By Bob Ruggiero
By Hilary Hughes
By Peter Gerstenzang
By David R. Adler
By Devon Maloney
By Brian McManus
By Jessica Hopper
By Harley Oliver Brown
Schooling, soul music, the South, or suicide: The choice is yours.
Shelby Lynne "Gotta Get Back"
"Why's this airplane go so slowly?": one of those almost-home-to-the-person-your-lips-are missing songs, like "Radar Love" by Golden Earring or "Six Days on the Road" by Dave Dudley. Drawled soul mannerisms, like she's trying to be Al Green. Starts slow, uneventful, through sour and melancholy chords, then it kicks in: "Butterflies take control of me," like the asthmatic kid in that new Spanish Civil War movie Butterfly? Or like Weezer's Rivers Cuomo obsessed with Madame Butterfly on Pinkerton, back before he went nuts? Who knows, but on the radio it's thrillingreally cooks, in smoke. Shelby rounds off all the vowels: "Gotta get back, I do, I do" . . . a song about returning. Back to where she once belonged, maybe to her "Slow Me Down" video a few years ago: tomboyish strawberry blond haircut, barebacked, driving a motorboat, rolling on the river. Sweet magnolias, rocking chairs, mint juleps. Take her home, country roads.
Nelly "(Hot S**t) Country Grammar"
Is Missouri the South? Up in Michigan, it sure seems like it is, but the nativeseven the snuff-dipping Ozark daredevilsswear it's the Midwest. The state switched sides during the Civil War, right? Nelly's from St. Louis"say it loud, I'm from the Lou and I'm proud." "Country Grammar" 's got the South in its title, and Nelly spurts and charges forward Juvenile-style, ending short staccato lines with semi-repeated syllables, shouting out stops like a night-train conductor, up and down (mostly the middle of) the map: Texas, Indiana, Hot-lanta, Lou-siana, Motor City, Chi-Town, KC, Alabama. Background-echoed voices yell out a dub hoedown call: "Hot shit!" must be some hip new hip-hop lingo, seeing how the most irritating cut on Common's current album revolves around it, too. (Common's bestcut, by the way, is the one on the new Armand Van Helden album where he sounds like Will Smith with a dirty mind.) Anyway, "Country Grammar" has this shoulder-shrugging Gulf Stream rhythm, lots of spare-tire/rubber-hammer bounceability in its riff, dwoot-dwoot-dwoot sound effects, and (above all) a cuteness as primal as "The Name Game" or "The Clapping Song" or "Iko Iko": It's even based on a little girls' playground chant. "Down down, baby, down down the rainbow" [useta be the roller coaster; a regional variation, maybe?]/Street sweeper my baby/Cocked, ready to let it go/Light it up and take a puff/Listen to me blast," but mainly: Shimmy shimmy ko ko bop. Come back to the five and dime, Little Anthony and the Imperials. What with big hits like this one and Eminem's "The Real Slim Shady" and DMX's "Party Up," rap's back riding the Double Dutch Bus again.
Big Tymer$ "Get Your Roll On"
Nelly's got a cut called "Don't Let 'Em C U Sweat" on his (fairly awesome, by the way) album, where the lyrics are almost all brands of deodorant: Smells like Teen Spirit, don't it? "Get Your Roll On" belongs in the same armpit, obviously (especially if radio stations decide to ban"Roll On"). And what with Mannie Fresh's ticky-tacky Crescent City rhythm signatures, alternately gumbo-flatulent and bling-bling ornate, the Southness ain't in question. The vocals mostly come One. Word. At. A. Time, as in (this is about your wife, incidentally, who is Big Tymer$' babymama): "God. Damn. Mother. Fucker./She's-a-Good. Dick. Sucker." Which has nann to do with the other verses, which deal more with carsbig rims, loud pipes, strictly leather. "Leave the sticker in the Bentley to show the price."
Donell Jones "Do What I Gotta Do"
Does more with that "Cash Rules Everything Around Me" slogan than the Wu-Tang Clan ever did. Great wah-wah guitar line, too, produced to somehow sound simultaneously pristine and down-and-dirtyperfect for the first single off a Shaft-remake soundtrack. And the singing is as smoooooth as R. Kelly or Montell Jordan at their smoothest; blows D'Angelo out of the water. Donell's dead set on bringing home his pay to his baby; he's got work to do. Better get used to him coming home a little bit late.
