Baby Bash-Suga Suga(up 2 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.
The White Stripes-The Hardest Button To Button(unchanged)
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."
Maroon 5-Harder To Breathe(down 2 positions)
Maroon 5 used to be Kara's Flowers, playing smart, catchy guitar pop that did well at college radio but didn't sell many records. After releasing Fourth World, Kara's Flowers became Maroon 5. They reworked their sound, played a lot of gigs and have now released their debut CD Songs About Jane. Judging from Harder To Breathe, Maroon 5 developed a cynical, radio savvy sound. Harder To Breathe sounds like a hit but it's not very fun or likable. Harder To Breathe is all jagged, hooky noises but, perhaps appropriately for a very angry song, it lacks warmth. Harder To Breathe does grab you with a big sound. The guitars and drums crunch in at sharp angles. The hard, cold music turns me off but it is distinctive. The same can be said for Adam Levine's cocky, stylized vocal but he really irritates me. I do concede that his falsetto at the end is pretty cool. Harder To Breathe's lyric is pretty nasty. It apparently is addressed to a girlfriend. Levine mentions his "tendency of getting very physical" and warns: "watch your step 'cause if I do you'll need a miracle." He sings you're "not fit to f---in tread the ground I'm walking on" and "you want to stay but you know very well I want you gone." He taunts her: "is it painful to learn that it's me that has all the control" and "you wish that you had me to hold."
Nelly-Shake Ya Tailfeather(down 6 positions)
P. Diddy assembled tracks from an all star lineup for the Bad Boys II soundtrack. I'm guessing that Nelly didn't sweat too much over his contribution. Shake Ya Tailfeather has the same sprawling, steady, easy but tight form of many of Nelly's singles from Country Grammar to Air Force Ones. Shake Ya Tailfeather is nothing new and it doesn't have much distinctive personality but it is well constructed and it shows Nelly's skills. As on many of Nelly's songs, annoying elements are side by side with likable ones. Shake Ya Tailfeather features the tomahawk chop chant that's irritated fans of teams playing the Braves for years. You'd figure that Nelly, who's always championing his St.Louis hometown, would be loathe to coopt the theme of the Cards' rival. Especially on the first verse, Shake Ya Tailfeather showcases Nelly's considerable rapping talents. He's fast with a light touch, and a lot of presence. With handclaps, synth interjections and a steady flow, Shake Ya Tailfeather's backing track has energy to match Nelly's vocal. The music and Nelly's interjections maintain an appealing feel even when lesser rappers take over. P. Diddy, who does the second verse, isn't as drab and flat as he can be. He keeps the song moving but his confident rap isn't very exciting. It would be nothing without its accompaniment. Murphy Lee from St. Lunatics, who's contributed to Nelly's CDs, does the third verse as comic relief, sharing his love of big booties and grass. It's nothing special but fine. Shake Ya Tailfeather's familiarity made it a big hit but it also is a good example of how Nelly's rapping and music can be irresistable. Even for a Nelly song, Shake Ya Tailfeather's lyric, mostly about wanting to see the ladies dance, is pretty slight. Nelly comes on to a girl then disses her. The rappers say each others names a lot. Nelly says he likes girls of all ethnicities then asks one to "take it off" and "take that ass to the floor."
The Offspring-Hit Thatbuy it!
The Offspring keep going and it becomes increasingly unclear why they should bother. It's been 10 years, and feels even longer, since The Offspring hit their artistic peak with the Smash CD. Smash's best single Come Out And Play was a bit obnoxious but it had good rocking energy and a slightly anarchic spirit. The Offspring showed a bit of imagination on the Americana CD and its hip hop exploiting/mocking Pretty Fly For A White Guy but The Offspring's music has mostly brought diminishing returns from an overused formula. The Offspring's later music has served the purpose of exposing singer/writer Dexter Holland as a right wing jerk on songs like Why Don't You Get A Job. Hit That, from the new Splinter CD, isn't as confrontational as that song. Hit That is about a woman who takes care of a baby and the father who is "out having fun" and failing to show responsibility. Holland's sympathy with the woman is appealing but he undermines it by having the woman decide to emulate the baby's father by "chasing guys for fun" and apparently abandoning the kid. Holland's observations of phenomena like kids "who raise themselves" aren't particularly insightful. Hit That's sound slightly deviates from The Offspring's standard. The band errs on the verses by shifting the musical focus from Noodles' guitar, their strength, to a cheesy, irritating synth. Things improve on the chorus with a big, playful guitar sound. But Hit That has nothing new and interesting to offer and Holland's self confident, untuneful rant limits its appeal.
