S Club 7 - Never Had A Dream Come True
Weeks on Chart: 8 Peak: # 38 (May 2001) buy it!
The marijuana arrest of some of the S Club kids is the most interesting thing about this boring, squeaky clean British addition to the Radio Disney crowd. The lyrics, about having trouble moving on after the end of a once prefect relationship, aren't awful, just familiar. Jo O'Meara tries to add a little soul and her singing isn't as bad as Britney's on the similar From The Bottom Of My Broken Heart. But the music is bland even for the genre. The violins are ladled on and the dramatic drums and keyboards should be backing a bad easy listening lounge act. Never Had A Dream Come True was first an English single benefitting a children's charity. It was later added to S Club 7's 7 CD.
Saliva - Always
Weeks on Chart: 25 Peak: # 3 (Feb. 2003) buy it!
Singing on the terrible but very popular Hero raised Saliva lead singer Josey Scott's profile. Hopefully, the mediocrity of the title track off Saliva's Back Into Your Sytem CD will return Scott to semi-obscurity. Always is a compendium of modern rock cliches. It's another song based on the Nirvana model from songs like Heart Shaped Box. A subdued verse with quiet guitar picking alternates with a chorus where power chords slam while the singer rants. Always also has a touch of the dark atmosphere and over the top paranoia of the Korn/Tool school though a better comparison may be Def Leppard's empty art metal. Always' "I love you, I hate you" lyric has the misogyny and self pity common in today's rock. I'm sorry Scott went through a tough time but I wish he wouldn't sing about it. Scott doesn't have a great voice and Always' "I'm out the door" but I "can't live without you" tale emphasizes his whininess. On Your Disease from Saliva's Every Six Seconds CD, Scott had cartoonish fun, mixing rapping with broad crooning. Always, like Hero, plays things painfully straight. Towards the end, Always shifts from stupid and annoying to objectionable as Scott introduces the image of a pistol "shakin' in my hand" threatening that he sees "blood all over your hands."
Saliva - Click Click Boom Boom
Weeks on Chart: 12 Peak: # 32 (Nov. 2001) buy it!
Click Click Boom Boom, the second chart hit from Saliva's Every Six Seconds CD, isn't as goofy and derivative as Your Disease but it's still pretty goofy and derivative. Click Click Boom Boom has the Soundgarden meets Kid Rock mix of rapping and big beat with power chords that Limp Bizkit has so successfully sold to the male teens. Josey Scott angrily yells lyrics that share Fred Durst's combination of boasting and paranoia and lamely try to seem meaningful. Scott tells us how all his time "up in my room" has paid off in "a new style" that's "buck wild." The only part of Click Click Boom Boom I really like is his gratuitous shot at the "cryin' ass bitchin" of his fellow rockers' complaints about their troubled childhood.
Saliva - Rest In Pieces
Weeks on Chart: 5 Peak: # 23 (May 2003) buy it!
Rest In Pieces is the second chart hit from Saliva's Back Into Your System CD. Rest In Pieces was written by Nikki Sixx who, working with buddy James Michael, has become a songwriter for hire, for Meat Loaf and others, while Motley Crue is on a break. Rest In Pieces might show Sixx' gift for a rock ballad that can stir an arena crowd but it mostly shows how annoying Josey Scott, Saliva's lead singer, is. On Rest In Pieces, Scott tries to recapture the success he had on the dopey but very popular Hero. Scott's problem is that his voice is whiny and unlikable. Rest In Pieces actually has some signs of wit and intelligence. The lyric attributes the fact that a breakup "hurts deeper than I thought it did" to a depth perception problem and asks for a reminder of how you "gently smiled and destroyed my life." But Scott's emoting sucks the life out of Rest In Pieces, emphasizing the self pity and trampling on any originality. There seem to have been pretentions of making a powerful ballad like Pearl Jam's Black but Rest In Pieces doesn't have that song's depth. The repetitious, unimaginative arrangement has the worst characteristics of an empty rock ballad. The band try too hard to create a sense of importance with overly meaningful sounding acoustic guitar and synths. Rest In Pieces' chorus is catchy but Scott's unappealing voice goes a long way in lessening its appeal.
Saliva - Survival Of The Sickest
Weeks on Chart: 1 Peak: # 29 (July 2004) buy it!
The title track from the new Survival Of The Sickest CD confirms Saliva's position as one of rock's most annoying successful bands. Survival Of The Sickest is terrible. Josey Scott's thin, whiny but confident voice is one of the worst in popular music. On Survival Of The Sickest, Scott oddly emphasizes words and generally oversings. He tries to display a bad attitude but just seems silly. Survival Of The Sickest's music is cliched southern style hard rock. Survival Of The Sickest's lyric is filled with silly proclamations of toughness. So, he's(meaninglessly) the hand under Mona Lisa's dress, the smile on every criminal and he's get one hand "on the bottle and the other in shit." Whatever. Scott has issues with people who counted him "out of the game" and vows he "will keep getting higher." I just hope he doesn't go any higher on the charts.
Saliva - Your Disease
Weeks on Chart: 25 Peak: # 12 (June 2001) buy it!
Your Disease, from the Memphis band's Every Six Seconds CD, covers a lot of the bases of hard modern rock to create a sound that its target audience must find irresistable. Like Limp Bizkit, Saliva mixes hard guitars with rap. Over Soundgarden style hard guitars, Josey Scott does a slow Kid Rock style white trashy rap with some truly awful lines("like the Bee Gees cry, I'm just stayin' alive). The chorus is catchy metal pop that would make Def Leppard proud. Your Disease's lyric is familiar junk: "it feels like paradise", "I want to take you down, but your soul cannot be found" and "there's nothing here for free."
Samantha Mumba - Baby Come Over
Weeks on Chart: 7 Peak: # 44 (May 2001) buy it!
Like Samantha Mumba's first hit, the title track from her Gotta Tell You CD, Baby Come Over is a simple but appealing song that alternates between a rough verse and a catchy, sunny chorus. Baby Come Over is familiar dance pop but it has a breezy charm. Ringing synths and beats create an upbeat feel on the chorus and the verses are sleek and kind of sexy. The lightweight lyrics match the music. Having checked "your records", Mumba succumbs to a guy's request "to be more than just your friend."
Samantha Mumba - Gotta Tell You
Weeks on Chart: 13 Peak: # 29 (Dec. 2000) buy it!
Mumba is the latest young female getting the big record company push. Gotta Tell You is the title track from Mumba's CD. Gotta Tell You is fairly routine dance pop. The lyrics are O.K. Mumba sings about wanting her guy to get more involved in their relationship. She doesn't want to love him if he doesn't love her. On the verses, Mumba's voice is hard and unappealing but at least somewhat distinctive. On the choruses, thanks to backing vocals and heavy, generic production, the song turns into catchy, perky Britney-style pop. Mumba's personal story of a black Irish teen who became a pop star is undoubtedly more interesting than the song.
Santana Featuring Michelle Branch - The Game Of Love
Weeks on Chart: 20 Peak: # 7 (Nov. 2002) buy it!
After achieving incredible success, with a big assist from Matchbox 20's Rob Thomas, on the Supernatural CD by targeting baby boomers, Carlos Santana aimed for an even younger audience by teaming up with teen favorite Michelle Branch. Neither the song nor Branch's vocal is particularly exciting but, coming on the heels of her weepy hit Goodbye To You, it's nice to hear Branch loosen up a little. Branch again is likably sweet and unassuming, especially when she doesn't quite reach the high notes. Game Of Love, from Santana's Shaman CD, has a pretty dopey lyric. Branch cries for a guy who don't "come around no more", asks him to "use me" and "control me" and consoles herself with the thought that "it's all in the game of love." Fortunately, Game Of Love's music is so relaxed that Branch's angst barely registers. The innocuous "little bit of this", "little bit of that" hook is the most memorable line. Santana's comeback music isn't great but his ability to blend contemporary sounds with the dense but easy music he's been playing with his band for more than 35 years is impressive. Game Of Love's steady percussion flow isn't that different from Oye Como Va's. Game Of Love is very lightweight but its hand claps and horns give it a rich, buoyant feel. The guitar playing is quite remarkable. It's distinctively Santana's and impressively proficient but it never sounds like showing off. Santana seems like he's just trying to fit in with and accentuate Game Of Love's sunny mood even towards the end when he throws out a very good and seemingly effortless solo.
Santana with Everlast - Put Your Lights On
Weeks on Chart: 23 Peak: # 5 (Dec. 1999) buy it!
Santana follows up the success of Smooth, his song with Matchbox 20's Rob Thomas, with another single from his Fundamental CD teaming him with one of today's big young stars. Unlike Smooth, which sounded like an equal partnership, Put Your Lights On seems more like an Everlast song where Santana is just around to add a little color though Carlos' guitar doodling is still interesting. Everlast's warning to all of a danger lurking, which might be him, has the pluses and minuses common to his work. It has a compelling, stark sound and a feeling of sincerity but his messages are delivered so humorlessly and monotonously that each song and each listen means diminishing returns.
Santana - Maria Maria
Weeks on Chart: 14 Peak: # 22 (April 2000) buy it!
Like Smooth, Maria Maria, the third hit from the huge Supernatural CD, successfully mixes two different styles. Product G & B smoothly sing a soul ballad about a girl like the one in West Side Story while Santana plays cool, relaxed Spanish guitar. With a clean, chunky beat, Maria Maria creates an easy, sexy Latin groove.
Santana - Smooth
Weeks on Chart: 32 Peak: # 1 (Nov. 1999) buy it!
Carlos Santana hasn't had a hit in nearly 20 years but with Smooth, from his new record Supernatural, he's found a savvy, irresistable sound. The music is classic Santana. Carlos' guitar riffs are evocative and the percussion and horns create a great groove. The new element is the vocals of Matchbox 20's Rob Thomas. Matchbox 20 has been one of the most successful groups of the last 2 years with 5 hit singles from their Yourself or Someone Like You cd which still is getting radio play 3 years after its release. It's kind of funny that Thomas, whose success is largely based on a commercially calculated sound that works to appeal to rock fans without offending easy listening audiences, is singing about giving of your heart and not just being smooth. Nonetheless, it was smart for Santana to work with Thomas. Besides being a smart commercial move, using Thomas does work musically for Santana. His vocals are smooth and they invite you into Santana's cool world.
Santana - Why Don't You & I
Weeks on Chart: 22 Peak: # 9 (Nov. 2003) buy it!
The success of Carlos Santana's two comeback CDs has got to be one of the oddest recent stories in pop music. Santana doesn't sing or write most of the songs. His contribution is mostly a bit of guitar doodling, his name and a hippie/classic rock vibe. The key to Santana's late career resurgence is the idea, originally hatched by Clive Davis, of pairing him with singer/songwriters who are less than half his age and popular with the kids. Santana's teammates seem to be getting steadily younger. The Shaman CD's first single teamed Santana with prototeen Michelle Branch. Why Don't You & I teams Santana with Alex Band, the 22 year old singer from The Calling. Why Don't You & I is very lightweight bubblegum pop but it is charming. Band's vocal is almost unbearably sunny but it fits the song's upbeat feel and is much more appealing than his showily earnest singing on The Calling's hit Wherever You Will Go. There's nothing new to Santana's playing but he has a great sense of crowd pleasing sounds. His easy riffs help the verses' breezy mood. Crunching power chords alternate with Santana's jamming to make the chorus irresistably catchy and Santana's solo is smart, tight and unshowy. The surprise about Why Don't You & I is that it was written by Nickelback's Chad Kroeger, who sings the album version. Light and fun are not words I associate with the normally lugubrious, overly meaningful Mr. Kroeger but Why Don't You & I has a nice light touch. Why Don't You & I's "heads we will and tails we'll try again" line is cute. So are the sweetly deployed cliches images(perfect for Mr. Band's youthful persona) of being "a lovesick puppy" with a stomach "filled with the butterflies" "bouncing round from cloud to cloud" and "walking around with little wings on my shoes".
Sarah Connor - Bounce
Weeks on Chart: 7 Peak: # 31 (April 2004) buy it!
