NEW YORK (Billboard) - Stone Temple Pilots' first single since 2003's "All in the Suit That You Wear" feels strangely familiar. All of the recently reunited band's signature elements are still intact, from the thick slabs of Dean DeLeo's distorted guitar riffs -- later punctured by a roaring solo -- to the steady rhythm section and Scott Weiland's snarling vocals. The frontman's tenor bears a surprising, Dylan-esque warble, which perhaps has to do with the "'60s sound" that the band has said describes its upcoming, self-titled album. Even though Weiland's lyrics are abstruse at times ("Really like the fish but don't like superficial people" being the clearest example), he sounds far more convincing here than he ever did as the lead singer of Velvet Revolver. "Between the Lines" might not have the surefire hit potential of STP's older singles, but it's still an excellent welcome-back gift from one of rock's biggest names.
SINGLE: BEAUTY IN THE WORLD (Concord Records)
It's been a decade since Macy Gray burst onto the scene with her hit ballad "I Try," and the time in between can be characterized by a series of disappointing attempts to match that success. But with "Beauty in the World," Gray makes a strong case for her ability to craft another anthemic pop song. Non-threatening folk pop is the vehicle of choice here: Over hand claps, a casual guitar strum and jangly tambourine, Gray sings, "Listen to the sound, and lose it/It's sweet music, and dance with me." While the concept feels a little hokey -- as does rhyming "beauty in the world" with "shake your booty, boys and girls" in the chorus -- it's the kind of song that should appeal to the singer's original fan base.
SINGLE: TIGHTEN UP (Nonesuch Records)
Garage-blues duo the Black Keys tackle their newest single with trademark minimalism, and the result is hard-hitting, retro-rock gold. "Tighten Up" reunites the band with Danger Mouse, who produced its 2008 album "Attack & Release." The song establishes a solid bass drive from the start, backed by a cheery whistled accompaniment. Singer Dan Auerbach's vocals are colored with a Gnarls Barkley-esque quality that's bolstered by the song's melody, a more soulful one than those found on older Keys material. Auerbach's springy skank guitar provides plenty of punch to complement drummer Patrick Carney's direct rhythmic approach, making the track easy to groove to upon first listen. "Tighten up on your reins, you're runnin' wild," he howls, fitting words for a raucous jam that seems set to break loose at any moment.
SINGLE: DRUMMER BOY (Surco/Decca)
Already a star in her home country, Costa Rican newcomer Debi Nova is positioning herself to achieve the same global appeal with "Drummer Boy" that Pitbull did last spring with "I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho)." Melody is the focal point on Nova's mainstream debut single, which suggestively plays off Christmas classic "Little Drummer Boy" and is led by her vivacious persona and sweet-yet-sultry vocals. "Everyone, wherever you're from/Lovers, haters all get along/To the same parrum-pa-pum-pum," she sings over a soca-inspired pop production. The multitalented Nova, who has already collaborated with Ricky Martin, Sergio Mendes and Sean Paul, also plays piano and percussion on the track. Expect "Drummer Boy" to continue shaking things up this season, as it has warm-weather anthem potential written all over it. Nova's "Luna Nueva" album arrives in May on Decca through Academy Award-winning composer Gustavo Santaoalla's Surco label.
SINGLE: NEIGHBORS KNOW MY NAME (Song Book/Atlantic Records)
"Girl, your body's a problem/They call me the problem solver," Trey Songz boasts on "Neighbors Know My Name," the sixth single off his third album, "Ready." Clearly inspired by his stylistic antecedent R. Kelly, he uses his vocal range here, including the teasing falsetto with which he gently instructs his partner to "take this pillow right here/If you bite it, they won't hear." "Neighbors" employs a knocking bass line and drip-drop effect to provide the ideal erotic backdrop for Songz' dirty talk: "I bet the neighbors know my name/The way you screaming, scratching, yelling." Thanks to another solid offering, it's not just the neighbors who know it.