Weeks on chart: 5
Style: Slacker-hop electronica buoyed by lively rhythms, shifting aural templates, and engaging if minimalistic melodies.
Objectionable material: Casual cursing ("Hell Yes").
Worldview: "Now hold your hand onto the plow. / Walk your body / till the sun goes down. / What's left of death / is more than fear. / Let dust be dust / and the good Lord near" ("Emergency Exit").
Overall quality: Lyrics that repay careful attention and music that makes paying attention easy.
2. IN BETWEEN DREAMS-Jack Johnson
Weeks on chart: 9
Style: Happy-go-lucky beach-bum slacker-pop.
Worldview: "Where'd all the good people go? / I've been changing channels. I don't see them on the TV shows. / Where'd all the good people go? / We've got heaps and heaps of what we sow" ("Good People").
Overall quality: Melodies, instrumentation, and singing this laid back need lyrics with more bite if they're to seem anything more than blissfully indolent.
3. FRANCES THE MUTE-Mars Volta
Weeks on chart: 9
Style: A chaotic mishmash of everything from free jazz and hardcore punk to psychedelic metal and progressive rock.
Worldview: None to speak of, as the syntactically challenged (and occasionally bilingual) lyrics read like the aftermath of an explosion in a dictionary factory (e.g., "Blackmailed, she fell off every mountain the ones they tightly wrapped in tape her eraser sang the guilty . . .").
Overall quality: A torrential raining of caterwaul and doggerel.
Weeks on chart: 1
Style: Generically melodic hard rock.
Worldview: None to speak of, as the syntactically challenged lyrics, which consist mostly of fragments, clichés, and abstractions directed at significant others, make little or no sense (e.g., "Like a river in Arizona dried up before you were born, it's starting up again").
Overall quality: "Acceptance"? This music is so heavily beholden to the "modern rock" status quo that "Resignation" is more like it.
5. AMERICAN IDIOT-Green Day
Weeks on chart: 32
Style: Catchy if secondhand punk.
Objectionable material: Obscenities (eight songs, including the title cut).
Worldview: "Take away the sensation inside, / bittersweet migraine in my head. / It's like a throbbing toothache of the mind. / I can't take this feeling anymore."
Overall quality: Teen angst and confusion sympathetically (if crudely) expressed.
In the spotlight
Listening to the albums atop the Friday Morning Quarterback's "modern rock" retail chart, one can't help thinking "modern" a misnomer. With the arguable exception of Beck, in whose decade-old rock and hip-hop mixture one can still detect new wrinkles, the rock of the remaining acts sounds suspiciously like that of earlier eras, whether it's the late '60s to early '70s (the Mars Volta's blend of Led Zeppelin and "free jazz"), the early to mid '70s (Jack Johnson's blend of James Taylor and Michael Franks), the mid to late '70s (Green Day's blend of the Sex Pistols and Ramones), or the corporate '80s (Acceptance's blend of numerous nondescript but video-friendly hard-rock combos).
In a sense, rock's 50 years of creative stasis is impressive. It may be more to blame for the industry's increasingly frequent sales slumps than any amount of illicit downloading.