25 Albums That Changed The World

It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back

Public Enemy
Yo! Bum Rush the Show was an invigorating record, but it looks like child's play compared to its monumental sequel, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, a record that rewrote the rules of what hip-hop could do. That's not to say the album is without precedent, since what's particularly ingenious about the album is how it reconfigures things that came before into a startling, fresh, modern sound. Public Enemy used the template Run-D.M.C. created of a rap crew as a rock band, then brought in elements of free jazz, hard funk, even musique concrète, via their producing team, the Bomb Squad, creating a dense, ferocious sound unlike anything that came before. This coincided with a breakthrough in Chuck D's writing, both in his themes and lyrics. It's not that Chuck D was smarter or more ambitious than his contemporaries -- certainly, KRS-One tackled many similar sociopolitical tracts, while Rakim had a greater flow -- but he marshaled considerable revolutionary force, clear vision, and a boundless vocabulary to create galvanizing, logical arguments that were undeniable in their strength. They only gained strength from Flavor Flav's frenzied jokes, which provided a needed contrast. What's amazing is how the words and music become intertwined, gaining strength from each other. Though this music is certainly a representation of its time, it hasn't dated at all. It set a standard that few could touch then, and even fewer have attempted to meet since.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Pet Sounds - 40th Anniversary

The Beach Boys

Songs In The Key Of Life

Stevie Wonder
Songs in the Key of Life was Stevie Wonder's longest, most ambitious collection of songs, a two-LP (plus accompanying EP) set that -- just as the title promised -- touched on nearly every issue under the sun, and did it all with ambitious (even for him), wide-ranging arrangements and some of the best performances of Wonder's career. The opening "Love's in Need of Love Today" and "Have a Talk with God" are curiously subdued, but Stevie soon kicks into gear with "Village Ghetto Land," a fierce exposé of ghetto neglect set to a satirical Baroque synthesizer. Hot on its heels comes the torrid fusion jam "Contusion," a big, brassy hit tribute to the recently departed Duke Ellington in "Sir Duke," and (another hit, this one a Grammy winner as well) the bumping poem to his childhood, "I Wish." Though they didn't necessarily appear in order, Songs in the Key of Life contains nearly a full album on love and relationships, along with another full album on issues social and spiritual. Fans of the love album Talking Book can marvel that he sets the bar even higher here, with brilliant material like the tenderly cathartic and gloriously redemptive "Joy Inside My Tears," the two-part, smooth-and-rough "Ordinary Pain," the bitterly ironic "All Day Sucker," or another classic heartbreaker, "Summer Soft." Those inclined toward Stevie Wonder the social-issues artist had quite a few songs to focus on as well: "Black Man" was a Bicentennial school lesson on remembering the vastly different people who helped build America; "Pastime Paradise" examined the plight of those who live in the past and have little hope for the future; "Village Ghetto Land" brought listeners to a nightmare of urban wasteland; and "Saturn" found Stevie questioning his kinship with the rest of humanity and amusingly imagining paradise as a residency on a distant planet. If all this sounds overwhelming, it is; Stevie Wonder had talent to spare during the mid-'70s, and instead of letting the reserve trickle out during the rest of the decade, he let it all go with one massive burst. (His only subsequent record of the '70s was the similarly gargantuan but largely instrumental soundtrack Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants.)

John Bush, Rovi

The 7 Day Theory

Makaveli
Released only eight weeks after Tupac Shakur died from gunshot wounds, Death Row released this posthumous album, The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory, under the name of Makaveli, a pseudonym derived from the Italian politician Niccolo Machiavelli, who faked his own death and reappeared seven days later to take revenge on his enemies. Naturally, the appearance of Don Killuminati so shortly after Tupac's death led many conspiracy theorists to surmise the rapper was still alive, but it was all part of a calculated marketing strategy by Death Row. All Eyez on Me proved that Tupac was continuing to grow as a musician and a human being, but Don Killuminati doesn't improve upon that image; instead it concentrates on G-funk beats and East Coast/West Coast rivalries. If Tupac had survived to complete Don Killuminati, it is likely that the record would have been even better.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Parachutes

