J-Kwon - Tipsy
Weeks on Chart: 15 Peak: # 21 (May 2004) buy it!
Jerrell "J-Kwon" Jones follows Nelly and Chingy as the latest St. Louis rapper with a big hit. 18 year old J-Kwon was supposedly living on the streets, having run away from home in Bellville, Missouri, when he was discovered by the Trackboyz producing team. An audition with Jermaine Dupri(famous for producing hit records and being Janet Jackson's boyfriend) led to J-Kwon getting signed to Dupri's So So Def label. The Trackboyz, Mark Williams and Joe Kent, have worked on hits including Nelly's Air Force Ones and Work It. They produced most of J-Kwon's Hood Hop CD. Trackboyz created a sound on Tipsy that Dupri is said to have described as a fusion of hip hop and a We Will Rock You style rock sound. Tipsy's music, with its crashing big beat, is compelling and stirring. Tipsy's beeping synth noises, which invite comparisons to The Neptunes' production style, give Tipsy a bit of flavor and complete the song's full, powerful sound. Scoring a big hit with the first single from his first CD, J-Kwon has immediately established himself as one of rap's most promising young stars. J-Kwon's voice has a confidence and strength that's remarkable for someone just starting out. His presence is impressive as he slowly and patiently works his way through his rap in a way that says he knows he's good. I like Tipsy's sound. My only beef is with its subject matter. At the risk of sounding like an old fool, I think it would be a better world if teenagers weren't making music, purchased by younger teenagers, presenting a positive view of getting drunk and living a thug life. Tipsy's has pretty typical hip hop lyrics but it's a bit disturbing to hear them from someone so young. Besides celebrating getting drunk, J-Kwon tells us, in a lyric he wrote, about having and threatening someone with a gun, smoking "my blunt", "gettin' head", having a woman "feelin' on my johnson" and needing two condoms.
Ja Rule featuring Ashanti - Mesmerize
Weeks on Chart: 15 Peak: # 17 (March 2003) buy it!
I am really sick of hearing Ja Rule's self satisfied rasp of a voice on his and other people's hits. And I don't like the way Ashanti fits into Jeff Atkins' and Irv Gotti's "man's world" as the ideal, submissive woman. But, damn it, Ja and Irv know how to make catchy, if very lightweight, hits. On Mesmerize, from his The Last Temptation CD, Ja's croak is as annoying as ever. But Ashanti's sweet voice is as appealing as ever and the perky little synth riff is ridiculously catchy. I'd imagine that disses from 50 Cent and others would encourage Ja to toughen up his sound, but I guess, with the success he's had, he's crying all the way to the bank. Mesmerize is another opportunity for Ja to objectify women as he dissects the parts of a women that he loves and uninterestingly says how he wants to "do it" with her. Annoyingly, Ashanti's character mostly plays along, swooning and asking him to "take me tonight and do what you do to me baby."
Ja Rule - Always On Time
Weeks on Chart: 13 Peak: # 22 (March 2002) buy it!
Jeff Atkins is ubiquitous these days. While Livin' It Up was still on the chart, Always On Time, the third chart hit from his Pain Is Love, crossed over from the R&B charts to the pop charts. Like Livin' It Up, Always On Time is lightweight and enjoyable. Ja Rule's rough vocal is again matched with a much more melodic voice. The music is easy and enjoyable with a relaxed beat, a good guitar riff and sweet vocals from Ashanti and background singers. Always On Time is pretty stupid, bragging about Ja Rule's talent as a lover("I got two hoes" "and I keep 'em drugged up off that ecstasy") while he apologizes for behavior that led to restraining orders and asks for another chance. Ja Rule's rapping skills are little more than competent but he and producer Irv Gotti have hit upon a successful formula. His voice adds edge but doesn't overpower his smooth, tuneful music.
Ja Rule - Livin' It Up
Weeks on Chart: 8 Peak: # 32 (Jan. 2002) buy it!
Livin' It Up, the second hit from the former Jeff Atkins' Pain Is Love CD, is an easy, slight, enjoyable song. The best thing about Livin' It Up is the melody line taken from Stevie Wonder's Do I Do but everything about Livin' It Up gives it a likable flow and a positive feel. Irv Gotti's production, with a simple, steady beat and keyboards repeating the Do I Do hook, keeps things moving enjoyably. As on the second version of Jennifer Lopez' I'm Real, Ja Rule's edgy, throaty voice is nicely contrasted with a sweeter, less dynamic singer as he alternates lines with Case on the chorus. Ja Rule's rap has a typically rough edge but it fits well within pop confines and gives the song a good momentum. On Livin' It Up, Ja Rule notes his suspicion that "ladies just wanna hold the name Ms. Atkins" but tells his woman "I'mma love"and that their relationship "ain't your typical, everyday, one night thing." He also salutes "all my thugs that be living it up."
Jack Johnson - Bubble Toes
Weeks on Chart: 7 Peak: # 43 (Dec. 2002) buy it!
Bubble Toes is the second chart hit from the former surfing champ's Brushfire Fairytales CD. Johnson's Flake was pretty whimsical and Bubble Toes ups the whimsy level to the point where cutesy is a better description. I also have a problem since Bubble Toes' cocky white boy flow of words reminds me of the Brenda & Eddie parts of Billy Joel's Scenes From An Italian Restaurant. Still, Johnson is genuinely appealing. His singing is unpretentious with a light, easy flow that allows Johnson to pull off Bubble Toes' goofy la da da da da das. Bubble Toes is a tribute to the woman he loves whose "beauty will follow wherever she goes" and to himself for the charm she eventually won't be able to resist.
Jack Johnson - Flake
Weeks on Chart: 31 Peak: # 9 (Aug. 2002) buy it!
The Hawaiian native/champion surfer turned LA singer/songwriter's first chart hit is charmingly laid back. Johnson sings on Flake, from the Brushfire Fairytales CD, about likable slackers who lose out or let people down because of "ties" or because "often times we're lazy." Flake has relaxed guitars and drums and Johnson's smooth vocal comfortably matches the song's mood. He doesn't seem to exert himself too much even as he reaches for high notes in the song's "please don't drag me down" conclusion. Ben Harper, whose music has an easy, sensual appeal similar to Johnson's, plays good atmospheric slide guitar on Flake.
Jack Johnson - The Horizon Has Been Defeated
Weeks on Chart: 19 Peak: # 11 (June 2003) buy it!
The Horizon Has Been Defeated is on the former pro surfer/filmmaker's new On and On CD. Like his buddy Ben Harper, Johnson backs up his cool, confident style with a mix of various musical sources. On The Horizon Has Been Defeated, Johnson's laidback flow is supported by a soulful groove with a reggae taste. The lyrics feature Johnson's easygoing philosophizing. At 27, Johnson has decided that "as we grow older", "things can go bad" but we're less likely to run away because the horizon has begun to fade and look less tempting. He also muses on a world where "machines become our hands" and reminds us that we're just animals with "fancy shoes" and "too many tools."
Jack Johnson - Taylor
Weeks on Chart: 6 Peak: # 36 (Jan. 2004) buy it!
Jack Johnson's On And On CD's stay on adult alternative radio has been extended, partly thanks to Taylor's funny video featuring Ben Stiller as a clueless director set on doing a bizarrely literal video for the song. Except for the video, not much distinguishes Taylor from other songs in Johnson's genial, unassuming oeuvre. Johnson's modesty and refusal to pander to his audience with obvious commercial flourishes are charming. The flip side of Johnson's reserve are a sameness and lack of surprise. Taylor opens and closes with Johnson's skilled, unshowy acoustic guitar solos. In between, guitar, bass and drums create a good ska gallop. The music is so quiet and unobtrusive that you hardly notice it but it has the same propulsive momentum as the music of earlier ska bands like The English Beat. Johnson's likable vocals have a smooth, easy flow though he'd be more interesting if he showed some excitement once in a while. Johnson often writes spare lyrics evoking scenes of people slowly dealing with existential crises. In Taylor, the crises are more serious than usual. Taylor, who used to be "a good girl" working the night shift, is now "working on the streets" pretending she's "two thousand miles from here." Poor Peter Patrick "thinks that singin' on Sunday's gonna save his soul" and take him out of a life where he's "got nothing."
