New Releases

Happy Ending

Glenn Tilbrook

The Best Of Nickelback (Volume 1)

Nickelback

¡Libéralo! (Instrumental)

El beso del escorpión

Five

overtone

Touché

Les Estuches

The Best Of Keane

Keane

The Studio Album Collection

Shinedown

Poslouchej

Škwor

Euphoria

Reed!

V.E.G.A.S.

The Longbox

You Can't Grow Out of Who You Are

The Longbox

Family Flag

Big Big Love

The Grind

The Red Experiment

Keep Looking Up

Reckless For Love

Tender Men

Big Big Love

Little Disasters

The Longbox

Top Albums

Overexposed

Maroon 5
For Adam Levine, love and sex are wars, and he's a soldier who can't help but be wounded and tortured by all the gorgeous women he engages in battle. "Baby, there you go again making me love you," his falsetto chirps on Overexposed's opener "One More Night." Several songs later, on "Lucky Strike," the lady has Levine "so high—and then she dropped me." Even on the deceptively titled "Ladykiller," the singer warns, "She's in it just to win it/ Don't trust her for a minute." Musically speaking, Maroon 5 continue to bury their neo-U2 alt-rock roots in urban glitz and bounce—Hall & Oates meets Justin Timberlake, in other words. Then again, the soaring romance that is "Daylight" proves they're just as comfortable softening their sound for a modern adult-contemporary scene that was weaned on arena rock. – Justin Farrar, Google Play

-- Justin Farrar, Google Play

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

Toxicity

System Of A Down
System of a Down's 1998 debut was initially overlooked by the mainstream hard rock audience, as well as the specialized press. But heavy metal cognoscenti in both camps quickly realized that in their hands was a potentially crucial stepping stone for the future development of heavy metal. Sure enough, so challenging and groundbreaking were its contents that the album soared over most everyone's unsuspecting heads, its eventual gold sales status only achieved via Columbia Records' massive promotional muscle and nearly three years of intensive touring on the band's part. Consequently, early believers were pleasantly surprised when 2001's long awaited follow-up, Toxicity met with instant popular acceptance, skyrocketing up the charts toward multi-platinum success. Yet, for the most part, it also managed to retained SOAD's unorthodox signature sound: so-called "nu-metal" uniquely infused with remarkable originality, including angular riffs, jagged rhythms, and oblique lyrics splattered all over the place. Like its predecessor, Toxicity seems utterly chaotic upon first listen, but things quickly begin falling into place, thanks to a number of small refinements, not least of which is a more generous melody, obviously pre-meditated, but rarely overdone. In turn, this immediacy greatly improved the album's chances at radio -- case in point, first single "Chop Suey!," a track so potent not even September 11, nor mainstream radio's ensuing self-imposed, politically correct attempt at self-censorship, could tear from the airwaves (despite its none-too-discreet lyrics about suicide), the song's surprising success was reminiscent of another left-field hit from a decade earlier, Faith No More's "Epic" (hear its piano-led outro for proof). And sure enough, from the unexpected false starts of "Prison Song" to the relatively mellow conclusion, the band's heightened commercial sensibility continues to joust with their inherently quirky songwriting. The excellent title track, "Forest," and "Science" are among the most accessible standouts from an incredibly diverse set, the likes of which SOAD's inferior nu-metal peers could only hope to emulate. Lyrically, it's simply no contest. Whether tackling typical rock subject matter like drug abuse ("Needles") and groupies ("Psycho"), or embarking on inscrutable Dadaist gems like "Jet Pilot" and "Shimmy," co-songwriters Daron Malakian and Serj Tankain sound like are the bastard children of Frank Zappa and Slayer. And while sub-Rage Against the Machine political invective (unfairly attributed to their Armenian heritage) remains an integral part of the band's creative makeup (e.g. "Deer Dance," "Atwa"), Toxicity's approach is much more cautious in this regard than that of their incendiary debut. In conclusion, when a band takes this many left turns, you'd expect them to start going in circles sooner rather than later, but this is not the case with System of a Down. Hands down one of 2001's top metal releases, Toxicity may well prove to be a lasting heavy metal classic to boot.

