Evanescence-My Immortal(down 1 position)
My Immortal is the least irritating of the three chart hits from Evanescence's hugely successful Fallen CD. Bring Me To Life had rock guitar, rapping, goth touches and a big, atmospheric production. It gave the impression that the band was trying to please everyone and gave me a headache. On My Immortal, Evanescence are the sappy but effective folkie pop band I always thought they were under the rock trappings. It will be interesting to see if Evanescence can survive and thrive now that Ben Moody, who co-founded the band and cowrote all the songs on Fallen, has left. Whether she goes solo or stays with the band, singer Amy Lee will probably do fine. Lee has striking looks and a good voice. My Immortal again shows Lee to be a Tori Amos/Sarah McLachlan fan. My Immortal is reminiscent of simple, emotional, piano based Amos songs like Silent All These Years. Evanescence is unable to stay in a delicate Amos type mode for a whole song. My Immortal is more cliched than a good Tori Amos song. Its strings and the way the drums and guitars crash in for a climactic last run through the chorus make it more formulaic. But My Immortal generally maintains an appealing delicacy. Lee's singing is strong and not too showy. Her voice and simple piano playing easily carry the song. Evanescence have a preference for big, dramatic images. While it could be about an old boyfriend, My Immortal's lyric is apparently about being haunted by the memory of a dead lover whose "presence still lingers." The overripe emotion of Evanescence's songs, which millions have taken to, is too much for me. Heavy strings and Lee's painfully sincere vocal make My Immortal a bit precious. But Lee's intensity, her riveting presence and a direct, stripped down sound make My Immortal compelling.
Black Eyed Peas-Hey Mama(up 3 positions)
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.
Incubus-Talk Show On Mute(up 7 positions)
The release of Megalomaniac as A Crow Left Of The Murder's first single implied that the newer record would have a harder edge than Incubus' previous CDs. It wasn't very well developed and Brandon Boyd's ranting was a little crazy but Megalomaniac had an energy and anger that was encouraging coming from the often laid back rock band. Talk Show On Mute shows that Crow Left Of The Murder doesn't completely lack the pleasant, spacy, mellow rockers that dominated the band's recent work. Talk Show On Mute has an easy, genial mood. It floats along inoffensively and has a decent flow. But even less happens on Talk Show On Mute than on other relaxed, midtempo songs like Drive, Wish You Were Here and Warning. Talk Show On Mute betrays a bit of narcissism on Boyd's part. The arrangement focuses on Boyd's vocal. The band is deferential to the point that it seems to have been decided that nothing musically interesting can interfere with appreciation of Boyd's brilliant lyric. To be fair to Boyd, his singing isn't narcissistic. He tries to sound humble to the point that his singing doesn't show any personality. Talk Show On Mute's music is smooth and well played but it's also pretty boring. On Talk Show On Mute, Boyd compares our society to the world in Orwell's 1984. His beef is with a country narcoticized by homogenized, cynically manufactured entertainment that pays "an audience to care." His solution is apparently to realize that "there's so much more." Unfortunately, Boyd's message is undermined by his bland, unvaried croon.
Audioslave-What You Are(down 2 positions)
A year and a half after its release, Audioslave's debut CD is still yielding modern rock radio hits. What You Are is the fifth top 50 song for the band formed by Rage Against The Machine's musicians and Soundgarden's singer. All the chart hits been solid, ranging in quality from decent to very good. What You Are is unremarkable but fine. It's another showcase for Chris Cornell's quite incredible voice. Cornell's doesn't show much of a sense of fun but he's got quite a set of pipes. Cornell floats along easily with a pensive vocal on the verses. On the chorus he shifts, seeming effortlessly, into a full voiced howl that sounds like he's ripping up his throat's lining. Audioslave's musicians, who played flamboyant, charged music with Rage Against The Machine, have proved surprisingly competent as Cornell's dependable, unshowy backing band. What You Are has more sturdy music. Brad Wilk supplies a steady beat. Tom Morello rumbles quietly and effectively under Cornell on the verses then plays big, arena style power chords on the chorus. He only really musses things up on a short, pointedly unmelodic solo which isn't much but does supply a little variety. What You Are is workmanlike, listenable mainstream rock. Cornell's shifts in intensity reflect the lyric's content. The verses are a resigned recitation of all the things he did for his girlfriend("when you asked for for light, I set myself on fire", "when you wanted blood, I cut my veins"). The chorus reflects the release and exultation of being free from someone who always "wanted more."
