Smile Empty Soul-Bottom Of A Bottle(down 9 positions)
Bottom Of A Bottle is on the self titled CD by the Santa Clarita, CA band. Smile Empty Soul singer/guitarist/songwriter Sean Danielsen has a good grasp of the kind of sleek hard rock that's crossed over to the pop charts. Bottom Of A Bottle has a chorus, with Danielsen ranting over a big guitar sound, that reminds me of Linkin Park's In The End. But Bottom Of A Bottle is pretty unpleasant stuff. It's presumably meant to be a cautionary tale but the "I do it for the drugs" hook is still pretty nasty. The glib, showily harsh quality of Danielsen's singing undercuts any sympathy the song creates for its troubled protaganist. Danielsen sings that in a "scared and lonely" life, drugs and alcohol make him feel alive and loved.
Blink 182-Feeling This(up 10 positions)
Not long ago, Blink 182 were proudly one of the stupidest successful bands around. Since then, younger bands like Sum 41 and Simple Plan, who seem like fans of Blink 182's fast, fun rocking pop, have supplanted the band in terms of pop success and dopeyness. It's a bit depressing that, as they hit 30, Blink 182 seem to be trying to keep up with the new kids. Feeling This, from the band's self titled new record, sounds like an attempt by Blink 182, who rarely showed much interest in rap or hip hop in the past, to emulate the rap rock sound of Sum 41 and other lesser immature rock bands. The good news is that they do a really good job. Feeling This has a good flow and a lot of likable personality. Anchored by Travis Barker's big, flexible, no nonsense beat, Feeling This shifts tempos and textures but stays interesting. Feeling This is a good showcase for Blink's vocalists. Their contrasting styles fit together nicely. In his bratty voice, Tom DeLonge is the nihilist reveling in the moment, exclaiming excitedly "show me the way to bed" and "I love all the things you do." The more reflective Mark Hoppus makes it clear that the encounter is a thing of the past that's sadly fading into memory. When you think that the genial traded vocals are all the song is about, Hoppus comes up with a skilled, fluid, unshowy rap. With DeLonge's fast, varied guitar lines, Feeling This keeps driving forward. Throughout, Feeling This retains a loose hip hop flow and maintains a good balance of enthusiasm and smarts.
Outkast-Hey Ya(up 10 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."
Evanescence-Going Under(down 9 positions)
Going Under doesn't have the mediocre raps that helped made Bring Me To Life sound like an odd Linkin Park tribute. Otherwise, Going Under is a lot like the hugely successful first single from the Arkansas band's Fallen CD. Once again, the band is wildly over the top. Shooting for a cold, futuristic sound, Evanescence throw together crunching guitar chords, atmospheric keyboard effects and Amy Lee's overdramatic art rock vocals as well as strings and layers of backup singing. Lee again sounds like a self important, hysterical version of Sarah McLachlan or Tori Amos. Brian Moody's sledge hammer guitar playing is pretty uninteresting and his short solo pretty awful. Hopefully the novelty value of Evanescence's theatrical music is fast ebbing and they're not a harbinger of a wave of female led melodramatic neo grunge bands. Going Under's lyric is slightly surprising. Lee sings about all the pain her lover has caused but also vows that she'll "save myself" and "won't be broken again."
The White Stripes-The Hardest Button To Button(down 5 positions)
The Hardest Button To Button, the second hit from The White Stripes' Elephant CD, is another hard to resist mix of Jack White's weird personality and his minimal, driving rock music. The Hardest Button shows White's gift for finding a great hook. The Hardest Button is held together by a steady supply of throbbing and pounding sounds. Like Seven Nation Army(which has been in the top 50 for more than eight months), The Hardest Button prominently features a bass sound that, because of Jack White's odd rules, is played by a processed guitar rather than a bass. The Hardest Button gets off to a great start with that Psycho Killer style bass sound joined by the raw guitar sound of White playing notes of chords then by Meg White's bass drum. Jack's voice has its typical slightly demented but committed tone. Meg's simple drumming style is perfect for Hardest Button and the songs that Jack makes in general. Hardest Button climaxes on the chorus with an emphatic guitar sound crashing in unison with the drums. Hardest Button is rock music as Jack White envisions it. It's focused, exciting and lacking in excess. White's strangeness can sometimes be distracting but songs like Hardest Button To Button show how White can create the thrill of a pure rock sound. Hardest Botton is apparently about growing up with a close but troubled family, curing his baby brother's tooth ache with a voodoo doll and feeling "like you're the hardest button to button."
