Headstrong is from the California band's self titled major label debut. Headstrong holds some hints that Trapt could be more interesting than other nu-metal bands. The sound isn't as cluttered or murky as that of some of their contemporaries. The verses are pretty good. Chris Brown's vocal is smooth and quick with a rapper's sensibility. The vocal is nicely underlined by Simon Ormandy's light, loose guitar. The chorus is effective but less interesting as Brown and Ormandy's trade short, jagged thrusts of guitar. Brown's angry croon is awfully familiar. In the end, not much distinguishes Headstrong from intense rap metal by Linkin Park, Papa Roach and many others. Headstrong is competently made but not particularly likable or interesting. Headstrong apparently announces a break with an ambitious musical associate who won't change his wrong ideas.
Switchfoot-Meant To Live(up 2 positions)
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.
Santana-Why Don't You & I(unchanged)
The success of Carlos Santana's two comeback CDs has got to be one of the oddest recent stories in pop music. Santana doesn't sing or write most of the songs. His contribution is mostly a bit of guitar doodling, his name and a hippie/classic rock vibe. The key to Santana's late career resurgence is the idea, originally hatched by Clive Davis, of pairing him with singer/songwriters who are less than half his age and popular with the kids. Santana's teammates seem to be getting steadily younger. The Shaman CD's first single teamed Santana with prototeen Michelle Branch. Why Don't You & I teams Santana with Alex Band, the 22 year old singer from The Calling. Why Don't You & I is very lightweight bubblegum pop but it is charming. Band's vocal is almost unbearably sunny but it fits the song's upbeat feel and is much more appealing than his showily earnest singing on The Calling's hit Wherever You Will Go. There's nothing new to Santana's playing but he has a great sense of crowd pleasing sounds. His easy riffs help the verses' breezy mood. Crunching power chords alternate with Santana's jamming to make the chorus irresistably catchy and Santana's solo is smart, tight and unshowy. The surprise about Why Don't You & I is that it was written by Nickelback's Chad Kroeger, who sings the album version. Light and fun are not words I associate with the normally lugubrious, overly meaningful Mr. Kroeger but Why Don't You & I has a nice light touch. Why Don't You & I's "heads we will and tails we'll try again" line is cute. So are the sweetly deployed cliches images(perfect for Mr. Band's youthful persona) of being "a lovesick puppy" with a stomach "filled with the butterflies" "bouncing round from cloud to cloud" and "walking around with little wings on my shoes".
Stacie Orrico-There's Gotta Be More To Life(up 1 position)
There's Gotta Be MOre To Life is the second hit from Stacie Orrico's self titled CD. Orrico is only 17 but she has already made the transition from Christian pop singer to mainstream preteen favorite. As on her first hit Stuck, Orrico shows signs on More To Life, as she slides around the verse over a jaunty beat with an ease reminiscent of Blu Cantrell on Hit Em Up Style, of being a good, interesting singer. Unfortunately, More To Life's makers weren't really shooting for interesting. They just want a perky hit for the kids. The chirpy, repetitive, mindless chorus invites a segue into Hillary Duff's relentlessly sunny So Yesterday. The chorus doesn't do Orrico any favors. Each time the chorus comes back, it has a more uplifting but emptier sound. Orrico's voice sounds thin as she tries to rise above bland, smooth backing vocals. Still, while More To Life is formulaic, it is always very pleasant. Orrico sings on More To Life that she has it all but feels empty inside and that she's looking for more than temporary highs.
Dido-White Flag(up 6 positions)
White Flag is more polite, ambient music from Dido Armstrong. Dido originally broke through after piece of her song Thank You was used on Eminem's Stan. White Flag, from Dido's Life For Rent CD, is another pleasant song that could use a more exciting context. It begs for a big beat remix. Dido wrote White Flag with her regular song writing partner, her brother Rollo, and Rick Nowels, who's worked with mellow artists like Clay Aiken and Belinda Carlisle. With its atmospheric synths and muted beats, White Flag is sleek and cool but kind of drab. It's perfect yuppie background music. It has a touch of style that differentiates it a little from other easy listening. White Flag is a bit of a bore but I enjoy its smooth ride. Though she could show a little more life(her delivery of the start of the verses is painfully slow), Dido's voice is clear, straight forward and good. She and the song have a British reserve that I find fascinating. On White Flag, Dido quietly proclaims that she won't give up hope that a seemingly dead relationship can be revived.
