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All-Reviews.com Top 50 Songs*:
for the 3rd week of April, 2004

*based on airplay at alternative, pop and rock radio stations a cross the nation (reviews by LarryG)

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  1. Hoobastank-The Reason    (unchanged)      buy it!
    Out Of Control, the first chart hit from The Reason, didn't last long on the chart. It looked like Hoobastank might disappear for lack of anything to distinguish them from other sensitive hard rockers. But Hoobastank guaranteed themselves a longer shelf life, taking the logical step for a rock band seeking a larger pop audience: putting out a big rock ballad. The Reason CD's title track is the California band's biggest hit. In a compliment and an insult, The Reason has been called the prom theme of 2004. The Reason connects with high school kids' heightened but basic emotions. It's expertly constructed. Doug Robb's vocal is very sensitive. With gentle picking on the verses and power chord strumming on the chorus, Dan Estrin's guitar provides decent variety and dynamics. The Reason effectively reaches a climax with ladled on strings and Robb's heartfelt cry: "the reason is you." The Reason's strengths are its weaknesses. I understand how its emotional approach sweeps people up but The Reason is quite bland. It's very predictable, familiar and a bit heavy handed in its button pushing. The Reason reminds me a lot of Cheap Trick's The Flame, among others. The Reason is basically criticism proof. No matter how banal The Reason is, if people feel that it expresses their emotions who am I or anyone else to say they're wrong. I do feel that the same emotions could be expressed in a more musically interesting way. Robb's lyric is sappy but sweet. He admits that he's made mistakes that put her through pain but he wants a woman to know that she gives him a reason to "continue learning" and "change who I used to be."

  2. Jet-Are You Gonna Be My Girl    (unchanged)      buy it!
    Jet follow The Vines as a band from Australia making hard hitting rock and roll. Jet differ from The Vines in seeming less ambitious, pretentious and obnoxious. On Are You Gonna Be My Girl, from the Melbourne band's Get Born CD, Jet are a band having a good time. With their hand claps and tambourines, Jet very obviously borrow from rocking mid-60s British bands like Rolling Stones, Faces and The Who but they seem natural rather than studied or showy. Unlike Black Crowes, for instance, Jet don't seem to show off their resemblance to their heroes. Nic Cester and Cam Muncey give Are You Gonna Be My Girl great energy, mixing up a stomping rhythm guitar line with a good, twisty lead. Muncey has plenty of charisma and a strong voice with a good rock and roll edge. He easily holds his own against the guitars' force and the song doesn't flag when he sings on his own while the guitars take break. Are You Gonna Be My Girl encourages comparisons to lots of different songs. Towards the end, the guitars have the "channelling The Stooges" feel of Strokes songs like Last Nite. Are You Gonna Be My Girl doesn't sound original but it is fun and energetic. Are You Gonna Be My Girl has an appropriately simple, retro lyric. Muncey tells a girl that "you look so fine" that "I really wanna make you mine."

  3. Linkin Park-Numb    (unchanged)      buy it!
    Numb is the third chart hit from Linkin Park's Meteora CD but the first to get a big push at top 40 radio. Presumably Faint, which had a great, exciting riff, was considered too edgy for the mainstream. I like Numb, with its controlled sound, better than the songs featuring Chester Bennington's over the top screaming or Mike Shinoda's mediocre rapping but Numb isn't exciting or very interesting. Numb is better than average Linkin Park. Its spooky synth line effectively communicates its protagonist's turmoil. The way the guitars slam in on the chorus seems appropriate to the song's anger and less overdone than usual. Numb has a hook that resembles In The End and Crawling from Linkin Park's first CD but it benefits from a touch of restraint. Bennington still rages but with a lessened intensity that's right for a declaration of numbness. Bennington's straight forward singing on the verses isn't particularly good but it is charmingly sincere. Numb is fine. It's just ordinary and a little boring. With Numb's easily understood angst, Linkin Park continue delivering angry male rock to a wide suburban audience. Well intentioned and serious, Numb will appeal to teens looking for a meaningful sound they can relate to. But its solemn soul searching does nothing for me besides make me think if she makes you so unhappy, you should probably break up. Bennington sings in Numb about feeling smothered in a relationship with someone who sees his every step as a mistake and wants him to be "what you want me to be."

