Red Hot Chili Peppers-By The Way(up 1 position)
Like Californication's Around The World, the title track from Red Hot Chili Peppers' new CD mixes the band's trademark styles. Unlike Around The World, By The Way is fun and likable and doesn't get too stupid. By The Way's verse has the mellow, serious sound of the band's recent hits. Its breaks have the Peppers' classic goofy, anarchic sound. The quieter parts remind me of Californication's Otherside. They avoid the heavy, humorless feel of some of the band's ballads. Anthony Kiedis' vocal, nicely underlined by John Frusciante's simple guitar strum, seems to have improved. He sounds more relaxed and comfortable than on some of the band's more serious songs and creates a little poignance as he sings about a "sad little girl singing songs to me beneath the marquee." The looser part, with Kiedis' wacky rap, Flea's heavy bass and Chad Smith's adroit drumming, resembles a Peppers song like Suck My Kiss. It would probably be annoying if it made up a whole song but here the playing around provides a nice contrast.
Creed-One Last Breath(down 1 position)
I should know by now not to underestimate Creed. I figured, after My Sacrifice fell off the chart quicker than the hits from Creed's Human Clay's CD, that people might be getting tired of Creed's bloated, ultraserious sound. In fact, while it won't have Higher or With Arms Wide Open's longevity, One Last Breath is Creed's first #1 song. Radio still loves their generic, soaring, meaningful sounding music. On One Last Breath, Scott Stapp admits he's screwed up and doesn't show the self righteous arrogance he has on previous hits. His clenched fist intensity is still way too much. One Last Breath, the third chart hit from the Weathered CD, starts O.K. Stapp sings with just a quiet guitar and then a subdued guitar, drums and strings. Inevitably, the sound intensifies and any subtlety is bludgeoned by heavy rock guitars and drums and Stapp's pained howl. Stapp uses his big, melodramatic imagery to say how bad life's become. He's close to the edge and "I think I'm falling." He's cried out to heaven "save me" but this time he's apparently looking for help from a woman not God.
Hoobastank-Running Away(up 1 position)
Crawling In The Dark, Hoobastank's first chart hit, had a likable energetic chorus and modest lyrics about looking for the answer. Crawling In The Dark was also wildly derivative of other rock songs and after repeat listens, I soon found it uninteresting. Running Away, the second single from Hoobastank's self titled CD, regrets that a woman "never gave us chance to be" and ran away just when they were getting close. The lyrics have a charming humility("I don't want you to feel sorry for me") but the music is painfully over the top. At times, Running Away sounds like Incubus as it combines a touch of mystical synth sound with Doug Robb's sincere vocal. But, especially on the chorus, Running Away is a bombastic classic rock wannabe with big but meaningless guitar and drums. Running Away slowly drags along with a cliched arena sound.
System Of A Down-Aerials(up 2 positions)
I loved the frantic energy and tempo changes of Toxicity's first two chart hits: Chop Suey and the title track. Those eccentricities are missing from Aerials. With Daron Malakian's guitar alternating between forbidding picking on the verses and crunching chords on the chorus, Aerials has the more standard form of a song by Korn and Tool and so many other atmospheric rock bands. Still, Serj Tankian's intense, troubled croon unmistakably shows Aerials is a SOAD song. The guitars, Tankian's voice and eastern percussion effectively create a sinister tone. Tankian's typical bleak, enigmatic imagery depicts a surreal world of confused, cowardly and powerless people. He sings that we're "swimming through the void" and that we "always want to play" but "never want to lose" and suggests "when you lose small mind, you free your life." Aerials isn't my favorite System Of A Down but it is, like most of their music, more interesting than almost anything else out there.
Coldplay-In My Place(unchanged)
Coldplay's second CD is called A Rush Of Blood To The Head. In My Place lacks Yellow's rock guitar drive but it otherwise resembles Coldplay's biggest hit. It has the likable, dreamy feel that marked Yellow, Trouble and much of the Parachutes CD. Chris Martin's vocal is, as usual, appealingly modest and sensitive. Jon Buckland's trademark ethereal guitar tone accentuates the music's delicate weightlessness. In My Place again takes Coldplay close to background music but In My Place has enough texture and beauty to give it real charm. On In My Place, Martin sings that he was lost and "underprepared" and he's now willing to wait for the object of his affection who's still waiting for another.
