Five For Fighting-100 Years(up 5 positions)
John Ondrasik, the guy who made Superman a new age wimp on his 2000 hit, is back with more sentimental crap by his band Five For Fighting. On 100 Years, from Five For Fighting's The Battle For Everything CD, Ondrasik again tries to make us think. Ondrasik moves back and foward from his current age, appreciating highlights, remembering that life is short and apparently advising a 15 year old that "there's still time for you." There's nothing wrong with 100 Years' concept but, lyrically and vocally, Ondrasik isn't insightful enough to justify the smug self righteousness he projects. He's so sensitive and thoughtful and so lacking in edge or self doubt that he seems a little lame. On 100 Years, Ondrasik shifts from an undramatic voice to a high vocal that seems intended to match the tone of his piano but is annoyingly reedy. With strings and his showy but bland piano playing, Ondrasik tries for a sweeping sound but the uninteresting result makes me long for Bruce Hornsby's similar but better songs.
Hilary Duff-Come Clean(up 1 position)
Come Clean is the second single from Hilary Duff's Metamorphosis CD. So Yesterday was perky pop mainly intended to connect with the young fans Duff made playing Lizzie McGuire. Come Clean indicates greater ambitions, to make Duff a pop star with an older audience. Duff sounds less comfortable on Come Clean than on the chirpy So Yesterday. She isn't helped by Come Clean's generic drum machine and icy synths. Come Clean is very familiar, bringing to mind Here Comes The Rain Again, among other songs. Come Clean was written and produced by John Shanks, who has done songs with Michelle Branch(including her pretty good recent top 50 near miss Breathe), and Kara Dioguardi, who's worked with Enrique Iglesias and Kylie Minogue. Come Clean sounds pieced together from other pop songs, particularly Branch songs like Breathe. Branch's voice is better than Duff's and Branch brings more of a feeling of substance. Come Clean is pleasant and innocuous. It sounds fine. It won't alienate a large young following glad to follow her career where it goes and its sleek, tasteful, sterile sound will attract older listeners too.
311-Love Song(up 1 position)
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.
Nickelback-Someday(down 2 positions)
Nickelback are back with The Long Road CD, making the same kind of ultraserious, overblown, cliched arena rock that brought them the megahit How You Remind Me. On Someday, Chad Kroeger and friends stuck to the formula that worked. Someday isn't quite as bombastic as How You Remind Me but it's otherwise incredibly similar. You can sing "this is how you remind me" and other parts of that song over portions of Someday. The appeal of Someday, and Nickelback's music in general, is lost on me. Kroeger's voice is so stiff and humorless that he's just a bore. He intones his thought about his relationship playing out "like a paperback novel" with gravity and emphasis to make sure you catch the brilliance of his simile. Someday's music and playing are coldly competent but lack any surprise or originality. Familiar hard rock riffs repeat over and over again. On Someday, Kroeger asks a partner to stay in a screwed up relationship, promising he's "gonna make it alright."
Limp Bizkit-Behind Blue Eyes(down 6 positions)
After irritating millions, Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst seemed to have ensured a steady career decline. But, like Kid Rock, Durst has enough commercial savvy that he can't be counted out. At least Kid Rock's pointless cover of Feel Like Makin' Love didn't go anywhere but Behind Blue Eyes, the second single from Limp Bizkit's Results May Vary CD, is Limp Bizkit's biggest pop hit ever. Limp Bizkit's version of the Who classic is pretty terrible. Limp Bizkit's cover obviously owes much of its success to the familiarity of the original and to a video where Durst acted out the fantasy of making out with Halle Berry. I guess you have to admire Durst's restraint. His arrangement, with his vocal and an acoustic guitar, isn't too showy. Maybe some people prefer Durst's control to Roger Daltrey's over the top wail. But I don't really see the cover's point. Pete Townsend's lyric is about barely controlled emotion and hiding anger behind a placid facade. Oddly Durst, who's known for venting rage on record and in real life, does a mellow, serious, boring vocal that lacks any emotion or anger. Durst removes the original's raging, rocking bridge. The part where Daltrey howled at us to crack open his fist when it clenches, tell him some bad news when he smiles and put your finger down his throat if he swallows anything evil is the original's most exciting part and has its most interesting writing. Durst has replaced that part with a bizarre section where a computerized voice spells out L-I-M-P and says discover a lot. The Who's Next version is a bit self indulgent and overdramatic but it's also a heartfelt, powerful epic. Limp Bizkit's is a narcissistic exercise. Except for showing that Durst can kind of sing, it's unclear what its purpose is.
