By Gili Malinsky
By Bob Ruggiero
By Hilary Hughes
By Peter Gerstenzang
By David R. Adler
By Devon Maloney
By Brian McManus
By Jessica Hopper
Martina McBride: "Love's the Only House" (RCA) » The best item on her current Emotionis blasphemously entitled "Anything's Better Than Feelin' the Blues," which she pronounces more like "anything's better than feelin' abuse"and she should know, since her best song ever, "Independence Day," was about an abused woman burning down the house. But in "Love's the Only House," Martina tries to be "American Pie" 's girl-who-sings-the-blues anyway, a Nashville babe in upwardly mobile Sheryl Crow drag like Faith Hill or Shelby Lynne lately. She starts out in a supermarket, so you're hoping that guy she's been chasing all year will forget cranberries too, but instead she's pissed about jerks sneaking 25 items into the express lane. Then she runs into a useless old ex on the street, then she crosses the river into the ghetto where kids wake up with guns, then she remembers that even back in the burbs kids grow up "in a culture of darkness." So she buys poor ladies cartons of milk to assuage her liberal guilt, never realizing that the Stones she's learned harmonica from and the Dylan she's learned talking-blues cadences from represented a culture of darkness themselvesand not just because their words could be as hate-filled as Korn's or Jay-Z's. So maybe, accidentally, this is a song about color, too. On the back cover of McBride's album, everything's red for her and herself: her hair, her hitched-up skirt, her mouth, her bra strap.
Sisqó: "Thong Song" (Def Soul) » Speaking of underwear: This r&b smash by a weird white-haired Dru Hill associate is right up there with Third Eye Blind saying your little red panties still pass the test, or at least with "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini." Jacksons/'N Sync-style violin orchestrations at the beginning, goofy spoken intro lying to girls that bathing suits are what boys really talk about, then this strange bumpy vocal rhythm, by way of Timbaland via drum 'n' bass maybe, totally infectious, and mostly I have no idea what Sisqó's saying ("she had dumps like a truck," what?), except when he represents about how her dress was scandalous and "she was livin' la vida loca." Most of the rest might as well be about lisping: "thong th-thong thong thong." I mean, look at the title.
Apollo Four Forty: "Stop the Rock" (550 Music) » Four lads from Liverpool, and like A3 and Eiffel 65, their name starts with a vowel and ends with a number. "Are we a rock band or what?" they ask in the minute-long snippet leading into this song on their album, a challenge on the order of Funkadelic asking why a funk band can't play rock music. Which challenge they live up to: Rockabillish riff, "96 Tears" keyboard fills, ba-ba-ba sung horn lines, frat attitude pushing too hard in a robot-muzik context. "Shake my paranoia," they insist; it runs too deep. They're "dancing like Madonna, into the groovy," except Madonna didn't do "Into the Groovy"Ciccone Youth did. Finally Apollo give a shout out to their fellow Greek deity Aphrodite, tastefully never mentioning that she was born of the foam of Uranus. Still, very mythological. "You can't stop the rock": Like, they're pushing it up a hill.
Static X: "Push It" (Warner Bros.) » At 2:36, possibly the most concise covertly scatological metal gutpunch ever to score on AOR, not to mention one of the most futuristic-sounding: The guitars all feel like synthesizers, if not static. Which is one way out of rock's rut, and the old title from Salt-n-Pepa and the old high-top fade from Kid 'n Play are two more. Ooh, baby baby.