U.P.O. - Godless
Weeks on Chart: 10 Peak: # 22 (Aug. 2000) buy it!
Godless, from the No Pleasantries CD, is yet another hard rock song about a young man so troubled that he's thinking about ending it all. Shawn Albro sings that he's tired of breaking, that he doesn't want to be another lost soul who can't find his way home and that he's feeling dead and ready to fall. Godless sounds like intense, acoustic guitar dominated hard rock by bands like Alice In Chains and Days of the New. Still, Albro has a strong voice and the guitars aren't as overdone as in a lot of current hard rock.
U2 - Beautiful Day
Weeks on Chart: 27 Peak: # 1 (Nov. 2000) buy it!
After spending much of the 90's making cynical, edgy and more dance oriented music, U2 return to the purer sound of their Unforgettable Fire/Joshua Tree era for a great single from the new All That You Can't Leave Behind CD. Beautiful Day starts like a New Order dance song but quickly shifts to the band's classic sound with The Edge's chiming guitar and Adam Clayton's percolating bass. Beautiful Day is about appreciating life. Even if "you're out of luck and the reason that you had to care", you're not a hopeless case so don't let the beauty get away. The music parallels the optimistic lyrics with Bono and The Edge's optimistic, yearning lead and backing vocals.
U2 - Electrical Storm
Weeks on Chart: 15 Peak: # 2 (Oct. 2002) buy it!
Electrical Storm is one of two new songs on U2's Best of 1990-2000 CD. Not so long ago, U2's work from the second half of their career didn't seem particularly worthy of a greatest hits set. Then the band refocused their energy and put out All That You Can't Leave Behind, which included thoughtful, musically rich singles which should be memorable years from now. Electrical Storm isn't quite on the level of Beautiful Day or Walk On. With a melody similar to Zooropa's Stay and guitar lines like the ones The Edge played on Walk On, Electrical Storm feels a bit rehashed. Still, Electrical Storm has the depth of sound and feeling of U2's best work. William Orbit worked on Electrical Storm instead of usual U2 producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. Orbit fills out the sound with keyboards that at times are like something from a bad sci-fi movie soundtrack but he's generally respectful of the classic U2 sound. Even if it's familiar, The Edge's playing still creates big, poignant atmosphere. He easily segues between ringing lines on the verse and thick, powerful work on the chorus. It isn't Bono's most exciting vocal but he admirably projects hope while keeping his naturally supple voice under control and restrained.. On Electrical Storm, Bono plays a distant, guilty("you're in my mind all the time, I know that's not enough") man confident that a relationship that's been dogged by bad luck will be repaired by "love and only love", allowing them to see colors and places "that have never been seen.".
U2 - Elevation
Weeks on Chart: 17 Peak: # 3 (June 2001) buy it!
The third chart hit from All That You Can't Leave Behind is the closest the generally mellow CD comes to U2's big, empty synth filled 90s work. Elevation is a silly but fun song about a woman who makes Bono "feel like I can fly." Bono has a good time with his "woo-hoo" falsetto and goofy "mole living in a hole" lyrics. Eno and The Edge's synths create a buoyancy that overcomes the music's industrial nature.
U2 - The Ground Beneath Her Feet
Weeks on Chart: 10 Peak: # 6 (March 2000) buy it!
U2 had songs on Until The End of the World and they also contribute to the soundtrack of Wim Wenders' latest movie The Million Dollar Hotel, which is based on a concept thought of by Bono. The Ground Beneath Her Feet is a nice though not particularly exciting soaring ballad, similar to other recent songs like Stay and Staring at the Sun. The one difference here is that Salman Rushdie provided the lyrics.
U2 - In A Little While
Weeks on Chart: 17 Peak: # 42 (May 2002) buy it!