Hoobastank-Out Of Control(up 6 positions)
Out Of Control is from Hoobastank's The Reason CD. Hoobastank found success with Crawling In The Dark, a rocking, good natured song from their self titled CD that found its way into the background music of a lot of sports highlight films and extreme sports events. I've found their subsequent singles much less enjoyable. On Out Of Control, the way that singer Doug Robb works his way into a frenzy is impressive but, since there are so many intense rock singers around these days, his wailing isn't particularly notable. Robb's anger is so extreme that it's kind of silly. Moving from a gallop on the verse to a full, tight sound on the chorus, Dan Estrin's guitar provides decent support. But while Robb ranges from perturbed to crazed, he's never compelling. Out Of Control is hard but not interesting or enjoyable. Out Of Control is yet another rock song where a young guy shrieks about how he's taken advantage of and abused. Presumably referring to a woman, Robb and Estrin's song complains that "I've done everything as you say" and "followed your rules without question" but she hasn't been there for him and has left him "spinning out of control." Out Of Control would be at least a little more interesting if it told us what rules he followed, how she left him out of control and why he doesn't get out of the relationship.
Lil' Jon & The Eastside Boyz featuring the Yin Yang Twins-Get Low(unchanged)
Lil Jon is the latest of many successful rap and hiphop acts from Atlanta. Get Low is from Lil John & The Eastside Boyz' Kings Of Crunk CD. Kings Of Crunk came out more than a year ago. Since then, Get Low's popularity has slowly grown and Get Low has moved from dance clubs to pop radio. Get Low is an attention grabber. Get Low has an edgy, slightly menacing synth line that matches its raw vocals. Get Low's singing, which is mostly just yelling, has confidence and a touch of anger that add up to a steady energy. The singers stay in your face and refuse to be ignored. From the chorus bragging about the sweat dripping "down my balls" to the verses wondering about a woman's sexual prowess and admiring strippers, Get Low's lyric encouraging the ladies in the club to their sexiest behavior is proudly vulgar and stupid and offensive in places. But it's tolerable in Get Low's wild, exuberant context. Get Low has an urgency that's rare among the meticulously produced songs on pop radio.
Simple Plan-Perfect(up 1 position)
Simple Plan scored a hit with I'd Do Anything, punky pop that was basic and dopey enough for preteens to understand and love. On Perfect, the third hit from the Canadian band's debut No Pads, No Helmets... Just Balls CD, they've basically done the same thing with angst rock. It's hard to hate Perfect. Singer Pierre Bouvier sounds very sincere as he relates the pain inflicted by an unsupportive dad. Bouvier isn't as pretentious as older, deeper voiced singers, like Staind's Aaron Lewis, who've told a similar tale. But Perfect has little appeal for someone over 16. Bouvier's youthful voice and Perfect's simple, unremarkable lyric are best appreciated by kids. For an emotional rock ballad, Perfect shows admirable restraint. Perfect's first half has minimal backing. A good wash of power chords are limited to introducing the verses. The downside of Perfect's stripped down portions is that they focus attention on Bouvier's bratty vocal, which is more appealing than usual but still a bit annoying. Towards its end, Perfect's music becomes more that of a generic mellow rocker but the guitar is still pretty good if not particularly original. Perfect is about regretting that it's too late to try to fix a relationship with a father who was never satisfied with what his son did.