Eduardo Rivadavia, Rovi

Fallen

Evanescence
Fallen is the major-label debut of Evanescence, a Little Rock, AR-based quartet led by the soaring vocals of 20-year-old Amy Lee. Emboldened by the inclusion of its single "Bring Me to Life" on the soundtrack to the hit film Daredevil, Fallen debuted at an impressive number seven on Billboard's Top 40. But "Bring Me to Life" is a bit misleading. A flawless slice of Linkin Park-style anguish pop, it's actually a duet between Lee and 12 Stones' Paul McCoy. In fact, almost half of Fallen's 11 songs are piano-driven ballads that suggest Tori Amos if she wore too much mascara and recorded for the Projekt label. The other half of the album does include flashes of the single's PG-rated nu-metal ("Everybody's Fool," "Going Under"). But it's the symphonic goth rock of groups like Type O Negative that influences most of Fallen. Ethereal synths float above Ben Moody's crunching guitar in "Haunted," while "Whisper" even features apocalyptic strings and a scary chorus of Latin voices right out of Carmina Burana. "Tourniquet" is an anguished, urgent rocker driven by chugging guitars and spiraling synths, with brooding lyrics that reference Evanescence's Christian values: "Am I too lost to be saved?/Am I too lost?/My God! My tourniquet/Return to me salvation." The song is Fallen's emotional center point and defines the band's sound.

One-X

Three Days Grace
Three Days Grace continue their accessible alt-metal attack of blunt lyrics and crunching rhythms with their sophomore effort, One-X. Thematically based around dealing with the disconnect felt while Three Days Grace were on the road in support of their 2003 album, the music remains catchy despite its lyrical darkness. Not surprisingly, the songs mostly revolve around feelings of isolation, tumultuous relationships, and anguished loneliness -- but through all their misery and confusion, Three Days Grace ultimately embrace the difficulties as merely a part of being human ("I'd rather feel pain than nothing at all" from "Pain"). The band's simple and direct approach owns a certain charm that makes One-X an enjoyable listen, albeit hardly innovative. The bandmembers still have no desire to mask sentiments behind perverse metaphors; just as their 2003 smash single "I Hate Everything About You" addressed a problematic relationship in powerfully straight terms, so do tracks on One-X. For instance -- and just so there's no room for confusion -- "Let It Die" frankly states "I swear I never meant to let it die/I just don't care about you anymore." And the forthright "Riot" ("Let's start a riot!") is one of a few riled-up outsider anthems on hand. But, there are also a number of tracks present that find Three Days Grace adding a few interesting twists to their hard-hitting formula that not only show a gentler side to the guys, but also work out rather nicely. Calming things down a bit, fluid instrumentation and vocalist Adam Gontier's steady delivery make the ominous "Get Out Alive" one of their strongest (though softer) songs, while "Over and Over" employs impassioned strings for an exploration of, yes, dysfunctional relationships. "Pain" finds the band channeling its inner Soundgarden and "Animal I Have Become" has a slight singsongy chorus to complement the track's thick riffing. There is no reason that fans of the band shouldn't embrace this album as the satisfying listen that it is. Some further distinctive qualities could be useful in helping separate Three Days Grace more from their alt-metal peers, but One-X certainly plays as a proficient step in the right direction.

Corey Apar, Rovi

Greatest Hits

Foo Fighters
Almost 15 years on from their debut, Foo Fighters deliver their first Greatest Hits, a 15-track (16 if the double dip on "Everlong" counts) retrospective covering their six albums from 1995 to 2007. Greatest Hits isn't arranged chronologically, which isn't a detriment; if anything, skipping through the years emphasizes just how consistent the Foos have been, always delivering oversized rock & roll where the hooks are as big as the guitars. The only exceptions to the rule are the two lo-fi cuts "Big Me" and "This Is a Call," with "I'll Stick Around" qualifying as this comp's inexplicable omission ("Walking After You," "DOA," "Stacked Actors," and "No Way Back" all also didn't make the cut), plucked from their 1995 debut, where the band was only Dave Grohl recording at home. Apart from this pair of tunes, this is all muscular, melodic modern rock, the kind that Foo Fighters almost patented, and if their consistency has occasionally made their albums blend together, it does result in one strong hits collection.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Battle Born

