N Sync-Pop(down 3 positions)
Michael Jackson, The King Of Pop, seems to be an influence on Pop, the first single from the Celebrity CD, in both its hard edged dance music and its angry, fairly foolish lyrics. 'N Sync don't just want to sell a lot of records, they want respect. They sing about being "sick and tired of hearin' all these people talk about" their music "and when is it gonna fade out." They claim "what we're doing is not a trend/we got the gift of melody,we gonna bring it 'til the end." Pop doesn't have much gift of melody but it does work as a dance music. It has a cold but effective sound with sleek beats. The singing doesn't fare as well. N Sync don't have Jackson's ability to rise above harsh dance music. The stark production emphasizes the thin, processed feel of the vocals.
Jessica Simpson-Irresistible(up 8 positions)
Irresistible is terrible, even by teenpop standards. Irresistible, the title track from Simpson's new CD, is a rehash of songs that weren't so good the first time. The music is very synthetic synthy dance pop. On the verses, Simpson's voice has Britney's pinched, processed quality. On the chorus, Simpson tries, largely unsuccessfully, for a big Christina Aguilera sound while the music mimics Genie In A Bottle, even adding a touch of Latin guitar sound. On Irrestistible, Simpson is the swooning woman who's "weak with desire." I find the lyrics on the chorus unlistenably banal: "he's irresistible, up close and personal, now inescapable, I can hardly breathe."
The second single from the Awake CD is similar to the title track but even harsher and less appealing. Singer Sully Erna is a devout Wiccan and Greed has a bit of a spiritual sound but the song is just nasty, not exotic. The guitars thump and thud as Erna howls, "hey little bitch, be glad you finally walked away or you may have not lived another day." Amid the despicable misogyny we're supposed to empathize with Erna for feeling smothered and in need of help.
Sum 41-Fat Lip(up 1 position)
Fat Lip, from the All Killer No Filler CD, is fairly fun but totally derivative punky pop. Fat Lip alternates between an early Beasties style mix of rap and rock guitar and mindless power pop. The rhymes, like "I like songs with distortion, to drink in proportion, the doctor said my mom should have had an abortion", are cocky and dopey. With Deryck Whibley singing about being "sick of always hearing act your age" and of liking to have "fun at other people's expense", the other half of Fat Lip is basically a rehash of Blink 182's What's My Age Again. The song also throws in some lame rebellion("I'll never fall in line, become a victim of conformity") but the song's appeal comes from its fast, high spirited energy.
Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim, Mya & Pink-Lady Marmalade(down 15 positions)
As it did 25 years ago, Lady Marmalade brings to my mind a junior high school kid showing off naughty words she's learned to her friends in French class. The new version, from the soundtrack of the movie Moulin Rouge, closely tracks Labelle's original and is fairly pointless. It seems like the main purpose of the remake is to provide an excuse for its young singers to play dress up in a sexy video. The funk rock backing is fairly similar to the original's. Only Lil' Kim's good, tight rap adds something new. Her tough, bottom line attitude is far from the 70s record's romanticized tale of a prostitute who helps a guy have a brief, transcendental escape from "his gray flannel life." The production moves efficiently, giving each of the confident young women a chance in the spotlight. Mya is the least distinctive. Pink isn't the greatest singer, but she's self assured and full of personality. Christina Aguilera is typically showy and over the top.
Backstreet Boys-More Than That(down 2 positions)
More Than That has the trademark smooth sound of Backstreet Boys ballads like Shape Of My Heart, I Want It That Way and Show Me The Meaning Of Being Lonely. They play the supportive suitor, sensitive to the pain caused to a girl by a dishonest guy and promising not to repeat his mistakes. The Boys' solos are a little overwrought(especially on the video, as they grimace and pump their fists to show the intensity of their singing) but their harmonies come together very nicely on the chorus. More Than That is a quiet ballad that's a bit wimpy but has pretty good, minimal beats, acoustic guitar and keyboards.
