Dave Matthews Band-Everyday(unchanged)
The Dave Matthews Band's Everyday CD isn't great but it does have quite a few decent ballads. The best ones keep things simple and relaxed. Everyday's title track is probably the best song on the record. Vocals by South African singer Vusi Mahlasela help create a joyful feel. Everyday shows off the band's strong musicianship. Backing vocals, guitar, horns and Carter Beauford's drums all contribute to Everday's light and playful but rich sound. Everyday's "all you need is love" refrain is nothing new but it fits a song about reducing things to the basics that advises us to "get your hands dirty" and seek love.
Incubus-Wish You Were Here(down 11 positions)
Incubus follow their mellow megasuccess Drive with a song reminiscent of Make Yourself's other singles. Wish You Were Here, the first single from the Morning View CD, has Pardon Me's record scratching and Stellar's spacy atmosphere. As on Drive, the lyrics show a sincere, slightly sappy, decency. Brandon Boyd sings about being in an idyllic setting. The you he wishes were here are apparently extraterrestrials. Wish You Were Here is good sounding, if unremarkable. Big guitars beef up a basically poppy song.
Starsailor-Good Souls(up 8 positions)
You'd figure that the last thing the world needs is another British band doing restrained, atmospheric versions of middle period Radiohead songs. On Good Souls, from the Love Is Here CD, Starsailor seem even more sensitive than the recent bands(Coldplay, Travis and especially Doves) they resemble, if that's possible. James Walsh's painfully earnest, quavery vocal and his timid lyric, telling us he feels "sick after every meal" and crying out "I need to be loved" are a tad too precious. I still like Good Souls. Walsh's open, idealistic voice is compelling and well matched by Good Soul's dense but soaring keyboard propelled sound.
Mary J. Blige-No More Drama(up 6 positions)
Mary J. Blige follows the very fun, relaxed Family Affair with a much more serious statement of purpose.Your opinion of the second hit and title track from Blige's No More Drama CD has to be depend on how interesting a character you find Blige. Blige mocks her often overly dramatic, confrontational image by using the theme from The Young and The Restless soap opera as a base but it doesn't change the fact that No More Drama is heavy stuff that uses a melodramatic sound to declare an end to a dramatic life. Blige's vocal, as usual, is strong and compelling but, especially at the end when the otherwise minimal sound swells and she and backing singers try to outdo each other, her singing verges on emoting. Blige rues the lesson learned from having her heart broken and, using the power of positive thinking, pledges to never cry again, vowing: "I choose to win."
Ja Rule-Always On Time(unchanged)
Jeff Atkins is ubiquitous these days. While Livin' It Up was still on the chart, Always On Time, the third chart hit from his Pain Is Love, crossed over from the R&B charts to the pop charts. Like Livin' It Up, Always On Time is lightweight and enjoyable. Ja Rule's rough vocal is again matched with a much more melodic voice. The music is easy and enjoyable with a relaxed beat, a good guitar riff and sweet vocals from Ashanti and background singers. Always On Time is pretty stupid, bragging about Ja Rule's talent as a lover("I got two hoes" "and I keep 'em drugged up off that ecstasy") while he apologizes for behavior that led to restraining orders and asks for another chance. Ja Rule's rapping skills are little more than competent but he and producer Irv Gotti have hit upon a successful formula. His voice adds edge but doesn't overpower his smooth, tuneful music.
Chris Isaak-Let Me Down Easy(unchanged)
While Chris Isaak seems like a mellow guy, he obviously has savvy businessmen behind him. In January, Isaak achieved big time synergy as, nearly simultaneously with the release of Isaak's new Always Got Tonight CD, Showtime began the second season of Isaak's genial, slight rock sitcom and VH1 played a marathon of the show's first season. In 1985, Isaak came on the scene with his spare, haunted, Roy Orbison influenced Silvertone record. Since then, Isaak has mostly omitted the raw, stark feel but, especially since Wicked Game gave him his one big hit, otherwise continued to make the same kind of moody, adult, country flavored records. Isaak's songs often involve Isaak getting his heart broken and/or being haunted by the memory of the ideal woman who left. While Isaak's music is predictable and a little too smooth, it's still good. His songs are well played and have good atmosphere. Isaak's vocals are cool and self confident with a self deprecating charm that also suits him well(despite minimal acting skills) on his sitcom. Let Me Down Easy is similar to Somebody's Crying and other mellow midtempo Isaak songs but it's likable. Let Me Down Easy has a mechanical beat but it has a good ringing guitar riff. On Let Me Down Easy, Isaak again broods about falling hard for a woman who doesn't reciprocate his feelings.
Godsmack-I Stand Alonebuy it!
