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Rufus Wainwright

Permanent Midnight

Left Boy

Achtung fertig

2raumwohnung

Vibrate: The Best Of

Rufus Wainwright

Christmas With Nick & Simon

Nick & Simon

Charisma

Rebentisch

Emotional

Madeleine

Relax Your Mind

Sylvester Hillard

LOVE SONG

GUIDO PLANETA

About Life EP

Frank Mertschien

Their Greatest

Bon Boys

Alles, das du liebst

Naíl Freitag

So Far so Good

Phil Wolff

Anatome Verschmelzen

Flare-Up

Kadehte Zula

Bülent Cenkci

The Fairy Tale of Zorro Blakk

Zorro Blakk

A Labor of Love

Sylvester Hillard

¡Libéralo! (Instrumental)

El beso del escorpión

Tides

Miss Mango

FREEDOM - SINGLE2MINGLE MIX

M.

Ok

Master Machine

Top Albums

Greatest Hits

Shania Twain

808s & Heartbreak

Kanye West
Remember when Kanye West threatened to make an album where he would bear his heartbroken soul, align with T-Pain, sing on every song with the then inescapable Auto-Tune effect, and lean on the Roland TR-808 drum machine? It could have been a wreck, a case of an artist working through paralyzing heartache while loose in a toy store. Except West wasn't joking. In various spots across 808s & Heartbreak, the constant flutter of West's processed voice is enlivened by the disarming manner in which despair and dejection are conveyed. Several tracks have almost as much in common with irrefutably bleak post-punk albums as contemporary rap and R&B. For anyone sifting through a broken relationship and self-letdown, this could all be therapeutic.

St. Elsewhere

Gnarls Barkley

FutureSex/LoveSounds

Justin Timberlake

lovestrong.

Christina Perri
Philadelphia-born, Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter Christina Perri found herself bearing the complex weight of a surprise platinum-selling hit in 2010 with the bare-bones break-up ballad “Jar of Hearts.” Her performance of the track on the Fox show "So You Think You Can Dance" landed her a contract with Atlantic Records, and with that, the pressures of eking out a quality, full-length debut in time to capitalize on her overnight success (listeners who picked up the rushed, 2010 Ocean Way Sessions EP will find most of the cuts here in attendance). Luckily, the tracks that make up Lovestrong, are cut from the same cloth as her signature hit. Songs like “Bluebird,” “Arms,” “Sad Song,” and “Black + Blue,” the latter of which feels like an update on events post-“Jar of Hearts,” find Perri in her comfort zone, trading barbs with past lovers over melodies spawned from countless hours listening to Brandi Carlile's “The Story,” Radiohead's “Creep,” and Jewel’s “Who Will Save Your Soul?” It’s a formula she rarely deviates from, and at 15 cuts, the endless soul searching and constant barrage of wine glass-gazing, post-relationship, magnetic poetry can get a bit thin, but her pleasant, even-handed voice and gifts for using familiar melodies in new and surprising ways (witness the countless YouTube mash-ups of "Jar of Hearts" and Beyonce's "Halo") helps to keep Lovestrong from sinking itself, no matter how much its author wishes for the cold comfort of deep waters.

Songs About Jane

Maroon 5
Maroon 5 have certainly come a long way since their days in the indie outfit Kara's Flowers. After the band's demise in 1999, frontman Adam Levine surrounded himself with New York City's urban hip-hop culture and found a new musical calling. Maroon 5 was born and their debut album, Songs About Jane, illustrates an impressive rebirth. It's groovy in spots, offering bluesy funk on "Shiver" and a catchy, soulful disposition on "Harder to Breathe." "Must Get Out" slows things down with its dreamy lyrical story, and Levine is a vocal dead ringer for Men at Work's Colin Hay. Don't wince -- it works brilliantly. Songs About Jane is love-drunk on what makes Maroon 5 tick as a band. They're not as glossy as the Phantom Planet darlings; they've got grit and a sexy strut, personally and musically. It's much too slick to cross over commercially in 2002, but it's good enough for the pop kids to take notice.