Coldplay
The London foursome Coldplay were early critics' darlings in their native U.K., showcasing melodic pop on a slew of EP releases and constant live shows just after the spark of the new millennium. Not as heavy as Radiohead or snobbish as Oasis, Coldplay were revealed on Parachutes as a band of young musicians still honing their sweet harmonies. Combining bits of distorted guitar riffs and swishing percussion, Parachutes was a delightful introduction and also quickly indicated the reason why this album earned Coldplay a Mercury Music Prize nomination in fall 2000. Frontman Chris Martin's lyrical wordplay is feminist in the manner of Geneva's Andrew Montgomery, but far more withered. The imagery captured on Parachutes is exquisitely dark and artistically abrasive, and the entire composition is tractable thanks to gauzy acoustics and airy percussion. Coldplay's indie rock inclinations are also obvious, especially on songs such as "Don't Panic" and "Shiver," but it's the dream pop soundscapes captured on "High Speed" and "We Never Change" that illustrate the band's dynamic passion. This basic pop was surely a refreshing effort in the face of big productions like the Spice Girls and Westlife. Parachutes deserved the accolades it received because it followed the general rule when introducing decent pop songs: keep the emotion genuine and real. And Coldplay did that without hesitation.

MacKenzie Wilson, 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

Tha Carter III

Lil' Wayne
An interesting story came out as Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter IV leaked to the Internet five days early. Special guest Busta Rhymes, being interviewed from his tour bus, had not even heard the leak within those first 48, and seemed fascinated to hear that Bun B, Nas, and Shyne were also on his track. This was in spite of the his line “Tunechi, thanks for giving us a whole 'nother classic with Tha Carter IV” the album's final words, delivered by Busta during the “Outro,” one of two tracks on which Wayne doesn’t even appear. Busta’s mix of excitement and confusion perfectly captures this album’s magic in that there’s an electricity in the air here, one so attractive that you don’t care about what’s missing, so don’t hold this up next to Tha Carter II or III because you just might miss a grand Jay-Z diss (“Talkin' about baby money, I got your baby money/ Kidnap your bitch, get that how much you love your lady money”) while considering the differences. If II and III were the arguable masterpieces, this one is less convincing, but it is a solid, above average hip-hop album that would be in held high and wide regard if it carried any other name. Wayne seems to address this new, sometimes B+ era with “Some of us are lovers/Most of y’all are haters/But I put up a wall/And they just wallpaper” on “Blunt Blowing,” a track which is Young Money’s seductive and flossy version of the blues. If dazzling rhetoric and shameless bombast is what grabs his audience, it absolutely overflows during the album’s unstoppable first quarter, which boils over when the short blue mobster called “Megaman” shoots forth “Life is shorter than Bushwick.” The totally T-Pain track “How to Hate” is the album’s first speedbump, and Wayne remains a guest on his own album as Tech N9ne and Rick Ross dominate the following cuts, but the uncontroversial “Abortion” (“I know your name, your name is unimportant/We in the belly of the beast, and she thinkin’ of abortion”) puts the spotlight back on Weezy. After John Legend adds some purposeful polish, it’s all smooth sailing plus with those high Carter standards, bouncing between tracks fans can singalong and connect with (the pure and simple “How to Love”) or marvel at (“It’s Good” where Jay-Z diss meets Alan Parsons sample). In the end, Busta’s pre-cog declaration of “classic” is the download generation’s more “in the moment” definition of the word, and it is fittingly delivered while the venerated Wizard Weezy is out the door and off the track in that “pay no mind to that man behind the curtain” style. On Tha Carter IV, Wayne’s world feels more like a dream than reality, but the loyal subjects of Young Money get a wild ride and the great feeling of flashing those ruby slippers one more time. [The Deluxe Edition added three bonus tracks, including "Mirror" featuring Bruno Mars.]