Avril Lavigne-Don't Tell Me(up 2 positions)
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.
Britney Spears-Toxic(down 2 positions)
Britney Spears seemed to be in danger of being more famous for being famous than for being a singer but, after a bunch of singles with mediocre chart performances, she has her biggest hit since 2000's Oops! ...I Did It Again. Britney's lack of a distinctive voice or musical image have allowed each of the producers who worked on her In The Zone CD to move in a different direction and put their imprint on their song. Britney contributed to Toxic's success by being the hot babe in the video but credit for Toxic's sound should largely go to its writer Cathy Dennis, who also did Kylie Minogue's Can't Get You Out Of My Head. Like Dennis' previous megahit, Toxic has a sleek, synthetic, cool sound. Like many producers, Dennis placed Britney's cold, thin voice in an icy synth and beats world. Toxic doesn't overuse Britney's singing. Britney's brittle vocal is on the verses but I'm guessing that on the chorus and anywhere else where there's decent singing, it's Dennis, whose Touch Me(All Night Long) was a dance pop hit in the 80's. Toxic has lots of synths and a stiff, effective beat but its futuristic sound is also fun and fast, with strings creating a goofy sense of drama. Toxic's lyric tells a guy that he's dangerous and makes her high She's addicted to him and needs a hit.
Three Days Grace-Just Like You(up 18 positions)
Just Like You is the second chart hit from Three Days Grace's self titled debut CD. Featuring Adam Gontier's ranting, I Hate Everything About You, Three Days Grace's multiformat hit, was pretty obnoxious but it was also incredibly catchy. Just Like You is mostly just obnoxious. Just Like You is well constructed, like a cynical rocker by fellow Canadiens Nickelback. With Gontier's power chords slamming in between his howls, the barrage of hard, intense sounds never abates. Young male rock fans will probably enjoy the testosterone charged head banging but Just Like You is unlikely to approach I Hate Everything About You's mainstream success. Just Like You is harsh, repetitive and unappealing. Just Like You's lyric doesn't have Everything About You's ambivalence. It's plain nasty. Gontier accuses an unnamed you, who was supposed to be "there to guide me", of being "mean", "fake", "stupid", "cold", "ruthless" and "weak."
Outkast-Roses(up 8 positions)
The Love Below, Andre 3000's half of Outkast's phenomenally successful two disc set, is filled with skits, experiments and playing around. But in the middle of The Love Below's oddities are two terrific, catchy singles: Hey Ya and Roses. Roses isn't quite the force of nature that Hey Ya is but it's got a good groove and a fun, playful sound. Roses has a good, steady beat and lots of nice touches. I like the way Killer Mike goofily echoes Andre 3000's vocal. Kevin Kendricks plays organ and synths that are part 70s retro hip and part roller rink and Casio keyboard cheese. Roses sounds like a jaunty love song but it's actually one long, mischievous dis. It's got to be the first big pop hit ever with the line "I know you'd like to think your shit don't stink." Andre tells us Caroline is "the reason for the word bitch." He hopes that as she speeds to see a "baller or singer" at a club, she'll try to put on her makeup and "crash into a ditch." The song fades out with Andre repeatedly calling Caroline a "crazy bitch." The Love Below and Speakerboxx are basically two solo discs but Roses is one song with major contributions from both Outkast members. Big Boi does a fast, cool, controlled rap. He joins in the piling on, calling Caroline a freak who gets "geeked at the sight of ATM receipts." The lyric is pretty unappealing and harsh but Roses' music is so high spirited and frolicsome that Roses leaves a mostly sweet smell.