The Killers
The Killers' 2004's debut Hot Fuss and 2006 follow-up Sam's Town—their best and most career-defining works—came with a sound clearly dated to the 1980s, mining foppish new wave on the former record and letting in Springsteen-ian Americana on the latter. Fourth album Battle Born suggests that in the four years since their last release, that clock hasn't advanced a minute. Their songs still swell with grand arena rock ambition, riding glassy synth leads into crescendos of guitar, and Brandon Flowers' lyrics still go for broad, broken-hearted melodrama, their occasional clunkiness carried by his clear and capable singing voice. The most successful tracks here might be hidden in the album's final half, as with the appropriately looming yet elevating "The Rising Tide" or the muted "Sweet Jane"-ish guitar strums of "Heart of a Girl."

Eric Grandy, Google Play

El Camino

The Black Keys
Picking up on the ‘60s soul undercurrent of Brothers, the Black Keys smartly capitalize on their 2010 breakthrough by plunging headfirst into retro-soul on El Camino. Savvy operators that they are, the Black Keys don’t opt for authenticity à la Sharon Jones or Eli “Paperboy” Reed: they bring Danger Mouse back into the fold, the producer adding texture and glitter to the duo’s clean, lean songwriting. Apart from “Little Black Submarines,” an acoustic number that crashes into Zeppelin heaviosity as it reaches its coda, every one of the 11 songs here clocks in under four minutes, adding up to a lean 38-minute rock & roll rush, an album that’s the polar opposite of the Black Keys’ previous collaboration with Danger Mouse, the hazy 2008 platter Attack & Release. That purposely drifted into detours, whereas El Camino never takes its eye off the main road: it barrels down the highway, a modern motor in its vintage body. Danger Mouse adds glam flair that doesn’t distract from the songs, all so sturdily built they easily accommodate the shellacked layers of cheap organs, fuzz guitars, talk boxes, backing girls, tambourines, foot stomps, and handclaps. Each element harks back to something from the past -- there are Motown beats and glam rock guitars -- but everything is fractured through a modern prism: the rhythms have swing, but they’re tight enough to illustrate the duo’s allegiance to hip-hop; the gleaming surfaces are postmodern collages, hinting at collective aural memories. All this blurring of eras is in the service of having a hell of a good time. More than any other Black Keys album, El Camino is an outright party, playing like a collection of 11 lost 45 singles, each one having a bigger beat or dirtier hook than the previous side. What’s being said doesn’t matter as much as how it’s said: El Camino is all trash and flash and it’s highly addictive.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Greatest Hits

Red Hot Chili Peppers
The Red Hot Chili Peppers' Greatest Hits is a compelling listen, culling tracks from the band's 1989 breakthrough, Mother's Milk, to its melodic 2002 release, By the Way. In some ways, one could view this as the best of the John Frusciante years, charting most of the band's work with the talented guitarist after the death of original member Hillel Slovak. The tracks here are all hits, including such stellar singles as "Give It Away," "Under the Bridge," and Frusciante's first single after his phoenix-like resurrection from heroin addiction, "Scar Tissue." It should be noted, though, that as a Warner-issued hits collection such fan favorites as "Taste the Pain" and the touchstone antidrug anthem "Knock Me Down" -- both from the 1989 EMI release Mother's Milk -- aren't included. (Similarly, nothing from the Chili Peppers' rambunctious early efforts -- including 1984's Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1985's Freaky Styley, and 1987's The Uplift Mofo Party Plan -- appears on this hits collection.) Nonetheless, Greatest Hits still portrays the band as one of the most consistently brilliant groups of its generation. Helping to paint this picture are such solid cuts as the group's searing, albeit overplayed, 1989 cover of Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground" as well as its rarely available addition to the Coneheads movie soundtrack, "Soul to Squeeze." Not surprisingly, "My Friends" is the sole cut to make it from the band's disappointing one-off effort with Jane's Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro, One Hot Minute. Throw in two new tracks ("Fortune Faded" and "Save the Population") that easily match the quality of the material collected here, and you've got one of the most consistently listenable Chili Pepper releases since Blood Sugar Sex Magik. For fans who gave up after Frusciante left the band, Greatest Hits is the perfect reintroduction.