Sarah Connor is a pop star in Germany. Her self titled CD collects songs from her German records. Connor says she's a long time fan of American r&b. Connor and cowriter/producer Bulent Aris have done a good job of using their knowledge of American music on an effective simulation of contemporary dance pop. Aris' most significant previous American work was cowriting and producing Get Down(You're The One For Me) from Backstreet Boys' first CD. Aris is apparently a fan of Mary J. Blige's Family Affair. Bounce's production closely matches the one Dr. Dre gave Family Affair. Bounce's appropriation of American sounds also includes using a rapper who kind of sounds like Nelly. All the borrowing works pretty well. Like Family Affair, Bounce has an easily flowing groove and a crisp beat. Aris gives Bounce a sense of excitement with dramatic keyboard interjections. Connor uses her knowledge of American singers well. She never betrays the fact that she's a white German lady, cutting off the ends of her words and sounding confident and relaxed as she comfortably changes her vocal's tone and pace. The fake Nelly, playing Connor's cheating boyfriend, is pretty good too. Bounce is imitative and a bit obvious. It's not amazing but it's competent and easy to listen to. Bounce's lyric is like that of lots of female hip hop songs but, with accurate sounding vernacular, it's not any worse than those for similar songs. Connor tells her guy that she knows he's been "cheating, out there creeping" and taunts him with the fact that "you'll never find no stuff as good as mine."
Sarah MacLachlan - I Will Remember You
Weeks on Chart: 3 Peak: # 42 (Aug. 1999) buy it!
It's nice that MacLachlan projects a strong, feminist image and she's got some personality but a lot of her music these days is a little too easy listening. She also projects a sense of self satisfied smugness which is inconsistent with making challenging music. I Will Remember You, originally on the Brothers McMullen soundtrack, is now on MacLachlan's live record Mirror Ball. It's nice but a little boring.
Sarah McLachlan - Fallen
Weeks on Chart: 20 Peak: # 26 (Jan. 2004) buy it!
It's been more than six years and Sarah McLachlan has had a baby since the release of Surfacing, her last studio record. But surprisingly little about McLachlan's sound has changed. Fallen, the first single from McLachlan's Afterglow CD, sounds a lot like Building A Mystery and other McLachlan songs. It's disappointing that McLachlan hasn't changed her style at all. She can come across as self satisfied and could use an edge. The same sound is bound to have less impact when repeated. Still, while Fallen is familiar and unsurprising, the formula it follows is a good one. Fallen is listenable and quite insinuating. Fallen shares with Building A Mystery a patient pace that creates a good dramatic feel. It's carefully constructed, with strings, piano and electric guitar deployed in a fairly discrete manner that creates a modest kind of excitement. McLachlan's voice is clear and controlled with a touch of sensuality but, as with her music, you can wish that McLachlan didn't seem so comfortable with her singing and took more chances. On Fallen, McLachlan sings, in fairly melodramatic terms, that she's "sunk so low" after messing up a relationship where she got "caught up" in an offer with a cost that "was so much more than I could bear."
Sarai - Ladies
Weeks on Chart: 1 Peak: # 50 (Aug. 2003) buy it!
Sarai Howard is a white rap fan from upstate New York. Ladies, from her debut CD The Original, is goofy but endearing. Sarai comes on like a crazed cheerleader with a unrelenting string of lines delivered breathlessly with unending positivity. Ladies is easy to ridicule. Sarai's delivery is overheated and her streetwise diction is silly. The lyrics use every conceivable dance song cliche: asking the DJ to "turn the music up loud"; telling everybody to "report to the dance floor now" to "get down" and "shake that ass." She even uses the chestnut "put your hands in the air and wave em around like you just don't care." Ladies also celebrates the pleasures of getting drunk and the fact that "we all the same color inside." Ladies is dopey but Sarai does have a wacky energy that's easy to mock but hard to resist.
Savage Garden - Crash and Burn
Weeks on Chart: 7 Peak: # 37 (June 2000) buy it!
Crash and Burn is the second hit from the Affirmation CD from the very polite Australian easy listening kings. With Crash and Burn, Savage Garden is closer than ever to elevator music. The song is innocuous, inoffensive and totally without edge. The bland vocals assure that you're not alone and if you need to fall apart, I'll mend your broken heart and lots of other lifeless cliches.
Savage Garden - I Knew I Loved You
Weeks on Chart: 19 Peak: # 23 (Jan. 2000) buy it!
Like on their smash Truly, Deeply, Madly, Savage Garden seem like nice, sincere guys. They also seem a little boring. The vocals are sickly sweet. I Knew I Loved You, from the Affirmation CD, is inoffensively sweet but the lyrics of knowing I loved you before I met you are delivered very blandly.
Sean Paul - Get Busy
Weeks on Chart: 15 Peak: # 20 (June 2003) buy it!
Sean Paul Henriquez has moved from having dancehall hits in his native Jamaica to international stardom. Get Busy is from Sean Pauls Dutty Rock CD. Pauls loose, goofy rap has its charm. His admonitions for the ladies to shake their booties and get it on with him are harmless. His easy confidence and lack of self consciousness roll over your resistance. But Pauls cocky, lady loving Jamaican is such a stereotype that Get Busy is largely a novelty song. Get Busys saving grace is its infectious music. Get Busy was produced by dancehall veteran Steven Lenky Marsden, who suddenly has two big pop hits. As he did on Wayne Wonders No Letting Go, Marsden used a dawali rhythm on Get Busy. The diwali rhythm, produced by irregular handclaps accompanied by quietly ringing synths, creates a joyful noise and supplies a lot of Get Busys charm. Paul contributes by moving fast and keeping up with the buoyant spirit. Pauls lyric is dopey and innocuous but the musics energy makes Get Busy breezy fun.
Sean Paul - I'm Still In Love With You
Weeks on Chart: 4 Peak: # 42 (May 2004) buy it!
Since it was released in 2002, Sean Paul Henriques' Dutty Rock CD has yielded a string of hits. Get Busy was a #1 pop hit. Gimme The Light and Like Glue were also sizable successes. Dutty Rock was rereleased last year to include Baby Boy, Paul's smash collaboration with Beyonce. Get Busy, with its diwali rhythm, had a striking sound. I'm Still In Love With You is more standard reggae of a sort the Jamaican born Paul presumably has heard all his life. I'm Still In Love With You was produced and written by drummer Clevie Browne and bass/keyboard player Steely Johnson, who have worked with lots of reggae's biggest names. With a steady skank, subtly deployed sound effects and an uncomplicated lyric, I'm Still In Love With You has the simple, uncluttered sound of a reggae classic. I'm Still In Love With You has the formula that worked on Shaggy's hits. A Jamaican performer with a big personality is matched with a smooth American R&B singer. Sasha's vocal carries the song forward, freeing Paul to drop in his casual raps. I'm Still In Love With You's downside is that it's pleasant but not much happens. There aren't any surprises. Sasha's singing is easy but innoucous. Even the toasting by Paul, who often plays the aggressive bad boy, is a little boring and predictable. Still, I'm Still In Love With You is a decent, smooth ride. I'm Still In Love With You's lyric is a bit annoying. Sasha's character continues to profess her love even as Paul says "I'm a hustler and a player" and "not a stayer" and decides "we have to part." Paul claims that "it hurts my heart" to "see the gal cry" and tells her to "remember the good times we had."
Seether featuring Amy Lee - Broken
Weeks on Chart: 7 Peak: # 5 (July 2004) buy it!
Last year two songs from Seether's 2002 Disclaimer CD, Fine Again and Driven Under, were rock radio hits. Thanks to an appearance by Amy Lee, Evanescence's hot goth pop rocker, the South African band have their first mainstream hit. A new version of Broken, a Disclaimer song, is on the soundtrack of The Punisher. It's also on Disclaimer 2, which adds previously unreleased tracks to the original CD. Broken is more proof that there's a mediocre folk rocker lurking inside many of today's mediocre hard rockers. Broken is another shameless grab by a rock band for an emotive hit. Broken reminds me of Evanescence's monster hit Bring Me To Life. It doesn't have that song's rap metal elements but it similarly piles on sounds meant to guarantee a hit. Broken has a cliched rock ballad opening: a sensitively picked acoustic guitar. Shaun Morgan soon comes in with a subdued and earnest but intense vocal. The genre's conventions dictate that the sound must keep growing. By Broken's conclusion, Morgan and Lee pour their hearts out and violins play with a ferocity that's overdone even by rock ballad standards. Broken also makes me think of Bother, Stone Sour's hypersensitive 2003 hit. Broken isn't quite as drab and dour as that song. Morgan's pinched, showy singing isn't good or interesting but Lee makes him seem a little better. As on Evanescence's music, Lee is overdramatic but she is a good singer who gives Broken more warmth that the usual introspective rock ballad. Like so much contemporary rock, Broken has a troubled protagonist. Broken does convey a desire to move past the trouble. Broken's character wants to steal his partner's pain away, tell her "I love the way you laugh" and be open but he doesn't have the strength yet. He's even worse "when you're away." Lee sings in the more optimistic second verse, "the worse is over" now that he's with someone who can take his pain away and "there's so much left to learn and no one left to fight. Broken isn't much different from so many rock ballads. It's alternatively boring and bombastic but it's got a bit of heart and it's not the worst the form can offer.
Seether - Driven Under
Weeks on Chart: 13 Peak: # 16 (June 2003) buy it!
Seethers Fine Again, a decent Nirvana knockoff featuring Shaun Morgans serious, intense vocal, had a long run on rock radio. Morgan is even more serious and intense on Driven Under, the second chart hit from the South African bands Disclaimer CD, and the song is even less fun. Fine Again was kind of catchy, with some resemblance to the annoying but undeniably hooky How You Remind Me. Driven Under just drags and plods along. Seether get a little distinction from the apparent realness of the pain in Morgans voice. But Driven Under is generic contemporary rock. Its got the humorless, showily meaningful sound of so many other bands. The big, hard rocking guitars predictably crunch in on the chorus. Driven Under is apparently about confronting a girlfriend(do you think that I am blind). The surprising response is that she has a gun that she presumably used before on another guy and is now ready to use on Morgan.
Seether - Fine Again
Weeks on Chart: 29 Peak: # 4 (Feb. 2003) buy it!
Seether are the latest of many glum, post-grunge bands to hit the top 50 though the first to come from South Africa. On Fine Again, from Seether's Disclaimer CD, singer/songwriter Shaun Morgan sounds a lot like Puddle Of Mudd's Wes Scantlin, the most successful of the recent mopey Cobain clones. Morgan doesn't have Scantlin's arrogance and Morgan's lyric and delivery make it clear that his pain is real, not the showy posturing Scantlin sometimes engages in. Seether effectively use the grunge conventions. Morgan's intense emotion can pull you in, in a Lithium kind of way, as can the way the power chords underline his vocal. But Fine Again sounds so familiar and inferior to the music Morgan clearly loves that it's hard to stay interested. Also, Morgan's depression is apparently so deep that he can't vary his flat affect or Fine Again's fairly monotonous melody. Morgan can't even muster the cathartic wail that is often grunge's saving grace. Fine Again is about being told he should get over his breakup but feeling stuck in a world where every day is gray and the same and feeling "like I'm dying."
Semisonic - Chemistry
Weeks on Chart: 6 Peak: # 37 (Feb. 2001) buy it!
All About Chemistry is Semisonic's third CD. Semisonic found success with Closing Time, the repetitive, ridiculously catchy single from the Feeling Strangely Fine CD. Chemistry lacks Closing Time's rock guitar heft and is unlikely to change the band's one hit wonder status. Chemistry is very likable, if slightly wimpy. With a steady, upbeat piano, the verses have the perky pop charm of a song like Billy Joel's Allentown. The choruses are buoyed by a Cars style synth line and Dan Wilson's open, good natured vocals. On Chemistry, Wilson treats his romantic experiences as one big experiment. With a little guilt, Wilson gives thanks for the lessons from "fine, fine women with nothin' but good intentions and a bad tendency to get burned."