  4. Maroon 5-This Love    (unchanged)      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.

  5. Three Days Grace-I Hate Everything About You    (unchanged)      buy it!
    I Hate Everything About You is on the self titled debut CD by the band originally from Norwood, Ontario, Canada. Three Days Grace are the umpteenth band to use the dynamic perfected by Nirvana. Three Days Grace seem like lots of angry, hard rocking bands. Everything About You is better than many similar songs because it's clean and focused. The fairly stripped sound has a purity of emotion and expression. The verses stick to a good, tense guitar riff. On the chorus, singer/guitar player Adam Gontier's howl is raw and heartfelt. Still, Everything About You is familiar and unsurprising. I preferred the crunching power chords alternating with raging voice thing when Kurt Cobain did it on Smells Like Teen Spirit and other better, more exciting songs. On I Hate Everything About You, Gontier recognizes the thrill and pull of a turbulent relationship but feels he's better without it.

  6. Blink 182-I Miss You    (unchanged)      buy it!
    Blink 182's self titled new album is a nice step forward towards a more complex, adult sound. Sometimes when they mix their trademark youthful, rocking style with a darker, more cerebral feel, Blink 182's songs aren't as smart as they want to be and the new seriousness results in less catchy melodies. A few of the songs, like Go, Asthenia and Always, are just fun, fast rockers that could have been on earlier Blink records. But much of Blink 182 shows growth and is enjoyable. Feeling This effectively incorporates hip hop into Blink 182's sound. All Of This has great percussive atmosphere and a sly, deadpan guest appearance by The Cure's Robert Smith. I Miss You has impressive depth and power. It's nicely restrained and muted, showing subtlety not normally associated with Blink 182. Blink 182 play acoustic instruments on I Miss You. Mark Hoppus plays stand up bass. Travis Barker's drumming is typically quick and precise. His subdued pounding gives a brooding song direction and, using brushes, adds texture. I Miss You's verse loops a quiet scraping guitar sample. The chorus has a haunted feeling. A striking organ adds a spooky, old fashioned sound. Chimes and simple piano complement the stark soundscape. Hoppus' flatter, less showy voice introduces I Miss You's mournful tone. Tom DeLonge then takes over. He doesn't have his usual exuberance but his bratty voice singing "don't waste your time on me, you're already the voice inside my head" suggests a more complicated situation than do Hoppus' solemn miss yous. I Miss You is a good, complex song that ranks with Blink 182's best singles.

  7. Incubus-Megalomaniac    (unchanged)      buy it!
    After mellow hits like Drive and Wish You Were Here, Incubus show they can still rock on Megalomaniac, the first single from their new CD called A Crow Left Of The Murder. On the verses, Brandon Boyd does a familiar smooth croon but, supported by Jose Pasillas' pounding drums, he's focused and not too laid back. On the chorus, Boyd shows off a new, pissed off voice. Ranting like Johnny Lydon, Boyd grabs your attention, sounding committed and a bit crazed. Incubus have done a bunch of songs alternating between mellow and harder sections but Megalomaniac is tighter than most. It doesn't drag, staying interesting even in its quieter parts. Part of the credit goes to guitar player Mike Einzinger, who does his usual solid, versatile job, ranging from spacy, jazzy doodling to big, tough power chords. Megalomaniac is a bit overdramatic and not that well developed but I like its intensity and Boyd's kooky passion. Megalomaniac's video suggests a political bent but the angry lyric is a fairly unspecific diatribe at someone Boyd hears "on the radio" who permeates "my screen" and has delusions of greatness and of being the "only one." Boyd vents violent fantasies and asks him to "step down."

  8. Nickelback-Figured You Out    (unchanged)      buy it!
    Figured You Out is another self righteous, humorless song from the irritatingly successful Canadian band. Figured You Out, the hard rocking second chart hit from Nickelback's CD, has a pretty good, if familiar, tough, tight guitar riff. But Figured You Out is still unappealing. It has an unpleasantness that largely comes from Chad Kroeger's cold, numbingly serious singing and lyrics. Kroeger shows his moralistic streak on Figured You Out with a laborious lyric that invents a decadent lifestyle so he can condemn it. Kroeger's character(I assume Mr. Perfect isn't writing from perfect experience) first revels in a wild life of sex and drugs then decides he hates and blames the person who brought him to it.