Sarah Connor-Bounce(up 3 positions)
Sarah Connor is a pop star in Germany. Her self titled CD collects songs from her German records. Connor says she's a long time fan of American r&b. Connor and cowriter/producer Bulent Aris have done a good job of using their knowledge of American music on an effective simulation of contemporary dance pop. Aris' most significant previous American work was cowriting and producing Get Down(You're The One For Me) from Backstreet Boys' first CD. Aris is apparently a fan of Mary J. Blige's Family Affair. Bounce's production closely matches the one Dr. Dre gave Family Affair. Bounce's appropriation of American sounds also includes using a rapper who kind of sounds like Nelly. All the borrowing works pretty well. Like Family Affair, Bounce has an easily flowing groove and a crisp beat. Aris gives Bounce a sense of excitement with dramatic keyboard interjections. Connor uses her knowledge of American singers well. She never betrays the fact that she's a white German lady, cutting off the ends of her words and sounding confident and relaxed as she comfortably changes her vocal's tone and pace. The fake Nelly, playing Connor's cheating boyfriend, is pretty good too. Bounce is imitative and a bit obvious. It's not amazing but it's competent and easy to listen to. Bounce's lyric is like that of lots of female hip hop songs but, with accurate sounding vernacular, it's not any worse than those for similar songs. Connor tells her guy that she knows he's been "cheating, out there creeping" and taunts him with the fact that "you'll never find no stuff as good as mine."
Sheryl Crow-The First Cut Is The Deepest(down 2 positions)
The First Cut Is The Deepest was written by Cat Stevens in the late 60s and has been covered a bunch of times. It's a pained warning to a new lover that, after having your heart torn apart, it's hard to love again. I keep thinking that Sheryl Crow's cover is some sort of joke. Crow has given The First Cut a bizarre sunny, California style reading. Crow's voice is never very soulful but she can be appealingly smooth and playful. She usually writes and records songs that match her singing. The First Cut is a mismatch. The new First Cut, undoubtedly a hit because people are familiar with Rod Stewart's version and with Crow's easy voice, is quite bad. Crow apparently picked The First Cut as a new track for her Very Best of Sheryl Crow compilation because she knew it and liked it but didn't take the time to figure out what it's about. Crow's relentlessly superficial vocal is supported by similarly bland backing with strings and professional, generic sounding guitar.
AFI-Silver and Cold(up 2 positions)
Before their latest CD, AFI never had a big radio hit but their Sing The Sorrow CD has given them three chart hits. Silver and Cold isn't as good as Girl's Not Grey but it's better than The Leaving Song, Pt. 2. AFI worked up some energy and excitement on Girl's Not Grey's impassioned chorus. The rest of AFI's music seems more boring. Silver and Cold has a big sound but it's very serious and a bit stiff. Davey Havok's voice is sincere but his howl shows no subtlety or modulation. With big, impassioned vocals, Silver and Cold's chorus has an anthemic appeal. But Havok's writing is wildly overdone. He sings "you, in somber resplendence, I hold" and "as a rapturous voice escapes, I will tremble a prayer." Silver and Cold is apparently a love song and it has an appealing sweeting. But any joy is overwhelmed by pounding drums, thick guitars and Havok's hysterical, agitated singing. Silver and Cold's emotion seems appealingly real but it's presented in an overwrought package.