Jack Johnson - Wasting Time
Weeks on Chart: 14 Peak: # 35 (Oct. 2003) buy it!
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."
Jagged Edge - Where The Party At
Weeks on Chart: 7 Peak: # 44 (Oct. 2001) buy it!
Where The Party At is from the Jagged Little Thrill CD by the group led by twin brothers Brandon and Brian Casey. Nelly contributes his distinctive rap and uh-ohs. Like Nelly's work, Where The Party At mixes lyrics glamorizing a silly, decadent lifestyle with very appealing, relaxed music. The lyrics depict a cartoonish, Bacardi filled world where you've got to "represent your side" or "catch a hot one" and girls are "showin' that skin tryin' to make a nigga wanna spend." But Jermaine Dupri's production is remarkable, keeping things easy but never letting the energy wane. Where The Party At has good beats and subtle, tuneful guitar and piano sounds. The vibe is almost too mellow but the vocals are good and smooth.
Jane's Addiction - Just Because
Weeks on Chart: 16 Peak: # 2 (Aug. 2003) buy it!
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.
Janet Jackson - All For You
Weeks on Chart: 17 Peak: # 11 (May 2001) buy it!
With the often used riff from Chic's Good Times as its base, the title track from Janet Jackson's All For You CD has the feel of light, easy early 80's disco like Diana Ross' Upside Down. It has a taste of Jackson's Escapade and even Kool & The Gang's Celebration. I preferred Jackson's image before she became an ever smiling good girl and sometimes her singing on All For You is too sickly sweet. Mostly, she has a fluidity similar to her brother's. The lyrics encouraging a guy to "be yourself", "come on talk to me" and "tell me I'm the only one", promising "I'll let you sit right next to me" seem unlikely but, with the exception of silly, harder beats towards the end, All For You goes down pretty easily.
Janet Jackson - Doesn't Really Matter
Weeks on Chart: 12 Peak: # 27 (Sept. 2000) buy it!
Janet Jackson became a multiplatinum act in the late 80's thanks to the Control record and the tough, no nonsense image she presented with songs like What Have You Done For Me Lately and Nasty. Since then I've found Jackson(now simply calling herself Janet) a little fakey when she's tried to present herself as the innocent girl next door. Still, she is appealing on Doesn't Really Matter as her nearly whispered vocals glide easily over the pleasant, light dance music of the song from the Nutty Professor II soundtrack. The saccharine lyrics match her sweet, too good to be true character from the movie. Janet sings, it "doesn't really matter what the eye is seeing, 'cause I'm in love with the inner being." and "what matters is you're nutty, nutty, nutty for me."
Janet Jackson - Just A Little While
Weeks on Chart: 3 Peak: # 46 (March 2004) buy it!
It's a little stupid that everyone made a big deal about Janet Jackson's breast. There are so many much more offensive things on TV. That said, the question comes up whether Just A Little While bombed because of the Super Bowl controversy or whether Jackson and her people felt she needed a lot of publicity to sell a single that isn't so commercial. My guess is a bit of both. At a time when the pop and r&b charts are dominated by club ready grooves and beats, Just A Little While is basically poppy rock. Its breezy, too fast to dance to approach probably never had much of a chance. With pros like Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis helping put together the Damita Jo CD, future singles will inevitably be more urban radio friendly. The success of Jackson's dance pop and ballad singles will be the true indicator of her future prospects. Though Just A Little While had a short chart life, it's my favorite Janet Jackson single in a long time. For a while, Jackson's singles haven't been very exciting. They've been expertly constructed and mildly enjoyable but haven't been much fun. Just A Little While brings to mind the playful, energetic spirit of singles from Jackson's peak period like Control's When I Think Of You and Rhythm Nation's Escapade. Just A Little While was cowritten and produced by Dallas Austin, who's worked with lots of artists including Boys II Men, Madonna, Pink, TLC and Michael Jackson, another singer whose career has faded for a combination of reasons including controversy, getting older and losing his commercial touch. Just A Little While has a buoyant, light handed touch. It has an easy, skittering beat and a fun, simple, perky keyboard line. The compact guitar riff, which resembles the one from Sweet's Love Is Like Oxygen(which also inspired Sugar Ray's fine but lesser Mr. Bartender), gives the song additional momentum. Just A Little While never stops for breath, keeping its enjoyable ride moving. Just A Little While resembles Prince's uncategorizable romps which mixed rock guitar and insinuating, soulful beats and keyboards. Jackson's sexy, loose vocal confidence is also reminiscent of Prince. Jackson has presented a serious, artificial, mannered public persona in recent years. It's a pleasant surprise to hear her relaxed and apparently having a good time. A lot of Damita Jo is about sex and pleasure. Just A Little While's lyric expresses an easy, slightly mischievous assurance. Jackson tries to convince a guy "who's got somewhere to go" to love her for a little while but she sounds convincing when she says she can wait until later, taking care of herself until then by touching "all my favorite fruit."
Janet Jackson - Someone To Call My Lover
Weeks on Chart: 16 Peak: # 16 (Sept. 2001) buy it!
Like on All For You's title track, Janet Jackson plays it safe on the CD's second hit, using a familiar riff from a 70's hit, creating a pleasant, though not particularly exciting, sound. Someone To Call My Lover, written and produced by Jackson and her longtime partners Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, has a nice, easy feel with a riff from America's Ventura Highway, chiming keyboards and smooth beat. Jackson's vocal is fluid and likable. Someone To Call My Lover is also like All For You in its hope that some guy will come up to her and decide she's "the girl of his dreams." On Someone To Call, Jackson bemoans the loneliness of the road and how "easily I fall in love."
Jason Mraz - The Remedy
Weeks on Chart: 32 Peak: # 12 (July 2003) buy it!
The Remedy made the top 50 last spring thanks mostly to play on adult alternative radio. The Remedy returned to the chart as, not surprisingly, its annoyingly catchy perkiness has been embraced by pop radio. Jason Mraz is a young singer/songwriter who grew in Virginia and established himself playing in San Diego's coffee houses. Mraz' Waiting For My Rocket To Come CD was produced by John Alagia, who worked with Dave Matthews and John Mayer. Mraz wrote The Remedy with The Matrix(Lauren Christy, Graham Edwards and Scott Spock), who wrote Avril Lavigne's hits. The Matrix's gifts for writing catchy, upbeat tunes is evident but The Remedy doesn't measure up to Lavigne's best feisty, idiosyncratic work. Since Mraz is another cocky, glib white guy, the Matthews/Mayer comparison may be more apt but, to be fair to Matthews and Mayer, Mraz is glibber and his music seems less substantial. The Remedy is pleasant and boomer friendly but its relentless cheerfulness is too much. The catchiness of the "I won't worry my life away" chorus is undermined by a shallow slickness worthy of a TV commercial. Mraz does a white hipster rap on the verses of a sort that gave Barenaked Ladies and others hits but has fallen out of favor on the pop charts the last couple years. Mraz' cutesy gots (as in "you gots the poison, I've gots the remedy) make me think that Mraz needs a good ass kicking to wipe that smirk of the song's face. The Remedy's music matches the sunny vocal and lyric with a bouncy bass and guitar and cheap sounding synths.
Jason Mraz - You and I Both
Weeks on Chart: 9 Peak: # 40 (Dec. 2003) buy it!
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."
Jay-Z featuring Beyonce - 03 Bonnie & Clyde
Weeks on Chart: 10 Peak: # 25 (Jan. 2003) buy it!
