Tool-Lateralus(up 1 position)
After seven months, Schism has finally ended its chart run, only to be replaced by the title track from Tool's Lateralus CD. Lateralus is a similarly angry, sprawling work. I don't find Lateralus as striking as Schism. Lateralus is typical of Tool's work as it combines art rock and heavy metal. Lateralus methodically moves forward, starting with percussive atmosphere and building into a harder sound with crunching power chords. Maynard James Keenan's howls with a great sense of meaning. But Lateralus does have good intensity and texture and Lateralus' lyrics are actually kind of hopeful. Keenan castigates himself for missing opportunities by ignoring his intuition and overthinking and overanalyzing. He urges himself to "cross the line" and look to life's "infinite possibilities."
Five For Fighting-Superman(down 18 positions)
Superman is the second chart hit from Five For Fighting's America Town CD. It's the latest in a long series of Superman rock songs by groups from The Kinks to, more recently, Three Doors Down, Crash Test Dummies and Our Lady Peace. Like many Supermans, Five For Fighting's is an aging young man's attempt to feel better about the fact that "it's not easy to be me" with the idea that even the man of steel has problems. It's lite-fm pap. Superman should kick Five For Fighting frontman John Ondrasik's ass for putting new agey jargon like "I'm just out to find the better part of me" and "wish that I could cry" in his mouth. Superman's music is tasteful and wimpy with a quiet piano eventually joined by polite drums.
P.O.D.-Youth Of The Nation(up 9 positions)
I got more angry feedback about P.O.D.'s hit Alive, which I called self righteous and silly, than about any other song I've ever written about. My beef with Alive is that, while many have adopted it as an uplifting anthem, it's really just about how good Sonny Sandoval feels and how bold he is for proclaiming his religious devotion. I'm not a big fan of the second hit from P.O.D.'s Satellite CD either. On Youth Of The Nation, Sandoval attempts to speak for others, briefly describing a school shooter and a couple of his victims. Sandoval is well intended but his ideas aren't particularly insightful: it can be tough to be a kid these days and the random loss of a child's life is especially tragic. Perhaps the only surprise is the thought that one of the victims would feel for his attacker ("maybe this kid was reaching out for love" "or maybe this kid just wanted to be hugged"). The music, with a beat, guitar, keyboards and backing vocals, has an appropriately ominous mood, but it's pretty generic modern rock. Sandoval's tough guy hip hop vocal and lyrics about "the sound of a gat" and taking "two to the chest" seem inconsistent with the general themes of innocence and sympathy. And the Another Brick In The Wall style kids chorus finale, with the idea that the band is speaking for a generation, seems presumptuous and exploitative.
System Of A Down-Chop Suey(down 1 position)
Finally, after so many serious, self pitying, soundalike bands have dominated rock radio, a hard rock band has a hit that sounds different and shows a sense of humor. With tough guitars and hardcore fast drums, Chop Suey, from the Toxicity CD, has the chops necessary to keep the headbangers happy but it's also refreshingly weird. Serj Tankian's over the top vocal takes Chop Suey all over the map, starting as a punk rant, slowing down for a meaningful croon that may be mocking his self important contemporaries("I don't think you trust in my self righteous suicide") and eventually shifting to a spacy, gothic conclusion.
Staind-For You(up 10 positions)
You'd figure that even Staind's biggest fans would have had enough of Aaron Lewis self pitying bleating by now. The fourth chart hit from Break The Cycle has harder guitars and drums than It's Been Awhile and some of the CD's other songs but it's mainly another showcase for Aaron Lewis' anguished vocal about the pain he feels. Lewis tells his parents how "your insults and your curses make me feel like I'm not a person" and demands that they "do something" about the fact that he feels "fucked up." As always, I don't doubt that Lewis hurts or begrudge his right to express his emotions. But since I'm not a troubled 14 year old boy, I'm just not that interested. And I find For You's uneasy combination of bombastic, grinding rock and Lewis' crooning even less musically interesting than most of Staind's work.
Jimmy Eat World-The Middle(unchanged)
The title track from the Arizona based band's latest CD was close to the top 50 when September 11 came and radio stations and Jimmy Eat World's record company decided people didn't want to hear a hard driving rocker called Bleed American. The second single from Bleed American is much lighter poppy punkish fare. Jimmy Eat World's sound has been called "emo-core". If that means they're sincere and energetic and make fast, clean rockers, I guess it's an accurate label.With a tight, stuttering guitar, a steady bass line and Jimmy Adkins' sunny vocals, The Middle has a likable exuberance. The Middle's lyrics advise a girl to ignore the feeling that others are looking down on her, promising that "everything will be all right". The music carries a similarly optimistic spirit.
