Chingy-One Call Away(up 1 position)
St. Louis' Howard "Chingy" Bailey seems cartoonish and insubstantial but his Jackpot CD is one of the biggest hits of the last year. One Call Away is Chingy's third hit. A lot of the credit for Chingy's success should go to Alonzo Lee and Shamar Daugherty, also known as Trak Starz. Trak Starz(not to be confused with Trackboyz, who also produced music by St. Louis artists including Nelly's Air Force Ones and J-Kwon's Tipsy) wrote and produced most of the songs on Jackpot, including Right Thurr and One Call Away. On One Call Away, they use Chingy the way he should be used, as a colorful, goofy supporting player. One Call Away's main appeal is its catchy chorus, with Jason "J. Weav" Weaver suavely singing "you can call if you wanna bump over me." Trak Starz created a sound that's smooth, with a steady hand clap beat and easy guitar sound, but also has good texture with a bass drum sound and percussion that sounds like a woodpecker pecking. Chingy roams around the verses in an entertaining, innocuous way, sounding like Eminem in a clowning mode. Most of One Call Away's lyric is surprisingly sweet. Chingy describes meeting a woman in a bank, starting a relationship slowly and respectfully and not being afraid to show affection in front of his homeboys. The lyric suddenly turns stupid on the third verse as Chingy announces that he's a player, offers her a "puff on a blunt" and "a pint of Hen" and threatens "if you got an attitude, I could treat you like a hoe." Just as suddenly, he returns to the song's general theme of being the guy who's there for her, rapping "just be true and there's nothing I won't do for ya." Chingy's contribution is mixed but mostly appealing. He largely fills space until One Call Away gets back to the chorus' charming hook.
Nickelback-Someday(down 2 positions)
Nickelback are back with The Long Road CD, making the same kind of ultraserious, overblown, cliched arena rock that brought them the megahit How You Remind Me. On Someday, Chad Kroeger and friends stuck to the formula that worked. Someday isn't quite as bombastic as How You Remind Me but it's otherwise incredibly similar. You can sing "this is how you remind me" and other parts of that song over portions of Someday. The appeal of Someday, and Nickelback's music in general, is lost on me. Kroeger's voice is so stiff and humorless that he's just a bore. He intones his thought about his relationship playing out "like a paperback novel" with gravity and emphasis to make sure you catch the brilliance of his simile. Someday's music and playing are coldly competent but lack any surprise or originality. Familiar hard rock riffs repeat over and over again. On Someday, Kroeger asks a partner to stay in a screwed up relationship, promising he's "gonna make it alright."
Hilary Duff-Come Clean(up 4 positions)
Come Clean is the second single from Hilary Duff's Metamorphosis CD. So Yesterday was perky pop mainly intended to connect with the young fans Duff made playing Lizzie McGuire. Come Clean indicates greater ambitions, to make Duff a pop star with an older audience. Duff sounds less comfortable on Come Clean than on the chirpy So Yesterday. She isn't helped by Come Clean's generic drum machine and icy synths. Come Clean is very familiar, bringing to mind Here Comes The Rain Again, among other songs. Come Clean was written and produced by John Shanks, who has done songs with Michelle Branch(including her pretty good recent top 50 near miss Breathe), and Kara Dioguardi, who's worked with Enrique Iglesias and Kylie Minogue. Come Clean sounds pieced together from other pop songs, particularly Branch songs like Breathe. Branch's voice is better than Duff's and Branch brings more of a feeling of substance. Come Clean is pleasant and innocuous. It sounds fine. It won't alienate a large young following glad to follow her career where it goes and its sleek, tasteful, sterile sound will attract older listeners too.
