P. Diddy-I Need A Girl(down 3 positions)
I Need A Girl is from the P. Diddy & The Bad Boy Family CD. Rapping has never been P. Diddy's main talent. On I Need A Girl, the artist formerly known as Puff Daddy does a flat, speaking voice rap that's not particularly interesting or melodic. But I Need A Girl's draw is its content and P. Diddy's conversational style matches the lyric's confessional tone. It's fairly remarkable that P. Diddy, an extremely successful artist and entrepreneur who usually seems confident and in control, would present a slightly pathetic persona, worrying about women "usin' me" and pining for "a wife at home" "that could stand me" and "raise me a family." Even more striking is the verse regretting screwing up a relationship that closely resembles the one he had with Jennifer Lopez(he says it's not about J. Lo). He appreciates that she "took the whole ride for me" when "I caught a case" and regrets that because "I made her cry for me", she didn't stick around to have his child. I Need A Girl sounds like a lot of recent hits but it's a particularly enjoyable sounding version of a familiar formula. I Need A Girl has the lightweight but likably breezy sound of Usher's hits. Like songs including What's Luv and Ja Rule's hits, I Need A Girl matches a rough rapper with a much smoother singer. Usher provides a good vocal on the chorus. I Need A Girl splits vocals between P. Diddy, Usher and Loon but maintains a steady, relaxed groove, repeating a good, unobtrusive synth riff and beat.
System Of A Down-Aerials(unchanged)
I loved the frantic energy and tempo changes of Toxicity's first two chart hits: Chop Suey and the title track. Those eccentricities are missing from Aerials. With Daron Malakian's guitar alternating between forbidding picking on the verses and crunching chords on the chorus, Aerials has the more standard form of a song by Korn and Tool and so many other atmospheric rock bands. Still, Serj Tankian's intense, troubled croon unmistakably shows Aerials is a SOAD song. The guitars, Tankian's voice and eastern percussion effectively create a sinister tone. Tankian's typical bleak, enigmatic imagery depicts a surreal world of confused, cowardly and powerless people. He sings that we're "swimming through the void" and that we "always want to play" but "never want to lose" and suggests "when you lose small mind, you free your life." Aerials isn't my favorite System Of A Down but it is, like most of their music, more interesting than almost anything else out there.
Trust Company-Downfallbuy it!
Downfall, from the Montgomery, Alabama band's The Lonely Position Of Neutral CD, is quite ingenious. Like music by Korn, Tool, Deftones and so many others, it has intense atmosphere and a troubled, wailing singer. But Downfall also has a sleek, catchy chorus. Downfall hits both of its musical styles pretty well. The verse, with Kevin Palmer doing an agitated vocal over rumbling bass, is pretty routine but it gains impressive power as, just before it segues into the chorus, the guitars begin to hammer and Palmer howls 'fall". The chorus is striking with appealing harmonies layered over basic but effective hard rock guitars. The lyrics are fairly standard contemporary rock fare but Palmer's agitation seems real. He sings about being tormented by fear and of hiding a volatile "other side of me." Downfall is familiar, competent hard rock with a refreshing touch of distinctiveness.
Box Car Racer-I Feel So(unchanged)
The Box Car Racer CD is a side project for Tom DeLonge and Travis Barker, the guitar player and drummer from Blink 182. Box Car Racer's members also include guitarist Dave Kennedy and bass player Anthony Celestino but Box Car Racer is clearly DeLonge's show. I Feel So is like Stay Together For The Kids and other Blink work that contrasts the band's usual fast, stupid, youthful rock songs with mid tempo songs that have a kid's earnestness. Like on Stay Together, DeLonge yells the chorus. But he also sings a quieter verse like Mark Hoppus did on Stay Together. Because the Blink boys seem to have the potential to move beyond their fun but limited main style, I'm encouraged by a song like Adam's Song or I Feel So which shows signs of growth. I Feel So still rocks. It has a good, big guitar sound on the chorus and DeLonge does his trademark bratty vocal. But I Feel So also has a sweet, simple sincerity. DeLonge's ability to convey adolescent confusion is impressive. He sings about wishing he was a better person, apparently so he would be better equipped to deal with a troubled relationship.
