A freshly scrubbed alternative to last week's grungy Edgefest, KISS-FM's summer throwdown might be the perfect little diversion this weekend if you're looking for moderately shiny pop that floats like a butterfly and then ends. Actually, The Calling does sting a bit: Its Camino Palmero is freeze-dried modern rock without a single hair out of place--freshly scrubbed is good; whitewashed beyond recognition is not so. Plus the singer's name is Alex Band, which is confusing in the same way that a rapper named MC Rapper would be.
Also confusing is how Vanessa Carlton and Michelle Branch occupy two different spots in the universe at once: If you watch their videos and mute the sound (or maybe just turn it down a touch), you'd swear these two teen-age brunettes with weaknesses for overdramatic songs about boys are the same young woman. Not that that's necessarily a reason to not like them: Branch, who plays guitar, stocked her debut, The Spirit Room, with enough gooey prefab guitar pop to make squinting worth it; Carlton, who lugs around a baby grand, stuck with the one-hit-plus-filler formula for her fussy bow, Be Not Nobody, but "A Thousand Miles" is as fresh a breath of air as Sixpence None the Richer's "Kiss Me," even if it was probably tagged as a WB-teen-drama theme song before it was written. If nothing else, head to Smirnoff on Saturday to prove to yourself that two different bank accounts are benefiting from this stuff.
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Or do it to prove to Aaron Carter that someone still cares about him. Really, lots of little sisters probably do, but with his brother Nick's increasingly intriguing profile--the pitiful decline of the Backstreet Boys, arrests in Florida nightclubs, a reported rock album in development--Aaron's looking more and more like the Carter family second banana he's surely always been. And he's entering puberty. Luckily Craig David's already done that, because it'd be a shame to see the vocal agility he displays on his fine debut, Born to Do It, lost to embarrassing squeaks and cracks. Unfortunately, the public outcry over that misfortune probably wouldn't be as deafening as it should be: David hasn't really caught on the way the music biz thought he would last summer, when two-step was looking like something that might happen here, and though "Fill Me In" has made a respectable dent at radio (thus David's appearance Saturday), it's hard to tell how effectively Born to Do It's individuality--sophisticated production, well-written songs, genuinely charming personality--has carried over in a market not known for its penetrating curiosity. He'll be the highlight of this show, but he might not be the most appropriate.