The Cure haven't released a new record in four years but they and Robert Smith are red hot. Smith sings lead on a good song from Blink 182's new record, the Hewlett Packard advertisements featuring Pictures Of You are all over the tv and 311's cover of Love Song is a hit. The soundtrack for Adam Sandler's 50 First Dates features covers of 80's new wave songs, including Love Song and Friday I'm In Love, mostly done by reggae and ska acts. Love Song also marks another comeback for 311, whose 2003 Evolver record disappeared fairly shortly after it was released. They always find a way of coming back when it looks like their career has faded. 311's version of Love Song is pretty much what you'd expect from the amiable, laid back LA based guys who got together in Omaha in 1980. They keep the original's melody and guitar riffs and add a ska skank, crisp beat and mellow vibe. 311's Love Song works both as a faithful, well played tribute to the original and as smooth, easy to listen stoner music. It's not exciting or daring but it sounds good. The only surprise about Love Song is that guitar player Tim Mahoney sings lead. There's no sign that Mahoney is much of a singer. You can hear him struggling to hit notes. But Mahoney's unpolished vocal gives the song a personal feel. I can imagine the slick, glib job Nick Hexum, 311's regular singer, would have done. It's not a pretty picture. 311's Love Song isn't remarkable but it is charming. Love Song is notable as about the most positive song The Cure ever did. Smith avoided his usual doubt and ambiguity to write a very sweet, simple love song. The song just says that a woman makes him feel home, whole, young, fun, free and clean again and that he'll always love her. Its universality and lack of pretension and the sincerity Smith and Mahoney bring to it keep it from being cliched or maudlin.
Sheryl Crow-The First Cut Is The Deepest(down 2 positions)
The First Cut Is The Deepest was written by Cat Stevens in the late 60s and has been covered a bunch of times. It's a pained warning to a new lover that, after having your heart torn apart, it's hard to love again. I keep thinking that Sheryl Crow's cover is some sort of joke. Crow has given The First Cut a bizarre sunny, California style reading. Crow's voice is never very soulful but she can be appealingly smooth and playful. She usually writes and records songs that match her singing. The First Cut is a mismatch. The new First Cut, undoubtedly a hit because people are familiar with Rod Stewart's version and with Crow's easy voice, is quite bad. Crow apparently picked The First Cut as a new track for her Very Best of Sheryl Crow compilation because she knew it and liked it but didn't take the time to figure out what it's about. Crow's relentlessly superficial vocal is supported by similarly bland backing with strings and professional, generic sounding guitar.
Five For Fighting-100 Years(up 9 positions)
John Ondrasik, the guy who made Superman a new age wimp on his 2000 hit, is back with more sentimental crap by his band Five For Fighting. On 100 Years, from Five For Fighting's The Battle For Everything CD, Ondrasik again tries to make us think. Ondrasik moves back and foward from his current age, appreciating highlights, remembering that life is short and apparently advising a 15 year old that "there's still time for you." There's nothing wrong with 100 Years' concept but, lyrically and vocally, Ondrasik isn't insightful enough to justify the smug self righteousness he projects. He's so sensitive and thoughtful and so lacking in edge or self doubt that he seems a little lame. On 100 Years, Ondrasik shifts from an undramatic voice to a high vocal that seems intended to match the tone of his piano but is annoyingly reedy. With strings and his showy but bland piano playing, Ondrasik tries for a sweeping sound but the uninteresting result makes me long for Bruce Hornsby's similar but better songs.
Finger Eleven-One Thing(down 1 position)
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.
Eamon-F**k It(I Don't Want You Back)(down 7 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".
Sarah Connor is a pop star in Germany. Her self titled CD collects songs from her German records. Connor says she's a long time fan of American r&b. Connor and cowriter/producer Bulent Aris have done a good job of using their knowledge of American music on an effective simulation of contemporary dance pop. Aris' most significant previous American work was cowriting and producing Get Down(You're The One For Me) from Backstreet Boys' first CD. Aris is apparently a fan of Mary J. Blige's Family Affair. Bounce's production closely matches the one Dr. Dre gave Family Affair. Bounce's appropriation of American sounds also includes using a rapper who kind of sounds like Nelly. All the borrowing works pretty well. Like Family Affair, Bounce has an easily flowing groove and a crisp beat. Aris gives Bounce a sense of excitement with dramatic keyboard interjections. Connor uses her knowledge of American singers well. She never betrays the fact that she's a white German lady, cutting off the ends of her words and sounding confident and relaxed as she comfortably changes her vocal's tone and pace. The fake Nelly, playing Connor's cheating boyfriend, is pretty good too. Bounce is imitative and a bit obvious. It's not amazing but it's competent and easy to listen to. Bounce's lyric is like that of lots of female hip hop songs but, with accurate sounding vernacular, it's not any worse than those for similar songs. Connor tells her guy that she knows he's been "cheating, out there creeping" and taunts him with the fact that "you'll never find no stuff as good as mine."