Staind-For You(down 11 positions)
You'd figure that even Staind's biggest fans would have had enough of Aaron Lewis self pitying bleating by now. The fourth chart hit from Break The Cycle has harder guitars and drums than It's Been Awhile and some of the CD's other songs but it's mainly another showcase for Aaron Lewis' anguished vocal about the pain he feels. Lewis tells his parents how "your insults and your curses make me feel like I'm not a person" and demands that they "do something" about the fact that he feels "fucked up." As always, I don't doubt that Lewis hurts or begrudge his right to express his emotions. But since I'm not a troubled 14 year old boy, I'm just not that interested. And I find For You's uneasy combination of bombastic, grinding rock and Lewis' crooning even less musically interesting than most of Staind's work.
Ashanti-Foolish(down 5 positions)
Ashanti Douglas is a talented songwriter who's already played prominent vocal roles on other artists' hits. Ashanti's vocal is one of my favorite parts of Fat Joe's What's Luv? and Ja Rule's Always On Time but I'm disappointed by Foolish, the first hit from her self titled CD. Foolish, like the other hits she's sung on, is produced by Irv Gotti. I understand why Foolish is a hit. It has a smooth, uncluttered sound and a crisp, inobtrusive beat. While I find some of the vocal too thin and whispery, Ashanti's singing mostly goes down easy. Unlike What's Luv? and Always On Time, which throw in elements of everything from hard hip hop to smooth soul and catchy pop, Foolish seems to be missing something. I find the main ornamentation of Foolish, a piano riff and shimmering percussion effect, repetitious and uninteresting. Ashanti sings on Foolish that love keeps her running back to her man even though she knows he's "treatin' me so bad."
The Hives-Hate To Say I Told You So(up 8 positions)
Cutting away the fat that alternative rock has grown over the years, Swedish band The Hives act like it's still the late 70s and they've only just learned of the thrills of making fast, short rock songs with tight, hard guitar riffs. Hate To Say I Told You So sounds a little like songs by Black Crowes and Buckcherry and it also brings to mind other post punk songs like Blur's Song 2 and Sonic Youth's most compact work. But the most obvious influence seems to be The Stooges' Search And Destroy. Pelle Almqvist always comes across, in interviews, on stage and on record, as a very confident guy. He has no problem projecting Iggy Pop's in your face narcissism, singing about how he does "what I want 'cause I can" and how he wants to "be ignored by the stiff and the bored." Hate To Say I Told You So, which is featured on the Spider-man soundtrack as well as the band's Veni Vidi Vicious CD, recalls the thrill of simple, exciting punk inspired music.
Our Lady Peace-Somewhere Out There(down 1 position)
Seeking an American commercial breakthrough, Canada's Our Lady Peace move into Creed/Goo Goo Dolls/Aerosmith territory for a string laden rock ballad that sounds like a hit. Somewhere Out There, from the Gravity CD, isn't my favorite Our Lady Peace song(the less sweeping ballad Clumsy probably is), but I find it less annoying than some rock ballads. Our Lady Peace singer Raine Maida has always been a rather serious, intense fellow so it's less jarring than for someone like Steven Tyler to hear Maida shift into mellow mode. Maida's hoarse, yearning singing doesn't have Scott Stapp's self important vanity and Somewhere Out There's sound isn't as bloated as on Creed's hits. Still, Somewhere Out There loses out by following a pop formula. I like Somewhere Out There's heartfelt verses but the song's personal touch is steamrollered when the big guitars and heavy orchestration come in. Somewhere Out There is about waiting "on a bed of nails" for the return of an old flame who transcended a feeling of being "lonely and out of place" by moving on to a new life.