MacKenzie Wilson, Rovi

Dangerously In Love

Beyoncé
Beyoncé Knowles was always presented as the star of Destiny's Child -- which probably shouldn't be a big surprise since her father managed the group. So it was a natural step for her to step into the diva spotlight with a solo album in 2003, particularly since it followed on the heels of her co-starring role in Mike Myers' 2002 comedy hit, Austin Powers in Goldmember. Still, a singer takes a risk when going solo, as there's no guarantee that her/his star will still shine as bright when there's nobody to reflect upon. Plus, Survivor often sounded labored, as Knowles struggled to sound real. The Knowles clan -- Beyoncé and her father Mathew, that is (regrettably, Harry Knowles of "Ain't It Cool" is no relation) -- were apparently aware of these two pitfalls since they pull off a nifty trick of making her debut album, Dangerously in Love, appeal to a broad audience while making it sound relatively easy. Sometimes that ease can translate into carelessness (at least with regard to the final stretch of the album), with a prolonged sequence of ballads that get stuck in their own treacle, capped off by the unbearably mawkish closer, "Gift from Virgo," where she wishes her unborn child and her husband to be like her daddy. (Mind you, she's not pregnant or married, she's just planning ahead, although she gets tripped up in her wishes since there's "no one else like my daddy.") Although these are a little formless -- and perhaps would have been more digestible if spread throughout the record -- they are impeccably produced and showcase Knowles' new relaxed and smooth delivery, which is a most welcome development after the overworked Survivor. Knowles doesn't save this voice just for the ballads -- she sounds assured and sexy on the dance numbers, particularly when she has a male counterpart, as on the deliriously catchy "Crazy in Love" with her man Jay-Z or on "Baby Boy" with 2003's dancehall superstar, Sean Paul. These are the moments when Dangerously in Love not only works, but sounds like Knowles has fulfilled her potential and risen to the top of the pack of contemporary R&B divas. It's just too bad that momentum is not sustained throughout the rest of the record. About halfway through, around the astrological ode "Signs" with Missy Elliott, it starts crawling through its ballads and, while listenable, it's not as exciting as the first part of the record. Still, the first half is good enough to make Dangerously in Love one of the best mainstream urban R&B records released in 2003, and makes a strong case that Knowles might be better off fulfilling this destiny instead of reuniting with Destiny.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Graduation

Kanye West

Lungs

Florence & The Machine
Precocious Brit Florence Welch fired a bullet into the head of the U.K. music scene in 2008 with the single "Kiss with a Fist," a punk-infused, perfectly juvenile summer anthem that had critics wiping the names Lily Allen, Amy Winehouse, and Kate Nash from their vocabularies and replacing them with Florence + the Machine. While the comparisons were apt at the time, "Kiss with a Fist" turned out to be a red herring in the wake of the release of Lungs, one of the most musically mature and emotionally mesmerizing albums of 2009. With an arsenal of weaponry that included the daring musicality of Kate Bush, the fearless delivery of Sinéad O'Connor, and the dark, unhinged vulnerability of Fiona Apple, the London native crafted a debut that not only lived up to the machine-gun spray of buzz that heralded her arrival, but easily surpassed it. Like Kate Bush, Welch has little interest (for the most part) in traditional pop structures, and her songs are at their best when they see something sparkle in the woods and veer off of the main trail in pursuit. "Kiss with a Fist," as good as it is, pales in comparison to standout cuts like "Dog Days Are Over," "Hurricane Drunk," "Drumming Song," "Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)," and "Cosmic Love," all of which are anchored to the earth by Welch's knockout voice, a truly impressive and intuitive trio of producers, and a backing band that sounds as intimate with the material as its creator. [Lungs was also released in a Deluxe Edition that included Lungs: The B-Sides, a bonus disc featuring studio tracks like “Swimming,” “Falling,” and “Heavy in Your Arms,” the latter of which appeared on the soundtrack for Twilight Saga: Eclipse, as well as live cuts (“You've Got the Dirtee Love"), demos (“Ghosts”), and remixes (the "Yeasayer Remix" of “Dog Days Are Over").]

James Christopher Monger, Rovi

M!ssundaztood

Pink

Greatest Hits...So Far!!!