AFI-Silver and Cold(unchanged)
Before their latest CD, AFI never had a big radio hit but their Sing The Sorrow CD has given them three chart hits. Silver and Cold isn't as good as Girl's Not Grey but it's better than The Leaving Song, Pt. 2. AFI worked up some energy and excitement on Girl's Not Grey's impassioned chorus. The rest of AFI's music seems more boring. Silver and Cold has a big sound but it's very serious and a bit stiff. Davey Havok's voice is sincere but his howl shows no subtlety or modulation. With big, impassioned vocals, Silver and Cold's chorus has an anthemic appeal. But Havok's writing is wildly overdone. He sings "you, in somber resplendence, I hold" and "as a rapturous voice escapes, I will tremble a prayer." Silver and Cold is apparently a love song and it has an appealing sweeting. But any joy is overwhelmed by pounding drums, thick guitars and Havok's hysterical, agitated singing. Silver and Cold's emotion seems appealingly real but it's presented in an overwrought package.
Outkast-Hey Ya(down 6 positions)
Outkast invited talk of a breakup by releasing a double CD that's basically two solo records. Big Boi's Speakerboxxx is a tight disc with a state of the art sound and touches of the inventiveness, intelligence and oddness that have long distinguished Outkast from other hip hop acts. Andre 3000's The Love Below, which features Andre mostly singing instead of rapping, is much less consistent. It has lots of goofing around, stupid jokes and undeveloped grooves as well as some good jokes, some irresistible grooves and a positive, good natured vibe. Big Boi and Andre 3000 claim to have no breakup plans and their strategy has paid off with two hits, Big Boi's sleek The Way You Move and Andre 3000's immensely entertaining Hey Ya.. Hey Ya is a strong candidate for best single of 2003. It brings to mind the giddy fun of British invasion pop(a connection reinforced by its wry video with an Ed Sullivan type audience filled with screaming young African American women) and the groove and joyful, trippy vibe and attitude of P-Funk and Sly and The Family Stone. But the most obvious comparison is with Prince's exhilarating, genre busting early 80s workouts . For Hey Ya, Andre 3000(aka Andre Benjamin) assembled sounds guaranteed to create a bouncy, positive feel. Hey Ya has a steady acoustic guitar strum, a tight, brittle beat, a goofy wah wah bass effect, a bubbly cheesy beeping synth, hand claps and Andre's sweet backing vocals and playful lead. The result is wacky, uplifting and as good a time as pop music can supply. On Hey Ya, Andre 3000 contemplates questions about his relationship including does his baby want to mess around with others and only avoid doing so to keep him from walking and whether love is an exception to the rule that nothing lasts forever. But he's more concerned with sustaining Hey Ya's buoyant mood. So the lyric also includes information like "don't want to meet you daddy, just want you in my Caddy" and "don't want to meet your mama, just want to make you cumma."