J-Kwon-Tipsy(up 5 positions)
Jerrell "J-Kwon" Jones follows Nelly and Chingy as the latest St. Louis rapper with a big hit. 18 year old J-Kwon was supposedly living on the streets, having run away from home in Bellville, Missouri, when he was discovered by the Trackboyz producing team. An audition with Jermaine Dupri(famous for producing hit records and being Janet Jackson's boyfriend) led to J-Kwon getting signed to Dupri's So So Def label. The Trackboyz, Mark Williams and Joe Kent, have worked on hits including Nelly's Air Force Ones and Work It. They produced most of J-Kwon's Hood Hop CD. Trackboyz created a sound on Tipsy that Dupri is said to have described as a fusion of hip hop and a We Will Rock You style rock sound. Tipsy's music, with its crashing big beat, is compelling and stirring. Tipsy's beeping synth noises, which invite comparisons to The Neptunes' production style, give Tipsy a bit of flavor and complete the song's full, powerful sound. Scoring a big hit with the first single from his first CD, J-Kwon has immediately established himself as one of rap's most promising young stars. J-Kwon's voice has a confidence and strength that's remarkable for someone just starting out. His presence is impressive as he slowly and patiently works his way through his rap in a way that says he knows he's good. I like Tipsy's sound. My only beef is with its subject matter. At the risk of sounding like an old fool, I think it would be a better world if teenagers weren't making music, purchased by younger teenagers, presenting a positive view of getting drunk and living a thug life. Tipsy's has pretty typical hip hop lyrics but it's a bit disturbing to hear them from someone so young. Besides celebrating getting drunk, J-Kwon tells us, in a lyric he wrote, about having and threatening someone with a gun, smoking "my blunt", "gettin' head", having a woman "feelin' on my johnson" and needing two condoms.
Finger Eleven-One Thing(down 3 positions)
Finger Eleven are a band from Burlington, Ontario, Canada whose music usually fits within the alt-metal category. They made their latest record with Disturbed producer Johnny K. Bands generally establish their cred with a few hard rock hits before they have their big rock ballad hit but Finger Eleven's first song to get substantial airplay is a "hold up your lighters" song. I'm not a big fan of rock ballads so I don't love One Thing, the single from Finger Eleven's self titled third CD. One Thing is very familiar resembling, among others, Poison's Every Rose Has Its Thorn. One Thing is too drab and earnest for me but it is an effective rock ballad. With a spare sound of spooky synths, simply whacked drums and sensitive acoustic guitar, One Thing has the emotional power people want. Scott Anderson's singing is a bit boring but very sincere. Considering the context, he and the song don't get too showy or emotive. I don't understand why rock fans are suckers for mushy, ultraserious ballads but they are and the sappy One Thing isn't the worst.
Cassidy featuring R Kelly-Hotel(up 6 positions)
Cassidy is a young rapper from Philadelphia who got attention with his work on mix tapes. He's been championed by Swizz Beatz, who's worked with Eve, Busta Rhymes, DMX and many others, the producer of much of Cassidy's Split Personality CD. Like Nick Cannon, Cassidy has the good fortune to be assisted on his first hit single by the ubiquitous R Kelly. Kelly's appearance is nearly a guarantee of success. The downside of Kelly's presence is that he makes more of an impression than Cassidy does. Kelly does a relaxed but strong vocal on the chorus, easily making himself the center of attention. Kelly is his usual pleasure loving self. As on the Ignition Remix, Kelly enjoys an after party, inviting a "cutie" to use his room key. Cassidy's rap isn't amazing but he's fine. Like so many rappers, he mostly has sex on his mind. He tells us "if that girl don't participate, well then I'm gonna take her friend." But compared with some songs(like the recent, similarly themed Holidae Inn), Hotel is pretty benign. Cassidy promises the ladies he will do whatever he can for them. Hotel's acoustic guitar riff and light mood remind me of another song with a big R Kelly presence, B2K's Bump, Bump, Bump. Hotel is better than the cheerfully stupid B2K song but it's also pretty slight. Still, it's pleasant and sounds fine. With the guitar underlining Kelly's vocal and a classic sounding beat that resembles the one for Marvin Gaye's Sexual Healing, Swizz Beatz gives Hotel a smooth sound.