Fountains Of Wayne-Stacy's Mom(down 7 positions)
Fountains Of Wayne released two good, smart pop rock records in the late 90's and seemed destined to a career with a small, devoted following. Thanks to one of the catchiest songs of the year, Fountains Of Wayne has, at least temporarily, made a quick transition from critics' darlings to pop stars. Welcome Interstate Managers is one of the best records of 2003. It's a likable, thoughtful group of rockers and ballads. While the rest of the record is catchy, carefully constructed and often subtle, the sleek, perky and not subtle Stacy's Mom stands out as FOW's most commercially savvy song. On Stacy's Mom, FOW openly embrace The Cars' power chords and shiny keyboards formula. From an opening stuttering guitar riff to beeping synths to a tight, electronic beat that precedes each verse to the delirious wash of synths and big guitars on the chorus, Stacy's Mom keeps coming and building with different, appealing sounds. Jody Porter plays a winning, triumphant guitar solo then the chorus comes back one more time for a big finish with an even more exuberant mix of harmonies, hand claps and keyboards. Singer Chris Collingwood plays straight man to the flamboyant sounds but his vocal has a guilelessness that works with the sincere lyric. Stacy's Mom isn't my favorite FOW song. Especially after hearing it a thousand times, I don't love its glossy perfection as much as the more personal, idiosyncratic feel of other songs. But there's little doubt about Stacy's Mom ingeniousness. Fountains Of Wayne's songs have vivid detail that's rare in pop music. As they do on many of their songs, Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger write on Stacy's Mom about a simpler, youthful time. But the melancholy of many FOW's songs is replaced on Stacy's Mom by the giddiness of depicting the ridiculous, charming overconfidence of a kid sure he can convince his friend's mom that she "could use a guy like me."
It's been more than six years and Sarah McLachlan has had a baby since the release of Surfacing, her last studio record. But surprisingly little about McLachlan's sound has changed. Fallen, the first single from McLachlan's Afterglow CD, sounds a lot like Building A Mystery and other McLachlan songs. It's disappointing that McLachlan hasn't changed her style at all. She can come across as self satisfied and could use an edge. The same sound is bound to have less impact when repeated. Still, while Fallen is familiar and unsurprising, the formula it follows is a good one. Fallen is listenable and quite insinuating. Fallen shares with Building A Mystery a patient pace that creates a good dramatic feel. It's carefully constructed, with strings, piano and electric guitar deployed in a fairly discrete manner that creates a modest kind of excitement. McLachlan's voice is clear and controlled with a touch of sensuality but, as with her music, you can wish that McLachlan didn't seem so comfortable with her singing and took more chances. On Fallen, McLachlan sings, in fairly melodramatic terms, that she's "sunk so low" after messing up a relationship where she got "caught up" in an offer with a cost that "was so much more than I could bear."
Korn-Right Now(up 2 positions)
Some Korn fans thought that the band's last CD, Untouchables, was too commercial. Few will say that about Right Now, the first chart hit from Korn's new Take A Look In The Mirror CD. With its jackhammer guitars and Jonathan Davis' demented bark, Right Now presumably rocks hard enough to satisfy Korn purists. The music is tough and focused. But Davis' rant is ridiculous and off putting. Davis' harsh raging undoubtedly expresses the turmoil of a few male youths. But the rest of us don't need to hear someone repeatedly howling "shut up or I'll fuck you up." Davis isn't a kid. He's a bit foolish spitting out "I'm feeling mean today." Right Now is filled with nasty images about getting "across the hate when I see you", "debating who I'm gonna kick around" and wanting "to slash and feed you."