Lil' Jon & The Eastside Boyz featuring the Yin Yang Twins-Get Low(up 1 position)
Lil Jon is the latest of many successful rap and hiphop acts from Atlanta. Get Low is from Lil John & The Eastside Boyz' Kings Of Crunk CD. Kings Of Crunk came out more than a year ago. Since then, Get Low's popularity has slowly grown and Get Low has moved from dance clubs to pop radio. Get Low is an attention grabber. Get Low has an edgy, slightly menacing synth line that matches its raw vocals. Get Low's singing, which is mostly just yelling, has confidence and a touch of anger that add up to a steady energy. The singers stay in your face and refuse to be ignored. From the chorus bragging about the sweat dripping "down my balls" to the verses wondering about a woman's sexual prowess and admiring strippers, Get Low's lyric encouraging the ladies in the club to their sexiest behavior is proudly vulgar and stupid and offensive in places. But it's tolerable in Get Low's wild, exuberant context. Get Low has an urgency that's rare among the meticulously produced songs on pop radio.
REM-Bad Day(down 2 positions)
Bad Day is one of three previously unreleased songs on REM's best of CD: In Time. In Time is a bit of an odd collection. It covers 1988 on, so it misses the music from REM's early, pre-Warner years(which have their own collection, Eponymous), when they made most of their best, most consistent records. In Time misses some seemingly obvious choices like Shiny Happy People(which the band apparently hates). It's a bit lopsided, with four songs from the hit filled Automatic For The People and only one from Out Of Time and Monster. In Time doesn't really recognize the fact that since New Adventures In Hi-Fi, REM's records haven't been that good. So the CD gives you interesting mediocrities like E-Bow The Letter and All The Way To Reno. In Time does gives a home to The Great Beyond, from Jim Carrey's Andy Kaufman movie, and brings new attention to At My Most Beautiful and Daysleeper, brilliant songs from REM's largely ignored Up CD. In Time is also a reminder of how, while always sounding like themselves, REM has never tried too hard to keep up with current trends or repeat what's brought them success. So it's odd that REM have so obviously recycled one of their bigger hits for Bad Day. From its verses stuffed with Michael Stipe's rush of nonsequitors and gibberish to its simple, singalong chorus, Bad Day basically is a rehash of It's The End Of The World. While Bad Day, which was written in the 80s, is a knockoff, it does have a lot of the qualities that have always made REM's music appealing. It's comforting to hear Peter Buck's nonstop flow of varied, likable jangly guitar riffs, Stipes's stong, warm vocal and Mike Mills sweet, unpolished backing vocals. The difference in Bad Day from End Of The World is its vibe. Stipe sang with youthful confidence about feeling fine, even as the world became more confusing and screwed up. On Bad Day, Stipe sings "count your bleesings", "we all fall down" and "please don't take a picture." I also like Bad Day's video. Besides smartly capturing the information saturated screen and obsession with freakish weather events of contemporary news shows, it also presents Stipe, Buck and Mills as unassuming tv presences I'd love to see on morning tv.
Mya-My Love Is Like... Wo(down 9 positions)
My Love Is Like Wo... is from Mya Harrison's Moodring CD. My Love Is Like was cowritten and coproduced by Missy Elliott. My Love Is Like doesn't have the inventiveness and energy of Elliott's hits but it does have those songs' appealing confidence and sensuality. My Love Is Like is one of many R&B songs where a women promises she's going to please her man but it gives the usual idea a nice spin. She knows the guy will be happy with her because she's quite happy with herself. The fun of the song is how Mya's need to satisfy someone else seems less important than how she's satisfied with herself. My Love Is Like's music is unremarkable and a touch light but it's smooth and controlled and nicely matches the lyric's easy assurance. My Love Is Like has a good, simple beat and quietly dramatic piano, string and synth effects. Mya's voice is relaxed when she's on her own and the singing is playful and strong when she harmonizes and trades lines with backup singers.
