N Sync - Bye Bye Bye
Weeks on Chart: 19 Peak: # 21 (April 2000) buy it!
From the upcoming No Strings Attached CD, Bye Bye Bye has a decent energy but is still pretty slight. Its lyrics, telling an unworthy suitor to hit the road, are slightly bold for today's teen idols, whose songs are usually about pining for a girl or celebrating how great their girl is.
N Sync - Girlfriend
Weeks on Chart: 15 Peak: # 19 (April 2002) buy it!
Girlfriend, the third single from N Sync's Celebrity record is my favorite from the record so far. On Girlfriend, the boys worked with very busy producers The Neptunes. Partly because N Sync are better singers, Girlfriend is more enjoyable than Britney Spears' I'm A Slave For You, which was a mess despite a striking, good Neptunes production. With a good borrowed riff and a light, steady beat, Girlfriend has a relaxed, breezy feel. N Sync's harmonies are impressive and fit nicely with the easy mood. N Sync's chief hunk Justin Timberlake, who wrote Girlfriend with The Neptunes, plays a guy trying to convince a girl that while the boy she's likes "doesn't even know you're there", he'll "treat you good." The lyrics are typical boy band fodder but neither they nor some silly whispered interjections negate Girlfriend's charm.
N Sync - Gone
Weeks on Chart: 15 Peak: # 27 (Nov. 2001) buy it!
N Sync risked alienating a large number of their fans with Pop, the title track and first single from their new CD, and its cold, harsh sub-Michael Jackson sound, paranoid boasts and ridiculous challenge to critics who don't respect them. The second single plays it safe, letting heartthrob Justin Timberlake pour his heart out about his pain and longing for a lost love while the rest of the boys harmonize behind him. The vocals are nicely restrained and quite good. The music, acoustic guitars and strings, is so tastefully minimal that it's a little boring.
N Sync - It's Gonna Be Me
Weeks on Chart: 15 Peak: # 24 (July 2000) buy it!
It's Gonna Be Me sounds like No Strings Attached's first single Bye Bye Bye. It's got a little bit of a harder dance edge but it's still genial and unthreatening. The words are more standard than the breakup lyrics of Bye Bye Bye, trying to convince a women who's had a bad experience that all men aren't bad and he's not like that. It's Gonna Be Me is pretty slight but the young girls are bound to make it another big hit.
N Sync - Pop
Weeks on Chart: 8 Peak: # 23 (July 2001) buy it!
Michael Jackson, The King Of Pop, seems to be an influence on Pop, the first single from the Celebrity CD, in both its hard edged dance music and its angry, fairly foolish lyrics. 'N Sync don't just want to sell a lot of records, they want respect. They sing about being "sick and tired of hearin' all these people talk about" their music "and when is it gonna fade out." They claim "what we're doing is not a trend/we got the gift of melody,we gonna bring it 'til the end." Pop doesn't have much gift of melody but it does work as a dance music. It has a cold but effective sound with sleek beats. The singing doesn't fare as well. N Sync don't have Jackson's ability to rise above harsh dance music. The stark production emphasizes the thin, processed feel of the vocals.
N Sync - This I Promise You
Weeks on Chart: 11 Peak: # 28 (Nov. 2000) buy it!
This I Promise You is the third hit from the No Strings Attached CD. It was written by Richard Marx, who had a brief period of pop rock stardom in the late 80's. This I Promse You is a fairly routine, sappy ballad. They sing about being her strength and giving her hope. They promise that "never will you hurt anymore" and to hold her "until the day my life is through" but even their preteen fans probably know that such promises, said by teens, aren't necessarily meant to be taken literally.
Natalie Merchant - Just Can't Last
Weeks on Chart: 2 Peak: # 44 (Dec. 2001) buy it!
In her early solo work and, especially, with 10,000 Maniacs, Natalie Merchant's music was usually fairly mellow but it was also interesting and often kind of fun. Merchant's recent singles have been melodic enough to keep some of her yuppie audience but so restrained and tasteful that they barely get your attention. Merchant brought in T Bone Burnette to produce her Motherland CD, presumably to get a richer, edgier feel, but Just Can't Last has that same polite, boring sound. Just Can't Last is nearly identical to Kind & Generous, from Mercant's last studio record Ophelia, especially in its extended fadeout with Merchant repeating Just Can't Last instead of Kind & Generous' thank yous. Just Can't Last's nice, if innocuous, lyrics try to convince someone who feels weighed down after getting lots of tough breaks that misfortune won't last. Merchant's vocals are O.K. but very serious and a little stiff. Her musicians seem skilled but they aren't allowed to disturb the placid mood.
Neil Young - Let's Roll
Weeks on Chart: 2 Peak: # 49 (Feb. 2002) buy it!
You probably know that the song from Young's upcoming Are You Passionate? CD refers to perhaps the most amazing story of September 11th: the actions of UA flight 93 passengers who prevented the loss of more lives by overpowering their hijackers. They were directed into action by Todd Beamer who called out Let's Roll. The phrase has been since used, I say somewhat exploitatively, by President Bush to rally support for the war effort. Others have also seemed to use the 9/11 tragedy for their own purposes. I'm sick of seeing Paul McCartney sing his simplistic, bizarrely jingoistic(has he forgotten he's English?) Freedom, which coincidentally came out as he was promoting his new record. It's been noted that Neil Young has become considerably more conservative since he sang in Ohio about Kent State students getting gunned down but it's clear that Let's Roll is an uncalculated visceral reaction rather than some sort of political statement. Last fall, Young went into the studio with Crazy Horse guitarist Frank Sampedro and Booker T and some of his MGs. Let's Roll has an approriate emotional, edgy feel. The music suggests an impromptu, personal response, ranging from a big, crunching guitar sound to quiet patches where Young's thin, pained voice is even rawer than usual. Let's Roll is a little macho for my liking with lines about having to "do what we gotta do", rolling "for freedom" and "goin' after Satan on the wings of a dove" but I still appreciate it as a poignant, real take on unimaginable events.