Switchfoot-Meant To Live(up 2 positions)
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.
Lil' Jon & The Eastside Boyz featuring the Yin Yang Twins-Get Low(down 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.
Stacie Orrico-There's Gotta Be More To Life(up 2 positions)
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.
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.
Christina Aguilera-Can't Hold Us Down(down 6 positions)
Can't Hold Us Down, the fourth single from Christina Aguilera's Stripped CD, is another declaration of Aguilera's determination to overcome the obstacles she claims life throws at her. As on Beautiful, Aguilera is smart enough to couch her promise to overcome society's preconceptions in a broader context. On Beautiful, Aguilera could claim to represent all young women who don't fit a traditional definition of beauty. On Can't Hold Us Down, Aguilera says she's singing for all "my girls all around the world who've come across a man who don't respect your worth." Can't Hold Us Down doesn't have the subtlety, musically or lyrically, that writer/producer Linda Perry brought to Beautiful. Can't Hold Us Down was cowritten and coproduced by Scott Storch, who also did Fighter which, with a steadily wailing rock guitar having a decibal competition with Aguilera's shrill proclamation of self confidence, had the subtlety of a jackhammer. Can't Hold Us Down isn't as aggressively annoying as Fighter but it's not very interesting. Can't Hold Us Down's backing track is fairly lifeless, with an unchanging, flat beat and nothing to the music beyond an OK, repeated chiming effect. Aguilera is, typically, a bit of a vocal showoff but she gets your attention and shows her skills by quickly and fluidly snaking around the lyric. While she's never relaxed, Aguilera's singing has a bit of the playful, retro feel of Blu Cantrell's Hit Em Up Style. The world can always use another good song urging women to stand up for themselves. But Aguilera is hardly Aretha Franklin. Can't Hold Us Down's thoughts are pretty familiar and not that inspiring. Can't Hold Us Down's universal hopes get tied up with Aguilera's petty complaints about how people slander her "for popularity." But it can't be bad for young women to be encouraged to state their opinions and "respect your worth." Lil' Kim, Aguilera's Lady Marmalade teammate, adds a little more flavor and raspy attitude to Can't Hold Us Down though it's not her best work. Kim's rap fits with the lyric's general useful though not particularly original or insightful feel, complaining about double standards regarding how men and women can act towards the oppositie sex and declaring that "the table's about to turn."
Jonny Lang-Red Light(up 3 positions)
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.
Sarah McLachlan-Fallen(up 3 positions)
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."
Britney Spears featuring Madonna-Me Against The Music(unchanged)
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.
Black Eyed Peas-Where Is The Love?(down 3 positions)
Black Eyed Peas are a LA based group, led by Will.I.Am, who have made music that combines various forms of hip hop and rock and usually has a positive message. Black Eyed have flirted with success before. Request Line(featuring Macy Gray), from the Bridging The Gap CD, was a minor hit as was Long Beach All Stars' Sunny hours, which had a rap by Will.I.Am. Black Eyed Peas have broken through in a big way with a smash hit that brings to mind classic R&B reflections on the state of the world by Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder as well as more recent ones by Arrested Development, Outkast and Fugees. Where Is The Love, from the Elephunk CD, has a good, light touch. Justin Timberlake helps out, doing a good job singing the chorus in a sweet falsetto. Strings give Where Is The Love a majestic, hopeful feel. The verses are helped by a simple skipping riff under the raps. Black Eyed Peas' three rappers each take a verse. They all have distinctive voices and, even while bemoaning various problems, they don't contradict the theme that the situation can be helped with love. The first verse urges people not to just focus on terrorism but to work on the hatreds that exist within our country. The second verse starts with the fairly standard idea that love is better than dropping bombs then refers to a war going on for a secret reason. The third verse attacks a world where "most of us only care about money makin'" and "wrong information is always shown by the media." Regardless of the specifics of the words, Where Is The Love's easy flow and upbeat vibe make it one of the summer's best singles.
Cold-Suffocate(down 10 positions)
Suffocate is the second chart hit from Cold's Year Of The Spider CD. On Suffocate, Scooter Ward's in his usual angry, very serious mode. Vocals by Dollshead's Sierra Swan polish things up a bit but Suffocate is still pretty unpleasant. Suffocate's lyric is a familiar diatribe about wanting to leave a girlfriend who lies, takes and plays games.