Jennifer Lopez featuring Nas-I'm Gonna Be Alright(up 1 position)
I'm Gonna Be Alright is another song that originally appeared on the J. Lo CD and reemerged in a significantly different form on the J To Tha L-O remix CD. The I'm Gonna Be Alright remix doesn't have the same pared down sound as the I'm Real and Ain't It Funny remixes but it does share the enjoyably laid back feel of those songs. The new mix of I'm Gonna Be Alright, like other J. Lo hits, is careful not to put too much focus on Lopez' thin, modest vocal. I'm Gonna Be Alright gets off to a good start with a strong, tough rap from remix veteran Nas(another remix with a more brittle beat and a more basic rap by 50 Cent isn't bad either). As on Ain't It Funny and Love Don't Cost A Thing, backup vocalists do much of the singing. Lopez' conversational voice humanizes the song and matches the song's deliberate, easy pace. I'm Gonna Be Alright is inconsequential dance pop but it's well made and nicely relaxed with a smooth bass dominated groove. After seeming to teasingly agree on the Ain't It Funny remix to the "you blew your chance when you had it" sentiment of P. Diddy's I Need A Girl, Lopez isn't as hard on I'm Gonna Be Alright's ex-boyfriend. Nas plays a jerk who reminds her of all the things he did for her but Lopez shows regret about leaving someone she still loves.
DJ Sammy & Yanou-Heaven(up 7 positions)
Heaven is quite a stupid song. At least, unlike Bryan Adams' soaring, bloated original, the new version doesn't have any pretentions of meaning. Adams' stream of cliches("you're all that I want", "we were young and wild and free", "nothing can take you away from me" and "through the good times and the bad, I'll be standing there by you") glide by easily. With a familiar melody, a big, obvious beat and lyrics that can be understood by people for whom English is a second language, Heaven has all the hallmarks of an international dance pop hit. Apparently, DJ Sammy is a Spanish mixmaster/producer who worked on Heaven with Dutch singer Do. With its frantic, eager to please beat, Heaven sounds more suited to a high impact aerobics class than a dance club. But Heaven's upbeat tone and high energy techno synths undoubtedly get people on the dance floor.
Counting Crows-American Girls(unchanged)
American Girls is from Counting Crows' fourth studio record Hard Candy. Sheryl Crow sings harmonies on American Girls. Adam Duritz doesn't sing about what SPF he's using but American Girls, like Soak Up The Sun's, intentionally loosens things up and achieves a fun, summery feel. American Girls resembles previous good midtempo Crows songs like Rain King and Have You Seen Me Lately, with a little less rock heft than those songs. American Girls maintains its energy and buoyancy thanks largely to a good, driving beat and a nicely uncoiled guitar riff. Duritz can't help but show a little narcissism but American Girls avoids the heaviness of a lot of Counting Crows' music. Not surprisingly, the song's frothy tribute to how American Girls make "me feel so incredible" is largely ironic. American Girls bemoans the bad luck of meeting an emotionally fragile woman who leaves, taking "almost every thing from me." The lyric's unhappy ending doesn't negate the music's enjoyable, if slight, appeal.
Fat Joe featuring Ashanti-What's Luv?(down 3 positions)
What's Luv is the first mainstream hit for South Bronx native Joseph Cartagena. Fat Joe, like Ja Rule before him, has made the pop charts by placing his rough voice into a light hip hop setting. What's Luv is laid back and slight like Ja Rule's hits and perhaps even more engaging. What's Luv sounds like Ja Rule's Always On Time and the remixes of J. Lo's I'm Real and Always On Time, which is not surprising, considering that many of the same people were involved in making each record. Fat Joe's voice isn't polished but his parts are wrapped with a relaxed beat in a catchy, bubbly synth riff and surrounded by choruses with Ashanti's ultrasweet singing and Ja Rule's distinctively cocky voice. What's Luv's lyric doesn't say much beyond it's what's love got to do with it(as long as we trust each other) chorus. Fat Joe tells us he doesn't care if you've got a man or whether you're "the office type or like to strip" as long as you have "thick hips" and don't "talk too much." What's Luv is from Fat Joe's Jealous One Still Envy CD(his 1997 CD was called Jealous Ones Envy so he presumably will eventually get around to a CD called something like Jealous Ones Still Envy my Phat Heaviness).