Maroon 5-Harder To Breathe(down 6 positions)
Maroon 5 used to be Kara's Flowers, playing smart, catchy guitar pop that did well at college radio but didn't sell many records. After releasing Fourth World, Kara's Flowers became Maroon 5. They reworked their sound, played a lot of gigs and have now released their debut CD Songs About Jane. Judging from Harder To Breathe, Maroon 5 developed a cynical, radio savvy sound. Harder To Breathe sounds like a hit but it's not very fun or likable. Harder To Breathe is all jagged, hooky noises but, perhaps appropriately for a very angry song, it lacks warmth. Harder To Breathe does grab you with a big sound. The guitars and drums crunch in at sharp angles. The hard, cold music turns me off but it is distinctive. The same can be said for Adam Levine's cocky, stylized vocal but he really irritates me. I do concede that his falsetto at the end is pretty cool. Harder To Breathe's lyric is pretty nasty. It apparently is addressed to a girlfriend. Levine mentions his "tendency of getting very physical" and warns: "watch your step 'cause if I do you'll need a miracle." He sings you're "not fit to f---in tread the ground I'm walking on" and "you want to stay but you know very well I want you gone." He taunts her: "is it painful to learn that it's me that has all the control" and "you wish that you had me to hold."
Linkin Park-Faint(down 25 positions)
Faint, the second chart hit from Linkin Park's Meteora CD, is easily my favorite Linkin Park single so far. It gets off to a great start with a very good, distinctive riff and a sped up beat. Things take a bit of a turn for the worse when Mike Shinoda begins his flat, dull rap but at least he moves fast and doesn't slow Faint's momentum too much. Chester Bennington's raging howl is typically over the top(does a guy whose record sold more than 8 million copies have any right to scream, "I won't be ignored"?) Even if Bennington's anger is goofy, he gives the song power and fits well into Faint's supercharged atmosphere. Faint's chorus, which takes the song's fast, slippery beat and adds Bennington's wail and a wall of guitars, maintains the song's energy and has a catchy hook. Faint depicts an internal struggle about an unresponsive girlfriend. Shinoda plays the wimpy ego, whining about being lonely and unconfident, complaining about his emotional scars and pleading "'cause you're all I got." Bennington is the unrestrained, pissed off id demanding "you're gonna listen to me."
Howie Day-Perfect Time Of Day(up 4 positions)
Howie Day is a young singer/songwriter from Bangor, Maine. Day gained attention as a writer with a personal style and as a virtuoso musician who played solo and make all sorts of sounds come out of his acoustic guitar at the same time. The spare, haunting Ghost from Day's debut Australia CD fell just short of making the top 50. On Stop All The World Now, the first CD Day has recorded for a major label, the music has a smoother, fuller sound but it's less distinctive. Perfect Time Of Day is fine. It sounds good and Day's yearning vocal is appealingly heartfelt. It also sounds like it could have been made by any of the many earnest singer/songwriters(mostly named Josh) around these days. Perfect Time Of Day's tasteful mix has a big, unshowy beat, fairly subdued synths and not much guitar. Perfect Time Of Day would be better if it had some jagged edges or idiosyncracies. Maybe it's time to go back to being the guy on his own who makes lots of different guitar sounds. Perfect Time Of Day, presumably a love song, is about appreciating the beauty of the moment.
Jonny Lang-Red Light(down 1 position)
Red Light is more sincere rock balladeering by the guitar player from North Dakota whose given name is Jon Langseth. Lang is no longer a teenager but he still has a voice that oddly sounds like that of someone twice his age. Lang is obviously a student of blues rock legends. He seems to be a skilled guitar player but he hasn't developed a distinctive or interesting style. Red Light, from Lang's Long Time Coming CD, is pleasant, tasteful and vaguely catchy with smooth playing by good musicians but nothing about it really stands out. Lang showily strains his voice to demonstrate how soulful he's trying to be. Red Light uses a somewhat odd metaphor, recommending that one should take time to pause and consider how you're living your life the way you should stop at a red light rather than running it.