The songs on U2's All That You Can't Leave Behind took on greater meaning after September 11th. Their empathetic, hopeful feeling seemed perfect for the times. U2 picked a great to move away from the ironic, superficial songs that characterized much of their 90s work and combine the hopefulness of their earlier work with a modesty appropriate for guys who've been around long enough to know that goals aren't always easily met. The singles from All You Can't Leave Behind have been big anthems but the CD also has good quiet songs like the simply idealistic Peace On Earth and the playful Wild Honey. In A Little While, the CD's fifth song to make the top 50, is a rich love song with a timeless quality. Brian End added subtle strings to The Edge's good, basic guitar riff. Bono remarkably kept his enormous ego in check nearly throughout All That You Can't Leave Behind. He's very sweet on In A Little While, promising a longtime friend "surely you'll be mine."
U2 - Stuck In A Moment You Can't Get Out Of
Weeks on Chart: 19 Peak: # 2 (Oct. 2001) buy it!
Nearly a year after reviewing All That You Can't Leave Behind, I'm sticking to my original opinion. The CD is quite mellow and can be a little slow but it's remarkably consistent with thoughtful, enjoyable songs. Especially after the band's showy 90s work, All That You Can't Leave Behind's modesty is very appealing. Bono restrains the excesses that sometimes obscure his gift. His vocals have a charming grace. As they do throughout the CD, producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois give Stuck In A Moment a warm, rich sound. The keyboards create the easy feel of an r&b classic like People Get Ready. The fact that Bono wrote this as a message he wished he had sent to his friend Michael Hutchence, before he killed himself, gives Stuck In A Moment added poignance.
U2 - Walk On
Weeks on Chart: 18 Peak: # 3 (March 2001) buy it!
Walk On, the second chart hit from All That You Can't Leave Behind, shows how U2 have returned to the sincerity and idealism of their 80's work but express it in a more subtle, mature way. Walk On is a tribute to Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her brave struggle against the repressive Burmese government. Bono's admiration is clear as he sings, "you could have flown away, a singing bird in an open cage who will only fly for freedom." But Walk On avoids the stridency of the band's early political songs. Bono's vocal is appealingly restrained. The music, with The Edge's glistening guitar line, has a quiet beauty as well as a solid Larry Mullen beat.
Uncle Kracker featuring Dobie Gray - Drift Away
Weeks on Chart: 11 Peak: # 25 (July 2003) buy it!
Considering that his main goal seems to be making genial, innoucuous pop, Uncle Kracker(born Matt Shafer) has had a decent career. But he hadn't really been able to follow up on Follow Me from his debut CD. In A Little While, which had Uncle Kracker's typical mellow, modest style, was a minor hit. It took a cover of an extremely familiar song to give Uncle Kracker a big hit from his No Strange To Shame CD, which came out last summer. The new version of Drift Away is a remake in the strictest sense. It's a nearly exact copy of Dobie Gray's 1973 hit. It's pleasant but totally unnecessary. The nice thing about Drift Away 2003, I guess, is that it gives Gray another chance in the spotlight. Now in his 60s, Gray still sounds good. Gray's strong, full voice easily outdoes Uncle Kracker's thin, indistinct singing. Drift Away isn't the most remarkable of pop classics. It's a soothing song about how music can provide calm in a troubling life. Drift Away's chief attribute is that it's appealing smooth and relaxed. Uncle Kracker leaves in place the easy, pleasing keyboards and guitars that made Drift Away a lite hits radio staple. But he doesn't add anything that makes the song better or more interesting than the original. I guess one other benefit of the new version is that it settles a question I've had since I was a kid. Yes he says "beat boys" not Beach Boys.
Uncle Kracker - Follow Me
Weeks on Chart: 22 Peak: # 11 (May 2001) buy it!
Uncle Kracker(aka Matt Shafer) was Kid Rock's DJ. He co-wrote some of the hits from Devil Without A Cause and Kid Rock produced Uncle Kracker's Double Wide CD. Sugar Ray lead singer Mark McGrath appears in the Follow Me video. Like Sugar Ray did on their pop hits Someday and Falls Apart, Uncle Kracker restrains his harder dance music instincts on Follow Me. Uncle Kracker seems more calculated and less sincere but Follow Me has an undeniable appeal. Follow Me has a doo wop feel and good, very minimal instrumentation from fingersnaps and light drumming and keyboards. Follow Me is pleasant and innocuous though its lyric is fairly annoying. Uncle Kracker tries to convince his girl that a lack of commitment is good("We'll be alright if you don't ask me to stay") and boasts, "I make you feel free" and"I can guarantee, you won't find nobody else like me."