Michelle Branch-All You Wanted(down 1 position)
I assume that a large number of Michelle Branch's fans are girls in their early teens who have outgrown or are too cool for Britney or Christina. Branch's songs have the feel of schoolgirl poetry and are probably heavily influenced by Alanis and Jewel's youthful, searching and intense work. All You Wanted doesn't have the rocking energy of Everywhere, the first hit from Branch's Spirit Room CD, but it has a similar sincere charm. Branch isn't a great singer but her voice has an open, innocent appeal. All You Wanted's music, with a steady, perky beat and good sprinklings of rock guitar is simple, modest and likable. All You Wanted is a sweet story of volunteering to "save" someone who seemed to have everything together but needs "someone to show you the way."
The first two singles from the San Diego band's Satellite CD described religious rebirth and a school shooting. P.O.D's third chart hit has a more standard topic for a rock rap song: celebrating and bragging about the band's success in rocking "the masses". Because it's less about the meaningfulness of Sonny Sandoval's pronouncements and more about the music and because it rocks harder, I don't dislike Boom as much as Alive and Youth Of The Nation. I still find Sandoval quite annoying. Boom sounds like lots of songs that mix hip hop and hard rock. At its best, it has the hard, no nonsense edge of Rage Against The Machine. At its worst(when Sandoval chuckles "is that all you got? I'll take your best shot."), it has Limp Bizkit's silly narcissism. Marcos Curiel creates a good, big guitar sound. In parts, Sandoval's rapping is tough and not bad. In other parts, he's just obnoxious.
Nickelback-Too Bad(down 19 positions)
When How You Remind Me moved to the top of the pop charts, rock and alternative radio began to move on to a second song from the Silver Side Up CD. Too Bad alternates between mellow but dramatic verses and choruses with catchy rock guitar strumming. As on How You Remind Me, Chad Kroeger's vocals are heartfelt and the pain he describes is surely real. While he's not quite as self pitying as his trouble young white male rock contemporaries, Kroeger is very humorless and a little self important. Too Bad is serious, intense and well made but it doesn't have the mastery of Nirvana style rock dynamics that How You Remind Me, with its irresistable "Yeah"s and pounding power chords on the chorus, did. Too Bad is about dealing with feelings about the father who abandoned his family, leaving them "just trying to keep clothing on our backs."
Unwritten Law-Seein' Red(down 17 positions)
Unwritten Law's Elva CD is mostly fast, youthful, good natured, lightweight hip hop informed Sum 41 style hard rock. Seein' Red is not characteristic of the rest of the CD but it's not surprising that it's the song getting the record company push. Seein' Red is a sensitive rocker that fits solidly within the Staind/Nickelback model of what radio wants to play. Seein' Red is painfully predictable, following the standard pattern of meaningful, restrained verses that explode into hard rocking choruses. Over quiet guitar picking, Scott Russo does an earnest vocal. Seein' Red's "follow the leader" chorus is catchy. I like the scratchy little riff between the power chords. But the song keeps coming back to the crappy verse. A boring, cliched guitar solo doesn't help things either. Seein' Red is about Russo's anger at foolish lies he's been told. He alternates between mocking and giving someone a last chance to choose to make a relationship work.
System Of A Down-Toxicity(down 1 position)
It's probably not the main effect they're shooting for but I like System Of A Down because they're fun. Their powerful music and Serj Tankian's singing can shift in a moment from thoughtful to manic, creating an unpredictability that's nearly absent in contemporary rock. Toxicity's verses, with forboding guitar and Serj's brooding vocal, explode into choruses of Serj's rant and big guitars and drums. As Toxicity, the title track and second hit from the band's latest CD, reaches its conclusion, it becomes even more chaotic, finishing with fast hardcore style thrashing guitar and drums and Serj's bizarre chant: "when I became the sun, I shone life into the man's heart." I like System Of A Down's passion and the fact that their songs are about more than their petty personal problems. I'm not exactly sure what Toxicity is about but I guess it has something to do with capitalism and the fact that even if big business thinks it owns and can ruin the world it can't control the world's natural disorder.