Seether featuring Amy Lee-Brokenbuy it!
Last year two songs from Seether's 2002 Disclaimer CD, Fine Again and Driven Under, were rock radio hits. Thanks to an appearance by Amy Lee, Evanescence's hot goth pop rocker, the South African band have their first mainstream hit. A new version of Broken, a Disclaimer song, is on the soundtrack of The Punisher. It's also on Disclaimer 2, which adds previously unreleased tracks to the original CD. Broken is more proof that there's a mediocre folk rocker lurking inside many of today's mediocre hard rockers. Broken is another shameless grab by a rock band for an emotive hit. Broken reminds me of Evanescence's monster hit Bring Me To Life. It doesn't have that song's rap metal elements but it similarly piles on sounds meant to guarantee a hit. Broken has a cliched rock ballad opening: a sensitively picked acoustic guitar. Shaun Morgan soon comes in with a subdued and earnest but intense vocal. The genre's conventions dictate that the sound must keep growing. By Broken's conclusion, Morgan and Lee pour their hearts out and violins play with a ferocity that's overdone even by rock ballad standards. Broken also makes me think of Bother, Stone Sour's hypersensitive 2003 hit. Broken isn't quite as drab and dour as that song. Morgan's pinched, showy singing isn't good or interesting but Lee makes him seem a little better. As on Evanescence's music, Lee is overdramatic but she is a good singer who gives Broken more warmth that the usual introspective rock ballad. Like so much contemporary rock, Broken has a troubled protagonist. Broken does convey a desire to move past the trouble. Broken's character wants to steal his partner's pain away, tell her "I love the way you laugh" and be open but he doesn't have the strength yet. He's even worse "when you're away." Lee sings in the more optimistic second verse, "the worse is over" now that he's with someone who can take his pain away and "there's so much left to learn and no one left to fight. Broken isn't much different from so many rock ballads. It's alternatively boring and bombastic but it's got a bit of heart and it's not the worst the form can offer.
Modest Mouse-Float On(up 5 positions)
Float On is a breakthrough hit for Modest Mouse, who formed in Issaquah, Washington more than a decade ago. Modest Mouse's Good News For People Who Love Bad News is a good and interesting CD. Isaac Brock uses different voices, including odd ones, and writes lyrics that are often wacky and bizarre. The rock songs on Good News take all sorts of forms. Without actually sounding like Pavement, they bring to mind that band's(as well as Flaming Lips' and Pixies') unpredictable, exploring rock. On a couple songs, Brock sounds like Talking Heads' David Byrne. Float On is the CD's closest Heads soundalike. Like a good Talking Heads song, Float On is weird but also sounds good and has an irresistible groove. Brock does the Byrne thing of sounding overwhelmed and a little crazy but also communicating a sense of wonder. With Brock's deliberate diction and Benjamin Weikel's shuffling beat keeping the song marching forward, Float On's strange, joyful ride reminds me of Road To Nowhere. Terrific, compact guitar riffs give the song added momentum. Spacy sonic effects accentuate the song's dreamlike feel. Float On has a great opening line. After backing into to a cop car, Brock decides that "sometimes life's OK" when the cop just drives off. Determining that the good comes with the bad, Brock looks on the bright side. "A fake Jamaican took every last dime" with a scam but Brock says "it was worth it just to learn some sleight of hand." Brock's cockeyed optimism mixes with Float On's gleeful music to produce one of the best singles of the year.
