can move on after a tough romantic experience. I'm not questioning Kravitz' pain but his way of expressing it is hardly great poetry. This is the second verse: "I got more than I can eat, a life that can't be beat/yet still I feel this heat, I'm feeling incomplete/What am I buying, my soul is crying."
Incubus-Wish You Were Here(down 1 position)
Incubus follow their mellow megasuccess Drive with a song reminiscent of Make Yourself's other singles. Wish You Were Here, the first single from the Morning View CD, has Pardon Me's record scratching and Stellar's spacy atmosphere. As on Drive, the lyrics show a sincere, slightly sappy, decency. Brandon Boyd sings about being in an idyllic setting. The you he wishes were here are apparently extraterrestrials. Wish You Were Here is good sounding, if unremarkable. Big guitars beef up a basically poppy song.
Eddie Vedder-You've Got To Hide Your Love Away(up 1 position)
The I Am Sam soundtrack is all covers of Beatles songs. Most of the music, like Rufus Wainwright and Aimee Mann & Michael Penn's contributions, is nice and well made but extremely predictable. I wish more of the artists were a little less respectful and took some more chances. Eddie Vedder's You've Got To Hide Your Love is quite good but also basically what you would expect. As usual, Eddie is serious and deep voiced though not as serious and deep voiced as he can be. It's just him, his acoustic and a little of his harmonica on a pleasant throwaway version of John Lennon's brilliantly simple evocation of the pain of getting dumped(and feeling like the world is laughing you) after you've trusted love and made yourself vulnerable.
Weezer-Dope Nosebuy it!
Weezer took until last year to release a followup to their commercially disappointing second record, 1996's Pinkerton. Now that they're selling again, Weezer wasted little time coming back with their fourth release: Maladroit. From what I've heard of Maladroit the songs aren't as tight and don't have the same pop gloss as those on last year's green album but they do have that record's rock heft. With its loose sense of fun and chunky guitar chords, Dope Nose reminds me of the songs from Pinkerton, particularly The Good Life, perhaps my favorite Weezer song ever. Dope Nose has a goofy charm. The band sings their ho-oh-oh-ohs to a tune that sounds like The Flinstones' theme. Brian Bell and Rivers Cuomos's steadily driving guitar work, which includes Bell's exciting and characteristically short, unshowy solo, gives Dope Nose a high energy sense of fun. Rock radio is unlikely to be as receptive to Dope Nose's giddiness as it was to Hash Pipe's heavy metal rumble. But Dope Nose, which clocks in at less than two minutes and 15 seconds, is a simple, good time that extends Weezer's impressive streak of quality music. Dope Nose apparently tells us that dope helps Cuomo to "bust rhymes real slow." Cuomo also throws in the fact that "cheese smells so good on a burnt piece of lamb."