The Wallflowers-Sleepwalker(up 3 positions)
Jakob Dylan inherited his dad's cynicism but presents it in a less distinctive way. It was no surprise that the band's Bringing Down The Horse CD went multiplatinum. The Wallflowers' music is smart, melodic, well played and familiar, without anything too unusual that would disturb the yuppies. Sleepwalker, from the Breach CD, is more safe, likable easy rock. Dylan has a reticent, unshowy persona but his band is polished and keeps things moving with solid drumming and Michael Ward's guitar. Dylan sings about being in a dreamlike state where he can't even consider the possibility of love. He shifts Sam Cooke's sentiment, asking Cupid not to draw back his bow.
U2-Beautiful Day(up 1 position)
After spending much of the 90's making cynical, edgy and more dance oriented music, U2 return to the purer sound of their Unforgettable Fire/Joshua Tree era for a great single from the new All That You Can't Leave Behind CD. Beautiful Day starts like a New Order dance song but quickly shifts to the band's classic sound with The Edge's chiming guitar and Adam Clayton's percolating bass. Beautiful Day is about appreciating life. Even if "you're out of luck and the reason that you had to care", you're not a hopeless case so don't let the beauty get away. The music parallels the optimistic lyrics with Bono and The Edge's optimistic, yearning lead and backing vocals.
Red Hot Chili Peppers-Californication(down 1 position)
Do we really need another serious, sensitive single from the Chili Peppers? Scar Tissue was a very good song but I could do without their other recent displays of maturity. Californication is the fourth chart hit from the CD of the same name. Anthony Kiedis intones the lyrics so seriously that you'd think he was the first person to notice the shallowness of Hollywood life. His indictment is fairly predictable in pointing out that people are seduced and then exploited in their search for glamour and(taking a shot at Courtney Love) that plastic surgery and other tools create an arifticial world. The music is a little bland but John Frusciante has a good, sad guitar riff.
Creed-With Arms Wide Open(up 1 position)
There probably will always be a demand for big, pretentious arena rock. After a year in the top 50, Higher is finally off the chart but With Arms Wide Open and other songs from the Human Clay CD will keep Creed on the chart for a while. With Arms Wide Open is another sweeping and basically empty rock ballad. Scott Stapp copped Eddie Vedder's serious intensity and delivers it with even less of a sense of humor. With Arms Wide Open has the band's typical big guitars and extremely serious vocals. At least, the subject matter is more appealing than Stapp's usual religious tirades. He actually sounds a little humble as he welcomes his baby to the world.
Barenaked Ladies-Pinch Me(up 1 position)
One Week, from BNL's Stunt CD, gave the band their first taste in the U.S. of the huge success they've long enjoyed in their native Canada. Pinch Me, from the Maroon CD, doesn't have One Week's irresistable supercharged momentum. Pinch Me is more reflective of the band's typical modest, likable style. Ed Robertson is usually more unassuming than the band's other singer, Steven Page. However, Robertson did the lightning fast rap on One Week and he similarly races smoothly through parts of Pinch Me, providing a good dynamic shift from the song's generally mellow mood. Robertson is appealing even when playing a guy who lives in a dream world because in the real world, "everything's a mess." Pinch Me has quirky charm, like the non sequitor line, "I just made you say underwear" plus a happy ending of sorts with Robertson's character tentatively deciding to "try to figure out what all this is for" and "try to see the world beyond your front door."
Collective Soul-Why Part 2(up 1 position)
Why, Part 2 is the first single from the Georgia band's Blender CD. Like Gel and Where The River Flows from their debut record, Why has a chunky, hard guitar riff. However, they hedge their bets, trying to appeal to a mainstream audience with keyboards and sleek production. Typically for Collective Soul, the result is music that's listenable but not particularly distinctive or memorable. In the lyrics, Ed Roland feels sorry for himself and wonders how love slipped away, leaving him "alone with the blame."
Three Doors Down-Kryptonite(down 6 positions)
This surprise hit from the young Mississippi band is nothing new. It kind of sounds like the classic rock staple Radar Love. Still, Kryptonite, from the band's Better Life CD, has an easy, unpretentious charm and a good blues rock feel. Brad Arnold's lyrics are slight but charming and heartfelt. He sings about having a troubled mind and needing reassurance that his lover will stand by his side, asking "if I go crazy, will you still call me Superman?"