No Doubt-It's My Life(up 9 positions)
No Doubt say they're not breaking up. But singer Gwen Stefani has established a personality apart from the band and is embarking on an acting and solo music career. We probably won't see much new No Doubt product in the foreseeable future. The band has maintained some presence by releasing The Singles 1992-2003, which includes a new recording, a cover of Talk Talk's It's My Life. It's My Life was a good choice for a cover. It's familiar but not so much so that a lot of people won't accept a new version. It's also a good song and one the band, clearly fans of 80's new wave, knew. No Doubt's arrangement stays very close to the one by Talk Talk leader/singer/writer Mark Hollis. Since the original song was striking and evocative, No Doubt's fidelity is a good thing. No Doubt keep the good, chunky bass line, the dramatic, melodic synth line and even most of the bird-like atmospheric flourishes that surrounded the choruses. Befitting a recording coming nearly two decades after the original, the 2003 version is slightly sleeker and smoother than the charmingly clunky 1984 one was. The main difference is the singing. Stefani and Hollis both are theatrical and a bit hysterical. But where Hollis' self pity was adorably heartfelt, Stefani, as she sometimes does, mostly seems whiny. Stefani does have a star quality that grabs your attention. As a Talk Talk fan(I highly recommend the Collection or Very Best compilation), I prefer the original but while it's not as personal, No Doubt have done a good, faithful cover. It's My Life is about wondering how far to go into a difficult relationship but deciding to stay in it for love's thrill.
Ben Harper-Diamonds On The Inside(down 1 position)
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.
Hoobastank-Out Of Control(unchanged)
Out Of Control is from Hoobastank's The Reason CD. Hoobastank found success with Crawling In The Dark, a rocking, good natured song from their self titled CD that found its way into the background music of a lot of sports highlight films and extreme sports events. I've found their subsequent singles much less enjoyable. On Out Of Control, the way that singer Doug Robb works his way into a frenzy is impressive but, since there are so many intense rock singers around these days, his wailing isn't particularly notable. Robb's anger is so extreme that it's kind of silly. Moving from a gallop on the verse to a full, tight sound on the chorus, Dan Estrin's guitar provides decent support. But while Robb ranges from perturbed to crazed, he's never compelling. Out Of Control is hard but not interesting or enjoyable. Out Of Control is yet another rock song where a young guy shrieks about how he's taken advantage of and abused. Presumably referring to a woman, Robb and Estrin's song complains that "I've done everything as you say" and "followed your rules without question" but she hasn't been there for him and has left him "spinning out of control." Out Of Control would be at least a little more interesting if it told us what rules he followed, how she left him out of control and why he doesn't get out of the relationship.
White Flag is more polite, ambient music from Dido Armstrong. Dido originally broke through after piece of her song Thank You was used on Eminem's Stan. White Flag, from Dido's Life For Rent CD, is another pleasant song that could use a more exciting context. It begs for a big beat remix. Dido wrote White Flag with her regular song writing partner, her brother Rollo, and Rick Nowels, who's worked with mellow artists like Clay Aiken and Belinda Carlisle. With its atmospheric synths and muted beats, White Flag is sleek and cool but kind of drab. It's perfect yuppie background music. It has a touch of style that differentiates it a little from other easy listening. White Flag is a bit of a bore but I enjoy its smooth ride. Though she could show a little more life(her delivery of the start of the verses is painfully slow), Dido's voice is clear, straight forward and good. She and the song have a British reserve that I find fascinating. On White Flag, Dido quietly proclaims that she won't give up hope that a seemingly dead relationship can be revived.
The surprising thing about Room On Fire, The Strokes' new record, is how unsurprising it is. Facing the pressure of following up their debut CD, The Strokes have made a record that is very similar to 2001's Is This It. That's not such a bad thing. Is This It was one of the best records in recent years. But excitement and freshness are largely missing on a record that is mostly fairly safe variations on a now familiar theme. With Nick Valensi's guitar recreating the icy synths of early 80s new wave rock, 12:51 is about as different as Room On Fire gets. But 12:51 and the rest of Room On Fire are still quite enjoyable. Julian Casablancas' singing has lost some of its arrogance and gained a little warmth and humanity but he is still very cool. 12:51 gets to the heart of Casablancas' charm. He seems to expend the least possible amount of energy possible but, as his croon slides around, he communicates a subtle sense of mischief. 12:51 shows The Strokes' genius for constructing a tight rock song. 12:51 is propelled forward by Fab Moretti's handclap like drums and Albert Hammond playing the kind of driving guitar line that was Is This It's trademark. The solid foundation built by Moretti, Hammond and bass player Nikolai Fraiture gives Casablancas and Valensi the space to enjoyably float. 12:51's video nicely matches the band's deadpan charm. The images, based on Tron, an impossibly hokey movie from a now primitive age of computers and video games, fit the song's cheesy synth sound and gently mock Casablancas' unemotional deportment. 12:51 is a fun song from a good but not great record on which The Strokes refuse to break much new ground. Unlike on Is This It, Casablanca's Room On Fire lyrics largely don't depict him as an aloof heartbreaker. On 12:51, Casablancas plays a teen facing a lonely Friday night who tries to convince a girl that "now I'm older", she should "talk to me", "go out" with him and "kiss me."