Neil Young - Razor Love
Weeks on Chart: 2 Peak: # 50 (June 2000) buy it!
Razor Love is from Neil Young's new acoustic Silver and Gold CD. Razor Love is a nice, restrained song about Young's empathy for a woman who's down on her luck. Harmonica, piano and Young's thin, vulnerable voice create a moving setting as Young sings of his faith in and "love that cuts straight through" for someone he hasn't always supported. Razor Love is sad and slightly rambling with Young throwing out a few broader observations about how you "gotta look out for the greedy hand" and that "imagination is my best friend."
Nelly featuring Kelly Rowland - Dilemma
Weeks on Chart: 21 Peak: # 16 (Oct. 2002) buy it!
Dilemma is the Nellyville CD's ballad. I'd have thought that doing a tame, kind of sensitive song would hurt Nelly's tough guy rep but I guess he's done enough songs objectifying women and establishing his gangsta cred that Dilemma won't hurt his image much. Nelly competently works in a much more restrained mode than usual. Like his rapping, Nelly's singing is easy and fluid but he's so quiet and subdued that he's upstaged by Destiny's Child's Kelly Rowland. Nelly doesn't get to express his usual arrogance but Dilemma does stroke his ego. Rowland plays a woman who's with another man but is crazy over Nelly and always thinks about him. Nelly's character plays it cool, listening and waiting for his cue to make his move. Nelly has followed Hot In Herre, his first #1 pop hit, with another sure hit. Dilemma is based on a Patti Labelle song written by Kenny Gamble and Bunny Sigler. It has a classic, relaxed sound with a crisp, easy beat. Rowland's good, straight forward vocal is nicely underlined by inobtrusive chiming synths. The repeated "oh" sample reminds me of the version of This Woman's Work by Maxwell, a smooth singer I'd never think I'd compare to Nelly.
Nelly Furtado - I'm Like A Bird
Weeks on Chart: 17 Peak: # 26 (June 2001) buy it!
I'm Like A Bird, from the Canadian singer's Whoa Nelly! CD, sounds like a pop/easy listening hit but it also has a nice, trippy edge. Especially on the verses, the sound is cool and a little jazzy. Furtado's voice is loose and playful. The beat is chunky but the feel is appropriately light. The chorus, cushioned by backing vocals and synths, is more standard pop but Furtado keeps things buoyant and appealing. She sings that, even though she's in love, she's eventually going to have to move on.
Nelly Furtado - Turn Off The Light
Weeks on Chart: 19 Peak: # 21 (Oct. 2001) buy it!
On her second single from the Whoa, Nelly CD, the Portugese-Canadian singer is again a cool, refreshing presence on pop radio. Turn Off The Light has an even looser feel than I'm Like A Bird. Furtado's vocal is easy and appealing. Turn Off The Light has a trippy feel with ringing synths and record scratching but it also has good, tight beats. On Turn Off The Light, Furtado says she acting tough after a breakup but when she's on her own at night she's troubled and lonely.
Nelly - #1
Weeks on Chart: 5 Peak: # 40 (Feb. 2002) buy it!
Without resorting to too much novelty or commercial pandering, Nelly is already one of the most successful rappers, in terms of pop hits, of all time. Nelly's appeal has partly been in his use of familiar gangsta rap tough guy imagery but the most obvious reason he's done so well is that he's a good rapper. On #1, from the soundtrack to the movie Training Day, Nelly is again fast and fluid with a good edge and personality. #1 wisely keep things fairly simple with a steady beat and a good synth riff. Having established his cred and sold millions of copies of Country Grammar, Nelly doesn't feel the need to show his love for bullets and blunts like he did on his earlier hits. But Nelly is still more appealing for his skills than for the personality his lyrics reveal. #1 is about making sure he's treated with the proper respect, boasting about how rappers want to be like him and dissing critics and less successful competitors.
Nelly - Air Force Ones
Weeks on Chart: 7 Peak: # 30 (Jan. 2003) buy it!
Air Force Ones is the the third hit from the Nellyville CD. Taking four minutes to pay tribute to Nellys sneakers and endlessly repeating a not great record scratching riff, Nelly is proudly unambitious on Air Force Ones. Like much of Nellys music, Air Force Ones succeeds by staying relaxed and creating an irresistable groove. Nelly lets his buddies do most of the rapping. Most of them arent particularly impressive but Air Force Ones effectively keeps the raps coming one after another. As is often the case with Nellys music, what hes saying is less enjoyable than how he says it. Nelly and his posse test the patience of any listener whos not a Nike aficionado by detailing shoe sizes and favorite colors and making silly brags about only wearing a pair once then discarding it. I do like the cool way they pronounce pair as "par".
Nelly - Country Grammar
Weeks on Chart: 8 Peak: # 39 (Oct. 2000) buy it!
