By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
DREAM "He Loves U Not"
Riding David "Don't Disturb This Groove" Frank's blatant drum'n'bass ripples as they dodge cute piano arpeggios and funk-rock guitar raveups, plucking petals from daisies their rival has picked to help her cherry lips and batting eyes steal the Boy, Caucasian chicks financed by Puffy (and photographed by Billboard in New York Dolls and T. Rex T-shirts) make like Destiny's grandchildren. They're not sending anybody to fist city. But the Boy is theirs anyway.
JANET "Doesn't Really Matter"
Janet Jackson was always just a "normal" substitute for people who never understood how Michael's strangeness was intrinsic to his genius; big sis Rebbie's vocals in "Centipede" had way more personality. But this is Janet's best single since (Lemmy from Motörhead's favorite) "Black Cat" in 1990, if not ever. Somehow the melody's subliminal Asianness makes the nothingness of her piddly voice prettyfragile like rice paper. Or like Kyu Sakamoto's "Sukiyaki," the 1963 chart-topper that set the table for Masanori Murakami breaking Major League Baseball's Japan barrier a year later.
SHEDAISY "Lucky 4 You (Tonight I'm Just Me)"
When we last noticed them, they were kissing off a beau by confiscating his Dodgers cap and Buddha statue and TV and leaving behind the VCR. Their new one is Three Faces of Eve country: "Number five just cries a river a minute/Seven wants to tie you up and drown you in it/14 just wants to say so long, bygones/32 wants to do things to you that'll make you blush/10 would key the El Camino that you love so much/And there ain't nobody wants to mess with 23." If the Dixie Chicks are Let It Bleed, SheDaisy are Exile on Main Street, or at least their muffled sound is. So the first time I heard all those numbers on the radio, I assumed they were ages. Schizophrenia is taking them home. And it's gutsy how the personality who ties the guy up isn't even the one doing blush-worthy things.
JO DEE MESSINA "That's the Way"
From an album that may well have received the intelligentsia support it deserves had it been marketed as adult-alternative instead of as Nashville, by a woman who consistently matches the heat if not the eccentricity of her transplanted-Northern-urbanite predecessor K.T. Oslin, more Shelby-style post-Sheryl Crow country, all the way down to the life-as-winding-road metaphors: Bend when the wind blows, roll with the punches (to get to what's real?), you live you learn, you crash and burn. Jo Dee's follow-up single, also about burning, seems to be sung in the voice of the devil, exchanging job opportunities for souls. And on both hits, Tim McGraw's production crashes and burns just enough: In the '70s and '80s, that sneaky little disco-ish keyboard lilt halfway through would've pegged "That's the Way" as pop or rock, not country. But these days, if you're a white woman over 25 with powerful pipes, Nashville's your refuge. Even if you're Italian, and from Boston.
MATCHBOX TWENTY "If You're Gone"
Dudes still have rock stations. And once in a blue moon, might still hitch their forced soul to some horns and miraculously find a way to help pristine powerballad-vulnerability schlock build and chime. "If You're Gone" 's tune and tics borrow from John Waite, Lou Gramm, Kevin Cronin, somebody; it's a huge improvement over the hookless-with-guitar-solo Pearl Jam imitation "Bent," Matchbox Twenty's most forgettable (was it ever actually on the radio?) single ever. I love the conditional of the title: He doesn't know if she's gone? And if she's not gone, maybe it's not time to come home? And who's coming home, anyway? Her? Him? His dog?? He spends the whole song practicing what he should say to her, overanalyzing a cloud from both sides now, then finding five or six more sides. Tells us he thinks too much; no shit. Not so much a breakup song as a maybe-we're-gonna-break-up-soon song. And the more room Rob gets, the less he can move. How smooth.