Ja Rule-Livin' It Up(unchanged)
Livin' It Up, the second hit from the former Jeff Atkins' Pain Is Love CD, is an easy, slight, enjoyable song. The best thing about Livin' It Up is the melody line taken from Stevie Wonder's Do I Do but everything about Livin' It Up gives it a likable flow and a positive feel. Irv Gotti's production, with a simple, steady beat and keyboards repeating the Do I Do hook, keeps things moving enjoyably. As on the second version of Jennifer Lopez' I'm Real, Ja Rule's edgy, throaty voice is nicely contrasted with a sweeter, less dynamic singer as he alternates lines with Case on the chorus. Ja Rule's rap has a typically rough edge but it fits well within pop confines and gives the song a good momentum. On Livin' It Up, Ja Rule notes his suspicion that "ladies just wanna hold the name Ms. Atkins" but tells his woman "I'mma love"and that their relationship "ain't your typical, everyday, one night thing." He also salutes "all my thugs that be living it up."
I Do, from the St. Louis singer's debut Toya CD, is fairly standard dance pop with a familiar story of a woman trying to entice "a six foot stallion with the story of a thug" that she sees on the dance floor. I Do isn't ground breaking but it does have a pretty interesting, steady sound with chiming effects and a minimal, percussive beat.
John Mellancamp-Peaceful World(up 2 positions)
More than two decades into his career, John Mellancamp mostly works in adult contemporary mode but he still has an uncanny knack of making appealing singles. As on his good cover of Wild Night, Mellancamp works with a distinctive African American singer and produces a very likable result. Mellancamp is sometimes stupidly self righteous, pretentiously speaking lines decrying hypocrites and saying he's "sick and tired of being politically correct" but India.Arie's vocals provide a nice balance. They're serious but warm and unaffected and right for the song's utopian message. The music on Peaceful World, from Mellancamp's Cuttin Heads CD is also good, with a loose, edgy beat.
Incubus-Nice To Know You(up 7 positions)
The Morning View CD's second chart hit reminds me of its first, I Wish You Were Here. Both songs, like most Incubus tunes, have some hard rock trappings and a bit of hip hop but are otherwise pleasant pop. Nice To Know You alternates between rougher patches with a driving beat and record scratching, choruses with a big rock guitar sound and bridges with an upbeat folk rock feel. Incubus aren't particularly important or as tough and edgy as they think they are but their music is pleasant, inoffensive and flavorful and it does a decent job of bridging the gap between different musical styles. Nice To Know You's music and Brandon's Boyd's lyrics, about beginning to experience and enjoy life again, have the same vaguely spacy, positive sense as much of Incubus' work.
Alicia Keys-A Women's Worthbuy it!
Inevitably, the novelty of Fallin's clean, retro sound faded after dozens of listens. And I've seen enough of Alicia Keys' blissfully confident face. Still, Keys' singles are oases of thoughtful, real sounding music in the fake, overproduced world of top 40 radio. A Women's Worth, like Fallin', has a smart sound that, with touches of atmospheric keyboards, percussion and psychedelic guitar, obviously alludes to classic mellow late 60s and early 70s soul but also shows Keys' smart, cool personality. Keys has a good voice but she again cleverly fills out a minimal sound with good backing vocals. Keys' lyrics advise men that the best way to win her and women in general is to treat them with respect. They naturally fit the song's easy but self assured sound.
The Strokes-Last Nite(up 1 position)
Quite a bit of hype, largely created by the British music press, surrounded the Strokes before they even had a record out. The hype is mostly justified by Is This It, one of the best CDs of 2001. Fans of late 70s/early 80s new wave are especially likely to enjoy Is This It's deft constructions. Julian Casablancas is appealingly confident as he channels cool alternative crooners like Lou Reed, Ian McCulloch and The Fall's Mark E. Smith while Nick Valersi lays down tight, jagged guitar lines reminiscent of Gang Of Four and, especially, Television's Richard Lloyd. Last Nite is kind of like Iggy Pop singing over Tom Petty's American Girl. With its steady, jaunty strumming and sturdy bass line, Last Nite is a good example of the Strokes' fun, basic sound. Last Nite is about having enough and walking away from a girlfriend who feels "so down" because no one understands her.