Twista-Slow Jamz(down 4 positions)
The hit version of Slow Jamz is on Twista's Kamikaze. A slightly different version is on Kanye West's The College Dropout CD. Producer West seems to deserve much of the credit for Slow Jamz' appealing sound. West is on a roll with his production of Alicia Keys' stylish if slightly dry You Don't Know My Name and his own terrific hit Through The Wire. Through The Wire samples Chaka Khan's Through The Fire. Slow Jamz also makes good use of classic r&b, using a sped up piece of Luther Vandross' A House Is Not A Home. Slow Jamz mixes different sounds and vocalists with different styles but, using the sample to provide consistency and a timeless quality, West makes it work. Slow Jamz uses two singers who aren't technically great but have great presence. Foxx clearly enjoys his chance at being an R&B crooner. His affection for great soul singers is charming, as he recites a litany of favorites for entertaining the ladies. He hams it up a bit but does a good job, sounding like he's reenacting private moments singing along with favorite records. West's verse has some cliched hip hop misogynism and a very relaxed vocal but West sounds so good natured that he's hard to dislike. He also has some great goofy rhymes including "bring some friends you cool with, I'm gonna bring the Cool Whip" and "I'm gon' play this Vandross, you gon' take your pants off." West also has the lines about the girl with a light skinned friend and a dark skinned friend, both of whom look like Michael Jackson. Twista gets top billing but he's a bit of a supporting player. His two verses are stuck at Slow Jamz' back. Slow Jamz uses Twista well. He's incredibly fast. When he was known as Tongue Twista, Twista was listed in the Guinness Book Of Records as the world's fastest rapper. But Twista's flood of words would be exhausting over the length of a sound. West wisely places Twista among a bunch of other interesting sounds. The speed of Twista's skittering rap is remarkable but he goes by as a bit of a blur. Especially when he's going on about "smokin' on my cannibus" and "sippin' Hennessy", it's hard to care. Things improve when Twista slips into the song's raucous, name dropping spirit with fun, dopey rhymes about getting "your sheets wet listening to Keith Sweat" and bending your ass while "you be bumpin' Teddy Pendergrass." Slow Jamz sounds great. It has a good, crisp beat and backing that matches its vocalists. A smooth 70s chimes, keyboard and acoustic guitar sound backs Foxx. An appropriate nervous, racing riff accompanies Twista. Slow Jamz is a great cocktail of sounds.
Norah Jones-Sunrise(down 1 position)
Especially in a downloading world where sales are down, Norah Jones is a goddess of the music business. Her debut Come Away With Me CD has sold more than eight million copies in the US alone. Feels Like Home, her followup, sold one million copies the week it came out and two million in its first month. The consensus regarding Feels Like Home is that it's fairly cautious. Jones is apparently most comfortable in a mellow mode. It does seem like there's more going on in Feels Like Home than there was on Come Away With Me, which was well played and sounded good but, at its worst, had a polite, boring, elevator music quality. On Feels Like Home, some of the songs have an alt country feel but Jones' music still generally fits somewhere between jazz, lite pop and country. Feels Like Home is a bit more confident and personal. As before, the saving grace of Jones' music is her supple, quite amazing voice. Jones' singing nicely carries Sunrise, one of the best things she's done. Jones shows confidence in eschewing a big beat and letting Sunrise's arrangement stay muted. Good, quiet playing twists around Jones' voice. Sunrise has an unshowy jazzy looseness with a mandolin and an unobtrusive, throbbing bass. Jones even plays a good little piano solo. Sunrise has Jones' typical modesty but it's also warm and relaxed. Like much of Jones' music, Sunrise is easy listening but it's not pandering and button pushing. Sunrise is charming. It sounds like Jones and friends are having good, if subdued, fun. Sunrise, written by Jones with bass player and boyfriend Lee Alexander, is about a couple spending a relaxed day in bed with a broken clock stuck at 9:15. Jones shows mild surprise that "we've made it through another day."
Jerrell "J-Kwon" Jones follows Nelly and Chingy as the latest St. Louis rapper with a big hit. 18 year old J-Kwon was supposedly living on the streets, having run away from home in Bellville, Missouri, when he was discovered by the Trackboyz producing team. An audition with Jermaine Dupri(famous for producing hit records and being Janet Jackson's boyfriend) led to J-Kwon getting signed to Dupri's So So Def label. The Trackboyz, Mark Williams and Joe Kent, have worked on hits including Nelly's Air Force Ones and Work It. They produced most of J-Kwon's Hood Hop CD. Trackboyz created a sound on Tipsy that Dupri is said to have described as a fusion of hip hop and a We Will Rock You style rock sound. Tipsy's music, with its crashing big beat, is compelling and stirring. Tipsy's beeping synth noises, which invite comparisons to The Neptunes' production style, give Tipsy a bit of flavor and complete the song's full, powerful sound. Scoring a big hit with the first single from his first CD, J-Kwon has immediately established himself as one of rap's most promising young stars. J-Kwon's voice has a confidence and strength that's remarkable for someone just starting out. His presence is impressive as he slowly and patiently works his way through his rap in a way that says he knows he's good. I like Tipsy's sound. My only beef is with its subject matter. At the risk of sounding like an old fool, I think it would be a better world if teenagers weren't making music, purchased by younger teenagers, presenting a positive view of getting drunk and living a thug life. Tipsy's has pretty typical hip hop lyrics but it's a bit disturbing to hear them from someone so young. Besides celebrating getting drunk, J-Kwon tells us, in a lyric he wrote, about having and threatening someone with a gun, smoking "my blunt", "gettin' head", having a woman "feelin' on my johnson" and needing two condoms.
