311-Creatures(down 5 positions)
A while ago it seemed that 311, whose biggest hit was 1995's Down, was fading away, making pleasant but predictable and unimportant music. Recently they've shown some staying power, producing decent variations on their stoner ska rock theme. Last year's mellow, blissed out Amber, from their From Chaos CD, was 311's biggest hit in a while. Creatures, from the new Evolver CD, is another likable single that has 311 rocking a little harder than usual. As on their best songs, 311 keep things interesting on Creatures by mixing the band's disparate elements without overemphasizing any of them. Nick Hexum's loose, spacy croon has a smooth charm but on its own it can be vapid. So Creatures combines Hexum's voice with Tim Mahoney's tough, tight guitar. Creatures also has bursts of fun, silly synth effects, S.A. Martinez' concise, effective rap, Chad Sexton's hard, crisp drumming and good, full harmonies. The result is an enjoyable free flow. Creatures never gets stuck. It varies its flavors as it moves inobtrusively from section to section. Creatures isn't particularly great or ambitious but it is an easy, good time. Creatures' lyric is fairly silly. It's about the pros and cons of being energetic and living an exciting life and the fun of going nuts and having a volatile personality.
I continue to find Disturbed one of the more unpleasant, unlikable bands around. Liberate, the third chart hit from their Believe CD, rocks hard and has Disturbed's typical dark, menacing sound. As usual, Singer David Draiman sounds angry and troubled as he spits out his words. Draiman tells someone to "liberate your mind" but he really just wants to tell the guy how much he hates him. Draiman calls him a narrow minded m-f with "hate in your heart" and mocks the fact that he's still "waiting for your modern messiah."
Maroon 5-Harder To Breathe(up 16 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."
Dashboard Confessional-Hands Down(up 9 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."
Jane's Addiction-Just Because(down 5 positions)
Perry Farrell has returned to two of his most successful projects. Lollapalooza, the concert tour that Ferrell co-founded, is back for the first time in six years. In time for that Jane's Addiction, with original members Farrell, Dave Navarro and drummer Stephen Perkins, have released Strays, their first record of all new songs since 1990's Ritual de lo Habitual. Jane's Addiction were quite huge but Farrell's intervening work, with Porno For Pyros and on a solo record, was often obscure. Jane's Addiction are smart to reintroduce themselves with a song that gets your attention and announces that they still matter. Farrell and Navarro are also aware that alternative rock music got harder while Jane's Addiction was away. Navarro, who was a Red Hot Chili Pepper and put out a solo record during Jane's break, drives Just Because forward with an attacking, ringing guitar line that sounds a lot like The Edge's on Pride(In The Name Of Love). Farrell tones down his vocal mannerisms. He still has distinctive phrasing, stretching out certain words but his personality doesn't overshadow the song as he does battle with Navarro's slashing. Just Because lacks the eccentricities that originally set the band apart from other groups but it's fun and it rocks. Just Because's lyric is apparently a warning that a relationship might be over because Farrell's partner never does things just because she feels like it.
Mya-My Love Is Like... Wo(unchanged)
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(up 13 positions)
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.
Korn-Did My Time(unchanged)
Did My Time is in the movie Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle Of Life but it's not on the movie's soundtrack. It's supposed to be on Korn's next record, which is due by the end of the year. Apparently, 2002's Untouchables, Korn's last record, was a disappointing seller and not a fan favorite. So the band is back in the studio promising that the new record will be more rocking and "not so overproduced." I've admired some of Korn's work for the band's ability to make music that rocks and has interesting atmosphere. But I'm certainly not a fan. Their music often seems silly and overdramatic. If Did My Time is a sign of what's to come, it looks like they're getting stupider and goofier. Did My Time is the same old tale of self loathing that Korn and other theatrical hard rock bands have done for years. It sounds like self parody when Jonathan Davis sings "I feel the anger changing me." He also intones familiar lines like "realize I can never win", "feel like I have failed" and "my mind is laughing at me." Davis' singing, a combination of barking, roaring and whining, is awful. Davis does a good job of communicating his agitation but it's unpleasant listening. Did My Time's music and playing is competent but it's not original or interesting. Hard rock guitars and drums crunch under Davis' vocal and create a typical dark atmosphere.