Outkast-Hey Ya(down 1 position)
Outkast invited talk of a breakup by releasing a double CD that's basically two solo records. Big Boi's Speakerboxxx is a tight disc with a state of the art sound and touches of the inventiveness, intelligence and oddness that have long distinguished Outkast from other hip hop acts. Andre 3000's The Love Below, which features Andre mostly singing instead of rapping, is much less consistent. It has lots of goofing around, stupid jokes and undeveloped grooves as well as some good jokes, some irresistible grooves and a positive, good natured vibe. Big Boi and Andre 3000 claim to have no breakup plans and their strategy has paid off with two hits, Big Boi's sleek The Way You Move and Andre 3000's immensely entertaining Hey Ya.. Hey Ya is a strong candidate for best single of 2003. It brings to mind the giddy fun of British invasion pop(a connection reinforced by its wry video with an Ed Sullivan type audience filled with screaming young African American women) and the groove and joyful, trippy vibe and attitude of P-Funk and Sly and The Family Stone. But the most obvious comparison is with Prince's exhilarating, genre busting early 80s workouts . For Hey Ya, Andre 3000(aka Andre Benjamin) assembled sounds guaranteed to create a bouncy, positive feel. Hey Ya has a steady acoustic guitar strum, a tight, brittle beat, a goofy wah wah bass effect, a bubbly cheesy beeping synth, hand claps and Andre's sweet backing vocals and playful lead. The result is wacky, uplifting and as good a time as pop music can supply. On Hey Ya, Andre 3000 contemplates questions about his relationship including does his baby want to mess around with others and only avoid doing so to keep him from walking and whether love is an exception to the rule that nothing lasts forever. But he's more concerned with sustaining Hey Ya's buoyant mood. So the lyric also includes information like "don't want to meet you daddy, just want you in my Caddy" and "don't want to meet your mama, just want to make you cumma."
Especially in a downloading world where sales are down, Norah Jones is a goddess of the music business. Her debut Come Away With Me CD has sold more than eight million copies in the US alone. Feels Like Home, her followup, sold one million copies the week it came out and two million in its first month. The consensus regarding Feels Like Home is that it's fairly cautious. Jones is apparently most comfortable in a mellow mode. It does seem like there's more going on in Feels Like Home than there was on Come Away With Me, which was well played and sounded good but, at its worst, had a polite, boring, elevator music quality. On Feels Like Home, some of the songs have an alt country feel but Jones' music still generally fits somewhere between jazz, lite pop and country. Feels Like Home is a bit more confident and personal. As before, the saving grace of Jones' music is her supple, quite amazing voice. Jones' singing nicely carries Sunrise, one of the best things she's done. Jones shows confidence in eschewing a big beat and letting Sunrise's arrangement stay muted. Good, quiet playing twists around Jones' voice. Sunrise has an unshowy jazzy looseness with a mandolin and an unobtrusive, throbbing bass. Jones even plays a good little piano solo. Sunrise has Jones' typical modesty but it's also warm and relaxed. Like much of Jones' music, Sunrise is easy listening but it's not pandering and button pushing. Sunrise is charming. It sounds like Jones and friends are having good, if subdued, fun. Sunrise, written by Jones with bass player and boyfriend Lee Alexander, is about a couple spending a relaxed day in bed with a broken clock stuck at 9:15. Jones shows mild surprise that "we've made it through another day."
Eamon-F**k It(I Don't Want You Back)(down 6 positions)
Eamon is a 19 year old singer from Staten Island. F**k It, from his I Don't Want You Back CD, started with airplay on a few stations and slowly became a big hit. I loved F**k It when I first heard it and it was called Nothing Compares 2 U. To me, F**k It sounds a lot like Sinead O'Connor's 1990 Prince penned hit. The comparison is kind of a compliment. With its simple, stark synth & basic beats backing, F**k It evokes the same obsessive sense Nothing Compares 2 U did. F**k It makes it clear, like a good breakup song should, that Eamon would love to have her back. Eamon's singing has a wounded feel that makes his pain sound real. Eamon will likely be a one hit wonder. He's apparently not a great singer; his voice benefits from a bit of electronic tweaking. He doesn't seem so smart; the interviews I've seen present him as an extremely regular guy. But with F**k It, Eamon has made a lasting contribution to the ranks of songs about heartbroken guys. F**k It's lyric is a very typical lament about having loved and trusted a woman who cheated on him. F**k It also has the typical "happy" ending of being able to turn her down when she comes back for another chance. I know he's upset but he still shouldn't call her a "hoe".
