U Don't Have To Call - Usher
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.
U Got It Bad - Usher
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.
U Remind Me - Usher
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."
Uh Huh - B2K
Weeks on Chart: 2 Peak: #49 (May 2002) buy it!
Uh Huh is from the self titled debut CD by four LA singers, all still in their mid teens, whose name is apparently short for Boys of the New Millennium. B2K seem like a record company creation. They're good looking and present themselves as a little street smart but not threatening enough to worry their young fans' parents. Uh Huh, produced by Chris "Tricky" Stewart, has a safe, very familiar sound. It resembles Jagged Edge's Where The Party At and lots of poppy hip hop songs by people like Boyz II Men and New Edition. With a crisp, steady beat and a beeping synth sound, Uh Huh's sound isn't particularly memorable but it is smooth and effective with a little edge. On Uh Huh, the boys play a cocky character challenging a girl to show she can handle him. They walk the line of being tough and tender, singing about being "the thug" "that'll treat you right". They brag about running "girls from coast to coast" but also suggest a "walk through the mall."
Underneath It All - No Doubt featuring Lady Saw
Weeks on Chart: 20 Peak: #19 (Nov. 2002) buy it!
In little more than a year, Gwen Stefani has totally turned around her image from the pathetic, pining for Gavin Rossdale thing she played on Return Of Saturn's Ex-Girlfriend and Simple Kind Of Life. Thanks to appearances on hits by Eve and Moby and the singles from the Rock Steady CD, she's reestablished herself as a cool, confident woman. Underneath It All's lyrics strike me as kind of sad wishful thinking. Stefani tries to convince herself that while her relationship "seems incomplete", her guy is really lovely and trying hard and understands her like no one else. Still, in her vocal and on the video, Stefani has an easy self assurance that belies the lyrics' insecurity. No Doubt have mixed a ska feel into their music for years. Sometimes, the music has been a bit too showy or frenzied. Underneath It All, written with Eurythmics' Dave Stewart, like Hey Baby, was produced by reggae legends Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare. It has a good, understated languor, with horns, subtle clavinet and synths, crisp but laid back drums and Shakespeare's rubbery bass. Jamaican dance hall diva Lady Saw nicely adds to the cool, poised feel.
Underneath Your Clothes - Shakira
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.
Unpretty - TLC
Weeks on Chart: 18 Peak: #26 (Oct. 1999) buy it!
The message of the second single from Fanmail, about not buying into stereotypes of society and dumb guys of what makes a woman pretty, is a good one. TLC, along with the gifted producers they've made it a point to work with, make musically alluring records. Unpretty, produced by Dallas Austin, has an especially nice, light touch.
Until The Day I Die - Story Of The Year
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.
Unwell - Matchbox 20
Weeks on Chart: 33 Peak: #6 (July 2003) buy it!
Unwell is the second single from the More Than You Think You Are CD. It's an improvement over Disease, a lame attempt at a rocker and pale imitation of Smooth, Rob Thomas' Santana collaboration. Unwell has the soothing, easy, well crafted sound that helped make the band big. The chorus is catchy and hard to resist. But generally, Unwell is bland. It's so tastefully innocuous that it barely registers. A banjo in the beginning and end adds a little flavor but Unwell could use a lot more. It doesn't help that Unwell, like Disease, is another tale of how screwed up Thomas is. Especially now that Matchbox 20 is an established, very successful band, Thomas' repeated tales of woe are increasingly tiresome. Unwell is more optimistic than some of them. Thomas thinks "I'm headed for a breakdown and I don't know why" but he also feels like he'll soon get things together.
Up All Night - Unwritten Law
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.