Dynamite Hack "Boyz-N-The Hood"
Dr. Dre's mellow '90s vibe, as fabricated by emaciated college nerds reciting his gang-banging '80s wordsverbatim, except Dynamite Hack are (unlike, say, Bob Dylan in "Hurricane") afraid to say "nigger." Just a lazy hazy day of summer when you pull up in your '64 Impala to where your homeboys chill, get greeted with a 40, and your breath starts stinking. So you hit the Bacardi, slap some nappy-weaved bitch and her dad, then drive off into the sunset. All done totally sweet and wimpy, like Too Much Joy lying their way through LL Cool J's "That's a Lie" or Rivers Cuomo calling himself "the epitome of Public Enemy" in the whitest voice in Connecticut. What's with these homies dissing my girl? Why do they gotta front? Don't quote me boy, I ain't said shit.
Wheatus "Teenage Dirtbag"
Even wimpiersons of Weezer: "Her name is Noel/I had a dream about her/She rings my bell/I've got gym class in half an hour." Obligatory hip-hoppy background scratches. "Her boyfriend is a dick/He brings a gun to school." The Wheatus twerp wants to listen to Iron Maiden with herhey, maybe they'll wind up like the cute kids in "Pantera Fans in Love" on the new Nerf Herder album! And as the powerchords swell, she comes up with two tickets to the show. But she wouldn't sing her lines, so a boy sings her voice instead.
Squatweiler "Call Me"/"Hot for Teacher"
(spinART MP3, www.emusic.com/albums/17557)
Honoring a different kinda schoolboy crush, shiny North Carolina glamsters find the Bow Wow Wow Burundi always at the heart of Van Halen's 1984 celebration of the grown-up girl from Cherry Lawn who David Lee Roth hopes will sharpen his pencil. But before that, Squatweilerwhose own songs front over-the-top '70s hard rock with Stacey Matarrese walking the Egyptian like a snottier Susanna Hoffsmake explicit the Black Sabbath "Children of the Grave" groove always at the heart of Blondie's 1980 Eurodisco chart-topper. If you can explain what makes this a concept single about gigolos, take the day off.
Vitamin C "Graduation (Friends Forever)"
Majestic pomp-and-circumstance opening. Then "We talked all night about the rest of our lives/Where we gonna be when we turn 25," the former frontwoman for minor-league college rockers Eve's Plum smarmily sings to her newfound teenpop constituency, in the exact cadence that Ian Hunter sang "Well he rapped all night about suicide/How he'd kick it in the head when he was 25" in "All the Young Dudes" more than 25 years back. From there you're sucked into some sorta-soft-rapped, upliftingly squeaky-clean sentiment bound to unseat "Forever Young" by Alphaville and/or "We've Only Just Begun" by the Carpenters and/or "End of the Road" by Boyz II Men at commencement ceremonies worldwide. The waltzy classical-music part cutting in halfway through betrays a pinch of "Past, Present, and Future" by the Shangri-Las, appropriately enough: "Will the past be a shadow that will follow us around?" Will we get good jobs and make lotsa money? Her record company sent radio stations an instrumental version "so that you may customize the song with local students from your area discussing their hopes, dreams, and friendships." Not to mention fond memories of gym class, no doubt, and crushes on girls whose boyfriends have guns.
Bobby Gaylor "Suicide"
In which a balding middle-aged former gravedigger raps all night about, well, look at the title. It's spoken more like a commencement address than Vitamin C's record, though not as much as when Baz Luhrmann rapped all night about sunscreen last year. But it's as cornball as either. First he talks about what's goodabout killing yourself: No more acne, homework, bills, Barry Manilow, or crappy Christmas presents. Plus, it'll leave more women and Kettle One vodka for him! Then, as guitar strums pick up, he lists what's bad about it: No more waffles with whipped cream, hallucinogens, Fourth of July fireworks or sex with multiple partners. So it's a message song, get it? Ha ha, he fooled you. What a lame ending.
The Black Halos "Russian Roulette"
From Vancouver glam-punk guttersnipes whose music too often catches them with meat in their mouths, a cover of a forgotten sonic reduction of Johnny Ace's obituary notice, originally done by Dead Boys spinoff Lords of the New Church. How the singer manages to rhyme the word "roulette" with "vital" or "revival" or "rely on" is something of a mystery. But this songits whispered chuckling, its Slash-ish fanfare, its opening melody, its whole copter-ride-through-'Nam feelsounds now like a blueprint for "Civil War" by noted Dead Boys fans Guns N' Roses (hey, they covered "Ain't It Fun"). Francis Ford Coppola figures prominently as well.