Seven Mary Three - Wait
Weeks on Chart: 10 Peak: # 15 (June 2001) buy it!
On 1995's Cumbersome, Jason Ross was one of the first singers to borrow Eddie Vedder's serious, deep vocal style for a successful rock ballad. Wait, from The Economy Of Sound, starts pretty well with mellow guitar and a tale of a dream. Then the chorus comes and Seven Mary Three are just another band, like Collective Soul and countless others, making catchy but glossy, anonymous music with overdone, emotional singing. Cliches like "I never found a gift you get for free" pile up as Wait goes on.
Sevendust - Denial
Weeks on Chart: 2 Peak: # 37 (Oct. 1999) buy it!
Denial, from the band's Home CD, is intense hard rock with big, forbidding guitars, similar to a lot of music on rock radio. The lyrics, about all the dishonest things his girlfriend said to him and how her bad acts will leave her alone, are particularly mean spirited. The best thing about Sevendust is singer Lajon Witherspoon who has more soul and is more distinctive than most new rock singers but is forced to scream and compete with the guitars.
Sevendust - Praise
Weeks on Chart: 5 Peak: # 45 (Dec. 2001) buy it!
Praise, from Sevendust's Animosity CD, is a fairly good model of dark hard rock. With harsh, rumbling guitars, it captures the threatening tone the band presumably seeks. Lajon Witherspoon is one of the best singers in hard rock and he has the appropriate agitated wail and doesn't go too far over the top. Still, Praise is pretty unpleasant stuff. Its anger and unnerving sound will keep it from having an audience beyond troubled male teens. Praise's lyrics have the paranoia and anger central to much recent hard rock. Witherspoon sings of an unnamed someone whose "hate for me is strong" and is "oblivious to all of my cries."
Shaggy - Angel
Weeks on Chart: 18 Peak: # 18 (April 2001) buy it!
A song with Shaggy thanking a girl, to the tune of Angel Of The Morning, for giving her love, over a riff copped for Steve Miller's The Joker, is not promising. However, as on the silly, very un-politically correct It Wasn't Me, Shaggy's charm overcomes a lot. Shaggy's cocky even when he's supposed to be humble("I called and you heeded, mission completed") and it's hard to believe him suddenly realizing his girl should be treated like a queen but his confident, deep Jamaican rap and easy charm("she was there through my incarceration, I wanna show the nation my appreciation") explains why women would want to believe him. As on It Wasn't Me, Angel wisely pairs Shaggy with a smoother singer though Rayvon's Angel Of The Morning chorus is sickly sweet. Angel, from the Hotshot CD, has a clear sound with a strong, steady beat and the Joker riff works pretty well.
Shaggy - It Wasn't Me
Weeks on Chart: 12 Peak: # 30 (Dec. 2000) buy it!
It Wasn't Me, from the Hotshot CD, perpetuates the idea that a charming rascal can wink and lie to a woman and get out of any problem. Still, It Wasn't Me is so silly and ingratiating that it's hard to dislike. The song is well structured with Rik Rok playing the man caught "red handed creeping with girl next door." Shaggy is his foolish buddy telling him to deny everything despite physical, eyewitness and photographic evidence. The contrast between Rik Rok's high, loose, youthful voice and Shaggy's deep Jamaican style rumble is appealing. The song has a good groove with minimal, well chosen synth effects and Shaggy's fast, nearly indecipherable toasting.
Shakira - Underneath Your Clothes
Weeks on Chart: 15 Peak: # 22 (May 2002) buy it!
Before she made the Laundry Service CD, Colombian pop star Shakira Mebarak apparently studied American pop. Especially in its first half, Underneath Your Clothes sounds a lot like The Bangles' Eternal Flame. Like that song, Underneath Your Clothes is corny but gets real poignance from a sincere vocal and solemn backing. With subdued drums and keyboards, Underneath Your Clothes maintains has a serious tone. However Shakira's singing, with her tendency to pinch certain vocal lines and add little yodels to others, can't help but spice things up. The lyrics also find a slightly new and odd way to express a standard love song idea. Instead of beneath the surface or in his heart or soul, she finds her man's "endless story" and the place where she gets credit for "being such a good girl" underneath his clothes. With Penny Lane style horns, Underneath You Clothes achieves a goofy majesty.
Shakira - Whenever Wherever
Weeks on Chart: 14 Peak: # 16 (Jan. 2002) buy it!
Colombian soap opera and pop music star Shakira learned English before she wrote and sung the Laundry Service CD. She's charming, pinching or stretching out words and giving them novel pronounciations. The lyrics, about being willing to travel the globe to keep a relationship going with a distant lover, including "lucky my breasts are small and humble so you don't confuse them with mountains", often have a goofy charm. Otherwise, Whenever Wherever has the charms and annoyances of much mainstream Latin pop. Whenever Wherever has a broad, fakey sound and a repetitive beat. It also has the genre's big, loose charm. Shakira's voice is theatrical and slightly hysterical. A pan flute sound supplies an exotic touch.
Shannon Curfman - True Friends
Weeks on Chart: 7 Peak: # 25 (Jan. 2000) buy it!
True Friends is from the CD Loud Guitars, Big Suspicions. Curfman is still in her early teens. It's seems good that the latest guitar prodigy is a girl.
Shawn Colvin - Whole New You
Weeks on Chart: 5 Peak: # 47 (April 2001) buy it!
The title track for the Whole New You CD isn't as striking as Colvin's fluke smash hit Sunny Came Home but it's another nice addition to her body of smart, tuneful adult pop rock singles like Steady On and Round Of Blues. Colvin gives a friend a pep talk, advising "shake the loneliness and shine the light." Whole New You has a good, easy feel with understated but effective guitar and keyboards. The chorus is likable and it's probably not Colvin's fault that it reminds me of Starship's 80's relic Nothing Gonna Stop Us Now.
Shawn Mullins - Everywhere I Go
Weeks on Chart: 10 Peak: # 42 (Dec. 2000) buy it!
You could love or hate Lullaby, Mullins' big hit from his Soul's Core CD, but with its spoken verses and evocative, if obvious, lyrics about a woman screwed up by growing up in a weird Hollywood world, it got your attention. Everywhere I Go, from the Beneath The Velvet Sun CD, isn't going to approach Lullaby's success because it's barely noticable. Everywhere I Go is pleasant light rock influenced by the easy California sound of artists like The Eagles. The production is sleek but the result is innocuous. Mullins' voice doesn't have much personality. The mystically tinged lyrics are pretty nice. Mullins sings about the image of his lover guiding him and grounding him when he's on the road.
Sheryl Crow - The First Cut Is The Deepest
Weeks on Chart: 20 Peak: # 8 (Feb. 2004) buy it!
The First Cut Is The Deepest was written by Cat Stevens in the late 60s and has been covered a bunch of times. It's a pained warning to a new lover that, after having your heart torn apart, it's hard to love again. I keep thinking that Sheryl Crow's cover is some sort of joke. Crow has given The First Cut a bizarre sunny, California style reading. Crow's voice is never very soulful but she can be appealingly smooth and playful. She usually writes and records songs that match her singing. The First Cut is a mismatch. The new First Cut, undoubtedly a hit because people are familiar with Rod Stewart's version and with Crow's easy voice, is quite bad. Crow apparently picked The First Cut as a new track for her Very Best of Sheryl Crow compilation because she knew it and liked it but didn't take the time to figure out what it's about. Crow's relentlessly superficial vocal is supported by similarly bland backing with strings and professional, generic sounding guitar.
Sheryl Crow - Soak Up The Sun
Weeks on Chart: 23 Peak: # 7 (July 2002) buy it!
Soak Up The Sun is the first single from Sheryl Crow's fourth studio record C'mon C'mon. While there were some signs on The Globe Sessions that she might be losing her touch, Crow has been able to put together an impressive string of hits by balancing, in varying degrees, pop simplicity and catchiness with a sense of rock craft and substance. The balance was best seen on substantial but still fun singles like Everyday Is A Winding Road. Soak Up The Sun's emphasis is on simplicity. It's reminiscent of, and even less complicated than, Crow's early good time hit All I Wanna Do. From its principle desire to "tell everyone to lighten up" to its dopey final line("I've got my .45 on so I can rock on"), Soak Up The Sun is proudly mindless. It has a schematic, get back to the chorus feel that will probably soon prove tiresome. But if Crow's playing dumb, at least she's playing it nicely with lines like "it's not having what you want, its wanting what you've got." Soak Up The Sun has a catchy singalong chorus and is likably modest. It's solidly constructed with a sturdy guitar riff. I like Crow's light, seemingly helium enhanced vocal on the "everytime I look around" bridge.
Sheryl Crow - Steve McQueen
Weeks on Chart: 11 Peak: # 36 (Oct. 2002) buy it!
Steve McQueen, the second single from the C'mon C'mon CD shows that the empty headed feel of Soak Up The Sun was a strategy rather than an aberration. Soak Up The Sun at least had a likable, relaxed flow to it. On Steve McQueen, Crow awkwardly tries to show she can make stupid rock music as well as a guy. Steve McQueen grinding rock guitar sound is OK but everything else about is ridiculously dumb. Crow cops the ooh-oohs from Steve Miller's Take The Money And Run. Crow is usually a reliable singer but, especially on the chorus, she sounds shrill and as self satisfied as Lenny Kravitz watering down Americna Woman. Crow sings about wanting to "rock and roll this party" and ride a fast machine like Steve McQueen. Crow's social commentary about "rock stars in the White House" and pop stars who "look like porn" seems particularly lame.
Shinedown - 45
Weeks on Chart: 9 Peak: # 9 (June 2004) buy it!
Shinedown are another band playing derivative neo-grunge rock. 45 is from the Florida band's Leave A Whisper CD. 45's lyric is melodramatic even by the standard of rockers about troubled young guys. Brent Smith sings about a young man who "slowly fell apart", his "heart swallowed by pain." Smith's character is an always condemned young man who thinks "nobody knows what I believe." Since he has "no real reason to accept the way things have changed", he's "staring down the barrel of a .45."
Silverchair - Ana's Song(Open Fire)
Weeks on Chart: 4 Peak: # 21 (Aug. 1999) buy it!
The kids of Silverchair broke through a few years ago as teenagers from Australia, slavishly imitating Pearl Jam and Nirvana. Silverchair's debt to their predecessors is still clear but Ana's Song shows some sign of their establishing their own identity. Ana's Song, an intense ballad from Silverchair's Neon Ballroom cd, sounds like a hit. It builds in rock intensity to an extremely alluring chorus. The vocals express a kind of youthful simplicity but are compelling in a Vedder-esqe way.
Simple Plan - Addicted
Weeks on Chart: 10 Peak: # 27 (July 2003) buy it!
Addicted, the second hit from the Montreal band's No Helmets, No Pads ... Just Balls CD, is one of the more annoying of the recent spate of poppy punk influenced hits. It's also one of the more successful one, assumedly because it's simple enough that preteens can easily get it. Addicted's big power chords and leisurely pace make it easy to sway to. Simple Plan's idea of a joke("I'm a dick, I'm addicted to you") probably goes over big with the junior high set. Pierre Bouvier sings with a bratty, childlike voice. Bouvier whines with youthful self pity "do you think I deserve this?" Addicted is about not being able to get over a girl who left even though he tried to make her happy. Addicted is harmless and I suppose it's only meant to be stupid fun but it's mostly just stupid.
Simple Plan - I'd Do Anything
Weeks on Chart: 5 Peak: # 41 (March 2003) buy it!
Blink 182's progeny keep coming with good spirited, stupid punky pop. I'd Do Anything, from the Montreal based band's No Helmets, No Pads ... Just Balls CD, is notable since, unlike the genre's recent batch of hits which crossed over from the modern rock charts to the pop charts, it first found success at pop radio. Kid friendly, fast, dumbed down punk has become a significant part of today's standard top 40 playlist. Simple Plan share with Blink, Sum 41 and so many others a youthful image, unimaginative lyrics and a good sense of a hook. I'd Do Anything supplies a simple version of an already very basic style. Singer Pierre Bouvier are particularly bratty and unskilled. The guitar lines predictably crunch, wail and gallop where you'll expect them to. I'd Do Anything copies the form of a Blink 182 rocker right down to the break that precedes the chorus' last round. The upside of I'd Do Anything is its sunny, high energy feel. I'd Do Anything also avoids the showy goofiness that can infect the music of bands like fellow Canadians Sum 41. In its lyrics and delivery, I'd Do Anything is unpretentious and good natured. Bouvier offers to do anything to get back a former love.