Ben Harper-Diamonds On The Inside(unchanged)
I found With My Own Two Hands, the first chart hit from Ben Harper's Diamonds On The Inside's CD, annoying. With My Own Two Hands was an impressive recreation of the Bob Marley sound but it didn't have much distinctive personality and seemed kind of pointless. Diamonds On The Inside's title track is much more comfortable and appealing. Harper's music includes all sorts of different kinds of folk music. He seems comfortable with the country folk of Diamonds On The Inside, which has the genuine, comfortable feel of a song like The Band's The Weight. Harper is a natural charmer but he tries modesty on Diamonds On The Inside, which sounds a little like a restrained version of his Steal My Kisses. Nothing much happens on Diamonds On The Inside but it sounds good. Diamonds On The Inside is anchored by Harper's strong, simple vocal and a solid acoustic guitar line. It builds a bit towards the end with a good, unshowy guitar solo, warm harmonies and a touch of steel guitar but Diamonds On The Inside remains a likably easy ballad with a positive vibe. On Diamonds On The Inside, Harper sings about a girl named Truth who "was a horrible liar", had everything "but couldn't be satisfied." Harper is a little full of himself, advising us to "make sure the fortune that you seek is the fortune you need" but the lyric generally fits Diamonds On The Inside's good feel.
Stacie Orrico-There's Gotta Be More To Life(unchanged)
There's Gotta Be MOre To Life is the second hit from Stacie Orrico's self titled CD. Orrico is only 17 but she has already made the transition from Christian pop singer to mainstream preteen favorite. As on her first hit Stuck, Orrico shows signs on More To Life, as she slides around the verse over a jaunty beat with an ease reminiscent of Blu Cantrell on Hit Em Up Style, of being a good, interesting singer. Unfortunately, More To Life's makers weren't really shooting for interesting. They just want a perky hit for the kids. The chirpy, repetitive, mindless chorus invites a segue into Hillary Duff's relentlessly sunny So Yesterday. The chorus doesn't do Orrico any favors. Each time the chorus comes back, it has a more uplifting but emptier sound. Orrico's voice sounds thin as she tries to rise above bland, smooth backing vocals. Still, while More To Life is formulaic, it is always very pleasant. Orrico sings on More To Life that she has it all but feels empty inside and that she's looking for more than temporary highs.
Jack Johnson-Wasting Time(unchanged)
The Horizon Has Been Defeated, the first chart hit from Jack Johnson's On And On CD, was one of the year's more likable singles. The Horizon Has Been Defeated, a wry shot at corporate greed, showed Johnson at his charming best. Horizon's good, reggae inflected music fit Johnson's positive vibe and was a little more substantial than some of Johnson's work. Wasting Time, written by Johnson with drummer Adam Topol and bassist Merlo Podlewski, has an even more overt reggae flavor and an interesting guitar sound. Wasting Time isn't quite as irresistable as Horizon but it is appealing, easy listening. Johnson often walks the line between relaxed and complacent but his music is generally appealing and usually works, at least as background music. Wasting Time's lyric is typical Johnson. He often depicts himself as a stoner with a very laidback but confident approach to women. As on Flake, Wasting Time paints a world of people barely energetic enough to care about anything. Wasting Time has a cutesy theme: "I'm just a waste of her energy and she just wasting my time, so why gon't we get together and we could waste it all tonight."
Baby Bash-Suga Suga(up 13 positions)
Baby Bash is from Tha Smokin' Nephew CD by the California born/Texas based rapper. Suga Suga was co-written by Baby's Texas buddy Frankie J, whose Don't Wanna Try was a hit earlier this year. Suga Suga is one of the more surprising hits of the year, passing songs by bigger names on its way to the top of the pop charts. Everything about is smooth and appealing. With relaxed beats and a good looped guitar riff, Suga Suga is a very easy ride. Baby Bash's rapping on the verses and Frankie J's singing on the chorus flow nicely into each other. Both are cool, confident and alluring. Suga Suga also has a sped up tape sound that adds some flavor but don't disturb Suga Suga's cool flow. Suga Suga is very well constructed. I feel like it's good rather than great and don't totally understand how it's become such a big hit but there's no question that Suga Suga is seductive and very easy to listen to. Suga Suga has a pretty basic lyric. Frankie J thanks his girl for lifting him and wonders how she got so fly.