Pink

Greatest Hits: My Prerogative

Britney Spears
Greatest Hits: My Prerogative appeared at the tail end of a year where Britney Spears was married twice, canceled a tour, injured her knee, lost the movie role of Daisy Duke to rival teen pop diva Jessica Simpson, was a punch line in Fahrenheit 9/11, and had countless paparazzi shots of her drinking and making out in public. It was enough high-profile shenanigans for a career, and it was par for the course for Britney, who hadn't been out of the pop culture headlines since she released her debut album, ...Baby One More Time, in January 1999. In the nearly six years separating that debut album and the release of Greatest Hits in November 2004, Britney was omnipresent, representing both the entire teen pop phenomenon of the turn of the millennium, plus the teasing, Maxim-fueled sexuality of the time; it's not for nothing that Tom Wolfe name drops Britney Spears, not archrival Christina Aguilera, in his 2004 novel I Am Charlotte Simmons -- Britney alone captured the era, which in turn is captured on this 17-track hits collection. If Bob Dylan had a hard time being a voice of a generation (which he does acknowledge in his autobiography, Chronicles), imagine the weight put upon this simple Louisiana girl who just wanted to be famous and became a cultural icon instead! During those six years, she kept turning out product, selling herself with increasingly racy photographs, all the while being used as an example of everything that's wrong with pop culture, or even worse, as the subject of cultural theses explaining pop culture. No wonder that after six years of mind-boggling fame she wanted to abandon her career for motherhood -- it's exhausting being in the limelight, even for a shameless pop star! So, Greatest Hits arrived at a perfect time -- just as her star was fading, just as the teen pop era grew to a close, and just as she readied herself for retirement.

As a time capsule, Greatest Hits does its job well. It has all of her hits outside of "From the Bottom of My Broken Heart," a largely forgotten ballad from her debut released just before her second album, Oops!...I Did It Again, and it contains two very good previously unreleased tunes, including the In the Zone outtake "I've Just Begun (Having My Fun)," an infectious spin on No Doubt's "Hella Good" that betters most of the songs that were featured on the album (it also has a useless remake of Bobby Brown's "My Prerogative," which seems to exist solely for its video). Clearly, this is the album not just for the casual fan, but for any fan of Spears, because like most teen pop singers, her albums are notoriously spotty affairs, memorable largely for the singles themselves. What is surprising is that those singles -- all presented here in their hit forms, which means this has the "Stop Remix" of "(You Drive Me) Crazy," not the album version -- are somewhat less than the sum of their parts when collected together. The similarities in Max Martin's clanking, insistent writing and production become blindingly evident, and Britney's thin, squeaky voice wears thin over the course of 17 songs. Also, the song selection and sequencing emphasize keeping the perfect beat over chronology, which not only makes it a little harder to listen to as an album, it puts the focus on the individual songs, which seem neither as hooky or catchy as they did when they were initially on the radio. There are exceptions to the rule, of course -- "...Baby One More Time" still retains its punch, "Oops!...I Did It Again" is so silly it's hard to resist, "(You Drive Me) Crazy" is fluffy dance-pop at its best, and "Toxic" is a delirious, intoxicating rush -- but they're all better as individual moments, even if when taken together, they do illustrate the cacophonous monotony of her music and, yes, her time quite well. So, even if it isn't a great listen as a cohesive album, Greatest Hits does perform the valuable function of offering all of Britney's hits in one place, and it does work as a portrait of the time when Britney Spears was the defining figure of American pop culture. But if you compare it to The Immaculate Collection, which captured the time when Madonna was the defining figure of American pop culture and does work as an album, it's clear that a cultural artifact isn't necessarily the same thing as great music. [Greatest Hits was released with a limited-edition bonus remix disc in its initial pressings. All the remixes are previously unreleased, but only two are noteworthy: there's a "Chris Cox Megamix" medley of all her big hits, plus a "Hi-Bias Radio Remix" of "Everytime" that proves that the song is better as a dance tune than a ballad.]

