This page contains actual opinions, some of them about music, of all things. To wit: midyear best-album lists for hip-hop/R&B and pop-rock. Check 'em out or get a life—your choice.


Where the Fireworks Continue Exploding
Long After the Drugs Wear Off
Look, we know that many of you are expected in the office on Thursday and Friday. (Unlike those of us at HITS, who will be less than halfway into our five-day benders.) But we also know that you’re already coming up with some clever excuses NOT to be in the office on Thursday and Friday. Of course, you can use the "I think I’ve come down with a touch of the flu" for your Independence Day hangover on Thursday. Your car can break down. You could have a "doctor’s appointment" that you absolutely can’t change. You could have to "take your mother/sister/biological father to the airport." You could fake a fireworks-related injury. You could actually suffer a fireworks-related injury. We know you’re all smart people—how else could you work in the music industry? We’re sure you’ll come up with something.

Here are 10 of the hottest R&B/crossover albums of the year so far. I consider this list a collection of the most soul-stirring vocals and infectious beats on the planet; a group of discs that have not left the CD wallet I carry with me at all times—absolute necessities, if you will, for any off-the-hook par-tay, intimate affair or car stereo.

1. India.Arie, Acoustic Soul (Motown): Inspired and inspiring, this stellar, aptly titled debut is a treasure of sexy and alluring tunes. It boasts acoustic (and bass) guitar coupled with beautifully hypnotic vocals, creating a package of expressive and passionate soul music. As Arie’s own strums accent the melodies, her airy but powerful voice resonates. It’s captivating and magnificent. Highlights: "Brown Skin," "I See God in You," "Back to the Middle,"—hell, the whole album.

2. Syleena Johnson, Chapter 1: Love, Pain & Forgiveness (Jive): A grand debut of authentic R&B; not a hint of eclectic neo-soul nor hip-hop under-rhythms. Chapter 1 is packed with moderately tempoed guitar and reed melodies and understated percussion tools, driven by a deep, reverent voice that echoes the style and power of Chaka Khan. The songs waft like smoke at an intimate dinner club – moving, intoxicating, satisfying. Highlights: "Everybody Wants Something," "He’s Gonna Do You In," "I’d Rather Be Wrong," "All of Me."

3. Alicia Keys, Songs in A Minor (J Records): One of the inaugural acts of Clive Davis’ new label, singer (not to mention accomplished pianist) Keys’ promising debut is passionate and soothing in its melodicism. It’s got fundamental soul rhythm but is heavy on the blues side of R&B, which is fantastically perfect for her emotionally yearning vocals. Framed in subtle Gaye-ity, ’70s soul influences and keyboard brushes, Keys makes some ideally simple tracks emotionally rousing. Highlights: "Fallin’" "Troubles" "Rock Wit U."

4. City High, City High (Booga Basement/Interscope): Two guys and a girl out of Wyclef’s camp have created a debut collection of enlightening rhythmic pop. Syncopated rhymes and complementary runs by all three members make for a solid team that’s a rarity among young urban crews. The album’s coated in contemporary hip-hop but dipped in traditional soul and funk instrumentation, making for cool music. Highlights: "What Would You Do?" "Threeway," "You Don’t Know Me," "So Many Things."

5. Craig David, Born to Do It (Wildstar/Atlantic): With great references from across the pond (he’s multi-Platinum in Europe), this international superstar has made a courageous debut. The album’s inventive British dance tendencies, complete with spry drumbeats, contagious loops and vocal echoes, can cure any dancefloor loneliness. Thankfully, it doesn’t have overly contrived thumps. On the contrary, its dance/R&B/pop rhythms are light in comparison, but just as persuasive in getting you to shake your groove thing. It’s a bonus that he’s such a cutie. Highlights: "Fill Me In," "Last Night," "7 Days."