03 Bonnie & Clyde, from The Blueprint 2: The Gift and The Curse, is Jay-Zs biggest pop hit so far(yeah Im pretty sure its even bigger than that Hard Knock Life song). Not being the most knowledgable hip hop fan, I thought of Coolios Gangstas Paradise when I first heard 03 Bonnie & Clyde. Of course, the most direct influence on 03 B & C is Tupac Shakurs Me and My Girlfriend. Jay-Z reminds me of his fellow ultra successful entrepreneur P. Diddy. They both arent so skilled as rappers but get by with their spoken voice style on confidence and a forceful personality. Especially on 03 B & C, my votes with Jay-Z. His rap is fairly uninflected but it has an appealing directness and doesnt have the silliness and ego that can plague Diddy. With a good, steady beat and acoustic guitar riffs, Jay-Zs unstoppable vocal and the soft, sexy contributions of Jay-Zs real life girlfriend Beyonce Knowles, 03 B & C has an appealingly smooth, relaxed flow. The lyric paints a sweet picture of domestic bliss. Depicting he and B as the new Bobby and Whitney(an unusual choice of romantic role models), Jay-Z describes a relationship of free communication(except when Bs watching Sex and The City) where each would do anything necessary for the other and disses dudes that treat the one that you lovin with the same respect as the one that you humpin.
Jay-Z - Dirt Off Your Shoulder
Weeks on Chart: 5 Peak: # 41 (May 2004) buy it!
Dirt Off Your Shoulder is from The Black Album, which Jay-Z says is his last record. I'm not very good at predicting if a song will be a hit. I thought Change Clothes, The Black Album's first single, was going to be a smash. Change Clothes, with Pharrell Williams singing, was fun and light. Jay-Z's smooth, fast rap has a good, light touch. However, Dirt Off Your Shoulder has easily outdone Change Clothes on the pop chart. Dirt Off Your Shoulder also has a good rap but its music is less appealing. Jay-Z released an a capella Black Album. That allowed people to put their tracks behind Jay-Z's raps. The most notable result was Danger Mouse's Grey Album which ingeniously backed the raps with music from The Beatles' White Album. I'd like to hear a different track on Dirt Off Your Shoulder. Dirt Off Your Shoulder was produced and cowritten by Timbaland, who has provided striking music for Missy Elliott and for Aaliyah and Ginuwine. Timbaland has used a harsh, metallic sound before but Dirt Off Your Shoulder's music is particularly cold. It's also repetitive, using the same uninteresting riff over and over without adding much to distract from it. Jay-Z's forceful, confident rap is typically compelling but it's not his most exciting or fresh. Dirt Off Your Shoulder has a lot of references to expensive possessions that he's "tryin' to hustle." He revels in his popularity and skill, tells us that he knows how to deal with hatin' rappers and hecklers and gives a "middle finger to the Lord." The lyric isn't that interesting. I'm glad that 99 Problems, with its huge beat and supposedly controversial video depicting Jay-Z getting shot, has pushed Dirt Off Your Shoulder off the airwaves.
The Jayhawks - I'm Gonna Make You Love Me
Weeks on Chart: 11 Peak: # 41 (June 2000) buy it!
The Jayhawks' last CD, 1997's Sound of Lies, was brilliantly textured and thoughtful but it was also slow and sad. The very good new Smile CD is a happier affair. Singer/songwriter Gary Louris' mood seems to have been lifted by romantic bliss. Louris is charmingly persistent on the buoyant new song. Acknowledging that "I'll never be all you want me to be", Louris is charmingly persistent in his pursuit of his "perfect lover". I'm Gonna Make You Love Me has a nice light country rock tone and a taste of the breathtaking harmonies that lift Smile, especially in its first half. Louris has done a good job of including new keyboard player/backup singer Jen Gunderman in his intricate arrangements.
The Jayhawks - Save It For A Rainy Day
Weeks on Chart: 3 Peak: # 49 (April 2003) buy it!
The Jayhawks have made thoughtful, smart music with great harmonies for more than a decade. On the bands last three records, Jayhawks leader Gary Louris has shown an extraordinary ability to shape sound in beautiful, heartbreaking ways. The sound on the new Rainy Day Music CD is even more calm and melodic than usual. Rainy Day Music emphasizes Louris connection with early 70s country rock and late 60s harmony based folk rock. Louris disavows most of the trappings of contemporary music, relying on acoustic guitars, country string instruments and layers of vocals. Louris fairly limited ambitions result in a record thats good but doesnt have much variety and doesnt achieve the consistent greatness the Jayhawks have reached before, especially on their Sound Of Lies CD. Rainy Day Music has moments of excellence including Save It For A Rainy Day. Starting with inviting guitar picking by Louris and producer Ethan Johns, who plays a lot of Rainy Day Musics instruments, Save It For A Rainy Day has a comfortable, relaxing feel. Louris uses his gift for vocal arrangement, nicely placing the lush harmonies of drummer Tim OReagan and Stephen McCarthy under his voice. Louris voice has the empathetic sweetness hes shown before and it perfectly matches Save It For A Rainy Days lyric. The words dont always seem so sympathetic(Louris tells a friend that she looks like a train wreck). But Louris tone leaves no doubt about his compassion as he tries to convince a woman whos carrying as burden thats more than one soul could ever bear that theres another part to play.
JC Chasez - Blowin' Me Up (With Her Love)
Weeks on Chart: 8 Peak: # 39 (March 2003) buy it!
The fun, frenetic Blowin' Me Up With Her Love ensures that Justin Timberlake isn't the only N Sync-er finding solo success. While it doesn't indicate that Chasez will replace Timberlake as pop music's top hunk, I actually prefer Blowin' Me Up, with its sense of mischief, to Justin's carefully crafted hits. Blowin' Me Up is on the soundtrack to Drumline, a movie about competitions between school drumming groups that often infuse their synchronized performances with a hip hop sensibility. With its energy and big beat, Blowin' Me Up is a strong companion to the film. Deploying different riffs in different sections but maintaining a strong, stirring beat, Producer Dallas Austin(TLC, Boys II Men, Pink) creates an anything can happen feel and has more to do with Blowin' Me Up's success than its fairly innocuous singer. I don't love the way Blowin' Me Up starts with Chasez trying to sound cool but coming across a little lame. But the song improves as backup singers and beeping effects juice things up. Blowin' Me Up catches fire about two thirds of the way through with horns and drumline style percussion cueing Chasez to show a little more life as he proclaims "now it's on tonight." Blowin' Me Up is a fairly standard come on to a sexy girl in a club but the sleek sound emphasizes the lyric's sensuality.
Jennifer Lopez and LL Cool J - All I Have
Weeks on Chart: 15 Peak: # 13 (Feb. 2003) buy it!
Jennifer Lopez impressive string of hits continues with the second single from her This Is Me Then. Lopez apparently isnt a great actress but she has a decent career in solidly constructed, unmemorable films built around her appealing presence. Similarly, Lopez is an unremarkable singer and her songs charm rarely outlive their chart life. But her musical star vehicles are even more impressive than her movies. All I Have is fairly unambitious but its very likable and comfortable. All I Haves tale of a woman bouncin^ from a relationship with a charming, untrustworthy guy isnt new but its singers star quality gives it a larger than life, cinematic feel. LL Cool J is particularly convincing playing charming, cocky and irresponsible, making Lopez decision whether to hold onto her pride seem real. Lopez essentially plays straight man to Cool Js scene stealing Lothario but her singing is more interesting than usual. She gets added personality by copying the vocal hiccup from Deborah Laws Very Special, the song that supplies All I Haves catchy sample. The sample, the singers chemistry, and an easy beat and chiming effects create a smooth easy to take sound.
Jennifer Lopez featuring Nas - I'm Gonna Be Alright
Weeks on Chart: 16 Peak: # 27 (July 2002) buy it!
