Hilary Duff - Come Clean
Weeks on Chart: 10 Peak: # 27 (April 2004) buy it!
Come Clean is the second single from Hilary Duff's Metamorphosis CD. So Yesterday was perky pop mainly intended to connect with the young fans Duff made playing Lizzie McGuire. Come Clean indicates greater ambitions, to make Duff a pop star with an older audience. Duff sounds less comfortable on Come Clean than on the chirpy So Yesterday. She isn't helped by Come Clean's generic drum machine and icy synths. Come Clean is very familiar, bringing to mind Here Comes The Rain Again, among other songs. Come Clean was written and produced by John Shanks, who has done songs with Michelle Branch(including her pretty good recent top 50 near miss Breathe), and Kara Dioguardi, who's worked with Enrique Iglesias and Kylie Minogue. Come Clean sounds pieced together from other pop songs, particularly Branch songs like Breathe. Branch's voice is better than Duff's and Branch brings more of a feeling of substance. Come Clean is pleasant and innocuous. It sounds fine. It won't alienate a large young following glad to follow her career where it goes and its sleek, tasteful, sterile sound will attract older listeners too.
Hilary Duff - So Yesterday
Weeks on Chart: 4 Peak: # 40 (Nov. 2003) buy it!
As Britney, Christina and Jason aim for an adult audience, there are openings for artists targeting the preteens. With hit factory The Matrix producing Hilary Duff, star of a bunch of kid friendly movies and Lizzie McGuire of the Disney Channel show, has declared her candidacy with So Yesterday. The Matrix also wrote and produced Avril Lavigne's hits. So Yesterday, from Duff's Metamorphosis CD, is both similar to and different from The Matrix' Lavigne's. With its steady beat and electric guitar strum and slightly edgy touches like the sound of a record scratching(like the one they used on Lavigne's Complicated), So Yesterday has the catchy, poppy modern rock sound The Matrix have shown a predilection and talent for. So Yesterday also has a good hook with a title that's accessible enough to be a catch phrase for the kids. Unlike Lavigne's hits, So Yesterday shows no desire to establish its singer as punky or complicated. There's no way to tell if Duff's singing is more than competent but she sings So Yesterday slowly and clearly with an warm, open, young voice that matches her sweet, simple screen persona and makes her seem not that different from her fans . So Yesterday is basic, innocuous and pleasant though I can't imagine many people over 12 getting excited about such a thin, relentlessly upbeat song. So Yesterday has a confident, mature message for the kids. She tells a guy who hasn't given her enough attention that she's totally ready to move on to a life without her.
The Hives - Hate To Say I Told You So
Weeks on Chart: 16 Peak: # 28 (Aug. 2002) buy it!
Cutting away the fat that alternative rock has grown over the years, Swedish band The Hives act like it's still the late 70s and they've only just learned of the thrills of making fast, short rock songs with tight, hard guitar riffs. Hate To Say I Told You So sounds a little like songs by Black Crowes and Buckcherry and it also brings to mind other post punk songs like Blur's Song 2 and Sonic Youth's most compact work. But the most obvious influence seems to be The Stooges' Search And Destroy. Pelle Almqvist always comes across, in interviews, on stage and on record, as a very confident guy. He has no problem projecting Iggy Pop's in your face narcissism, singing about how he does "what I want 'cause I can" and how he wants to "be ignored by the stiff and the bored." Hate To Say I Told You So, which is featured on the Spider-man soundtrack as well as the band's Veni Vidi Vicious CD, recalls the thrill of simple, exciting punk inspired music.
Hoobastank - Crawling In The Dark
Weeks on Chart: 32 Peak: # 9 (March 2002) buy it!
Crawling In The Dark, from the L.A. band's self titled major label debut, is another song that sounds pieced together from other successful rock songs. It's got Korn style atmospheric guitar, a serious, troubled singer, big power chords and a vague Faith No More/Limp Bizkit style hip hop sensibility. But Crawling In The Dark also has good tempo shifts and it's more interesting than much of the similarly imitative music on rock radio. I like the way the song speeds up and gains energy on the chorus. Doug Robb keeps things from getting too draggy as he sings about "looking for the answer" and trying to find direction in life.
Hoobastank - Out Of Control
Weeks on Chart: 10 Peak: # 22 (Jan. 2004) buy it!
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.
Hoobastank - The Reason
Weeks on Chart: 19 Peak: # 1 (April 2004) buy it!
Out Of Control, the first chart hit from The Reason, didn't last long on the chart. It looked like Hoobastank might disappear for lack of anything to distinguish them from other sensitive hard rockers. But Hoobastank guaranteed themselves a longer shelf life, taking the logical step for a rock band seeking a larger pop audience: putting out a big rock ballad. The Reason CD's title track is the California band's biggest hit. In a compliment and an insult, The Reason has been called the prom theme of 2004. The Reason connects with high school kids' heightened but basic emotions. It's expertly constructed. Doug Robb's vocal is very sensitive. With gentle picking on the verses and power chord strumming on the chorus, Dan Estrin's guitar provides decent variety and dynamics. The Reason effectively reaches a climax with ladled on strings and Robb's heartfelt cry: "the reason is you." The Reason's strengths are its weaknesses. I understand how its emotional approach sweeps people up but The Reason is quite bland. It's very predictable, familiar and a bit heavy handed in its button pushing. The Reason reminds me a lot of Cheap Trick's The Flame, among others. The Reason is basically criticism proof. No matter how banal The Reason is, if people feel that it expresses their emotions who am I or anyone else to say they're wrong. I do feel that the same emotions could be expressed in a more musically interesting way. Robb's lyric is sappy but sweet. He admits that he's made mistakes that put her through pain but he wants a woman to know that she gives him a reason to "continue learning" and "change who I used to be."
Hoobastank - Running Away
Weeks on Chart: 28 Peak: # 3 (Sept. 2002) buy it!
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.
Howie Day - Perfect Time Of Day
Weeks on Chart: 9 Peak: # 37 (Jan. 2004) buy it!
Howie Day is a young singer/songwriter from Bangor, Maine. Day gained attention as a writer with a personal style and as a virtuoso musician who played solo and make all sorts of sounds come out of his acoustic guitar at the same time. The spare, haunting Ghost from Day's debut Australia CD fell just short of making the top 50. On Stop All The World Now, the first CD Day has recorded for a major label, the music has a smoother, fuller sound but it's less distinctive. Perfect Time Of Day is fine. It sounds good and Day's yearning vocal is appealingly heartfelt. It also sounds like it could have been made by any of the many earnest singer/songwriters(mostly named Josh) around these days. Perfect Time Of Day's tasteful mix has a big, unshowy beat, fairly subdued synths and not much guitar. Perfect Time Of Day would be better if it had some jagged edges or idiosyncracies. Maybe it's time to go back to being the guy on his own who makes lots of different guitar sounds. Perfect Time Of Day, presumably a love song, is about appreciating the beauty of the moment.