6. Missy Elliott, Miss E…So Addictive (Goldmind/Elektra/EEG): It’s true, you can’t get enough of Missy. The production on her third LP, with help from long-time cohort Timbaland, is on top, as usual. Backbeats, front beats and side beats support her latest innovative electronic instrumentation and complement the superfly flows, not to mention singing, that bounce from count to half-count with a sense of ordered recklessness. Lots of collabs—Redman, Meth, Ginuwine, Eve—which crowd the party enough to hype it just right. Highlights: "Get Ur Freak On," "Lick Shots," "4 My People."

7. Ludacris Back for the First Time (Def Jam South/IDJ): One word: bangin’. Displaying the finer talents of a quick tongue, the rapper showcases fast lyrics and fast tempos on his major-label debut. An excellent melding of southern rap’s 808-style, with the bang of gangsta rap. Though the lyrics are a bit too explicit for my taste, the bass-heavy beats pulsating with a vengeance and drum machines working overtime construct a suh-weet collection of irresistible hip-hop. Definitely something to boom in Alpine-stocked SUVs. Highlights: "Southern Hospitality" (that is my jam), "U Got a Problem."

8. Musiq Soulchild, Aijuswanaseing (Def Soul/IDJ): D’Angelo-esque talk-singing and poetic lyrics casually lay atop catchy hooks, organ accents and inviting bass lines on this debut. You can’t help but nod to the music, and that’s what makes it great—contentment created by breezy tunes. The CD is an amalgamation of the smooth sounds of his Philly hometown and a hip-hop mentality, enveloped into the sub-genre of neo-soul with surprisingly innocent, romantic tones. Highlights: "Just Friends," "Seventeen," "L’ Is Gone."

9. 112, Part III (Bad Boy/Arista): Sweet harmonies, creative sampling, stimulating bass lines and synthesized melodies sprinkle the appropriately titled third LP from this Atlanta quartet. More assembled than previous offerings, this time ’round, all parts—not just frontman Slim—share the spotlight on this collection of bouncy dance R&B, whilde the harmonies are more intricate and solid, closer to Boyz II Men, but, as usual, more street. The ballads are particularly good too. Highlights: "Peaches & Cream," "Dance With Me," "Smile."

10. Janet, All for You (Virgin): Ms. Jackson just keeps taking pop music to another level with her formula of dancey hits complemented by innovate arrangements. Like a day full of mood swings, the CD mixes happy rhythms and aggressive charges. She employs hitmakers Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis and Rockwilder for the layered compositions of strings, electric guitars, house flavor, distorted vocals, keyboards and sound effects that converge into fun songs and emotional songs. While All is not as sexually explorative as her 1997 Velvet Rope, it’s just as explicit in spots, and it contains some eccentric spoken word from Carly Simon as well. Highlights: "You Ain’t Right," "Someone to Call My Lover," "Trust a Try,"

Honorable mentions: Redman, Malpractice (Def Jam/IDJ); Jon B., Pleasures U Like (Edmonds); Destiny’s Child, Survivor Columbia/CRG
—Kenya M. Yarbrough

Here’s a subjective assessment of the first half of 2001 in the song-based idiom sometimes referred to as pop-rock—as opposed to other forms of pop (as in "popular") or rock (as in KROQ). My friends refer to the proponents of this sort of stuff as "Bud bands." In the musical underworld I inhabit, it’s been an exhilarating six months, aesthetically if not commercially (hardly ever commercially).

1. Pete Yorn, musicforthemorningafter (Columbia): With its offbeat juxtapositions of classic songcraft and aural adventurousness, the striking debut from this one-man-band is a record you just want to keep playing, because it continues to surprise while deepening in seductiveness. At the very least, Yorn’s record is the year’s best debut, and it just may be the early-'00s equivalent of Matthew Sweet's early-'90s classic, Girlfriend. Highlights: "Strange Condition," "For Nancy," "Just Another."

