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(unchanged)
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".
Ludacris featuring Shawnna-Stand Up(up 5 positions)
Ludacris never made the top 50 before December 2003. He came closest with Roll Out My Business, from his Word Of Mouf CD, which fell just short in 2002. Now Ludacris is all over the chart, also appearing on Chingy's Holidae Inn and Usher's Yeah. Stand Up, from the Chicken N Beer CD, is fairly standard rap. Ludacris goes to the club, shows off his diamonds, smokes "that Cheech and Chong", makes sure he's treated with proper respect and looks for a "thick young lady to pull." Still, Stand Up was well designed to expose the brash young man from Atlanta, whose given name is Christopher Bridges, to a larger audience. Ludacris' voice, while strong, is unremarkable but he has great presence. Ludacris' huge self assurance makes him a compelling figure. He's always in control, moving steadily with a natural, ungimmicky rap. He's confident that the momentum created by his forceful and theatrical but unthreatening voice will keep people's attention. Stand Up's simple but effective backing track shows similar confidence. Stand Up's verses stick to a crisp beat and good bass sample. The chorus' catchy "when I move you move" hook is well underlined by a good riff. On Stand Up, as usual, Ludacris doesn't have much more on his mind than having a good time. But Stand Up is a good showcase for his raunchy but basically harmless rap.
Outkast-The Way You Movebuy it!
Outkast's popularity has grown the last few years. They made our top 50 with Stankonia's Ms. Jackson and The Whole World, from the Big Boi and Dre Present collection. Still, I thought Outkast, who seem more interested in doing what they want than in selling records, were a bit too weird to become big pop stars. So it's a bit of a surprise that Outkast are currently the biggest pop stars around. Outkast dominated the Grammy awards winning, among others, Album of the Year and The Way You Move immediately followed Hey Ya, which spent a bunch of weeks at #1, to the top of the pop charts. Outkast's huge success is especially remarkable since the duo seemed on the verge of breaking up when they released their two CD set, which is really two solo records. Andre 3000 and Big Boi are almost totally absent from each other's disc. Hey Ya is on Andre 3000's weird, silly, inconsistent but fun The Love Below, which doesn't fit under any musical label. The Way You Move is on Antwan "Big Boi" Patton's Speakerboxx, which has a variety of sounds but is mostly tight, danceable hip hop. The Way You Move is a great example of Speakerboxx's smart, state of the art sound. The Way You Move is brilliantly constructed. With its crisp hand clap like drum machine beats and Big Boi's remarkably adroit rap, The Way You Move is slick and efficient. It also gets a retro, human feel from real horns playing a catchy riff and Sleepy Brown's falsetto singing, which doesn't have the Marvin Gaye style sexiness he shoots for but does add warmth to a very polished song. Big Boi's incredibly quick rap deserves special credit. Among raps I've heard recently only Jay Z, on Change Clothes, is comparable in terms of being fast, relaxed and in control and Big Boi is even more impressive. He squeezes in a ton of words and never lets us see him sweat. Big Boi tells us that "Outkast is everlastin', not clashin'", expresses his love for all women, especially the "big girls", and admires a woman's move while the room watches his. In the last few months, Outkast has given us Hey Ya, one of the most fun singles of the last year and The Way You Move, one of the coolest.
Staind-How About You(up 10 positions)
I regret my dismissive slam of So Far Away, the hit second single from Staind's 14 Shades Of Grey CD. Repeat listens reveal a delicate beauty to So Far Away's waltz. So Far Away is a poignantly gloomy song about feeling happier. Aaron Lewis' lyric expresses amazement at his emotional upswing. I still don't love So Far Away. It's too draggy and heavy for me. But especially juxtaposed with Nickelback's awful, heavy handed Someday, which was #2 to So Far Away's #1 for six weeks, it's not bad. How About You doesn't have So Far Away's 1-2-3, 2-2-3 elegance but it does resonate. Lewis uses his affinity for minor keys to give a rocker a sense of drama and depth. The verses create stark intensity by matching Lewis' warily rolling voice with a big beat and not much else. On the chorus, Mike Mushok's large, slicing guitar underlines Lewis' voice. Slowly climbing chords push the reticent Lewis to use a higher, harder voice. After So Far Away's guarded trip into happiness, Lewis is back to his usual downbeat self on How About You. How About You expresses disappointment with a musician friend's foolish lyrics, superficiality and lack of empathy for those less fortunate. Rather than anger, Lewis' vocal expresses weary resignation. Lewis' refusal to drop his guarded, pessimistic persona is a bit ridiculous. But his slow, wobbly, deliberate delivery is striking and unique. When Lewis' voice is combined with decent, challenging music, the result can be compelling. How About You doesn't totally overcome its front man's dourness but it is an interesting, thoughtful song that's also a decent rocker.
Chevelle-Closure(up 10 positions)
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."
Christina Aguilera-The Voice Within(unchanged)
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."
Sarah McLachlan-Fallen(up 1 position)
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."
Chingy featuring Snoop Dogg & Ludacris-Holidae Inn(up 2 positions)
Holidae Inn is the second hit from the Jackpot CD by Howard "Chingy" Bailey, Ludacris' protege from St. Louis. Holidae Inn features Ludacris but, with its goofy music and easy pace, it has more of the relaxed, fun loving personality of its other guest: Snoop Dogg. Holidae Inn is about a party with lots of Hennessey and women willing to have sex with Chingy once they realize he's "that dude that sing Right Thurr." Chingy and Snoop's raps, the wacky, vaguely spooky backing track and the lyrics' decadent scene are all pretty cartoonish. Snoopy's flat, nasal voice fits well with Chingy's broad, facetious one. Chingy hasn't shown himself to be a great rapper but he doesn't take himself too seriously. On Holidae Inn he has a little more to do than on Right Thurr, which was mostly about getting back to saying the title and showing he had a dialect similar to Nelly's. Ludacris' rap is a bit tougher than the others' but he stays in the song's playful, lady loving mode. His verse largely consists of a bunch words that kind of rhyme with "nipples." Holidae Inn has good beats, a fun riff and a light spirit. If you ignore its mindless misogyny, it has a loopy, laid back charm.
