Nivea-Don't Mess With My Man(up 1 position)
Don't Mess With My Man is from Nivea Hamilton's Nivea CD. Don't Mess With My Man is quite lightweight but it's also quite likable. Don't Mess With My Man features Jagged Edge's Brian and Brandon Casey. It's got the easy feel of Jagged Edge's Where The Party At and I find Don't Mess even more enjoyable. With a catchy doodle of a synth riff and a steady beat, Don't Mess With My Man goes by easily. Nivea's voice is pleaant but doesn't show much personality. The Caseys add a little flair with their amiably macho contribution. The lyrics don't go much beyond the title's threat except that the Caseys repeat them and change genders.
System Of A Down-Innervision(up 4 positions)
Innervision is on Steal This Album, a collection of songs that didn't make System Of A Down's first two records. Innervision is good and similar enough that it would have fit on the Toxicity CD. Innervision has the great, bizarre energy of songs like that CD's title track. Guitar player Daron Malakian, bass player Shavo Odadjian and drummer John Dolmayan all play fast and hard and contribute to Innervision's exciting intensity. Singer Serj Tankian is, typically, so passionate that he almost seems possessed or insane, veering between crooning and shrieking. A lot of the fun of a SOAD song is following its twists. In its 2« minutes, Innervision shifts from speed metal to a hardcore bridge with Tankian ranting "It's never too late to reinvent the bicycle." Malakian appropriately shifts his guitar to a quiet, dreamy sound for Serj's epiphany("there is only one true path to life, the road that leads to all, leads to one.") then the song crunches to a conclusion. Malakian sings on Innervision about seeking the guidance of an unnamed spiritual source.
Sum 41-Still Waiting(up 1 position)
Sum 41's new CD is called Does This Look Infected? Sum 41 broke through with the youthful, poppy, punky hits from All Killer, No Filler CD. Still Waiting shows signs that the band is making the huge mistake of wanting to grow up and be taken seriously. Still Waiting's video reveals jealousy at the critical respect The Strokes receive. On Fat Lip, the band just demanded the chance to have a good, stupid time. Now they want us to believe that they're looking for "hope to believe" in a world full of hating. It seems clear that Sum 41 is best suited to make dopey, fun music and that's what people want from them. Still Waiting, with its attempt at lyrical significance and Derick Whibley's meaningful ranting, has an uncomfortable resemblance to the lesser work of The Offspring, whose music seems to get stupider the more they try to seem smart. Still Waiting does show benefits of Sum 41's new intensity. I don't love the darkness of the singing and Whibley and Dave Baksh's guitar but I do like that Still Waiting is fast, energetic and focused, without the foolishness that has made some of their music more cutesy than fun.
Red Hot Chili Peppers-Cant Stopbuy it!
Cant Stop, the third single from the By The Way CD, continues the Chili Peppers recent habit of following fairly serious, mature singles with looser, goofy songs that echo the bands anarchic earlier music. Like Around The World and other Chili Peppers songs, Cant Stop is a multipart song that quickly segues from wacky to sincere. Cant Stop is a good showcase for John Frusciantes versatility. He alternates between jagged and smooth guitar parts and even gets to play a hard rock solo and a bit of a skanky ska line. As usual, Anthony Kiedis is both annoying and charming. The verses showcase the typical free asssociation glibness hes used on songs like Give It Away but hes still appealing on the chorus singing about the world I love, the tears I dropped and the trains Ive hopped. Cant Stops familiarity is its strength and weakness. Cant Stop is genial and generally goes by easily but its so unmemorable and such a slight variation on other lightweight Chili Peppers songs that its basically pointless.
Socialburn are a new band from Tallahassee, Florida lead by singer/songwriter Neil Alday. Socialburns Where You Are CD was produced by John Kurweg, whos done a lot of work with Creed. Sadly, Socialburn dont show any more originality or charm than Scott Stapps kings of humorless, successful mediocrity. Sounding like Alice In Chains Layne Staley or Stone Temple Pilots Scott Weiland, Alday has the angry, serious delivery of so many of todays young rock singers. On Down, Alday repetitively voices the common modern rock complaint that an unnamed you says and does things that make me feel like nothing and fuel his inner torment.