  9. Jet-Cold Hard Bitch    (unchanged)      buy it!
    Are You Gonna Be My Girl, the big hit from Jet's Get Born CD, seems like a tribute to late 60s/early 70s psychedelic rock by bands like The Faces and The Stones. With crunching guitar reminiscent of fellow Australians AC/DC, Cold Hard Bitch shows a different, harder side of Jet's music. Jet only want Cold Hard Bitch to be big, tough, stupid hard rock and they reach that goal. Nic Cester shows that he's knows, from repeat listens to You Shook Me All Night Long and Highway To Hell, how to play tight, blugeoning power chords. Cam Muncey has the voice to carry off Cold Hard Bitch. His ragged but assertive howl is strong enough to fight with the guitars and have enough left for a Daltreyesqe climactic wail. Cold Hard Bitch has the stirring power of good simple arena rock. It's effective but dopey. Cold Hard Bitch brings to mind The Darkness' ridiculously faithful reenactments of 70s rock. The Darkness make their songs, especially I Believe In A Thing Called Love, work by lovingly mocking the music they skillfully bring back to life. Muncey's punctuating yeahs and the too provocative to be serious title imply that Cold Hard Bitch is a bit of a goof. But the joke isn't as fun or inclusive as The Darkness'. Cold Hard Bitch is best appreciated as well made, no frills head banging rock. Cold Hard Bitch's title is apparently meant as a compliment. Muncey sings that at first she was "just a kiss on the lips" then "I was on my knees" waiting for her.

  10. Switchfoot-Meant To Live    (unchanged)      buy it!
    Switchfoot, a band formed in San Diego by the Foreman brothers, are the latest artists to cross over from the Christian music world to success on the pop charts. Switchfoot have tried out some different sounds and seem to have decided on a grungy rock style. I'm naturally prejudiced against the many recent bands who borrow the big but melodic guitar rock sound of Nirvana and their contemporaries but, on Meant To Live, Switchfoot do a pretty good job. Meant To Live's guitar line is largely lifted from Smells Like Teen Spirit(especially Kurt Cobain's guitar's tic as he leaves the chorus). It also sounds like Smashing Pumpkin's Cherub Rock . But Meant To Live doesn't show the commercial cynicism or over the top hostility of a lot of the music by today's grunge fans. Jonathan Foreman makes a big, pure guitar sound that reminds me of interesting mid 90s atmospheric guitar rockers Hum. Meant To Live, from Switchfoot's The Beautiful Letdown CD, isn't as showy as much contemporary rock. Foreman's vocal avoids the nastiness and vanity of the many modern rock singers obsessed by unfaithful girlfriends and/or a world that doesn't understand them. He also doesn't haven't have the self righteousness of a faith obsessed singer like Creed's Scott Stapp. Besides encouraging the idea of not replaying "the wars of our fathers"(good luck on that), the lyric doesn't give many specifics on how we can "live for so much more." Given the band's religious focus and the lines about how everything "screams for second life" and about wanting "more than this world's got to offer", Meant To Live seems like a call to get in touch with a higher power.

  11. Puddle Of Mudd-Heel Over Head    (up 1 position)      buy it!
    As I noted in the Away From Me review, I actually like the singles from Puddle Of Mudd's Life On Display better than the ones from their far more successful Come Clean CD. Wes Scantlin's delivery is slightly less obnoxious and arrogant and the songs are fairly tuneful. Still, Puddle Of Mudd is pretty bad and, with Scantlin's anger toned down, kind of pointless. Heel Over Head, is a lot like Away From Me, Life On Display's first single. It's mid tempo rock in the style of Foo Fighters, Stone Temple Pilots and, especially, Nirvana. The playing is pretty good, with a decent loose vibe. Scantlin plays a guitar riff like the ones from Nirvana's Scentless Apprentice and Heart-Shaped Box. Heel Over Head has a fairly uninspired and anonymous melody but it's decent mainstream rock. Heel Over Head's biggest problem is Scantlin's singing and writing. Even when he's not at his most unpleasant, Scantlin is pretty unappealing. He does a pretty bland, repetitious rock star vocal until Heel Over Head's conclusion when he, predictably, starts screaming. Heel Over Head is another self pitying screed from Scantlin. He's "ripping apart at the seams". Scantlin complains that "after all the things I've done for you", "you don't save me at all" and demands "don't you walk away from me."