Liz Phair-Why Can't I(up 4 positions)
Liz Phair gained a devoted following with her debut CD Exile In Guyville. Exile's songs presented a confident, complicated woman who reveled in her sexuality. The fact that Phair's voice wasn't big or smooth only increased a sense of individuality. When Phair's self titled fourth CD came out last June, it was met by accusations of betrayal and a clear sense of abandonment from some fans. Most notably, a review(titled Exile In Avril-ville) on the front of the New York Times' Arts and Leisure section charged her with selling out and basically selling her soul for a chance of mainstream success. It seems a little harsh to begrudge Phair a shot at bigger sales, especially since the record isn't that bad. Liz Phair, recorded in many sessions with various producers during the five years since the release of her whitechocolatespaceegg CD, is of mixed quality but mostly good, especially on the songs produced by Michael Penn and Phair. It combines songs with commercial ambitions and more personal ones in a somewhat unwieldy manner. Liz Phair has a very sweet song about her son, a dumbed down rocker(Rock Me), songs(appreciating a guy's "hot, white come" and comparing a guy to her favorite underwear) which try a bit too hard to be outrageous and a bunch of likable pop rockers, like the ones she had on her previous two CDs, that are less raw than Phair's Exile songs but still have her personality. The songs that most rile Phair's longtime supporters are the four co-written and produced by The Matrix(Lauren Christy, Scott Spock and Graham Edwards), who have done hits for Avril Lavigne and other teen favorites. Among them are two slick, musically anonymous rockers that merit disdain. But Why Can't I, which finally made it to the top 50 after spending more than five months near it, is a near perfect match of Phair's charms and The Matrix's studio smarts. Phair's vocal is polished up but her idiosyncracies still shine through in lines like "we're already wet and we're gonna go swimming." Why Can't I's music has a touch of tv commercial type glibness but it's quite brilliantly constructed. Pieces I like include Corky James' watery guitar sound and the way the chorus crashes in a little bigger the last time around. The hook, with power chords stomping in all the right places, is ridiculously catchy. Why Can't I does a nice job of capturing the excitement of a new romance.
John Mayer-Bigger Than My Body(down 9 positions)
I feel like John Mayer has the potential to be interesting but his hugely successful Room For Squares CD was too mild and inoffensive for my liking. There were encouraging signs for Mayer's new Heavier Things CD. When he won a Grammy, he conceded that his music had not yet justified his rapid rise to stardom and promised "to catch up." Heavier Things' title also seemed like an acknowledgement that Mayer's music has been a bit light and an assurance that the new CD would be a little more substantial. Heavier Things is something of a mixed bag. Some of the music is a bit harder but the vibe is generally mellow. The CD's title presumably refers to the generally depressed, kind of self pitying nature of the lyrics. Bigger Than My Body is one of Heavier Things' more upbeat songs. It's quite charming. Bigger Than My Body has No Such Thing's easy, smooth feel but it's not as annoyingly whimsical and it has more going on musically. Mayer is a talented guitar player but he often seems too modest to show his skills. Bigger Than My Body has a good, distorted guitar effect. It also has a nice, simple piano line. Mayer's whispery, self effacing vocal can be cutesy but it fits nicely with Bigger Than My Body's steady flow. Bigger Than My Body shows Mayer's tendency for safe, easy listening music but it also shows his ability to be endearing in an unforced way. Bigger Than My Body's lyrics are cautiously optimistic. Mayer sings that his wings have been clipped but "someday I'll soar."