I Stand Alone is from the soundtrack of the The Rock's film vehicle The Scorpion King. I don't hate I Stand Alone quite as much as some of the Godsmack music I've had to review over the last couple years. That's doesn't say much since their songs have been among my least favorite in the top 50. I Stand Alone is slower and less dense than some of Godsmack's music but, with a grinding guitar and a melody somewhat like Alive's, it's still pretty heavy and dark. I Stand Alone gives us another view of Sully Erna's nasty, paranoid worldview which places him alone among people trying to "take me down." On I Stand Alone, Erna howls a warning that he'll "break" someone who wants to "control me".
Girlfriend, the third single from N Sync's Celebrity record is my favorite from the record so far. On Girlfriend, the boys worked with very busy producers The Neptunes. Partly because N Sync are better singers, Girlfriend is more enjoyable than Britney Spears' I'm A Slave For You, which was a mess despite a striking, good Neptunes production. With a good borrowed riff and a light, steady beat, Girlfriend has a relaxed, breezy feel. N Sync's harmonies are impressive and fit nicely with the easy mood. N Sync's chief hunk Justin Timberlake, who wrote Girlfriend with The Neptunes, plays a guy trying to convince a girl that while the boy she's likes "doesn't even know you're there", he'll "treat you good." The lyrics are typical boy band fodder but neither they nor some silly whispered interjections negate Girlfriend's charm.
Leann Rimes-Can't Fight The Moonlight(unchanged)
At 19, Leann Rimes apparently is no longer satisfied being America's innocent sweetheart. With a mature look on the cover of her I Need You CD and Can't Fight The Moonlight's synthetic dance pop production, Rimes is clearly pushing for a piece of Britney and Christina's audience. She's probably succeeded with a fairly state of the art sound but Can't Fight The Moonlight is so uninteresting and unoriginal that it makes a song like Genie In A Bottle seem remarkably loose and fresh in comparison. Can't Fight The Moonlight's drum machines sound particularly recycled. The song uses the same kind of latin guitar that's shown up on songs by at least half of the dance pop artists of the last few years. In the past, Rimes has shown signs of a decent voice but here her voice is processed to fit the beat to the point where she could be J. Lo or a lesser Aguilera. Rimes played it safe for I Need You's first single, using a song written by Diane Warren, who wrote Rimes' biggest hit How Do I Live and assembly line hits like Starship's Nothing Gonna Stop Us Now and Aerosmith's I Don't Want To Miss A Thing and tends to sprinkle her songs with cliches. Can't Fight The Moonlight, with lines promising "there's no escaping love" and "we'll be lost in the rhythm so right, it will steal your heart tonight", couldn't have taken more than a few minutes for Warren to throw together.
Course Of Nature-Caught In The Sunbuy it!
It usually takes a few records for a hard rock band to go for the big bucks with a lame power ballad. But, consistent with the ever more commercially savvy nature of contemporary rock, Alabama's otherwise tough rockers Course Of Nature introduce themselves to the world with an overblown, sappy hit. Caught In The Sun, from the Superkala CD, resembles Goo Goo Dolls' Black Balloon but it outdoes even the Goo Goos' most overproduced work. Caught In The Sun makes its intentions clear from the start with Mark Wilkerson's emotive singing and a big orchestral sound ladled over sensitive guitar and bass. Predictably, power guitar chords come in on the chorus to show Caught In The Sun's rock cred but they're restrained so that top 40 audiences won't be scared away. On Caught In The Sun,Wikerson muses about how he easily could never have met the woman he's separated from and obsessed with.
Lenny Kravitz-Stillness Of Heart(up 14 positions)
Dig In, the first single from the Lenny CD, showed a side of Lenny Kravitz that he hadn't shown much before. Dig In was a light, fun rocker that lacked the heavy attitude than often drags down Kravitz' music. Stillness Of Heart doesn't have Dig In's lightness and excitement but it's still a good, if not great, second single. Stillness Of Heart's melody is very similar to that of his second to last hit: Again. Stillness Of Heart achieves a good edge by holding back and going nice and slow. Heavy bass and drums create a good, slow jam on the verses and are joined on the chorus by a solid, steady guitar strum. Unlike Dig In, Stillness Of Heart doesn't really sound like a hit. Nothing really happens. It's got a good atmosphere but doesn't grab you. Kravitz' typically complacent vocal doesn't help. On Stillness Of Heart, Kravitz sings about trying to calm and center himself so that he can move on after a tough romantic experience. I'm not questioning Kravitz' pain but his way of expressing it is hardly great poetry. This is the second verse: "I got more than I can eat, a life that can't be beat/yet still I feel this heat, I'm feeling incomplete/What am I buying, my soul is crying."