Union Underground - Turn Me On Mr. Deadman
Weeks on Chart: 2 Peak: # 38 (Oct. 2000) buy it!
Turn Me On Mr. Deadman is from the An Education in Rebellion CD.Trent Reznor might have a suit against Union Underground for copyright infringement. Especially early on, Turn Me On Mr. Deadman closely resembles a harsh Nine Inch Nails song like The Perfect Drug, with its jagged beat and anguished vocals, which are whispered then screamed. But where Reznor's anger and self loathing seemed real, Union Underground's hostility is contrived and theatrical, like on a Powerman 5000 song. It's pretty funny that on a familiar sounding song, Union Underground criticize rock conformity, mocking sell out rock and roll millionaires and the simple minded audiences who lap up their music.
Unwritten Law - Seein' Red
Weeks on Chart: 19 Peak: # 16 (May 2002) buy it!
Unwritten Law's Elva CD is mostly fast, youthful, good natured, lightweight hip hop informed Sum 41 style hard rock. Seein' Red is not characteristic of the rest of the CD but it's not surprising that it's the song getting the record company push. Seein' Red is a sensitive rocker that fits solidly within the Staind/Nickelback model of what radio wants to play. Seein' Red is painfully predictable, following the standard pattern of meaningful, restrained verses that explode into hard rocking choruses. Over quiet guitar picking, Scott Russo does an earnest vocal. Seein' Red's "follow the leader" chorus is catchy. I like the scratchy little riff between the power chords. But the song keeps coming back to the crappy verse. A boring, cliched guitar solo doesn't help things either. Seein' Red is about Russo's anger at foolish lies he's been told. He alternates between mocking and giving someone a last chance to choose to make a relationship work.
Unwritten Law - Up All Night
Weeks on Chart: 7 Peak: # 40 (Sept. 2002) buy it!
Seein' Red showed Unwritten Law's sensitive side. On Up All Night, the second chart hit from the Elva CD, the Southern California band is back in a rocking mode. Like many of their punky pop contemporaries, Unwritten Law combine a bunch of influences into a accessible mix. Like Sum 41's hits, Up All Night has hard rock guitars and crisp, fluid drums but it's more serious minded than the lighthearted songs of Sum 41, The Offspring or New Found Glory. Strangely for a song about smoking cigarettes and weed and sittin' back relaxin', Scott Russo angrily spits out his vocal like he thought he was in Bad Religion. The chorus is catchy but Russo's voice is flat as if bad singing was an indication of authenticity. Jagged guitar and bass lines on the verses give Up All Night an edge that could belong to punk or ska. Up All Night has some rock power but it's not a lot of fun.
The Used - Buried Myself Alive
Weeks on Chart: 5 Peak: # 34 (April 2003) buy it!
Buried Myself Alive is from the self titled CD by the band from Orem, Utah fronted by Kelly Osborne's ex(he dumped her after the Osbornes connection brought unwanted attention). I liked The Used's first chart hit, The Taste Of Ink, which featured Quinn Allmann's tight, crunching guitar and Bert McCracken's impassioned vocal. Buried Myself Alive is much more routine neo-grunge. It starts with a processed guitar riff that's a lot like the one Puddle Of Mudd used on Blurry. The riff seems like an attempt to give Buried Myself Alive a meaningful feel but it's mostly just annoying. The song gets better when Allman's guitar gets harder and bigger and McCracken gives up serious, intense singing and starts shrieking and going nuts. But even then, Buried Myself Alive isn't so different from songs by so many other angry, confused young rockers. The Used's music doesn't seem as calculated for commercial success as that of many of their modern rock contemporaries. They have the potential to make interesting, distinctive music but Buried Myself Alive isn't it. McCracken sings that he was hurt so badly that he "buried myself alive on the inside." After puking the day away, he decides to turn the tables, putting "my foot on your neck" and telling her "if you want me back, you're gonna have to ask nicer than that."