Mother's Milk

Red Hot Chili Peppers
A pivotal album for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1989's Mother's Milk turned the tide and transformed the band from underground funk-rocking rappers to mainstream bad boys with seemingly very little effort. Mother's Milk brought them to MTV, scored them a deal with Warner Brothers, and let both frontman Anthony Kiedis and the ubiquitous Flea get back out into a good groove following the death of co-founding member Hillel Slovak. With a new lineup coalescing around the remaining duo with new drummer Chad Smith and guitarist John Frusciante, and with producer Michael Beinhorn again behind the boards, the band took everything that The Uplift Mofo Party Plan hinted at, and brought it fully to bear for this new venture. If anyone doubted the pulsating power that leapt from the blistering opener, "Good Time Boys," it took only a few bars of the Red Hot Chili Peppers' outrageous, and brilliant, interpretation of the Stevie Wonder classic "Higher Ground" to prove that this new lineup was onto something special. Wrapping up with the aptly titled and truly punked-out "Punk Rock Classic" and the band's own punched-up tribute to "Magic Johnson," Mother's Milk was everything the band had hoped for, and a little more besides. Effortlessly going gold as "Knock Me Down" and "Taste the Pain" careened into the charts, the album not only set the stage for the band's Blood Sugar Sex Magic domination, it also proved that funk never died; it had just swapped skins. [The 2003 reissue of Mother's Milk includes six bonus tracks, five of which are previously unreleased, including the "Salute to Kareem" demo and a live version of "Crosstown Traffic."]

Amy Hanson, Rovi

The College Dropout

Kanye West

Discovery

Daft Punk
Four long years after their debut, Homework, Daft Punk returned with a second full-length, also packed with excellent productions and many of the obligatory nods to the duo's favorite stylistic speed bumps of the 1970s and '80s. Discovery is by no means the same record, though. Deserting the shrieking acid house hysteria of their early work, the album moves in the same smooth filtered disco circles as the European dance smashes ("Music Sounds Better with You" and "Gym Tonic") that were co-produced by DP's Thomas Bangalter during the group's long interim. If Homework was Daft Punk's Chicago house record, this is definitely the New York garage edition, with co-productions and vocals from Romanthony and Todd Edwards, two of the brightest figures based in New Jersey's fertile garage scene. Also in common with classic East Coast dance and '80s R&B, Discovery surprisingly focuses on songwriting and concise productions, though the pair's visions of bucolic pop on "Digital Love" and "Something About Us" are delivered by an androgynous, vocoderized frontman singing trite (though rather endearing) love lyrics. "One More Time," the irresistible album opener and first single, takes Bangalter's "Music Sounds Better with You" as a blueprint, blending sampled horns with some retro bass thump and the gorgeous, extroverted vocals of Romanthony going round and round with apparently endless tweakings. Though "Aerodynamic" and "Superheroes" have a bit of the driving acid minimalism associated with Homework, here Daft Punk is more taken with the glammier, poppier sound of Eurodisco and late R&B. Abusing their pitch-bend and vocoder effects as though they were going out of style (about 15 years too late, come to think of it), the duo loops nearly everything they can get their sequencers on -- divas, vocoders, synth-guitars, electric piano -- and conjures a sound worthy of bygone electro-pop technicians from Giorgio Moroder to Todd Rundgren to Steve Miller. Daft Punk are such stellar, meticulous producers that they make "any" sound work, even superficially dated ones like spastic early-'80s electro/R&B ("Short Circuit") or faux-orchestral synthesizer baroque ("Veridis Quo"). The only crime here is burying the highlight of the entire LP near the end. "Face to Face," a track with garage wunderkind Todd Edwards, twists his trademarked split-second samples and fully fragmented vision of garage into a dance-pop hit that could've easily stormed the charts in 1987. Daft Punk even manage a sense of humor about their own work, closing with a ten-minute track aptly titled "Too Long."

