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."
Matchbox 20-Bright Lights(down 6 positions)
I'm a bit of a sucker for a schmaltzy, heartfelt ballad so I mostly like Bright Lights, the third hit from Matchbox 20's More Than You Think You Are CD. I certainly prefer Rob Thomas' sappy mode to the slick, harder edged commercial pop rock mode he was in for Disease, the awful thudding, slick single he wrote with Mick Jagger, and the whiny, drab, mediocre single Unwell. Bright Lights is a bit like If You're Gone, probably my favorite Matchbox 20 song. Bright Lights starts nicely with Thomas and a piano. A steel guitar underlines the vulnerability in Thomas' voice. Bright Lights' lead guitar and drums are initially fairly subdued. As on If You're Gone, Thomas trades his typical clenched fist rock star voice for a more modest, realer sound. Unfortunately, unlike If You're Gone, which built to a quite lovely horn assisted climax, Bright Lights is unable to sustain its appeal. About halfway through, there's a terrible guitar solo and, suddenly, we're in a bad Journey song. The guitars wail and Thomas is an over emoting rock star again. The big finish undercuts Bright Lights' charms. On Bright Lights, Thomas' character is once again romantically disappointed. He's pathetic but fairly sweet, hoping that the "baby" who left him with no one to "save me from all I'm up against out in this world" will feel unwelcome in Manhattan and "come on home."
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".
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.
Beyonce featuring Sean Paul-Baby Boy(unchanged)
Beyonce Knowles' impressive streak of huge hits, first with Destiny's Child and now as a solo artist, continues with Baby Boy, the second single from Beyonce's Dangerously In Love CD. Baby Boy has a sound destined to make it a smash but it's not nearly as appealingly as Dangerously In Love's first hit Crazy In Love. On Crazy In Love, Beyonce abandoned her usual cool, controlled persona for a song with a joyful, liberating sound. On Baby Boy, Beyonce reverts to a professional, slightly calculated voice. Scott Storch, who's worked on hits including Christina Aguilera's Fighter, wrote and produced Baby Boy with Beyonce. Baby Boy has a good, slightly exotic sound with eastern guitar sounds and an emphatic synth that adds to the song's excitement. Baby Boy features popular collaborator Sean Paul(I prefer Breathe, his similar but warmer duet with Blu Cantrell). Paul helps increase Baby Boy's intensity with a confident but focused rap that keeps the song moving forward and avoids the silly narcissism that mars some of Paul's work . Beyonce's singing is OK. She has some of the sensuality the lyric requires but she'd be better if she seemed looser and less studied. Baby Boy's lyric is a fairly routine tribute to a guy who she can't stop thinking about who fulfills her fantasies.
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."
Blink 182-Feeling This(down 5 positions)
Not long ago, Blink 182 were proudly one of the stupidest successful bands around. Since then, younger bands like Sum 41 and Simple Plan, who seem like fans of Blink 182's fast, fun rocking pop, have supplanted the band in terms of pop success and dopeyness. It's a bit depressing that, as they hit 30, Blink 182 seem to be trying to keep up with the new kids. Feeling This, from the band's self titled new record, sounds like an attempt by Blink 182, who rarely showed much interest in rap or hip hop in the past, to emulate the rap rock sound of Sum 41 and other lesser immature rock bands. The good news is that they do a really good job. Feeling This has a good flow and a lot of likable personality. Anchored by Travis Barker's big, flexible, no nonsense beat, Feeling This shifts tempos and textures but stays interesting. Feeling This is a good showcase for Blink's vocalists. Their contrasting styles fit together nicely. In his bratty voice, Tom DeLonge is the nihilist reveling in the moment, exclaiming excitedly "show me the way to bed" and "I love all the things you do." The more reflective Mark Hoppus makes it clear that the encounter is a thing of the past that's sadly fading into memory. When you think that the genial traded vocals are all the song is about, Hoppus comes up with a skilled, fluid, unshowy rap. With DeLonge's fast, varied guitar lines, Feeling This keeps driving forward. Throughout, Feeling This retains a loose hip hop flow and maintains a good balance of enthusiasm and smarts.
Jessica Simpson-With You(unchanged)
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."
Hoobastank-Out Of Control(unchanged)
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.
Chingy featuring Snoop Dogg & Ludacris-Holidae Inn(unchanged)
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.
Eamon-F**k It(I Don't Want You Back)(up 9 positions)
Eamon is a 19 year old singer from Staten Island. F**k It, from his I Don't Want You Back CD, started with airplay on a few stations and slowly became a big hit. I loved F**k It when I first heard it and it was called Nothing Compares 2 U. To me, F**k It sounds a lot like Sinead O'Connor's 1990 Prince penned hit. The comparison is kind of a compliment. With its simple, stark synth & basic beats backing, F**k It evokes the same obsessive sense Nothing Compares 2 U did. F**k It makes it clear, like a good breakup song should, that Eamon would love to have her back. Eamon's singing has a wounded feel that makes his pain sound real. Eamon will likely be a one hit wonder. He's apparently not a great singer; his voice benefits from a bit of electronic tweaking. He doesn't seem so smart; the interviews I've seen present him as an extremely regular guy. But with F**k It, Eamon has made a lasting contribution to the ranks of songs about heartbroken guys. F**k It's lyric is a very typical lament about having loved and trusted a woman who cheated on him. F**k It also has the typical "happy" ending of being able to turn her down when she comes back for another chance. I know he's upset but he still shouldn't call her a "hoe".