Matt Collar, Rovi

The Best Of Nickelback (Volume 1)

Nickelback

All The Right Reasons

Nickelback
With their fourth album, All the Right Reasons, Nickelback ditches any pretense of being a grunge band and finally acknowledges they're a straight-up heavy rock band. Not that they've left the angst of grunge behind: they're a modern rock band living in a post-grunge world, so there's lots of tortured emotions threaded throughout the 11 songs here. But where their previous albums roiled with anger -- their breakthrough "How You Remind Me" was not affectionate, it was snide and cynical -- there's a surprisingly large sentimental streak running throughout All the Right Reasons, and it's not just limited to heart-on-sleeve power ballads like "Far Away" and "Savin' Me," the latter being the latest entry in their soundalike sweepstakes. No, lead singer/songwriter Chad Kroeger is in a particularly pensive mood here, looking back fondly at his crazy times in high school on "Photograph" ("Look at this photograph/Every time I do it makes me laugh/How did our eyes get so red?/And what the hell is on Joey's head?"), lamenting the murder of Dimebag Darrell on "Side of a Bullet" (where a Dimebag solo is overdubbed), and, most touching of all, imagining "the day when nobody died" on "If Everyone Cared" (which would be brought about "If everyone cared and nobody cried/If everyone loved and nobody lied"). Appropriately enough for an album that finds Kroeger's emotional palette opening up, Nickelback tries a few new things here, adding more pianos, keyboards, and acoustic guitars to not just ballads, but a few of their big, anthemic rockers; they even sound a little bit light and limber on "Someone That You're With," the fastest tune here and a bit of relief after all the heavy guitars. All this makes for a more varied Nickelback album, but it doesn't really change their essence.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Daughtry

Daughtry
Everything that made Chris Daughtry insufferable as a contestant on American Idol -- his utter lack of humor, his oppressive earnestness, his desire to sing every song in the same gut-wrenching fashion, a style that only suited the post-grunge brooding that is his chosen specialty -- work for him on his post-Idol debut album, Daughtry. Technically, this is not a solo album, it's the debut of a band called Daughtry, which is actually spelled all in capital letters, which could be seen as a sign that Chris Daughtry might have a bit of a credibility complex. It certainly seems as if he thinks he'll only be taken seriously as part of a band that, like lots of bands from the grunge revolution, is spelled in a specific, exacting way, even if it means that by the rules of the internet he is, quite literally, shouting at us -- which is only appropriate for a singer who is fueled by Fuel and lives by Live. And, let's face facts, DAUGHTRY was formed by Daughtry not only after his run on American Idol, but "after" he recorded this debut album: the band is for show, to prove that he's the real deal, baby, not some pansy TV singer. It's a posture that's not only just a teeny bit defensive, but one that's utterly unnecessary because the album DAUGHTRY is actually very good, whether it's judged by the standards of American Idol or by the standards of Fuel or Nickelback. Compared to Fuel -- the band that invited Daughtry to be their frontman after he was voted off Idol -- Daughtry has a lighter touch not just in his delivery but also in his songs, which are far hookier than most post-grunge; and if he's compared to Nickelback, he's a far more appealing frontman than that lunkhead Chad Kroeger, with a greater vocal range and far more sensitivity in his singing. Daughtry's way with a hook and empathetic emoting are placed far up in the unapologetically professional mix on DAUGHTRY, which is designed to cross over not to the pop market -- everybody involved knew that DAUGHTRY had that anyway thanks to Daughtry's TV celebrity -- but to the rock market, so everybody involved made sure not to temper the guitars with layers of synths or even to indulge in too many power ballads. The resulting album may play strictly by the rules of mainstream post-grunge and it may never achieve the sweat and grit that real rock bands do even after they've been cleaned up in the studio, but it follows the modern rock blueprint exceedingly well, creating drama even in its pedestrian moments. It also helps that the songs are sturdier than most post-grunge, with big, anthemic hooks on the choruses and verses that are lively enough not to bore. In short, it sounds like the work of a bunch of professionals, which is true to a certain extent: it was produced by Howard Benson, best-known for LPs by My Chemical Romance and All-American Rejects, but Benson and DAUGHTRY didn't draft in a bunch of pros to write the songs -- each tune bears a writing credit by Daughtry, and most of them are solo credits. Listening to these songs, it would be easy to mistake them for the work of seasoned pros: they not only follow the template of post-grunge well, they do it with better hooks and a commercial flair lacking from bands like Fuel and Shinedown, bands that have inspired Daughtry but who he betters here. To put it mildly, that's a surprise -- not just that Daughtry pulled off the tricky move of being pop enough for his Idol fans and rock enough for post-grungers, but that he pulled it off on the strength of his own work. While he hasn't shaken off all the problems that plagued him on the show -- he still could learn that a sense of humor helps add depth to his music, or at least he could realize that rock & roll should be fun at least "some" of the time -- but he's made those qualities work on a debut that's not only a lot more credible than any American Idol-affiliated rock album should be, but it's a lot easier to digest than most of its ilk.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