Country Grammar is the title track of Nelly's hugely successful CD. On Country Grammar, Nelly celebrates his St. Louis hometown and the joys of riding down the street in his Range Rover and lighting up blunts. He glorifies the thug life, rapping that his "street sweeper" is cocked and ready to let go and paying tribute to "the niggas left in the slamma." I'm not happy that kids, black and white, are eating Nelly's rap up. But for many, the thrilll of gangsta rap is in vicariously experiencing an exciting street life from the comfort of your home. And the main reason for Country Grammar's success is probably the relaxed singsong catchiness of the rap, based on a children's chant, and the easy groove, good, clean beat and simple backing.
Nelly - Hot In Herre
Weeks on Chart: 20 Peak: # 16 (July 2002) buy it!
Hot In Herre, Nelly's latest combination of smooth rap skills and stupid boasting, is fairly lightweight but it sounds like a summer hit. The music and rap have a great, easy flow. On Hot In Herre, from the Nellyville CD, producers The Neptunes start with a riff that sounds like Steely Dan's Josie or FM and then easily move things along, attaching a good, light beat and synth to a sample from Chuck Brown's Bustin' Loose. Nelly's rapping isn't as awe inspiring as some of his fast, dense work on the Country Grammar CD. But even if he's more relaxed and less edgy than on some of hits, Nelly's cocky, seemingly effortless technique is still very impressive. As with his earlier hits, my problem with Hot In Herre is its lyrics. Nelly broke through with lyrics that were mostly rehashed gangsta rap. Now he's a big star, Nelly's less interested in guns, weed and the thug life and more about enjoying the perks of success. On Hot In Herre, Nelly shares his philosophy: "what good is all the fame if you ain't f---in' the models." Nelly is obsessed with ostentatious displays of wealth. Women figure in only as possessions that come with the big bucks. They're more than happy to undress or do whatever they can to please Nelly.
Nelly - Ride Wit Me
Weeks on Chart: 19 Peak: # 22 (June 2001) buy it!
Nelly's second top 50 hit has his trademark easy flowing sound and fast, relaxed rap. Ride Wit Me is even smoother than Country Grammar's title track and has a good, likable feel except for the repeated dopey yells of "must be the money." Nelly tells us that now he's got the money everyone wants a piece of him. He can mock those who called him a failure with his dough and Benz. Ride Wit Me is another Nelly rap that's cocky and a little silly, celebrating getting high and girls glad to satisfy.
Nelly - Shake Ya Tailfeather
Weeks on Chart: 21 Peak: # 16 (Oct. 2003) buy it!
P. Diddy assembled tracks from an all star lineup for the Bad Boys II soundtrack. I'm guessing that Nelly didn't sweat too much over his contribution. Shake Ya Tailfeather has the same sprawling, steady, easy but tight form of many of Nelly's singles from Country Grammar to Air Force Ones. Shake Ya Tailfeather is nothing new and it doesn't have much distinctive personality but it is well constructed and it shows Nelly's skills. As on many of Nelly's songs, annoying elements are side by side with likable ones. Shake Ya Tailfeather features the tomahawk chop chant that's irritated fans of teams playing the Braves for years. You'd figure that Nelly, who's always championing his St.Louis hometown, would be loathe to coopt the theme of the Cards' rival. Especially on the first verse, Shake Ya Tailfeather showcases Nelly's considerable rapping talents. He's fast with a light touch, and a lot of presence. With handclaps, synth interjections and a steady flow, Shake Ya Tailfeather's backing track has energy to match Nelly's vocal. The music and Nelly's interjections maintain an appealing feel even when lesser rappers take over. P. Diddy, who does the second verse, isn't as drab and flat as he can be. He keeps the song moving but his confident rap isn't very exciting. It would be nothing without its accompaniment. Murphy Lee from St. Lunatics, who's contributed to Nelly's CDs, does the third verse as comic relief, sharing his love of big booties and grass. It's nothing special but fine. Shake Ya Tailfeather's familiarity made it a big hit but it also is a good example of how Nelly's rapping and music can be irresistable. Even for a Nelly song, Shake Ya Tailfeather's lyric, mostly about wanting to see the ladies dance, is pretty slight. Nelly comes on to a girl then disses her. The rappers say each others names a lot. Nelly says he likes girls of all ethnicities then asks one to "take it off" and "take that ass to the floor."
New Found Glory - All Downhill From Here
Weeks on Chart: 6 Peak: # 36 (June 2004) buy it!
There haven't been many bratty punky pop hits recently so I guess it's time. Not much distinguishes All Downhill From Here, on New Found Glory's Catalyst CD, from the band's 2002 hit My Friends Over You or songs by Simple Plan and other similar acts except that New Found Glory are a little older and have been around a little longer than some of the other successful, perky hardcore fans. All Downhill From Here isn't terrible. Its sound keeps coming and stays upbeat. The guitars are tight and incisive. Neil Avron, who's produced Yellowcard, SR-71, Everclear and New Found Glory's previous records, created a full sound. All Downhill From Here is just very familiar. Nothing separates it from the pack. Jordan Pundik's vocal is good natured but annoying. Pundik isn't a very good singer. He's simultaneously nasal and whiny. On All Downhill From Here, Pundik sings about an on and off relationship that's going bad again. His girlfriend's actions contradict her claim that she still wants him around. She's going through the motions and "pulling me down."
New Found Glory - Hit Or Miss
Weeks on Chart: 6 Peak: # 42 (April 2001) buy it!
