Among 2003's CDs, there's so much music to forget

You won't remember this music next year, or even next month, and won't want to

Pop Music

December 14, 2003|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,Sun Pop Music Critic

I turned it off.

The same five or six songs came on every 15 minutes, rattling my nerves, so I just kept the radio off most of the year. If you have a strong appetite for authentic, exciting music, then mainstream radio will leave you starving. It's been that way for a while now. And it's unfortunate, because quality music is still being made. But generally, on pop radio, it's not played.

The industry has become so consolidated and, as a result, much of the music has become packaged with enough additives to numb you all over. Thanks to shows like American Idol, we get a glittery view of just how formulaic and boring star-making is. Anybody -- a blank-faced, mammoth-sized dude from Alabama, a gawky, somewhat effeminate guy from North Carolina -- can belt karaoke pop-soul, land on the cover of Rolling Stone and sell platinum right out of the gate.

But through the year, bright spots appeared here and there. The Diary of Alicia Keys, which made its debut at No. 1 and sold 618,000 copies in its first week, deserved much of the hype it received. John Mayer's Heavier Things was an artistically solid album that did well commercially, swiftly pushing a million copies. And you can always depend on OutKast to flip the game completely and score platinum several times in the process. Speakerboxxx / The Love Below just proved something we have known for quite some time: The duo is the best thing to happen to hip-hop (or is it hip-pop?).

The good stuff, though, was in the minority. As usual, we were inundated with "whatever" music. Culled from that mix, here's one CD listener's take on the year's worst:

* Clay Aiken, Measure of a Man: There's no denying that Aiken, the runner-up on the second season of American Idol, possesses a booming voice. And although he's nerdy and strange-looking with his new, purposely messy hair and tailored threads, he does have a certain charm. But a pop singer he is not. The expensive production on the album is faceless and Aiken's vocal style -- and this has been said several times before -- is more suited to Broadway. There's not a sign of a pulse anywhere on this record.

* Kelly Clarkson, Thankful: Clarkson was the first winner on the razzle-dazzle American Idol, taking her overcooked vocal cues from such plastic divas as Celine Dion and Mariah Carey. Her wide-eyed, sweet-little-Texan charm won over millions. And when her album dropped in April, it rocketed to the top of the charts. But the record quickly faded once folks had had enough of her fast-food urban-pop. It seemed her career was over before it really started. (And since we haven't heard from her in a minute, maybe it is.) The awkward, nerve-grating single, "Miss Independent," was actually a Christina Aguilera throwaway. Even that clothes-optional tart knew to leave the song alone.

* Rod Stewart, As Time Goes By ... : The Great American Songbook, Vol. 2: Why is it when certain pop stars reach the inevitable commercial desert, they reach for the Gershwin and Cole Porter songbooks? Some were able to replenish that dry spot with a standards album that not only sold by the truckload but hit artistic heights. (Barbra Streisand pulled it off in '85; Natalie Cole did it in '91.) Last year, Stewart, the originator of the purposely messy hairdo, surprisingly struck platinum with a tired, slapped- together standards collection. And he returned with yet another sorry set almost a year to the day the last album came out. At 58, Stewart doesn't seem ready to tackle such geriatric gems as "Our Love is Here to Stay" and "I'm in the Mood for Love." With that soulful rasp of his, he really needs to try something stripped-down, a little funky.

* Monica, After the Storm: This record made its debut at No. 1 in June, fueled by the summer-groove single "So Gone." The sassy Atlanta singer -- whose last album, The Boy is Mine, dropped in '98 -- has a rich, seductive voice. But it was mostly buried on this run-of-the-mill modern R&B concoction. After waiting five years for another Monica joint, I was disappointed with this tepid effort.

* Jagged Edge, Hard: These guys have the potential to be a fine quartet. The harmonies are usually soul-drenched and church-blessed, but the material lacks substance or anything that'll make it stick. The single "Walked Outta Heaven" is the album's lone highlight. The rest falls into that flat, tender-thug formula JE has been working since the late '90s. Pssst, here's a tip, fellas: It's getting kinda stale.

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