John Bush, Rovi

So Far Gone

Drake
No doubt about it, Drake blew up big time in 2009. The one-time TV actor (from Degrassi High: The Next Generation) hooked up with Lil Wayne a couple years previously, worked the mixtape and collabo circuit hard for a spell, and then suddenly hit with the song "Best I Ever Had." The song was taken from the So Far Gone mixtape and became, arguably, the top summer jam of 2009. After a ferocious bidding war, Drake ended up signing with Universal Motown (while keeping his affiliation with Weezy's Young Money and Cash Money intact), and they officially introduced Drake with the So Far Gone EP. The release included seven tracks from the mixtape and gave undeniable proof that the hype and noise surrounding the rapper were all justified. The productions (courtesy of members of Drake's Toronto-based crew) are nuanced and powerful, the hooks are huge, and Drake has lyrical skills and a vocal flow that make him one of the best young spitters on the scene. The twists and turns of his words keep the songs interesting on repeated listens, the equal amounts of inspired raunchiness and heart-felt introspection make for a truly well-rounded presentation, and most impressively, the youngster manages to keep up with his mentor on the three tracks Lil Wayne adds verses to. His rapping style owes some to Wayne's drawling and woozy delivery, but he also has some of Kanye's erudition, Jay-Z's bite, and plenty of contemporary R&B influence. In the end, though, the melding of the various influences means he comes up with something all his own. That the memorable, constantly surprising lyrics and smooth flow are laid on top of the rich productions and sticky hooks means that there are some jams here that will put the competition on their heels. Best I Ever Had is the instant classic, but the other six songs are just as impressive. The melancholy "Houstatlantavegas" and "The Calm" show Drake's sensitive side, "Successful" and "Uptown" are hard-edged pop-rap, "I'm Goin' In" gives a glimpse of Drake's hardcore credentials, and "Fear" wraps up the too-short EP with some nice symphonic soul-rap. When an artist is as talked about and hyped as Drake was in 2009, it's easy to write them off as an industry creation or some kind of fluke. So Far Gone shows that Drake is for real, and works as a tantalizing teaser for his first full-length record.

Tim Sendra, Rovi

Doggystyle

Snoop Dogg
N.W.A. bloodied their gangsta rap with menace: crack addiction, drive-bys, broken homes. Dr. Dre's G-funk cool (with its all day picnics, smoked BBQ and house parties) softened this image considerably. Then Snoop dropped Doggystyle. Darkness still lurks around most corners. "I'm on my way to Chino, rollin' on the grey goose, shackled from head to toe," the rapper croaks in "Murder Was the Case." But what really stands out is his Parliament-inspired knack for detailing the tragic comedies that come with ghetto life. Though he was a gangbanger in his youth, Snoop quickly became hip-hop's court jester.