Fast, three chord power pop isn't as hot as it was at its 80's peak but it's still around and still fun if done with good energy and not too much seriousness. New Found Glory resemble Green Day, the model for the recent breed of post punksters, and Blink 182 as they have a good, dopey time with a likable, very simple song. Hit or Miss, from the band's self titled CD, is a bittersweet reminisence of a recently ended relationship. Jordan Pundik fondly remembers "the time we realized Thriller was our favorite song" but also sings that for her it was "simple to lie."
New Found Glory - My Friends Over You
Weeks on Chart: 15 Peak: # 28 (Sept. 2002) buy it!
The demand for fun, dopey, poppy guitar rock continues. Coral Springs, Florida's New Found Glory broke through with the fun, simple Hit Or Miss and have a similarly basic sound on My Friends Over You, the first single from the Sticks and Stones CD. My Friends Over You is like a less obnoxious version of SR-71's Right Now and it's not that far from Sum 41 or Blink 182. My Friends Over You is catchy and likable. It has a fairly clear sound, a positive feel and a restrained pace for a rocker. Chad Gilbert and Steve Klein create a good, varied guitar sound with crunching chords on the verses and a good hook on the chorus. Jordan Pundik's vocal isn't particularly impressive but at least it's unpretentious. Klein's lyrics apologize for leading a girl on but tell her their history makes it clear she's not worth as much as his friendships.
New Radicals - Someday We'll Know
Weeks on Chart: 1 Peak: # 39 (Aug. 1999) buy it!
Guest critic Craig Z says, The followup to You Get What You Give from the Maybe You've Been Brainwashed too cd is the worst song on a deeply flawed but not altogether horrible album. Gregg Alexander has a knack for top 40 hooks. The lyrics of Someday We'll Know are straight out of Dawson's Creek and even talk about the captain of the Titanic for added teen appeal. The music is modeled after N Sync and any of those non threatening boy bands.
Nick Cannon - Gigolo
Weeks on Chart: 6 Peak: # 44 (March 2004) buy it!
Nick Cannon was previously best known as a comedian and an actor on his Nickelodeon tv show and in the movies Drumline and Love Don't Cost A Thing. Gigolo is on Cannon's self titled CD. Cannon got help for his first full length CD from hit maker R. Kelly, who co-wrote, produced and sang backup on Gigolo. Three things are usually true about Kelly's songs: they sound good and they have some odd sonic touches and fairly crude images of women. They're all true about Gigolo. Kelly sings the chorus. Typically, he's got money and women on his mind, bragging that he's "spending lots of dough" and is "always surrounded by so many 'hos." Cannon does the raps, playing the cocky star looking for a one night stand "wit' a groupie" not a girlfriend. Cannon doesn't have a particularly distinctive voice but he is fast, smooth and appealingly confident. Gigolo's chorus has an atmospheric riff that sounds like it should be on a dreamy techno track. Otherwise, Gigolo is good if unremarkable. It has a crisp beat and a good guitar sample repeated throughout. Gigolo's vibe is pretty laid back. It doesn't knock you out with its inventiveness like Kelly's Ignition remix did. Gigolo is another Kelly track with a decent sound and a questionable attitude towards women.
Nickel Creek - Smoothie Song
Weeks on Chart: 12 Peak: # 30 (July 2003) buy it!
Nickel Creek are a bluegrass group from San Diego. Their modern sensibility has given them supporters beyond the genre's usual fans. Contemporary bluegrass queen Alison Krauss produced Nickel Creek's two CDs. Krauss has succeeded by giving her music a country folk flavor. Like Krauss, Nickel Creek show that they respect bluegrass history and can play traditional instruments and are also aware of other genres. Moves like covering Pavement's Spit On A Stranger show that Nickelback's musical tastes are even broader than Krauss'. Nickel Creek's music is very charming. It's smart and well played and has a sweet modesty. The Smoothie Song, from the This Side CD, is an instrumental written by Nickel Creek mandolin/banjo player Chris Thile which features the interplay of the group's principal players: Thile, fiddler Sara Watkins and guitar player Sean Watkins.
Nickelback - Breathe
Weeks on Chart: 4 Peak: # 23 (Dec. 2000) buy it!
Breathe, from the State CD, is the Vancouver band's second top 50 song. Breathe follows Leader Of Men with another overdone, self important rock song. Breather is about a relationship on the brink of breakup. Singer Chad Kroeger is very serious and intense, asking somebody to help him breathe.
Nickelback - Feelin' Way Too Damn Good
Weeks on Chart: 5 Peak: # 2 (July 2004) buy it!
Feelin' Way Too Damn Good, the third chart hit from Nickelback's The Long Road CD, is more calculated music by Chad Kroeger's depressingly popular band. Feelin' Way Too Damn Good sounds like Nickelback's other hits but the distance between the song's claim of happiness and Kroeger's cold, narcissistic delivery make it odder and even more unpleasant than most of their work. Kroeger claims to be feeling good but there's no joy in the song. Kroeger's tight, harsh singing make the lines about convincing his woman to "fly here and see me" and making love in the shower seem like crude boasts instead of indications of affection. Feelin' Way Too Good's music is typically formulaic. The verses have meaningfully banged drums and strummed guitars. They're kept quiet so we can appreciate the rugged emotion of Kroeger's vocal. Feelin' Way Too Damn Good is built around its chorus. The chorus resembles the thuddingly obvious climaxes for songs like Someday. Drums boom to tell us we've reached the hook. Power chords slowly underline Kroeger's voice then predictably join with the drums to make a big, dramatic noise. Feelin' Way Too Damn Good is terrible. It's a particularly cynical construction. On Feelin' Way Too Damn Good, Kroeger tells us that usually when he falls in love, he finds "my heart face down." Things are going so well now that he feels "like I'm constantly dreaming." For his girlfriend's sake, I hope Kroeger is warmer and less predictable and self centered as a partner than he is as a singer/songwriter.