Puddle Of Mudd-She Hates Me(up 1 position)
She Hates Me, Puddle Of Mudd's fourth chart hit, is the least annoying song so far from the Come Clean CD. At least, Wes Scantlin isn't ranting or tunelessly whining. She Hates Me brings to mind numerous jaunty songs by otherwise rocking alternative bands. The melody and guitars particularly remind me of L7's Pretend We're Dead. She Hates Me is also obviously reminiscent of Nirvana songs like Lithium which start whimsically but then reach an angrier screamed chorus. She Hates Me is fairly listenable if totally disposable. Scantlin doen't give us much insight into why things went wrong. His writing is typically uninspired, starting by rhyming grand with hand, two with unglued and grip with slip.
U2-Electrical Stormbuy it!
Electrical Storm is one of two new songs on U2's Best of 1990-2000 CD. Not so long ago, U2's work from the second half of their career didn't seem particularly worthy of a greatest hits set. Then the band refocused their energy and put out All That You Can't Leave Behind, which included thoughtful, musically rich singles which should be memorable years from now. Electrical Storm isn't quite on the level of Beautiful Day or Walk On. With a melody similar to Zooropa's Stay and guitar lines like the ones The Edge played on Walk On, Electrical Storm feels a bit rehashed. Still, Electrical Storm has the depth of sound and feeling of U2's best work. William Orbit worked on Electrical Storm instead of usual U2 producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. Orbit fills out the sound with keyboards that at times are like something from a bad sci-fi movie soundtrack but he's generally respectful of the classic U2 sound. Even if it's familiar, The Edge's playing still creates big, poignant atmosphere. He easily segues between ringing lines on the verse and thick, powerful work on the chorus. It isn't Bono's most exciting vocal but he admirably projects hope while keeping his naturally supple voice under control and restrained.. On Electrical Storm, Bono plays a distant, guilty("you're in my mind all the time, I know that's not enough") man confident that a relationship that's been dogged by bad luck will be repaired by "love and only love", allowing them to see colors and places "that have never been seen.".
I really hated Stupify and Down With The Sickness, the angry, unpleasant rock hits from Disturbed's Sickness CD. But, with David Draiman's manic, staccato delivery, they at least had the courage of their nasty convictions. Prayer, the first single from the new Believe CD, is a weird mix of tight hard rock for their fans and a slick sound presumably intended to appeal to a broader audience. Prayer has a stomping, slashing guitar sound. Draiman's vocal is still harsh in parts but, bizarrely, he sings a melody on the verse not unlike Ricky Martin's Livin' La Vida Loco and the chorus has a cliched pop rock gloss. Prayer seems to be about how Draiman has turned away from God and found his own form of prayer after seeing all the sorrow, pain and suffering in the world.
Chad Kroeger with Josey Scott-Hero(down 6 positions)
Hero is from the Spiderman soundtrack. Hero has a big, anthemic tone appropriate for a big budget, wildly successful film about a mythic superhero. But Hero lacks the movie's sense of action and fun. It confirms my suspicion that a lot of today's pop rock stars are really mediocre folkies at heart. Hero asks questions common to folk songs about why peoples' passions lead to "killing and blood spilling" and offers its only solution in the fuzzy imagery of holding "onto the wings of the eagles." Hero plods along with little energy or imagination but, as on Nickelback's hits, Kroeger's humorless but very sincere delivery has its charm. He's down and doesn't expect a savior but still has the capacity to love. People love a solemn rock ballad so Hero's a slam dunk hit. But it's pretty tame, contrived and formulaic. Hero doesn't even have the rock drive of Nickelback's hits. It's not that different from the Hero songs done by Enrique, Mariah and many others. My favorite part of Hero is Josey Scott's participation. With his band Saliva, Scott sings cartoonish but hard edged rap inflected rock but he easily fits into Hero's serious mood. He overemotes his verse which includes the grammatically questionable claim that he was told "love will all save us."