Pink-Just Like A Pill(up 7 positions)
When M!ssundaztood came out Pink, aided by the music press, put out the idea that the CD was a bold, rocking work that declared her freedom from record company people forcing her to make calculated, radio friendly music. Get The Party Started, M!ssundaztood's first single, still sounds great and exciting but Pink's subsequent singles have seemed more calculated for radio play than bold and rocking. Just Like A Pill, like Don't Let Me Get Me, was cowritten, arranged and produced by Dallas Austin, a veteran hitmaker for TLC, Boys II Men and Madonna. It has a slick, well made sound with layers of synths and percussion, a sturdy beat and power pop guitars. Just Like A Pill reminds me of another mature, well constructed hit: Sophie B. Hawkins' Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover. Just Like A Pill isn't exciting but it has a good, dense sound. Just Like A Pill's lyrics don't get much more specific than repeatedly stating that instead of making her feel better, her boyfriend keeps "makin' me ill."
Pink-Don't Let Me Get Me(down 6 positions)
The former Alicia Moore tells us on Don't Let Me Get Me that since school, when she dated teachers and got into fights, she's done things that get her in trouble and make her hate herself. The context of the song is Pink's decision to toss the sleek dance pop sound of her Can't Take Me Home CD for the more rocking arrangements on Missundaztood. Pink seems genuinely conflicted. She knows that slick music and marketing made her a star and sounds genuine as she refers admiringly to Britney("she's so pretty"). Still, she resents the advice of Arista exec LA Reid to change "everything you are" and finds the music that made her successful irritating. Don't Let Me Get Me also avoids the calculated, synthetic sound of her first CD's hits but it isn't as striking a departure as the buoyant, raucous B-52's influenced Get The Party Started. Pink and her Missundaztood collaborator ex 4 Non Blonde Linda Perry have constructed a song with a pleasant, adult sound. Especially towards its end, when a yearning guitar kicks in, Don't Let Me Get Me reminds me of Natalie Imbruglia's Torn. Its crisp if unexciting beat and compact synth riff also brings to mind the kind of restrained synth pop hit that was common in the mid 80s.
Norah Jones-Don't Know Why(unchanged)
Come Away With Me is the debut CD by 23 year old Norah Jones, who is sitar legend Ravi Shankar's daughter but was raised in Texas by her mom. Come Away With Me has justifiably become a yuppie and boomer favorite. Like Cassandra Wilson, Jones starts from a jazz background but plays songs that can be categorized as folk, r&b and pop. Jones' voice even resembles that of country pop singer Shelby Lynne. Don't Know Why is a good showcase of Jones' unshowy but sultry charm. On Don't Know Why, Jones' voice is appealingly yearning and delicate. Jones' piano and rhythm section are easy and inobtrusive, adding to the song's understated poignance. Don't Know Why, written by Jones' guitar player Jesse Harris, has a classic simplicity. Jones sings that, while it makes her feel teary, empty and needing wine, she has to stay away from a guy who has never run to her.
Craig David-Walking Away(down 2 positions)
Craig David has come close to replicating in the U.S. the huge success he's had in England. Walking Away is the third single from the Born To Do It CD he made when he was 19. Walking Away, like David's first two hits, has an appeal that's modest at best. David seems like an unremarkable rehash of relaxed American R&B singers. My favorite part of Walking Away is the riff taken from U2's One, which gives the rather bland song most of the flavor it has. But Walking Away does what it's supposed to. It's a smooth, soothing ballad, with a steady, decent beat, that's softened further by strings. David's singing isn't amazing but it's genial. He doesn't have that annoying cockiness he had on his first two hits. David sings on Walking Away about leaving a woman who was too prone to fight and listen to gossip about him.