Nickelback - Figured You Out
Weeks on Chart: 22 Peak: # 4 (March 2004) buy it!
Figured You Out is another self righteous, humorless song from the irritatingly successful Canadian band. Figured You Out, the hard rocking second chart hit from Nickelback's CD, has a pretty good, if familiar, tough, tight guitar riff. But Figured You Out is still unappealing. It has an unpleasantness that largely comes from Chad Kroeger's cold, numbingly serious singing and lyrics. Kroeger shows his moralistic streak on Figured You Out with a laborious lyric that invents a decadent lifestyle so he can condemn it. Kroeger's character(I assume Mr. Perfect isn't writing from perfect experience) first revels in a wild life of sex and drugs then decides he hates and blames the person who brought him to it.
Nickelback - How You Remind Me
Weeks on Chart: 39 Peak: # 1 (Nov. 2001) buy it!
How You Remind Me, from Nickelback's Silver Side Up CD, is practically a Nirvana sampler. You can play name that tune as it resembles Come As You Are, Lithium and countless other songs. Chad Kroeger is ever so serious and humorless as he sings about being "sick inside without a sense of feeling" after a breakup. Still, How You Remind Me works because it makes good use of familiar tools. Like Nirvana, Nickelback use the thrill of rock dynamics, shifting from quiet verses to choruses with sweeping power chords. How You Remind Me has a big, tight sound. The lyrics have the self pity of a lot of recent rock but avoid the nastiness and excess of many of Nickelback's contemporaries.
Nickelback - Leader Of Men
Weeks on Chart: 10 Peak: # 19 (July 2000) buy it!
Nickelback is a hard rocking band, like Creed, led by a serious, intense singer. Leader of Men, from the State CD, is another rant about society's evils and hypocrisy, asking "do you think I could drink something that's so hard to swallow." The music starts with appealingly restrained guitar but predictably builds into a big, guitar heavy onslaught.
Nickelback - Never Again
Weeks on Chart: 17 Peak: # 14 (Aug. 2002) buy it!
Chad Kroeger's dreary chart dominance continues. Never Again, the third single from Nickelback's Silver Side Up CD, debuted on the top 50 while Kroeger's awful Hero was still #1. Never Again is one of Silver Side Up's harder rocking songs but, even with the big guitars, it suffers from the same deadly seriousness and lack of originality as Kroeger's previous hits. Never Again is another song that seems related to Kroeger's troubled youth. Like Too Bad, Never Again is about a dysfunctional home. This time instead of being absent, the dad is a physically abusive drunk. Kroeger is a kid afraid his mom is going to get killed. The happy ending has the mom grabbing a gun and pulling "the trigger just as fast as she can." As always, I don't question Kroeger's sincerity or right to express his pain but wish he could express himself in a more interesting, fresh way.
Nickelback - Someday
Weeks on Chart: 38 Peak: # 2 (Nov. 2003) buy it!
Nickelback are back with The Long Road CD, making the same kind of ultraserious, overblown, cliched arena rock that brought them the megahit How You Remind Me. On Someday, Chad Kroeger and friends stuck to the formula that worked. Someday isn't quite as bombastic as How You Remind Me but it's otherwise incredibly similar. You can sing "this is how you remind me" and other parts of that song over portions of Someday. The appeal of Someday, and Nickelback's music in general, is lost on me. Kroeger's voice is so stiff and humorless that he's just a bore. He intones his thought about his relationship playing out "like a paperback novel" with gravity and emphasis to make sure you catch the brilliance of his simile. Someday's music and playing are coldly competent but lack any surprise or originality. Familiar hard rock riffs repeat over and over again. On Someday, Kroeger asks a partner to stay in a screwed up relationship, promising he's "gonna make it alright."
Nickelback - Too Bad
Weeks on Chart: 28 Peak: # 5 (May 2002) buy it!
When How You Remind Me moved to the top of the pop charts, rock and alternative radio began to move on to a second song from the Silver Side Up CD. Too Bad alternates between mellow but dramatic verses and choruses with catchy rock guitar strumming. As on How You Remind Me, Chad Kroeger's vocals are heartfelt and the pain he describes is surely real. While he's not quite as self pitying as his trouble young white male rock contemporaries, Kroeger is very humorless and a little self important. Too Bad is serious, intense and well made but it doesn't have the mastery of Nirvana style rock dynamics that How You Remind Me, with its irresistable "Yeah"s and pounding power chords on the chorus, did. Too Bad is about dealing with feelings about the father who abandoned his family, leaving them "just trying to keep clothing on our backs."
Nina Sky - Move Ya Body
Weeks on Chart: 1 Peak: # 48 (July 2004) buy it!