Lil' Jon & The Eastside Boyz featuring the Yin Yang Twins-Get Low(down 4 positions)
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.
Liz Phair-Why Can't I(down 6 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.
Korn-Right Now(down 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."
Howie Day-Perfect Time Of Day(unchanged)
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.
P.O.D.-Will You(down 10 positions)
For anyone who didn't understand the obvious, portentous imagery P.O.D. tries to evoke with their name, they've called their new CD Payable On Death. For a while, P.O.D. found success and a comfort zone for their big, self important sound in big topics like school shootings(Youth Of The Nation) and being born again(Alive). When they tackle more mundane subjects, their bloated self righteousness seems more ridiculous. By nearly quoting it, Will You brings to mind Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, reminding us that fraught emotions can be communicated simply and much more appealingly. As usual, P.O.D.'s guitars are pretty good but trapped in an overblown song and forced to follow Sonny Sandoval's histrionics. Will You apparently is about an unhappy woman who's manipulated by her man. But Sandoval's whining, ranting and emoting totally undercut any empathy he's trying to show.
Kelis got some attention with Caught Out There, a striking, impossible to ignore song featuring Kelis screaming "I hate you so much right now." Kelis couldn't even get her second record released in the U.S. but her third CD, Tasty, has yielded her first big pop hit. With its attention grabbing spare sound, eastern rhythms and sassy sexual imagery, Milkshake qualifies as a novelty hit song but Milkshake is a good, interesting song. With so many guys rapping about their docile sexual conquests, it's good to hear a song with a woman who's sensual but confident and very much in control, even if the song was written and produced by The Neptunes(Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams), who have done hits for everyone including Britney, Justin, Usher, Nelly and Snoop Dogg. With her eccentric look and loopy but smart and confident musical persona, Kelis is a bit like Macy Gray but she comes off as slightly less gangly and odd. Without specifying what her milkshake is there's no doubt that, while it "brings all the boys to the yard", she decides who gets a taste. On Milkshake, Kelis teases another woman and offers to teach her "techniques that freak these boys." Milkshake draws you in with its exotic bongos and bells. It nicely alternates Kelis' unpolished, distinctive voice with a smoother female vocal. The distinctive, unusual things about Milkshake could make it annoying after repeat listens but it's good to hear a strong woman and a different sound amid similar sounding, male dominated music.
Jack Johnson-Taylorbuy it!
Jack Johnson's On And On CD's stay on adult alternative radio has been extended, partly thanks to Taylor's funny video featuring Ben Stiller as a clueless director set on doing a bizarrely literal video for the song. Except for the video, not much distinguishes Taylor from other songs in Johnson's genial, unassuming oeuvre. Johnson's modesty and refusal to pander to his audience with obvious commercial flourishes are charming. The flip side of Johnson's reserve are a sameness and lack of surprise. Taylor opens and closes with Johnson's skilled, unshowy acoustic guitar solos. In between, guitar, bass and drums create a good ska gallop. The music is so quiet and unobtrusive that you hardly notice it but it has the same propulsive momentum as the music of earlier ska bands like The English Beat. Johnson's likable vocals have a smooth, easy flow though he'd be more interesting if he showed some excitement once in a while. Johnson often writes spare lyrics evoking scenes of people slowly dealing with existential crises. In Taylor, the crises are more serious than usual. Taylor, who used to be "a good girl" working the night shift, is now "working on the streets" pretending she's "two thousand miles from here." Poor Peter Patrick "thinks that singin' on Sunday's gonna save his soul" and take him out of a life where he's "got nothing."
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."
Counting Crows-She Don't Want Nobody Near(up 3 positions)
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."
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.
Maroon 5-Harder To Breathe(down 8 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."
Dave Matthews-Save Me(up 3 positions)
I understand that, after playing with his band for more than a decade, Dave Matthews wanted to try something different. But artistically, it was a bad idea to ditch the DMB to make the solo record Some Devil. On Some Devil Matthews, a lover of jam songs, worked with similarly minded people like Phish's Trey Anastasio and made music that misses the energy Matthews' band brings to his songs. It also doesn't seem like his new partners pushed him to find the beautiful languor the Grateful Dead achieved. Save Me isn't pretentiously meaningful and draggy like Some Devil's first single Gravedigger, which quickly fell out of the top 50. Save Me is pleasant but so vague that it's hardly noticeable. Save Me's video shows Matthews, Anastasio and company having a good time making the song but only some of that sense of fun makes the record. Save Me does have an easy, loose feel. It moves at a relaxed, meandering pace. Crisp but unshowy drumming lets the pure sounds of the sticks and the kit resound. Save Me's guitar and keyboard doodling are pretty innocuous but they fit in fine with the song's laid back feel. Vocally Matthews is, typically, cocky, competent and unremarkable. He largely avoids the mannerisms can mar his singing. Save Me does have good, soulful backing vocals that finish the song nicely. Save Me tells Matthews' story of meeting a man who's walking through the desert for 40 days with only his faith to nourish him. Matthews asks the man to save him and is to told to "try savin' yourself."
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."
Jessica Simpson-With Youbuy 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."
Dido-White Flag(down 28 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.