Nelly Furtado-Turn Off The Light(down 8 positions)
On her second single from the Whoa, Nelly CD, the Portugese-Canadian singer is again a cool, refreshing presence on pop radio. Turn Off The Light has an even looser feel than I'm Like A Bird. Furtado's vocal is easy and appealing. Turn Off The Light has a trippy feel with ringing synths and record scratching but it also has good, tight beats. On Turn Off The Light, Furtado says she acting tough after a breakup but when she's on her own at night she's troubled and lonely.
Alien Ant Farm-Movies(unchanged)
Movies was actually the first single from the Anthology CD. It spent a couple weeks on the chart last spring. After the success of Alien Ant Farm's nasty but ingenious rocking cover of Smooth Criminal, Movies is getting another chance. Movies again shows the band's skill at making music that's rocking but catchy. As on Smooth Criminal, a lot of the credit should go to Terry Corso, whose alternately stuttering and booming guitar playing gives Movies a big, energetic sound. Movies doesn't quite have Smooth Criminal's momentum and I find Dryden Mitchell's vocals somewhat obnoxious. Still Movies, about suggesting a graceful end to a relationship that's gone wrong, is an appealingly buoyant rocker.
Jennifer Lopez-Ain't It Funnybuy it!
Ain't It Funny, the fourth single from the J. Lo CD, is pleasant, innocuous dance pop. With a touch of Latin flair, Ain't It Funny is similar to Madonna's La Isla Bonita but its rigid beat and repetitive, schematic shape mean it's less interesting. It seemed like a joke that Jennifer Lopez' last single was called I'm Real. Lopez' music has generally wrapped her voice in electronics, hiding her real voice in thick production. But Ain't It Funny and the Ja Rule version of I'm Real have given us a closer look at Lopez' voice. Lopez' vocal on Ain't It Funny sounds like her speaking voice. It's a little thin and whiny but at least it's fairly real, at least until the studio vocal pros take over on the slick, familiar chorus. Ain't It Funny is about trying to overcome differences and memories of romantic failure to make a relationship with a seemingly perfect guy work.
Craig David-7 Days(up 4 positions)
I'm somewhat surprised that Craig David has been able to replicate his British success in the U.S. With Fill Me In's reference to an answer phone and 7 Days' lyric about a six digit phone number, David is awfully English and the appeal of his music is quite modest. I guess David's easy confidence and his smooth, mild music is irresistable to ladies on both sides of the Atlantic. 7 Days, the second hit from David's Born To Do It CD, uses the somewhat hackneyed formula of reciting the days of the week to describe a fast moving relationship. After cockily bragging about how quickly he got her into bed, David spends the rest of 7 Days trying to convince her that this isn't just a one night stand. 7 Days' backing of acoustic guitar and a mellow beat is tasteful and a touch boring. David's vocal has a relaxed charm but I find his lady killer act a little smarmy.
U2-Stuck In A Moment You Can't Get Out Of(down 7 positions)
Nearly a year after reviewing All That You Can't Leave Behind, I'm sticking to my original opinion. The CD is quite mellow and can be a little slow but it's remarkably consistent with thoughtful, enjoyable songs. Especially after the band's showy 90s work, All That You Can't Leave Behind's modesty is very appealing. Bono restrains the excesses that sometimes obscure his gift. His vocals have a charming grace. As they do throughout the CD, producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois give Stuck In A Moment a warm, rich sound. The keyboards create the easy feel of an r&b classic like People Get Ready. The fact that Bono wrote this as a message he wished he had sent to his friend Michael Hutchence, before he killed himself, gives Stuck In A Moment added poignance.
City High-Caramelbuy it!
With its provocative justification of prostitution as a way to support a family and its smart, sleek sound, What Would You Do was a striking debut from City High's self titled CD. Their second chart hit Caramel is O.K. but less interesting lyrically and musically. While similar to other recent music, Caramel's music isn't bad. It's smooth, mellow hip hop with Claudette Ortiz' appealing vocal, a good, uncluttered sound and a crisp, restrained beat. The lyrics are pretty dopey. It starts with Ortiz' self satisfied description of herself. We learn that she likes "going out, taking walks and stuff", has everything she wants and(exactly like Mya on her 2000 hit Free) is happy being "5'5" with brown eyes." Then comes an even stupider section where one of City High's male singers invites a girl to "spend the night popping" champagne in the hot tub. On the remixed single, guest rapper Eve lifts the song from its complacency with a good, feisty rap, telling us she's not about "gift chasin'" and not impressed with champagne poppin'.