Howie Day-Perfect Time Of Day(up 2 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.
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."
Lil' Jon & The Eastside Boyz featuring the Yin Yang Twins-Get Low(down 2 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.
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."
Coldplay-Moses(down 5 positions)
Moses didn't make A Rush Of Blood To The Head's final cut but Coldplay played it on that record's tour and included on the Coldplay Live 2003 CD & DVD. Moses was probably originally omitted because it was similar to and perhaps not quite as good as A Rush Of Blood's Clocks but it's good that Moses has been given a chance. Moses is another example of the band's charms. Coldplay are often at their best when they showcase Jon Buckland. On Moses, Buckland makes a number of interesting, evocative guitar sounds. Before each verse, Buckland plays a beautiful, shimmering riff. Otherwise, Buckland nicely matches Chris Martin's vocal. On the verses, he does a simple but nice sounding strum. On the chorus, he plays a good, soaring line that leads into the part where Martin climbs to a falsetto. Buckland closes out the song with a fairly basic solo that supplies a sense of catharsis. Martin similarly employs a variety of voices. He uses a fairly plaintive vocal on the chorus, climbs in intensity and finally achieves a feeling of joyful release. Martin has done lots of yearning vocals before but he still communicates humility and sincerity that feels real. Martin must feels very fortunate to be with Gwyneth Paltrow but it'll be interesting to see whether winning the heart of a fabulous babe hurts his writing. Martin's gotten a lot of lyrics from depicting himself as ever hopeful but more interested in a woman than she is in him. On Moses, Martin is typically a bit pathetic but charming as he tries to win a woman by telling her "you're my golden opportunity." The simile that gives Moses its title is overblown even for a romantic like Martin. Does Martin really think that the power a woman has over him is comparable to the power Moses had over the Red Sea?
The Darkness-I Believe In A Thing Called Lovebuy it!
At this year's Brit awards, England's Grammys, The Darkness won best British album and best British group.The Darkness were purportedly conceived on New Year's Eve 1999 when singer Justin Hawkins did a fun, skilled karaoke version of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody. On I Believe In A Thing Called Love, from their Permission To Land CD, The Darkness impressively mock and pay tribute to Queen. They realize that some of the silly, theatrical, excessive things Queen did were the things that made them charming. The Darkness' ability to pull off their loving/tongue in cheek tribute is greatly enhanced by Justin Hawkins' vocal skills. Hawkins makes his Freddy Mercury impersonation work with a stunning range. He moves back and forth between a strong, high voice and an apparently effortless falsetto without ever losing his sense of playful confidence. Guitar player Dan Hawkins, Justin's brother, does his part in creating a 70's arena rock feel with incredibly chunky power chords and three showy but concise guitar solos Queen's Brian May would be proud of. I Believe In A Thing Called Love is very tight. The big, sunny sounds keep coming. I Believe In A Thing Called Love also has the appropriate big backing vocals. Thing Called Love's lyrics are suitably cliched but, like the song, they also communicate love's exhilaration. Hawkins can't explain "the feelings that you're making me feel", his "heart's in overdrive and you're behind the steering wheel" and "we'll be rocking 'til the sun goes down." There's also a lot of touching and kissing. By being both goofy and serious about Queen's lovable, colorful music, The Darkness have made one of the most fun songs of the year.
Godsmack are still one of my least favorite bands. But I don't dislike Realign, the fourth chart hit on the Faceless CD, as much as most of Godsmack's music. That's largely because Realign is less about Sully Erna's cold, self righteous singing than usual. Realign has a big, pretty good hard rock sound. Realign's verses are fairly typical, unpleasant Godsmack. With Erna snarling, they sound like Awake, Straight Out Of Line and other songs. The chorus is more enjoyable. Tony Rambola plays a good rising set of chords and Erna's vocal is relatively restrained. Realign, especially in Erna's vocal, is not very likable but, at least, it's not as nasty and combative as some of the band's songs. Realign is about trying to get out of a life of apathy, confusion and "decisions made from desperation" where Erna's fears came alive.
Dave Matthews-Save Me(unchanged)
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."
Evanescence-My Immortalbuy it!
