Nelly’s ”Hot In Herre” may be the reigning bump-and-grinder of summer radio, but that song title hardly applies to the state of radio itself. Sure, ”Hot in Herre” and Eminem’s ”Without Me,” the two singles battling it out for most spins, attain that sublime combination of playful bounce and irresistible sing-along that defines a beach-season hit. Their sweaty come-ons and bratty rhymes, respectively, balance each other out nicely, too. But for the rest of the songs hogging up the airwaves, the situation is, to paraphrase the Nellman, dull out therre. Maybe it’s the relentless combo of stifling heat and stultifying drought, but we seem to want slow, sludgy melodies to match the oppressive weather, as evidenced by a traipse through a few of the other dominant songs on last week’s Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.
3. Avril Lavigne, ”Complicated”: She’s not kidding about that title. This likable, if flyweight, number, another example of the new corporate female ”rock” (Fiona Apple with ”hard” guitars and all the weird, rough edges filed down), gets off to a perkier start than most of its competition. It’s usually grating to hear attention-seeking celebrities (or up-and-comers) complain about friends and lovers not acting like themselves, as Lavigne does here, but we’ll cut her some slack given she’s still in her teen years. Too bad the song is bogged down by the wordiest chorus in recent memory. The video, in which La-vigne is backed by boys who look like they yearn to be a blink-182 karaoke band, is, like Lavigne herself, the epitome of the blossoming anti-Britney movement. B-
4. Chad Kroeger featuring Josey Scott, ”Hero”: A little something for everyone – a tie-in with Spider-Man for the movie crowd, a lyric vague enough to draw connections to 9/11 for the looking-for-an-anthem crowd, one singer from Nickelback and another from Saliva. But there’s nothing heroic about this dreary groaner. C-
8. Nelly with Kelly Rowland, ”Dilemma”: Mellower and far less grabby than his No. 1 hit ”Hot in Herre,” this rising track from his Nellyville album is a collection of dubious achievements: (1) Like ”Hot in Herre” and several other singles on the charts, it marks the return of the horny male after several summers of simpering guy voices (especially from the Latin-pop contingent); (2) Rowland, keeping herself busy while fellow Destiny’s Child Beyonce Knowles pursues her cinematic career, gets to do little but utter sweet, devotional nothings over and over; and (3) Nelly manages to rhyme ”gangsta” and ”thank ya.” B-
11. The Inc. featuring Ja Rule, Ashanti, Vita, and Charli Baltimore, ”Down 4 U”: Every other song out now seems to have the word featuring in its credits, but this concoction from Irv Gotti’s all-star The Inc. compilation outdoes them all: The four principals drop in and out faster than accountants at a congressional hearing. Still, the lite-FM hip-hop of the track quickly grows monotonous, even with the increasingly overextended Ja Rule providing unintentional humor when he asks his girl not only to help him fight ”the feds” but to take a few of them down if he’s killed. Ah, modern romance. C
12. Mario, ”Just a Friend 2002”: Not sure why the year was tacked onto this youngster’s debut hit, although one reason could be to make its can’t-we-be-more-than-friends sentiment seem fresher than it is. For a 15-year-old, Mario sure can be pushy, as when he asks his babe-to-be to ”stop playing these games with me, and let’s get it on tonight.” If only the homogenized vocal and production were as aggressive as those lyrics. C
15. DJ Sammy and Yanou featuring Do, ”Heaven”: Last week’s ”greatest gainer” in sales on the Billboard chart may be the oddest record of the bunch. Imagine a Eurodisco remake of a Bryan Adams power ballad. Wait – imagine a Eurodisco remake of a Bryan Adams power ballad done with rinky-dink, straight-outta-1992 synth beats and a zoned-out singer who makes the female members of Ace of Base sound like gospel belters. But what’s most irritating about this burgeoning hit is that little computer brriiinggg! that pops up now and then. You’ll keep rushing over to your PC, thinking you’ve received an instant message – which, hard to believe, is even more annoying than actually receiving an instant message. C-