January 28, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 65  

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Norah is predictable,
Britney is toxic

the single guy
by brian wong

Norah Jones: “Sunrise”

Gazette File Photo
DON’T BE FOOLED BY HER SULTRY STARE. Norah Jones continues to produce safe, standard sounds to please mainstream ears with her new single “Sunrise.”

It’s tough to follow up an album that became the soundtrack for goody-goody mainstream America and its Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan-loving, Chicken Soup for the Goddamn Soul-reading, khaki-clad Starbuckians. The earthy “Sunrise” (out Tuesday, Feb. 10 on the equally earthy-sounding Feels Like Home) is everything you’d expect from Jones — hazy vocals, drizzles of piano and light jazz. Then there are gospel-inflected harmonies that are just too thin and clean to be soulful, and the bouncy bass that promises a more swinging track retreads to drippy warmth. “Sunrise?” How predictably pretty and calming. Where is the bitter and cold Norah Jones? Where is “Snowstorm?”

“Look What You’ve Done”

A tender ballad can send hearts aflutter (“The Scientist” by Coldplay, “Brick” by Ben Folds Five) or send that artist into the depths of Hallmark-card sap-dom (“Superman” by Five For Fighting, “Angel” by Sarah McLachlan). The Aussies in Jet initially came off as another garage rock band, but with this soaring softy — a less gritty cousin of The Verve’s “Sonnet” — they leave the dirty garage and move into the sunroom with the grand piano. It’s a Beatles-esque ditty that’s not terribly inventive, but still allows vocalist Cameron Muncey to show off his boy-next-door falsetto.

Matthew Barber:
“We’re Gonna Play”

Toronto’s indie boy-next-door is making a bid for pop-rock stardom this year when his six-song The Story of Your Life EP (out Tuesday, Feb. 17) is released on Warner. He hopes to do what Sam Roberts’ Inhuman Condition EP did for the bearded Montrealer. For this bouncy lead single, Barber breaks out of the acoustic-guitar-romantic label he’s been tagged with and opts for a chugging rocker that exudes the charisma of Hawksley Workman, throwing in some punk-rock “hey!”s and closing with an electrifying guitar solo.

Brand New:
“Sic Transit Gloria...
Glory Fades”

The lead track from the melodic punk-pop-emo-whatever band’s lauded 2003 record Deja Entendu is an arresting account of that threshold into adulthood — sex! But there’s nothing gratuitous or sexy about this song; instead, lyricist and lead vocalist Jesse Lacey writes a compassionately mature song about a night with a more experienced woman, and the dynamics between the numbed verses, layered vocals and anguished cries of “Die young and save yourself!” make the track completely bracing.

Britney Spears: “Toxic”

The Britney Spears that appears on her latest disc In The Zone might be more processed than a Kraft Single, but this single is no slice of cheese, and is easily one of the best tracks of her career. On “Toxic,” buoyant beats clash with screeching strings and a kitschy surf guitar, while Spears coos about her addictive lover all over this mash-up. And even though the wacky instrumentation takes the spotlight from the pop princess’s vocal performance, some might say that’s a good thing.



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