Nelly-Shake Ya Tailfeather(down 1 position)
P. Diddy assembled tracks from an all star lineup for the Bad Boys II soundtrack. I'm guessing that Nelly didn't sweat too much over his contribution. Shake Ya Tailfeather has the same sprawling, steady, easy but tight form of many of Nelly's singles from Country Grammar to Air Force Ones. Shake Ya Tailfeather is nothing new and it doesn't have much distinctive personality but it is well constructed and it shows Nelly's skills. As on many of Nelly's songs, annoying elements are side by side with likable ones. Shake Ya Tailfeather features the tomahawk chop chant that's irritated fans of teams playing the Braves for years. You'd figure that Nelly, who's always championing his St.Louis hometown, would be loathe to coopt the theme of the Cards' rival. Especially on the first verse, Shake Ya Tailfeather showcases Nelly's considerable rapping talents. He's fast with a light touch, and a lot of presence. With handclaps, synth interjections and a steady flow, Shake Ya Tailfeather's backing track has energy to match Nelly's vocal. The music and Nelly's interjections maintain an appealing feel even when lesser rappers take over. P. Diddy, who does the second verse, isn't as drab and flat as he can be. He keeps the song moving but his confident rap isn't very exciting. It would be nothing without its accompaniment. Murphy Lee from St. Lunatics, who's contributed to Nelly's CDs, does the third verse as comic relief, sharing his love of big booties and grass. It's nothing special but fine. Shake Ya Tailfeather's familiarity made it a big hit but it also is a good example of how Nelly's rapping and music can be irresistable. Even for a Nelly song, Shake Ya Tailfeather's lyric, mostly about wanting to see the ladies dance, is pretty slight. Nelly comes on to a girl then disses her. The rappers say each others names a lot. Nelly says he likes girls of all ethnicities then asks one to "take it off" and "take that ass to the floor."
Bad Day is one of three previously unreleased songs on REM's best of CD: In Time. In Time is a bit of an odd collection. It covers 1988 on, so it misses the music from REM's early, pre-Warner years(which have their own collection, Eponymous), when they made most of their best, most consistent records. In Time misses some seemingly obvious choices like Shiny Happy People(which the band apparently hates). It's a bit lopsided, with four songs from the hit filled Automatic For The People and only one from Out Of Time and Monster. In Time doesn't really recognize the fact that since New Adventures In Hi-Fi, REM's records haven't been that good. So the CD gives you interesting mediocrities like E-Bow The Letter and All The Way To Reno. In Time does gives a home to The Great Beyond, from Jim Carrey's Andy Kaufman movie, and brings new attention to At My Most Beautiful and Daysleeper, brilliant songs from REM's largely ignored Up CD. In Time is also a reminder of how, while always sounding like themselves, REM has never tried too hard to keep up with current trends or repeat what's brought them success. So it's odd that REM have so obviously recycled one of their bigger hits for Bad Day. From its verses stuffed with Michael Stipe's rush of nonsequitors and gibberish to its simple, singalong chorus, Bad Day basically is a rehash of It's The End Of The World. While Bad Day, which was written in the 80s, is a knockoff, it does have a lot of the qualities that have always made REM's music appealing. It's comforting to hear Peter Buck's nonstop flow of varied, likable jangly guitar riffs, Stipes's stong, warm vocal and Mike Mills sweet, unpolished backing vocals. The difference in Bad Day from End Of The World is its vibe. Stipe sang with youthful confidence about feeling fine, even as the world became more confusing and screwed up. On Bad Day, Stipe sings "count your bleesings", "we all fall down" and "please don't take a picture." I also like Bad Day's video. Besides smartly capturing the information saturated screen and obsession with freakish weather events of contemporary news shows, it also presents Stipe, Buck and Mills as unassuming tv presences I'd love to see on morning tv.
Closure is the third chart hit from the band comprised of Pete Loeffler and his two brothers. The Wonder What's Next CD gives some reason to hope that Chevelle could be an interesting, solid rock band for many years. Their sound is big and tough but not overbearing or plodding. They don't show the narcissism, lack of originality or commercial pandering of many modern rock bands. Pete Loeffler is serious about his music but not pretentious. That seriousness is Chevelle's main problem right now. They're overly self conscious and lack variety. Loeffler's single mindedness gives Chevelle's music power. But on The Red, Loeffler's humorless, repetitive delivery made most of the song drab. His ranting at the end seemed forced and like that of too many superficial raging rockers. Closure is a worthy followup to the tight and driving if monochromatic Send The Pain Below. Send The Pain Below's thoughtful, focused approach merited comparison to early Radiohead. Tool is usually a more obvious influence. On Closure, Tool similarities are even clearer than usual. Moving slowly and intently, Loeffler reaches a pure, unshowy intensity similar to Maynard James Keenan's. Loeffler's guitar sound is big and dramatic without much excess. Closure's downside is the same lack of variation and excess seriousness. The song's impact is also lessened by the fact that the word closure has become such an overused piece of pop psychology, used to describe the resolution of the most minor personal crisis. But Loeffler's fury makes it clear that he has felt substantial pain and that he gained real catharsis from realizing "you will never belong to me."