Melissa Etheridge-Breathe(up 1 position)
I vaguely recally a time when Melissa Etheridge's music showed a bit of imagination and rock and roll energy. But for a while she's been churning out overwrought, sub-Springsteen crap with an adult contemporary radio friendly gloss. On Breathe, from her Lucky CD, Etheridge again tries too hard for emotion power. Etheridge goes into a fists clenched intensity after only a few bars and Breathe has nowhere to go. Breathe stays in a heavy, anthemic mode and lacks any nuance, subtlety or shifts in dynamics. Breathe is carefully produced but, with strings and big drums, it tries for pathos with a blugeoning, sledgehammer sound that keeps coming back to a formulaic chorus. Breathe is obvious easy listening disguised as personal rock music. The shame about Breathe and similar songs is that Etheridge clearly has real, sincerely felt emotions but she expresses them in a hackneyed, impersonal way. Breathe is about missing a former partner. Etheridge sings about longing for home, "a feeling buried in you."
Fuel-Falls On Me(down 5 positions)
Pop radio has embraced Falls On Me, the first single from Fuel's Natural Selection CD, so it's returned to the top 50. My opinion of Falls On Me hasn't improved. It still seems like another lame attempt to reach a larger audience with an intense, overblown rock ballad. Fuel's Hemorrhage(In My Hands) provided a prime example of the emotive hit. Following a similar blueprint, Falls On Me has recaptured Hemorrhage's success. Falls On Me isn't as overdone as Hemorrhage but it's pretty boring amd obvious. The Hemorrhage similarity begins early as Falls On Me starts with quiet, meaningful strumming then Brett Scallions does a quiet, meaningful vocal. Predictably, big guitars soon come in. They're not so bad. Falls On Me has a decent sound. It's fairly catchy and has emphatic bursts of drums and guitar but Falls On Me has no spark or excitement. Scallions' pretentious, self important vocal doesn't help. Neither does Falls On Me's familiarity. Besides Hemorrhage, Falls On Me echoes Collective Soul's Heavy with a nearly identical hook: "all of your weight falls on me." Carl Bell's lyric apparently thanks a woman for breaking "my disease", so "I can breathe."
Cassidy featuring R Kelly-Hotel(up 7 positions)
Cassidy is a young rapper from Philadelphia who got attention with his work on mix tapes. He's been championed by Swizz Beatz, who's worked with Eve, Busta Rhymes, DMX and many others, the producer of much of Cassidy's Split Personality CD. Like Nick Cannon, Cassidy has the good fortune to be assisted on his first hit single by the ubiquitous R Kelly. Kelly's appearance is nearly a guarantee of success. The downside of Kelly's presence is that he makes more of an impression than Cassidy does. Kelly does a relaxed but strong vocal on the chorus, easily making himself the center of attention. Kelly is his usual pleasure loving self. As on the Ignition Remix, Kelly enjoys an after party, inviting a "cutie" to use his room key. Cassidy's rap isn't amazing but he's fine. Like so many rappers, he mostly has sex on his mind. He tells us "if that girl don't participate, well then I'm gonna take her friend." But compared with some songs(like the recent, similarly themed Holidae Inn), Hotel is pretty benign. Cassidy promises the ladies he will do whatever he can for them. Hotel's acoustic guitar riff and light mood remind me of another song with a big R Kelly presence, B2K's Bump, Bump, Bump. Hotel is better than the cheerfully stupid B2K song but it's also pretty slight. Still, it's pleasant and sounds fine. With the guitar underlining Kelly's vocal and a classic sounding beat that resembles the one for Marvin Gaye's Sexual Healing, Swizz Beatz gives Hotel a smooth sound.
