Moby-We Are All Made Of Stars(down 3 positions)
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.
Hoobastank-Running Away(up 6 positions)
Crawling In The Dark, Hoobastank's first chart hit, had a likable energetic chorus and modest lyrics about looking for the answer. Crawling In The Dark was also wildly derivative of other rock songs and after repeat listens, I soon found it uninteresting. Running Away, the second single from Hoobastank's self titled CD, regrets that a woman "never gave us chance to be" and ran away just when they were getting close. The lyrics have a charming humility("I don't want you to feel sorry for me") but the music is painfully over the top. At times, Running Away sounds like Incubus as it combines a touch of mystical synth sound with Doug Robb's sincere vocal. But, especially on the chorus, Running Away is a bombastic classic rock wannabe with big but meaningless guitar and drums. Running Away slowly drags along with a cliched arena sound.
P. Diddy-I Need A Girl(unchanged)
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.
Our Lady Peace-Somewhere Out There(unchanged)
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.
Hoobastank-Crawling In The Dark(down 3 positions)
Crawling In The Dark, from the L.A. band's self titled major label debut, is another song that sounds pieced together from other successful rock songs. It's got Korn style atmospheric guitar, a serious, troubled singer, big power chords and a vague Faith No More/Limp Bizkit style hip hop sensibility. But Crawling In The Dark also has good tempo shifts and it's more interesting than much of the similarly imitative music on rock radio. I like the way the song speeds up and gains energy on the chorus. Doug Robb keeps things from getting too draggy as he sings about "looking for the answer" and trying to find direction in life.
Incubus-Warning(up 3 positions)
Incubus keep giving us likable, unremarkable atmospheric rock songs. Warning, third chart hit from the Morning View CD, is appealing. Warning is even more laid back than I Wish You Were Here and Nice To Know You but it has a similar vibe. On the verses, Brandon Boyd's vocal drifts along with some minimal guitar and sonic effects. The chorus, with Mike Einziger's electric guitar strumming, is harder and more focused, but the song retains it's dreamy feel. Warning is positive and spacy, advising that as you float "in this cosmic jacuzzi", "count your blessings", "don't ever let life pass you by" and love yourself. Warning seems intentionally inconsequential but it is quite appealing.
P.O.D.-Youth Of The Nation(down 12 positions)
I got more angry feedback about P.O.D.'s hit Alive, which I called self righteous and silly, than about any other song I've ever written about. My beef with Alive is that, while many have adopted it as an uplifting anthem, it's really just about how good Sonny Sandoval feels and how bold he is for proclaiming his religious devotion. I'm not a big fan of the second hit from P.O.D.'s Satellite CD either. On Youth Of The Nation, Sandoval attempts to speak for others, briefly describing a school shooter and a couple of his victims. Sandoval is well intended but his ideas aren't particularly insightful: it can be tough to be a kid these days and the random loss of a child's life is especially tragic. Perhaps the only surprise is the thought that one of the victims would feel for his attacker ("maybe this kid was reaching out for love" "or maybe this kid just wanted to be hugged"). The music, with a beat, guitar, keyboards and backing vocals, has an appropriately ominous mood, but it's pretty generic modern rock. Sandoval's tough guy hip hop vocal and lyrics about "the sound of a gat" and taking "two to the chest" seem inconsistent with the general themes of innocence and sympathy. And the Another Brick In The Wall style kids chorus finale, with the idea that the band is speaking for a generation, seems presumptuous and exploitative.
John Mayer-No Such Thing(up 12 positions)
Further proving that you can't keep a mediocre, pleasant song down, No Such Thing, from the Room For Squares CD, has returned to the chart. No Such Thing was on the lower end of the top 50 for more than two months last winter thanks to play on "adult alternative" radio. With its mild sense of rebellion and John Mayer's genial, modest vocals, No Such Thing was perfect for that yuppie friendly format. Even after it dropped off the top 50, No Such Thing hung around some stations' playlists. Its innocuous charm eventually caught the attention of VH1 then pop radio. No Such Thing reminds me of well made, easy rock hits by thoughtful, poppy white guys like Marc Cohn, Sister Hazel and 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." Mayer, a Berklee College of Music dropout turned Atlanta based singer/songwriter, is only in his mid 20s and seems a little young to be making such smooth, familiar, unchallenging music. Mayer has been compared to Dave Matthews. No Such Thing is even tamer than Matthews' amiable music, which at least has a little jazzy edge.
Lenny Kravitz-Stillness Of Heart(down 2 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."
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.