Audioslave-I Am The Highwaybuy it!
Audioslave, the eponymous debut CD by the band comprised of Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell and Rage Against The Machine's musicians, is a solid record that's been smartly marketed to rock radio. Hard rocking tracks reminiscent of the band's earlier music(Cochise and Show Me How To Live) have been alternated with sweeping rock ballads to show the record's appeal to fans of the band's previous work and a broader audience. And they've all been pretty good. It make sense that I Am The Highway, Audioslave's fourth chart hit, is being played after Like A Stone, the record's other big, sprawling slow song, has been given time to fade into memory. From its deliberate pace to the way Cornell sings "I am the night" with almost exactly the same phrasing he used to sing "I wait for you alone", I Am The Highway is a lot like Like A Stone. And while, like Like A Stone, it's quite evocative and powerful, it falls a bit short of its predecessor. I Am The Highway's chief asset is Chris Cornell heartfelt's vocal. Cornell's singing is invariably over the top but, in a flip, ironic world, his seriousness can draw you in. So the sincerity of Cornell's recitation of I Am The Highway's overheated title metaphor for his life on the road is a little goofy but the intensity of Cornell's effortlessly strong voice is fascinating. The ex Rage musicians can mostly be appreciated for their restraint in playing an arrangement that would largely be appropriate for a lounge act but they do quietly add to I Am The Highway's cool atmosphere. Tom Morello keeps his guitar playing simple and plays an appropriately reflective solo. I Am The Highway is undoubtedly too subtle for many Rage fans. It's a little slow for my tastes but I do appreciate its controlled yet dramatic mood.
Britney Spears featuring Madonna-Me Against The Musicbuy it!
You have to give Britney Spears(and her publicists) credit. Her recent music isn't very good or interesting and her record sales are declining but, with the help of kisses with Madonna and two day marriages, she's made sure that lots of people want to interview her or put her on the cover of their magazine. Me Against The Music is disappointing for a few reasons, including for showing that the VMA kiss, which seemed exciting at the time, was just publicity for Britney's upcoming single. Me Against The Music, from Britney's In The Zone CD, has the fairly odd idea of teaming up two of the worst singers who ever became huge pop stars. Of course, Me Against The Music doesn't try to show that Britney or Madonna are great singers. The singers' celebrity is used in attempt to create interest in a slight, unremarkable song. Like other songs from the singers' oeuvre, Me Against The Music matches their cold, electronically enhanced voices with an icy, synthetic sound. The pinched, nasal quality of Britney's voice isn't likable but it works OK with the hard, unmelodic music. The vocals are only significantly annoying when Madonna is featured giving irritatingly confident calling out "hey Britney" and advising her to "bare your soul." Otherwise, the singing is mostly buried low in the mix and it often isn't much more than another percussion instrument. The vocals are compressed all over the place and Britney's singing quickly skitters around but there's such a lack of warmth or humanity that nothing draws you in. Me Against The Music has an OK groove but not much sense of a song. The "all my people on the floor"chorus is the only portion with anything resembling a hook. Me Against The Music has the mechanical efficiency of a lot of Britney's music since she began to more actively seek an older audience. It sounds like it was designed as the background for a music video rather than as an appealing song. Me Against The Music is a sterile, joyless piece of work. It's a fairly impressive, tight production so crammed with synths, crisp, brittle beats and processed vocals that it's a bit tiring to listen to. Not surprising for a thin song accompanied by a PR avalanche, Me Against The Music raced into the charts but didn't last long. While the singers(especially Madonna) try to give the impression that they're singing about something serious and intense, Me Against The Music is basically just another song about how it's good to get on the dance floor and dance.