The Used - The Taste Of Ink
Weeks on Chart: 4 Peak: # 47 (Dec. 2002) buy it!
The Taste Of Ink is from the self titled debut CD by the band from Orem, Utah. The New York Times' Kelefa Sanneh put The Used at the top of her list of the best non-mainstream CDs of 2002. I haven't heard the whole CD but, based on Taste Of Ink, it's hard to believe that The Used is that exceptional. It sounds like lots of 80s post punk music. I do like The Taste Of Ink. It's good, tight rock that gets good edge from Bert McCracken's screaming himself hoarse intensity and Quinn Allman's compact, stomping guitar line. McCracken, who's probably best known as Kelly Osborne's boyfriend, sings on Taste Of Ink about tolerating a miserable present for a "chance to break out" of a town he couldn't take much longer.
Usher - Burn
Weeks on Chart: 11 Peak: # 11 (July 2004) buy it!
I feel that Usher Raymond's music isn't quite good enough to justify its remarkable success. Nonetheless, Usher's impressive roll continues. Yeah!, a competently made and fairly exciting but unamazing and not very original dance song, spent a number of weeks at number one on the pop chart. Burn, the second single from the Confessions CD, returns Usher to the style that brought him many of his hits. Burn is a slow jam with a sensitive vocal. Before releasing Confessions, Usher ended his relationship with TLC's Chilli. Burn is one of Confessions' many breakup songs. Usher tells a woman that he doesn't want to leave her but "it's better for me to let it go now than hold on and hurt you." Though he claims it's best for both of them, he blames her because "I don't think you're gonna change" and admits he's doing it because "I'm hurting baby" and "there's so many other things I gotta deal with." Burn's twist is that by the second verse, they're apart and he's decided he's "made a mistake" and he'll "be burnin' 'til you return." Burn suffers by moving up the pop charts along with Mario Winans' I Don't Wanna Know, another slow, quiet jam with a wounded lover. Burn is well made but not as striking or original as I Don't Wanna Know. Burn, cowritten and produced by Jermaine Dupri and Brian Cox, sounds good. It has a crisp, unobtrusive beat. Burn's music and effects add flavor but stay inobtrusive and fit the song's sad, subdued mood. Usher's singing is pretty good. He shows emotion but doesn't go over the top. Still, Burn is a bit superficial and predictable and it's hard to be too concerned about Usher's dilemmas.
Usher - Confessions Part 2
Weeks on Chart: 3 Peak: # 33 (July 2004) buy it!
Usher is on an amazing run with Confessions, 2004's best selling CD. He's the first solo artist with three songs at the same time among Billboard's top 10 pop hits(The Beatles and Bee Gees also achieved the feat). Usher's success is remarkable to me because his songs, while well made and pleasant to listen to, aren't particularly interesting or original. Usher admits that he pays attention to what music is popular at the time and tries to make music in that style. He got Lil' Jon to help him remake Get Low for Usher's monster hit Yeah. Confessions Part 2's skittery beat reminds me of R. Kelly's terrific Ignition remix, which was a hit just about the time Usher recorded the Confessions CD. But Confessions Part 2 isn't as distinctive or appealing as the Ignition remix. Like the CD's hit ballad Burn, Confessions Part 2 was cowritten and produced by Brian Cox and veteran hitmaker Jermaine Dupri. Like all three of the CD's hits, Confessions 2 sounds fine. It has sleek, seductive music with that good skippping rhythm and an insinuating synth sample. Confessions 2 is smooth but unsurprising. Usher is a pretty good singer. His voice's warmth and openness lets him get away with cliched lyrics. He does a decent job working his ladies man charm without overdoing it. But Usher seems manipulative and fakey. Usher's current image is obviously marketable but it's kind of lame. His lyrics painstakingly present him as sensitive and a bad boy. Like Yeah, Confessions Part 2 has Usher admitting to his girlfriend that he's been with someone else. His "chick on the side said she got one on the way." While he's been playing around, he tries to convince her he's caring. He claims "this gon' be the hardest thing I ever had to do" and that he "damn near cried when I got that phone call." Everything about Usher seems calculated. His expressions of regret are glib. He presumably drives the ladies wild with a spoken plea for another chance but he seems more cool than concerned.
