Music Article

The Singles Scene

We rate the best songs of the season, from Shawn Colvin's ''Sunny Came Home'' to OMC's ''How Bizarre''

Grading the singles

As summer begins, radio is more scrambled than a breakfast meal — but that's the good news. The alt-rock takeover of the last few years made many hit-radio stations monotonous at best, racially segregated at worst. The upside of the genre's decline is that Top 40 is more diverse than it's been since the days when Courtney Love still resembled a rock star — as this diary of one day in the life of a New York pop station shows.

9:48 a.m.: After years of near hits and misses, Shawn Colvin — the voice of thirtysomething-and-up divorcees and single women everywhere — has finally scored with ''Sunny Came Home,'' the tale of a woman who, not surprisingly, is ''out there on her own/And she's all right.'' It's not just generational empathy that makes this single click, though. Colvin has finally learned the value of economy. Her lyrics are as enigmatic as those of ''Ode to Billie Joe.'' (What's in that ''box of tools''? Who's on that ''list of names''?) And the chunka-chunka guitars lend her boutique folk long-overdue backbone. But the real news is the mandolin's first Top 40 cameo since R.E.M.'s ''Losing My Religion''! B

10:11 a.m.: Funny — I wasn't aware of a new Kodak jingle. Turns out it's Christian balladeer Bob Carlisle's left-field smash ''Butterfly Kisses.'' Carlisle's white-soul groan could make God cringe, and I'll be damned if the maudlin, watching-daughter-grow lyrics don't make me nostalgic for Harry Chapin's ''Cat's in the Cradle.'' D-

11:05 a.m.: ''Modern rock'' may no longer dominate radio, but everyone still needs a blast of guitars and drums, right? Hence the success of Third Eye Blind's ''Semi-Charmed Life.'' Too bad this less boisterous, lite-beer take on Chili Pepper frat punk feels so dated. B-

12:36 p.m.: Nothing bizarre about hearing OMC's ''How Bizarre'' so often. Take your pick of the numerous hooks: Pauly Fuemana's fast-talking, New Zealand-vampire delivery, that bullfight trumpet, the diva croon, the flamenco guitar. The kicker to this surrealistic on-the-lam reverie is, of course, the climactic line: ''Wanna know the rest?/Hey, buy the rights.'' In the '90s, there's nothing bizarre about that mentality, either. A

12:58 p.m.: What's more irritating about Meredith Brooks' ''Bitch'' — her grating voice (a computer-generated blend of Alanis and Sheryl) or its overly literal Madonna-whore lyrics? She may be a lover, a child, a mother, a sinner, and a saint, but I do not feel ashamed turning the volume down every time. C-

1:50 p.m.: If you think modern relationships are confusing, wait until you spend time with the Spice Girls' ''Say You'll Be There.'' Let's see: She wants to be friends, he wants more, and yet she croons, ''I'm giving you everything/All that joy can bring''? She's as confused as I am. Better to revel in the delectably frothy girl-group melody (or ponder the return of the harmonica, here and in ''How Bizarre''). B+

3:49 p.m.: Trio's 1983 Euro-grunt hit ''Da Da Da'' isn't the only Reagan-era throwback on the airwaves. Savage Garden's mopey paean to lust, ''I Want You,'' re-creates the suffocatingly glossy feel of '80s synth pop — with a few grunge chords and trance-techno bleeps cannily inserted. Harmless, but those lyrics (''But the time of talking, using symbols, using words/Can be likened to a deep sea diver who is swimming with a raincoat'') are as stiff as that ping-pongy drum machine. C+

4:40 p.m.: White Town's borderline-novelty, one-man-band ''Your Woman'' sounds slinkier and more haunted each time. And why is an acknowledged heterosexual man singing ''I could never be your woman''? The confusion only adds to its mystery. A

4:50 p.m.: Pointless remakes and hot-air-balloon ballads are Top 40 perennials, but leave it to new-slack crooners Az Yet to combine both ingredients on their snoozy cover of Chicago's tissue grabber ''Hard to Say I'm Sorry.'' Here's an idea: Let's get Bob Carlisle to join us in prayer that Az Yet won't next remake ''Baby, What a Big Surprise.'' C-

Originally posted May 12, 2008 Published in issue #384 Jun 20, 1997 Order article reprints
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