Time(she turned 30 this spring), therapy and a new boyfriend have calmed Alanis Morissette. So-Called Chaos, Morisette's fourth studio album, has less rage and more introspection than her early records. Morissette seems less interested in being provocative. She also seems fairly uninterested in gaining new young listeners. She's apparently resigned to mostly selling records to longtime fans and baby boomers. Everything, So-Called Chaos' first single, isn't particularly surprising or exciting. It's pleasant listening. Everything has a spacy rock intro that sounds a little like Soundgarden's Black Hole Sun. Everything then settles into a fairly standard rock arrangement, with a steady beat, that has some variation. The chorus has a warm, layered sound with a simple, ringing guitar riff. Morissette's voice is fine and pretty open. Everything has a leisurely pace. Everything's sprawling recitation is reminiscent of Thank U, from Morissette's second record. The thanks go to her boyfriend, rather than Thank U's more random list of targets. Morissette appreciates how he sees all her sides. He digs the good things in her(she's wise with a kind soul and a brave heart). He doesn't pretend her bad side(she's moody, withholding and passive aggressive) doesn't exist and he even loves some of her darkness. I'm not that interested in Morisette's self explorations but Everything is very genial. It has a giving tone. Musically, Everything isn't very ambitious but it's inoffensive and goes by easily.
Switchfoot-Meant To Live(unchanged)
Switchfoot, a band formed in San Diego by the Foreman brothers, are the latest artists to cross over from the Christian music world to success on the pop charts. Switchfoot have tried out some different sounds and seem to have decided on a grungy rock style. I'm naturally prejudiced against the many recent bands who borrow the big but melodic guitar rock sound of Nirvana and their contemporaries but, on Meant To Live, Switchfoot do a pretty good job. Meant To Live's guitar line is largely lifted from Smells Like Teen Spirit(especially Kurt Cobain's guitar's tic as he leaves the chorus). It also sounds like Smashing Pumpkin's Cherub Rock . But Meant To Live doesn't show the commercial cynicism or over the top hostility of a lot of the music by today's grunge fans. Jonathan Foreman makes a big, pure guitar sound that reminds me of interesting mid 90s atmospheric guitar rockers Hum. Meant To Live, from Switchfoot's The Beautiful Letdown CD, isn't as showy as much contemporary rock. Foreman's vocal avoids the nastiness and vanity of the many modern rock singers obsessed by unfaithful girlfriends and/or a world that doesn't understand them. He also doesn't haven't have the self righteousness of a faith obsessed singer like Creed's Scott Stapp. Besides encouraging the idea of not replaying "the wars of our fathers"(good luck on that), the lyric doesn't give many specifics on how we can "live for so much more." Given the band's religious focus and the lines about how everything "screams for second life" and about wanting "more than this world's got to offer", Meant To Live seems like a call to get in touch with a higher power.
Jessica Simpson-With You(down 7 positions)
I don't know much about Jessica Simpson except that she's married to some guy from boy group 98 Degrees and that she seems like an air head. Obviously, someone has decided that she should be a star because she's on tv a lot and she's gotten the star treatment with a carefully produced single that can't help be a hit. With You, from Simpson's In This Skin CD, is nicely constructed, if somewhat generic easy listening music. It reminds me of other hits including TLC's Unpretty or Natalie Imbruglia's Torn. With You, written by pop journeymen Billy Mann and Andy Marvel has a decent skittery beat and lite pop guitar, synths and backing vocals. Simpson's breathy voice is pleasant enough to help the song move along innocuously. The sensuality of her vocal has undoubtedly help it become a big hit. But Simpson's singing otherwise so lacks edge or substance that it helps confirm the impression of Simpson as fakey and a bit cartoonish and having little but her sexiness to offer. So does With You's video, which ridiculously depicts the fabulous babe starlet as a regular gal working around the house. With You's awful lyric is like a bad soft core porn script or the article around Playboy pictures. We're told that Jessica is a regular gal who wears Levis, likes to sit around "with nothing but a t-shirt on" and laugh all night and didn't feel beautiful before she was "with you."