  12. Linkin Park-Lying From You    (up 3 positions)      buy it!
    Male teens can't get enough earnest, troubled screeds. Meteora is another multiplatinum record for Linkin Park. Lying From You is Meteora's fourth chart hit. Lying From You is nothing new for Linkin Park. Mike Shinoda rapping is again pretty mediocre. Maybe the white kids appreciate the fact that he tries really hard and the fact that, unlike talented rappers, he has an awkward delivery that makes him sounds like one of them. Chester Bennington's howling is more interesting and skilled but it's the same old raving. His rage has long since lost its shock value. Bennington wailing "youuuuu" is so unsurprising and so much like his rants on other songs that it seems like self parody. Lying From You's sci-fi synths and guitars, processed with post production help from Pro Tools software, also sound kind of familiar but at least they lend a sense of drama to a song that's otherwise has a fill in the blanks sameness. Lying From You is about a person who faked a persona to make a relationship work. He "can't pretend I'm who you want me to be." Partly to protect her from "the criminal I am", he decides "I wanna be pushed aside."

  13. A Perfect Circle-The Outsider    (unchanged)      buy it!
    It's difficult for me to imagine listening to an entire Maynard James Keenan CD in one sitting. It's hard for me to make it through each dark song of thick guitars, booming drums and Keenan's howling and raging. The Outsider isn't A Perfect Circle's best song but it's another example why, with APC and Tool, Keenan is one of the best of the many angry young white rock guys. Keenan and APC co-founder Billy Howerdell, who produced and wrote The Outsider, know how to create a dramatic sound. The music gains force by moving slowly, with layers of guitars in place all along the way. Keenan's vocal warily moves forward in irregular spurts, as if he's trying to keep things in but his rage forces him to blurt things out and then work himself into a frenzy. Band member Josh Freese, who's also a very in demand studio drummer for everyone from Avril Lavigne and Kelly Clarkson to The Offspring and Good Charlotte, heightens The Outsider's tension with his pounding. The Outsider has a potent, focused sound, which loses appeal only because we've heard it before. The Outsider's lyric is more problematic. The targets of Keenan's rage are usually better chosen than on the nasty, angry Outsider, where Keenan seems more mean than troubled. It can be frustrating to deal with a depressed person who seems to talk about suicide just to get attention but The Outsider crosses the line from frustration to callousness. Keenan tells a girlfriend, who's given in to her "reckless dark desires", that he doesn't "wanna watch you" "throw it away like this." Just to make it clear that "I'm over this", he calls her a medicated, "narcissistic drama queen" and a "suicidal imbecile." Keenan finishes The Outsider with the sweet thought: "if you choose to pull the trigger, should your drama prove sincere, do it somewhere far away from here."

  14. Lostprophets-Last Train Home    (up 5 positions)      buy it!
    It was inevitable that the hard but atmospheric sound that has dominated American rock radio the last few years would make it overseas. Welsh band Lastprophets join Linkin Park, Hoobastank and so many others in their generation of serious post-grungers. Perhaps they belong in the slightly better company of AFI, Story Of The Year(Last Train Home mixes nicely with Girl's Not Grey and Until The Day I Die) and The Used, whose music resembles the intense, hard rocking Last Train Home. Much of Last Train Home is kind of generic. Last Train Home doesn't stand out much from many similar songs. Singer Ian Watkins' voice has power and emotion but it also has the humorlessness and self importance of many of his colleagues. Last Train Home is still pretty good. Watkins is a strong singer who seems to have some charisma. Last Train Home gets decent tension from a mix of guitar sounds, which range from hard to melodic, interesting, angular drumming and a simple, vaguely menacing piano line. Last Train Home has a catchy chorus that flows into an appealing heartfelt bridge. On that bridge, Last Train Home transcends its formula and reaches an appealing early U2 type idealism as Watkins alternates with hollered backing vocals charmingly chanting "we sing." Last Train Home is impressively big and ambitious and it also has sweetly endearing parts. On Last Train Leaving, Watkins sings about trying to "forget the sorrow" of a love that's disappeared, primarily by deciding to "sing without a reason."