Simple Plan - Perfect
Weeks on Chart: 14 Peak: # 20 (Jan. 2004) buy it!
Simple Plan scored a hit with I'd Do Anything, punky pop that was basic and dopey enough for preteens to understand and love. On Perfect, the third hit from the Canadian band's debut No Pads, No Helmets... Just Balls CD, they've basically done the same thing with angst rock. It's hard to hate Perfect. Singer Pierre Bouvier sounds very sincere as he relates the pain inflicted by an unsupportive dad. Bouvier isn't as pretentious as older, deeper voiced singers, like Staind's Aaron Lewis, who've told a similar tale. But Perfect has little appeal for someone over 16. Bouvier's youthful voice and Perfect's simple, unremarkable lyric are best appreciated by kids. For an emotional rock ballad, Perfect shows admirable restraint. Perfect's first half has minimal backing. A good wash of power chords are limited to introducing the verses. The downside of Perfect's stripped down portions is that they focus attention on Bouvier's bratty vocal, which is more appealing than usual but still a bit annoying. Towards its end, Perfect's music becomes more that of a generic mellow rocker but the guitar is still pretty good if not particularly original. Perfect is about regretting that it's too late to try to fix a relationship with a father who was never satisfied with what his son did.
Sinead Lohan - Whatever It Takes
Weeks on Chart: 5 Peak: # 48 (Sept. 1999) buy it!
From the Irish singer/songwriter's No Mermaid CD, Whatever it Takes is good, melodic rock. The story is of a spiritual, centered person feeling compassion and pity for someone living a less reflective life. Lohan creates a nice, cool, smooth mood.
Sisqo - The Thong Song
Weeks on Chart: 10 Peak: # 27 (June 2000) buy it!
The Thong Song is from the Unleash the Dragon CD by the Dru Hill singer. The nation's latest novelty hit is silly and insubstantial but fairly unpretentious. The song could do without its lame introduction justifying the song as "letting all the ladies know what guys talk" but the sexism of the song is so obvious and good natured that it's hard to hate. The music is fast, light, energetic and rhythmic. The lyrics are just an excuse to keep getting back to the catch phrase, "let me see that thong."
Sister Hazel - Change Your Mind
Weeks on Chart: 13 Peak: # 18 (Aug. 2000) buy it!
The Florida band had big pop and easy listening success with All For You, from their Somewhere More Familiar CD, which was pleasant enough the first hundred times but became irritatingly banal as it refused to leave the radio. Change Your Mind, from the new Fortress CD, is more genial music from guys who are even mellower than Hootie & the Blowfish. The lyrics are pretty empty, trying to convince someone of the power of positive thinking and that problems can be resolved if you "give up the state of mind you're in." The music isn't exciting but Sister Hazel display their ability to create a warm sound with good harmonies.
Sixpence None the Richer - There She Goes
Weeks on Chart: 12 Peak: # 19 (Sept. 1999) buy it!
Sixpence None the Richer broke through after years of obscurity with the 10,000 Maniacs flavored Kiss Me, largely thanks to prominent placement on the soundtrack of She's All That. Their new single from their self titled cd is a cover of one of the best pop songs of the 90's, originally done by the Las. The band made the smart decision to not change much from the original, leaving the great guitar riff and not even changing the lyrics' gender to reflect that the song is now sung by a woman. Leigh Nash's vocals are almost too sweet but it's still a very nice song.
Slipknot - Duality
Weeks on Chart: 6 Peak: # 18 (July 2004) buy it!
Slipknot has sold millions of records but until now they were only vaguely known by a lot of people as those hard rockers from Iowa who do concerts with scary masks on. Singer Corey Taylor and guitar player James Root's side project Stone Sour had a hit with Bother, a terrible emotive ballad, but Duality is Slipknot's first top 50 hit. On Vol. 3: The Subliminal Verses, Slipknot put a little more focus on melody but still rock hard. It's unlikely that many accuse them of selling out. Duality is fairly effective hard rock. Duality efficiently sets a threatening mood with an introduction that has Taylor singing wobbily over a forboding piano and no guitars. Soon, guitars are crunching, speeding, roaring and simulating jack hammers. Duality has a catchy hook with Taylor's muscular vocal over a bed of power chords. Duality has good variety, shifting between Taylor ranting, his smoother singing on the chorus and spoken sections. Slipknot's thrashing, raging music often resembles Korn's. On Duality, the similarity is even more apparent than usual. The song's dark mood and Taylor's bark resemble Jonathan Davis' work. Duality's lyric also resembles Korn's tales songs of anger and self hatred. But it also seems less interesting and original. We don't need more songs about a young white guy's inner pain. Taylor's emoting, about how the pain is making him insane and that pushing "my fingers into eyes" is the only thing that slowly stops the ache, is more of the same. Duality's singing and lyric are often silly and excessive. But Duality's fast, edgily recited sections and constantly driving guitars keep it exciting and dramatic.
Smash Mouth - All Star
Weeks on Chart: 12 Peak: # 4 (Aug. 1999) buy it!
Smash Mouth hits pop paydirt for the second time with the first single from Astro Lounge. It's perhaps less danceable than Walking on the Sun but also less gimmicky and just as infectious. The lyrics about feeling good about yourself like "you'll never shine if you don't glow" are fairly stupid but Steve Harwell delivers them unpretentiously and with undeniable energy. The music has catchy pop charm.
Smash Mouth - I'm A Believer
Weeks on Chart: 4 Peak: # 43 (Sept. 2001) buy it!
For a guy with very modest vocal skills, Steve Harwell has done incredibly well, wisely carving out a niche of vaguely retro, genial music. The producers of Shrek, the most successful movie of 2001, made a good call in asking Smash Mouth to contribute to the soundtrack. With their optimistic, catchy, lightweight music, Smash Mouth are right for a feel good cartoon and unlikely to offend anyone in the audience, no matter how young or old. Smash Mouth wisely didn't try a hard, beat filled 21st version or a note for note reenactment, instead opting for a perky, vaguely mod, horn filled 60s sound. Still, they don't come close to the tight perfection of the Neil Diamond penned original, one of the Monkees' many pop rock gems.
Smash Mouth - Then the Morning Comes
Weeks on Chart: 19 Peak: # 6 (Jan. 2000) buy it!
Smash Mouth's 2nd single from their Astro Lounge CD isn't quite as irresistable as All Star but it also has a light, sunny charm. The lyrics actually seem to be a dis of a woman living in a dream world but the message doesn't drag the song down. As they showed in their cover of Can't Get Enough of You Baby, they like a retropop sound, using fuzz guitars to good effect.
Smashing Pumpkins - The Everlasting Gaze
Weeks on Chart: 7 Peak: # 14 (Jan. 2000) buy it!
After the disappointing sales of their Adore CD, Smashing Pumpkins return to the rocking sound of Cherub Rock, Bullet with Butterfly Wings and especially Zero for the first release from their Machina/Machines of God CD. Everlasting Gaze is pretty powerful with James Iha's slashing guitar and good, driving drumming from Jimmy Chamberlin, who the band has rehired after firing him because of drug problems. Billy Corgan's singing is still annoyingly whiny but it's at least fairly aggressive.
Smashing Pumpkins - Stand Inside Your Love
Weeks on Chart: 12 Peak: # 8 (April 2000) buy it!
Light and buoyant aren't words that usually describe Smashing Pumpkins but they fit the second chart song from Machina/Machines of God, their most fun single since Mellon Collie's 1979. The time is right. The Pumpkins' music has been a little too heavy recently. The Everlasting Gaze was a good, driving rocker but was obviously too harsh for many, continuing the band's decline in radio airplay and popularity. Stand Inside Your Love is a frothy rocker somewhat like Malibu, which Billy Corgan helped write for Hole. Corgan's singing is still whiny but the song has good momentum with melodic guitars and light keyboards. The positive mood of the song apparently matches Corgan's state of mind as he sings of being head over heels in love with someone who's "everything that I want" and all he dreams of and of just wanting to stand inside her love.
Smile Empty Soul - Bottom Of A Bottle
Weeks on Chart: 21 Peak: # 13 (Oct. 2003) buy it!
Bottom Of A Bottle is on the self titled CD by the Santa Clarita, CA band. Smile Empty Soul singer/guitarist/songwriter Sean Danielsen has a good grasp of the kind of sleek hard rock that's crossed over to the pop charts. Bottom Of A Bottle has a chorus, with Danielsen ranting over a big guitar sound, that reminds me of Linkin Park's In The End. But Bottom Of A Bottle is pretty unpleasant stuff. It's presumably meant to be a cautionary tale but the "I do it for the drugs" hook is still pretty nasty. The glib, showily harsh quality of Danielsen's singing undercuts any sympathy the song creates for its troubled protaganist. Danielsen sings that in a "scared and lonely" life, drugs and alcohol make him feel alive and loved.
Socialburn - Down
Weeks on Chart: 20 Peak: # 11 (Feb. 2003) buy it!
Socialburn are a new band from Tallahassee, Florida lead by singer/songwriter Neil Alday. Socialburns Where You Are CD was produced by John Kurweg, whos done a lot of work with Creed. Sadly, Socialburn dont show any more originality or charm than Scott Stapps kings of humorless, successful mediocrity. Sounding like Alice In Chains Layne Staley or Stone Temple Pilots Scott Weiland, Alday has the angry, serious delivery of so many of todays young rock singers. On Down, Alday repetitively voices the common modern rock complaint that an unnamed you says and does things that make me feel like nothing and fuel his inner torment.
Soluna - For All Time
Weeks on Chart: 3 Peak: # 45 (July 2002) buy it!
For All Time is the title track from the debut CD by four young Hispanic American women. For All Time has tight but bland harmonies. It's like a lesser version of light ballads like Wilson Phillips' You're In Love, Christina Aguilera's I Turn To You and Britney's From The Bottom Of My Broken Heart. For All Time was cowritten and produced by Steve Morales, who's worked with Enrique Iglesias and Ricky Martin. With a vocoder effect added to T Lopez' vocal seemingly indiscriminately, flowery strings and cheap sounding synths including a dated swirling effect on the chorus, the sound is pretty cheesy. For All Time is generally smooth but it's awfully tame. The lyrics are suitably innocuous, praising the guy who makes "my life complete" and "keeps me strong", vowing "there's no other one for me."
Sonique - It Feels So Good
Weeks on Chart: 16 Peak: # 26 (April 2000) buy it!
It Feels So Good, from the CD Hear My Cry, is reminiscent of the golden age of disco. It has an efficient, synthetic beat and dramatic string effects made by keyboards, but not much personality. The lyrics are extremely simple, a fairly dopey tribute to her love which keeps her alive, makes her smile when she's down, takes her higher, etc.
Soul Decision - Faded
Weeks on Chart: 15 Peak: # 33 (Nov. 2000) buy it!
Faded is from the Canadian trio's Nobody Does It Better CD. They're being promoted to the preteens as the latest hunky boy band but Faded isn't that bad. It sounds like a George Michael dance song with a decent, synthetic beat. They try a little too hard to seem black and cool but they basically have the sound down. The parents might not be too happy about the boys trying to convince a girl "it's time we went a bit further."
Spacehog - I Want To Live
Weeks on Chart: 8 Peak: # 35 (April 2001) buy it!
Since having an alternative hit with the fun, spacy In The Meantime from 1995's Resident Alien CD, Spacehog's main claim to fame has been that Royston Langdon is Liv Tyler's boyfriend. I Want To Live is a good return to form. I Want To Live is from the Hogyssey CD, which was produced by Paul Ebersold, who did Three Doors Down's The Better Life. Spacehog still are doing the 70s glam thing. On I Want To Live, Langdon channels David Bowie and Bryan Ferry, sounding both ultraserious and self mocking. The music is solid and fairly ungimmicky with a steady beat, big, solid guitars and a positive feel. I Want To Live is apparently about a young woman feeling "faceless and lonely" but trying to escape her problems.