The Greatest Hits

3 Doors Down
The 2012 set The Greatest Hits -- the first-ever compilation of the new millennial modern rock band 3 Doors Down -- does indeed serve up most of the group's biggest hits, beginning with their 2000 breakthrough "Kryptonite" and wrapping up with two new recordings, one called "Goodbyes," whose title lends this set a slight sense of finality. Not all of the band's charting singles are here -- notably "Citizen Soldier," which served as a soundtrack to a military recruitment ad in the waning days of the George W Bush administration, is absent -- but the ones that count are: "It's Not My Time," "Let Me Go," "Away from the Sun," "Here Without You," "Be Like That," "When I'm Gone," and "Duck and Run," all adding up to a thorough overview of this enduring post-alt rock band.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things.

Jason Mraz

Only By The Night

Kings of Leon
With 2007's Because of the Times, Kings of Leon ventured out of the garage and into the arena. Tracks like "Black Thumbnail" and "Camaro" were bold, anthemic rock songs that built upon the barnyard stomp of Youth & Young Manhood, and Because of the Times topped the U.K. charts upon its debut, officially crowning the Kings as rock & roll royalty in the process. Only by the Night arrived one year later, marking the band's fastest turnaround between albums; it also furthered the epic sound that Times introduced, flaunting a set of ringing guitars and radio-ready melodies that pushed the band away from the Allman Brothers' camp. If anything, much of the album took up residence in U2's cathedral, particularly during the one-two-three punch of "Sex on Fire," "Use Somebody," and "Manhattan." Appropriately, Only by the Night became a U2-sized smash on both sides of the Atlantic, selling some six million copies worldwide while firmly pushing the band into the mainstream.

Like many big-sounding albums, Only by the Night is a polarizing piece of work, one that targets new fans at the expense of those who wish Kings of Leon had never shaved their beards or discovered post-'70s rock. To rope in the skeptics, the strongest tracks are pushed toward the album's first half. "Crawl" flexes the band's rock & roll muscle, melding Led Zeppelin-styled crunch with the experimental guitar buzz of U2's Achtung Baby, while "Sex on Fire" makes up for its goofy title with a meteoric chorus tailored to Caleb's voice. (He sounds fantastic throughout the record, even if his vocals continue to be garbled by some untraceable accent, as if he's auditioning for the Jodie Foster role in a Broadway adaptation of Nell.) Rounding out the hit-filled segment are "Use Somebody" and "Manhattan," where Matthew Followill cloaks his guitar riffs in reverb and bassist Jared Followill takes the spotlight sporadically, popping up for quick melodic fills before ducking back into the mix. While past Kings of Leon albums concerned themselves with alcohol, women, and other hedonistic themes, those two songs are nothing but pop/rock grandeur, and Caleb howls their hopeful lyrics like Bono's American-born cousin. Only by the Night focuses on textures and experimentation during the album's latter half, but most songs still deliver some sort of Technicolor melody, from "Notion" (one of the only tracks featuring piano) to the unexpected chorus of "Be Somebody." Taken as a whole, Only by the Night targets the audience that approved Kings of Leon's sonic shift in 2007, leaving older fans free to damn these tracks for their consciously grand approach. Yes, the album is often cheesy. Yes, some of the more popular songs lost their luster after endless months of radioplay. But Only by the Night remains a potent Kings of Leon record, and the guys have never defined their ambition so clearly.