Jonny Lang-Red Light(unchanged)
Red Light is more sincere rock balladeering by the guitar player from North Dakota whose given name is Jon Langseth. Lang is no longer a teenager but he still has a voice that oddly sounds like that of someone twice his age. Lang is obviously a student of blues rock legends. He seems to be a skilled guitar player but he hasn't developed a distinctive or interesting style. Red Light, from Lang's Long Time Coming CD, is pleasant, tasteful and vaguely catchy with smooth playing by good musicians but nothing about it really stands out. Lang showily strains his voice to demonstrate how soulful he's trying to be. Red Light uses a somewhat odd metaphor, recommending that one should take time to pause and consider how you're living your life the way you should stop at a red light rather than running it.
Hilary Duff-So Yesterday(up 2 positions)
As Britney, Christina and Jason aim for an adult audience, there are openings for artists targeting the preteens. With hit factory The Matrix producing Hilary Duff, star of a bunch of kid friendly movies and Lizzie McGuire of the Disney Channel show, has declared her candidacy with So Yesterday. The Matrix also wrote and produced Avril Lavigne's hits. So Yesterday, from Duff's Metamorphosis CD, is both similar to and different from The Matrix' Lavigne's. With its steady beat and electric guitar strum and slightly edgy touches like the sound of a record scratching(like the one they used on Lavigne's Complicated), So Yesterday has the catchy, poppy modern rock sound The Matrix have shown a predilection and talent for. So Yesterday also has a good hook with a title that's accessible enough to be a catch phrase for the kids. Unlike Lavigne's hits, So Yesterday shows no desire to establish its singer as punky or complicated. There's no way to tell if Duff's singing is more than competent but she sings So Yesterday slowly and clearly with an warm, open, young voice that matches her sweet, simple screen persona and makes her seem not that different from her fans . So Yesterday is basic, innocuous and pleasant though I can't imagine many people over 12 getting excited about such a thin, relentlessly upbeat song. So Yesterday has a confident, mature message for the kids. She tells a guy who hasn't given her enough attention that she's totally ready to move on to a life without her.
It's been more than six years and Sarah McLachlan has had a baby since the release of Surfacing, her last studio record. But surprisingly little about McLachlan's sound has changed. Fallen, the first single from McLachlan's Afterglow CD, sounds a lot like Building A Mystery and other McLachlan songs. It's disappointing that McLachlan hasn't changed her style at all. She can come across as self satisfied and could use an edge. The same sound is bound to have less impact when repeated. Still, while Fallen is familiar and unsurprising, the formula it follows is a good one. Fallen is listenable and quite insinuating. Fallen shares with Building A Mystery a patient pace that creates a good dramatic feel. It's carefully constructed, with strings, piano and electric guitar deployed in a fairly discrete manner that creates a modest kind of excitement. McLachlan's voice is clear and controlled with a touch of sensuality but, as with her music, you can wish that McLachlan didn't seem so comfortable with her singing and took more chances. On Fallen, McLachlan sings, in fairly melodramatic terms, that she's "sunk so low" after messing up a relationship where she got "caught up" in an offer with a cost that "was so much more than I could bear."
Kelly Clarkson-Low(down 2 positions)
While her record sales have been eclipsed by those of American Idol 2 runnerup Clay Aiken, Kelly Clarkson has made the transition from American Idol winner to mainstream pop radio star. A Moment Like This, Clarkson's first hit, was the kind of overblown ballad that gave American Idol a bad name but the singles from Clarkson's Thankful CD have been glossy and generic but tolerable studio constructions. Low was written by Jimmy Harry, whose main previous credits included work on records by Kylie Minogue and RuPaul, and produced by Clif Magness, who worked on most of the non-smash hits on Avril Lavigne's Let Go CD(both Harry and Magness also worked on Aiken's CD). Low is largely inoffensive but annoyingly overproduced. Magness throws in far too many sounds, with lots of different synth effects. The chorus is particular silly, reaching for crescendos with bombastic guitars, booming drums and layers of backing singers. Amidst the overstuffed arrangement, Clarkson doesn't get the chance to show much personality but she does reveal a decent voice. She does the obligatory, showy reaching for high notes but doesn't go as far over the top as the music leads her. Clarkson's singing is largely strong and appealing. Low is about dealing with things after being dumped by a guy who made a mess of things.