Damien Rice-Cannonball(up 3 positions)
Damien Rice is a critically acclaimed Irish singer/songwriter. Rice's 2003 O CD won him the Shortlist music prize, a new but fairly prestigious award given to the best non-mainstream artist of the year. While it's hard for me to believe that a record of fairly standard folk pop could be the best of the year, I agree that O is a good, ambitious record. Rice is clearly a Van Morrison fan. He shares some of Morrison's intensity and songwriting skills. Rice's sincere, personal songs are also reminiscent of David Gray's work but Rice's have a bit more edge. Cannonball is a good example of Rice's poetic, well crafted music. Rice's singing is strong but sensitive and idiosyncratic. His pained delivery makes it clear that his writing is deeply felt. Rice accompanies himself with heartfelt strumming. My problem with Rice is that he's too serious. His intensity sometimes comes off as humorless self importance. On Cannonball, Rice sadly and cautiously reflects on a lost relationship with a woman he can still "taste in my mouth." Rice "can't say what's going on" but armed with the newly gained knowledge "that you just don't know", he's apparently trying to find the courage to give it another try as she steps "a little closer."
3 Doors Down-Here Without You(down 5 positions)
3 Doors Down's savvy, radio friendly strategy has, oddly, placed them among the top pop acts. Here Without You, the third chart hit from the Away From The Sun CD, is poised to surpass its very successful predecessor When I'm Gone and become(including Kryptonite, from their Better Life debut) their third megasmash. 3 Doors Down's popularity is both confusing and unsurprising. On the one hand, frontman Brad Arnold isn't particularly handsome, charismatic or much of a singer. The band totally lacks distinctiveness. 3 Doors Down's songs(with the possible exception of Kryptonite) aren't very interesting or orginal. There's no sign that the band has extraordinary musical talent. On the other hand, 3 Doors Down seem to know their limitations and they know how to make familiar, accessible music. Usually, the most obvious comparison is to Matchbox 20 though Rob Thomas is, at least, a slightly better and more interesting singer and more distinctive songwriter than Arnold. On Here Without You, the model seems to be Creed's lofty, dramatic and very popular rock ballads, especially With Arms Wide Open. Arnold doesn't show the narcissism of Creed singer Scott Stapp but all the other elements are present. Here Without You starts with quiet guitar and Arnold's impassioned vocal. While drums eventually come in to add a touch of a rock feel, the song never gets loud in a way that might offend lite radio listeners. I suppose 3 Doors Down deserve points for avoiding the bombast of some rock ballads(including When I'm Gone) but while Arnold isn't too showy, the stiffness of his voice keeps Here Without You from achieving beauty or subtlety. Producer Rick Parashar also worked with humorless, radio friendly Nickelback, who are even stiffer and less likable than 3 Doors Down. Parashar follows rock ballad conventions here, adding a layer of strings that build as the song approaches an overdramatic, cloying climax. People love rock ballads and Here Without You isn't the worst one. 3 Doors Down smartly built an emotional song destined to be a hit but it really is a calculated, soulless piece of garbage. Here Without You's lyric is similar to When I'm Gone's but it's not quite as unappealing as that song's needy plea for his girlfriend to always think loving thoughts of him. Arnold is again away from his beloved. He wants her to be comforted by the fact that he's thinking and dreaming about her.
Guster appeared on MTV2's Album Covers show, playing the songs on the Violent Femmes' first record. Their precise versions showed that Guster are good musicians with a taste for jagged, idiosyncratic music that's surprisingly for a band with such a genial, clean cut sound. The faithfulness of the covers, the refusal to deviate in any significant way, also was a reminder of the lack of surprise and edge in Guster's music. Careful, the second chart hit from Guster's Keep It Together CD, is another example of Guster's likable, fairly predictable style. Careful is well played and inviting. It has warm harmonies and Ryan Miller's lead vocal is appealingly unpretentious. Guster have largely stuck with the simple acoustic arrangements that first got people's attention. Their shiny jangles and strums are clean and crisp. Brian Rosenworcel gives Guster's music good texture with good quiet, varied percussion that avoids standard rock drummer pounding. Careful's downside is that it's awfully like a lot of Guster's other songs. Its sound is so smooth and easy to take that it's kind of boring. Like Amsterdam, Careful has a dark lyric that belies its sunny music. Careful warns a girlfriend who walks out "when I asked you to stay" that she'll "hurt yourself" in a world where "others lie." Miller tells her he's the one who tells her the truth and she'll be "back again" to him.