Yellowcard-Ocean Avenuebuy it!
Members of Yellowcard met in high school in Jacksonville, Florida. On the title track from the Ocean Avenue CD, Yellowcard remind me of The Ataris, who had hits last year with squeaky clean, straight ahead rockers. Ocean Avenue is fast and well played but it doesn't have a lot of edge. Ocean Avenue also resembles songs by emo kings Jimmy Eat World, especially A Praise Chorus. But in comparison, Jimmy Eat World's genial raveups are very substantial. Ryan Key doesn't seem like a great singer but he does an appealing, upbeat vocal, with a bit of yearning, that fits with Ocean Avenue's perky, very youthful pop. Longineu Parsons' drumming maintains an energetic, quick pace but Ocean Avenue still feels lightweight. Ocean Avenue's only distinctive touch is Sean Mackin's frantic violin playing, which gives the song a nice, dramatic finish. Otherwise, Ocean Avenue is likable but a bit innocuous. Like The Ataris' In This Diary, Ocean Avenue shows a nostalgic sense that's a bit odd for a singer who's only in his mid 20s and seems younger. He was the one who told her "this was goodbye" when she beg him not to leave. Still, Key longs for a teenage relationship where he used to stay up all night and "sit and talk with you." He tells himself that if he could "find you now", "things would get better."
D12 featuring Eminem-My Band(up 5 positions)
D12(aka The Dirty Dozen) originally formed in the early 90s. D12's main claim to fame is that in the mid 90s, before becoming a huge solo star, Eminem was a member. Eminem has stuck by D12 and continued to work with them. D12's Devil's Night CD did pretty well but didn't approach the sales of Eminem's solo work. Not surprisingly, D12's pop breakthrough comes on a song focusing on Eminem doing a showy performance. On Eminem Show's Hailie's Song, the most notable previous song where he sang instead of rapped, Eminem did some very sincere singing but started by saying "I can't sing." Eminem seems considerably more confident on My Band, from the D12 World CD, jokingingly whining/singing the chorus. His singing is pretty awful but, like much of what Eminem does, it's strangely compelling and hard to ignore. My Band starts with a spoken section where Eminem sounds like he's doing Ed Norton. Eminem raps a verse in a voice that's less dramatic and more like his speaking voice than usual. As usual, Eminem's rapping is thick with words and theatrics. His technique is typically remarkable as he playfully races through his rap, quick but always in control. He easily slips into a caricature of a groupie crying "dude you fuckin' rock", "won't you please let me suck your cock." My Band presents a slightly parallel world where, rather than the star helping out his rap friends, Eminem is the lead singer of a boy band. The lyric has fun with the dynamics between the pop idol and formerly equal bandmates. Eminem, playing the clueless star, is very funny. He claims to be confused about how "everybody's all jealous" of his devoted female following and the fact the he gets to "do my a capellas." He accuses bandmates of "tryin' to steal the light from me" and "pulling a knife on me 'cause I told him Jessica Alba's my wife to be." My previous impression of D12's other members was pretty terrible. On My Band, their contributions vary from not atrocious to pretty good. They comfortably play the envious colleagues. Swifty McVeigh does an OK hard rap, complaining that "we in a van and in a tour bus" and about a small dressing room and being confused for another member of the group. Kuniva and Kon Artis's verse is an amusing skit. They call Eminem "a punk ass thinkin' he the shit" for "takin' on a flick" and get dissed by him as a group interview becomes a solo. They complain that "our mics are screwed up and his always sound best." When Eminem asks "you got something to say", they clam up, then blame each other("I was 'bout to talk right after you.") Proof does a decent, fast rap, asking why "he get 90 and we only get 10 percent." Bizarre is My Band's coolest and second most entertaining rapper, bragging about his "big ass stomach" and listing the Eminem videos where "I was in the back." Eminem has long had a problem with boy bands. Boy bands have been in decline for a while but Eminem keeps taking shots, mocking the heartthrob emoting "girls why can't you see you're the only one for me and it just tears my ass apart to know that you don't know my name." My Band ends on an appropriately goofy note with Eminem affecting an odd Indian accent as he claims "my salsa makes all the pretty girls want to dance." As with many Eminem songs, My Band has stupid parts but it's packed with interesting bits. Generally, it's quite hilarious. Beneath the kidding around about the spot Eminem and D12 hold in the success food chain, My Band also expresses a sense of affection between Eminem and his old rapping friends. Eminem produced My Band. The recurring, vaguely spooky riff sounds like ones Eminem and Dr. Dre have used before but it's very effective. My Band's music is catchy and the way it matches the notes of Eminem's singing nicely reinforces the song's amusing central theme of a world revolving around Eminem.