Nina Sky are Nicole and Natalie Albino, teenagers from Queens, New York. They apparently are the first twin sisters ever to hit the pop charts. Move Ya Body smartly uses the Coolie Dance rhythm, which was created by Jamaican producer Cordell (Scatta) Burrell and has been used in a number of recent songs. The Coolie Dance rhythm's clapping and bongo sound provides Move Ya Body's backbone. Producers The Jettsonz and Cipha Sounds add a loose, exotic synth sound that underlines the Albinos' vocal. Move Ya Body's singing is fine but unremarkable as it flows with the groove. Jabba's rap also adds some flavor. But Move Ya Body is about the music, which is terrific. The synths and the rhythm combine to create a sinewy, slithery sound that begs people to hit the dance floor. It remains to be seen if Coolie Dance will match last year's Diwali rhythm in sending multiple hits up the pop charts but Move Ya Body is one of 2004's most alluring dance songs. Like its vocal, Move Ya Body's lyric is mostly meant to fit with the rhythm and not get in the way. The Albinos applaud a "girl" who "makes the fellas go." Move Ya Body apparently becomes a first person story as the ladies sing about someone who makes them hot as their "body moves closer."
Nine Days - Absolutely(Story of a Girl)
Weeks on Chart: 24 Peak: # 4 (June 2000) buy it!
Absolutely, the first single from the Madding Crowd CD, is frothily enjoyable if somewhat lightweight. Like recent pop hits All Star and the Friends theme, Absolutely bursts with irresistable energy and sounds like a summertime hit. Absolutely isn't really the story of a girl. The details are fairly limited in the lyrics about a sad woman who "cried a river and drowned the whole world." But the chorus about absolutely loving her when she smiles is simple and nice. The fast guitar riffs are steady and energizing, with split second breaks creating great tension.
Nine Inch Nails - Deep
Weeks on Chart: 1 Peak: # 49 (June 2001) buy it!
Deep is from the soundtrack of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. It's not totally Trent Reznor's fault that Nine Inch Nails' music doesn't sound as fresh and striking as it once did. Many bands have borrowed from Reznor's harsh, dark sound. But Deep also sounds like other Nine Inch Nails music like Downward Spiral's Closer. It has an effective crunching beat and spooky sonic effect that don't overwhelm the generally stark feel. Still, Deep sounds very familiar, like lots of other songs about Reznor's troubled mind. He sings that "there's a big black hole gonna eat me up." But there's some optimism. He sings about taking a chance to make a rocky relationship work, trying to dig deep into his lover's feelings.
Nine Inch Nails - Into The Void
Weeks on Chart: 6 Peak: # 36 (Jan. 2000) buy it!
Despite the hype accompanying the release of Trent Reznor's new CD the Fragile, its first single We're In This Together left the charts fairly quickly. Perhaps its message that Reznor might be able to make it through problems with the help of his love was too optimistic for Nine Inch Nails fans. Into The Void has a more traditional Nine Inch Nails theme. The lyrics consistent almost entirely of the repeated line "I'm trying to save myself but myself keeps slipping away." The hopeless, gloomy feeling is becoming cliched for Reznor. Like the rest of Fragile, Into The Void sounds great, showing the years Reznor took polishing the record. The forboding electronics are big and crisp. Perhaps a little sloppiness would have better served the material.
Nine Inch Nails - We're In This Together
Weeks on Chart: 6 Peak: # 23 (Oct. 1999) buy it!
This is from the Fragile, Trent Reznor's first album in 5 years. We're In This Together is harsh with a forboding mood but the sound is clear and the music is slower and less assaultive than previous Nine Inch Nails. Reznor's screamed vocal is still troubled as he tells how an unspecified "they" are out to get him but the lyrics of the chorus could be from any love song about a man who thinks his woman is the only one in the world whounderstands him: "Nothing will stop us now, we will make it throughsomehow."
Nirvana - You Know You're Right
Weeks on Chart: 19 Peak: # 4 (Oct. 2002) buy it!
Courtney Love's resolution of her legal issues with Nirvana and Geffen records has allowed the long delayed release of You Know You're Right, which is included on a greatest hits record called Nirvana. Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic recorded You Know You're Right, apparently the last song they did together, in late January, 1994, less than two months before Cobain killed himself. Like Nirvana's MTV Unplugged concert, You Know You're Right gets added resonance from being made so close to Cobain's death. Cobain's mix of resignation, flippancy and rage on You Know You're Right seems to foreshadow his end the way his sad weariness did on Unplugged. You Know You're Right feeds the fascination with Kurt's death. It reads like a suicide note. After singing "I have never failed to fail", Cobain repeatedly cries out the word pain. Cobain promises "I will never bother you" and "I will crawl away for good." You Know You're Right also seems like a kiss off to Courtney. The second verse, which Kurt sings with a choked up catch in his voice, includes the line "nothing really bothers her, she just wants to love herself." You Know You're Right makes me sad that Kurt was so troubled and sad that we don't get more of his music. You Know You're Right is a great reminder of the power of Cobain's music. His howl's edgy but focused force makes today's troubled rockers seem like whiners. Cobain's guitar is subtly brilliant, changing styles as the song's emotion ebbs and flows. On the chorus, Dave Grohl shows the fast, hard hitting drumming that helped Nirvana reach its artistic peak when he joined the band before they made Nevermind. You Know You're Right doesn't show that Kurt Cobain was moving in a radically different musical direction before he died but it shows he was still making vital music.
Nivea - Don't Mess With My Man
Weeks on Chart: 18 Peak: # 22 (Jan. 2003) buy it!