Chevelle-Send The Pain Below(down 2 positions)
Send The Pain Below is the second chart hit from the Wonder What's Next CD by the band comprised of three born again Christian brothers from Chicago. The Red was a bit monotonous but it had a good, insinuating guitar riff and had a long run on rock radio. Send The Pain Below is less distinctive. It has the Creed feeling of being a pastiche of Pearl Jam and other grunge bands. At least singer Pete Loeffler doesn't come across pretentiously like Creed's Scott Stapp. He's thoughtful in an unshowy way as he sings about his ability to suppress his emotional pain. His low key guitar playing is appropriate to the lyrics' stark emotion. At times, the match of restrained but intense singing and basic, booming sustained chords remind me of Radiohead's Creep. But generally, Send The Pain Below doesn't have Creep's depth. It's so downbeat that it's hard to distinguish from the other songs where young men share their hurt. The similarity to other songs is accentuated towards the end when Loeffler goes into a Korn/Trust Company style rant("I can't feel my chest,drop down"). Send The Pain Below's message is oddly common in similar songs: you hurt me when you manipulated when we were together and I miss you. Send The Pain Below has an intensity that can be compelling but it's ultimately too indistinctive and humorless to keep my interest.
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."
Michelle Branch-Are You Happy Now?(down 9 positions)
For her new Hotel Paper CD, Michelle Branch stuck with John Shanks, who's worked with Sheryl Crow, Stevie Nicks and Melissa Etheridge and produced Branch's The Spirit Room CD. The result on Are You Happy Now is radio friendly but not very exciting. Alanis Morissette's influence on Branch is quite apparent. The similarity is especially there on Are You Happy Now, which is basically You Oughta Know light. The 21 year old Morissette was fascinating, raging furiously against a betraying boyfriend. The 20 year old Branch merely sounds whiny and self pitying. The other appropriate comparison is to Avril Lavigne. Branch has played the weepy, sensitive second banana to Lavigne's confident, in your face punk rock fan. Are You Happy Now, written by Branch and Shanks, shows awareness of the competition. Branch's screaming on the chorus and the simple, rock guitar driven dramatic music brings Lavigne to mind. Are You Happy Now has some of the thrill that dynamic shifts from quiet to boisterous bring but it doesn't have the energy of Lavigne's best songs. The verses drag by with an uninteresting drum machine beat and vague synth embellishments. Are You Happy Now's lyric perpetuates Branch's persona as the girl who doesn't quite fit in and is doomed to wallow in disappointment. Are You Happy Now is about looking for satisfaction in the fact that the guy who left her isn't happy either. The good news for Branch is that at least as many young women in Branch's target preteen and early teen audience relate to Branch's awkward misfit as to Lavigne's cocky popular girl. Branch's voice is annoyingly girlish and thin but enough girls relate to Branch's insecurities and her very youthful voice to make Are You Happy Now a big hit.
Pete Yorn-Crystal Village(unchanged)
Crystal Village is the second chart hit from Pete Yorn's second CD Day I Forgot. Crystal Village is the best song on the not bad but not great CD. Jeff Buckley is clearly a role model for Yorn. Yorn has often tried to emulate Buckley's intensity and the thrills Buckley was able to produce with dramatic songs that swooped back and forth between quiet and charged. On Crystal Village, Yorn achieves that kind of excitement. Like most of Yorn's best songs, Yorn creates a rich sound playing multiple instruments along with R. Walt Vincent. Crystal Village's music is theatrical but not overdone. Crystal Village builds and adds compelling emotion. It starts out with only a finger picked guitar then adds Yorn's drums, Vincent's string effects and, finally, slashing electric guitar, to epic effect. Yorn's deep, heavy voice can be too much when he doesn't have an interesting song. But on a great song like Crystal Village, Yorn's singing completes a powerful, sweeping sound. Crystal Village is apparently about Yorn trying to resuscitate a relationship that "was good in the beginning" by taking his partner's hand and showing her bright "lights arranging twilight sages."