Shakira-Whenever Wherever(down 9 positions)
Colombian soap opera and pop music star Shakira learned English before she wrote and sung the Laundry Service CD. She's charming, pinching or stretching out words and giving them novel pronounciations. The lyrics, about being willing to travel the globe to keep a relationship going with a distant lover, including "lucky my breasts are small and humble so you don't confuse them with mountains", often have a goofy charm. Otherwise, Whenever Wherever has the charms and annoyances of much mainstream Latin pop. Whenever Wherever has a broad, fakey sound and a repetitive beat. It also has the genre's big, loose charm. Shakira's voice is theatrical and slightly hysterical. A pan flute sound supplies an exotic touch.
Enrique Iglesias-Escapebuy it!
Enrique Iglesias follows the big, empty soaring ballad Hero with an empty, generic dance pop song. Iglesias' American success is apparently attributable to his genial, unchallenging music and exotic hunkiness. The video for the title track and second single from Iglesias' Escape CD emphasizes Iglesias' looks by pairing him with exotic babe Anna Kournikova. Escape is pleasant enough but it basically has no personality. Escape has a decent if familiar guitar riff but also has an uninteresting, very programmed beat and innocuous synth sounds. Like on most of his English language work, Iglesias doesn't sound completely comfortable. He seems handcuffed by the tight, synthetic production and tentative in some of his English pronounciations. I do like the end of Escape when Iglesias gets a rare chance to let loose with a falsetto repeating "you can run." Iglesias predicts on Escape that, even if she leaves now, his partner will want to come back to a relationship that "was good, it was bad but it was real."
Mary J. Blige-Family Affair(down 1 position)
Family Affair, from Blige's No More Drama CD, is Blige's biggest pop hit so far and it deserves its success. It has one of the best grooves of the year. Dr Dre's production is quite brilliant. The music, with an easy, shuffling beat and good backing vocals and keyboards, is relaxed but substantial. Blige has established a "don't mess with me" image but on Family Affair she sounds like she's having a good time, advising us to "leave your situations at the door" and "get it crunk", which apparently has something to do with dancing and having fun. Blige's vocal skills are on display as she smoothly scats around the beat.
Train-She's On Firebuy it!
She's On Fire is the third chart hit from the Drops Of Jupiter CD by genial San Francisco yuppie rockers Train. She's On Fire has Train's usual smooth, likable sound. It has good, easy boogie guitar lines. But She's On Fire is even more lightweight and insignificant than most of their work. She's On Fire sounds a little like Train's breakthrough hit Meet Virginia without that song's leisurely, quirky charm. She's On Fire also has less detail about the song's object of affection than Meet Virginia. On She's On Fire, Train just want to keep getting back to the innocuous chorus. Pat Monahan's vocal is typically pleasant but a little bland as he sings about a woman who "is truly fine to see" and "is surely blinding" to be.
System Of A Down-Toxicity(up 4 positions)
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.
Trik Turner-Friends And Family (unchanged)
Friends and Family, from the Phoenix band's self titled CD, is similar to Everlast's hits in using a spare sound for a very serious, heartfelt account. You can't argue with the song's premise that what really matters is the love of your friends and family though that message is surrounded by less appealing lines about keeping a(presumably musical) dream alive by overcoming the odds and those who criticize. Friends And Family has a striking, atmospheric sound, with a simple beat and minimal keyboards. But, especially after repeat listens, I find the song too solemn and, while it sounds like it's about something important, it's not actually that interesting.
U2-In A Little While(unchanged)
The songs on U2's All That You Can't Leave Behind took on greater meaning after September 11th. Their empathetic, hopeful feeling seemed perfect for the times. U2 picked a great to move away from the ironic, superficial songs that characterized much of their 90s work and combine the hopefulness of their earlier work with a modesty appropriate for guys who've been around long enough to know that goals aren't always easily met. The singles from All You Can't Leave Behind have been big anthems but the CD also has good quiet songs like the simply idealistic Peace On Earth and the playful Wild Honey. In A Little While, the CD's fifth song to make the top 50, is a rich love song with a timeless quality. Brian End added subtle strings to The Edge's good, basic guitar riff. Bono remarkably kept his enormous ego in check nearly throughout All That You Can't Leave Behind. He's very sweet on In A Little While, promising a longtime friend "surely you'll be mine."
Pete Yorn-Strange Condition(up 3 positions)
The New Jersey native/LA resident singer and songwriter's following continues to slowly grow. His debut CD is still getting radio play nearly a year after its release. In my mind, Bob Dylan's Love and Theft is the only 2001 rock CD that's better than Yorn's Musicforthemorningafter and The Strokes' Is This It is the only other one that might be as good. The CD has consistently strong songs: great, fun rockers and cool, brooding ballads. Brad Wood, who produced and played on records for Liz Phair, played a similar role for Yorn, another striking, confident young talent. Music . . . was apparently a low budget production but the songs are carefully constructed with layers of instruments, giving even the quietest songs a likable, textured feeling. Strange Condition follows Life On A Chain as Yorn's second chart hit(For Nancy fell just short of the top 50). R Walt Vincent's harmonica, layered over Yorn's acoustic guitar, contributes to a good, moody feel. Yorn is cool, as always, playing a tortured soul on Strange Condition.