City High-What Would You Do(up 4 positions)
Beyond the facts that their CD is on Wyclef Jean's label and coproduced by him and, like Lauryn Hill, they're from Jersey, comparisons with The Fugees are somewhat appropriate. City High's debut CD is very good, filled with easy grooves that make it a great summer record. They also show a little social consciousness on What Would You Do. What Would You Do, originally featured on the soundtrack to the movie Life, has a smooth feel and good beats. It has nice contrasts. Claudette Ortiz' fluid singing alternates with her bandmates' harder vocals. On What Would You Do, Ortiz plays a single mom explaining how a sad past and financial struggles led her to be a stripper/prostitute. The music toughens up in the song's middle as Robby Pardlo challenges her to "let go of every excuse."
Uncle Kracker-Follow Me(down 7 positions)
Uncle Kracker(aka Matt Shafer) was Kid Rock's DJ. He co-wrote some of the hits from Devil Without A Cause and Kid Rock produced Uncle Kracker's Double Wide CD. Sugar Ray lead singer Mark McGrath appears in the Follow Me video. Like Sugar Ray did on their pop hits Someday and Falls Apart, Uncle Kracker restrains his harder dance music instincts on Follow Me. Uncle Kracker seems more calculated and less sincere but Follow Me has an undeniable appeal. Follow Me has a doo wop feel and good, very minimal instrumentation from fingersnaps and light drumming and keyboards. Follow Me is pleasant and innocuous though its lyric is fairly annoying. Uncle Kracker tries to convince his girl that a lack of commitment is good("We'll be alright if you don't ask me to stay") and boasts, "I make you feel free" and"I can guarantee, you won't find nobody else like me."
311-You Wouldn't Believe(unchanged)
311 have maintained the same basic formula, mixing rock, ska and hip hop. You Wouldn't Believe, the first single off their From Chaos CD, sounds like Down, 311's commercial and artistic high point, and their other music, with Douglas Martinez' raps interspersed between Nick Hexum's crooned vocal lines. Still, You Wouldn't Believe, about a guy having a tough time after getting dumped, is a good example of the band's formula. It's enjoyable, with skittery, ska drums, and tough, with good guitars and a focused sound.
Lifehouse-Sick Cycle Carousel(down 2 positions)
Like on Hanging By A Moment, the megahit from Lifehouse's No Name Face CD, Jason Wade does a variation on Eddie Vedder and Creed's Scott Stapp without Vedder's substance but also lacking Stapp's pretension, as he sings about wanting to break a sick cycle. Wade is only 20 but he has that deep, serious, prematurely old voice that's been almost mandatory for rock singers of the last decade. He's also too young to be writing defeated lyrics like "if shame had a face, I think it would like mine." Sick Cycle Carousel's lofty, yearning chorus is like that of Pearl Jam or Live songs like Run To The Water or In Hiding without attaining the transcendence those bands can reach. Sick Cycle Carousel is earnest and pleasant sounding but not too interesting.
Pete Yorn-Life On A Chain(up 4 positions)
Pete Yorn falls somewhere in the folk rock category but his music is distinctive, with good rock energy. His Musicforthemorningafter is one of 2001's best debut CDs. Starting with Yorn's voice filtered, Life On A Chain has a good, light guitar sound and a simple, big beat. Yorn sounds a little like Eddie Vedder but he mostly sounds confident and cool, even as he sings about still feeling chained to the wife he threw away who was "the sunshine heading my front line."
Puddle Of Mudd-Controlbuy it!
Like Staind, Puddle Of Mudd are a Fred Durst discovery. With their familiar rock sound, Puddle Of Mudd should also have quite a bit of success, but unlike Staind, who have Aaron Lewis' distinctive folky sincerity, nothing distinguishes Puddle Of Mudd from the long list of intense rockers some white male teens can't get enough of. Puddle Of Mudd aren't as abhorrent as the worst angry rockers like Linkin Park, Godsmack and Disturbed but Contol is very routine with big guitars and vocals that yell to a girl about "the pain you place inside" and ask for release "from my dirty cage." Puddle Of Mudd sound like Saliva, Tantric and so many other bands.