Justin Farrar, Google Play

Good Girl Gone Bad: Reloaded

Rihanna
When you've released a pair of albums containing a few monster singles and a considerable amount of unsteady, unassured material, why mess around the third time out? From beginning to end, Good Girl Gone Bad is as pop as pop got in 2007, each one of its 12 songs a potential hit in some territory. Unlike Music of the Sun or A Girl Like Me, neither Caribbean flavorings nor ballad ODs are part of the script, and there isn't an attempt to make something as theatrical as "Unfaithful." There is, however, another '80s hit involved: just as "SOS" appropriated Soft Cell's version of "Tainted Love," "Shut Up and Drive" turns New Order's "Blue Monday" into a sleek, forthcoming proposition, one that is as undeniable and rocking as Sugababes' 2002 U.K. smash "Freak Like Me" (a cover of Adina Howard's 1995 hit that swiped from another '80s single, Gary Numan's "Are Friends Electric?"). "Shut Up and Drive" is part of an all-upbeat opening sequence that carries through five songs. Rihanna knows exactly what she wants and is in total control at all times, even when she's throwing things and proclaiming "I'm a fight a man" amid marching percussion and synthesizers set on "scare" during "Breakin' Dishes." The album's lead song and lead single, "Umbrella," is her best to date, delivering mammoth if spacious drums, a towering backdrop during the chorus, and vocals that are somehow totally convincing without sounding all that impassioned -- an ideal spot between trying too hard and boredom, like she might've been on her 20th take, which only adds to the song's charm. The album's second half is relatively varied and a little heavier on acoustic guitar use, but it's not lacking additional standouts. Three consecutive Timbaland productions, including one suited for a black college marching band and another that effectively pulls the romantically codependent heartstrings, enhance the album rather than make it more scattered. [The "Reloaded" edition of the album adds three bonus tracks.]

Andy Kellman, Rovi

Weezer (Blue Album)

Weezer
Even if you lived through it, it's hard to fathom exactly why Weezer were disliked, even loathed, when they released their debut album in the spring of 1994. If you grew up in the years after the heyday of grunge, it may even seem absurd that the band were considered poseurs, hair metal refugees passing themselves off as alt-rock by adapting a few tricks from the Pixies and Nirvana songbooks and sold to MTV with stylish videos. Nevertheless, during alt-rock's heyday of 1994, Weezer was second only to Stone Temple Pilots as an object of scorn, bashed by the rock critics and hipsters alike. Time has a way of healing, even erasing, all wounds, and time has been nothing but kind to Weezer's eponymous debut album (which would later be dubbed The Blue Album, due to the blue background of the cover art). At the time of its release, the group's influences were discussed endlessly -- the dynamics of the Pixies, the polished production reminiscent of Nevermind, the willful outsider vibe borrowed from indie rock -- but few noted how the group, under the direction of singer/songwriter Rivers Cuomo, synthesized alt-rock with a strong '70s trash-rock predilection and an unwitting gift for power pop, resulting in something quite distinctive. Although the group wears its influences on its sleeve, Weezer pulls it together in a strikingly original fashion, thanks to Cuomo's urgent melodicism, a fondness for heavy, heavy guitars, a sly sense of humor, and damaged vulnerability, all driven home at a maximum volume. While contemporaries like Pavement were willfully, even gleefully obscure, and skewed toward a more selective audience, Weezer's insecurities were laid bare, and the band's pop culture obsessions tended to be universal, not exclusive. Plus, Cuomo wrote killer hooks and had a band that rocked hard -- albeit in an uptight, nerdy fashion -- winding up with direct, immediate music that connects on more than one level. It's both clever and vulnerable, but those sensibilities are hidden beneath the loud guitars and catchy hooks. That's why the band had hits with this album -- and not just hits, but era-defining singles like the deliberate dissonant crawl of "Undone - The Sweater Song," the postironic love song of "Buddy Holly," the surging "Say It Ain't So" -- but could still seem like a cult band to the dedicated fans; it sounded like the group was speaking to an in-crowd, not the mass audience it wound up with. If, as Howard Hawks said, a good movie consists of three great scenes and no bad ones, it could be extrapolated that a good record contains three great songs and no bad ones -- in that case, Weezer is a record with at least six or seven great songs and no bad ones. That makes for a great record, but more than that, it's a great record emblematic of its time, standing as one of the defining albums of the '90s. [The 2007 Circuit City exclusive edition came packaged with a free album cover iPod skin.]