Jason Mraz-You and I Both(unchanged)
I found The Remedy, the hit first single from Jason Mraz' Waiting For My Rocket To Come CD, very annoying. Mraz wrote The Remedy with The Matrix team, who have also had hits with Avril Lavigne, Liz Phair and Hilary Duff. I disliked Remedy's hipster cockiness and glib white boy rapping but I can't deny that it was slick and catchy and sounded like a hit. Mraz is less irritating on You and I Both, which Mraz wrote by himself. But what Mraz gains in genial sincerity, he loses in substance and catchiness. You and I Both is pleasant, with Mraz' affable vocal, an innocuous drum machine beat and tastefully muted guitars and keyboards, but bland. You and I Both confirms my initial impression that, despite the edginess The Remedy vaguely promised, the natural home for Mraz' ingratiating pop is easy listening radio. You and I Both's lyric is pretty appealing. "Looking on the bright side", Mraz celebrates the fact that, while "words" have screwed up his relationship, he's shared a love "others only dream of."
Counting Crows-She Don't Want Nobody Near(up 1 position)
It's the season for greatest hits CDs by vaguely hip yuppie favorites from the early 90's. Counting Crows join Sheryl Crow, No Doubt, Red Hot Chili Peppers and REM in the top 50 with a new track from a compilation record. Of those acts, Counting Crows had the shortest time at the top and the steadiest decline from their commercial peak. They've been unable to put out singles as striking as Mr. Jones, which introduced Counting Crows to the world, or Long December, the band's last big hit. But while Counting Crows no longer top the pop charts, they still get play in the less expansive world of adult alternative radio and they have retained a decent following with solid, unspectacular music. She Don't Want Nobody Near, from Films About Ghosts: The Best Of Counting Crows, is a good example of the band's significant, if modest, charms. She Don't Want Nobody Near doesn't have much personality. It basically just drifts forward but it's a nice ride. Crisp drumming, tough, evocative guitar and varied sounds, including piano and a mandolin, give the song good momentum. Adam Duritz' voice is strong, as usual. He can seem narcissistic but on She Don't Want Nobody Near, Duritz is a good team player, fitting in nicely with the song's melody and controlling his mannerisms. She Don't Want Nobody Near is about a woman who, after too many guys just disappear, decides she doesn't want to get too deep into relationships where the guy could "see what she looks like when she's down."
Christina Aguilera-The Voice Withinbuy it!
Christina Aguilera isn't as good at working the media as Britney but she's a bit better at making hits. The Voice Within is the fifth smash from her Stripped CD which, when it was released more than a year ago, many predicted would be a flop. Since Aguilera has a big voice and loves to show it off, it was only a matter of time until her record company released a big, soaring ballad of the sort Whitney and Mariah topped the charts with a decade ago. The Voice Within was produced and co-written by Glen Ballard. Ballard did Alanis Morissette's hugely successful Jagged Little Pill CD but the credit on Ballard's lengthy resume that might be most appropriate in the case is his work in Wilson Phillips' short lived hit making career. The Voice Within doesn't have the intimate, personal feel of Beautiful, Stripped's first single, but it's pretty good. The Voice Within is like I Turn To You, the cliched but fine and fairly stirring single from Aguilera's first record, and maybe a little better. Aguilera's is a skilled singer and she doesn't go over the top until the inevitable intense climax. The Voice Within starts nicely with just Aguilara's voice and a piano. It remains appealing as drums come in. Unfortunately, the big ballad formula demands that the sound grow. So Ballard adds strings, bigger keyboards and showy choir-like backing vocals, all of which force Aguilera into vocal gymnastics. In that mode, Aguilera is technically impressive but her showiness undermines the personal feeling her voice and the lyric communicate earlier in the song and reinforces a feeling that The Voice Within isn't very original. Still, for a lofty ballad, The Voice Within isn't bad. It's a bit more generic than Beautiful but, like Beautiful, The Voice Within has a theme that, while inconsistent with Aguilera's self centered image, is sweet. The familiar lyrics add to a sense that The Voice Within is a rehash of other songs with a similar theme but the message is still nice. Aguilera tells a "young girl" that in troubled times, if she believes in herself, she can find the "strength that will guide your way."