Andrew Leahey, Rovi

Dark Horse

Nickelback
Nickelback are not known for their insight, but Chad Kroeger's caterwauling claim that "we got no class, no taste" on "Burn It to the Ground," is a slice of perceptive, precise self-examination. Nickelback are a gnarled, vulgar band reveling in their ignorance of the very notion of taste, knocking out knuckle-dragging riffs that seem rarefied in comparison to their thick, boneheaded words. Of the two, the music is far less offensive, particularly on Dark Horse, where they work with the legendary producer Robert "Mutt" Lange, who pumps up muscle on Nickelback's heaviest rockers and adding some color to their power ballads, suggesting some heretofore verboten suggestions of modernity in the form of electronic rhythms.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

American Capitalist

Five Finger Death Punch
For their third album, Five Finger Death Punch deliver another dose of crunchy, hard-hitting jams ready-made for the mosh pit. With its relentless heaviness and chugging riffs, American Capitalist captures the raw aggression of the era of post-Pantera groove metal, occasionally tempering the fire with some cleaner, more soaring passages that give listeners a brief respite before throwing them straight back into the action with a sonic barrage. While songs like the searing title track and “Menace” are punishing exercises in aggression, what’s most impressive are the (relatively) gentle songs like “Coming Down” and “Remember Everything,” where the bandmembers show that they can even make their ballads heavy. This kind of constant drive away from the more watered-down sound of a lot of their post-grunge contemporaries and toward metal is something that allows Five Finger Death Punch to stand out in a genre that’s easy to get lost in. If you’re a fan of bands like Sevendust and Mudvayne and you haven’t checked these guys out yet, now is the time.

Greatest Hits

Creed
Creed weren't just one of many two-album wonders of the post-grunge late '90s, they were the biggest of the two-album wonders, selling more records and crashing harder than any other their peers. All the while they produced unflappably earnest heavy rock -- music that sounded like Pearl Jam, only not nearly as much fun. They also traded on Pearl Jam's unfortunate tendency to place sheer emotion and sound over hooks, and since Creed weren't as powerful or interesting musically as the Seattle quartet, that meant that their albums could sound rather samey in the long haul. Nevertheless, their sincerity resonated among mainstream listeners irritated that Pearl Jam went weird after Vs., and with 2000s "With Arms Wide Open," they had a power ballad hit with universal appeal that helped break them through to an even wider audience than they had before. It, naturally, is the literal centerpiece of Creed's 2004 Greatest Hits, arriving in the middle of the 13-song album. Since it remains their biggest and best song, it's only appropriate that it has such a prominent position on this album, because a listen to the entire album reveals that the rest of their material hasn't aged all that well. Still, for those listeners who want to dig back to the halcyon year or two where Creed were one of the biggest bands in the land, Greatest Hits is the way to do it, since it has all of their charting hits, minus the minor radio hit cover of "Riders on the Storm" from the 2000 Doors tribute album Stoned Immaculate. It may not be timeless music, but Greatest Hits does gather all the noteworthy Creed tracks for those who care. [The initial pressings also contained a bonus DVD, containing all of Creed's music videos, along with some live performances. Unfortunately, the menu interface is not well designed -- it is only possible to play the videos individually, there is no "Play All" function.]

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

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."]