X Ecutioners-It's Going Downbuy it!
It's Going Down is from the Built From Scratch CD by New York turntable experts X Ecutioners. X Ecutioners have worked with a number of guest vocalists and musicians. It's Going Down features rapper Mike Shinoda and DJ Joseph Hahn from Linkin Park. It's Going Down sounds like a good Linkin Park song. The absence of Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington is a plus in my mind. Bennington's angry wail is undoubtedly a big part of Linkin Park's huge success but I mostly find it unpleasant. X Ecutioners have laid down a tight mix with a good, hard sound. Working with a tough guitar riff, solid beats, samples, record scratching and Shinoda's rap, they've created a no nonsense collage of sound that keeps coming. It's Going Down is about how the song's "audible odyssey" "reflects the complex hybrid dialect" and "melting pot of a super futuresque style." Raps bragging about the originality of a musical style are nothing new but It's Going Down's lyric, like the song itself, is solid and unpretentious.
Adema-The Way You Like It(unchanged)
The Way You Like It is the second single from Adema's self titled CD. Adema is perhaps the best example of what's wrong with today's mainstream rock. They inspired a bidding was among record labels, presumably partly because Adema's singer Mark Chavez is the half brother of Korn front man Jonathan Davis and partly because they sound so much like other bands that have had big record sales. There is a similarity between Korn and Adema in the way they try to mix hard rock guitar and synths to create a meaningful atmosphere. The difference between them is that Korn sometimes actually achieves real meaning while Adema's music is garbage that resembles more meaningful work. With a high pitched, spooky riff, The Way You Like It tells us from the start that it's grasping for significance. But even more than Adema's first single Giving In, which at least had an interesting topic(an alcoholic's inabiliy to avoid self destruction), The Way You Like It has a dark surface but no substance. On The Way You Like It, Chavez is apparently already complaining about how fame attracts fake friends and nasty gossip. Adema partly resemble Linkin Park, whose angry hard rock Hybrid Theory CD was the biggest selling CD of 2001(how 'bout that for a depressing sign of the times). But Adema doesn't have Linkin Park's hip hip fluidity. The only thing vaguely hip hop about The Way You Like It is its complaint about player hating. The Way You Like It's crunching guitar and Chavez' staccato, often yelled, vocal are hostile enough to make it on rock radio but it's not good or interesting.
System Of A Down-Chop Suey(down 8 positions)
Finally, after so many serious, self pitying, soundalike bands have dominated rock radio, a hard rock band has a hit that sounds different and shows a sense of humor. With tough guitars and hardcore fast drums, Chop Suey, from the Toxicity CD, has the chops necessary to keep the headbangers happy but it's also refreshingly weird. Serj Tankian's over the top vocal takes Chop Suey all over the map, starting as a punk rant, slowing down for a meaningful croon that may be mocking his self important contemporaries("I don't think you trust in my self righteous suicide") and eventually shifting to a spacy, gothic conclusion.
City High-Caramel(down 7 positions)
With its provocative justification of prostitution as a way to support a family and its smart, sleek sound, What Would You Do was a striking debut from City High's self titled CD. Their second chart hit Caramel is O.K. but less interesting lyrically and musically. While similar to other recent music, Caramel's music isn't bad. It's smooth, mellow hip hop with Claudette Ortiz' appealing vocal, a good, uncluttered sound and a crisp, restrained beat. The lyrics are pretty dopey. It starts with Ortiz' self satisfied description of herself. We learn that she likes "going out, taking walks and stuff", has everything she wants and(exactly like Mya on her 2000 hit Free) is happy being "5'5" with brown eyes." Then comes an even stupider section where one of City High's male singers invites a girl to "spend the night popping" champagne in the hot tub. On the remixed single, guest rapper Eve lifts the song from its complacency with a good, feisty rap, telling us she's not about "gift chasin'" and not impressed with champagne poppin'.
John Mayer-No Such Thing(down 1 position)
With its very mild sense of rebellion and Mayer's pleasant, modest vocals No Such Thing, from the Room For Squares CD, is perfectly designed for adult contemporary radio. No Such Thing reminds me of previous well made, easy rock hits by aging young white guys like Marc Cohn, Sister Hazel and Mayer's current competitor, Five For Fighting. No Such Thing's whimsical lyrics gently protest a world that tells you "stay inside the lines" and proclaim that "the real world" is "just a lie you've got to rise above." The first hit from the Atlanta based singer/songwriter is smoothly genial but very familiar and mild.
Unwritten Law-Seein' Redbuy it!
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.