Room For Squares

John Mayer
After making minor waves with his 1999 debut, Inside Wants Out, John Mayer hired veteran producer John Alagía (a longtime associate of the Dave Matthews Band) to lace his first major-label effort with commercial appeal. Released in September 2001, Room for Squares proved to be a savvy, well-timed album, quietly heralding the end of teen pop's glory days with nuanced wordplay, a relaxed gait, and intricate (although nevertheless accessible) songwriting. Songs like "No Such Thing" and "Neon" mixed jazz chords with digestible choruses, fashioning a sort of brainy, college-educated pop hybrid that found a home amongst discerning listeners and mainstream fans alike. Of course, it didn't hurt that Mayer also loaded the album with more straightforward numbers -- particularly "Your Body Is a Wonderland," a bubbling piece of bedroom pop that helped swell his female audience. Mayer's heralded guitar solos and bluesy, Stevie Ray Vaughan-styled flourishes were sorely absent from the mix, though, as he initially limited the bulk of his fretwork to the acoustic guitar. It would take a jam-friendly concert album -- 2003's Any Given Thursday -- to introduce the breadth of Mayer's axeman skills to the public, but Room for Squares still provides a nice introduction to the songwriter's catalog, highlighting his blend of collegiate pop/rock and sensitive acoustics while only hinting at the eclectic, genre-hopping chameleon he would later become.[The French release of Room for Squares comes with a bonus VCD. The video component of the disc contains the electronic press kit for the album which includes interview and performance footage. The audio portion has four bonus tracks: acoustic versions of "Back to You" and "No Such Thing," and live versions of Jimi Hendrix's "The Wind Cries Mary" and Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Lenny."]

In Between Dreams

Jack Johnson
Singer/songwriter Jack Johnson writes songs that just feel good, sticking to an equation that combines his warm, relaxed voice with an acoustic guitar. That cozy formula made him a favorite among American college crowds, so it's no surprise that Johnson sticks with what he does best for his third album, In Between Dreams. Producer Mario Caldato, Jr. is back again, touching up Johnson's summery backdrop for another playful set of songs. The genre-blending charm and sweetness that fueled Brushfire Fairytales and On and On hasn't changed that much, but does it really have to? Johnson, alongside drummer Adam Topol and bassist Merlo Podlewski, makes safe records. While there isn't anything wrong with that, taking a few more risks sonically and lyrically wouldn't work against him. Tender moments such as "If I Could" and "No Other Way" showcase a more reserved side on In Between Dreams. Other highlights include the lullaby-like "Breakdown" and the bossa nova rhythms of "Do You Remember." Whether he's singing about being in love -- which he does quite well on "Better Together" and "Banana Pancakes" -- or reflecting on its hardships, Johnson's laid-back approach is his biggest strength. In Between Dreams is a bit brighter and more upbeat, but his song remains the same.

MacKenzie Wilson, Rovi

Confessions (Special Edition)

Usher
Usher was a star with three number one hits before Confessions, but its critical and commercial success meant the music industry couldn’t dismiss him as a pop creation modeled after Michael Jackson. The album's conceit is a soap opera in which he cheats on his girlfriend and gets the other woman pregnant. He handles this tabloid affair with grace, portraying himself as a likable guy in a sticky situation instead of an unrepentant dog. Wisely, he sets aside this theme after twenty minutes and refocuses on R&B jams like "Bad Girl," a kinetic number built around handclaps, guitar riffs and his delightfully rhythmic falsetto. Usher runs out of good material before Confessions ends, but the best songs, including "Burn" and the teen love duet "My Boo" with Alicia Keys, more than make up for the weaker cuts.

Mosi Reeves, Google Play

Til the Casket Drops

ZZ Ward
ZZ Ward grew up in the small town of Roseberg, Oregon listening to the blues albums in her father's collection and her brother's hip-hop records. By the time she was 12, she was fronting her father's blues band and learning how to control an audience. By 16 she was driving to Eugene to sing with hip-hop acts and soon moved on to L.A. in hopes of making it in the music business. Along the way, she developed a style that's a winning combination of blues, hip-hop, rock, R&B, and pop. Her influences all come together on her debut, a collection that should make her a star if there's any justice in the world. Ward has a wonderfully flexible voice, she can croon like a pop singer, growl like a blues woman, spit attitude like a rocker, and flow like a rapper. There's not a single weak track on her 13-song debut, and several of them sound like hits. Despite its dark title, "Til the Casket Drops" is a profession of undying love that combines a hip-hop verse with a soaring pop chorus. Ward's delivery is marked by the intense passion of jubilant love. "Move Like U Stole It" is a funky rocker with a strong vocal marked by Ward's wordless vocal ornamentations. "Home" is a smoldering R&B ballad with a hint of bossa nova in the rhythm track. "Last Love Song" is a quiet pop tune that mourns the end of a relationship with Ward putting a lifetime of anguish into her understated vocal, and "If I Could Be Her" updates the girl group sound for the 21st century. "Criminal" is Ward's reimagining of the Freddie Gibbs hit "Oil Money." Gibbs liked Ward's version so much that he added a rap to the track to complement her soulful vocal. In case you're wondering, Ward's initials aren't a tribute to ZZ Top or Z.Z. Hill, it's just a shortened version of her given name, Zsuzsanna, also the name of her Mother and Hungarian grandmother.