SR-71 - Right Now
Weeks on Chart: 22 Peak: # 14 (Oct. 2000) buy it!
Right Now is from the band's debut Now You See Inside CD. SR-71, named for a military stealth aircraft, are the latest band to follow Green Day in making fast, punky pop. Right Now has appealing energy and a good guitar riff. However, its appeal is limited by its mediocre vocals and dopey lyrics. Especially in Mitch Allan's bratty singing, Right Now is reminiscent of the sloppy, speedy mindlessly fun songs the Goo Goo Dolls do when bass player Robby Takac gets to sing lead. The male teens will probably appreciate the immature tale of a guy who used to worship his girlfriend and "hang on every word" but now, feeling taking advantage of, he's just going to use her until something better comes along.
SR-71 - Tomorrow
Weeks on Chart: 4 Peak: # 46 (Nov. 2002) buy it!
Tomorrow, the title track from SR-71's new CD, seems to confirm that the Baltimore band has no distinctive personality and merely follows trends that sell records. When Blink 182 were red hot, SR-71 was playing similar punky pop. They had a hit with Right Now, a song that was even more obnoxious and unoriginal than the other fast juvenile music of a couple years ago. Hybrid Theory was the biggest selling record of 2001 and, what do you know, SR-71 are back on the charts with a song with Linkin Park's dark, threatening sound. Tomorrow is a faint copy of Linkin Park's In The End without the flavor Mike Shinoda's rap gave that song. Mitch Allan, like Chester Bennington, sings about being in turmoil but he doesn't have Bennington's intensity. Allan does a decent job of evoking paranoia but he seems like he's ripping off Linkin Park, Korn and so many others. Similarly, the music, with its forbidding atmosphere of booming and droning guitars, feels second hand. Allan sings about an unspecified "they" who "find a way to make you feel discarded", feel "you've become a complication" and are "all waiting for the crash". He does admit that it's "myself" who makes him feel caged.
Stabbing Westward - So Far Away
Weeks on Chart: 9 Peak: # 28 (June 2001) buy it!
Stabbing Westward established themselves, along with Korn and Tool, by making dense, gothic, nearly industrial music. So Far Away, from the band's self titled fourth CD, isn't exactly light but the sound is fairly clear rather than murky. So Far Away is fairly routine contemporary rock. It's very serious and soaring without the pretension of, say, Creed. The filtered guitar is piercing but Christopher Hall's vocal is straight forward if uninteresting as he sings about wanting to "find a way to smash these walls" that separate him from his love. The chorus("every time I touch you it feels so far away') is almost catchy.
Stacie Orrico - Stuck
Weeks on Chart: 12 Peak: # 31 (June 2003) buy it!
Sixteen year old Stacie Orrico got her start in Christian pop but has moved into slick hip hop flavored pop. Stuck, from Orrico's self titled record, is a pleasant trifle. On Stuck, Orrico worked with Dallas Austin, who has produced hits for Pink and TLC. Most relevantly, Austin was largely responsible for the sound of Blu Cantrell's smash Hit Em Up Style. Stuck sounds a lot like Hit Em Up Style. It's even more lightweight but it has the same kinds of old fashioned sound effects and a similar loose sound. Orrico's vocal is reminiscent of Cantrell's, except that Cantrell's attitude is replaced by with youthful exuberance. Orrico does a decent job, twisting playfully around the verses. The choruses aren't as interesting but they're catchy with good crunching chords for emphasis. The keyboards are a little fakey and the sound is too slick. Still, Stuck is enjoyably buoyant if insubstantial. Stuck's I hate you but I love you's lyrics, are helped by Orrico's frisky delivery. Stuck, cowritten by Orrico, tells a standard story of not being able to forget about a guy who doesn't treat her like he should.
Stacie Orrico - There's Gotta Be More To Life
Weeks on Chart: 13 Peak: # 25 (Jan. 2004) buy it!
There's Gotta Be MOre To Life is the second hit from Stacie Orrico's self titled CD. Orrico is only 17 but she has already made the transition from Christian pop singer to mainstream preteen favorite. As on her first hit Stuck, Orrico shows signs on More To Life, as she slides around the verse over a jaunty beat with an ease reminiscent of Blu Cantrell on Hit Em Up Style, of being a good, interesting singer. Unfortunately, More To Life's makers weren't really shooting for interesting. They just want a perky hit for the kids. The chirpy, repetitive, mindless chorus invites a segue into Hillary Duff's relentlessly sunny So Yesterday. The chorus doesn't do Orrico any favors. Each time the chorus comes back, it has a more uplifting but emptier sound. Orrico's voice sounds thin as she tries to rise above bland, smooth backing vocals. Still, while More To Life is formulaic, it is always very pleasant. Orrico sings on More To Life that she has it all but feels empty inside and that she's looking for more than temporary highs.
Staind - Fade
Weeks on Chart: 20 Peak: # 8 (Dec. 2001) buy it!
I look forward to seeing whether, after his huge success the past year, Aaron Lewis' future work is still about how messed up he is. Fade is another song about how Lewis' parents "were never there for me to express how I felt." Lewis enunciates every syllable to make sure you can feel his pain. Lewis isn't as nasty as other troubled rockers and he's more melodic. Lewis' vocal on Fade is fairly subtle and interesting as it rolls around the lyrics. Still, Staind's ultraserious music is standard rock, following the very common pattern of minimal verse then big guitar filled chorus. Fade has a heavy mood, with a forboding bass line.
Staind - For You
Weeks on Chart: 29 Peak: # 7 (May 2002) buy it!
You'd figure that even Staind's biggest fans would have had enough of Aaron Lewis self pitying bleating by now. The fourth chart hit from Break The Cycle has harder guitars and drums than It's Been Awhile and some of the CD's other songs but it's mainly another showcase for Aaron Lewis' anguished vocal about the pain he feels. Lewis tells his parents how "your insults and your curses make me feel like I'm not a person" and demands that they "do something" about the fact that he feels "fucked up." As always, I don't doubt that Lewis hurts or begrudge his right to express his emotions. But since I'm not a troubled 14 year old boy, I'm just not that interested. And I find For You's uneasy combination of bombastic, grinding rock and Lewis' crooning even less musically interesting than most of Staind's work.
Staind - Home
Weeks on Chart: 17 Peak: # 15 (April 2000) buy it!
Despite their tough music and attitude, a lot of today's young hard rockers, like Kid Rock and Limp Bizkit, want us to know they have a soul and women can hurt them. On Home, the rock ballad from Staind's Dysfunction CD, Aaron Lewis sings about sacrificing everything for a woman and being totally vulnerable to her: afraid to be alone, afraid she'll leave him when he's gone. It seems a little wimpy but the band makes sure they'll still appeal to the rock kids with crisp drums and power chords on the chorus breaking through the otherwise stark musical setting and heartfelt vocals.
Staind - How About You
Weeks on Chart: 10 Peak: # 12 (Feb. 2004) buy it!
I regret my dismissive slam of So Far Away, the hit second single from Staind's 14 Shades Of Grey CD. Repeat listens reveal a delicate beauty to So Far Away's waltz. So Far Away is a poignantly gloomy song about feeling happier. Aaron Lewis' lyric expresses amazement at his emotional upswing. I still don't love So Far Away. It's too draggy and heavy for me. But especially juxtaposed with Nickelback's awful, heavy handed Someday, which was #2 to So Far Away's #1 for six weeks, it's not bad. How About You doesn't have So Far Away's 1-2-3, 2-2-3 elegance but it does resonate. Lewis uses his affinity for minor keys to give a rocker a sense of drama and depth. The verses create stark intensity by matching Lewis' warily rolling voice with a big beat and not much else. On the chorus, Mike Mushok's large, slicing guitar underlines Lewis' voice. Slowly climbing chords push the reticent Lewis to use a higher, harder voice. After So Far Away's guarded trip into happiness, Lewis is back to his usual downbeat self on How About You. How About You expresses disappointment with a musician friend's foolish lyrics, superficiality and lack of empathy for those less fortunate. Rather than anger, Lewis' vocal expresses weary resignation. Lewis' refusal to drop his guarded, pessimistic persona is a bit ridiculous. But his slow, wobbly, deliberate delivery is striking and unique. When Lewis' voice is combined with decent, challenging music, the result can be compelling. How About You doesn't totally overcome its front man's dourness but it is an interesting, thoughtful song that's also a decent rocker.
Staind - It's Been Awhile
Weeks on Chart: 38 Peak: # 1 (Oct. 2001) buy it!
It's Been Awhile, the first single from the Break The Cycle CD, entered the top 50 as singer Aaron Lewis had just made the top 10 for the first time with Outside from the Family Values Tour CD. It's Been Awhile is similar to Outside: thoughtful and fairly subtle for radio rock but very serious and not much fun. It's Been Awhile is another song about Lewis' troubled mind. He sings about how he always screws things and longs for the feeling of relief that came with his love. It's Been Awhile's verses are fairly quiet and similar to Outside. Power chords and drums create rock drama on the chorus but things don't get too overdone.
Staind - Mudshovel
Weeks on Chart: 14 Peak: # 22 (Dec. 1999) buy it!
The band's Dysfunction CD was coproduced by Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst. Mudshovel shares Limp Bizkit's talent for making hard rock that musically and lyrically appeals to adolescent boys. It's another intense song about a tormented young man: "you can feel my anger, you can feel my pain." Mudshovel does have an interesting guitar sound that is more original that its raging vocals.
Staind - Outside
Weeks on Chart: 11 Peak: # 24 (June 2001) buy it!
Now the new Staind CD is out, rock radio, after playing the 1999 Family Values Tour live version of Outside for more than five months, is playing the Break The Cycle version. There's not much difference. The studio mix adds a touch of keyboards and, unsurprisingly for the genre, electric guitars come in on the chorus. Outside is still mostly Aaron Lewis' acoustic and his intense vocal. As usual, Lewis' singing is appealingly heartfelt as he sings about his troubled mind but he's also very serious and a little overwrought. Outside is about the guy who torments him being as screwed up inside as he is.
Staind - Price To Play
Weeks on Chart: 13 Peak: # 4 (June 2003) buy it!
I'm curious about Staind's new 14 Shades Of Grey CD. After having enormous success, is Aaron Lewis still in the whiny, self pitying mode that sold millions? Price To Play brings some reason for optimism. It's fairly dark but not as draggy as Break The Cycle's hits. On the other hand, for better or worse, Price To Play is less distinctive than Staind's earlier hits. Lewis' accounts of pain, caused by his father's neglect and inner demons, were irritating but at least you knew what he was talking about. Price To Play has a vague lyric blaming an unnamed you for causing destruction by taking without giving and blaming without empathizing. The music also doesn't have much personality. Price To Play has the typical nu-metal mix of verses with crunching guitars and glossy, hook filled choruses. Price To Play is better than most recent grunge pop hits. 14 Shades Of Grey was produced by Josh Abraham, who also did Break The Cycle and Chocolate Starfish and The Hot Dog Flavored Water(with Staind's mentor Fred Durst). Price To Play is pretty tight, without the hard rock showing off, narcissism or obvious commercial calculation that ruins most successful work by Staind's fellow grunge fans. Guitar player Mike Mushok and drummer Jon Wysocki create a big sound but Price To Play doesn't get too murky or showy. The catchy chorus has a bed of guitars with nice sounding chord changes. Durst's natural reticence works well on the chorus. He creates decent edge by singing fairly slowly and avoids the ranting others might resort to(though the end of the song has someone doing the obligatory tortured wail). Price To Play isn't ground breaking but at least it sounds good and isn't too pretentious.
Staind - So Far Away
Weeks on Chart: 28 Peak: # 1 (Nov. 2003) buy it!