Damien Rice-Cannonball(up 1 position)
Damien Rice is a critically acclaimed Irish singer/songwriter. Rice's 2003 O CD won him the Shortlist music prize, a new but fairly prestigious award given to the best non-mainstream artist of the year. While it's hard for me to believe that a record of fairly standard folk pop could be the best of the year, I agree that O is a good, ambitious record. Rice is clearly a Van Morrison fan. He shares some of Morrison's intensity and songwriting skills. Rice's sincere, personal songs are also reminiscent of David Gray's work but Rice's have a bit more edge. Cannonball is a good example of Rice's poetic, well crafted music. Rice's singing is strong but sensitive and idiosyncratic. His pained delivery makes it clear that his writing is deeply felt. Rice accompanies himself with heartfelt strumming. My problem with Rice is that he's too serious. His intensity sometimes comes off as humorless self importance. On Cannonball, Rice sadly and cautiously reflects on a lost relationship with a woman he can still "taste in my mouth." Rice "can't say what's going on" but armed with the newly gained knowledge "that you just don't know", he's apparently trying to find the courage to give it another try as she steps "a little closer."
Sting-Sacred Love(up 4 positions)
The title track from Sacred Love is fairly typical of Sting's recent work. It has fine music and is easy to listen to. Sacred Love has a jazzy looseness with some interesting, exotic sounds. Sting's voice still has an impressively fluid, light touch. But the music is also a touch glib. Sting doesn't go beyond the surface pleasantness to truly engage or challenge the listener. Sting's lyric, typically, has a self satisfied quality and imagery that's way overblown. Sting claims on Sacred Love that he wants to leave the news and world behind and just go dancing. Much of Sacred Love is about finding exalted terms for the woman he loves. She's the one he "begged the moon and the stars above" for. She's "my religion", "my church." She's "the holy grail at the end of my search." "She takes the shape of this heavenly daughter." She's "the word" "made into flesh and blood." To make his adoration even more heavy handed, he closes the song with even more heavy handed references to the religious images he's been "thinkin 'bout."
Melissa Etheridge-Breathe(down 4 positions)
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."
Avril Lavigne-Don't Tell Me(up 3 positions)
Avril Lavigne, at 19, is apparently already entering the mature period of her career. Under My Skin, Lavigne's followup to her 10 million selling debut Let Go CD, must be one of the most anticipated records of the year but its first single met a fairly lukewarm initial response(though it's slowly climbed up the chart). For her new CD, Lavigne stayed away from Let Go's hitmakers The Matrix and Clif Magness. Under My Skin's writers and producers include ex-Evanescence co-leader Ben Moody and Canadian husband and wife pop stars Raine Maida(from Our Lady Peace) and Chantal Kreviazuk. Don't Tell Me was written by Lavigne and her guitar player Evan Taubenfield and produced by Butch Walker, formerly of Marvelous 3(one hit wonders for 1999's Freak Of The Week). On Don't Tell Me, Lavigne and Walker eschewed the youthful, rousing, in your face confidence of Lavigne's #1 hits Complicated and Sk8er Boi. Lavigne doesn't even get to do a really cathartic wail like on her other #1, I'm With You. On Don't Tell Me, Alanis Morissette's influence is even more obvious than usual. My guess is that Lavigne's audience liked Let Go's Morissette style angst but don't want her to be Morissette. Showing a reluctance to continue being the voice of feisty early teens, Lavigne's retains her intensity on Don't Tell Me without the perkiness of her previous hits. While it's less exciting than some of Lavigne's hits, Don't Tell Me is charming. Lavigne's idiosyncratically Canadian pronounciation, passionate singing and seriousness still mark her as an individual. Adults have derided the fact that, despite her punk posturing, Lavigne's music is more pop than punk. That ignores the fact that Lavigne resonated with kids as a distinctive, self assured role model. Don't Tell Me's music, with guitars and drums crashing in on the chorus, is generic pop rock. But Lavigne's heartfelt delivery, strong singing and personal phrasing make Don't Tell Me's typical youthful anguish fresh. As she has before, Lavigne projects big emotions in a way that makes her sound like a real teenager. Don't Tell Me's lyric depicts Lavigne as a sad but strong young woman. Lavigne is "upset" but she decides she's better off alone than with a guy who tried to get "into my pants." She tells him that he shouldn't try to tell her what to do and say and that she had told him she wouldn't "give it up" to him.