We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things.

Jason Mraz

Breakaway

Kelly Clarkson
Kelly Clarkson was the first American Idol winner and the first vocalist to achieve success, but her 2003 debut, Thankful, didn't completely define her outside of the parameters of the show. While the dance-pop and adult contemporary ballads on that record were fresher than the music on AmIdol, Clarkson still hadn't escaped the show's shadow entirely: since it was a hit so close to her time on TV, it was easy to pigeonhole her as simply a creation of television, not a popular singer in her own right. So, her second album, Breakaway, released late in 2004, was a pivotal moment for her, a chance to prove that she was not a one-hit wonder, a chance to prove that she could have a real, vibrant career. Happily, Breakaway delivers on that promise. This time around, the dance-pop elements have been almost entirely stripped away, and the record instead is a rock-influenced, MOR pop affair, not entirely dissimilar to Ashlee Simpson's Autobiography, only a little bit smoother and not as heavy on guitars. Since Clarkson is a better singer than Simpson -- not only does she possess more chops, but she has more on-record charisma -- she can sell the material even when the slow tempos in the middle of record drag its momentum; she prevents the songs from sounding too samey. While there may be one too many ballads here, they often are very good and sometimes are excellent, like the light, layered, yearning title tune. Clarkson may be a fine ballad singer, but what gives Breakaway its spine are the driving, anthemic pop tunes like "Since U Been Gone," "Walk Away," and "You Found Me." These are the numbers that sound simultaneously mainstream and youthful, which is a hard trick to pull off, and they are the tracks that illustrate that Kelly Clarkson is a rare thing in the 2000s: a pop singer who's neither hip nor square, just solidly and enjoyably in the mainstream. After a bunch of rather blah mainstream pop albums, including a glut of half-baked AmIdol projects, this is a nice, low-key relief.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Back To Black

Amy Winehouse
The story of Back to Black is one in which celebrity and the potential of commercial success threaten to ruin Amy Winehouse, since the same insouciance and playfulness that made her sound so special when she debuted could easily have been whitewashed right out of existence for this breakout record. (That fact may help to explain why fans were so scared by press allegations that Winehouse had deliberately lost weight in order to present a slimmer appearance.) Although Back to Black does see her deserting jazz and wholly embracing contemporary R&B, all the best parts of her musical character emerge intact, and actually, are all the better for the transformation from jazz vocalist to soul siren. With producer Salaam Remi returning from Frank, plus the welcome addition of Mark Ronson (fresh off successes producing for Christina Aguilera and Robbie Williams), Back to Black has a similar sound to Frank but much more flair and spark to it. Winehouse was inspired by girl group soul of the '60s, and fortunately Ronson and Remi are two of the most facile and organic R&B producers active. (They certainly know how to evoke the era too; Remi's "Tears Dry on Their Own" is a sparkling homage to the Motown chestnut "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," and Ronson summons a host of Brill Building touchstones on his tracks.) As before, Winehouse writes all of the songs from her experiences, most of which involve the occasionally riotous and often bittersweet vagaries of love. Also in similar fashion to Frank, her eye for details and her way of relating them are delightful. She states her case against "Rehab" on the knockout first single with some great lines: "They tried to make me go to rehab I won't go go go, I'd rather be at home with Ray" (Charles, that is). As often as not, though, the songs on Back to Black are universal, songs that "anyone", even Joss Stone, could take to the top of the charts, such as "Love Is a Losing Game" or the title song ("We only said good bye with words, I died a hundred times/You go back to her, and I go back to black").