D12 featuring Eminem-My Bandbuy it!
D12(aka The Dirty Dozen) originally formed in the early 90s. D12's main claim to fame is that in the mid 90s, before becoming a huge solo star, Eminem was a member. Eminem has stuck by D12 and continued to work with them. D12's Devil's Night CD did pretty well but didn't approach the sales of Eminem's solo work. Not surprisingly, D12's pop breakthrough comes on a song focusing on Eminem doing a showy performance. On Eminem Show's Hailie's Song, the most notable previous song where he sang instead of rapped, Eminem did some very sincere singing but started by saying "I can't sing." Eminem seems considerably more confident on My Band, from the D12 World CD, jokingingly whining/singing the chorus. His singing is pretty awful but, like much of what Eminem does, it's strangely compelling and hard to ignore. My Band starts with a spoken section where Eminem sounds like he's doing Ed Norton. Eminem raps a verse in a voice that's less dramatic and more like his speaking voice than usual. As usual, Eminem's rapping is thick with words and theatrics. His technique is typically remarkable as he playfully races through his rap, quick but always in control. He easily slips into a caricature of a groupie crying "dude you fuckin' rock", "won't you please let me suck your cock." My Band presents a slightly parallel world where, rather than the star helping out his rap friends, Eminem is the lead singer of a boy band. The lyric has fun with the dynamics between the pop idol and formerly equal bandmates. Eminem, playing the clueless star, is very funny. He claims to be confused about how "everybody's all jealous" of his devoted female following and the fact the he gets to "do my a capellas." He accuses bandmates of "tryin' to steal the light from me" and "pulling a knife on me 'cause I told him Jessica Alba's my wife to be." My previous impression of D12's other members was pretty terrible. On My Band, their contributions vary from not atrocious to pretty good. They comfortably play the envious colleagues. Swifty McVeigh does an OK hard rap, complaining that "we in a van and in a tour bus" and about a small dressing room and being confused for another member of the group. Kuniva and Kon Artis's verse is an amusing skit. They call Eminem "a punk ass thinkin' he the shit" for "takin' on a flick" and get dissed by him as a group interview becomes a solo. They complain that "our mics are screwed up and his always sound best." When Eminem asks "you got something to say", they clam up, then blame each other("I was 'bout to talk right after you.") Proof does a decent, fast rap, asking why "he get 90 and we only get 10 percent." Bizarre is My Band's coolest and second most entertaining rapper, bragging about his "big ass stomach" and listing the Eminem videos where "I was in the back." Eminem has long had a problem with boy bands. Boy bands have been in decline for a while but Eminem keeps taking shots, mocking the heartthrob emoting "girls why can't you see you're the only one for me and it just tears my ass apart to know that you don't know my name." My Band ends on an appropriately goofy note with Eminem affecting an odd Indian accent as he claims "my salsa makes all the pretty girls want to dance." As with many Eminem songs, My Band has stupid parts but it's packed with interesting bits. Generally, it's quite hilarious. Beneath the kidding around about the spot Eminem and D12 hold in the success food chain, My Band also expresses a sense of affection between Eminem and his old rapping friends. Eminem produced My Band. The recurring, vaguely spooky riff sounds like ones Eminem and Dr. Dre have used before but it's very effective. My Band's music is catchy and the way it matches the notes of Eminem's singing nicely reinforces the song's amusing central theme of a world revolving around Eminem.
The title track from Sacred Love is fairly typical of Sting's recent work. It has fine music and is easy to listen to. Sacred Love has a jazzy looseness with some interesting, exotic sounds. Sting's voice still has an impressively fluid, light touch. But the music is also a touch glib. Sting doesn't go beyond the surface pleasantness to truly engage or challenge the listener. Sting's lyric, typically, has a self satisfied quality and imagery that's way overblown. Sting claims on Sacred Love that he wants to leave the news and world behind and just go dancing. Much of Sacred Love is about finding exalted terms for the woman he loves. She's the one he "begged the moon and the stars above" for. She's "my religion", "my church." She's "the holy grail at the end of my search." "She takes the shape of this heavenly daughter." She's "the word" "made into flesh and blood." To make his adoration even more heavy handed, he closes the song with even more heavy handed references to the religious images he's been "thinkin 'bout."