I kind of liked Price To Pay, the first single from Staind's 14 Shades Of Grey CD. It wasn't great but it was a decent rocker with more energy than the draggy, self pitying hits from the Break The Cycle CD. Price To Pay didn't last on the charts so the second single is a return to the oppressively empty, self important sound that's worked before. The good news is that, in contrast to Break The Cycle's tales of pain emanating from an abused past, So Far Away's lyric is cautiously upbeat. The bad news is that the music doesn't reflect Aaron Lewis' new optimism. So, as before, Lewis slowly rolls through the lyric, enunciating so we can fully experience his emotion. I still don't get why rock fans are interested in this overblown junk. It's lame and predictable. So Far Away has the standard pattern of verses with a quiet acoustic guitar leading into a bombastic chorus with big power guitars chords and slowly, seriously pounded drums meant to connote meaning. Things get even gloppier as strings underline Lewis' vocal when he gets really intense. Maybe the music is supposed to communicate Lewis' concern that he "must be sleeping." Lewis' voice remains dour and lugubrious and the pace is consistently glacial even as Lewis sings about moving away from struggle, not being ashamed of who he is and being able to smile and face the day.
Starsailor - Good Souls
Weeks on Chart: 7 Peak: # 27 (March 2002) buy it!
You'd figure that the last thing the world needs is another British band doing restrained, atmospheric versions of middle period Radiohead songs. On Good Souls, from the Love Is Here CD, Starsailor seem even more sensitive than the recent bands(Coldplay, Travis and especially Doves) they resemble, if that's possible. James Walsh's painfully earnest, quavery vocal and his timid lyric, telling us he feels "sick after every meal" and crying out "I need to be loved" are a tad too precious. I still like Good Souls. Walsh's open, idealistic voice is compelling and well matched by Good Soul's dense but soaring keyboard propelled sound.
Steely Dan - Cousin Dupree
Weeks on Chart: 9 Peak: # 22 (Feb. 2000) buy it!
Donald Fagen and Walter Becker actually worked together for much of the 90's, on Fagen's last solo record Kamakiriad and on the Steely Dan tour documented on the Alive In America CD. It's still great to have Two Against Nature, the first Steely Dan studio album in the two decades since Gaucho. Cousin Dupree, about being attracted to a family member now that she's all grown up, has the same mischievous sense of humor as classic Steely Dan like Hey Nineteen. The jazzy music has a light, fun feel that nicely complements the words.
Stereomud - Pain
Weeks on Chart: 4 Peak: # 43 (July 2001) buy it!
Pain is from Stereomud's Perfect Self CD. With its crunching guitar chords, anguished, yelled vocals and dark atmosphere provided by synth effects, Pain is by the numbers contemporary rock and a good example of what's wrong with rock radio. The lyrics are the same basic complaint of dozens of recent songs by angry young white guys, about being suffocated and controlled, presumably by a woman.
Steve Earle - Transcendental Blues
Weeks on Chart: 4 Peak: # 31 (July 2000) buy it!
Transcendental Blues is the title track from Earle's new CD, another rich, melodic and searching work from one of our greatest songwriters. He takes something from country and rock but could give a damn about labels. Earle's voice sounds rougher and wearier than ever. Transcendental Blues is unpolished and understated but it has grit and a good guitar line. Earle is appealingly humble as he sings about wanting to live on a higher plane.
Sting - After The Rain Has Fallen
Weeks on Chart: 13 Peak: # 41 (Oct. 2000) buy it!
After his 1996 Mercury Falling CD tanked, there was reason to believe that Sting's pop gifts had faded and been replaced by a boring maturity. Then the atmospheric, textured Desert Rose, from his Brand New Day CD, gave him his first hit in seven years. After The Rain Has Fallen gives further proof that his skills are intact. After The Rain Has Fallen has a good, state of the art dance beat. The very catchy chorus is reminiscent of his If I Ever Lose My Faith In You. The story of a princess and a palace thief is about love being more important than property.
Sting - Brand New Day
Weeks on Chart: 17 Peak: # 41 (Jan. 2000) buy it!
The title track from Sting's new CD shows that Sting still has a way with an irresistable pop hook. But as was apparent from his boring last CD, Mercury Falling, Sting seems to have moved into the easy listening stage of his career. Brand New Day, about optimistically looking forward to a new millennium, is pleasant enough, but it's also fairly insipid and its lyrics about recapturing a lost love seem goofily naive.
Sting - Desert Rose
Weeks on Chart: 23 Peak: # 15 (July 2000) buy it!
Desert Rose is a fairly high point in the mellower baby boomer stage of Sting's career. The title track from Sting's Brand New Day was a ridiculously optimistic look ahead to a new millennium. Desert Rose has more to it with good atmosphere from big percussion, Middle Eastern instruments and an introduction sung by an Arabic singer. There's not that much substance under the atmosphere and Sting can't help seeming like he's just dabbling in other cultures but the song, about being in the desert and dreaming of rain and dreaming of love as time rolls through his hands, has a nice, hallucinogenic feel.
Sting - Sacred Love
Weeks on Chart: 4 Peak: # 43 (April 2004) buy it!
The title track from Sacred Love is fairly typical of Sting's recent work. It has fine music and is easy to listen to. Sacred Love has a jazzy looseness with some interesting, exotic sounds. Sting's voice still has an impressively fluid, light touch. But the music is also a touch glib. Sting doesn't go beyond the surface pleasantness to truly engage or challenge the listener. Sting's lyric, typically, has a self satisfied quality and imagery that's way overblown. Sting claims on Sacred Love that he wants to leave the news and world behind and just go dancing. Much of Sacred Love is about finding exalted terms for the woman he loves. She's the one he "begged the moon and the stars above" for. She's "my religion", "my church." She's "the holy grail at the end of my search." "She takes the shape of this heavenly daughter." She's "the word" "made into flesh and blood." To make his adoration even more heavy handed, he closes the song with even more heavy handed references to the religious images he's been "thinkin 'bout."
Sting - Send Your Love
Weeks on Chart: 9 Peak: # 39 (Oct. 2003) buy it!
Sting had his biggest hit in years by going the world music route on Brand New Day's Desert Rose, a seductively exotic song featuring Algerian singer Cheb Mami. Not surprisingly, Sting's new Sacred Love has a lot more international musicians and sounds. Send Your Love's music is good. It mixes the jazziness that's marked much of Sting's solo work with more exotic sounds. The result is a loose, unforced, exciting jam. Sting is a gifted, nimble singer. He fits nicely with Send Your Love's quick playing and light rhythmic touch. Send Your Love has a fast, vibrant bass line, an atmospheric, evocative horn and subtle synths that easily float above the other sounds. Send Your Love's downside is that it has a lot of flavor but no center. There's not much of a melody and what there is, in his typical style, echoes previous Sting songs like If You Love Somebody and, of course, Desert Rose. On Sacred Love, Sting makes lots of connections between love and religion and faith. Because it's Sting, the lyrics are thoughtful but quite pretentious. Send Your Love has nice ideas: "you've got a stake in the world we ought to share" and we can make the world a more loving place. But they're surrounded by Sting's musings. The first verse is about how the truth of the universe can be found in a grain of sand or "a single hour". The second one is about how "your mind is a relay station" that can send positive thoughts into the future and to distant galaxies. There are also decent thoughts about finding religion in joy and nature.
Stir - Climbing The Walls
Weeks on Chart: 2 Peak: # 37 (Aug. 2000) buy it!
It's understandable that the rock ballad Climbing The Walls is getting some airplay. Like the band's more rocking first chart hit New Beginning, Climbing The Walls sounds familiar and is pleasant and inoffensive. However, it also makes sense that the St. Louis band's Holy Dogs CD isn't selling too many copies. Andy Schmidt's vocals are sincere but like the music, with its generic rock riff, they don't have much personality. Schmidt sings that he doesn't know if he can make it through the night, apparently because of romantic problems.
Stir - New Beginning
Weeks on Chart: 12 Peak: # 10 (April 2000) buy it!
While it's not particularly substantial, the first single from the St. Louis band's Holy Dogs CD is an undeniably catchy rocker. The restrained verses, with fairly spooky keyboards, are meant to match the tension of Andy Schmidt's lyrics about "having a breakdown" because the women he worships is apparently on the way out of their relationship but the song quickly moves into a high spirited chorus, with power chords and Schmidt sounding like Semisonic's Dan Wilson. Things get a little too poppy with Schmidt's na-na-na vocals.
Stone Sour - Bother
Weeks on Chart: 23 Peak: # 2 (Jan. 2003) buy it!
Stone Sour is a side project for Corey Taylor and James Root, Slipknot's singer and guitar player. Slipknot's intense thrash rock and theatrical presentation have gained them large record sales and live audiences but radio has largely ignored them. Bother, from the Stone Sour CD, is considerably more radio friendly than Slipknot's music. I'm usually amused and disgusted when hard rockers suddenly become mellow and sensitive. Bother has many of the trappings of the music that annoys me: strings and a very serious vocal and subject matter. While Bother kind of bores me, it doesn't have the excess of much rock balladeering. I'm not really interested in introspective, subdued rock songs about self hatred but I understand the appeal of Bother's restrained guitar and Taylor's genuine sounding sadness. Taylor sings about a pain that makes him wish he was too dead to cry. He chastises another for not bothering with him and himself for "my deceit." Bother has suicidal imagery but Taylor sings that, while he keeps "slipping farther", he "won't let go 'til it bleeds."
Stone Temple Pilots - All In The Suit That You Wear
Weeks on Chart: 9 Peak: # 10 (Dec. 2003) buy it!
Apparently because of Scott Weiland's continuing legal and substance abuse problems(he recently had a new arrest for driving under the influence), Stone Temple Pilots have split up. All The Suit That You Wear, a previously unreleased track, is included on Thank You, the band's greatest hits record. Few are likely to be very upset about STP's demise. Their days of making records that were accused of ripping off Pearl Jam and Nirvana but went multi platinum are long gone. No one seems to have been too excited about STP, in a positive or negative way, in a while. STP's later music was often pretty good and they showed some indications of developing a distinctive style but it was rarely interesting or commercial enough to show much of a purpose. All In The Suit That You Wear is a jagged rocker that reminds me of No. 4's Down and other STP songs. Weiland's singing has often veered from annoying to impressive. On All In The Suit That You Wear's verse, his voice has the same obnoxious snarl he used early in STP's career on Sex Type Thing. On the chorus, Weiland uses a more straight forward and less annoying rock singer voice. Dean DeLeo's crunching guitar and Eric Kretz' pounding drums create a big, tough sound. All In The Suit That You Wear has some edge and decent rock power but, like the band late in its career, it doesn't have much of a point or an appeal. I can't imagine that many will miss STP's lyrics. All In The Suit That You Wear is a typically cryptic, pointless Weiland composition. He asks an unspecified you who was "lost out there in the grip" and "trying to strangle us" to "set us free." I still don't know what is in the suit that you wear when you're "looking" or "hiding" but I concede that the title has an interesting rhythm when Weiland sings it.
Stone Temple Pilots - Days Of The Week
Weeks on Chart: 11 Peak: # 7 (Aug. 2001) buy it!
A year and a half after releasing their reunion CD, No. 4, Stone Temple Pilots are back. The short, unassuming Days Of The Week is the first single from Shangri-La Dee Da. Like On Down, Dean DeLeo plays good crunching power chords but Days Of The The Weak also has the fun feel of Big Bang Baby and an easy flow that was largely missing from STP's more assertive, derivative early work. Scott Weiland's lyrics, listing the days to describe a difficult relationship with someone who often "thinks I'm the enemy", are typically minimal and not very insightful but his singing is good, strong but relaxed.
Stone Temple Pilots - Down
Weeks on Chart: 13 Peak: # 9 (Nov. 1999) buy it!