After spending seven weeks on the top 50 in the spring Amber, the third single from 311's From Chaos CD, is back on the chart. It makes sense that Amber, with its very easy, lazy, summery feel, would do well in the hottest part of the year. 311's music is often pretty mellow. I'll Be Here Awhile, the CD's second single was laid back, genial and inconsequential. 311 are even more relaxed than usual on Amber but the mellow mood works. Amber has a likable hippie vibe that's consistent with the goofy "amber is the color of your energy" hook. 311's typical ska flavoring goes down especially easily thanks to good, crisp drumming and loose, jazzy guitar lines including one that has a rubbery preamped bounce. Nick Hexum's voice can be annoyingly innocuous but on Amber the way it floats effortlessly is just right. Amber is a tribute to a distant friend whose voice still "rings like a bell" who glides "through my head blind to fear."
Trust Company-Downfall(up 4 positions)
Downfall, from the Montgomery, Alabama band's The Lonely Position Of Neutral CD, is quite ingenious. Like music by Korn, Tool, Deftones and so many others, it has intense atmosphere and a troubled, wailing singer. But Downfall also has a sleek, catchy chorus. Downfall hits both of its musical styles pretty well. The verse, with Kevin Palmer doing an agitated vocal over rumbling bass, is pretty routine but it gains impressive power as, just before it segues into the chorus, the guitars begin to hammer and Palmer howls 'fall". The chorus is striking with appealing harmonies layered over basic but effective hard rock guitars. The lyrics are fairly standard contemporary rock fare but Palmer's agitation seems real. He sings about being tormented by fear and of hiding a volatile "other side of me." Downfall is familiar, competent hard rock with a refreshing touch of distinctiveness.
Dave Matthews Band-Where Are You Going(up 1 position)
The Dave Matthews Band recorded an album's worth of songs in 2000 with producer Steve Lillywhite. Unhappy with the results, the band started from scratch with producer Glen Ballard and a new set of songs and made the Everyday CD. DMB have returned to the songs from the Lillywhite sessions and rerecorded some of them for Busted Stuff, a CD produced by the band and Before These Crowded Streets engineer Steve Harris. They also wrote a few new songs including Where Are You Going. On Where Are You Going DMB do what they do best. Like Crash Into Me and Crush, Where Are You Going is a love song with relaxed, dreamlike music, a leisurely pace and an appealing Matthews' lyric. In an unassuming voice, Matthews sweetly tells a troubled woman "I have no answers for you", "but I do know one thing, where you are is where I belong." With subtle guitar, drums, piano and Leroi Moore's horn, Where Are You Going easily and likably floats by.
Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band-The Rising(down 1 position)
The Rising is Bruce Springsteen's first album of new songs since 1995's very subdued The Ghost Of Tom Joad and his first with the E Street Band since Born In The U.S.A. The Rising's title track reminds me of Glory Days or music from Bruce's last rock records(1992's Human Touch and Lucky Town) like Better Days, Leap Of Faith, Local Hero and, particularly, Human Touch. The Rising's big but fairly uncluttered sound and lofty, basic images create a classic feel. At 52, Bruce's voice is still strong and confident. Max Weinberg is still great at whacking the drums and making a huge sound. The Rising is nicely filled out with female vocals and a slide guitar sound. With its la la las and lyrics about rollin' down here "on wheels of fire", feeling "your arms around me" and a sky of love, tears, glory, mercy and fear, The Rising almost seems like self parody or Bruce's desperate attempt to recapture his early simple, evocative writing. But, as usual, Bruce makes imagery that would seem too much if done by others feel real and very heartfelt. With lots of religious allusions, Bruce sings about trying to overcome the "chain that binds me" and the "sixty pound stone" on his back through some sort of rebirth or perhaps by rising to heaven. Though The Rising feels like a nostalgic rehash, it's great to have Bruce back making stirring, ambitious, distinctive music like no one else.