  15. Usher-Yeah    (up 3 positions)      buy it!
    Yeah, from Usher's Confessions CD, is pretty good dance music. The problem with Yeah is that I feel like I've heard it before. Yeah very closely resembles Get Low. That similarity is not surprising, since Yeah was cowritten and co produced by Get Low vocalist/writer/producer Jonathan "Lil' Jon" Smith. Yeah has a good, catchy synth riff but that riff is nearly identical to Get Low's. Yeah doesn't have Get Low's raucous energy. It has a more polished sound than Get Low. Usher's vocal is fine if fairly innocuous. Yeah is apparently an attempt to give Usher, whose previous hits have been fairly mild, a harder image. Still, Yeah needs some flavor and benefits from Lil Jon's interjections and Ludacris' edgier, less controlled vocal. In a lyric that apparently alludes to his breakup with TLC's Chilli, Usher sings on Yeah about being seduced, somewhat reluctantly, in a club by a "shorty" who turns out to be "best of homies" with Usher's girl. Ludacris takes over at the end and abandons the plot line. In his verse, he brags about his Jag, his Rolls, his three hundred thousand dollar pinky ring and about how he "won't stop 'til I get 'em in they birthday suits." Ludacris' rap is stupid and typical but he gives Yeah some excitement to go with its killer riff. Yeah is well made and sounds fine but it doesn't do much to improve Get Low. In a reminder of the benefits of a familiar sound and a known star with a pretty face, Yeah is an even bigger hit than Get Low was.

  16. Britney Spears-Toxic    (unchanged)      buy it!
    Britney Spears seemed to be in danger of being more famous for being famous than for being a singer but, after a bunch of singles with mediocre chart performances, she has her biggest hit since 2000's Oops! ...I Did It Again. Britney's lack of a distinctive voice or musical image have allowed each of the producers who worked on her In The Zone CD to move in a different direction and put their imprint on their song. Britney contributed to Toxic's success by being the hot babe in the video but credit for Toxic's sound should largely go to its writer Cathy Dennis, who also did Kylie Minogue's Can't Get You Out Of My Head. Like Dennis' previous megahit, Toxic has a sleek, synthetic, cool sound. Like many producers, Dennis placed Britney's cold, thin voice in an icy synth and beats world. Toxic doesn't overuse Britney's singing. Britney's brittle vocal is on the verses but I'm guessing that on the chorus and anywhere else where there's decent singing, it's Dennis, whose Touch Me(All Night Long) was a dance pop hit in the 80's. Toxic has lots of synths and a stiff, effective beat but its futuristic sound is also fun and fast, with strings creating a goofy sense of drama. Toxic's lyric tells a guy that he's dangerous and makes her high She's addicted to him and needs a hit.

  17. The Darkness-I Believe In A Thing Called Love    (down 6 positions)      buy it!
    At this year's Brit awards, England's Grammys, The Darkness won best British album and best British group.The Darkness were purportedly conceived on New Year's Eve 1999 when singer Justin Hawkins did a fun, skilled karaoke version of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody. On I Believe In A Thing Called Love, from their Permission To Land CD, The Darkness impressively mock and pay tribute to Queen. They realize that some of the silly, theatrical, excessive things Queen did were the things that made them charming. The Darkness' ability to pull off their loving/tongue in cheek tribute is greatly enhanced by Justin Hawkins' vocal skills. Hawkins makes his Freddy Mercury impersonation work with a stunning range. He moves back and forth between a strong, high voice and an apparently effortless falsetto without ever losing his sense of playful confidence. Guitar player Dan Hawkins, Justin's brother, does his part in creating a 70's arena rock feel with incredibly chunky power chords and three showy but concise guitar solos Queen's Brian May would be proud of. I Believe In A Thing Called Love is very tight. The big, sunny sounds keep coming. I Believe In A Thing Called Love also has the appropriate big backing vocals. Thing Called Love's lyrics are suitably cliched but, like the song, they also communicate love's exhilaration. Hawkins can't explain "the feelings that you're making me feel", his "heart's in overdrive and you're behind the steering wheel" and "we'll be rocking 'til the sun goes down." There's also a lot of touching and kissing. By being both goofy and serious about Queen's lovable, colorful music, The Darkness have made one of the most fun songs of the year.