Elephant

The White Stripes
White Blood Cells may have been a reaction to the amount of fame the White Stripes had received up to the point of its release, but, paradoxically, it made full-fledged rock stars out of Jack and Meg White and sold over half a million copies in the process. Despite the White Stripes' ambivalence, fame nevertheless seems to suit them: They just become more accomplished as the attention paid to them increases. Elephant captures this contradiction within the Stripes and their music; it's the first album they've recorded for a major label, and it sounds even more pissed-off, paranoid, and stunning than its predecessor. Darker and more difficult than White Blood Cells, the album offers nothing as immediately crowd-pleasing or sweet as "Fell in Love With a Girl" or "We're Going to Be Friends," but it's more consistent, exploring disillusionment and rejection with razor-sharp focus. Chip-on-the-shoulder anthems like the breathtaking opener, "Seven Nation Army," which is driven by Meg White's explosively minimal drumming, and "The Hardest Button to Button," in which Jack White snarls "Now we're a family!" -- one of the best oblique threats since Black Francis sneered "It's educational!" all those years ago -- deliver some of the fiercest blues-punk of the White Stripes' career. "There's No Home for You Here" sets a girl's walking papers to a melody reminiscent of "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground" (though the result is more sequel than rehash), driving the point home with a wall of layered, Queen-ly harmonies and piercing guitars, while the inspired version of "I Just Don't Know What to Do With Myself" goes from plaintive to angry in just over a minute, though the charging guitars at the end sound perversely triumphant. At its bruised heart, Elephant portrays love as a power struggle, with chivalry and innocence usually losing out to the power of seduction. "I Want to Be the Boy" tries, unsuccessfully, to charm a girl's mother; "You've Got Her in Your Pocket," a deceptively gentle ballad, reveals the darker side of the Stripes' vulnerability, blurring the line between caring for someone and owning them with some fittingly fluid songwriting.

The battle for control reaches a fever pitch on the "Fell in Love With a Girl"-esque "Hypnotize," which suggests some slightly underhanded ways of winning a girl over before settling for just holding her hand, and on the show-stopping "Ball and Biscuit," seven flat-out seductive minutes of preening, boasting, and amazing guitar prowess that ranks as one the band's most traditionally bluesy (not to mention sexy) songs. Interestingly, Meg's star turn, "In the Cold, Cold Night," is the closest Elephant comes to a truce in this struggle, her kitten-ish voice balancing the song's slinky words and music. While the album is often dark, it's never despairing; moments of wry humor pop up throughout, particularly toward the end. "Little Acorns" begins with a sound clip of Detroit newscaster Mort Crim's Second Thoughts radio show, adding an authentic, if unusual, Motor City feel. It also suggests that Jack White is one of the few vocalists who could make a lyric like "Be like the squirrel" sound cool and even inspiring. Likewise, the showy "Girl, You Have No Faith in Medicine" -- on which White resembles a garage rock snake-oil salesman -- is probably the only song featuring the word "acetaminophen" in its chorus. "It's True That We Love One Another," which features vocals from Holly Golightly as well as Meg White, continues the Stripes' tradition of closing their albums on a lighthearted note. Almost as much fun to analyze as it is to listen to, Elephant overflows with quality -- it's full of tight songwriting, sharp, witty lyrics, and judiciously used basses and tumbling keyboard melodies that enhance the band's powerful simplicity (and the excellent "The Air Near My Fingers" features all of these). Crucially, the White Stripes know the difference between fame and success; while they may not be entirely comfortable with their fame, they've succeeded at mixing blues, punk, and garage rock in an electrifying and unique way ever since they were strictly a Detroit phenomenon. On these terms, Elephant is a phenomenal success.