Usher-U Don't Have To Call(unchanged)
U Don't Have To Call is the third "U" hit from Usher Raymond's 8701 CD. Like the earlier hits, U Don't Have To Call is pleasant listening but nothing spectacular. U Don't Have To Call was produced by the ubiquitous Neptunes. They deploy the same bomb dropping effect they used on Britney's I'm A Slave For U but otherwise give U Don't Have To Call a considerably less intense sound. Usher's voice is strong enough that The Neptunes don't have to create the kinds of distractions they did for Britney. At its best, U Don't Have To Call recalls the great, easy flow of Michael Jackson's Off The Wall. Mostly, the song amiably but inconsequentially breezes by. Usher's vocal is comfortable and likable but unremarkable. Usher tries to be a sensitive man women adore and a tough guy men respect. On U Don't Have To Call, he doesn't criticize the girl he loved and sacrificed for when she says she's leaving but he's already ready to go out tonight and look for someone else.
Nelly-Hot In Herre(up 3 positions)
The new Nellyville CD is sure to sell millions but its first single Hot In Herre sounds more like a soundtrack throwaway than a song meant to create frenzied anticipation of a new record. I've had mixed feelings about Nelly's previous hits. The lyrics were mostly rehashed gangsta rap but Nelly's fast, smooth style was undeniably impressive. Hot In Herre again shows off Nelly's cocky, seemingly effortless technique but it's very relaxed and feels less substantial or edgy than some of his previous work. Now that he's a big star, Nelly is less interested in rapping about guns, weed and the thug life and more about enjoying the perks of success. On Hot In Herre, Nelly shares his philosophy: "what good is all the fame if you ain't f---in the models." Nelly demonstrates an obsession with making ostentatious displays of wealth. Women figure in only as possessions that come with the big bucks. They're more than happy to undress or do whatever they can to please Nelly. Hot In Herre has a good, light beat and synth that moves the song along easily. The music and rap have a great flow. Hot In Herre is another Nelly song with hard to resist music and a very stupid lyric. Nelly is one of many very talented performers who's also a big jerk.
Jennifer Lopez-Ain't It Funny(down 8 positions)
Ain't It Funny, the fourth single from the J. Lo CD, is pleasant, innocuous dance pop. With a touch of Latin flavor, Ain't It Funny is similar to Madonna's La Isla Bonita but its rigid beat and repetitive shape mean it's less interesting. Lopez' voice is slightly less hidden in electronics than usual. Lopez' vocal on Ain't It Funny sounds like her speaking voice. It's thin and a little whiny but at least it sounds fairly real, at least until the studio vocal pros take over for the slick, familiar chorus. Ain't It Funny is about trying to overcome differences and memories of romantic failure to make a relationship with a seemingly perfect guy work. Like I'm Real, Ain't It Funny has been rereleased in a "remix" featuring Ja Rule which is nearly a totally different song. With a minimal beat and sly, relaxed synths, the new version of Ain't It Funny, available on the new J To Tha L-O remix CD, is significantly better and more interesting than the generic dance pop of the original though it is hampered by a similarity to the I'm Real remix. Lopez is comfortable with a cool, restrained vocal which doesn't show her limitations as much as when she sings all out. Her confident singing matches the new lyrics. Unlike the original where she anxiously hopes that things can work out with her guy, the remix finds her taunting a guy who played around when they were together with the fact that he blew his chance. Lopez has found a dynamite formula: releasing a record with perky, heavily produced dance pop versions of her songs that appeal to mainstream pop stations then releasing sleek, minimal versions that establish her cred with urban R&B audiences. The best part is she gets a lot of people to buy both records.
Counting Crows-American Girlsbuy it!
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.
311-Amber(up 3 positions)
311's music is often pretty mellow. I'll Be Here Awhile, their From Chaos CD's second chart hit, was laid back, genial and inconsequential. On Amber, From Chaos' third single, 311 are even more relaxed than usual but the easy mood works. Amber has a likable hippie vibe that's consistent with its goofy "amber is the color of your energy" hook. 311's typical ska flavoring goes down especially easily on Amber thanks to good, crisp drumming and loose, jazzy guitar lines including one that's given a rubbery preamped bounce Nick Hexum's vocal can be annoyingly innocuous but it floats effortlessly on Amber in a way that's just right. Amber is a tribute to a distant friend whose voice still "rings like a bell" who glides "through my head blind to fear."