Alien Ant Farm-Smooth Criminal(up 7 positions)
The second chart hit from the Anthology CD, a cover of a song from Michael Jackson's Bad record, is fairly ingenious. Alien Ant Farm took a catchy, edgy song and beefed it up. Terence Corso's guitar is particularly impressive, using the original's riff for a hard, compact guitar line. Jackson's paranoia is a natural fit with the harsh misogyny of much contemporary rock. Smooth Criminal is particularly nasty, about a guy who comes in the window of a woman's apartment and strikes her down, leaving "blood stains on the carpet" and the woman near death. Alien Ant Farm's Smooth Criminal grabs you with its striking, dark momentum and tight music but both the music and lyrics and pretty unpleasant.
Eve 6-Here's To The Night(unchanged)
It's a cliche of contemporary rock for an otherwise tough band to include a slow song or two on their CD in an attempt at pop success. Here's To The Night stands out jarringly among the otherwise tough, somewhat unpleasant rock songs on Eve 6's Horrorscope CD. With its strings and pleasant but empty pop sound, Here's To The Night probably fits more comfortably on pop or easy listening radio. It resembles an 80's rock ballad like John Waite's Missing You. Max Collins tries to sounds to like a sensitive male but the lyrics, like many of Horrorscope, are pretty backward about women. Collins tells the woman he lied to, "don't let me let you go."
O-Town-All Or Nothing(up 1 position)
It had been three months since there were any boy groups in the top 50 but the drought is over. 'N Sync, Backstreet Boys and O-Town all had song debuts in early June. O-Town are the ultimate in manufactured, commercial boy bands, having been put together for ABC's Making The Band. O-Town's lame first single Liquid Dreams, a bizarre story of a dream girl constructed from pieces of various celebrities, fell just short of the top 50. All Or Nothing, which is more standard teen pop about trying to convince a girl to forget another guy and concentrate on him, is clearly a hit even though it's also quite lame. All Or Nothing is modeled on songs by smooth young African American crooners like Boys II Men's I'll Make Love To You. It starts OK with piano and sincere singing and gets progressively more treacly with strings and very bland harmonies, ending like a bad version of Bryan Adams' Everything I Do.
Eve-Let Me Blow Ya Mind(up 3 positions)
Eve's two solo records have been huge sellers but Let Me Blow Ya Mind is her first pop radio hit. Like the songs on the Scorpion CD with Teena Marie and Bob Marley's kids, Let Me Blow Ya Mind matches Eve with a mellower performer. No Doubt's Return Of Saturn didn't do too well but Gwen Stefani is doing great as a supporting player, following her work on Moby's South Side with nice, playful harmonizing on Let Me Blow Ya Mind. Stefani and the easy music soften Eve's good but harsh rap, which boasts and disses, warning competitors that it takes "a lot more than you to get rid of me." Let Me Blow Ya Mind was produced by Dr. Dre. He uses a cartoonish synth like he did on his own records and on Eminem and Snoop Dogg's. Let Me Blow Ya Mind has a likable, smooth feel and a relaxed beat.
REM-Imitation Of Life(down 5 positions)
REM's days of huge success are behind them but they continue to make good music. Imitation Of Life, from the Reveal CD is the kind of reflective, modest and appealing midtempo rocker REM's done in recent years. It resembles Bittersweet Me, The Great Beyond, Man On The Moon and Texarkana. Peter Buck plays a guitar line so amiable that it's hard to believe the recent accusations of air rage. The synth solo is charmingly cheap sounding. Michael Stipe's vocals do as much as the lyrics at establishing empathy as he encourages someone to stop crying and be "what you could."
Pain is from Stereomud's Perfect Self CD. With its crunching guitar chords, anguished, yelled vocals and dark atmosphere provided by synth effects, Pain is by the numbers contemporary rock and a good example of what's wrong with rock radio. The lyrics are the same basic complaint of dozens of recent songs by angry young white guys, about being suffocated and controlled, presumably by a woman.