  18. Evanescence-My Immortal    (down 1 position)      buy it!
    My Immortal is the least irritating of the three chart hits from Evanescence's hugely successful Fallen CD. Bring Me To Life had rock guitar, rapping, goth touches and a big, atmospheric production. It gave the impression that the band was trying to please everyone and gave me a headache. On My Immortal, Evanescence are the sappy but effective folkie pop band I always thought they were under the rock trappings. It will be interesting to see if Evanescence can survive and thrive now that Ben Moody, who co-founded the band and cowrote all the songs on Fallen, has left. Whether she goes solo or stays with the band, singer Amy Lee will probably do fine. Lee has striking looks and a good voice. My Immortal again shows Lee to be a Tori Amos/Sarah McLachlan fan. My Immortal is reminiscent of simple, emotional, piano based Amos songs like Silent All These Years. Evanescence is unable to stay in a delicate Amos type mode for a whole song. My Immortal is more cliched than a good Tori Amos song. Its strings and the way the drums and guitars crash in for a climactic last run through the chorus make it more formulaic. But My Immortal generally maintains an appealing delicacy. Lee's singing is strong and not too showy. Her voice and simple piano playing easily carry the song. Evanescence have a preference for big, dramatic images. While it could be about an old boyfriend, My Immortal's lyric is apparently about being haunted by the memory of a dead lover whose "presence still lingers." The overripe emotion of Evanescence's songs, which millions have taken to, is too much for me. Heavy strings and Lee's painfully sincere vocal make My Immortal a bit precious. But Lee's intensity, her riveting presence and a direct, stripped down sound make My Immortal compelling.

  19. Godsmack-Running Blind    (up 10 positions)      buy it!
    The Other Side is a seven song acoustic ep that includes new songs and new versions of older Godsmack songs. The Other Side seems like an attempt to show that Godsmack are serious artists like Alice In Chains and Nirvana, who released similar acoustic records. Knowing that Staind and others scored top 40 hits with restrained, introspective rock, Godsmack may also be trying to cross over from modern rock to pop radio. Current fans may appreciate the new spin on Godsmack's sound, but it's unlikely it will gain the band a lot of new fans. Running Blind's problem is Sully Erna. I prefer quiet Sully to howling Sully but Erna really isn't suited to doing mellow and thoughtful. Though it's hard to feel sympathy for someone who regularly makes offensive, obnoxious music and has millions of young male fans, Running Blind kind of makes me feel sorry for Erna. I assume he really is trying to make a sensitive statement, he just has no idea how to do it. He doesn't have an empathetic, vulnerable voice. Instead of sounding depressed or sad, Erna still sounds pissed off. He also sounds like he might have a bad stomachache. Erna's cliched songwriting doesn't help. Erna doesn't come up with any imagery that hasn't been used repeatedly in songs by troubled young guys. He has "broken wings" and is "crawling on my knees" and looking for something "to keep me from drowning." Apparently, Sully took a woman for granted thinking: "if I showed you I could fly, wouldn't need anyone by my side." Running Blind's music is fine. With earnestly strummed guitars and quiet percussion, it has all the trappings of a decent MTV Unplugged performance. Tony Rambola plays a pretty good acoustic guitar solo. But Erna's rigid, cold vocal keeps Running Blind from being interesting or appealing.