Yeah Yeah Yeah-Maps(down 6 positions)
Fever To Tell, Yeah Yeah Yeahs' first full length CD, has been a critics' favorite but it's not very commercial. Surprisingly, a year after the CD's release, the New York band has achieved some mainstream success, including a lot of MTV play. Maps is not very representantive of Fever To Tell. The first 70% of Fever To Tell has the raw, edgy, punky sound that originally gave Yeah Yeah Yeahs their reputation. I find that music interesting and exciting but I don't know how much I like it. With her ranting and shriek, Singer Karen O is a compelling figure, sounding a little unhinged and like she wants to make us uncomfortable. Nick Zinner creates an exciting, driving sound with an arsenal of jagged guitar riffs. Things calm down on Fever To Tell's last few songs. Y Control is my favorite and the least wild of the CD's other rockers. Modern Romance and hidden track Porcelain are stark with subdued vocals. But Maps is Fever To Tell's real standout. It has an epic quality. Maps is unhurried but it's moved along by Brian Chase's simple pounding and Nick Zinner's processed guitars. Zinner's varied, evocative guitar sounds give Maps texture. A bass sound periodically scrapes along Maps' bottom before exploding with a climactic U2-like fury. Maps' uncluttered, haunting soundscape heightens the poignance of Karen O's uncharacteristically unmannered vocal and Maps' concise lyric. Swearing "they don't love you like I love you" Karen O, sounding a bit like Chrissie Hynde, pleads "wait" and "don't stray."
Michael Andrews featuring Gary Jules-Mad World(down 2 positions)
Singer/songwriter Gary Jules and pianist/composer Michael Andrews have made music, together and apart, since they were teenagers in San Diego in the 80s. They recorded a cover of Tears For Fears' Mad World in early 2001 for Andrews' soundtrack to the movie Donnie Darko. Jules put Mad World on his Trading Snakeoil For Wolftickets CD. Jules toured extensively, playing the songs on Trading Snakeoil, which he basically put out himself. He didn't have a big commercial breakthrough until late 2003 when Mad World became a huge hit in England. Stripping down a song to piano and vocals is a standard way to do a cover. Still, Andrews was fairly brilliant in seeing potential in a song from Tears For Fears' 1983 The Hurting CD. With an ominous mood created by dark, cold synths and vocals, the original is very serious, a bit overdone and very much a creation of the early 80s. Jules, a distinctive, idiosyncratic singer and writer, does a sad, understated, unpretty vocal that makes a cover seem very personal. Jules' vocal and the music, Andrews' classical sounding piano with some subtle strings, are haunting and they connect with Donnie Darko's odd, troubled main character. I feel like the subdued voice and piano form naturally leads to pretension. I'm not a huge fan of the new Mad World but it is thoughtful, well made and not particularly self indulgent. The lyric, by Tears For Fears' leader Roland Orzabal, is a harrowing portrayal of a disturbed mind. Mad World's character has "dreams in which I'm dying" which are "the best I've ever had" and wants to "drown my sorrow" and see "no tomorrow." He also has depressed feelings which are easier to relate to. He sees, everywhere he looks, people with "worn out faces" running in circles and "going nowhere." He describes feeling, even as a child, that "no one knew me" and that teachers "look right through me."
Jay-Z-Dirt Off Your Shoulder(up 4 positions)
Dirt Off Your Shoulder is from The Black Album, which Jay-Z says is his last record. I'm not very good at predicting if a song will be a hit. I thought Change Clothes, The Black Album's first single, was going to be a smash. Change Clothes, with Pharrell Williams singing, was fun and light. Jay-Z's smooth, fast rap has a good, light touch. However, Dirt Off Your Shoulder has easily outdone Change Clothes on the pop chart. Dirt Off Your Shoulder also has a good rap but its music is less appealing. Jay-Z released an a capella Black Album. That allowed people to put their tracks behind Jay-Z's raps. The most notable result was Danger Mouse's Grey Album which ingeniously backed the raps with music from The Beatles' White Album. I'd like to hear a different track on Dirt Off Your Shoulder. Dirt Off Your Shoulder was produced and cowritten by Timbaland, who has provided striking music for Missy Elliott and for Aaliyah and Ginuwine. Timbaland has used a harsh, metallic sound before but Dirt Off Your Shoulder's music is particularly cold. It's also repetitive, using the same uninteresting riff over and over without adding much to distract from it. Jay-Z's forceful, confident rap is typically compelling but it's not his most exciting or fresh. Dirt Off Your Shoulder has a lot of references to expensive possessions that he's "tryin' to hustle." He revels in his popularity and skill, tells us that he knows how to deal with hatin' rappers and hecklers and gives a "middle finger to the Lord." The lyric isn't that interesting. I'm glad that 99 Problems, with its huge beat and supposedly controversial video depicting Jay-Z getting shot, has pushed Dirt Off Your Shoulder off the airwaves.