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Brown Sugar

D'Angelo
By the mid-'90s, most urban R&B had become rather predictable, working on similar combinations of soul and hip-hop, or relying on vocal theatrics on slow, seductive numbers. With his debut album, Brown Sugar, the 21-year-old D'Angelo crashed down some of those barriers. D'Angelo concentrates on classic versions of soul and R&B, but unlike most of his contemporaries, he doesn't cut and paste older songs with hip-hop beats; instead, he attacks the forms with a hip-hop attitude, breathing new life into traditional forms. Not all of his music works -- there are several songs that sound incomplete, relying more on sound than structure. But when he does have a good song -- like the hit "Brown Sugar," Smokey Robinson's "Cruisin'," or the bluesy "Shit, Damn, Motherfucker," among several others -- D'Angelo's wild talents are evident. Brown Sugar might not be consistently brilliant, but it is one of the most exciting debuts of 1995, giving a good sense of how deep D'Angelo's talents run.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Kala

M.I.A.
On the heels of her gutsy debut Arular, M.I.A.’s sophomore offering stretches its sound further into the reaches of her eclectic electro hip pop mash up. Armed with even more bravado than before, M.I.A. sounds like she’s in complete creative control although—or perhaps because—the album’s all over the place, defying formula. Politically-fueled lyrics chant and scatter over hypnotic synths, samples, hand claps, and gun claps. M.I.A’s most-known hit “Paper Planes” taunts “no one on the corner has swagger like us” while the Timbaland-produced “Come Around” chants “In a faraway land we got shit made/Ray-Ban shades, warheads laid/Babies born in air raids/My girls run the Everglades.”

– Laura Checkoway, Google Play

The E.N.D. (Energy Never Dies)

The Black Eyed Peas
The Black Eyed Peas make effective pop/crossover music, but they aren't content to be disposable pop stars; they also want to write anthemic, vital songs that speak for a new generation. And so comes The E.N.D. (Energy Never Dies). For every hyper-sexualized, by-the-numbers track like the hit single "Boom Boom Pow," there are message songs like "Now Generation," which begins, in cheerleader fashion, with the lines: "We are the now generation! We are the generation now!/This is the now generation! This is the generation now!" Led by will.i.am's production, which is continually the best thing about the album, the Black Eyed Peas move even farther away from hip-hop into the type of inspirational dance-pop that has become ripe for advertisements and marketing opportunities, including "I Gotta Feeling" ("I gotta feeling that tonight's gonna be a good night") and "Party All Night" ("If we could party all night and sleep all day, and throw all of our problems away, my life would be ea-say"). Granted, there's nothing here as embarrassing as "My Humps," and the production is a shade better than previous material from the group or Fergie solo (although still not as good as will.i.am solo ventures), but The E.N.D. (Energy Never Dies) becomes a mess of pop/dance/rap crossover.

John Bush, Rovi

The Soul Sessions

Joss Stone
Q: She's 16 and British, what can "she" possibly know about singing vintage American soul music? A: Enough to make you squirm, get off your ass, and dance close with anybody who'll have you. Joss Stone is a young woman who, if you believe the story, was about to record her wannabe pop smash debut and then be well on her way to becoming the next Britney/Christina. Then she heard some vintage American Miami soul made by the likes of Latimore, Little Beaver, Betty Wright, Timmy Thomas, and the like, and genuine inspiration took hold. The result of all this career changing (or diva postponement) is The Soul Sessions, a collection of ten badass soul classics recorded with all of the above folks -- soul princess Betty Wright and S-Curve's Steve Greenberg produced almost all of it in Miami, though a pair of tracks were recorded in New York with R&B wunderkind Mike Mangini and a souled-out cover of the White Stripes "Fell in Love With a Boy," guided by the Roots' ?uestlove (Ahmir Thompson) on the modern tip, was cut in Philly. These jams drip honey sweet and hard with tough, sexy soul, and Stone's voice is larger than life. It's true she's been tutored and mentored by Wright and her musical collaborators in the science of groove, but she keeps it raw enough to be real. Her reading of Harlan Howard's "The Chokin' Kind" reveals that it should have been an R&B tune all along -- check out Little Beaver's (Willie Hale) guitar solo. Her reading of Bobby Miller's "Dirty Man," a track associated with Wright, is gutsy and completely believable, and the interplay between Latimore's piano and Beaver's funky, shimmering guitaristry brings Stone's vocal down to street level.