Having had enough of his drug arrests and relapses, the rest of the band threw Scott Weiland out of STP after the release of Tiny Music, the band's 3rd multimillion seller. Either the band missed their big pay checks or they had sympathy for a man in need, but the band is back together. It's far too early to know if Weiland has it together. He was in jail for a probation violation when the new CD, No. 4, was released. It's good news for Weiland that STP took him back. Without the discipline of the band's musicians, Weiland's solo record suffered from his natural tendency towards self indulgence and had a small fraction of STP's sales. Down seems to be an attempt for the band, that's often seemed calculated and poppy, to show their rock cred. Down is a good, pretty hard rocker, in the style of Sex Type Thing without that song's misogyny. Weiland screams with intensity and the song has a good edge but there's a question whether STP without pop hooks has any point. The lyrics about "waiting for my Sunday girl" are fairly banal.
Stone Temple Pilots - Heaven and Hot Rods
Weeks on Chart: 6 Peak: # 20 (Jan. 2000) buy it!
Down, the first single from STP's No. 4 CD, had an interestingly grungy sound but it was also a little harsh and didn't have the band's usual catchiness. It fell off the charts fairly quickly. Heaven and Hot Rods, which made the chart about the time Scott Weiland finished doing his jail time for a probation violation, is more of a basic straight ahead rocker. There's not much to the song with Weiland singing some gibberish about trying to get to heaven on a Sunday but it has an appealing driving beat, big rock guitars and a pretty cool mood.
Stone Temple Pilots - Hollywood Bitch
Weeks on Chart: 4 Peak: # 37 (Oct. 2001) buy it!
Days Of The Week, the charming, poppy, mature sounding first single from STP's Shangra La Dee Da CD, had a fairly short chart life. The second single reverts to the tough, angry sound of early STP songs like Sex Type Thing. Hollywood Bitch starts with familiar hard rock guitars and Scott Weiland's cold, nasty vocal. The band's pop gifts kick in later and Hollywood Bitch starts to resemble Big Bang Baby but without that song's buoyancy. Hollywood Bitch is partly dragged down by the cruelty of the portrait of a woman "so fake she seems real" who "sold yourself" while living a "rock star life."
Stone Temple Pilots - No Way Out
Weeks on Chart: 7 Peak: # 19 (Nov. 2000) buy it!
Stone Temple Pilots have made a fairly strong comeback after declining record sales, Scott Weiland's incarcerations and the band's breakup, mostly thanks to Sour Girl, which showed they still can appeal to a mainstream audience. No Way Out, the fourth chart hit from the No. 4 CD, is a spare rocker like Down, 4's first single. Scott Weiland angrily tells us he's troubled, screaming, "I'm going under, I'm suffocating." Dean DeLeo's guitar creates an appropriately edgy sound with hard, jagged riffs.
Stone Temple Pilots - Sour Girl
Weeks on Chart: 26 Peak: # 2 (June 2000) buy it!
STP showed their rock cred with the first couple chart songs from STP's No. 4 CD, Down and Heaven and Hot Rods. Both were pretty hard and both fell off the chart pretty quickly. The band should have more success with Sour Girl which shows the band's pop skills with restrained guitars and keyboards. It starts like a Van Halen midtempo song with a steady, thumping bass and drifts easily to a chorus with sweet harmonies. Sour Girl is frothy and slight but hard to resist. Scott Weiland sings about a relationship that was doomed from the start with a woman who seems happier without him and his problems putting it behind him. Hopefully the line "what would you do if I followed you" doesn't mean that Weiland has a problem with stalking to go with his drug problem.
Story Of The Year - Anthem Of Our Dying Day
Weeks on Chart: 3 Peak: # 49 (July 2004) buy it!
Nearly a year after its release, Story Of The Year's Page Avenue CD is still getting airplay. Until The Day I Die made the top 50 last winter. The St. Louis band is back with Anthem Of Our Dying Day. Until The Day I Die was very typical, familiar emo but I kind of liked it. There was no denying that the passion of the band and, especially, singer Dan Marsala translated into invigorating energy. Story Of The Year has passion on Anthem Of Our Dying Day but I don't feel that energy. Marsala is very earnest but Anthem is very by the book. It plods forward with Marsala's sincere singing and unremarkable power chords and guitar effects. I like Anthem's brief, quiet acoustic bridge but soon it's back to more heartfelt yelling and atmospheric guitar. Marsala eventually does the cliched agitated rant the genre seems to require, even if it's not approriate to the song. With Marsala "pouring my heart onto these rooftops" and stars crying "the blackest tears", Anthem Of Our Dying Day has the kind of dramatic lyric the band is fond of. Marsala exults in the idea that "the tide would swallow every inch of this city." I like the intensity and genuine feeling Marsala and Story Of The Year bring to their music. I just wish they could use those things in a more interesting, original way.
Story Of The Year - Until The Day I Die
Weeks on Chart: 8 Peak: # 35 (Feb. 2004) buy it!
St. Louis' Story Of The Year are the latest success from the world of emo and screamo. Story Of The Year's debut Page Avenue CD was produced by Goldfinger's John Feldmann, who also produced the debut by screamo kings The Used. Until The Day I Die has a sweet lyric. Marsala vows that even if he sometimes hates her, he'll always be devoted to his love, he'll always "take the fall for you" and that if she died right row, he'd die too. Until The Day I Die strikes me more as worthy than actually enjoyable but there is a lot to like about it. Dan Marsala's screamed intensity is a little cliched. His endlessly full lunged, serious vocal gets a little boring. It could use a little variation besides an end of song howl which, having been done by so many bands, seems more inevitable than cathartic. Still, Marsala's passion feels very real and, if you let yourself get swept up, it can be invigorating. Until The Day I Die is well constructed. Until The Day I Die is energized by Josh Wills' good pounding drums, a nice repeated guitar riff on the verses and Ryan Phillips and Phillip Sneed's effective lattice of power chords and driving guitar riffs on the chorus. It has a good galloping, crunching finish. Until The Day I Die isn't startlingly novel but it is exciting, well played and charmingly sincere.
Strait Up featuring Lajon - Angel's Son
Weeks on Chart: 10 Peak: # 20 (Jan. 2001) buy it!
Lynn Strait, Snot's lead singer, died in a car accident two years ago. Angel's Song is from Strait Up, a CD with the surviving members of the band and various modern rock singers. Lajon Witherspoon is Sevendust's singer. He reminds me of Jeffrey Gaines and Living Colour's Corey Glover, two other African-American rock singers, but Lajon might be better than either of them. Unfortunately, his singing with Sevendust is often overdramatic and buried under harsh guitars. On Angel's Son, even with less cluttered acoustic backing, Lajon is too emotive but his tribute to Strait is heartfelt and moving. He sings that he "can't go on without you rearranging" and regrets that he never said goodbye when he "had so much left to say."
Stroke9 - Little Black Backpack
Weeks on Chart: 20 Peak: # 17 (Jan. 2000) buy it!
Little Black Backpack, from the band's Nasty Little Thoughts CD, is nothing extraordinary but it is extremely catchy. It grabs your attention from the start with a slow Toad the Wet Sprocket type intro. Then it speeds up with rocking guitars and keeps changing tempo. The backpack reminds the singer of the ex-girlfriend who left it behind. He claims he doesn't want to tangle with her but wants to smash in the head of the guy who followed him.
The Strokes - 12:51
Weeks on Chart: 6 Peak: # 45 (Nov. 2003) buy it!
The surprising thing about Room On Fire, The Strokes' new record, is how unsurprising it is. Facing the pressure of following up their debut CD, The Strokes have made a record that is very similar to 2001's Is This It. That's not such a bad thing. Is This It was one of the best records in recent years. But excitement and freshness are largely missing on a record that is mostly fairly safe variations on a now familiar theme. With Nick Valensi's guitar recreating the icy synths of early 80s new wave rock, 12:51 is about as different as Room On Fire gets. But 12:51 and the rest of Room On Fire are still quite enjoyable. Julian Casablancas' singing has lost some of its arrogance and gained a little warmth and humanity but he is still very cool. 12:51 gets to the heart of Casablancas' charm. He seems to expend the least possible amount of energy possible but, as his croon slides around, he communicates a subtle sense of mischief. 12:51 shows The Strokes' genius for constructing a tight rock song. 12:51 is propelled forward by Fab Moretti's handclap like drums and Albert Hammond playing the kind of driving guitar line that was Is This It's trademark. The solid foundation built by Moretti, Hammond and bass player Nikolai Fraiture gives Casablancas and Valensi the space to enjoyably float. 12:51's video nicely matches the band's deadpan charm. The images, based on Tron, an impossibly hokey movie from a now primitive age of computers and video games, fit the song's cheesy synth sound and gently mock Casablancas' unemotional deportment. 12:51 is a fun song from a good but not great record on which The Strokes refuse to break much new ground. Unlike on Is This It, Casablanca's Room On Fire lyrics largely don't depict him as an aloof heartbreaker. On 12:51, Casablancas plays a teen facing a lonely Friday night who tries to convince a girl that "now I'm older", she should "talk to me", "go out" with him and "kiss me."
The Strokes - Last Nite
Weeks on Chart: 15 Peak: # 23 (March 2002) buy it!
Quite a bit of hype, largely created by the British music press, surrounded the Strokes before they even had a record out. The hype is mostly justified by Is This It, one of the best CDs of 2001. Fans of late 70s/early 80s new wave are especially likely to enjoy Is This It's deft constructions. Julian Casablancas is appealingly confident as he channels cool alternative crooners like Lou Reed, Ian McCulloch and The Fall's Mark E. Smith while Nick Valersi lays down tight, jagged guitar lines reminiscent of Gang Of Four and, especially, Television's Richard Lloyd. Last Nite is kind of like Iggy Pop singing over Tom Petty's American Girl. With its steady, jaunty strumming and sturdy bass line, Last Nite is a good example of the Strokes' fun, basic sound. Last Nite is about having enough and walking away from a girlfriend who feels "so down" because no one understands her.
The Strokes - Someday
Weeks on Chart: 3 Peak: # 50 (Oct. 2002) buy it!
More than a year after it came out. Is This It still sounds great. Someday, the Strokes' second chart hit(Hard To Explain fell just short of the top 50) is kind of a throwaway but it's a great example why Is This It is such a good, fun record. Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr.'s intertwined, nonstop guitar lines are a big reason for The Strokes' appeal. On Someday, the very good, fast rhythm guitar part and the simple lead fit together beautifully. Someday is also a fine showcase for Nikolai Fraiture's meaty bass and Fab Moretti's jaunty, rockabilly beat. Julian Casablancas' vocal is typically detached and very cool. The always flippant Casablancas does gives a little more of himself than usual in Someday's lyrics. He's self deprecating("my ex says I'm lacking in depth" and "I'm working so I won't have to try to so hard"), he's sensitive ("it hurts to say but I want you to stay") and he's a bit of both ("you say you want to stay by my side, darling your head's not right.") Casablancas' more positive attitude is a great match for the giddy Someday, one of the most upbeat songs on a very enjoyable, high energy record.
Sugar Ray - Falls Apart
Weeks on Chart: 9 Peak: # 39 (Feb. 2000) buy it!
The third hit from the band's 14:59 is another pleasant piece of pop. The band once tried to mix ska and fast punkish music but they've found success in genial, less ambitious, music. While the lyrics are about a young woman going through a tough time, the music doesn't get too heavy. It has a nice dynamic, shirting from mellower verses to rougher choruses when the guitars kick in.
Sugar Ray - Someday
Weeks on Chart: 16 Peak: # 3 (Oct. 1999) buy it!
Sugar Ray have become charmingly self deprecating. They named their latest album 14:59, alluding to the fact that a lot of people thought they were one hit wonders who'd pretty much used up their 15 minutes of fame with their big hit Fly. When they started, Sugar Ray made a generally unappealing mix of speed metal and dance ska. The success of Fly was largely thanks to a brilliant guest rap from Super Cat. On their own, Sugar Ray was fairly uninteresting. However, Sugar Ray has winningly redefined themselves as nice guys with a decent beat. Every Morning was extremely likeable. Someday is more of the same, though without quite as much uplifting energy. Mark McGrath's vocals certainly aren't great but they do have an agreeable roughness. Someday is pleasantly unassuming but it's so slight that it makes you think that if their success is to continue, they'll have to find another way to put a little edge on their music.