Justin Timberlake-Cry Me A River(up 3 positions)
On Just Like I Love You, the first single from the N Sync pretty boys Justified CD, Justin Timberlakes worked too hard to show his urban cred and ended up with a slavish, fairly lame Michael Jackson imitation. The more relaxed Cry Me A River works better and is actually soulful. The production lets polished studio singers take over for large portions and move the song forward smoothly. Cry Me A River has a relaxed pace and a fairly uncluttered sound but its also scuffed up a little by a stuttering beat and synths that trumpet and dissolve into a draggy dissonance. Timberlakes singing is pretty innocuous on the verses but things improve when the backup singers help him out and when he reaches for an impassioned falsetto. Cry Me A Rivers lyric plays out the fantasy of many who have been taken advantage by a romantic partner. Timberlake gets to tell the woman who left him all alone, but is asking for him again, that its her time to cry.
No Doubt featuring Lady Saw-Underneath It All(down 8 positions)
In little more than a year, Gwen Stefani has totally turned around her image from the pathetic, pining for Gavin Rossdale thing she played on Return Of Saturn's Ex-Girlfriend and Simple Kind Of Life. Thanks to appearances on hits by Eve and Moby and the singles from the Rock Steady CD, she's reestablished herself as a cool, confident woman. Underneath It All's lyrics strike me as kind of sad wishful thinking. Stefani tries to convince herself that while her relationship "seems incomplete", her guy is really lovely and trying hard and understands her like no one else. Still, in her vocal and on the video, Stefani has an easy self assurance that belies the lyrics' insecurity. No Doubt have mixed a ska feel into their music for years. Sometimes, the music has been a bit too showy or frenzied. Underneath It All, written with Eurythmics' Dave Stewart, like Hey Baby, was produced by reggae legends Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare. It has a good, understated languor, with horns, subtle clavinet and synths, crisp but laid back drums and Shakespeare's rubbery bass. Jamaican dance hall diva Lady Saw nicely adds to the cool, poised feel.
Nelly-Air Force Ones(up 5 positions)
Air Force Ones is the the third hit from the Nellyville CD. Taking four minutes to pay tribute to Nellys sneakers and endlessly repeating a not great record scratching riff, Nelly is proudly unambitious on Air Force Ones. Like much of Nellys music, Air Force Ones succeeds by staying relaxed and creating an irresistable groove. Nelly lets his buddies do most of the rapping. Most of them arent particularly impressive but Air Force Ones effectively keeps the raps coming one after another. As is often the case with Nellys music, what hes saying is less enjoyable than how he says it. Nelly and his posse test the patience of any listener whos not a Nike aficionado by detailing shoe sizes and favorite colors and making silly brags about only wearing a pair once then discarding it. I do like the cool way they pronounce pair as "par".
Jay-Z featuring Beyonce-03 Bonnie & Clydebuy it!
03 Bonnie & Clyde, from The Blueprint 2: The Gift and The Curse, is Jay-Zs biggest pop hit so far(yeah Im pretty sure its even bigger than that Hard Knock Life song). Not being the most knowledgable hip hop fan, I thought of Coolios Gangstas Paradise when I first heard 03 Bonnie & Clyde. Of course, the most direct influence on 03 B & C is Tupac Shakurs Me and My Girlfriend. Jay-Z reminds me of his fellow ultra successful entrepreneur P. Diddy. They both arent so skilled as rappers but get by with their spoken voice style on confidence and a forceful personality. Especially on 03 B & C, my votes with Jay-Z. His rap is fairly uninflected but it has an appealing directness and doesnt have the silliness and ego that can plague Diddy. With a good, steady beat and acoustic guitar riffs, Jay-Zs unstoppable vocal and the soft, sexy contributions of Jay-Zs real life girlfriend Beyonce Knowles, 03 B & C has an appealingly smooth, relaxed flow. The lyric paints a sweet picture of domestic bliss. Depicting he and B as the new Bobby and Whitney(an unusual choice of romantic role models), Jay-Z describes a relationship of free communication(except when Bs watching Sex and The City) where each would do anything necessary for the other and disses dudes that treat the one that you lovin with the same respect as the one that you humpin.