Jessica Simpson-Take My Breath Awaybuy it!
Jessica Simpson's cover of Take My Breath Away wasn't originally on her In This Skin CD but, taking advantage of Simpson's ever growing stardom, a new version of In This Skin, with Take My Breath Away and a cover of Robbie Williams' Angels, has been released. Take My Breath Away was written by disco king Giorgio Moroder(who's also back on the charts as Beyonce quotes Love To Love You Baby). It was originally recorded by Berlin and, partly thanks to inclusion on the Top Gun soundtrack, was their biggest hit. Take My Breath Away has been covered a bunch of times. It's a favorite of mediocre lounge singers for probably the same reasons that Jessica and her people chose it. Many people are familiar with Take My Breath Away from seeing Top Gun or hearing Berlin's version on the radio. Some probably have an emotional or romantic connection with the song. Take My Breath Away is a sturdy song which builds to a big finish and allows a female singer to do a big, dramatic performance. Simpson does a standard reading, pretty closely tracking the vocal by Berlin's Terri Nunn. Most of Simpson's singing is quite annoying. In the song's quieter first half, her voice is pinched, mannered and unappealing. She actually does better in the song's more challenging second half, holding her notes and stretching them out in a showy but fairly impressive way. Still, Simpson's singing doesn't add anything interesting or new to the original. I guess it's meant to show that Simpson can sing. She kind of can, but not any better than lots of contestants in local talent shows. The new version of Takes My Breath Away is pretty pointless. It has very bland elevator music style backing, with stiff drum machine beats and sterile synths. Like her edible body products, Simpson's cover of Take My Breath Away is a product meant to take advantage of Simpson's hot name, good looks and sexy/innocent image. Besides its familiarity, I don't see any reason for covering Take My Breath Away. It's an easy listening classic but it's also kind of a sappy bore. Take My Breath Away is filled with overheated romance novel imagery. It depicts lovers in a foolish game, "on this endless ocean" and knowing no shame. The singer returns to a "secret place inside" and watches "in slow motion" as he turns and says the song's title. The lyric also has crashed mirrors, fate, anticipation and guys seen "through the hourglass" and slipping away in time.
The Vines-Ridebuy it!
The Vines debut CD, Highly Evolved, arrived with a lot of advance buzz, much of it created by an adoring British music press. The CD was pretty good but except for Get Free, its exciting single, Highly Evolved was a bit disappointing. The band's rep was further dented by reports of intraband squabbling and silly, self important rock star behavior by Vines leader Craig Nicholls. Ride, the first single from The Australian band's Winning Days CD, is a good effort to get back on course. Ride has an excitement similar to Get Free's. It's also nicely focused. Nicholls came up with a killer guitar riff for Ride. Along with drummer Hamish Rosser, who joined the band on the Highly Evolved tour, Nicholls creates a driving sound that always keeps the song moving forward. Nicholls builds intensity in ways including shifting from his lone voice to harmonies doing the same vocal line in a bigger way. Ride is tight, with no waste, but it still has time to mix things up with a good stomping bridge and a decent guitar solo. Nicholls' raw vocal hints at his wild stage persona, giving the sense that he's uninhibited and always pushing himself. On Ride, as usual, Nicholls' love of Cobain shows(Ride's momentum and ever uncoiling energy reminds me of About A Girl). But Ride also has a personal feeling. The Winning Days CD has gotten mixed reviews but its single is pretty clearly terrific. Ride's minimal lyric has some psychedelic trippiness about "colors through your loaded mind." But the message is basically that Nicholls doesn't want to "hate alone" so he wants her to "ride with me."