2. Lucinda Williams, Essence (Lost Highway): In contrast to the panoramic Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, the aptly titled Essence observes human intimacies in spare language set off by melodies of lovely simplicity. Uncharacteristically relaxed, Lucinda coolly references Lou Reed, the Doors and Roxy Music, stepping back to give her masterful band all the time it needs to smoke some super-tasty grooves. Highlights: "Out of Touch," "Essence," "Blue."

3. Travis, The Invisible Band (Independiente/Epic): On the engaging follow-up to the acclaimed "The Man Who," resident auteur Fran Healy wraps his life-affirming lyrics in graceful, gleaming melodies, so that there’s heart in every hook—and the hooks just keep on coming. A contender for the year’s most tuneful album. Highlights: "Sing," "Side," "The Cage."

4. Neil Finn, One Nil (Parlophone import): The second solo album from the ex-Crowded House leader echoes his old band’s best work in its agitated romanticism and revved-up musicality. The all-star studio band that has gathered around this long-inspiring artist concocts a sleek assemblage of grooves, riffs and vamps that serves to expand the notion of pure pop into the new century while still adhering to its hallowed roots. Highlights: "Rest of the Day Off," "Secret God," "Hole in the Ice."

5. R.E.M., Reveal (Warner Bros.): Rather than descending into self-parody, as they’d threatened to do on the deeply unsatisfying Up, the venerable band has reinvigorated itself with a record as summery as the Beach Boys, Reveal’s most apparent inspiration. It’s lush, languorous and purdy as all get out—my fave R.E.M. LP since ’91’s Out of Time. Highlights: "Summer Turns to High," "Beat the Drum," "I’ve Been High," "I’ll Take the Rain."

6. Weezer, Weezer (Geffen): This disc, whose 10 tracks clock in at a streamlined 28 minutes, is a remarkable marriage of concision and completeness. On his best songs, Rivers Cuomo pits fashionable irony against quaint sentiment without seeming to take sides—not an easy polarity to pull off. Highlights: "Hash Pipe," "Island in the Sun," "Glorious Day."

7. Minibar, Road Movies (Universal): Listening to this quintessentially SoCal debut, it’s obvious why these young Brits made the move to L.A. Minibar’s full-throated harmonies, acoustic-electric guitar interplay, pedal steel accents and desert/highway imagery eagerly reference the Byrds, Burritos and Eagles. Writer/singer Simon Petty has the easy charm of Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy—in a perfect world the kid’s a star. Highlights: "Lost In The Details," "Cool Water," "Road Movies."

8. Pernice Brothers, The World Won’t End (Ashmont): Wearing his orchestral-pop hat again, the prolific Joe Pernice employs a four-piece string section to deepen the nostalgia quotient of such grandly bittersweet beauties as "Our Time Has Passed" and "Bryte Side." The album’s teeming with lump-in-the-throat passages that evoke the unabashedly romantic pop of the mid-century—"A Summer Place," anyone?

9. Old 97’s, Satellite Rides (Elektra): In a series of taut, unfettered rock & roll songs that recall the Replacements in their prime, Rhett Miller and his mates draw emotional complexity from the simplicity of conversational language and familiar chord changes as they ponder life’s choices: a quick thrill versus enduring romance ("Designs on You"), self-belief versus self-loathing ("King of All the World"), being in the moment versus running out of time ("Am I Too Late").

10. Various artists, The Sopranos: Peppers & Eggs (Columbia/Sony Music Soundtrax): The second batch of songs from the groundbreaking series is a double portion of al dente eclecticism—24 tracks spread over two CDs, starting with that insanely clever mix of the Police’s "Every Breath You Take" and Henry Mancini’s "Theme From Peter Gunn," and concluding with a montage of pithy dialogue bits. Other delights: "The Captain," a dusky ballad by Aussie newcomer Kasey Chambers, and the minor-key breakup melodrama "Black Books" by the undervalued veteran Nils Lofgren.