Nelly-#1(up 6 positions)
Without resorting to too much novelty or commercial pandering, Nelly is already one of the most successful rappers, in terms of pop hits, of all time. Nelly's appeal has partly been in his use of familiar gangsta rap tough guy imagery but the most obvious reason he's done so well is that he's a good rapper. On #1, from the soundtrack to the movie Training Day, Nelly is again fast and fluid with a good edge and personality. #1 wisely keep things fairly simple with a steady beat and a good synth riff. Having established his cred and sold millions of copies of Country Grammar, Nelly doesn't feel the need to show his love for bullets and blunts like he did on his earlier hits. But Nelly is still more appealing for his skills than for the personality his lyrics reveal. #1 is about making sure he's treated with the proper respect, boasting about how rappers want to be like him and dissing critics and less successful competitors.
Ginuwine-Differences(up 3 positions)
There have long been smooth R&B lover men willing to show vulnerability to convince a woman they'll be a sensitive, caring partner. But on Differences, from his Life CD, Ginuwine(born Elgin Lumpkin) kind of strikes me as a wimp, especially in the context of the creepy video showing Ginuwine serenading and worshipping his dream girl in a glowing Heaven-like setting. Differences is nice but boring, stating over and over that "my whole life has changed" and "you are so sweet." Ginuwine's vocal is good, starting smoothly and ending intensely but Differences' music is ultra mellow. The soothing backing vocals and synths are a big yawn.
John Mayer-No Such Thing(unchanged)
With its very mild sense of rebellion and Mayer's pleasant, modest vocals No Such Thing, from the Room For Squares CD, is perfectly designed for adult contemporary radio. No Such Thing reminds me of previous well made, easy rock hits by aging young white guys like Marc Cohn, Sister Hazel and Mayer's current competitor, Five For Fighting. No Such Thing's whimsical lyrics gently protest a world that tells you "stay inside the lines" and proclaim that "the real world" is "just a lie you've got to rise above." The first hit from the Atlanta based singer/songwriter is smoothly genial but very familiar and mild.
Jennifer Lopez-I'm Real(down 4 positions)
Even with a synth riff that reminds me of The Hustle, the third hit from the J.Lo CD is effective dance pop. I'm Real has good rhythm and is less mechanical sounding than Lopez' last single Play. Lopez' voice is pleasant but bland and basically overwhelmed by the beats. The lyrics to I'm Real are fairly vapid. Lopez declares her realness uninterestingly, telling her man not to feel insecure or worry about what she's doing when she's not with him. MTV and some radio stations are now playing a "remix" of I'm Real, basically a new song with almost totally different lyrics and music. The new version, a duet with Ja Rule, was written by Ja Rule and appears on his Pain Is Love CD. It actually has a real feel that's been missing from Lopez' heavily produced music with a clear, relaxed sound of minimal synths and a good, basic beat, The lyrics are also more relaxed. They're riffs off the original that include the publicity grabbing request for "niggas" to "mind they biz."
Fuel-Last Time(down 4 positions)
On Last Time, Fuel are in a harder rocking mode than on the three previous chart hits from their Something Like Human CD. Last Time has a tougher rock guitar and Carl Bell angrily yells the lyrics with great intensity. Still, Last Time has the slick, superficial, calculated feel of the other songs from Something Like Human. Bell promises in Last Time's pretentious lyrics that he will soon leave an addictive, controlling woman.
Destiny's Child-Emotion(down 8 positions)
If you've seen Destiny's Child on an awards or benefit show, you've probably seen them doing a good, short a capella thing. The message is clear: we're not just a studio creation, we can really sing. Emotion, the third single from the Survivor CD, is a similar display of the ladies' vocal talents. The backing is minimal, mostly from an acoustic guitar and a very simple beat. The singing stands up well on its own and is mostly not overly showy . The harmonies are smooth, tight and good. The thing about Destiny's Child's version is that it's so polite and sedate that it's not much more than a vocal exercise. The Bee Gees' crazy high pitched intensity gave the original undeniable drama. It also fit better with the song's emotional lyrics, with their lines about being "caught up in sorrow" and crying "me a river", about how "heartache lives on inside" since a breakup.
N Sync-Gone(down 1 position)
N Sync risked alienating a large number of their fans with Pop, the title track and first single from their new CD, and its cold, harsh sub-Michael Jackson sound, paranoid boasts and ridiculous challenge to critics who don't respect them. The second single plays it safe, letting heartthrob Justin Timberlake pour his heart out about his pain and longing for a lost love while the rest of the boys harmonize behind him. The vocals are nicely restrained and quite good. The music, acoustic guitars and strings, is so tastefully minimal that it's a little boring.