John Bush, Rovi

Lights

Ellie Goulding
It shouldn't surprise any Ellie Goulding fan to know that as a songwriter, the 23-year-old British songstress has written for the likes of Gabriella Cilmi and Diana Vickers. That's because Goulding's talent doesn't stretch far from other teen Brit-pop artists of 2010, who are more likely to pull back and dig deep on a record than indulge in the froth of Girls Aloud or Sugababes. However, Goulding's first full-length album, Lights, seems to fall somewhere in between the two. It lacks the dramatic crash and bang of Florence + the Machine's Lungs, but is certainly a more restrained, compelling listen than the debut records by Pixie Lott and Little Boots. Goulding's quite the songwriter (she co-wrote every track), and songs like "This Love" and "Under the Sheets" suggest that Goulding's album doesn't fall back on singles like Paloma Faith's album Do You Want the Truth or Something Beautiful? This album is tender, sharp, and most importantly, musically relevant. Goulding is able to take the best parts of all of her contemporaries' styles and create pleasantly surprising records. A casual listener may not adore Goulding's album in its entirety, but many will be able to find something to adore from this magical young talent. [The U.S. release of the album switches up the track list (adding the title track and cutting "Wish I'd Stayed"), changes the cover, and adds a bonus track (her version of Elton John's "Your Song").]

Matthew Chisling, Rovi

Burlesque (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

Various
The soundtrack to Christina Aguilera's silver screen debut Burlesque shines the spotlight on Xtina, who is in full-bore diva mode -- a return to the splashy swing of Back to Basics after the robotic R&B of Bionic. Of course, many of her collaborators from Bionic remain on Burlesque: Tricky Stewart is responsible for the glitzy dance, and Sia Furler co-writes the ballads, their contributions slotted between two Cher songs designed to push the narrative forward, two Etta James covers, a slice of heavy camp in the mincing “But I’m a Good Girl,” and a Nicole Scherzinger co-written interpolation of Marilyn Manson's “The Beautiful People” that provides a bewildering conclusion to this soundtrack. Some of this stuff is quite good, particularly when Christina swings her hips to Etta's lead, bringing to mind the zest of “Ain’t No Other Man.”

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Little Voice

Sara Bareilles
For her first major outing Little Voice, Sara Bareilles puts forth an intimate, emotionally charged album that sounds remarkably polished for a fledgling self-taught songwriter/performer. In fact, her voice even stands up to professionally trained pop divas like Christina Aguilera. Her only potential downfall is that she fits so perfectly in the adult contemporary female pianist mold that comparisons are inevitable -- Bareilles' vocal range is similar to Fiona Apple and she bears a striking physical resemblance to a merged composite of Vanessa Carlton and Michelle Branch. Despite the plethora of comparable looking and sounding artists, she still manages to stand out. The songs are sultry and generally upbeat, and delivered in a soulful manner with polished production and arrangement, but her X factor is in her ability to make it all sound unforced and very, very easy. Unquestionably, she's a natural with a huge voice and personality that shine through with spirited energy here. Perhaps the best and most original track is the ultra-peppy (think "Benny and the Jets") "Love on the Rocks" (not to be confused with the Neil Diamond number). With a warm wah-wah guitar and meandering Motown-esque harmonies, it makes for a perfect summertime love song. Undoubtedly her expertise is writing love songs like this, evident by song titles like "Love Song" and "One Sweet Love," but there are enough uniquely spun takes on the subject to make it interesting. In "Fairytale," children's stories are used as a metaphor for escapism and dealing with depression, and with the moody ballad "Gravity," falling in love is compared to getting caught in an inescapable gravitational pull. In the latter tearjerker of a tune, she shows off her chops with a song-stopping vocal crescendo, further proving that she has a style that's something special, even among all the stiff competition.