Chad Kroeger's dreary chart dominance continues. Never Again, the third single from Nickelback's Silver Side Up CD, debuted on the top 50 while Kroeger's awful Hero was still #1. Never Again is one of Silver Side Up's harder rocking songs but, even with the big guitars, it suffers from the same deadly seriousness and lack of originality as Kroeger's previous hits. Never Again is another song that seems related to Kroeger's troubled youth. Like Too Bad, Never Again is about a dysfunctional home. This time instead of being absent, the dad is a physically abusive drunk. Kroeger is a kid afraid his mom is going to get killed. The happy ending has the mom grabbing a gun and pulling "the trigger just as fast as she can." As always, I don't question Kroeger's sincerity or right to express his pain but wish he could express himself in a more interesting, fresh way.
Korn-Thoughtless(up 2 positions)
Thoughtless is the second chart hit from Korn's Untouchables CD. Untouchables has been called the record that introduces melody to Korn's sound. Thoughtless has a melody of sorts but it's hardly tuneful. The verses have hammering guitars. The chorus has a big rock anthem sound. Jonathan Davis' vocal takes on different tones that presumably match the different levels of anger he expresses on Thoughtless. Davis starts with a bit of falsetto playfulness mixed with his rage as he sings about pushing his mercy down, daring someone to take a swing at him so he can have a reason to put him on the ground. But he quickly shifts to a harsh bark: "why are you trying to make fun of me." Things get weird as Davis rants "got my monkey back against the wall." In between, Davis accuses others of "thoughtlessly scheming" to "tear me down" and sings about wanting to "kill and rape you the way you raped me." I'm somewhat fascinated by Thoughtless' surreal, over the top sound, especially Davis' venting of his enormous, barely controlled hostility. But Thoughtless' lack of nuance and endless barrage of noise and negativity make it unlistenably harsh for me.
Papa Roach-She Loves Me Not(unchanged)
Lovehatetragedy is the new CD by the Northern California band whose lead singer, formerly known as Coby Dick, wants to be known by his given name Jacoby Shaddix. Papa Roach broke through with the Infest CD. Like many rock hits, Infest's Last Resort and Broken Home had lyrics about a young mind troubled by memories of a sad childhood and music, dictated by Dick's alternately yelled and rapped vocal, that mixed hard rock and hip hop. They didn't particularly stand out among similar songs on the radio. She Loves Me Not, which may turn out to be the rock song of the summer, is a big step forward. She Loves Me Not's lyrics, about being torn apart by anxiety caused by a girl who toys with his emotions, are typically serious. But, unlike Papa Roach's previous hits, She Loves Me Not is about the music more than Shaddix' personality. Papa Roach have effectively tightened their music on She Loves Me Not for a sound that's big but concise. She Loves Me Not has the rock heft and urgency of a Sevendust song without that band's heavy metal excess. Jerry Horton's tough, economical guitar playing and Dave Buckner's big drum sound give She Loves Me Not good force and momentum. Until he does a mediocre rap, Shaddix' vocal is nicely focused and unshowy. Given the lyrics' torment and the music's rock charge, Shaddix finishes appropriately, ranting "life's not fair."
Stone Sour-Botherbuy it!
Stone Sour is a side project for Corey Taylor and James Root, Slipknot's singer and guitar player. Slipknot's intense thrash rock and theatrical presentation have gained them large record sales and live audiences but radio has largely ignored them. Bother, from the Stone Sour CD, is considerably more radio friendly than Slipknot's music. I'm usually amused and disgusted when hard rockers suddenly become mellow and sensitive. Bother has many of the trappings of the music that annoys me: strings and a very serious vocal and subject matter. While Bother kind of bores me, it doesn't have the excess of much rock balladeering. I'm not really interested in introspective, subdued rock songs about self hatred but I understand the appeal of Bother's restrained guitar and Taylor's genuine sounding sadness. Taylor sings about a pain that makes him wish he was too dead to cry. He chastises another for not bothering with him and himself for "my deceit." Bother has suicidal imagery but Taylor sings that, while he keeps "slipping farther", he "won't let go 'til it bleeds."