  20. Jessica Simpson-With You    (unchanged)      buy it!
    I don't know much about Jessica Simpson except that she's married to some guy from boy group 98 Degrees and that she seems like an air head. Obviously, someone has decided that she should be a star because she's on tv a lot and she's gotten the star treatment with a carefully produced single that can't help be a hit. With You, from Simpson's In This Skin CD, is nicely constructed, if somewhat generic easy listening music. It reminds me of other hits including TLC's Unpretty or Natalie Imbruglia's Torn. With You, written by pop journeymen Billy Mann and Andy Marvel has a decent skittery beat and lite pop guitar, synths and backing vocals. Simpson's breathy voice is pleasant enough to help the song move along innocuously. The sensuality of her vocal has undoubtedly help it become a big hit. But Simpson's singing otherwise so lacks edge or substance that it helps confirm the impression of Simpson as fakey and a bit cartoonish and having little but her sexiness to offer. So does With You's video, which ridiculously depicts the fabulous babe starlet as a regular gal working around the house. With You's awful lyric is like a bad soft core porn script or the article around Playboy pictures. We're told that Jessica is a regular gal who wears Levis, likes to sit around "with nothing but a t-shirt on" and laugh all night and didn't feel beautiful before she was "with you."

  21. Chingy-One Call Away    (up 3 positions)      buy it!
    St. Louis' Howard "Chingy" Bailey seems cartoonish and insubstantial but his Jackpot CD is one of the biggest hits of the last year. One Call Away is Chingy's third hit. A lot of the credit for Chingy's success should go to Alonzo Lee and Shamar Daugherty, also known as Trak Starz. Trak Starz(not to be confused with Trackboyz, who also produced music by St. Louis artists including Nelly's Air Force Ones and J-Kwon's Tipsy) wrote and produced most of the songs on Jackpot, including Right Thurr and One Call Away. On One Call Away, they use Chingy the way he should be used, as a colorful, goofy supporting player. One Call Away's main appeal is its catchy chorus, with Jason "J. Weav" Weaver suavely singing "you can call if you wanna bump over me." Trak Starz created a sound that's smooth, with a steady hand clap beat and easy guitar sound, but also has good texture with a bass drum sound and percussion that sounds like a woodpecker pecking. Chingy roams around the verses in an entertaining, innocuous way, sounding like Eminem in a clowning mode. Most of One Call Away's lyric is surprisingly sweet. Chingy describes meeting a woman in a bank, starting a relationship slowly and respectfully and not being afraid to show affection in front of his homeboys. The lyric suddenly turns stupid on the third verse as Chingy announces that he's a player, offers her a "puff on a blunt" and "a pint of Hen" and threatens "if you got an attitude, I could treat you like a hoe." Just as suddenly, he returns to the song's general theme of being the guy who's there for her, rapping "just be true and there's nothing I won't do for ya." Chingy's contribution is mixed but mostly appealing. He largely fills space until One Call Away gets back to the chorus' charming hook.

  22. Trapt-Echo    (unchanged)      buy it!
    Echo is the third chart hit from Trapt's self titled CD. Trapt's Headstrong was one of the biggest hits of 2003. Headstrong was fairly typical angry rock but it had a big, powerful sound. Chris Brown's vocal shifted in and out of rage mode with the suppleness of a decent rapper. Echo also shows signs Trapt may be more interesting than some hard rock bands. Trapt is less loud and furious than Still Frame, Trapt's other top 50 hit, and Headstrong. It has decent contrast. The verse has an open, dreamy sound that floats on a rotating keyboard riff. It's like a verse by Incubus(who also have a song called Echo) but Brown's anchored vocal makes sure it's not quite as spacy. Power chords soon come in, effectively adding heft without overwhelming Echo's searching feel. Trapt are hardly the first band to use the quiet/loud contrast that Nirvana and other grungers popularized and many 21st century rockers have copied. The fluid doodling that Simon Ormandy does before and during the verses is interesting but it sounds a lot like what he did on Headstrong. Brown doesn't scream on Echo like he does on other songs but he's still very serious. His singing doesn't communicate the lyric's joy and energy. Echo isn't that different from other serious midtempo rock but it sounds good. Echo has a personal, varied sound and it isn't too showy or overdone. On Echo, Brown accepts that he "can't change the past I hold inside" and decides to "let go of this pride" and "run away with you by my side."

  23. D12 featuring Eminem-My Band    (up 8 positions)      buy it!
    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.

  24. 3 Doors Down-Away From The Sun    (down 1 position)      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."

  25. Michael Andrews featuring Gary Jules-Mad World    (down 4 positions)      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."

Songs 26-50


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