Sugar Ray - When It's Over
Weeks on Chart: 18 Peak: # 7 (June 2001) buy it!
When It's Over is from Sugar Ray's new self titled CD. It wasn't that long ago that Sugar Ray mostly played fast, anarchic ska/metal/dance music. Since then they've found big success by easing to a genial pop sound, especially on 14:59's hits: Every Morning, Falls Apart and Someday. Sugar Ray's sound is likable, even if it's unexciting. Sugar Ray has Someday's charming, unassuming feel. It's well constructed with a pleasant beat and good, subtle keyboards and guitar. Mark McGrath's voice is a little flat and not great but it fits with the music's mood. He's amiable even as he mourns a lost relationship, idealizes his ex, denies it's over("can I still come over") and feels sorry for himself.
Sum 41 - Fat Lip
Weeks on Chart: 22 Peak: # 21 (Sept. 2001) buy it!
Fat Lip, from the All Killer No Filler CD, is fairly fun but totally derivative punky pop. Fat Lip alternates between an early Beasties style mix of rap and rock guitar and mindless power pop. The rhymes, like "I like songs with distortion, to drink in proportion, the doctor said my mom should have had an abortion", are cocky and dopey. With Deryck Whibley singing about being "sick of always hearing act your age" and of liking to have "fun at other people's expense", the other half of Fat Lip is basically a rehash of Blink 182's What's My Age Again. The song also throws in some lame rebellion("I'll never fall in line, become a victim of conformity") but the song's appeal comes from its fast, high spirited energy.
Sum 41 - The Hell Song
Weeks on Chart: 9 Peak: # 34 (May 2003) buy it!
Like Still Waiting, the first chart hit from the Does This Look Infected? CD, The Hell Song indicates that, after depicting themselves as dopey goofballs, the Canadian band wants to be taken seriously. The Hell Song isn't as overreaching as Still Waiting, which assumed that we wanted the kind of dopey band's thoughts about a world filled with hate. The Hell Song is more personal and shows some maturity. While he still sings in a annoyingly bratty voice, Derick Whibley sings that he's learned that we don't always get to choose how "things that matter the most" end up and that "everybody's got their problems." He's also trying to solve problems when he can, learn from hardship and not get overwhelmed by the randomness of life. Hell Song is a hard, straight forward rocker. Hell Song is similar to Still Waiting but it has an even tougher sound. Hell Song has no lulls. It's very tight. Dave Baksh and Whibley keep the guitars coming. Hell Song doesn't have any sense of originality. It's generic fast post punk. But the band keep the music so tight that, while it's not distinctive, Hell Song is exciting. The Hell Song is supported by a good video that, consistent with the band's original youthful image, makes fun use of dozens of action figures representing contemporary stars.
Sum 41 - In Too Deep
Weeks on Chart: 10 Peak: # 40 (Nov. 2001) buy it!
Sum 41 continue to follow Blink 182's bratty but lovable punk popster formula. On In Too Deep, the second hit from the young Canadians' All Killer, No Filler CD, Sum 41 use the same basic guitar riff as they did on Fat Lip. At least this time they don't rap. In Too Deep is very simple but likable. The guitar sound is big and tight. There's nothing original or particularly smart about In Too Deep. But even more than Fat Lip, which vaguely wanted to be a youth rebellion anthem, In Too Deep has a lack of pretension and youthful good spirits that are hard to resist. In Too Deep's lyric seems young as well. It's about a guy overwhelmed by a woman who's never satisfied with their relationship.
Sum 41 - Still Waiting
Weeks on Chart: 16 Peak: # 28 (Jan. 2003) buy it!
Sum 41's new CD is called Does This Look Infected? Sum 41 broke through with the youthful, poppy, punky hits from All Killer, No Filler CD. Still Waiting shows signs that the band is making the huge mistake of wanting to grow up and be taken seriously. Still Waiting's video reveals jealousy at the critical respect The Strokes receive. On Fat Lip, the band just demanded the chance to have a good, stupid time. Now they want us to believe that they're looking for "hope to believe" in a world full of hating. It seems clear that Sum 41 is best suited to make dopey, fun music and that's what people want from them. Still Waiting, with its attempt at lyrical significance and Derick Whibley's meaningful ranting, has an uncomfortable resemblance to the lesser work of The Offspring, whose music seems to get stupider the more they try to seem smart. Still Waiting does show benefits of Sum 41's new intensity. I don't love the darkness of the singing and Whibley and Dave Baksh's guitar but I do like that Still Waiting is fast, energetic and focused, without the foolishness that has made some of their music more cutesy than fun.
Susan Tedeschi - Alone
Weeks on Chart: 8 Peak: # 47 (Jan. 2003) buy it!
Alone is on the Boston bred singer/guitarists second record: Wait For Me. On Alone, Susan Tedeschi sounds a lot like Bonnie Raitt. I dont know if Tedeschi has Raitts vocal talent but she has her relaxed confidence. Like Raitt, Tedeschi has a love of the blues that helps her seem comfortable rather than showy in trying to emulate the style of her heroes. Alone is quite a bit like Raitts 2002 single I Cant Help You Now. Unlike in that song, where Raitt told a guy who dumped her then asked for a second chance that he was too late, Tedeschi admits her loneliness, takes the blame for their problems and asks him to come back. The lyrics make Tedeschi seem like a doormat but her self assured vocal keeps her sounding strong. Alone was written by Tommy Sims, who cowrote Eric Claptons Change The World. Alone resembles Change The World. Alone isnt particularly original and theres a sense that, with its smooth sound, tasteful horns and minimal keyboards, its designed to be an easy listening hit like Change The World. But while Alone isnt exciting, Tedeschis singing and unshowy guitar playing keep things cool and likable.
Switchfoot - Dare You To Move
Weeks on Chart: 5 Peak: # 38 (July 2004) buy it!
Dare You To Move is the second chart hit from The Beautiful Letdown CD by the Christian rockers from San Diego. On Dare You To Move, Jonathan Foreman encourages someone who's been through a tough time to get up and try to be "who you could be." The lyric is heavy with non specific, religious advice, telling the person to seek redemption, forgiveness and salvation. Fortunately, Dare You To Move doesn't feel as sanctimonious as the lyric makes it seems. Dare You To Move isn't as rousing as Meant To Live, Switchfoot's big hit, which used the big, melodic guitar sound of bands like Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins. But Dare You To Move, despite its epic intentions, sounds more personal than Switchfoot's previous hit. Moving slowly and maintaining a clear, open sound, Dare You To Move gains anthemic force. Foreman's voice is focused and ungimmicky. He projects warm purity. A jangly guitar riff carries Dare You To Move forward on the verses then on the chorus power chords boom, echoing the idealistic ambition of Foreman's vocal. The sound builds in fairly predictable rock ballad ways, as strings come in and the drum sound builds for a big finish. Dare You To Move uses a bunch of cliched rock sounds. It isn't as stirring as the yearning U2 ballads it seems modeled on. I find its overt proselytizing offputting. Still, Dare You To Move is powerful and it has a thoughtful, optimistic sound that's unusual in contemporary rock.
Switchfoot - Meant To Live
Weeks on Chart: 35 Peak: # 10 (April 2004) buy it!
Switchfoot, a band formed in San Diego by the Foreman brothers, are the latest artists to cross over from the Christian music world to success on the pop charts. Switchfoot have tried out some different sounds and seem to have decided on a grungy rock style. I'm naturally prejudiced against the many recent bands who borrow the big but melodic guitar rock sound of Nirvana and their contemporaries but, on Meant To Live, Switchfoot do a pretty good job. Meant To Live's guitar line is largely lifted from Smells Like Teen Spirit(especially Kurt Cobain's guitar's tic as he leaves the chorus). It also sounds like Smashing Pumpkin's Cherub Rock . But Meant To Live doesn't show the commercial cynicism or over the top hostility of a lot of the music by today's grunge fans. Jonathan Foreman makes a big, pure guitar sound that reminds me of interesting mid 90s atmospheric guitar rockers Hum. Meant To Live, from Switchfoot's The Beautiful Letdown CD, isn't as showy as much contemporary rock. Foreman's vocal avoids the nastiness and vanity of the many modern rock singers obsessed by unfaithful girlfriends and/or a world that doesn't understand them. He also doesn't haven't have the self righteousness of a faith obsessed singer like Creed's Scott Stapp. Besides encouraging the idea of not replaying "the wars of our fathers"(good luck on that), the lyric doesn't give many specifics on how we can "live for so much more." Given the band's religious focus and the lines about how everything "screams for second life" and about wanting "more than this world's got to offer", Meant To Live seems like a call to get in touch with a higher power.
System Of A Down - Aerials
Weeks on Chart: 28 Peak: # 4 (Sept. 2002) buy it!
I loved the frantic energy and tempo changes of Toxicity's first two chart hits: Chop Suey and the title track. Those eccentricities are missing from Aerials. With Daron Malakian's guitar alternating between forbidding picking on the verses and crunching chords on the chorus, Aerials has the more standard form of a song by Korn and Tool and so many other atmospheric rock bands. Still, Serj Tankian's intense, troubled croon unmistakably shows Aerials is a SOAD song. The guitars, Tankian's voice and eastern percussion effectively create a sinister tone. Tankian's typical bleak, enigmatic imagery depicts a surreal world of confused, cowardly and powerless people. He sings that we're "swimming through the void" and that we "always want to play" but "never want to lose" and suggests "when you lose small mind, you free your life." Aerials isn't my favorite System Of A Down but it is, like most of their music, more interesting than almost anything else out there.
System Of A Down - Chop Suey
Weeks on Chart: 26 Peak: # 13 (Nov. 2001) buy it!
Finally, after so many serious, self pitying, soundalike bands have dominated rock radio, a hard rock band has a hit that sounds different and shows a sense of humor. With tough guitars and hardcore fast drums, Chop Suey, from the Toxicity CD, has the chops necessary to keep the headbangers happy but it's also refreshingly weird. Serj Tankian's over the top vocal takes Chop Suey all over the map, starting as a punk rant, slowing down for a meaningful croon that may be mocking his self important contemporaries("I don't think you trust in my self righteous suicide") and eventually shifting to a spacy, gothic conclusion.
System Of A Down - Innervision
Weeks on Chart: 9 Peak: # 21 (Jan. 2003) buy it!
Innervision is on Steal This Album, a collection of songs that didn't make System Of A Down's first two records. Innervision is good and similar enough that it would have fit on the Toxicity CD. Innervision has the great, bizarre energy of songs like that CD's title track. Guitar player Daron Malakian, bass player Shavo Odadjian and drummer John Dolmayan all play fast and hard and contribute to Innervision's exciting intensity. Singer Serj Tankian is, typically, so passionate that he almost seems possessed or insane, veering between crooning and shrieking. A lot of the fun of a SOAD song is following its twists. In its 2« minutes, Innervision shifts from speed metal to a hardcore bridge with Tankian ranting "It's never too late to reinvent the bicycle." Malakian appropriately shifts his guitar to a quiet, dreamy sound for Serj's epiphany("there is only one true path to life, the road that leads to all, leads to one.") then the song crunches to a conclusion. Malakian sings on Innervision about seeking the guidance of an unnamed spiritual source.
System Of A Down - Toxicity
Weeks on Chart: 22 Peak: # 13 (May 2002) buy it!
It's probably not the main effect they're shooting for but I like System Of A Down because they're fun. Their powerful music and Serj Tankian's singing can shift in a moment from thoughtful to manic, creating an unpredictability that's nearly absent in contemporary rock. Toxicity's verses, with forboding guitar and Serj's brooding vocal, explode into choruses of Serj's rant and big guitars and drums. As Toxicity, the title track and second hit from the band's latest CD, reaches its conclusion, it becomes even more chaotic, finishing with fast hardcore style thrashing guitar and drums and Serj's bizarre chant: "when I became the sun, I shone life into the man's heart." I like System Of A Down's passion and the fact that their songs are about more than their petty personal problems. I'm not exactly sure what Toxicity is about but I guess it has something to do with capitalism and the fact that even if big business thinks it owns and can ruin the world it can't control the world's natural disorder.