Disturbed-Down With The Sicknessbuy it!
Even in the over the top world of troubled contemporary rockers, Disturbed seem pretty silly. Down With The Sickness is the third chart hit from their The Sickness CD. Down With The Sickness has rumbling, hammering guitars and a menacing atmosphere but it's not quite as hard as Disturbed's previous rock radio hits. The music is kept quiet and slow so you can pick up the ridiculous, dark lyrics about "drowning in my deep sea of loathing" and waking "the demon in me." On the chorus, David Draiman does the same angry, stuttering yell he did on Stupify and Voices.
Nelly-Ride Wit Me(down 3 positions)
Nelly's second top 50 hit has his trademark easy flowing sound and fast, relaxed rap. Ride Wit Me is even smoother than Country Grammar's title track and has a good, likable feel except for the repeated dopey yells of "must be the money." Nelly tells us that now he's got the money everyone wants a piece of him. He can mock those who called him a failure with his dough and Benz. Ride Wit Me is another Nelly rap that's cocky and a little silly, celebrating getting high and girls glad to satisfy.
Drowning Pool-Bodiesbuy it!
Bodies is from Drowning Pool's Sinner CD. Bodies' sound is made for rock radio success. It's big and striking with a catchy chorus and an intense sound that mirrors its lyrics. Dave Williams, with his tough, attention grabbing wail, has more of a presence than many other troubled rockers around these days. Still Bodies, with its tale of a guy who "can't take much more" and decides to "let the bodies hit the floor", is really nasty stuff.
Afro Celt Sound System-When You're Falling(up 1 position)
Afro Celt Sound System was founded by Simon Emmerson, who brought in African and Irish musicians to experiment with different forms of rhythm based sounds. When You're Falling, from the group's third record Further In Time, features guest singer Peter Gabriel, a long time fan of world music. Nearly nine years after his last record, Us, it's nice to have Gabriel back on the radio, showing he doesn't have to be ponderous and overly serious when he's working with good material. Gabriel anchors When You're Falling with the same kind of passionate but controlled vocal he used for Biko, In Your Eyes and Come Talk To Me. The group's backing vocals, evocative, exotic percussion and string instruments create a joyful mood. When You're Falling is a tribute to woman who's "a fallen angel with your wings set in light."
Nelly Furtado-I'm Like A Bird(down 2 positions)
I'm Like A Bird, from the Canadian singer's Whoa Nelly! CD, sounds like a pop/easy listening hit but it also has a nice, trippy edge. Especially on the verses, the sound is cool and a little jazzy. Furtado's voice is loose and playful. The beat is chunky but the feel is appropriately light. The chorus, cushioned by backing vocals and synths, is more standard pop but Furtado keeps things buoyant and appealing. She sings that, even though she's in love, she's eventually going to have to move on.
Gorillaz-Clint Eastwoodbuy it!
Gorillaz is Blur's Damon Albarn's side project. Gorillaz is a pretty cool idea. Their self titled record provides the soundtrack to an alternative cartoon. On Clint Eastwood, the execution is pretty cool too. Clint Eastwood has a relaxed stroll of a groove, with atmospheric keyboards including a moody harmonica type effect. Albarn alternates vocals with a good, smooth rapper. In my mind, Albarn is the weak link on Clint Eastwood. His slacker vocals cross the line from cool to complacent and self satisfied.
Lucinda Williams' Essence CD doesn't have the detailed, evocative writing of her remarkable Car Wheels On A Gravel Road but it's not bad either. Similarly, the title track isn't quite as good as Change The Locks and Metal Firecracker, her moody masterpieces that it resembles, but it's good. Williams and her band hold back and go nice and slow, creating a good sexy edge. I find Williams' very simple rhymes too much like Dr. Seuss' Green Eggs And Ham but Williams effectively communicates a simple need for a love that's like a drug.