Three Doors Down-Loser(unchanged)
Kryptonite, the hit from Three Doors Down's Better Life CD, has a fairly depressing lyric but it also has a light musical touch and a charmingly simple, unshowy sound. It rocks but without the lugubrious, heavy feeling of so much rock music these days. Loser is less interesting, more standard rock radio fare. Like their peers, on Loser, Three Doors Down take the serious, intense rock ballads of Alice In Chains and Pearl Jam and remake them with less personality. Loser has the formula down with serious vocals and intense acoustic verses leading to choruses with big electric guitars. They really overdo it on the bridge with big classic rock chords, for no particular reason. The lyrics are yet another mordant tale of a young man pushed to the edge. Brad Arnold sings that a woman is "getting close to pushing me off life's little ledge." The only positive note is that he also realizes "someday this will fall away" and he'll find "a love that flows through me."
Papa Roach-Last Resort(unchanged)
Papa Roach is the latest hip hop informed hard rock band with an anguished young male. Coby Dick's yelling that he's suffocating on Last Resort, from the Infest CD, does nothing for me but the kids might appreciate him singing about how he's "losing my sight, losing my mind, won't somebody tell me I'm fine" and how he can't go on living this way. The assautive guitar is harsh but strong and incisive.
Fuel broke through with Shimmer, from their Sunburn CD. That song had a hard rock sound and was catchy but didn't seem too gimmicky. Hemorrhage, from the new Something Like Human CD, doesn't have Shimmer's light touch. With its dramatic strings and acoustic guitar, Hemorrhage is calculated to be a smash hit rock ballad. Brett Scallions is ever so intense as he sings Carl Bell's bombastic lyrics asking her not to leave love bleeding in my his hands, as if Elton John and many others hadn't thought of the image before.
Vertical Horizon-You're A God(unchanged)
Like Tonic and other similar bands shooting for the airwaves, Vertical Horizon basically make generic pop rock with vaguely troubled lyrics. They don't even have the personality of the kings of the genre, Matchbox 20. While not as distinctive as Everything You Want, the hit title track from their CD, You're a God is perkier and catchy in a repetitive way. However, the lyrics, about being covered with lies leave a nasty aftertaste as Matt Scannell tells the woman he's dumping that he's not worthy of her.
Foo Fighters-Next Year(unchanged)
With the exception of the very good Learn To Fly, most of the rockers on There Is Nothing Left To Lose are fairly routine. Two slow songs, Ain't It The Life and Next Year, are among the most interesting on the CD. Next Year has a good dreamy atmosphere. Strings give it the feel of a thoughtful late Beatles ballad. The lyrics seem to use a trip into space to represent a break in a relationship that will make things all better.
Green Day-Minority(up 1 position)
Fans who were concerned with the maturity Billie Joe Armstrong showed on Time Of Your Life from the Nimrod CD can be reassured by Minority, the first single from the Warning CD. Minority has the likably simple feel that made Green Day a huge success on their Dookie CD. Billie Joe sings that he doesn't want to be a conformist and is happy to stand alone.
Vast-Free(up 1 position)
Free, from the Music For People CD, is overblown hard rock. Over heavy metal guitar chords, Jon Crosby yells, "it's time to be what I need to be." Still, while Crosby are way over the top and the whole effect is very bombastic, Free has adrenaline and sweeping ambition like Faith No More's Epic, especially on its chorus as Crosby sings "you can't tell what to do anymore."
Everclear-Wonderful(down 2 positions)
Everclear has two new CDs released under the name Songs From An American Movie. The single version of Wonderful is from Volume One: Learning How To Smile. After disclosing some of his life story on So Much For The Afterglow's Father of Mine, Art Alexakis shares more on Wonderful and his story about the effect his parents' breakup had on him is pretty touching. Alexakis sings as an angry youth who wants his life to be the same as it used to be and doesn't want people to insult him by saying things are fine now. The music resembles I Will Buy You a New Life and other Everclear songs, starting quietly then building in force with undulating keyboards, power chords and Alexakis' screamed no's. However, the mellower start is a little longer and sadder than usual, consistent with the sad tone of the song.
A Perfect Circle-Three Libras(up 3 positions)
The chart hits from A Perfect Circle's Mer De Noms keep moving Maynard James Keenan farther from Tool's harsh, dense sound. Three Libras has a Led Zeppelin style rock guitars go to the Renaissance festival sound. It's a mellow rock ballad that's a little silly but appealingly sincere. Keenan sings rather that screams. The electric guitars kick in eventually but most of the song has an acoustic feel. Keenan sings "it's difficult not to feel a little disappointed"about being passed over, presumably romantically. He sings that he did his best but "you don't see me at all."
Right Now is from the band's debut Now You See Inside CD. SR-71, named for a military stealth aircraft, are the latest band to follow Green Day in making fast, punky pop. Right Now has appealing energy and a good guitar riff. However, its appeal is limited by its mediocre vocals and dopey lyrics. Especially in Mitch Allan's bratty singing, Right Now is reminiscent of the sloppy, speedy mindlessly fun songs the Goo Goo Dolls do when bass player Robby Takac gets to sing lead. The male teens will probably appreciate the immature tale of a guy who used to worship his girlfriend and "hang on every word" but now, feeling taking advantage of, he's just going to use her until something better comes along.