The Strokes-12:51(down 2 positions)
The surprising thing about Room On Fire, The Strokes' new record, is how unsurprising it is. Facing the pressure of following up their debut CD, The Strokes have made a record that is very similar to 2001's Is This It. That's not such a bad thing. Is This It was one of the best records in recent years. But excitement and freshness are largely missing on a record that is mostly fairly safe variations on a now familiar theme. With Nick Valensi's guitar recreating the icy synths of early 80s new wave rock, 12:51 is about as different as Room On Fire gets. But 12:51 and the rest of Room On Fire are still quite enjoyable. Julian Casablancas' singing has lost some of its arrogance and gained a little warmth and humanity but he is still very cool. 12:51 gets to the heart of Casablancas' charm. He seems to expend the least possible amount of energy possible but, as his croon slides around, he communicates a subtle sense of mischief. 12:51 shows The Strokes' genius for constructing a tight rock song. 12:51 is propelled forward by Fab Moretti's handclap like drums and Albert Hammond playing the kind of driving guitar line that was Is This It's trademark. The solid foundation built by Moretti, Hammond and bass player Nikolai Fraiture gives Casablancas and Valensi the space to enjoyably float. 12:51's video nicely matches the band's deadpan charm. The images, based on Tron, an impossibly hokey movie from a now primitive age of computers and video games, fit the song's cheesy synth sound and gently mock Casablancas' unemotional deportment. 12:51 is a fun song from a good but not great record on which The Strokes refuse to break much new ground. Unlike on Is This It, Casablanca's Room On Fire lyrics largely don't depict him as an aloof heartbreaker. On 12:51, Casablancas plays a teen facing a lonely Friday night who tries to convince a girl that "now I'm older", she should "talk to me", "go out" with him and "kiss me."
Clay Aiken-Invisiblebuy it!
Clay Aiken's success is the oddest byproduct of the American Idol phenomenon. Surely if he hadn't made the show's finals, no record company would have touched the elfin, somewhat effeminate 25 year old from North Carolina who is like a Martin Short character. But the people have spoken, buying more than 600,000 copies of Aiken's Measure Of A Man the week it was released. Aiken's success is a warning about the dangers of democracy. Aiken has been embraced by the masses for his genuine, somewhat geeky persona but also because his bland, unchallenging style is familiar and safe for people who don't like how hip hop has changed popular music. Invisible, Measure Of A Man's first single, confirms my fears about Aiken. Invisible comes off as a tribute to the early 80s overproduced pop rock that sounds so dated today. It brings to mind Pat Benatar's Invincible, Eddie Money's Take Me Home Tonight, John Waite's Missing You and many other similar but better hits. Invisible was produced and written by longtime studio pro Desmond Child who has worked on slick, superficial pop by Michael Bolton, Bon Jovi and Cher. Invisible throws in all kinds of cheesy sounds like the way the title meaningfully echoes before the chorus comes in. Invisible has innocuous, thick backing vocals, a bland beat and showy, heavy handed rock guitar. Some of Aiken's American Idol singing was charmingly sweet but on Invisible, he sounds stiff and fake. Invisible's lyric is weird and creepy, positioning Aiken as a wannabe voyeur or stalker who wishes he "could be a fly on your wall" so "I could just watch you in your room." He considers the advantages he would have if he was invisible then pathetically realizes: "wait...I already am."