Korn-Right Nowbuy it!
Some Korn fans thought that the band's last CD, Untouchables, was too commercial. Few will say that about Right Now, the first chart hit from Korn's new Take A Look In The Mirror CD. With its jackhammer guitars and Jonathan Davis' demented bark, Right Now presumably rocks hard enough to satisfy Korn purists. The music is tough and focused. But Davis' rant is ridiculous and off putting. Davis' harsh raging undoubtedly expresses the turmoil of a few male youths. But the rest of us don't need to hear someone repeatedly howling "shut up or I'll fuck you up." Davis isn't a kid. He's a bit foolish spitting out "I'm feeling mean today." Right Now is filled with nasty images about getting "across the hate when I see you", "debating who I'm gonna kick around" and wanting "to slash and feed you."
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."
Simple Plan-Perfectbuy it!
Simple Plan scored a hit with I'd Do Anything, punky pop that was basic and dopey enough for preteens to understand and love. On Perfect, the third hit from the Canadian band's debut No Pads, No Helmets... Just Balls CD, they've basically done the same thing with angst rock. It's hard to hate Perfect. Singer Pierre Bouvier sounds very sincere as he relates the pain inflicted by an unsupportive dad. Bouvier isn't as pretentious as older, deeper voiced singers, like Staind's Aaron Lewis, who've told a similar tale. But Perfect has little appeal for someone over 16. Bouvier's youthful voice and Perfect's simple, unremarkable lyric are best appreciated by kids. For an emotional rock ballad, Perfect shows admirable restraint. Perfect's first half has minimal backing. A good wash of power chords are limited to introducing the verses. The downside of Perfect's stripped down portions is that they focus attention on Bouvier's bratty vocal, which is more appealing than usual but still a bit annoying. Towards its end, Perfect's music becomes more that of a generic mellow rocker but the guitar is still pretty good if not particularly original. Perfect is about regretting that it's too late to try to fix a relationship with a father who was never satisfied with what his son did.
Jack Johnson-Wasting Time(down 12 positions)
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."
Liz Phair-Why Can't Ibuy it!
Liz Phair gained a devoted following with her debut CD Exile In Guyville. Exile's songs presented a confident, complicated woman who reveled in her sexuality. The fact that Phair's voice wasn't big or smooth only increased a sense of individuality. When Phair's self titled fourth CD came out last June, it was met by accusations of betrayal and a clear sense of abandonment from some fans. Most notably, a review(titled Exile In Avril-ville) on the front of the New York Times' Arts and Leisure section charged her with selling out and basically selling her soul for a chance of mainstream success. It seems a little harsh to begrudge Phair a shot at bigger sales, especially since the record isn't that bad. Liz Phair, recorded in many sessions with various producers during the five years since the release of her whitechocolatespaceegg CD, is of mixed quality but mostly good, especially on the songs produced by Michael Penn and Phair. It combines songs with commercial ambitions and more personal ones in a somewhat unwieldy manner. Liz Phair has a very sweet song about her son, a dumbed down rocker(Rock Me), songs(appreciating a guy's "hot, white come" and comparing a guy to her favorite underwear) which try a bit too hard to be outrageous and a bunch of likable pop rockers, like the ones she had on her previous two CDs, that are less raw than Phair's Exile songs but still have her personality. The songs that most rile Phair's longtime supporters are the four co-written and produced by The Matrix(Lauren Christy, Scott Spock and Graham Edwards), who have done hits for Avril Lavigne and other teen favorites. Among them are two slick, musically anonymous rockers that merit disdain. But Why Can't I, which finally made it to the top 50 after spending more than five months near it, is a near perfect match of Phair's charms and The Matrix's studio smarts. Phair's vocal is polished up but her idiosyncracies still shine through in lines like "we're already wet and we're gonna go swimming." Why Can't I's music has a touch of tv commercial type glibness but it's quite brilliantly constructed. Pieces I like include Corky James' watery guitar sound and the way the chorus crashes in a little bigger the last time around. The hook, with power chords stomping in all the right places, is ridiculously catchy. Why Can't I does a nice job of capturing the excitement of a new romance.