Tori Amos-A Sorta Fairytale(unchanged)
Tori Amos had some mainstream radio success with songs like God, Silent All These Years and Crucify from her early solo CDs Under The Pink and Little Earthquakes. Recently, Amos' career has taken a slightly more obscure path, concluding with 2001's Strange Little Girls, her collection of songs originally done by guys. A Sorta Fairytale, supported by a bizarre video with an oddly poignant conclusion, is Amos' first hit in the four years we've been doing the All-Reviews top 50. A Sorta Fairytale, from Amos' Scarlet's Walk CD, is a nice reminder of Amos' gift for mixing melody, classicism and eccentricity. A Sorta Fairytale shows Amos' ability to subtly grab our attention. A Sorta Fairytale starts quietly with Amos' delicate piano playing and an effective, fairly inobtrusive drum machine beat. It builds a little on the chorus which has David Torn's good, simple guitar riff. A Sorta Fairytale also varies its subdued sound with a slightly brighter bridge. Amos sings slowly. Her vocal is restrained but her thoughtful, interesting personality still shines through. A Sorta Fairytale's sound matches its lyrics. Amos sadly relates how an apparent "life long thing" relationship was lost.
Red Hot Chili Peppers-Zephyr Song(down 18 positions)
I was bored by some of the Chili Peppers' earlier attempts at a serious, adult sound but they've won me over with the By The Way CD's singles. Zephyr Song is fairly lightweight but it has the easy, natural flow of a classic. Zephyr Song follows a now common Chili Peppers pattern with a loose, goofy verse and a more serious, catchy chorus. But the verse isn't that goofy. Anthony Kiedes' vocal is playful rather than stupid. Kiedis' singing isn't great but he's became more comfortable as a balladeer. Zephyr Song's chorus is wonderful. Kiedis trades the verses' free association for a simple, elegant invitation to "fly away on my zephyr", promising "we'll find a place together." The song that came to mind the first time I heard Zephyr Song was Lulu's To Sir With Love. I still feel like the comparison is apt. Seemingly effortlessly, they both knock you out with a light, uplifting hook. Zephyr Song is a nice showcase for guitar player John Frusciante. He lays down a good fluid sound and plays a decent, unshowy doodle of a solo that fits the easy mood. Ending with majestic percussion crashes, the Chili Peppers sought a meaningful sound on Zephyr Song but they were smart enough to keep the mood relaxed.
Dave Matthews Band-Grey Streetbuy it!
Grey Street is the third chart hit from the Busted Stuff CD. With Matthews pleasant, empathetic vocal, Grey Street has the comfortable, familiar, well played feel of a lot of Dave Matthews Band music. Leroi Moores sax and Boyd Tinsleys violin give Grey Street the lurching, stop and start flow of a song like Ants Marching. Grey Street is about a woman trapped in her home by depression. Matthews shows his knowledge of dynamics, letting the music rise as the character is offered an opportunity to experience the world. But just as the woman chooses to stay inside, Matthews mostly chooses to stay within his familiar, comfortable musical form.
Pearl Jam-I Am Mine(down 22 positions)
The lack of a real standout song on the not great 2000 Binaural CD continued Pearl Jam's decline in record sales and fan base. I Am Mine, from Pearl Jam's The Riot Act CD, is a very good single that justifiably is getting Pearl Jam more radio play than their album tracks have had in years. I Am Mine returns Pearl Jam to a classic sound and should spur a modest comeback for the band. It reminds how Pearl Jam's music has more substance and less emoting than that of younger current bands, led by deep voiced singers, that are clearly influenced by Pearl Jam. I Am Mine is somewhat reminiscent of Eddie Vedder's I Am Sam version of You've Got To Hide Your Love Away in the way it keeps things simple, relying on Vedder's strong voice. I Am Mine is also a little like powerful, subtle Pearl Jam songs like Vs.' Elderly Woman and Yield's Given To Fly. Vedder's serious, dramatic delivery is a bit of a caricature. He's often heavy and sanctimonious but he's not afraid to try to say something important.. On I Am Mine, Vedder's vocal is pretty well controlled. Vedder and the band have the confidence to keep things subdued and fairly quiet. I Am Mine's guitar and percussion slowly builds but the sturdy accompaniment never becomes showy before ending with an elegant, controlled guitar solo. I Am Mine has a philosophical tone. Vedder looks to avoid the mistakes of those "hopin' to buy themselves time". Even after having his "innocence broken with lies" and seeing great sorrow, Vedder vows to take control of and live his life, figuring "I only own my mind" and that his time on earth "is mine."
Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow-Picturebuy it!
Until Picture was released as a single, Kid Rocks Cocky CD wasnt selling and his career was in decline. Now, a year and a half after it was released, Cocky is another multiplatinum hit for Kid Rock. Ive never been a Kid Rock fan but Picture impresses me. Picture shows more smarts than I thought Kid Rock had. Picture, with its story of a guy cheating on the road while his woman cheats at home, has the feel of a country classic. Kid Rock uses the comfort of a traditional form but doesnt condescend. Pictures music gets an authentic feel from steel guitar but doesnt overdo the twang. The music stays nicely minimal with restrained drumming and organ and a good, simple guitar solo. Kid Rock isnt a great singer but hes decently controlled. As usual, vocal pro Sheryl Crow is solid. Shes a natural with a country ballad but she doesnt upstage Kid Rock. Picture is a big improvement over Kid Rocks previous hit ballad, the self pitying God Only Knows. Picture has a surprising sad sweetness. The adulterers regret their actions and both just want him to come back home.
Beck-Lost Causebuy it!
Beck showed that hes not just a studio genius obsessed with beat and samples on Mutations, a record of serious country rock, but he still surprised people with the mellowness of his Sea Change CD. Theres a difference of opinion out there about whether the subdued Sea Change is a subtly beautiful tour de force or kind of a bore. Still, its hard for me to imagine much criticism of Lost Cause, Sea Changes strikingly delicate single. With acoustic guitar and quiet, dreamy synths and chimes, Beck simply creates a moving mood. Becks downbeat vocal communicates Lost Causes mix of sadness and frustration with a screwed up friend hes tired of fighting for but also finds hard to leave alone. Lost Cause also suggests a touch of hope in slightly optimistic chord changes. Lost Cause is a fragile, thoughtful masterpiece.
John Mayer-Your Body Is A Wonderland(down 4 positions)
Your Body Is a Wonderland is the second chart hit from the Atlanta based singer/songwriter's Room For Squares CD. Like No Such Thing, Your Body Is a Wonderland is pleasant and almost proudly inconsequential. Unlike No Such Thing, where Mayer tried so hard for whimsical cheekiness, Your Body Is a Wonderland mostly keeps things nicely understated. His voice, in a tone not much more forceful than a whisper, effectively communicates the song's sly confidence. His guitar playing is also unassuming but pretty cool. Its only flourish is a short Steely Dan style riff towards the end. A skinny young white guy can't help but seem a little leering singing a song about pleasuring a lady but his admiration of a woman's looks is generally appealing. A bit too much bravado accompanies Mayer's promise to take a while making love and discovering a woman's body but he generally avoids the objectification that often accompanies songs complimenting the female shape.
Jimmy Eat World-A Praise Chorus(up 4 positions)
The fun, exuberant songs keep coming from the year and a half old Bleed American CD. A Praise Chorus, the third chart hit is faster and even less subtle than Bleed Americans last two singles, using a scratchy, stuttering guitar sound like The Middles. A Praise Chorus is just fast, straight ahead rock that doesnt let Zach Linds beat, Rick Burchs bass or Jim Adkins and Tom Lintons guitars stop for a second. Its nearly as hard to resist as Jimmy Eat Worlds other hits. A Praise Chorus is an exhortation to make a move and stop standing in the back, looking around. A Praise Chorus also pays tribute to the power of music, throwing in pieces of Madness Our House, They Might Be Giants Dont Lets Start and, most obviously Tommy James Crimson And Clover. I admit that I underestimated Bleed American when it first came out but Ive been gradually won over by Jimmy Eat Worlds intense but upbeat and positive sound.