John Mayer-Claritybuy it!
Clarity is the second chart hit from John Mayer's Heavier Things CD. Mayer is a good natured, fairly skilled performer who has modest ambitions of making meaningful music but doesn't quite know how to do so. Clarity puts Mayer's ambition and modesty to good use. It's seriously made, enjoyable and not self important. Clarity goes farther into jazz than Mayer's previous singles. Clarity starts fairly well with a crisp drum machine beat and a looped piano line. Things improve and a nice momentum develops as Clarity's vibe loosens. ?uestlove from The Roots plays good, relaxed drums. Horns, including Roy Hargrove's trumpet, give Clarity some color and give the chorus a big sound. Though Mayer's can't help but sound like a white guy, his vocal is basically unpretentious and pleasant. Mayer does his typical restrained guitar doodling but Clarity has enough interesting things happening that it doesn't have the tentative feel of some of Mayer's songs. Clarity has substance but it's also breezy and likable. Clarity's lyric is a bit New Agey but nice and well suited to the song's relaxed mood. Mayer tells us that he's normally a worrier who "weighs three times my body." One morning, he's surprised to feel "a calm I can't explain." Clarity is about hoping the feeling "will last forever" or preparing to, at least, "pretend that it somehow lingered on."
Black Eyed Peas-Hey Mama(unchanged)
Where Is The Love, which featured Justin Timberlake's good, unshowy vocal on the chorus, was one of the biggest hits of 2003. Where Is The Love has a majestic quality. It sounds like classic r&b. The subsequent singles from the Elephunk CD have been significantly less substantial. As someone who knew Black Eyed Peas from Where Is The Love and Request Line, their Macy Gray collaboration, I've been surprised by Shut Up and Hey Mama, the silly followups to Where Is The Love. Both have a lightweight, chattery quality and give a lot of prominence to new Black Eyed Pea Stacy "Fergie" Ferguson. Fergie doesn't bring a lot of soulfulness or substance. But lead Pea William "Will.I.Am" Adams, who produced and cowrote Hey Mama and Shut Up, has to be held responsible for Hey Mama's dopeyness. Hey Mama is an knowingly stupid song with not much on its mind beyond asking a woman to "move your booty." With lines like "don't wanna squeeze triggers, just wanna squeeze tits" and "we drop bombs like we in the middle east", Hey Mama is moronic but basically harmless. The rappers' unrelenting perkiness sometimes gives me a headache. The other side of the song's empty headedness is that Hey Mama is unpretentious. Hey Mama is just about having a good time. With steady, good percussion, Hey Mama has jittery energy and good spirits. I don't find Hey Mama as irritating as some people do but it is pretty damn annoying.
The Offspring-Can't Get My Head Around Youbuy it!
Can't Get My Head Around You isn't as unpleasant and irritating as Hit That, the first chart hit from The Offspring's Splinter CD, but it reinforces the feeling I got from Hit That: The Offspring really don't seem to have anything else to say, musically or lyrically. Head Around You sounds like other Offspring songs, especially Gotta Get Away, a similar but better song. Head Around You is pretty fast. With Dexter Holland racing through his vocal and Noodles playing speedy, varied guitar parts, Head Around You gains decent momentum. Noodles nicely mixes up different hard rock lines. But besides being familiar, Head Around You isn't very appealing. The reason for that is singer Dexter Holland. Holland's vocal is so harsh and unlikable that you don't want to know what he's ranting about, you just wish he'd shut up. Head Around You's lyric also makes Holland seem kind of like a jerk. He can't understand why someone doesn't see the hole "inside your soul." He complains that "you've managed to bring me down too" and accuses the person of faking. Sounds like the person needs help, not an account of how their problems are hurting Dexter. At least, Can't Get My Head Around You is pretty short and its music is decent and energetic. But we've heard it before when Holland was less annoying.