Nelly featuring Kelly Rowland-Dilemma(up 1 position)
Dilemma is the Nellyville CD's ballad. I'd have thought that doing a tame, kind of sensitive song would hurt Nelly's tough guy rep but I guess he's done enough songs objectifying women and establishing his gangsta cred that Dilemma won't hurt his image much. Nelly competently works in a much more restrained mode than usual. Like his rapping, Nelly's singing is easy and fluid but he's so quiet and subdued that he's upstaged by Destiny's Child's Kelly Rowland. Nelly doesn't get to express his usual arrogance but Dilemma does stroke his ego. Rowland plays a woman who's with another man but is crazy over Nelly and always thinks about him. Nelly's character plays it cool, listening and waiting for his cue to make his move. Nelly has followed Hot In Herre, his first #1 pop hit, with another sure hit. Dilemma is based on a Patti Labelle song written by Kenny Gamble and Bunny Sigler. It has a classic, relaxed sound with a crisp, easy beat. Rowland's good, straight forward vocal is nicely underlined by inobtrusive chiming synths. The repeated "oh" sample reminds me of the version of This Woman's Work by Maxwell, a smooth singer I'd never think I'd compare to Nelly.
Avril Lavigne-Complicated(down 1 position)
Complicated is from the 17 year old Canadian's Let Go CD. Even more than Michelle Branch and Vanessa Carlton, Lavigne has a sound that seems perfect for girls looking for a more substantial alternative to Britney and Christina. Unlike Branch, whose image is sincere and vulnerable, Lavigne comes across as very self confident. Her voice has a casual, spoken quality that sounds like that of a cool teen. Complicated is fairly insubstantial but it's also appealingly perky and direct. Complicated's confessional, relaxed tone marks Lavigne as an Alanis fan. There's also some resemblance to the more rocking but still poppy recent work of labelmate Pink. Some of Complicated's synth flourishes are unnecessary but the sound is generally appealing simple. A hip hop style drum machine beat adds a bit of edge. On Complicated, Lavigne vents her frustration at a guy who's good and relaxed when they're alone but becomes foolish and showy around others.
Jimmy Eat World-Sweetness(up 1 position)
Sweetness is the second chart hit from the CD originally called Bleed American that, since September 11, the record company wants known as just Jimmy Eat World. Sweetness is a good example of why Jimmy Eat World has been labeled an emo rock band and of why the Arizona based band can be so appealing. Everything about Sweetness is done with great intensity and sincerity and its eager attempt to ingratiate is successful. Jim Adkins is very likable. His full voiced vocal never flags. Stopping and starting on a dime, Tom Linton and Adkins's impressive barrage of guitars gives Sweetness a rock and roll edge but doesn't overwhelm the band's open, positive sound. Sweetness reminds me of a big, glossy Cheap Trick song like Surrender or Dream Police, with good natured seriousness taking the place of that band's tongue in cheek goofiness. Sweetness rocks harder than Jimmy Eat World's surprise monster hit The Middle but like that song, it has high energy that seems to keep building. Instead of The Middle's Major Tom synth riff, Sweetness builds to a climax by adding a perky, one finger piano line. Considering the music's upbeat mood, Sweetness has a surprisingly dark subject matter. Adkins sings that a relationship used to be like a sweet game but, feeling tethered, he doesn't want to play the game anymore. I still find Jimmy Eat World's over the top, innocent enthusiasm tough to take in large doses but short shots like Sweetness are hard to resist.
Pink-Just Like A Pill(down 1 position)
When M!ssundaztood came out Pink, aided by the music press, put out the idea that the CD was a bold, rocking work that declared her freedom from record company people forcing her to make calculated, radio friendly music. Get The Party Started, M!ssundaztood's first single, still sounds great and exciting but Pink's subsequent singles have seemed more calculated for radio play than bold and rocking. Just Like A Pill, like Don't Let Me Get Me, was cowritten, arranged and produced by Dallas Austin, a veteran hitmaker for TLC, Boys II Men and Madonna. It has a slick, well made sound with layers of synths and percussion, a sturdy beat and power pop guitars. Just Like A Pill reminds me of another mature, well constructed hit: Sophie B. Hawkins' Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover. Just Like A Pill isn't exciting but it has a good, dense sound. Just Like A Pill's lyrics don't get much more specific than repeatedly stating that instead of making her feel better, her boyfriend keeps "makin' me ill."