I'm Gonna Be Alright is another song that originally appeared on the J. Lo CD and reemerged in a significantly different form on the J To Tha L-O remix CD. The I'm Gonna Be Alright remix doesn't have the same pared down sound as the I'm Real and Ain't It Funny remixes but it does share the enjoyably laid back feel of those songs. The new mix of I'm Gonna Be Alright, like other J. Lo hits, is careful not to put too much focus on Lopez' thin, modest vocal. I'm Gonna Be Alright gets off to a good start with a strong, tough rap from remix veteran Nas(another remix with a more brittle beat and a more basic rap by 50 Cent isn't bad either). As on Ain't It Funny and Love Don't Cost A Thing, backup vocalists do much of the singing. Lopez' conversational voice humanizes the song and matches the song's deliberate, easy pace. I'm Gonna Be Alright is inconsequential dance pop but it's well made and nicely relaxed with a smooth bass dominated groove. After seeming to teasingly agree on the Ain't It Funny remix to the "you blew your chance when you had it" sentiment of P. Diddy's I Need A Girl, Lopez isn't as hard on I'm Gonna Be Alright's ex-boyfriend. Nas plays a jerk who reminds her of all the things he did for her but Lopez shows regret about leaving someone she still loves.
Jennifer Lopez - Ain't It Funny
Weeks on Chart: 21 Peak: # 13 (March 2002) buy it!
Ain't It Funny, the fourth single from the J. Lo CD, is pleasant, innocuous dance pop. With a touch of Latin flavor, Ain't It Funny is similar to Madonna's La Isla Bonita but its rigid beat and repetitive shape mean it's less interesting. Lopez' voice is slightly less hidden in electronics than usual. Lopez' vocal on Ain't It Funny sounds like her speaking voice. It's thin and a little whiny but at least it sounds fairly real, at least until the studio vocal pros take over for the slick, familiar chorus. Ain't It Funny is about trying to overcome differences and memories of romantic failure to make a relationship with a seemingly perfect guy work. Like I'm Real, Ain't It Funny has been rereleased in a "remix" featuring Ja Rule which is nearly a totally different song. With a minimal beat and sly, relaxed synths, the new version of Ain't It Funny, available on the new J To Tha L-O remix CD, is significantly better and more interesting than the generic dance pop of the original though it is hampered by a similarity to the I'm Real remix. Lopez is comfortable with a cool, restrained vocal which doesn't show her limitations as much as when she sings all out. Her confident singing matches the new lyrics. Unlike the original where she anxiously hopes that things can work out with her guy, the remix finds her taunting a guy who played around when they were together with the fact that he blew his chance. Lopez has found a dynamite formula: releasing a record with perky, heavily produced dance pop versions of her songs that appeal to mainstream pop stations then releasing sleek, minimal versions that establish her cred with urban R&B audiences. The best part is she gets a lot of people to buy both records.
Jennifer Lopez - I'm Glad
Weeks on Chart: 6 Peak: # 37 (June 2003) buy it!
I'm Glad is the third hit from the This Is Me ...Then CD. Despite Lopez' apparently modest vocal skills, she and her writers and producers have had an impressive streak of incredibly successful, well made singles that have actually been pretty good. That streak ends with the extremely slight I'm Glad. I'm Glad feels like a throwaway. The music, with its lite jazz guitar and chimes, is pleasant but so innocuous that it's almost unnoticable. The lack of a distinctive musical personality is particularly problematic for Lopez, whose vocal is typically vague and uninteresting. As on much of This Is Me ...Then, Lopez and producers Troy Oliver and Corey Rooney are credited with writing I'm Glad, with the extent of Lopez' contribution unclear. If Lopez was a more serious artist, you could figure that I'm Glad's lack of edge shows a woman softened by love. In this case, maybe Lopez contributed more than usual, resulting in lyrics most songwriters(and some high school diary writers) would be embarrassed about. Assumedly referring to Ben Affleck, Lopez shares insipid insights like "I'm glad when you walk you hold my hand" and "I'm happy that you know how to be a man."
Jennifer Lopez - I'm Real
Weeks on Chart: 22 Peak: # 16 (Oct. 2001) buy it!
Even with a synth riff that reminds me of The Hustle, the third hit from the J.Lo CD is effective dance pop. I'm Real has good rhythm and is less mechanical sounding than Lopez' last single Play. Lopez' voice is pleasant but bland and basically overwhelmed by the beats. The lyrics to I'm Real are fairly vapid. Lopez declares her realness uninterestingly, telling her man not to feel insecure or worry about what she's doing when she's not with him. MTV and some radio stations are now playing a "remix" of I'm Real, basically a new song with almost totally different lyrics and music. The new version, a duet with Ja Rule, was written by Ja Rule and appears on his Pain Is Love CD. It actually has a real feel that's been missing from Lopez' heavily produced music with a clear, relaxed sound of minimal synths and a good, basic beat, The lyrics are also more relaxed. They're riffs off the original that include the publicity grabbing request for "niggas" to "mind they biz."
Jennifer Lopez - If You Had; My Love
Weeks on Chart: 7 Peak: # 26 (Aug. 1999) buy it!
All the articles write about Lopez and Ricky Martin together but If You Had My Love doesn't have the same Latin flavor and distinctiveness. If You Have My Love, from her debut On The 6 cd, is another in the line of well made, polished dance pop songs that litter the top of the pop charts. As with most such sleek creations, it's hard to know how good her voice is or whether it's studio enhanced. It seems she does have a decent voice and Lopez certainly has the appeal and personality to be a pop star.
Jennifer Lopez - Jenny From The Block
Weeks on Chart: 13 Peak: # 20 (Dec. 2002) buy it!
Jenny From The Block is the first single from Lopez This Is MeThen CD. Jenny From The Block is Lopez latest proclamation of realness but she apparently had no significant role in writing it. Jenny From The Block seems inspired by a marketing persons belief that Lopez can only remain a huge star if, despite her ambition, success and high profile romances, people think shes a regular gal. In that regard, Jenny From The Block strikes me as unsuccessful. Placed along side repeated brags about the rocks that I got, Lopez claim that I know where I came from is meaningless. More importantly, Jenny From The Block, has the light, relaxed sound thats given her an impressive string of hits. Lopez thin voice is again wrapped by backing vocals and studio effects but her nearly spoken vocal also projects a straight forward confidence the audience can connect with. With an inobtrusive, steady beat and perky flute effect, the music isnt novel but it is smooth and likable. A brief, big beat break giving props to Lopez former South Bronx home adds a touch of flavor and seamlessly fits Jenny From The Blocks catchy dance pop. Jenny From The Block has an assembly line quality that undermines its statement of genuineness and keeps it from being particularly interesting but it also guarantees Lopez another hit.
Jennifer Lopez - Love Don't Cost A Thing
Weeks on Chart: 15 Peak: # 19 (March 2001) buy it!
Love Don't Cost A Thing is the first single from Lopez' J. Lo CD. People are bound to see the song as commentary on Lopez' relationship with Puffy Combs. Lopez sings about a paranoid guy who thinks she's with him to spend his cash and drive his Benz. She reassures her man that, "ever if you were broke", "all that matters is that you treat me right." In the end, she decides to leave until he shows his love is true and gives her "all the things I need that money can't buy." Opening with symphonic drums, Love Don't Cost A Thing has good beats and the kind of cool, clean kind of production Rodney Jerkins gave Toni Braxton's He Wasn't Man Enough and Brandy & Monica's The Boy Is Mine. Lopez' voice, pretty thin in the past, is generally hidden by backing vocals. But when she's on her own, her modest singing has an interesting flow, dramatically changing pace.
Jennifer Lopez - Play
Weeks on Chart: 12 Peak: # 22 (May 2001) buy it!