Don't Mess With My Man is from Nivea Hamilton's Nivea CD. Don't Mess With My Man is quite lightweight but it's also quite likable. Don't Mess With My Man features Jagged Edge's Brian and Brandon Casey. It's got the easy feel of Jagged Edge's Where The Party At and I find Don't Mess even more enjoyable. With a catchy doodle of a synth riff and a steady beat, Don't Mess With My Man goes by easily. Nivea's voice is pleaant but doesn't show much personality. The Caseys add a little flair with their amiably macho contribution. The lyrics don't go much beyond the title's threat except that the Caseys repeat them and change genders.
No Doubt featuring Lady Saw - Underneath It All
Weeks on Chart: 20 Peak: # 19 (Nov. 2002) buy it!
In little more than a year, Gwen Stefani has totally turned around her image from the pathetic, pining for Gavin Rossdale thing she played on Return Of Saturn's Ex-Girlfriend and Simple Kind Of Life. Thanks to appearances on hits by Eve and Moby and the singles from the Rock Steady CD, she's reestablished herself as a cool, confident woman. Underneath It All's lyrics strike me as kind of sad wishful thinking. Stefani tries to convince herself that while her relationship "seems incomplete", her guy is really lovely and trying hard and understands her like no one else. Still, in her vocal and on the video, Stefani has an easy self assurance that belies the lyrics' insecurity. No Doubt have mixed a ska feel into their music for years. Sometimes, the music has been a bit too showy or frenzied. Underneath It All, written with Eurythmics' Dave Stewart, like Hey Baby, was produced by reggae legends Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare. It has a good, understated languor, with horns, subtle clavinet and synths, crisp but laid back drums and Shakespeare's rubbery bass. Jamaican dance hall diva Lady Saw nicely adds to the cool, poised feel.
No Doubt - Ex-Girlfriend
Weeks on Chart: 11 Peak: # 25 (April 2000) buy it!
It's been 4 ½ years since No Doubt released their last album, the very successful Tragic Kingdom, which had the hits Don't Speak, Spiderwebs and Just a Girl. The pressure to follow it was apparently pretty heavy. No Doubt took forever to record the new Return of Saturn CD, discarding a lot of material along the way. Like New, their contribution to the Go soundtrack, Ex-Girlfriend has a fast, energetic appeal but doesn't have the broad appeal of their big hits. Ex-Girlfriend is best when the band creates a frenetic momentum and it's worst when it bogs down in Gwen Stefani's vocal mannerisms. She sings that she should have known better than to be with a love em and leave em guy and readily admits to jealousy of his next victim.
No Doubt - Hella Good
Weeks on Chart: 17 Peak: # 23 (June 2002) buy it!
Like Hey Baby, Hella Good, the second single from the Rock Steady CD, immediately sounds like a hit. Unlike Hey Baby, I don't hate Hella Good. Even with crisp, tight production by reggae heroes Sly & Robbie, Hey Baby's beeping video game flash was way too gimmicky for me. Hella Good is cold, efficient, mechanical and carefully constructed for commercial consumption but it's more appealing to me. Maybe that's because Hella Good is so danceable. Maybe it's because it reminds me of the dance pop hits of my youth. I can't put my finger on exactly what song Hella Good reminds me of but its heavy beat and big, catchy synths bring to mind such irresistable hits as Prince's 1999, Madonna's Into The Groove, Queen's Another One Bites The Dust and Human League's Don't You Want Me. As with another undeniable recent smash, Kylie Minogue's Can't Get You Out Of My Head, Hella Good doesn't let any complicated ideas get in the way of the groove. With her confident, no nonsense vocal, Gwen Stefani just sings about how it feels really good to dance with someone you love.
No Doubt - Hey Baby
Weeks on Chart: 17 Peak: # 11 (March 2002) buy it!
I find Hey Baby, from the Rock Steady CD, really annoying but it does show that No Doubt still have the ability to make music destined for the top of the charts they had on the Tragic Kingdom CD but seemed to lose on Return Of Saturn. Hey Baby sounds like a pop hit. It's simple, catchy and easy to sing along with. On Hey Baby, No Doubt return to the combination of ska and commercial pop they used at the start of their career. With a bouncy keyboard skank and Bounty Killer's good natured toasting, Hey Baby uses some of ska's more appealing aspects. Still, Hey Baby's gimmicky sound bugged me on first listen and I can only imagine how irritating it will seem by the end of its chart run. From Gwen Stefani's cutesy vocal to the video game style beeping sound effects, I dislike all of Hey Baby's shiny perkiness. Hey Baby casts Stefani as an observer of boys and girls and their "flirty ways."
No Doubt - It's My Life
Weeks on Chart: 18 Peak: # 7 (Jan. 2004) buy it!
No Doubt say they're not breaking up. But singer Gwen Stefani has established a personality apart from the band and is embarking on an acting and solo music career. We probably won't see much new No Doubt product in the foreseeable future. The band has maintained some presence by releasing The Singles 1992-2003, which includes a new recording, a cover of Talk Talk's It's My Life. It's My Life was a good choice for a cover. It's familiar but not so much so that a lot of people won't accept a new version. It's also a good song and one the band, clearly fans of 80's new wave, knew. No Doubt's arrangement stays very close to the one by Talk Talk leader/singer/writer Mark Hollis. Since the original song was striking and evocative, No Doubt's fidelity is a good thing. No Doubt keep the good, chunky bass line, the dramatic, melodic synth line and even most of the bird-like atmospheric flourishes that surrounded the choruses. Befitting a recording coming nearly two decades after the original, the 2003 version is slightly sleeker and smoother than the charmingly clunky 1984 one was. The main difference is the singing. Stefani and Hollis both are theatrical and a bit hysterical. But where Hollis' self pity was adorably heartfelt, Stefani, as she sometimes does, mostly seems whiny. Stefani does have a star quality that grabs your attention. As a Talk Talk fan(I highly recommend the Collection or Very Best compilation), I prefer the original but while it's not as personal, No Doubt have done a good, faithful cover. It's My Life is about wondering how far to go into a difficult relationship but deciding to stay in it for love's thrill.