Dashboard Confessional-Hands Down(down 16 positions)
Dashboard Confessional is led by Christopher Carrabba, a singer/songwriter so sensitive that he makes his fellow sincere emo rockers seem brutish in comparison. Carrabba's serious, heartfelt delivery and clean good looks have won him worshipful fans who moon over him and sing along with his every word. Hands Down is from Dashboard Confessional's new A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar CD. On Hands Down, Carrabba gives his fans what they expect, making it clear how deeply he feels what he says. Hands Down's dynamics are its strong point. Carrabba creates good intensity, mixing up the song's volume and tempo, quietly emphasizing on certain sections and sharing the joy of release by yelling his heart on the chorus. The new CD was produced by modern rock veteran Gil Norton(Pixies, Belly, Foo Fighters). Hands Down is very listenable perky guitar pop that sounds good but the music is fairly routine and anonymous. Hands Down has the stuttering guitar and quiet to loud formula of The Middle and other Jimmy Eat World songs without that band's musical personality. Hands Down does have Carrabba's winning emotional purity. When he doesn't have a catchy tune to anchor it, Carrabba's sincerity can be too intense and a bit boring but Hands Down is heartfelt with good hooks. Hands Down's lyric is appealingly dramatic. Carrabba communicates the rapturous feeling that "this is the best day I can ever remember." Hands Down does a good job of capturing the heightened emotion of youthful romance. Carrabba sings that "my hopes are so high that your kiss might kill me." He willingly puts himself in his lover's hands and revels in how she "kissed me like you meant it."
Sting-Send Your Love(down 1 position)
Sting had his biggest hit in years by going the world music route on Brand New Day's Desert Rose, a seductively exotic song featuring Algerian singer Cheb Mami. Not surprisingly, Sting's new Sacred Love has a lot more international musicians and sounds. Send Your Love's music is good. It mixes the jazziness that's marked much of Sting's solo work with more exotic sounds. The result is a loose, unforced, exciting jam. Sting is a gifted, nimble singer. He fits nicely with Send Your Love's quick playing and light rhythmic touch. Send Your Love has a fast, vibrant bass line, an atmospheric, evocative horn and subtle synths that easily float above the other sounds. Send Your Love's downside is that it has a lot of flavor but no center. There's not much of a melody and what there is, in his typical style, echoes previous Sting songs like If You Love Somebody and, of course, Desert Rose. On Sacred Love, Sting makes lots of connections between love and religion and faith. Because it's Sting, the lyrics are thoughtful but quite pretentious. Send Your Love has nice ideas: "you've got a stake in the world we ought to share" and we can make the world a more loving place. But they're surrounded by Sting's musings. The first verse is about how the truth of the universe can be found in a grain of sand or "a single hour". The second one is about how "your mind is a relay station" that can send positive thoughts into the future and to distant galaxies. There are also decent thoughts about finding religion in joy and nature.
Pink-Trouble(up 3 positions)
When she was promoting her M!ssundaztood CD, Pink made a big deal about how she was escaping the rigid hit making constraints put on her by her record company's execs. Pink took more control and her music had a little more edge, especially on her Linda Perry collaboration Get The Party Started, but she was still making radio friendly dance pop. Pink has recently released two rocking singles and has apparently found the limits of how far she can challenge her pop audience. Both Feel Good Time, from the Charlie's Angels 2 soundtrack, and Trouble, the first single from the Try This CD, quickly climbed into the pop top 20, had a very short stay then quickly fell off the charts. Feel Good Time, written by Beck and William Orbit, was cool and trippy and apparently a little too weird for the masses. Trouble's relative lack of success brings into question the commercial wisdom of Pink's decision to give up working with Perry and write most of Try This with Rancid's Tim Armstrong(who, with modern rock hits with Rancid and Transplants, has had his best year in a while). Trouble has the fun, simple feel of some of Rancid's best songs with Armstrong's rough rasp replaced by Pink's assertive and slightly husky but still poppy vocal. Trouble is energetic but a bit repetitive. Even with Pink and Armstrong's efforts to add rock trappings, Trouble is fairly insubstantial but it is fun. Trouble keeps moving with a good driving beat and a variety of sections that feature decent rock guitar, organ and an interesting looping synth effect. When Trouble really picks up steam on the last chorus, its breathless energy reminds me of Eurythmics' Would I Lie To You. On Trouble's lyric, Pink tries to perpetuate a rebellious image warning those who try "to take me for a ride" that they're facing trouble.