Daniel Bedingfield-Gotta Get Thru This(unchanged)
Gotta Get Thru This is the title track from Daniel Bedingfield's first solo CD. It follows Dirty Vegas' Days Go By, The Wiseguys' Start The Commotion and Kylie Minogue's singles as the latest dance hit out of England with at least a touch of techno flavor. 22 year old Bedingfield says he made Gotta Get Thru This in his bedroom with a computer and a mike. Gotta Get Thru This's sound is basic, with a steady beat and a decent repeated electronic riff, but it's pretty effective. Bedingfield's voice is obviously treated and enhanced. The result is thin and nasal but interesting, like a cartoonish version of 80s Michael Jackson. Like the music, Gotta Get Thru This' lyric is simple but does the job. Bedingfield repeats the title like a mantra that helps him to stop obsessing about a woman who broke his heart.
The Red is from the Wonder What's Next CD by the Chicago based band formed by the Loeffler brothers. The Red is the latest rock radio hit with threatening atmosphere and a singer seriously intoning about a young man with a troubled mind. It's hardly surprising that two hit songs this year have been based on the idea of "seeing red." At least half of rock music these days is about being pissed off. The Red's repeated riff effectively creates a tense mood, slowly grinding forward with Joe Loeffler's good bass line and Pete Loeffler's crunching guitar. But after The Red creates a stark impression, nothing much happens. As the riff repeats again and again, it loses some of its power. Unlike other current rock singers, Pete generally avoids pretension and overemoting but he's not particularly memorable, until the predictable cathartic climax when he rants "seeing red again." The Red is about a guy unable to control himself after repeatedly being singled out and called a freak.
Rolling Stones-Don't Stopbuy it!
Don't Stop is one of four new songs on Forty Licks, which is billed as the first retrospective of the Stones' entire career. Knowing that people buying the two CD set or attending their concerts are mostly interested in their earlier music, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards don't seem to have exhausted themselves putting Don't Stop together. They certainly haven't repeated Jagger's attempt on last year's Goddess In The Doorway CD to distance himself from the classic Stones sound. There isn't much to Don't Stop. In comparison, Start Me Up is a complex puzzle. Still, there's something satisfying about Don't Stop's simplicity and familiarity. Don't Stop echoes better but similar feel good songs like Start Me Up, Happy, Honky Tonk Women and Tumbling Dice. Jagger wraps his big personality around Don't Stop. Like he does live, Jagger yells as much as sings but shows remarkable energy and warmth for a 59 year old. Richards and Ron Wood could probably play Don't Stop's guitar line in their sleep but their tight, jagged playing still creates a good edge. On Don't Stop, Jagger feels like his "baby" is peppering him "with poison darts" and is soon leaving him but he still asks her to share her "screams of passion" and kisses that draw blood.
Eminem-Cleanin' Out My Closet(unchanged)
Eminem knows that he has created enough interest that millions want to know about his history and grudges. Cleanin' Out My Closet, The Eminem Show CD's second single, is another account of the reasons he hates various people in his life. Eminem starts Cleanin' Out My Closet whining about being "protested and discriminated against." He congratulates himself for not leaving his daughter like his "faggot father" left him and for "taking them bullets out of that gun" instead of killing his ex-wife. But Eminem mostly focuses his anger on his mom. We learn that Debbie popped prescription pills, made little Marshall a "victim of Munchausen syndrome(making him "believe I was sick when I wasn't") and that when her brother died, said she wished it was her son who died. Eminem is pretty unappealing, asking for sympathy but showing none for a woman who, even according to his account, went through some very tough times. But like him or not, it's hard to argue against the idea that he provides great theatre, at least giving the impression that he's allowing us a glimpse into a unique, troubled mind. On The Eminem Show, Eminem, assisted by Jeff Bass, has generally replaced his mentor Dr. Dre as his music's producer. The quality of Eminem's tracks vary but he did a good job on the singles. Cleanin' Out My Closet doesn't have Without Me's energy. Eminem cleared out the sound on Cleanin' Out My Closet, keeping the focus on his lyrics. The tapping percussion and Bass' playing create a stark, haunted feel consistent with recounting stories of a dark past. Eminem's technique isn't as impressive as his breathless, nonstop rap on Without Me but he has no trouble keeping his audience's attention with a style that's simultaneously casual, confident and troubled.