Sean Paul-I'm Still In Love With You(up 2 positions)
Since it was released in 2002, Sean Paul Henriques' Dutty Rock CD has yielded a string of hits. Get Busy was a #1 pop hit. Gimme The Light and Like Glue were also sizable successes. Dutty Rock was rereleased last year to include Baby Boy, Paul's smash collaboration with Beyonce. Get Busy, with its diwali rhythm, had a striking sound. I'm Still In Love With You is more standard reggae of a sort the Jamaican born Paul presumably has heard all his life. I'm Still In Love With You was produced and written by drummer Clevie Browne and bass/keyboard player Steely Johnson, who have worked with lots of reggae's biggest names. With a steady skank, subtly deployed sound effects and an uncomplicated lyric, I'm Still In Love With You has the simple, uncluttered sound of a reggae classic. I'm Still In Love With You has the formula that worked on Shaggy's hits. A Jamaican performer with a big personality is matched with a smooth American R&B singer. Sasha's vocal carries the song forward, freeing Paul to drop in his casual raps. I'm Still In Love With You's downside is that it's pleasant but not much happens. There aren't any surprises. Sasha's singing is easy but innoucous. Even the toasting by Paul, who often plays the aggressive bad boy, is a little boring and predictable. Still, I'm Still In Love With You is a decent, smooth ride. I'm Still In Love With You's lyric is a bit annoying. Sasha's character continues to profess her love even as Paul says "I'm a hustler and a player" and "not a stayer" and decides "we have to part." Paul claims that "it hurts my heart" to "see the gal cry" and tells her to "remember the good times we had."
John Mayer-Clarity(down 1 position)
Clarity is the second chart hit from John Mayer's Heavier Things CD. Mayer is a good natured, fairly skilled performer who has modest ambitions of making meaningful music but doesn't quite know how to do so. Clarity puts Mayer's ambition and modesty to good use. It's seriously made, enjoyable and not self important. Clarity goes farther into jazz than Mayer's previous singles. Clarity starts fairly well with a crisp drum machine beat and a looped piano line. Things improve and a nice momentum develops as Clarity's vibe loosens. ?uestlove from The Roots plays good, relaxed drums. Horns, including Roy Hargrove's trumpet, give Clarity some color and give the chorus a big sound. Mayer can't help but sound like a white guy and "ooh-ooh-ooh"s betray his easy listening leanings but Mayer's vocal is pleasant enough. Mayer does his typical restrained guitar doodling but Clarity has enough interesting things happening that it doesn't have the tentative feel of some of Mayer's songs. Clarity has substance but it's also breezy and likable. Clarity's lyric is a bit New Agey but nice and well suited to the song's relaxed mood. Mayer tells us that he's normally a worrier who "weighs three times my body." One morning, he's surprised to feel "a calm I can't explain." Clarity is about hoping the feeling "will last forever" or preparing to, at least, "pretend that it somehow lingered on."
Britney Spears-Everytimebuy it!