Usher - U Don't Have To Call
Weeks on Chart: 7 Peak: # 36 (May 2002) buy it!
U Don't Have To Call is the third "U" hit from Usher Raymond's 8701 CD. Like the earlier hits, U Don't Have To Call is pleasant listening but nothing spectacular. U Don't Have To Call was produced by the ubiquitous Neptunes. They deploy the same bomb dropping effect they used on Britney's I'm A Slave For U but otherwise give U Don't Have To Call a considerably less intense sound. Usher's voice is strong enough that The Neptunes don't have to create the kinds of distractions they did for Britney. At its best, U Don't Have To Call recalls the great, easy flow of Michael Jackson's Off The Wall. Mostly, the song amiably but inconsequentially breezes by. Usher's vocal is comfortable and likable but unremarkable. Usher tries to be a sensitive man women adore and a tough guy men respect. On U Don't Have To Call, he doesn't criticize the girl he loved and sacrificed for when she says she's leaving but he's already ready to go out tonight and look for someone else.
Usher - U Got It Bad
Weeks on Chart: 17 Peak: # 15 (Jan. 2002) buy it!
Like U Remind Me, the first hit from Usher's 8701 CD, U Got It Bad is competent, familiar easy R&B. Producer Jermaine Dupri gives U Got It Bad a smooth, unexciting sound with a steady, restrained beat and tasteful touches of guitar. Usher Raymond has a presence that's helped him find success in music and movies but his voice, while pleasant, is unremarkable and certainly not among the best of the sensitive male ladykillers who have topped the charts over the years. On U Got It Bad Usher assures people who love obsessively that he's one of them and their behavior is fine.
Usher - U Remind Me
Weeks on Chart: 10 Peak: # 37 (Sept. 2001) buy it!
U Remind Me was produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who with Usher and Janet Jackson are doing especially well these days with light dance pop, and Eddie "Hustle" Clement. U Remind Me, from Usher Raymond's 8701 CD, has a synth hook that's a little wimpy but very catchy. The sound is generally clear and good with a relaxed beat. Usher's vocal generally stays modest, smooth and appealing. He only briefly resorts to overdramatic emoting. U Remind Me's lyric is a little silly, apologizing for the pain he's causing("I know it's so unfair to you") by breaking up with someone who reminds him of the girl who broke his heart by "sexing everyone but me."
Usher - Yeah
Weeks on Chart: 21 Peak: # 14 (May 2004) buy it!
Yeah, from Usher's Confessions CD, is pretty good dance music. The problem with Yeah is that I feel like I've heard it before. Yeah very closely resembles Get Low. That similarity is not surprising, since Yeah was cowritten and co produced by Get Low vocalist/writer/producer Jonathan "Lil' Jon" Smith. Yeah has a good, catchy synth riff but that riff is nearly identical to Get Low's. Yeah doesn't have Get Low's raucous energy. It has a more polished sound than Get Low. Usher's vocal is fine if fairly innocuous. Yeah is apparently an attempt to give Usher, whose previous hits have been fairly mild, a harder image. Still, Yeah needs some flavor and benefits from Lil Jon's interjections and Ludacris' edgier, less controlled vocal. In a lyric that apparently alludes to his breakup with TLC's Chilli, Usher sings on Yeah about being seduced, somewhat reluctantly, in a club by a "shorty" who turns out to be "best of homies" with Usher's girl. Ludacris takes over at the end and abandons the plot line. In his verse, he brags about his Jag, his Rolls, his three hundred thousand dollar pinky ring and about how he "won't stop 'til I get 'em in they birthday suits." Ludacris' rap is stupid and typical but he gives Yeah some excitement to go with its killer riff. Yeah is well made and sounds fine but it doesn't do much to improve Get Low. In a reminder of the benefits of a familiar sound and a known star with a pretty face, Yeah is an even bigger hit than Get Low was.