Trey Anastasio-Alive Again(down 1 position)
While Phish is on hiatus, frontman Trey Anastasio has worked on a number of projects. Alive Again is from Anastasio's self titled debut solo record. While Phish has been around for more than a decade and have a huge following, they still seem to work in Grateful Dead's shadow. Alive Again isn't Anastasio's most Dead-like work but it does stay within the format of starting with a fairly simple song then letting bandmembers riff around. Still, Anastasio has made a move away from The Dead and Phish with the jazzy flavor of his solo work. Alive Again is fairly slight but it has a very good, cool mood and strong playing. Alive Again maintains a very appealing, relaxed sound with steady, atmospheric percussion, a big horn sound and Anastasio's likably unassuming singing and guitar playing. On Alive Again, Anastasio asks for a "review" and some signs of action from someone waiting on the fence, hoping to feel alive again.
Moby-We Are All Made Of Stars(unchanged)
Moby's new CD is called 18, reportedly because the songs are based on music Moby was listening to in the early 80's when he was that age. You have to go back a few years earlier to We Are All Made Of Stars's most obvious influence: David Bowie's 70's work; most specifically Heroes. We Are All Made Of Stars has Heroes' patient pace and soaring guitar line. As on Heroes, an icy musical atmosphere contradicts the lyrics' optimism. In a distanced, filtered voice, Moby sings about being part of an unstoppable, growing movement that heralds the future. We Are All Made Of Stars also brings to mind Bowie's Starman, futuristic synth songs like Gary Numan's Cars and Porcelain from Moby's great 1999 Play CD. Nothing about We Are All Made Of Stars quite strikes me like the "this is goodbye"s of Porcelain's stark masterpiece of a dream evocation and the music isn't as original as on many of Play's brilliant constructions. Still, I find We Are All Made Of Stars' contrast between cold, synthetic verses and a warmer chorus, where Moby's earnest vocal overcomes the dark, mechanical mood, compelling and moving.
The Vines-Get Freebuy it!
Get Free is from the Highly Evolved CD by the young band from Sydney, Australia. With a screaming lead singer and a basic, hard rocking sound, The Vines have a surface resemblance to another hot band from overseas: The Hives. While The Hives' Howlin' Pelle Almqvist goofs around and has fun, Vines frontman Craig Nicholls is very serious about his music. He openly emulates hero Kurt Cobain, especially in the band's older songs. The Highly Evolved CD also has songs similar to those of dreamier British bands like Coldplay and Doves but Get Free's Nirvana influence is clear. It reminds me of Breed, Stay Away and Scentless Apprentice as well as Big Bang Baby by fellow Nirvana fans Stone Temple Pilots. Get Free gets simple, exciting energy from Nicholls' unhinged yell, a slicing guitar line and a good, driving beat. On Get Free, Nicholls rages and drops fragments of desperation: "I'm gonna get free, right into the sun", "she never loved me, why should anyone?", "you know you're really alone" and "save me from here."
New Found Glory-My Friends Over Youbuy it!
The demand for fun, dopey, poppy guitar rock continues. Coral Springs, Florida's New Found Glory broke through with the fun, simple Hit Or Miss and have a similarly basic sound on My Friends Over You, the first single from the Sticks and Stones CD. My Friends Over You is like a less obnoxious version of SR-71's Right Now and it's not that far from Sum 41 or Blink 182. My Friends Over You is catchy and likable. It has a fairly clear sound, a positive feel and a restrained pace for a rocker. Chad Gilbert and Steve Klein create a good, varied guitar sound with crunching chords on the verses and a good hook on the chorus. Jordan Pundik's vocal isn't particularly impressive but at least it's unpretentious. Klein's lyrics apologize for leading a girl on but tell her their history makes it clear she's not worth as much as his friendships.