Heather Phares, Rovi

Yourself Or Someone Like You

Matchbox Twenty
Yourself or Someone Like You turned out to be the standard-bearer for post-alternative rock because it has a '90s sheen in its production, but, for all the world, its core sounds like classic rock. Lead singer/songwriter Rob Thomas adopted some of Eddie Vedder's vocal mannerisms, but they were smoothed out, lacking the angst and pain that were Vedder's hallmark. Matchbox Twenty functioned much the same way, picking up at Pearl Jam's fascination for album rock, but deciding to stick to the classic blueprint instead of personalizing it. All of this resulted in a record that is much more straightforward than most alt-rock albums, even if it follows the pattern of a classic '90s album -- not just in its production dynamics, but down to the acoustic-based slow number that closes the record. It blends the most familiar elements of the two golden eras of album-oriented rock, finding a balance that is comfortable for mainstream fans of either side. Other bands with similar sounds that could have done the same thing, yet Matchbox Twenty distanced themselves from the pack with sturdy songs and fairly strong hooks, all delivered forcefully with Thomas' distinctive bravado. Their music is not flashy, nor is it as ingratiating as Third Eye Blind's pop instincts. It is, however, solid, American rock, reminiscent of a blend of Petty and Pearl Jam. So, it shouldn't have been surprising when the album found a wide audience. For many observers it was still unexpected, because the sound seemed a little plain. What they didn't realize was that Yourself or Someone Like You wound up being the point where mainstream American rock stopped being willfully eccentric and returned to being unassuming and kind of ordinary.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Torches

Foster the People
Foster the People's 2011 full-length debut Torches expands upon the indie electronic outfit's '80s synth-meets-'60s psych pop sound. Buoyed by the online buzz surrounding the band's single "Pumped Up Kicks," Foster the People have crafted a batch of similarly catchy, electro-lite dance-pop that fits nicely next to such contemporaries as MGMT and Phoenix. To these ends you get the aforementioned anthem "Pumped Up Kicks," as well as the hypnotic disco hop track "Call It What You Want." Equally compelling are such deep cuts as the yearning, melancholy ballad "I Would Do Anything for You" and the foot stomping arcade game-sounding anthem "Houdini." Burning with a hot track intensity somewhere in between early evening rave-up and late-night club afterglow, Torches is a beacon of melodic dance-pop love.

Riot!

Paramore
Move over, Avril; there's a new gun in town. And even though Paramore's lead singer Hayley Williams is a few years younger than her predecessor, she has a way bigger set of vocal pipes. Lavigne and Williams share a similar register, but Williams belts it out with way more control and authority. She may even be more of a respectable pop idol since her image isn't manufactured to be rebellious and angst-ridden; instead, Williams appears to be a genuinely sweet girl, bottling up a huge voice and a heart full of lost loves. On 2008's Riot!, she fills the majority of her punk-pop tales with emo angst and declarations of boy woes. Contrived as this may sound, her lyrics feel authentic and representative of actual teenage puppy love, where a breakup feels like the end of the world. Filled with crossover potential, the songs are consistant and zippy with catchy hooks in the vein of Boys Like Girls fronted by a young Shirley Manson. Meanwhile, the production is sparkling and heavily compressed due to the golden hands of David Bendeth, but these ultra-clean sonics also tend to cramp up the band -- clouding the dynamics and turning the listening experience into a relatively risk-free one. When the group breaks away from the chugging guitar Fall Out Boy formula, they're at their best. Mid-song breakdowns and cathartic power ballads (think "Don't Speak") showcase the band's maturity as musicians. More importantly, Williams shines through in these openings. In the last track, "Born for This," she takes a break from her love confessions and commands everyone to sing like it's the last song they will ever sing, making for a sentimental finale and a perfect closer for the live shows.

Jason Lymangrover, Rovi

The Sound of Madness

Shinedown

Top Songs

Bring Me To Life

Evanescence

Pumped up Kicks

Foster the People

I'm Yours

Jason Mraz

Paradise

Coldplay

Secrets

OneRepublic

My Immortal

Evanescence

Drops of Jupiter

Train

Ain't No Rest For The Wicked

Cage The Elephant

Apologize

OneRepublic

Kryptonite

3 Doors Down

Second Chance

Shinedown

How to Save a Life (New Album Version)

The Fray

Here Without You

3 Doors Down

She Will Be Loved

Maroon 5

Good Life

OneRepublic

Broken

Seether feat. Amy Lee

The Scientist

Coldplay

Simple Man [Rock Version]

Shinedown

Clocks

Coldplay

Gravity

John Mayer

Porn Star Dancing

My Darkest Days

Riot (Main Version)

Three Days Grace

Sex On Fire

Kings of Leon