Lopez follows the sleek Love Don't Cost A Thing with a less elegant song that just wants to make you dance.The second single from the J. Lo CD is, like Madonna's Music, a request for the DJ to play a song. But unlike Madonna's knowingly kitschy song, Play really is just about wanting the DJ to "play it all night long." Play has a decent groove and like Lopez' Waiting For Tonight, it's effective and upbeat, if not particularly distinctive or smart, dance music. With its slightly cheesy beeping electronic effects, Play has an 80's feel. Lopez' voice isn't strong but it's loose and competent.
Jennifer Lopez - Waiting For Tonight
Weeks on Chart: 12 Peak: # 31 (Dec. 1999) buy it!
Waiting For Tonight is a well made, very danceable single. However, you'd figure that Lopez would want her music to have a little more personality. Waiting For Tonight sounds like tons of other dance songs. The lyrics, with Lopez singing "I've dreamed of this night for so long", as if she was a plain schoolgirl, are ridiculous when sung by a beautiful movie star.
Jessica Simpson - I Think I'm In Love With You
Weeks on Chart: 11 Peak: # 28 (Aug. 2000) buy it!
I Think I'm In Love With You, from the Sweet Dreams CD, tries to separate Simpson from the other teen blondes with a slightly strange mix of teen pop, dance music and a classic rock guitar riff. With a good beat and the irresistable hook from John Mellancamp's Jack and Diane, I Think I'm In Love With You is a can't miss hit. Simpson comes off as a bit of a Mariah wannabe but her singing is pleasant and her voice seems fairly strong. With Simpson melting every time some boy comes around, the lyrics are as awful as those for any of her contemporaries. She sings about being "crazy in my head for you." However, the song is listenable and relaxed, if lightweight.
Jessica Simpson - I Wanna Love You Forever
Weeks on Chart: 6 Peak: # 40 (Jan. 2000) buy it!
I Wanna Love You Forever, from Simpson's Sweet Kisses CD, is way over the top in its lyrics and Simpson's singing. Simpson's models on I Wanna Love You Forever seem to be the ballads of Mariah Carey and especially Whitney Houston. The Greatest Love of All is subtle compared to the overdramatic delivery here. Simpson hits emotional intensity too early so a sense of overkill sets in. The singing does match the tone of the lyrics with Simpson desperately trying to show how great her love is.
Jessica Simpson - Irresistible
Weeks on Chart: 14 Peak: # 24 (Aug. 2001) buy it!
Irresistible is terrible, even by teenpop standards. Irresistible, the title track from Simpson's new CD, is a rehash of songs that weren't so good the first time. The music is very synthetic synthy dance pop. On the verses, Simpson's voice has Britney's pinched, processed quality. On the chorus, Simpson tries, largely unsuccessfully, for a big Christina Aguilera sound while the music mimics Genie In A Bottle, even adding a touch of Latin guitar sound. On Irrestistible, Simpson is the swooning woman who's "weak with desire." I find the lyrics on the chorus unlistenably banal: "he's irresistible, up close and personal, now inescapable, I can hardly breathe."
Jessica Simpson - Take My Breath Away
Weeks on Chart: 10 Peak: # 23 (May 2004) buy it!
Jessica Simpson's cover of Take My Breath Away wasn't originally on her In This Skin CD but, taking advantage of Simpson's ever growing stardom, a new version of In This Skin, with Take My Breath Away and a cover of Robbie Williams' Angels, has been released. Take My Breath Away was written by disco king Giorgio Moroder(who's also back on the charts as Beyonce quotes Love To Love You Baby). It was originally recorded by Berlin and, partly thanks to inclusion on the Top Gun soundtrack, was their biggest hit. Take My Breath Away has been covered a bunch of times. It's a favorite of mediocre lounge singers for probably the same reasons that Jessica and her people chose it. Many people are familiar with Take My Breath Away from seeing Top Gun or hearing Berlin's version on the radio. Some probably have an emotional or romantic connection with the song. Take My Breath Away is a sturdy song which builds to a big finish and allows a female singer to do a big, dramatic performance. Simpson does a standard reading, pretty closely tracking the vocal by Berlin's Terri Nunn. Most of Simpson's singing is quite annoying. In the song's quieter first half, her voice is pinched, mannered and unappealing. She actually does better in the song's more challenging second half, holding her notes and stretching them out in a showy but fairly impressive way. Still, Simpson's singing doesn't add anything interesting or new to the original. I guess it's meant to show that Simpson can sing. She kind of can, but not any better than lots of contestants in local talent shows. The new version of Takes My Breath Away is pretty pointless. It has very bland elevator music style backing, with stiff drum machine beats and sterile synths. Like her edible body products, Simpson's cover of Take My Breath Away is a product meant to take advantage of Simpson's hot name, good looks and sexy/innocent image. Besides its familiarity, I don't see any reason for covering Take My Breath Away. It's an easy listening classic but it's also kind of a sappy bore. Take My Breath Away is filled with overheated romance novel imagery. It depicts lovers in a foolish game, "on this endless ocean" and knowing no shame. The singer returns to a "secret place inside" and watches "in slow motion" as he turns and says the song's title. The lyric also has crashed mirrors, fate, anticipation and guys seen "through the hourglass" and slipping away in time.
Jessica Simpson - With You
Weeks on Chart: 22 Peak: # 10 (March 2004) buy it!
I don't know much about Jessica Simpson except that she's married to some guy from boy group 98 Degrees and that she seems like an air head. Obviously, someone has decided that she should be a star because she's on tv a lot and she's gotten the star treatment with a carefully produced single that can't help be a hit. With You, from Simpson's In This Skin CD, is nicely constructed, if somewhat generic easy listening music. It reminds me of other hits including TLC's Unpretty or Natalie Imbruglia's Torn. With You, written by pop journeymen Billy Mann and Andy Marvel has a decent skittery beat and lite pop guitar, synths and backing vocals. Simpson's breathy voice is pleasant enough to help the song move along innocuously. The sensuality of her vocal has undoubtedly help it become a big hit. But Simpson's singing otherwise so lacks edge or substance that it helps confirm the impression of Simpson as fakey and a bit cartoonish and having little but her sexiness to offer. So does With You's video, which ridiculously depicts the fabulous babe starlet as a regular gal working around the house. With You's awful lyric is like a bad soft core porn script or the article around Playboy pictures. We're told that Jessica is a regular gal who wears Levis, likes to sit around "with nothing but a t-shirt on" and laugh all night and didn't feel beautiful before she was "with you."
Jet - Are You Gonna Be My Girl
Weeks on Chart: 35 Peak: # 1 (March 2004) buy it!
Jet follow The Vines as a band from Australia making hard hitting rock and roll. Jet differ from The Vines in seeming less ambitious, pretentious and obnoxious. On Are You Gonna Be My Girl, from the Melbourne band's Get Born CD, Jet are a band having a good time. With their hand claps and tambourines, Jet very obviously borrow from rocking mid-60s British bands like Rolling Stones, Faces and The Who but they seem natural rather than studied or showy. Unlike Black Crowes, for instance, Jet don't seem to show off their resemblance to their heroes. Nic Cester and Cam Muncey give Are You Gonna Be My Girl great energy, mixing up a stomping rhythm guitar line with a good, twisty lead. Muncey has plenty of charisma and a strong voice with a good rock and roll edge. He easily holds his own against the guitars' force and the song doesn't flag when he sings on his own while the guitars take break. Are You Gonna Be My Girl encourages comparisons to lots of different songs. Towards the end, the guitars have the "channelling The Stooges" feel of Strokes songs like Last Nite. Are You Gonna Be My Girl doesn't sound original but it is fun and energetic. Are You Gonna Be My Girl has an appropriately simple, retro lyric. Muncey tells a girl that "you look so fine" that "I really wanna make you mine."
