New Music

MTV - Handpicked Vol. II

(Capitol Records)

If the title suggests an earful of Christina Aguilera and other current songs playing on high rotation at MTV, fear not. Instead, MTV - Handpicked Vol. II presents a sampling of the best new alternate-pop groups around.

Every group represented on this album is one you should know, not just because they may be enormous in a few years, but because they write genuinely good music. This is reflected in the quality of the song selection on the album—from Coldplay’s fragile Brit-pop ballad “In My Place” to the raw energy of The Next Big Thing in Rock, The Vines’ “Get Free” and The Hives’ “Hate to Say I Told You So.” They battled at this year’s MTV Video Music Awards and already have a huge following in high schools and universities around the globe.

You’ve probably heard by now of John Mayer and Jack Johnson, the acoustic balladeers whose quiet, melancholy songs have taken off in the past year. They’re represented by lesser-known but still enchanting songs. But the highlight of the album is the crooner Norah Jones, with ‘Don’t Know Why’. It’s one of those perfect pop songs—catchy yet with a distinct character of relaxed jazz and perfectly composed.

MTV - Handpicked Vol. II may be full of great songs, but it doesn’t quite hold together as an album. It feels more like a college student’s mix CD, which is fine, but the flow of the tracks could have been tighter. You may well have most of these songs on MP3. But if you haven’t heard of Phantom Planet, Norah Jones, or The Music, or in fact any of the other bands on this album, it’s definitely worth a listen. MTV has ‘handpicked’ some classic songs from bands that know how to write music.

—D. M. S. Raper

Foo Fighters

One By One

(RCA)

Dave Grohl is on a roll: not only has he been drumming with the Queens of the Stone Age and finally released the final Nirvana album, he is fronting one of the most reliable and melodic rock bands known to man. Though album opener and lead single “All My Life” is clearly informed by grunge’s grimy sense of grievance, Grohl’s voice is distinctly smoother than Cobain’s, at least until he looses his trademark, teeth-baring howl. One By One is a rock album far more than a grunge hangover, from the glammy sheen of “Have It All” to the bluesy solo on “Come Back.”

“Halo” could sound like a U2 track, were it not for Grohl’s snide, tossaway lyrics (“Good and bad, I swear I’ve had / Them both, they’re overrated / But isn’t it fun, when you get hold of one”) and his hoarse scream in the chorus. The Foos do cynicism and disenchantment with both more of an ironic sparkle and less pretension than many pretenders to the rock throne.

Grohl, an only partially reformed drummer, uses his guitar at least as much as rhythm instrument as for melody and the result is relentless stream of power-chord headbangers. As the tattered black heart on the cover illustrates, the album is a tribute to disaffected love: “I may be scattered, a little shattered / What does it matter? / Noone has a fit like I do / I’m the only one that fits you.” The lyrics even border on kitsch sometimes, though only because Grohl couldn’t care less. Here the guitar and throaty wail are king and words are just a convenient framing device.

The album will surprise noone except the goldfish-memoried few who persist in expecting rock to lie down in its grave. For the rest, enjoy another dose of bright-shiny anguish and riveting riffs.

—A. R. Iliff

The Mountain Goats

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