For a woman as young as Stone to tackle Carla Thomas' "I've Fallen in Love With You" and Aretha Franklin's "All the King's Horses," not to mention John Ellison's nugget "Some Kind of Wonderful," takes guts, chops, or a genuine delusional personality to pull off. Stone has the former two. She has unique phrasing and a huge voice that accents, dips, and slips, never overworking a song or trying to bring attention to itself via hollow acrobatics. The strings and funky backbeat provided by Thompson on "I've Fallen in Love With You" are chilling in the way they prod Stone to just spill a need out of her heart that one would believe would be beyond her years. And speaking of Thompson, his production of the Stripes tune is more than remarkable; it conveys Jack White's intent but in an entirely new language. The set closes with Stone's radical reread of the Isleys' "For the Love of You," a daunting and audacious task. The way she tackles this song, prodded only by Angelo Morris' keyboard whispering alongside her, is far from reverential, but it is true, accurate, moving, and stunningly -- even heartbreakingly -- beautiful. This is a debut that, along with those fine practitioners in the nu-soul underground such as Peven Everett, Julie Dexter, Yas-rah, Fertile Ground, and a few others, is solid proof that soul is alive and well. And perhaps, given her youth and stunning looks, the perverse star-making machinery will use this unusual entry into the marketplace to reinvestigate the wonders of timeless depth and vision inherent in soul and R&B that are far from exhausted, as this record so convincingly proves.

Thom Jurek, Rovi

Do You Want More?!!!??!

The Roots
Because the Roots were pioneering a new style during the early '90s, the band was forced to draw its own blueprints for its major-label debut album. It's not surprising then, that Do You Want More?!!!??! sounds more like a document of old-school hip-hop than contemporary rap. The album is based on loose grooves and laid-back improvisation, and where most hip-hoppers use samples to draw songs together and provide a chorus, the Roots just keep on jamming. The problem is that the Roots' jams begin to take the place of true songs, leaving most tracks with only that groove to speak for them. The notable exceptions -- "Mellow My Man" and "Datskat," among others -- use different strategies to command attention: the sounds of a human beatbox , the great keyboard work of Scott Storch, and contributions from several jazz players (trombonist Joshua Roseman, saxophonist Steve Coleman and vocalist Cassandra Wilson). By the close of the album, those tracks are what the listener remembers, not the lightweight grooves. [Do You Want More?!!!??! was also released in a "clean" edition, containing no profanities or vulgarities.]

John Bush, Rovi

Autobahn

Kraftwerk
Although Kraftwerk's first three albums were groundbreaking in their own right, Autobahn is where the group's hypnotic electronic pulse genuinely came into its own. The main difference between Autobahn and its predecessors is how it develops an insistent, propulsive pulse that makes the repeated rhythms and riffs of the shimmering electronic keyboards and trance-like guitars all the more hypnotizing. The 22-minute title track, in a severely edited form, became an international hit single and remains the peak of the band's achievements -- it encapsulates the band and why they are important within one track -- but the rest of the album provides soundscapes equally as intriguing. Within Autobahn, the roots of electro-funk, ambient, and synth pop are all evident -- it's a pioneering album, even if its electronic trances might not capture the attention of all listeners.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Patsy Cline Showcase

Patsy Cline
One of only three albums released in her lifetime, Showcase was the first set of sessions after her near-death in a car crash in 1961. The recordings teamed her up with the Jordanaires and produced the hits "Crazy" and "I Fall to Pieces" as well as new, more stylized versions of "Walkin' After Midnight" and that single's original flip, "A Poor Man's Roses (Or a Rich Man's Gold)." This release features the second cover photo that was issued after her death, replacing the original cover art.

Cub Koda, Rovi

Favorites

The Supremes