Avril Lavigne-Don't Tell Mebuy it!
Avril Lavigne, at 19, is apparently already entering the mature period of her career. Under My Skin, Lavigne's followup to her 10 million selling debut Let Go CD, must be one of the most anticipated records of the year but its first single met a fairly lukewarm initial response(though it's slowly climbed up the chart). For her new CD, Lavigne stayed away from Let Go's hitmakers The Matrix and Clif Magness. Under My Skin's writers and producers include ex-Evanescence co-leader Ben Moody and Canadian husband and wife pop stars Raine Maida(from Our Lady Peace) and Chantal Kreviazuk. Don't Tell Me was written by Lavigne and her guitar player Evan Taubenfield and produced by Butch Walker, formerly of Marvelous 3(one hit wonders for 1999's Freak Of The Week). On Don't Tell Me, Lavigne and Walker eschewed the youthful, rousing, in your face confidence of Lavigne's #1 hits Complicated and Sk8er Boi. Lavigne doesn't even get to do a really cathartic wail like on her other #1, I'm With You. On Don't Tell Me, Alanis Morissette's influence is even more obvious than usual. My guess is that Lavigne's audience liked Let Go's Morissette style angst but don't want her to be Morissette. Showing a reluctance to continue being the voice of feisty early teens, Lavigne's retains her intensity on Don't Tell Me without the perkiness of her previous hits. While it's less exciting than some of Lavigne's hits, Don't Tell Me is charming. Lavigne's idiosyncratically Canadian pronounciation, passionate singing and seriousness still mark her as an individual. Adults have derided the fact that, despite her punk posturing, Lavigne's music is more pop than punk. That ignores the fact that Lavigne resonated with kids as a distinctive, self assured role model. Don't Tell Me's music, with guitars and drums crashing in on the chorus, is generic pop rock. But Lavigne's heartfelt delivery, strong singing and personal phrasing make Don't Tell Me's typical youthful anguish fresh. As she has before, Lavigne projects big emotions in a way that makes her sound like a real teenager. Don't Tell Me's lyric depicts Lavigne as a sad but strong young woman. Lavigne is "upset" but she decides she's better off alone than with a guy who tried to get "into my pants." She tells him that he shouldn't try to tell her what to do and say and that she had told him she wouldn't "give it up" to him.
Black Eyed Peas-Hey Mamabuy it!
Where Is The Love, which featured Justin Timberlake's good, unshowy vocal on the chorus, was one of the biggest hits of 2003. Where Is The Love has a majestic quality. It sounds like classic r&b. The subsequent singles from the Elephunk CD have been significantly less substantial. As someone who knew Black Eyed Peas from Where Is The Love and Request Line, their Macy Gray collaboration, I've been surprised by Shut Up and Hey Mama, the silly followups to Where Is The Love. Both have a lightweight, chattery quality and give a lot of prominence to new Black Eyed Pea Stacy "Fergie" Ferguson. Fergie doesn't bring a lot of soulfulness or substance. But lead Pea William "Will.I.Am" Adams, who produced and cowrote Hey Mama and Shut Up, has to be held responsible for Hey Mama's dopeyness. Hey Mama is an knowingly stupid song with not much on its mind beyond asking a woman to "move your booty." With lines like "don't wanna squeeze triggers, just wanna squeeze tits" and "we drop bombs like we in the middle east", Hey Mama is moronic but basically harmless. The rappers' unrelenting perkiness sometimes gives me a headache. The other side of the song's empty headedness is that Hey Mama is unpretentious. Hey Mama is just about having a good time. With steady, good percussion, Hey Mama has jittery energy and good spirits. I don't find Hey Mama as irritating as some people do but it is pretty damn annoying.
Godsmack-Realign(down 7 positions)
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.