My Immortal is the least irritating of the three chart hits from Evanescence's hugely successful Fallen CD. Bring Me To Life had rock guitar, rapping, goth touches and a big, atmospheric production. It gave the impression that the band was trying to please everyone and gave me a headache. On My Immortal, Evanescence are the sappy but effective folkie pop band I always thought they were under the rock trappings. It will be interesting to see if Evanescence can survive and thrive now that Ben Moody, who co-founded the band and cowrote all the songs on Fallen, has left. Whether she goes solo or stays with the band, singer Amy Lee will probably do fine. Lee has striking looks and a good voice. My Immortal again shows Lee to be a Tori Amos/Sarah McLachlan fan. My Immortal is reminiscent of simple, emotional, piano based Amos songs like Silent All These Years. Evanescence is unable to stay in a delicate Amos type mode for a whole song. My Immortal is more cliched than a good Tori Amos song. Its strings and the way the drums and guitars crash in for a climactic last run through the chorus make it more formulaic. But My Immortal generally maintains an appealing delicacy. Lee's singing is strong and not too showy. Her voice and simple piano playing easily carry the song. Evanescence have a preference for big, dramatic images. While it could be about an old boyfriend, My Immortal's lyric is apparently about being haunted by the memory of a dead lover whose "presence still lingers." The overripe emotion of Evanescence's songs, which millions have taken to, is too much for me. Heavy strings and Lee's painfully sincere vocal make My Immortal a bit precious. But Lee's intensity, her riveting presence and a direct, stripped down sound make My Immortal compelling.
Clay Aiken-Invisible(down 6 positions)
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."
Lostprophets-Last Train Home(up 3 positions)
It was inevitable that the hard but atmospheric sound that has dominated American rock radio the last few years would make it overseas. Welsh band Lastprophets join Linkin Park, Hoobastank and so many others in their generation of serious post-grungers. Perhaps they belong in the slightly better company of AFI, Story Of The Year(Last Train Home mixes nicely with Girl's Not Grey and Until The Day I Die) and The Used, whose music resembles the intense, hard rocking Last Train Home. Much of Last Train Home is kind of generic. Last Train Home doesn't stand out much from many similar songs. Singer Ian Watkins' voice has power and emotion but it also has the humorlessness and self importance of many of his colleagues. Last Train Home is still pretty good. Watkins is a strong singer who seems to have some charisma. Last Train Home gets decent tension from a mix of guitar sounds, which range from hard to melodic, interesting, angular drumming and a simple, vaguely menacing piano line. Last Train Home has a catchy chorus that flows into an appealing heartfelt bridge. On that bridge, Last Train Home transcends its formula and reaches an appealing early U2 type idealism as Watkins alternates with hollered backing vocals charmingly chanting "we sing." Last Train Home is impressively big and ambitious and it also has sweetly endearing parts. On Last Train Leaving, Watkins sings about trying to "forget the sorrow" of a love that's disappeared, primarily by deciding to "sing without a reason."
Dido-White Flag(up 1 position)
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.
Finger Eleven-One Thingbuy it!
Finger Eleven are a band from Burlington, Ontario, Canada whose music usually fits within the alt-metal category. They made their latest record with Disturbed producer Johnny K. Bands generally establish their cred with a few hard rock hits before they have their big rock ballad hit but Finger Eleven's first song to get substantial airplay is a "hold up your lighters" song. I'm not a big fan of rock ballads so I don't love One Thing, the single from Finger Eleven's self titled third CD. One Thing is very familiar resembling, among others, Poison's Every Rose Has Its Thorn. One Thing is too drab and earnest for me but it is an effective rock ballad. With a spare sound of spooky synths, simply whacked drums and sensitive acoustic guitar, One Thing has the emotional power people want. Scott Anderson's singing is a bit boring but very sincere. Considering the context, he and the song don't get too showy or emotive. I don't understand why rock fans are suckers for mushy, ultraserious ballads but they are and the sappy One Thing isn't the worst.
Story Of The Year-Until The Day I Diebuy it!
St. Louis' Story Of The Year are the latest success from the world of emo and screamo. Story Of The Year's debut Page Avenue CD was produced by Goldfinger's John Feldmann, who also produced the debut by screamo kings The Used. Until The Day I Die has a sweet lyric. Marsala vows that even if he sometimes hates her, he'll always be devoted to his love, he'll always "take the fall for you" and that if she died right row, he'd die too. Until The Day I Die strikes me more as worthy than actually enjoyable but there is a lot to like about it. Dan Marsala's screamed intensity is a little cliched. His endlessly full lunged, serious vocal gets a little boring. It could use a little variation besides an end of song howl which, having been done by so many bands, seems more inevitable than cathartic. Still, Marsala's passion feels very real and, if you let yourself get swept up, it can be invigorating. Until The Day I Die is well constructed. Until The Day I Die is energized by Josh Wills' good pounding drums, a nice repeated guitar riff on the verses and Ryan Phillips and Phillip Sneed's effective lattice of power chords and driving guitar riffs on the chorus. It has a good galloping, crunching finish. Until The Day I Die isn't startlingly novel but it is exciting, well played and charmingly sincere.