Honorable mention: Whiskeytown, Pneumonia (Lost Highway); Chris Whitley: Rocket House (ATO/BMG); Duncan Sheik, Phantom Moon (Nonesuch), Radiohead, Amnesia (Capitol) —Bud Scoppa

David McCullough, John Adams (Simon & Schuster):
Author of the fascinating, best-selling bio of Harry Truman, David McCullough manages to bring those dusty high school history books to life with his story of the American Revolution as seen through the eyes of our second President, the underrated John Adams. With his characteristic exhaustive research and impressive scholarship, McCullough narrates the establishment of our government as a pact created through an understanding of the people and the ways they lived in the late 18th century in a new land about to define itself for history. Along the way, we meet and get to know such luminaries as Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin and other statesmen of the time. McCullough gives us the actual correspondence between Adams and Jefferson, his wife Abigail and his son and future President John Quincy Adams. Long thought of as the wealthy aristocrat to Jefferson’s supporter of the common man, Adams’ role in defining an American purpose and a government that has its sights on ideals above and beyond the vox populi comes through with lucidity and conviction. The book portrays Virginia native Jefferson as a poor manager of his own finances and even somewhat of a hypocrite when it came to his views of "the people." Meanwhile, Adams, the New England Puritan, was economically savvy and consumed with America’s legacy, rather than the convenient present. Another fascinating detail is the amount of time it took people to communicate with one another, compared to today’s instantaneous e-mail and cell phones. When Adams went to France with Jefferson to drum up support for the American Revolution, it sometimes took them up to six months to hear from their families and the government, which in itself changed the course of history.
Lenny Beer

George Washington, our first president, was born Feb. 22, 1732, in Westmoreland County, VA. On April 30, 1789, Washington took his oath of office while standing on the balcony of Federal Hall on Wall Street in New York. By the end of Washington’s first term he became disappointed with politics, sensing the development of two parties. Wearied of politics, he retired at the end of his second term. In his farewell address, he urged his countrymen to forswear excessive party spirit and geographical distinctions. In foreign affairs, he warned against long-term alliances. Washington enjoyed less than three years of retirement at Mount Vernon, dying of a throat infection Dec. 14, 1799. For months the nation mourned him. "His integrity," wrote Thomas Jefferson, "was the most pure, his justice the most inflexible I have ever known. He was, indeed, in every sense of the word, a wise, a good, and a great man." Best Anagram Of His Name: Tow a greenish gong.

American Music:
With this holiday’s tradition of celebrating everything that is great about America, checking out an all-American band should be our patriotic duty. And few performances are likely to be as distinctly American as Maroon’s show at the Viper Room this Saturday (7/7). Fresh from an opening performance for Evan & Jaron, Octone Records Maroon permeates with an eclectic mix of funk, rock, and soul influences that are distinctly American—from Stevie Wonder and Steely Dan to the “Born in the U.S.A.” rocker himself, Bruce Springsteen—creating seamless, pop-savvy rhythms and bluesy guitars that ignite like fireworks. The band is especially powerful when singer Adam Levine croons on the sensual “Woman” and the film noir flavor of “Secret,” while the uptempo optimism of “Sunday Morning” evokes the delight of a warm summer afternoon. —Yennie Cheung

Scary Movie 2 (Dimension/Miramax):
Like Airplane!, the Wayans family's Scary Movie was that rare film parody that achieved what other film parodies can only dream of—a $140-some-odd million box-office gross, with an emphasis, of course, on the gross. The trouble with the Airplane! series was that each successive sequel went downhill faster than you can say Police Academy 6, but hey, strike while the iron is hot, I say. You wouldn't think there was another dick, tits or ass joke the Wayans haven't already covered, but I'm willing to give 'em the benefit of the doubt. This time around, the cameos include James Woods, Natasha Lyonne, Andy Richter, Tori Spelling, Chris Elliott, Tim Curry and Howard Stern sidekick Beetlejuice, but not the much-publicized appearance of Marlon Brando, who had to leave before his two days of filming at $2 million were up because of an illness. Apparently, Woods was brought in to play the Max Van Sydow part in an Exorcist spoof originally intended for the big guy. Other satirical targets include The Mummy, Charlie's Angels, The Haunting, Cast Away, Hollow Man and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Perhaps because of Congress' admonition to the studios to not market R-rated films like this one to kids, there's no real official website nor any apparent attempt to release a soundtrack album either.