Jason Lymangrover, Rovi

The Fame

Lady Gaga
Fueled by heavy dance tracks and popping electronic beats, The Fame, the first album by the glamorous Lady Gaga, is a well-crafted sampling of feisty anti-pop in high quality. Already a famous female DJ in her own right, Lady Gaga (nee Stefani Germanotta) pulls out all the stops on The Fame, injecting hard-hitting synthesizers and crashing slicks and grooves. From its opening track until it closes, The Fame fails to come up short on funky sounds to amuse fans of this dance genre. However, what carries this album to new heights is the combination of voice and the razor sharp lyrics which accompany it. Gaga's sound is no different than that of Gwen Stefani, however her coy delivery of each cooing note gives the album a laid-back slick feeling of ease, which meshes with the dramatic beats that back the album up. In addition, the lyrics which feed the album, especially on the desirous "Paparazzi" or the boastful, vain "Beautiful Dirty Rich," salt and pepper the album with a nasty, club-friendly feeling of fun and feistiness that an excellent, well-produced dance album should have. The lyrics are not any more deliciously entertaining than they are on the title track, which feeds the listener savory lines like "Give me something I wanna be, retro glamour, Hollywood yes we live for the fame." There are a couple of missteps, such as the rock-tinged non-dance piano track "Again Again" (which would be a nice track had it not been sandwiched between such meaty ones). Plus, the The Fame has it's "ballad," however the breezy "Eh, Eh" doesn't hold water on this album; rather, it feels dry and lifeless, something which holds this album back; however, the infectious "Poker Face" and title track which follow it successfully rejuvenate the vibe on the album for its second half. Gaga has stated that the eighth track on each release of the album will be different, however "Money Honey," is a galactic number susceptible to comparisons to the album's lead single, the well-known summer smash hit "Just Dance." That's not necessarily a bad thing, since the lead single is a powerhouse of dance waves and infectiously produced beats, but the album doesn't always stand out as definitive, even though it's consistently fresh and innovative. As the album winds down, the tracks start to slow down, but Gaga's frosty tones and sickly hooks end the album satisfyingly. Ultimately, the beats need to end up repeating themselves in places, but in the long-haul, The Fame is in excellent standing for establishing Lady Gaga with a solid career.

Matthew Chisling, Rovi

As I Am

Alicia Keys
By now established as a major and talented force in the mainstream music world, Alicia Keys has perhaps earned the right to explore a little, to venture into new genres while still keeping a foot firmly planted in the R&B/neo-soul she grew out of. On her third full-length, As I Am, Keys takes a step closer toward the soul revival popularized by John Legend, with full-band arrangements and bright horn hooks, only occasionally falling back into the piano/melisma combination that drove the singles off her first two albums. Instead, here, as evidenced in "No One" -- which sounds all too ready to take on a "reggae dance mix" -- the guitar-driven "I Need You," "Wreckless Love," or "Where Do We Go from Here," which pays tribute to both Stax "and" Motown ("All I can do/Is follow the tracks of my tears," she sings, after a sample of Wendy Rene's "After Laughter [Comes Tears]" crackles through the first few bars), this is music that owes as much to pop as it does R&B, highlighted no less by the fact that the queen of radio rock herself, Linda Perry, co-writes three of the songs with Keys, including the straight-from-the-Stripped-sessions "The Thing About Love" and "Superwoman." It is on the latter, in fact, that Keys, unsurprisingly, turns furthest away from the style that brought her initial success (more so even than on the John Mayer collabo, "Lesson Learned," which is actually not bad) toward the generic-pop world, sliding in between corny and sincere, sometimes even in the same breath. "When I'm breaking down/And I can't be found/...'Cause no one knows/Me underneath these clothes/But I can fly/We can fly," she sings in the bridge, flatly. Keys has never been a brilliant lyricist, but she's always been able to write simple yet affective and honest words that don't seem trite, something that is forgotten here, and makes the track one of the weakest on the album. Fortunately, this doesn't happen too often, and as As I Am weaves its way through the drums and various keyboards and vocal harmonies that make up the backbone of her work here, punctuated by the great, hooky melodies and strings, you get the impression that this is in fact the sign of an artist who's not content to only follow the path that's brought her previous acclaim, an artist who's looking to find more, both about herself and her music, and an artist who carries these developments, these insights, with her. And so even though As I Am is a flawed work -- a little too poppy, a little too clichéd -- it is also indicative of what Keys can and will do, and that she is someone, thanks to her curiosity, intelligence, and natural talent, who will be able to mature and grow for years to come.

Marisa Brown, Rovi

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Beyoncé

Jesus, Take the Wheel

Carrie Underwood

She Will Be Loved

Maroon 5

jar of hearts

Christina Perri

Cupid Shuffle

Cupid

Dog Days Are Over

Florence & The Machine

Good Life

OneRepublic

Crazy

Gnarls Barkley

Skyfall (Full Length)

Adele