Jet - Cold Hard Bitch
Weeks on Chart: 20 Peak: # 3 (June 2004) buy it!
Are You Gonna Be My Girl, the big hit from Jet's Get Born CD, seems like a tribute to late 60s/early 70s psychedelic rock by bands like The Faces and The Stones. With crunching guitar reminiscent of fellow Australians AC/DC, Cold Hard Bitch shows a different, harder side of Jet's music. Jet only want Cold Hard Bitch to be big, tough, stupid hard rock and they reach that goal. Nic Cester shows that he's knows, from repeat listens to You Shook Me All Night Long and Highway To Hell, how to play tight, blugeoning power chords. Cam Muncey has the voice to carry off Cold Hard Bitch. His ragged but assertive howl is strong enough to fight with the guitars and have enough left for a Daltreyesqe climactic wail. Cold Hard Bitch has the stirring power of good simple arena rock. It's effective but dopey. Cold Hard Bitch brings to mind The Darkness' ridiculously faithful reenactments of 70s rock. The Darkness make their songs, especially I Believe In A Thing Called Love, work by lovingly mocking the music they skillfully bring back to life. Muncey's punctuating yeahs and the too provocative to be serious title imply that Cold Hard Bitch is a bit of a goof. But the joke isn't as fun or inclusive as The Darkness'. Cold Hard Bitch is best appreciated as well made, no frills head banging rock. Cold Hard Bitch's title is apparently meant as a compliment. Muncey sings that at first she was "just a kiss on the lips" then "I was on my knees" waiting for her.
Jewel - Intuition
Weeks on Chart: 10 Peak: # 22 (July 2003) buy it!
Jewel's image, as the sincere folkie who writes poetry and wants people to take her overripe writing seriously, was getting drab. She has come up with a smart surprise by simplifying and lightening up on her new CD. Jewel worked on the 0304 CD with Lester Mendez, who produced and played keyboards on records by Latin pop artists like Shakira and Enrique and Julio Iglesias. Intuition is like lots of other dance pop songs but it still works. Intuition is repetitive and insubstantial but it has a light, easy mood. Mendez maintains a solid beat that doesn't overwhelm Jewel's voice. Jewel, singing with a sensual roll in her voice, sounds like she's having fun mixing up vocal styles. Part of Intuition's success must be attributable to its video. Jewel has projected a seductive image before, on the record and video for You Were Meant For Me. On Intuition she has it both ways, satirizing the way advertisers use sex to attract people to their products while undoubtedly attracting people to Intuition with her alluring poses and clothes. I assume Jewel has a similar intent on the record, gently mocking the mechanical nature of many hits and overdoing the provocative swoon in her voice while knowing those qualities are likely to get her a hit. Intuition's lyric mocks a world obsessed with "Miss J's big butt" where people "learn cool from magazines" and "learn love from Charlie Sheen." Jewel's unstartling advice is to "follow your heart." Jewel's intuition led her to make radio friendly dance pop. Intuition has a lot of internal contradictions but it is pleasant, slight, disposable pop.
Jewel - Standing Still
Weeks on Chart: 20 Peak: # 7 (Feb. 2002) buy it!
I'm not a big fan of Jewel's ballads and their big image school girl poetry but at least her ballads seem heartfelt. Standing Still, the first single from the This Way CD, sounds like some record company guy's idea of a single. It's slick, empty lite rock. Since it's apparently modelled on early 70s Eagles style easy rock, Standing Still is, at least, fairly soothing and pleasant. But Jewel's thin, soulless quavering voice is ill suited to rock singing. The drummer and bass player try to create a little drama but the music stays pretty insipid. Jewel's lyric, agonizing whether a relationship is going anywhere, is, typically, slightly showy and overdone. It starts: "cuttin' through the darkest night in my two headlights." Couldn't you just say driving at night?
Jimmie's Chicken Shack - Do Right
Weeks on Chart: 13 Peak: # 27 (Oct. 1999) buy it!
Though the success of Do Right can largely be traced to heavy MTV play for the song's very fun video, this likeable song from the Maryland band's Bring Your Own Stereo CD deserves to be a hit. Jimi HaHa, the band's singer, usually presents himself as clueless and Do Right makes good use of his image. He sings of "all the things you find wrong with me", not denying the charges but implicitly saying, what do you expect from a goofball like me. The loose, high spirited, unpretentious music is the real grabber here. The chorus is irresistable with driving guitars underlining the repeated question, "what can I do right?" Like the band's singer, the song is quirkily charming.
Jimmy Eat World - A Praise Chorus
Weeks on Chart: 6 Peak: # 42 (Jan. 2003) buy it!
The fun, exuberant songs keep coming from the year and a half old Bleed American CD. A Praise Chorus, the third chart hit is faster and even less subtle than Bleed Americans last two singles, using a scratchy, stuttering guitar sound like The Middles. A Praise Chorus is just fast, straight ahead rock that doesnt let Zach Linds beat, Rick Burchs bass or Jim Adkins and Tom Lintons guitars stop for a second. Its nearly as hard to resist as Jimmy Eat Worlds other hits. A Praise Chorus is an exhortation to make a move and stop standing in the back, looking around. A Praise Chorus also pays tribute to the power of music, throwing in pieces of Madness Our House, They Might Be Giants Dont Lets Start and, most obviously Tommy James Crimson And Clover. I admit that I underestimated Bleed American when it first came out but Ive been gradually won over by Jimmy Eat Worlds intense but upbeat and positive sound.
Jimmy Eat World - The Middle
Weeks on Chart: 37 Peak: # 2 (May 2002) buy it!
Amid all the dour, self pitying young men on alternative radio and now on the top of the pop charts, Jimmy Eat World's frothy, upbeat hit is especially welcome. Because they're energetic and very sincere and their music rocks hard and fast, Jimmy Eat World have been labeled an "emo-core" band. There's not much hardcore about The Middle's sound. It's just buoyant poppy fun. The Middle does rock but it keeps things light. With a tight, stuttering guitar, a steady bass line and Jimmy Adkins' sunny vocal, The Middle has a likable exuberance. The Middle's lyrics advise a girl to ignore the feeling that others are looking down on her, promising that "everything will be all right." The music carries a similarly optimistic spirit. The title track from Jimmy Eat World's fourth CD was close to the top 50 when September 11 came. Radio and the band's record company decided people didn't want to hear a hard driving rocker called Bleed American. Luckily, the CD also contains the irresistable The Middle, easily the best song on the earnest but not always enjoyable Bleed American CD.
Jimmy Eat World - Sweetness
Weeks on Chart: 20 Peak: # 19 (Sept. 2002) buy it!
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.
Joe - I Wanna Know
Weeks on Chart: 13 Peak: # 29 (Aug. 2000) buy it!
I Wanna Know is from the My Name Is Joe CD. Joe's singing is pleasant and appealingly smooth, if unremarkable, as he croons over easy beats. However, the main reason for I Wanna Know's success has got to be the lyrics, which set him up as the ideal sensitive man. Joe plays a man trying to convince a woman that unlike her current, undeserving guy, he understands what she's worth. He lays it on pretty thick, telling her that she takes his breath away and knocks him off his feet and that he'd do whatever he could to please her.
Joe - Stutter
Weeks on Chart: 7 Peak: # 38 (May 2001) buy it!
MTV's now playing a remix of Stutter. The second pop hit from the My Name Is Joe CD needed a little more edge. Stutter is inoffensively sleek with bland verses. The chorus is better but repetitive, telling us over and over that he can tell she's lying because when she's replying, she stutters. Joe has a decent, smooth voice but Stutter only really comes alive on Mystikal's angry, attitude filled rap.
John Mayer - Bigger Than My Body
Weeks on Chart: 16 Peak: # 5 (Nov. 2003) buy it!