Cats & Dogs (Warner Bros.): The trailers for this live-action spoof promise a glimpse into the hidden war between our beloved pets, this time with the cats in the lead role. A power-crazed Persian by the name of Mr. Tinkles (looking very much like Dr. Evil's kitten by way of James Bond villain Ernst Blofield's pussy) mobilizes his troops against man's supposed best friend after scientists develop a vaccine that would destroy human allergies to dogs. Jeff Goldblum and Elizabeth Perkins, the two-legged participants, are oblivious to the battle going on right under their noses, as the crack canine corps is forced to turn to a rookie Beagle puppy agent named Lou (Tobey Macguire) to save the human race. The film was originally intended as a fully animated feature, but director Lawrence Guterman (a USC film school grad who previously worked on Antz) eventually became enamored of the possibility of using a combination of living, breathing animals and state-of-the-art CGI and visual effects. The animals are voiced by the likes of Jon Lovitz, Susan Sarandon, Alec Baldwin, Michael Clarke Duncan (Green Mile) and Charlton Heston. The rather high-tech, futuristic website can be found at

Kiss of the Dragon (20th Century Fox): This movie will be a good measure of whether international martial arts superstar Jet Li (Romeo Must Die) can translate his worldwide success to the American box office. Li plays China's top government agent, who travels from Shanghai to Paris on a mission to assist a brutal French police official. Naturally, the mission goes horribly wrong, with Jet falling into a deadly trap and becoming embroiled in a vast conspiracy, where he's thrown together with Bridget Fonda—playing the Mira Sovrino role from Replacement Killers—as an American woman forced into prostitution by the corrupt cop. It's really the only chop-sockey action film out at the moment, so maybe that's worth something. The movie was directed by newcomer Chris Nahon, and produced and co-written by Luc Besson (The Professional , The Fifith Element) and Robert Mark Kamen (Lethal Weapon, Karate Kid). The soundtrack is on Happy Walters' Immortal label through Virgin, and features rapper Mystikal, hip-hop collective N*E*R*D, a Slum Village remix of Daft Punk's "Aerodynamic" and a new song by Craig Armstrong. The soundtrack for Li's previous U.S. film, Romeo Must Die, featured the smash single, "Try Again," from co-star Aaliyah, and went Platinum. Check out the rather kinetic website. —Roy Trakin

"The vice presidency is not worth a bucket of warm spit." —John Adams

Kirsty MacColl, Tropical Brainstorm (Instinct/V2):
This wise and gifted songstress may no longer be with us—an accident last year took her life—but her voluminous spirit shines through in this charming set. Heavily influenced by her travels in Cuba, MacColl fashioned an intoxicating mix of her own peerless pop instincts and irresistible Latin dance grooves. You may have caught the deliciously deadpan "In These Shoes?" on an episode of Sex and the City, and that track is an ideal selection for your next dance mix. Meanwhile, "Mambo de la Luna" (with its joyful Spanish 101 lyrics), the edgy "Treachery," the breezy "Nao Esperando" and the celebratory "Alegra" take MacColl’s compassionate yet practical sensibility into sun-dappled, rhythmically inspired new territory. And it’s the image of this Englishwoman who really knew how to live dancing on a tropical shore that her fans will hang onto.
—Simon Glickman