Tracy Chapman-You're The One(up 1 position)
On her self titled 1988 debut CD, Tracy Chapman was a striking new talent making music that was political and personal. She seemed to have the potential to move folk music in exciting new directions. Chapman has since made pleasant, thoughtful music but the deeper she gets into career, the more her work leaves the impression of unfulfilled potential. You're The One, from the Let It Rain CD, has a sweet Chapman vocal and a nice, positive feel but it's so lightweight and unambitious it's barely noticable. I assume Chapman is trying to pare her music to its essentials but she's also pared away what can be interesting about her writing and music. You're The One's lyric is charming. Chapman promises to stand by a lover who others say is crazy, uncouth and no good.
David Gray-The Other Side(down 3 positions)
Its to his credit that David Gray hasnt tried to follow the huge, surprising success of his White Ladder CD and the Babylon single with a big, flashy sound. The Other Side, from Grays A New Day At Midnight CD, doesnt veer from White Ladders basic, minimal sound. Large portions of The Other Side are just Grays subdued voice and his simple piano. Even when the drum machine beat comes in, the sound remains restrained. The downbeat sound matches The Other Sides sad lyric. The Other Side, like much of White Ladder, is about romantic disappointment. Admitting that I still dont know what love is, Gray is painfully self critical. Hes unable to be courageous and offer you my hand, pull you up onto dry land, when all I got is sinking sand. Grays unsentimentalized melancholy is somewhat fascinating and The Other Side maintains a perverse integrity by being an intentionally uncommercial single. But The Other Side is basically uninteresting and a little drab. It certainly doesnt do anything to change the perception of Gray as a one hit wonder.
Jennifer Lopez and LL Cool J-All I Havebuy it!
Jennifer Lopez impressive string of hits continues with the second single from her This Is Me Then. Lopez apparently isnt a great actress but she has a decent career in solidly constructed, unmemorable films built around her appealing presence. Similarly, Lopez is an unremarkable singer and her songs charm rarely outlive their chart life. But her musical star vehicles are even more impressive than her movies. All I Have is fairly unambitious but its very likable and comfortable. All I Haves tale of a woman bouncin^ from a relationship with a charming, untrustworthy guy isnt new but its singers star quality gives it a larger than life, cinematic feel. LL Cool J is particularly convincing playing charming, cocky and irresponsible, making Lopez decision whether to hold onto her pride seem real. Lopez essentially plays straight man to Cool Js scene stealing Lothario but her singing is more interesting than usual. She gets added personality by copying the vocal hiccup from Deborah Laws Very Special, the song that supplies All I Haves catchy sample. The sample, the singers chemistry, and an easy beat and chiming effects create a smooth easy to take sound.
Jack Johnson-Bubble Toes(down 3 positions)
Bubble Toes is the second chart hit from the former surfing champ's Brushfire Fairytales CD. Johnson's Flake was pretty whimsical and Bubble Toes ups the whimsy level to the point where cutesy is a better description. I also have a problem since Bubble Toes' cocky white boy flow of words reminds me of the Brenda & Eddie parts of Billy Joel's Scenes From An Italian Restaurant. Still, Johnson is genuinely appealing. His singing is unpretentious with a light, easy flow that allows Johnson to pull off Bubble Toes' goofy la da da da da das. Bubble Toes is a tribute to the woman he loves whose "beauty will follow wherever she goes" and to himself for the charm she eventually won't be able to resist.
Camron-Hey Ma(down 14 positions)
Oh Boy fell just short of the top 50. Hey Ma, the followup single from the Come Home With Me CD, is like lots of other songs but it clearly sounds like a hit. Hey Ma grabs you right from the start with the relaxed, inviting Hey ma, whats up interplay between Camron and Toya. The rest of the song isnt as appealing as that exchange but Hey Ma maintains an easy flow throughout. It initially seemed odd that Hey Ma uses a sample from Lionel Richies Easy but Camron is just the latest, following P Diddy, Irv Gotti and Ja Rule and all their associates, to hit the charts with hip hop mellow enough to deserve lite fm play. Juelz Santana and Camrons decent raps give Hey Ma a little intensity but dont do anything do disturb the smooth, safe vibe. Hey Ma is a series of stupid but mostly innocuous stories about hooking up with girls. The chorus tell us that mutual interest in fancy vehicles, drinking and getting high establishes a basis for getting it on tonight. Santana relates how a combination of youthful confidence and respect set up his chance to lay the pipe. Cam tells us his boo shares his love for Gucci and buys his rap that hes a changed man who no longer be sinnin. Hey Ma is fairly dopey but easy to listen to.