I feel like John Mayer has the potential to be interesting but his hugely successful Room For Squares CD was too mild and inoffensive for my liking. There were encouraging signs for Mayer's new Heavier Things CD. When he won a Grammy, he conceded that his music had not yet justified his rapid rise to stardom and promised "to catch up." Heavier Things' title also seemed like an acknowledgement that Mayer's music has been a bit light and an assurance that the new CD would be a little more substantial. Heavier Things is something of a mixed bag. Some of the music is a bit harder but the vibe is generally mellow. The CD's title presumably refers to the generally depressed, kind of self pitying nature of the lyrics. Bigger Than My Body is one of Heavier Things' more upbeat songs. It's quite charming. Bigger Than My Body has No Such Thing's easy, smooth feel but it's not as annoyingly whimsical and it has more going on musically. Mayer is a talented guitar player but he often seems too modest to show his skills. Bigger Than My Body has a good, distorted guitar effect. It also has a nice, simple piano line. Mayer's whispery, self effacing vocal can be cutesy but it fits nicely with Bigger Than My Body's steady flow. Bigger Than My Body shows Mayer's tendency for safe, easy listening music but it also shows his ability to be endearing in an unforced way. Bigger Than My Body's lyrics are cautiously optimistic. Mayer sings that his wings have been clipped but "someday I'll soar."
John Mayer - Clarity
Weeks on Chart: 9 Peak: # 42 (May 2004) buy it!
Clarity is the second chart hit from John Mayer's Heavier Things CD. Mayer is a good natured, fairly skilled performer who has modest ambitions of making meaningful music but doesn't quite know how to do so. Clarity puts Mayer's ambition and modesty to good use. It's seriously made, enjoyable and not self important. Clarity goes farther into jazz than Mayer's previous singles. Clarity starts fairly well with a crisp drum machine beat and a looped piano line. Things improve and a nice momentum develops as Clarity's vibe loosens. ?uestlove from The Roots plays good, relaxed drums. Horns, including Roy Hargrove's trumpet, give Clarity some color and give the chorus a big sound. Mayer can't help but sound like a white guy and "ooh-ooh-ooh"s betray his easy listening leanings but Mayer's vocal is pleasant enough. Mayer does his typical restrained guitar doodling but Clarity has enough interesting things happening that it doesn't have the tentative feel of some of Mayer's songs. Clarity has substance but it's also breezy and likable. Clarity's lyric is a bit New Agey but nice and well suited to the song's relaxed mood. Mayer tells us that he's normally a worrier who "weighs three times my body." One morning, he's surprised to feel "a calm I can't explain." Clarity is about hoping the feeling "will last forever" or preparing to, at least, "pretend that it somehow lingered on."
John Mayer - No Such Thing
Weeks on Chart: 28 Peak: # 8 (Aug. 2002) buy it!
Further proving that you can't keep a mediocre, pleasant song down, No Such Thing, from the Room For Squares CD, has returned to the chart. No Such Thing was on the lower end of the top 50 for more than two months last winter thanks to play on "adult alternative" radio. With its mild sense of rebellion and John Mayer's genial, modest vocals, No Such Thing was perfect for that yuppie friendly format. Even after it dropped off the top 50, No Such Thing hung around some stations' playlists. Its innocuous charm eventually caught the attention of VH1 then pop radio. No Such Thing reminds me of well made, easy rock hits by thoughtful, poppy white guys like Marc Cohn, Sister Hazel and Five For Fighting. No Such Thing's whimsical lyrics gently protest a world that tells you "stay inside the lines" and proclaim that "the real world" is "just a lie you've got to rise above." Mayer, a Berklee College of Music dropout turned Atlanta based singer/songwriter, is only in his mid 20s and seems a little young to be making such smooth, familiar, unchallenging music. Mayer has been compared to Dave Matthews. No Such Thing is even tamer than Matthews' amiable music, which at least has a little jazzy edge.
John Mayer - Why Georgia
Weeks on Chart: 21 Peak: # 31 (April 2003) buy it!
Why Georgia is the third chart hit from the young singer/songwriter's Room For Squares CD. More than a year after No Such Thing first hit the chart, my thoughts about Mayer are basically the same. Mayer has a mellow, mildly whimsical style that would normally be consistent with an older artist who is tired and slowing down or bemused after years of facing life's absurdities. It's odd to me that someone in his mid 20s seems so unambitious and self satisfied. The frankly sexual Your Body Is A Wonderland was charmingly cheeky but Yes Georgia is just more pleasant, vague, easy listening. Mayer again deploys a vocal that's sly and engaging but has little force. Mayer is apparently a good guitar player but he's careful not to be too showy, only displaying his skills in very limited bursts. I don't know whether it symbolizes an urge to leave his mild, smooth work behind and make more challenging music but on Why Georgia, Mayer sings about being tempted to leave his drab, lonely Georgia life behind, asking "am I living it right?" Mayer asks whether he should take a chance and tells himself he can't be satisfied with "everything happens for a reason."
John Mayer - Your Body Is A Wonderland
Weeks on Chart: 26 Peak: # 15 (Dec. 2002) buy it!
Your Body Is a Wonderland is the second chart hit from the Atlanta based singer/songwriter's Room For Squares CD. Like No Such Thing, Your Body Is a Wonderland is pleasant and almost proudly inconsequential. Unlike No Such Thing, where Mayer tried so hard for whimsical cheekiness, Your Body Is a Wonderland mostly keeps things nicely understated. His voice, in a tone not much more forceful than a whisper, effectively communicates the song's sly confidence. His guitar playing is also unassuming but pretty cool. Its only flourish is a short Steely Dan style riff towards the end. A skinny young white guy can't help but seem a little leering singing a song about pleasuring a lady but his admiration of a woman's looks is generally appealing. A bit too much bravado accompanies Mayer's promise to take a while making love and discovering a woman's body but he generally avoids the objectification that often accompanies songs complimenting the female shape.
John Mellancamp - Peaceful World
Weeks on Chart: 18 Peak: # 25 (Oct. 2001) buy it!
More than two decades into his career, John Mellancamp mostly works in adult contemporary mode but he still has an uncanny knack of making appealing singles. As on his good cover of Wild Night, Mellancamp works with a distinctive African American singer and produces a very likable result. Mellancamp is sometimes stupidly self righteous, pretentiously speaking lines decrying hypocrites and saying he's "sick and tired of being politically correct" but India.Arie's vocals provide a nice balance. They're serious but warm and unaffected and right for the song's utopian message. The music on Peaceful World, from Mellancamp's Cuttin Heads CD is also good, with a loose, edgy beat.
John Popper - Miserable Bastard
Weeks on Chart: 9 Peak: # 22 (Oct. 1999) buy it!
Miserable Bastard is from the first solo record from the Blues Traveler vocalist and harmonica god. Despite the death of bass player Bobby Sheehan, Blues Traveler apparently hasn't broken up. Long ago, Popper had said he wanted a chance to try some different things. Miserable Bastard has a good groove and it is a little funkier than normal Blues Traveller music. The lyrics about how Popper uses love like fuel, "the pain it fuels my engine" is typical Popper pessimism about how rejection makes him know he still feels.
Johnny Lang - Second Guessing
Weeks on Chart: 1 Peak: # 33 (Aug. 1999) buy it!
Second Guessing is the 3rd rock radio hit from Lang's Wander This World cd. The young guitar phenom obviously has decent chops and a love and knowledge of blues greats but needs to find more personality, especially on the vocals.
JoJo - Leave(Get Out)
Weeks on Chart: 5 Peak: # 12 (July 2004) buy it!