Helped by a flashy video depicting Britney, driven by media intrusions and a jerk of a Justin-like boyfriend, contemplating suicide in a bath; Everytime is Britney's third hit from her In The Zone CD. Everytime confirms that, after the mediocre showings of the singles from Britney's self titled third record, Spears is a big hit maker again. Following Toxic, Everytime is her second big one in a row. Everytime isn't nearly as good as Toxic's sleek, fun, futuristic dance pop. Everytime isn't particularly interesting but it's fine. The quiet ballad with just a voice and ballad is an appealing form and Everytime is a decent example. Guy Sigsworth, who has worked with Bjork and Madonna(on Music's What It Feels Like For A Girl), produced Everytime. He kept it simple, playing a basic, quite poignant piano line. Sigsworth wisely didn't push Britney. Her vocal stays quiet. It's probably cleaned it up so it's harder to discern how thin and stiff it is. A better singer would have made Everything more compelling. Still, Spears' singing is heartfelt and unembarrassing. Everytime was written by Britney and her backup singer Annette Stamatelatos Artani. It has some bad school girl poetry, like the stuff about trying to fly and falling because she doesn't have her wings, but it's mostly kind of sweet. Britney has strong love for a guy who wants to "carry on without me" after she caused him pain. She prays that his face will fade away but guesses "I need you baby" because his face is "haunting me" and she can't fly on her own. Everything isn't great and it doesn't show Britney can sing but it delivers a sincere message in an unshowy way her young fans will love.
Muse-Time Is Running Out(up 1 position)
Time Is Running Out is from Absolution, the third studio album by the Devon, England band. Muse has a reputation of sounding like Radiohead. Time Is Running Out indicates the reputation was well earned. Muse's music resembles the records Radiohead made before getting really weird and spacy on Kid A and Amnesiac. Time Is Running Out has the hallmarks of Radiohead's earlier music. Matthew Bellamy is the impassioned, troubled singer who, like Thom Yorke, loses himself as he gains intensity and drifts into falsetto. Like a Radiohead song, Time Is Running Out has music that's big, dense and dramatic. The verses have huge drums and cold piano, guitar and percussion that echo Radiohead's icy, industrial sound. The bright side is Time Is Running Out has the excitement of a good Radiohead song. It's edgy and emotionally charged. Bellamy isn't as compelling or idiosyncratic as Yorke but he is an charmismatic singer with substantial presence. Dominic Howard's pounding and Bellamy's distorted guitar help create an ambitious sound with an impressively epic scope. Muse's music copies Radiohead's and, by definition, is less orignal and innovative. But Time Is Running Out is quite a thrilling copy. Time Is Running Out's lyric is a bit overwrought. It adds to the feeling that Time Is Running Out is less than fresh. Bellamy is "drowning" and "asphyxiating." He's "addicted" and under "the spell that you've created" but he also wants to "play the game" because "I want the friction." She'll be "the death of me" but "I won't let you murder it."
Puddle Of Mudd-Heel Over Head(down 23 positions)
As I noted in the Away From Me review, I actually like the singles from Puddle Of Mudd's Life On Display better than the ones from their far more successful Come Clean CD. Wes Scantlin's delivery is slightly less obnoxious and arrogant and the songs are fairly tuneful. Still, Puddle Of Mudd is pretty bad and, with Scantlin's anger toned down, kind of pointless. Heel Over Head, is a lot like Away From Me, Life On Display's first single. It's mid tempo rock in the style of Foo Fighters, Stone Temple Pilots and, especially, Nirvana. The playing is pretty good, with a decent loose vibe. Scantlin plays a guitar riff like the ones from Nirvana's Scentless Apprentice and Heart-Shaped Box. Heel Over Head has a fairly uninspired and anonymous melody but it's decent mainstream rock. Heel Over Head's biggest problem is Scantlin's singing and writing. Even when he's not at his most unpleasant, Scantlin is pretty unappealing. He does a pretty bland, repetitious rock star vocal until Heel Over Head's conclusion when he, predictably, starts screaming. Heel Over Head is another self pitying screed from Scantlin. He's "ripping apart at the seams". Scantlin complains that "after all the things I've done for you", "you don't save me at all" and demands "don't you walk away from me."