The White Stripes-The Hardest Button To Button(up 12 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."
Matchbox 20-Unwell(down 9 positions)
Unwell is the second single from the More Than You Think You Are CD. It's an improvement over Disease, a lame attempt at a rocker and pale imitation of Smooth, Rob Thomas' Santana collaboration. Unwell has the soothing, easy, well crafted sound that helped make the band big. The chorus is catchy and hard to resist. But generally, Unwell is bland. It's so tastefully innocuous that it barely registers. A banjo in the beginning and end adds a little flavor but Unwell could use a lot more. It doesn't help that Unwell, like Disease, is another tale of how screwed up Thomas is. Especially now that Matchbox 20 is an established, very successful band, Thomas' repeated tales of woe are increasingly tiresome. Unwell is more optimistic than some of them. Thomas thinks "I'm headed for a breakdown and I don't know why" but he also feels like he'll soon get things together.
50 Cent-P.I.M.P.(up 6 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.
Limp Bizkit-Eat You Alive(down 2 positions)
First, guitarist Wes Borland left Limp Bizkit. Then the band recorded and scrapped albums worth of material with new guitar player Mike Smith. Finally, Limp Bizkit is back with the Results May Vary CD. Eat You Alive, the CD's first single, doesn't do anything to resuscitate the career of the once hugely successful but now widely reviled Fred Durst. Almost everything about Eat You Alive is terrible. Durst's one talent was an ability, with Borland's help, to give his mediocre hard rock a decent groove. Eat You Alive totally lacks any kind of groove, forcing us to focus on Durst's weak, whiny singing and nasty lyrics and his band's lame attempts to make arty hard rock in the Tool/Korn vein. Eat You Alive is dominated by Durst's unappealing tough guy ranting and creepy personality. Guitars and drums pound away bombastically in the background but never really get anywhere. Eat You Alive depicts Durst as a leerer/stalker. Durst curses out a woman then tells her "I'm drawn to you." He notes that she's too cool to want anything to do with him, alternates hoots of "you're so hot" with apologies for his behavior and pathetically(and somewhat scarily) repeats "I just want to look at you all day; there ain't nothing wrong with that."
Guster-Amsterdam(down 6 positions)
Guster is a Boston band that developed a large following playing lots of gigs with two acoustic guitars and bongos. The guys have since gone electric but they've maintained a simple upbeat sound. Amsterdam, from the Keep It Together CD, is a strong candidate for feel good song of the summer. It's lightweight but very charming. On Amsterdam, Guster remind me of the jangly, perky guitar bands that sprung up in the mid 80s after REM had their initial success. It rides forward easily with a variety of vigorous but smooth strums, a bit of jangling and a crisp, clicking beat. Amsterdam has a pleasant, shiny sound. Ryan Miller's voice isn't amazing but it is warm and good natured. Amsterdam lacks edge and it's kind of saccharine. It does have a likable, clean cut sound with a nice, positive energy. While Amsterdam has a jaunty sound its lyric, written by drummer Brian Rosenworcel, is quite nasty. Amsterdam's giddiness apparently reflects the joy of a spurned lover at the prospect of finding revenge in a nasty letter.
Eastmountainsouth is Kat Maslich and Peter Adams, southerners who met in LA and formed a duo making country tinged folk. You Dance is on their self titled debut. You Dance is a thoughtful, very sweet love song. Its sound is a bit on the adult, tasteful side for me but You Dance is very charming. Adams has a basic, sincere voice. You Dance's music is appealingly minimal. It matches the lyric's account of pure, ungimmicky love. Adams' nice, simple, unshowy piano is accompanied by very restrained drums. Maslich's harmonies are very appealing. She reminds me of Syd Straw, a favorite background singer of 80's and 90's alt country bands. You Dance is a touch boring but it's very pleasant. Its avoidance of flash is a refreshing contrast to most contemporary music. You Dance's lyric has lots of likable images. Adams sings about wanting to "carry you away" and "wake you every morning" and asks if he can "wander every day beside you."