Black Jesus is from Everlast's Eat At Whitey's CD. On What It's Like and Ends, Everlast preached about the hardships faced by needy and troubled people. Black Jesus is a natural extension of that persona, with Everlast toying with the image of being a messiah. Everlast's dramatic, unadorned presentation is striking. However, I find him self important and repetitive, especially after a few listens when his message becomes clear.
Creed-Are You Ready?(up 1 position)
Are You Ready is the fourth chart hit from Creed's Human Clay CD. As always, Scott Stapp sings as if he's got brilliant ideas no one's ever thought of. But all Are You Ready's says is: seek and you'll find, remember where you came from and life is hard and unpredictable. Usually, Creed's music is a little more subtle than Stapp's lyrics and singing but the music here is uninventive hard rock. Are You Ready sounds like dozens of metal pop songs from The Who's The Seeker to STP's Vaseline.
The title track from the new Awake CD is more nasty, unappetizing hard rock from Godsmack. Awake is similar to Keep Away from their last record. Awake has headbanging guitars and Sully Erna's angry screamed and growled vocals. On Awake, he seems to be blaming another for his problems and says, "I hope you're satisfied."
Dexter Freebish-Leaving Town(up 3 positions)
Leaving Town is from the Austin band's major label debut, A Life Of Saturdays. The band makes radio savvy alternative pop in the vein of Matchbox 20 and Vertical Horizon. Leaving Town is a bitter tale of the guy left behind as his girl pursues success in the big city. Kyle sings, "when you're broken down and no else is around, you'll come running back to this town and I'll be there." Leaving Town is familiar and unoriginal but Dexter Freebish work the formula well when the power chords kick in on the chorus.
Disturbed-Stupify(up 4 positions)
Stupify is from Disturbed's Sickness CD. Stupify starts with a promise of a mix of hard rock and rap like Rage Against The Machine and Limp Bizkit. It soon degenerates into an unpleasant rage from singer David Draiman, who calls himself a sick animal. The harsh, menacing mood is apparently the appeal of Stupify but the sound certainly doesn't have the full, overwhelming power of bands like Nine Inch Nails. The hard edged guitars and electronics seem a little thin at times. The first verse is an excuse for Draiman to repeatedly spit out a profanity that Gordon Gano of Violent Femmes used more interestingly on Add It Up, telling us he just wanted to have sex once. Because of Draiman's nasty delivery, I don't really care that he lives his life in a daze, his sense of reality slipping and that he's breaking down.
Lenny Kravitz-Again(up 20 positions)
It's galling to me that someone's decided that Lenny Kravitz's uninspired Hendrix and Sly Stone retreads deserve a greatest hits CD. Still, this new song isn't as annoying as most of his work. It has a nice groove with a good bass and drums high in the mix. Kravitz' vocals are typically complacent and his lyrics are pretty terrible as he sings about hearing a cry in his soul and about never having "a yearning quite like this before" and wondering if he'll ever see his "sacred gift of heaven" again. Kravitz also pulls off an awful, cliched rock guitar solo in the middle. However, while Again is pretty insubstantial, it has a appealingly easy mood.
Everclear-AM Radiobuy it!
Art Alexakis has sung about growing in a black neighborhod but his music has always been very white. For his most danceable single so far, rather than looking to contemporary hip hop, Alexakis borrows from Jean Knight's Mr. Big Stuff, a song from the early 70's when white and black music was more frequently heard on the same station. The lyrics claim that the time before VCRs, DVD and the internet was better. Alexakis' nostalgia is kind of sweet but it's also consistent with Everclear's general unwillingness to significantly alter their sound. That's not such a bad thing since their formula is likable. The band creates a good groove, with Greg Eklund's good drumming and catchy oscillating keyboards on the chorus. Still, on the Learning How To Smile CD, everything sounds like an Everclear song and that can be too much, especially on their cover of Brown Eyed Girl.
Matchbox 20-If You're Gonebuy it!
The second single from Matchbox 20's Mad Season is wimpy but nice. I'm not a big ballad fan but If You're Gone is one of my favorite mellow songs of the year. Rob Thomas' singing is often overdramatic but here it's nicely understated. The music, with inobtrusive guitar and keyboards, fits the sad, resigned song as Thomas sings, "I think I've already lost you." But the song also has some hope. Thomas has finally been roused to action and is willing to try harder: "I think I can need this in my life." Horns rising at the end of the song match the cautiously optimistic feeling.