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."
Mis-teeq are three women(Su-Elise Nash, Sabrina Washington and Alesha Anjanette Dixon) who got together in London in the late 90s. Mis-teeq have been scoring hits in England for more than three years. Scandalous is on Mis-teeq's self titled US debut CD, which includes their UK hits. British critics have compared Mis-teeq to Destiny's Child. Before I hear more of their music, I'll say the resemblance to Spice Girls is at least as strong. Scandalous was produced by the Norwegian Stargate team(Mikkel Eriksen, Tor Erik Hermansen and Hallgeir Rustan) who have had light dance pop hits in England with S Club 7 and Samantha Mumba. Scandalous sounds like other European imitations of American hip hop that don't quite get it right. With its steady beat and synth riff and vaguely threatening sound effects, Scandalous is slickly efficient with a bit of edge. It also is synthetic, cold and repetitive. The vocals are similarly icy. The women seem like competent singers but their attempts to seem tough comes across a little fakey. They claim "you should be scared of us" but Scandalous' lyric isn't daring enough to justify the song's confrontational attitude. It's just a song about a guy with "looks to kill" whose "touch gives me chills" and "got me feelin' weak." The female character only really asserts herself during a bridge when she asks him for "a little conversation" and to "show a little patience." Scandalous moves well and has a decent forboding atmosphere but it's also silly and overdramatic.
Kimberly Locke-8th World Wonder(down 6 positions)
Kimberly Locke is the third American Idol contestant to make the top 50. Locke was eliminated when Clay Aiken and eventual winner Ruben Studdard made the finals but she has defeated Studdard on the charts. 8th World Wonder is a bigger pop hit than Studdard has had so far. Nothing about 8th World Wonder, from Locke's debut One Love CD, changes my opinion that American Idol is making pop music blander. Most of American Idol's successes have been competent but innocuous, appealing to the most middle American viewers by being inoffensive and familiar. Unlike Kelly Clarkson, who has tried to add a bit of edge to the squeaky clean American Idol prototype, Locke sticks with the show's safe sound on 8th World Wonder. 8th World Wonder reminds me of one of Shania Twain's lite pop hits though, to her credit, even at her most cloying and manipulative, Twain is never this boring. Locke's singing is very colorless. It's remarkable that Locke, an African-American, conveys even less soul than Clay Aiken, perhaps the whitest guy in the world. 8th World Wonder was produced and cowritten by Shaun Shankel, whose credits include work with easy listening favorites Michael Bolton and Amy Grant. There's nothing distinctive or interesting about 8th World Wonder's music. Shankel uses drum machines, synths and rock guitars but makes sure nothing gets too loud or challenging. Eight World Wonder's writers have Locke playing the swooning, adoring girlfriend. I know that a romance's early days can be intoxicating but 8th World Wonder really makes Locke seem like an idiot, raving about how amazing the guy she's known for seven days is. 8th World Wonder's lyric is overblown trying, with thunder and rising water, to achieve some sort of biblical force.
New Found Glory-All Downhill From Herebuy it!
There haven't been many bratty punky pop hits recently so I guess it's time. Not much distinguishes All Downhill From Here, on New Found Glory's Catalyst CD, from the band's 2002 hit My Friends Over You or songs by Simple Plan and other similar acts except that New Found Glory are a little older and have been around a little longer than some of the other successful, perky hardcore fans. All Downhill From Here isn't terrible. Its sound keeps coming and stays upbeat. The guitars are tight and incisive. Neil Avron, who's produced Yellowcard, SR-71, Everclear and New Found Glory's previous records, created a full sound. All Downhill From Here is just very familiar. Nothing separates it from the pack. Jordan Pundik's vocal is good natured but annoying. Pundik isn't a very good singer. He's simultaneously nasal and whiny. On All Downhill From Here, Pundik sings about an on and off relationship that's going bad again. His girlfriend's actions contradict her claim that she still wants him around. She's going through the motions and "pulling me down."