No Doubt - Simple Kind Of Life
Weeks on Chart: 9 Peak: # 10 (July 2000) buy it!
Simple Kind Of Life is a somewhat unsuccessful attempt at a huge ballad hit like Tragic Kingdom's Don't Speak. The second single from Return of Saturn is, like the CD's first single Ex-Girlfriend, about how devastated Gwen Stefani was that Bush's Gavin Rossdale dumped her. There's something to be said for her honesty and there's nothing wrong with wanting to be a wife and mom, but the whole tone of Simple Kind Of Life is pretty pathetic. Do we really need to hear that she wasn't just in love with Gavin, she was obsessed, or that she hopes for a mistake that will bring her hoped for child? No Doubt have largely given up their ska punk sound. They're a good band and Simple Kind Of Life, with its clean sound and crisp beat, sounds good but the band's success will largely depend on their singer's appeal and here she's not that appealing.
Norah Jones - Don't Know Why
Weeks on Chart: 24 Peak: # 39 (Nov. 2002) buy it!
Come Away With Me is the debut CD by 23 year old Norah Jones, who is sitar legend Ravi Shankar's daughter but was raised in Texas by her mom. Come Away With Me has justifiably become a yuppie and boomer favorite. Like Cassandra Wilson, Jones starts from a jazz background but plays songs that can be categorized as folk, r&b and pop. Jones' voice even resembles that of country pop singer Shelby Lynne. Don't Know Why is a good showcase of Jones' unshowy but sultry charm. On Don't Know Why, Jones' voice is appealingly yearning and delicate. Jones' piano and rhythm section are easy and inobtrusive, adding to the song's understated poignance. Don't Know Why, written by Jones' guitar player Jesse Harris, has a classic simplicity. Jones sings that, while it makes her feel teary, empty and needing wine, she has to stay away from a guy who has never run to her.
Norah Jones - Sunrise
Weeks on Chart: 15 Peak: # 34 (March 2004) buy it!
Especially in a downloading world where sales are down, Norah Jones is a goddess of the music business. Her debut Come Away With Me CD has sold more than eight million copies in the US alone. Feels Like Home, her followup, sold one million copies the week it came out and two million in its first month. The consensus regarding Feels Like Home is that it's fairly cautious. Jones is apparently most comfortable in a mellow mode. It does seem like there's more going on in Feels Like Home than there was on Come Away With Me, which was well played and sounded good but, at its worst, had a polite, boring, elevator music quality. On Feels Like Home, some of the songs have an alt country feel but Jones' music still generally fits somewhere between jazz, lite pop and country. Feels Like Home is a bit more confident and personal. As before, the saving grace of Jones' music is her supple, quite amazing voice. Jones' singing nicely carries Sunrise, one of the best things she's done. Jones shows confidence in eschewing a big beat and letting Sunrise's arrangement stay muted. Good, quiet playing twists around Jones' voice. Sunrise has an unshowy jazzy looseness with a mandolin and an unobtrusive, throbbing bass. Jones even plays a good little piano solo. Sunrise has Jones' typical modesty but it's also warm and relaxed. Like much of Jones' music, Sunrise is easy listening but it's not pandering and button pushing. Sunrise is charming. It sounds like Jones and friends are having good, if subdued, fun. Sunrise, written by Jones with bass player and boyfriend Lee Alexander, is about a couple spending a relaxed day in bed with a broken clock stuck at 9:15. Jones shows mild surprise that "we've made it through another day."
Norah Jones - What Am I To You
Weeks on Chart: 5 Peak: # 42 (July 2004) buy it!
Norah Jones' Feels Like Home CD apparently won't match her debut CD's extraordinary sales but, with more than four million sold in 5 months, it's solidified her position as one of music's biggest successes. I guess the secret to Jones' success is that her songs seem exotic or challenging to her adult listeners but they're never so exotic or challenging that they turn those listeners off. What Am I To You, Feels Like Home's second chart hit, is more modest, tasteful, mildly edgy music. On What Am I To You, Jones does the blues. Predictably, her music don't go so far as to suggest real pain. Still, What Am I To You isn't just a smooth, good sounding ride. What Am I To You has flavor and real feeling. Jones' voice often gives her material depth that isn't in the music. Her vocal has longing and evokes an image of her in a thoughtful, private place. I also like guest Levon Helm's jagged beat. It gives a rough jerkiness to the otherwise serene music. Jones' piano has an authentic sounding bluesy moodiness but it might be better if she went beyond her typical minimalism. What I Am To You's slide guitar is fine but never surprising. What Am I To You is the only song on Feels Like Home for which Jones received sole writing credit. It has the same combination of dreaminess and resignation as Come Away With Me's title track, another Jones composition, as well as her breakthrough hit Don't Know Why. Like Don't Know Why, What Am I To You is about looking for a sign of affection from a guy she adores. She sings "you are the sea." She wants to be the person he goes to "when you're feeling low." She'd "give you my last shirt because I love you so" but wonders "if my sky should fall, would you even call." The personal feeling of Jones' voice elevates her easy, nice sounding adult pop.