Rancid-Fall Back Down(down 2 positions)
It's been a good year for Rancid singer/co-songwriter Tim Armstrong. Diamonds and Guns from Transplants, Armstrong's side project was a minor hit. Now Fall Back Down from Indestructible, Rancid's first CD since 2000, is Rancid's biggest hit since Ruby Soho and Time Bomb off their 1995 And Out Comes The Wolves record. The success of bands like Good Charlotte, Sum 41 and Simple Plan, who do poppy versions of punk, has made radio more ready to embrace bands like Rancid again. After hearing the glossy, youthful versions of punk, it's good to hear Rancid's purer, less gimmicky, more adult version getting a chance. There's nothing remarkable or groundbreaking about Fall Back Down. While they may have influenced the latest generation of punks, they're still open to accusations that they closely mimic their predecessors, especially The Clash. Armstrong's rough rasp is pretty generic. He sounds a little that guy who rants in the Outback steakhouse advertisements. Still, Armstrong's singing is charmingly direct and he avoids cuteness. Similarly, Fall Back Down is likably straight forward. It has an appealing, upbeat feeling. Fall Back Down has good, slicing guitar playing and drummer Brett Reed and bass player Matt Freeman make sure Fall Back Down stays fast and fun. On Fall Back Down, Armstrong vows that despite his enemies and, especially, a woman who "betrayed me", with the help of "my crew", I'm gonna make it alright."
Beyonce featuring Sean Paul-Baby Boybuy it!
Beyonce Knowles' impressive streak of huge hits, first with Destiny's Child and now as a solo artist, continues with Baby Boy, the second single from Beyonce's Dangerously In Love CD. Baby Boy has a sound destined to make it a smash but it's not nearly as appealingly as Dangerously In Love's first hit Crazy In Love. On Crazy In Love, Beyonce abandoned her usual cool, controlled persona for a song with a joyful, liberating sound. On Baby Boy, Beyonce reverts to a professional, slightly calculated voice. Scott Storch, who's worked on hits including Christina Aguilera's Fighter, wrote and produced Baby Boy with Beyonce. Baby Boy has a good, slightly exotic sound with eastern guitar sounds and an emphatic synth that adds to the song's excitement. Baby Boy features popular collaborator Sean Paul(I prefer Breathe, his similar but warmer duet with Blu Cantrell). Paul helps increase Baby Boy's intensity with a confident but focused rap that keeps the song moving forward and avoids the silly narcissism that mars some of Paul's work . Beyonce's singing is OK. She has some of the sensuality the lyric requires but she'd be better if she seemed looser and less studied. Baby Boy's lyric is a fairly routine tribute to a guy who she can't stop thinking about who fulfills her fantasies.
Fabolous featuring Tamia-Into Youbuy it!
Into You is from the Street Dreams CD by Brooklyn's Fabolous(born John Jackson). I've never been a fan of Fabolous' reticent mumble, which gives the impression that he thinks he's too cool to go to the effort of being audible. On Into You, he's pretty funny and kind of cute. Hearing him roll through Into You in his rushed, uninflected way brings to mind a boy staring at his shoes as he shyly tells a girl he likes her. Ashanti sang with Fabolous on Into You's album version but the single smartly uses Tamia. Tamia's voice has a sweetness similar to Ashanti's but she seems more substantial and less deferential than Ashanti does when she supports male vocalists. Into You is pretty slight. Its music is pleasant, a little generic and not particularly interesting with a steady, easy, anonymous beat and gentle, kind of cutesy chimes. Still, Into You is very comfortable, with a good supporting vocal, and it does a good job of softening up a tough guy. Fabolous tells his girl in Into You that his "friends be thinking I'm slipping" but he would "do whatever just to keep a grin on you" and he's ready to go public with his feelings.