Bonnie Raitt-I Can't Help You Now(down 4 positions)
In 1989, Bonnie Raitt had a huge comeback when the Nick Of Time CD became the biggest seller of her career. Nick Of Time's title track, which touchingly explored midlife female romantic anxiety and provided a happy ending, and Raitt's nicely raunchy cover of John Hiatt's Thing Called Love provided models for much of her 90's work, which has been smooth and mature with a little bluesy edge and slide guitar. On 1998's Fundamental, Raitt wisely chose to work with Mitchell Froom to muss up a sound that had become a little predictable. Part of Fundamental's charm was the tension between Froom's clangy production and Raitt's predilection for smooth combinations of traditional blues and easy 70s style singer/songwriter music. Raitt's new Silver Lining CD is also produced by Froom but Raitt's sound seems to have moved back into its smooth, mature mode. I Can't Help You Now is very comfortable and easy listening. It has a cool mood, a little bit of rock edge and, as usual, Raitt's voice is smart, strong and sexy. I Can't Help You Now seems very familiar, like other Raitt songs or a restrained version of Something To Talk About. On I Can't Help You Now, Raitt tells a guy she once loved and pined for that he's too late in declaring his interest.
Weezer-Dope Nose(down 11 positions)
Weezer took until last year to release a followup to their commercially disappointing second record, 1996's Pinkerton. Now that they're selling again, Weezer wasted little time coming back with their fourth release: Maladroit. From what I've heard of Maladroit the songs aren't as tight and don't have the same pop gloss as those on last year's green album but they do have that record's rock heft. With its loose sense of fun and chunky guitar chords, Dope Nose reminds me of the songs from Pinkerton, particularly The Good Life, perhaps my favorite Weezer song ever. Dope Nose has a goofy charm. The band sings their ho-oh-oh-ohs to a tune that sounds like The Flinstones' theme. Brian Bell and Rivers Cuomos's steadily driving guitar work, which includes Bell's exciting and characteristically short, unshowy solo, gives Dope Nose a high energy sense of fun. Rock radio is unlikely to be as receptive to Dope Nose's giddiness as it was to Hash Pipe's heavy metal rumble. But Dope Nose, which clocks in at less than two minutes and 15 seconds, is a simple, good time that extends Weezer's impressive streak of quality music. Dope Nose apparently tells us that dope helps Cuomo to "bust rhymes real slow." Cuomo also throws in the fact that "cheese smells so good on a burnt piece of lamb."
Jennifer Lopez featuring Nas-I'm Gonna Be Alrightbuy it!
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.
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."
White Stripes-Fell In Love With A Girl(down 4 positions)
White Stripes are either a brother and sister(if you believe them) or a current or former couple(if you believe the rock press) from Detroit. Fell In Love With A Girl is from White Stripes' eclectic and quite wonderful 2001 CD White Blood Cells. I sometimes find Jack White's weird, confident persona a little hard to take but I can't resist Fell In Love With A Girl's simple burst of joy. Fell In Love With A Girl is easily the shortest song to make the All-Reviews top 50. But even at 1:45, Fell In Love With A Girl is a complete rock experience. Just banging away on his guitar fast and loud and screaming about a girl with "red hair with a curl", Jack White recalls the spirit of early rock and roll by stripping away any excess to find a pure rock essence. Meg White's drumming is basic but effectively matches the buoyant mood. White Stripes very impressively create a big sound with just a guitarist and drummer. They bring to mind Local H's similar ability to make a huge noise with two players. White Stripes' tale of the thrill of ignoring the "left brain"'s message that love is fleeting is one of the most fun songs around.
Pete Yorn-Strange Condition(down 7 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.
Blink 182-First Date(down 9 positions)
It'll be interesting to see who gets tired of Blink 182's simple but fun songs first, the band or alternative radio. First Date, the third single from Blink 182's Take Off Your Pants and Jacket CD, sounds like The Rock Show, What's My Age Again and lots of other Blink songs. It's even more basic than most of their fast, good spirited, bratty vocaled songs. The only even slightly different thing about First Date is its chorus, where the guitar and drums slightly change tempo and emphasis. First Date is a throwaway but, like the other singles from Take Off Your Pants And Jacket, it has a charming sweetness. The band still flaunt a juvenile personality and, while their teen years are long behind them, they still easily carry off the sweet, innocent tale of a boy nervous about making a date work.
Craig David-Walking Awaybuy it!
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.
Dirty Vegas-Days Go Bybuy it!
Days Go By follows Start The Commotion by becoming a hit dance song after appearing in a Mitsubishi commercial. Dirty Vegas is an British electronic dance group featuring producers/lead musicians Paul Harris and Ben Harris and singer Steve Smith. With a mechanical techno beat and a vocoder effect that's been used in lots of trashy eurodisco songs, as well as Cher's Believe, Days Go By is nothing new but it's well made and has a more substantial feel than many dance songs. Days Go By effectively matches its starkness and the iciness the vocoder gives Smith's voice to its tale of days long bouts of romantic obsession. Days Go By's beats and haunting synths get people on the dance floor and, like classic mixes of songs by people like New Order and Bjork, create an interesting, ominous atmosphere.
Box Car Racer-I Feel Sobuy it!
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.