JoJo, born Joanna Levesque, got her first big break in 1996 as a six year old when she impressively sang Respect on Bill Cosby's Kids Say The Darnedest Things On The Road in her Boston hometown. On Leave JoJo's voice, which presumably got a studio touchup, is unamazing and not particularly distinctive but fine. She's a bit soulful and sounds older than 13, JoJo's age when she recorded her self titled debut CD. Jojo gets a chance to let loose on Leave's dramatic bridge, which sounds like it's copped from a Christina Aguilera song. Leave(Get Out), produced by Soulshock & Karlin, sounds like a lot of light dance pop. It has the acoustic guitar sound which has become nearly ubiquitous on songs like Jessica Simpson's With You. With its steady, unassuming beat, Leave's backing has the smooth, relaxed flow of songs by Craig David, one of the artists Soulshock & Karlin have worked with. Leave gets a bit of flavor from appropriately bratty backup singers yelling "Leave". But it mostly goes by pleasantly and easily. It's a big hit partly because it's easy for JoJo's young fans to get but it's not so stupid that it turns off older listeners. On Leave, Jo Jo tells the boy who "promised me forever" to leave after she finds out he lied and has been seeing another girl. Her "heart is breakin' " but she refuses to cry.
Jonatha Brooke - Linger
Weeks on Chart: 2 Peak: # 50 (May 2001) buy it!
In her solo career since The Story broke up, Jonatha Brooke has moved away from being just a folkie. Her Steady Pull CD tries a range of musical styles. Linger is an appealing, catchy folk rocker. Linger is about seeing signs that a relationship is doomed in lots of little things but still being conflicted about leaving. Brooke sings about "hoping you will follow" and "praying that you won't."
Jonny Lang - Breakin' Me
Weeks on Chart: 6 Peak: # 41 (Aug. 2000) buy it!
Usually it's Jonny Lang's guitar playing that's a little overdone. On Breakin' Me, the latest radio track from the teenager's Wander This World CD, it's the lyrics and singing that are over the top. The guitar on Breakin' Me is decent and restrained but a cutesy piercing piano line is irritating. The singing isn't bad, it just lacks subtlety, especially in conjuction with overwrought lyrics that repeatedly beg a woman to take him back. He's on his knees, with "nothin' left to hold to", unable not to love the woman he left.
Jonny Lang - Red Light
Weeks on Chart: 12 Peak: # 36 (Dec. 2003) buy it!
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.
Josh Joplin Group - Camera One
Weeks on Chart: 17 Peak: # 18 (Feb. 2001) buy it!
Camera One is from the band's Useful Music CD. Camera One is serious but catchy, kind of like old Peter Gabriel or Genesis but a little more obvious. With production by Jerry Harrison, Camera One sounds good. Camera One is another cynical tale about how pursuit of a Hollywood dream can have disappointing results. Joplin's tale is hardly subtle as he dramatically intones that "you're playing you now."
Justin Timberlake - Cry Me A River
Weeks on Chart: 13 Peak: # 19 (Feb. 2003) buy it!
On Just Like I Love You, the first single from the N Sync pretty boys Justified CD, Justin Timberlakes worked too hard to show his urban cred and ended up with a slavish, fairly lame Michael Jackson imitation. The more relaxed Cry Me A River works better and is actually soulful. The production lets polished studio singers take over for large portions and move the song forward smoothly. Cry Me A River has a relaxed pace and a fairly uncluttered sound but its also scuffed up a little by a stuttering beat and synths that trumpet and dissolve into a draggy dissonance. Timberlakes singing is pretty innocuous on the verses but things improve when the backup singers help him out and when he reaches for an impassioned falsetto. Cry Me A Rivers lyric plays out the fantasy of many who have been taken advantage by a romantic partner. Timberlake gets to tell the woman who left him all alone, but is asking for him again, that its her time to cry.
Justin Timberlake - Like I Love You
Weeks on Chart: 14 Peak: # 22 (Nov. 2002) buy it!
The first single from teen pop's top hunkshows that Justin Timberlake can be successful outside N Sync but fails to show that he's developing a distinctive musical personality. On record and especially in the video, Like I Love You seems to be a Michael Jackson tribute. Timberlake mimics Jackson's look and moves but he doesn't have the gloved one's visual or vocal presence. Like I Love You, from the Justified CD, is apparently intended to introduce an adult, urban image for Timberlake. Timberlake does OK with the Jacko-like falsetto parts. Hovever, Like I Love You's spoken, tough guy parts are, if not quite ridiculous, a little silly, though his young fans undoubtedly find them cool and sexy. Otherwise, Timberlake's vocal is uninteresting but amiable, floating nearly unnoticably along with the beat. The Neptunes do their usual competent production. Like I Love You basically works as disposable dance pop. It's got a good crisp beat and a decent repeated guitar based riff. Like I Love You isn't helped by the Neptunes trademark beeping effects, which have almost always been annoying and now are annoying and cliched. The Neptunes try to give the very white Justin some edge by including a rap from Clipse(who happen to have the first record released by the Neptunes' new label). Clipse's rap doesn't work as well as Nelly's on N Sync's fun Girlfriend remix. It's pretty drab with cocky come ons("grab a friend, see I can have fun with two") that don't mesh with Timberlake's more polite approach. Like I Love You's lyric is mostly an inoffensive attempt to charm a woman and get her to drop "your front face" though the effort to be simultaneously tough and respectful results in some stinker lines like "you're a good girl and that's what make me trust ya."
Justin Timberlake - Rock Your Body
Weeks on Chart: 20 Peak: # 15 (May 2003) buy it!
Rock Your Body, the third hit from the Justified CD, is a mindless but fun dance song. It's Justin Timberlake's best single so far. Timberlake and writer/producers The Neptunes(Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo) have worked out a partnership sure to produce hits. The teen idol provides the hunkiness and Williams and Hugo bring the great grooves. Following Like I Love You, where Timberlake was encouraged to do a slavish Michael Jackson imitation, Rock Your Body seems to comfirm that Williams and Hugo had Jackson in mind when they wrote and arranged songs that made Justified. Rock Your Body particularly brings to mind the great dance beats and chunky groove of Jackson's Off The Wall. Rock Your Body's big bass and scratchy guitar also resembles the sound, made by Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers on songs like Good Times, that was borrowed in tons of dance songs(even Queen's Another One Bites The Dust). Timberlake's voice is just one of the parts that Williams and Hugo used to construct Rock Your Body. Timberlake's vocal is largely unremarkable and nearly unnoticable. It's often hard to know where his singing ends and the very effective backing vocals begin but, at least, Timberlake, doesn't get in the way of the groove. Credit for Rock Your Body and its easy, likable flow should go to its producers. Rock Your Body's lyric is basically Timberlake's request to a girl to not walk away and instead give him a chance to seduce her on the dance floor.
Justin Timberlake - Senorita
Weeks on Chart: 11 Peak: # 21 (Oct. 2003) buy it!
Justin Timberlake has impressively moved on from being a member of a very successful singing group to being even more successful as a solo artist. Even more impressive is that Timberlake has escaped N Sync's squeaky clean, lightweight pop image and built some cred as an r&b singer. A lot of credit for Timberlake's makeover has to go to The Neptunes(Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo), who wrote and produced seven songs on the Justified CD including Like I Love You, Rock Your Body and Senorita. Senorita, Justified's fourth hit, is insubstantial and not that impressive but it(along with Timberlake's nice contribution to Black Eyed Peas' Where Is The Love) helps solidify the idea of Timberlake as a respectable artist. Unlike some of Timberlake's previous singles, Senorita doesn't show a need to overwhelm us with overdone instrumentation or breathless Michael Jackson imitations. Senorita is a smooth ride with relaxed confidence. The Neptunes again show their skill at putting together an appealing song. Senorita's chief asset is a very likable, easy keyboard riff. Senorita is also helped by a minimal percussive beat and touches of horns. Timberlake is once again aided by good, well placed backing vocals. Timberlake's singing seems fine. He's pretty charming, though I could do without the cocky guys/ladies finale. Senorita has a typical lyric. Timberlake tries to convince a woman that the guy who upsets her "doesn't love ya" and offers his "real love" in exchange.