Jason Mraz-You and I Both(unchanged)
I found The Remedy, the hit first single from Jason Mraz' Waiting For My Rocket To Come CD, very annoying. Mraz wrote The Remedy with The Matrix team, who have also had hits with Avril Lavigne, Liz Phair and Hilary Duff. I disliked Remedy's hipster cockiness and glib white boy rapping but I can't deny that it was slick and catchy and sounded like a hit. Mraz is less irritating on You and I Both, which Mraz wrote by himself. But what Mraz gains in genial sincerity, he loses in substance and catchiness. You and I Both is pleasant, with Mraz' affable vocal, an innocuous drum machine beat and tastefully muted guitars and keyboards, but bland. You and I Both confirms my initial impression that, despite the edginess The Remedy vaguely promised, the natural home for Mraz' ingratiating pop is easy listening radio. You and I Both's lyric is pretty appealing. "Looking on the bright side", Mraz celebrates the fact that, while "words" have screwed up his relationship, he's shared a love "others only dream of."
50 Cent-P.I.M.P.(down 17 positions)
P.I.M.P, the third hit from his Get Rich Or Die Tryin' CD, supports the theory that 50 Cent can release anything these days and it'll be a hit. P.I.M.P.'s success was probably aided by 50's flamboyant performance with Snoop Dogg on the Video Music Awards. P.I.M.P. is a slight novelty song but it is appealing. P.I.M.P. rolls along easily on the Caribbean sound of steel drums and a steady, if slightly irritating, scraping beat. 50's rap has even more relaxed charm than usual. His style is very effective. He's fast and confident but his easy, unshowy, slightly mushed mouthed, regular guy delivery make his rap very accessible and likable. On P.I.M.P., 50 Cent is working hard, keeping a seemingly endless string of lines coming, but he's still very much at ease. P.I.M.P.'s whimsical sound disguises the obnoxious nature of the lyrics. P.I.M.P. is apparently about the fact that, when it comes to women, 50 has the cold, bottom line oriented attitude of a pimp. 50 Cent tells us how he can charm the ladies but P.I.M.P. is mostly about how "a bitch can't get a dollar out of me." The third verse has some nasty, pointless details of the pimping business, threatening that if you "put my other hoes down, you get your ass beat" and ordering his girls to do tricks and "make a pimp rich." P.I.M.P. shows how 50 Cent has been able to appeal to different audiences. His violent personal history, criminal past and gritty urban tales give him street cred. But he also appeals to a mainstream audience because his music sounds good.
Switchfoot-Meant To Livebuy it!
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.
Jason Mraz-The Remedy(down 11 positions)
The Remedy made the top 50 last spring thanks mostly to play on adult alternative radio. The Remedy returned to the chart as, not surprisingly, its annoyingly catchy perkiness has been embraced by pop radio. Jason Mraz is a young singer/songwriter who grew in Virginia and established himself playing in San Diego's coffee houses. Mraz' Waiting For My Rocket To Come CD was produced by John Alagia, who worked with Dave Matthews and John Mayer. Mraz wrote The Remedy with The Matrix(Lauren Christy, Graham Edwards and Scott Spock), who wrote Avril Lavigne's hits. The Matrix's gifts for writing catchy, upbeat tunes is evident but The Remedy doesn't measure up to Lavigne's best feisty, idiosyncratic work. Since Mraz is another cocky, glib white guy, the Matthews/Mayer comparison may be more apt but, to be fair to Matthews and Mayer, Mraz is glibber and his music seems less substantial. The Remedy is pleasant and boomer friendly but its relentless cheerfulness is too much. The catchiness of the "I won't worry my life away" chorus is undermined by a shallow slickness worthy of a TV commercial. Mraz does a white hipster rap on the verses of a sort that gave Barenaked Ladies and others hits but has fallen out of favor on the pop charts the last couple years. Mraz' cutesy gots (as in "you gots the poison, I've gots the remedy) make me think that Mraz needs a good ass kicking to wipe that smirk of the song's face. The Remedy's music matches the sunny vocal and lyric with a bouncy bass and guitar and cheap sounding synths.