Pearl Jam-Save Youbuy it!
Save You, the second chart hit from the Riot Act CD, is a good, uncomplicated straight ahead rocker. There isnt much of a sense of growth on Pearl Jams new CD. But after showing signs of fading away on their last couple records, especially 2000s Binaural, Pearl Jam seem engaged on Riot Act. Riot Act has a number of songs that match up favorably with tracks on their classic records. Pearl Jam have done rockers like Save You, such as Hail Hail, Brain Of J and Spin The Black Circle, before but Save You is still fun and exciting. It must sound great live. Mike McCreadys guitar riff rips through Save You and, along with Jeff Aments matching bass line and Matt Camerons pounding drums, sends it barelling forward with nonstop energy. Under its tough music Save You has a sweet lyric. Eddie Vedder sings about selfishly wanting to keep a screwed up friend around because hes too important to me. Deploying his naturally dramatic voice as loosely as he can, Vedder promises to save the friend whether he wants it or not. Pearl Jam obviously influence the neo-grungsters like Puddle Of Mudd and Creed but, admirably, they largely avoid the new generations narcissism and cynical commercialism.
The Wallflowers-When Youre On Top(down 13 positions)
Jakob Dylans bands Bringing Down The Horse CD, which had the hit One Headlight, went multiplatinum. The Wallflowers success proved short lived. The Breach CD died after getting early radio interest, falling far short of its predecessors sales. When Youre On Top, off the Red Letter Days CD, is largely about wanting to get back with an ex but its also informed by Dylans new commercial reality. Dylans more modest expectations suit him on When Youre On Top. Jakob cant avoid that genetics and upbringing gave him a similar voice to dads. On When Youre On Top the resemblance in Dylans deliberate phrasing and nasal, slightly angry delivery suits him. Jakobs writing will never have the power of Bob Dylans best work but When Youre On Top is dense, rich and good. When Youre On Top is about being jaded and depressed. Bored by a life where hes making new friends but none of them matter, Dylan is looking for new experiences and a thought that I can believe in. Musically, When Youre On Top is a step in the right direction. In the past, The Wallflowers music has often been overly slick and shallow. When Youre On Top strips down the sound and finds a more interesting edge. The verses evoke disconnection, starting with no beat and a cold, throbbing synth then adding a stiff drum machine beat. The chorus is brighter and catchier but its restraint underlines Dylans theme that he feels fine and is doing better but not doing as well as when he was with the one he needs now more than ever.
Kelly Rowland-Stole(down 20 positions)
With Beyonce Knowles in Destiny's Child and Nelly on the hit Dilemma(which appears on Nellyville and Kelly Rowland's Simply Deep CD) Rowland has allowed her costar to get most of the attention. Rowland has the spotlight to herself on Simply Deep but continues her unassuming ways. On Stole, Rowland's vocal is decent and unshowy. Stole is smooth and well made though not particularly distinctive. Stole was written and produced by industry pros Steve Kipner(who worked on Olivia Newton John's Physical and Christina Aguilera's Genie In A Bottle and many other hits) and Sean Hosein and Dave Deviller(O-Town and 98 Degrees among others). Stole has an easy mood with good, subtle ringing and scratching effects and guitar matching the climactic line about "playing angry chords." Stole effectively layers Rowland's voice with good backup singing. Stole is the latest song to address school shootings. We find out the shooter was the brightest kid in school but he was bullied and put down and didn't fit in. Stole means well. It's not offensive(unless you're a grammarian troubled that she doesn't say stolen) but it's even less insightful than P.O.D.'s Youth Of The Nation because its invented mass killing doesn't feel real. Stole tells us that one victim "could have been a movie star" and another would have "had a try out with the Sixers", as if Columbine-type deaths are less tragic if their victims weren't destined for stardom.