Sting-Send Your Love(unchanged)
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.
Kelly Clarkson-Miss Independent(down 7 positions)
Miss Independent, the first single from the Thankful CD, is a good move for the American Idol '02 winner. Clarkson could probably get a few more hits sticking with the big, emotive ballads that are so popular with American Idol's audience. But Clarkson undoubtedly realizes if she wants a long career, she'll need to connect with the majority of Americans who aren't fans of the easy listening American Idol sound. So, like balladeers including Whitney and Celine, Clarkson is sure to alternate dance pop with her slow, dramatic songs. Miss Independent indicates that Clarkson has taken Christina Aguilera as a role model for her dance pop. Clarkson was pushed in that direction by producer Rhett Lawrence. Lawrence wrote Miss Independent with Aguilera. When it didn't make Aguilera's Stripped CD, Lawrence brought it to Clarkson who supposedly, with Lawrence, reworked it. Miss Independent still sounds just like a Christina Aguilera song(it's odd to hear it back to back with Aguilera's Fighter) and not a great one. Still, in my mind, anything is an improvement over big, showy, empty, generic ballads like Clarkson's first hit: A Moment Like This. Miss Independent is better than Fighter, simply because it doesn't overdo things. The backing is relatively restrained and functional. The verses get good edge from a steady riff with the sound of a tight electric guitar strum and a crisp angular beat. The chorus, with chords crunching in under Clarkson's singing, is very familiar but it is effectively dramatic, Clarkson's vocal doesn't show much distinctive personality but it stays strong, twisting around and not getting overwhelmed by the song's electronics. Miss Independent's lyric doesn't really match Clarkson sweet, regular gal image. It reads more like an attempt, like Beautiful, to redefine Aguilera's unlikable persona. Miss Independent is about a woman who, after working hard at projecting a harsh aura of self sufficiency, drops her defenses and falls hopelessly in love.
AFI-Leaving Song, Pt. 2(unchanged)
I kind of liked Girl's Not Grey, the earnest but well made and quite exciting first chart hit from AFI's Sing The Sorrow CD. But Leaving Song 2 seems overdramatic and silly to me. At the risk of seeming old, Leaving Song 2 just sounds like a lot of yelling to me. The verses have Davey Havok screaming furiously. The chorus alternates backing singers' ranting with Havok's whining. In between are pretentious metallic guitar sounds, crunching chords and a lot of effort to make Leaving Song 2 sound meaningful. Leaving Song 2's has a dark, over the top, self pitying lyric about a breakup. Havok wails "don't waste your touch, you won't feel anything", "you won't find anything worthy of redeeming." He also sings that you might as well "take my heart away" and about ceasing "all feeling." Havok's pain seems real but it's not very interesting.
Evanesence-Bring Me To Life(down 2 positions)
Evanescence is a Little Rock, Arkansas band started by former camp buddies Amy Lee and Ben Moody. Bring Me To Life is on the Daredevil soundtrack and Evanescence's Fallen CD. It was inevitable that someone would take the pop metal sound that's dominated rock music the last couple years and make it more glossy and even poppier. Bring Me To Life strikes me as one of the silliest hits of recent times. It brings to mind a bizarre mix of Linkin Park and the bloated Meat Loaf influenced hits Bonnie Tyler had in the early 80s. Bring Me To Life is also a touch gothic. Singer Amy Lee comes on like a spacier Sarah McLachlan though, to McLachlan's credit, she's never been as overdramatic as Lee is. With sweeping strings, crunching guitars, vaguely ominous synths and guest vocalist Paul McCoy playing Mike Shinoda(Linkin Park's rapper), Bring Me To Life throws in everything but the kitchen sink to make a hit. I can imagine how Bring Me To Life's over the top style could work on the soundtrack of a movie about a superhero but out of that context, it's ridiculously overblown. Bring Me To Life is fairly bad poetry. Lee appreciates how a guy can "see into my eyes like open doors leading you into my core" and asks him to wake her numb, soulless, sleeping spirit and "save me from the nothing I've become."