NBA Street:
Ballers, take note: If you haven't proved yourself on these streets, you ain't worth your smack. The magic men at EA Sports have taken roundball to tha streets for a 3-on-3 game that takes on all comers. NBA Street iz tha new style in arcade sports gone big from tha game-runners that put up SSX and NBA Live. And wouldn't you know it, NBA Street takes tha best of both of those two big scores for an all-new rim-rocker. From tha LIVE neighborhood cumz real b-ball action with tha big boy superstars of tha NBA & true ball playing skills on tha court; from tha SSX side of tha street iz a full-on trick system for all tha players to school their competition. Dribbling tricks & sneaky fingerwork not only makes fools of your guard, but also builds up tha Momentum Meter for fired-up unstoppable moves. How's that for "Ooooh..."? As for tha action on tha blacktop, it'z hot and furious. Beyond the b-ballers from tha league, there are also six legends to challenge on their own home courts, including legendary #23, Michael Jordan. There's also a showcase of graphics and effects done like only the PlayStation 2 computer entertainment system can do it, with huge players and in-your-face close-ups of all the slams and jams. And on tha mix track iz dynamic hip-hop muzic that changes depending on whether you're playing D or flying down the court on a fast break. Stakes iz high—so don't come around this Street unless you're planning on bringing it. —Latin Prince

The Latest In Underwear Technology: A Swedish inventor hopes to offer pain relief for menstruating women with special patented underpants containing soothing heated inserts. The hot pants won a local innovation prize in southern Sweden on Monday (7/2), making the invention a candidate for a 400,000 Swedish crown ($37,000) national scholarship. The garments use chemical pads that generate their own heat and stay warm for up to an hour before they need to be replaced. This warmth provides pain relief as an alternative to painkillers, said inventor Per Wallin, who is looking for an investor to manufacture the underpants on a large scale. —Jeff Drake

It’s the Website of the Summer!!! David Manning is dead; long live David Manning. Sony created him and then found, much like Dr. Frankenstein, that the monster, once unleashed, could not be controlled. While the faux reviews of Mr. Manning have unleashed a legal shit-storm in the general vicinity of Culver City, the real reviews of a faux David Manning have popped up on the Internet at "Thanks to this unwanted noteriety," Manning writes on the splash page, misspelling "notoriety" and, later, many more words. "I'm taking advantage of the proverbial 15 minutes afforded me to give the ‘world wide webites’ a chance to read some ‘reel’ (natch) reviews that were actually written by yours truly!" On his inaugural reviews, pseudo-Manning tackles Moulin Rouge and Swordfish, plus "drive-by" reviews of The Mummy Returns and Pearl Harbor. Despite prodigious grammatical errors, the site offers plenty of chuckles. Consider this, from the Moulin Rouge review: "Surely you've seen it. It's the clip where even the spunky and genuinely enthusiastic nature of one Christine Aguilera (w/Lil' Kim, Pink and Mya) all but disappears behind a seemingly endless glob of makeup/war paint that even an allegedly less discerning John Wayne Gacy would refuse." Now, there’s a David Manning we can all agree with! —Jeff Drake

Upcoming Birthdays
July 3-12

3—Franz Kafka (would have been 108)
4—Rube Goldberg (would have been 108)
5—P.T. Barnum (would have been 191)
6—Sebastian Cabot (would have been 83)
7—Satchel Paige (would have been 95) & Robert A. Heinlein (would have been 94)
8—Louis Jordan (would have been 93)
9—Tom Hanks (45)
10—Fred Gwynne (would have been 75)
11—E.B. White (would have been 102)
12—Pablo Neruda (would have been 97) & Curley Joe De Rita (would have been 102)

Special Events
4—Independence Day
5—Partial Lunar Eclipse, Hawaii
6—Yoodonal (Shampoo Day), Korea
8—Fast of Tammuz

A charming 70-year-old proposes to a delighted Mrs. Garrett, but the girls protest he's much too old for her.

VRRMMMM (5/17a)
Celebrity death match underway on album chart (5/17a)
Another talented journalist trapped in the career cul de sac (5/17a)
Cornering the market on surefire headliners (5/17a)
A genre mash-up at the home of the Cowboys (5/17a)
Gosh, we hope there are more press releases.
Unless the Senate manages to make this whole thing go away, that is.
No, not that one.
Now 100% unlicensed!

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