Top Albums

Honest (Deluxe Edition)

Future

The New Classic (Deluxe Version)

Iggy Azalea

The Foundation

Zac Brown Band

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.]

Testimony (Deluxe)

August Alsina

The Best Of Depeche Mode Volume 1

Depeche Mode

Eliminator

ZZ Top
ZZ Top had reached the top of the charts before, but that didn't make their sudden popularity in 1983 any more predictable. It wasn't that they were just popular -- they were "hip", for God's sake, since they were one of the only AOR favorites to figure out to harness the stylish, synthesized grooves of new wave, and then figure out how to sell it on MTV. Of course, it helped that they had songs that deserved to be hits. With "Gimme All Your Lovin'," "Sharp Dressed Man," and "Legs," they had their greatest set of singles since the heady days of Tres Hombres, and the songs that surrounded them weren't bad either -- they would have been singles on El Loco, as a matter of fact. The songs alone would have made Eliminator one of ZZ Top's three greatest albums, but their embrace of synths and sequencers made it a blockbuster hit, since it was the sound of the times. Years later, the sound of the times winds up sounding a bit stiff. It's still an excellent ZZ Top album, one of their best, yet it sounds like a mechanized ZZ Top thanks to the unflaggingly accurate grooves. Then again, that's part of the album's charm -- this is new wave blues-rock, glossed up for the video, looking as good as the omnipresent convertible on the cover and sounding as irresistible as Reaganomics. Not the sort the old-school fans or blues-rock purists will love, but ZZ Top never sounded as much like a band of its time as they did here. [Based on Rhino's 2008 Deluxe reissue of ZZ Top's classic 1983 LP Eliminator, the trio didn't have much in the way of unreleased songs left in the vaults, but that doesn't mean this double-disc set isn't useful. This set has a DVD devoted to the album's landmark videos -- "Gimme All Your Lovin'," "Sharp Dressed Man," "Legs," and "TV Dinners," all staples of early MTV -- adding a couple of live performances for good measure. Live performances are also the key to the expansion of the CD, as the seven bonus tracks contain two mixes of "Legs" -- a 7" edit and a 12" mix -- and five live cuts from the Eliminator tour. These live performances aren't as good as the sleek, gleaming finished album, as the group had neither learned to expertly play with a drum machine on-stage or figure out how to do these songs without electronics, but that just winds up highlighting what an exceptionally well-crafted, imaginative production the original Eliminator was and for that, this deluxe edition is worth exploring.]

RetroHash

Asher Roth

NOW That's What I Call 80s Hits

Various Artists
Traveling back in time to the decade that the whole series started in, the "Now" series tackles the '80s with Now That’s What I Call the 80’s Hits. Featuring songs like Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax” and Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time,” the compilation pulls together some of the hits that would go on to become iconic of the era. For anyone looking to sum up '80s pop radio in one easy disc, Now That’s What I Call the 80’s Hits won’t disappoint.

Gregory Heaney, Rovi

Slippery When Wet

Bon Jovi
Slippery When Wet wasn't just a breakthrough album for Bon Jovi; it was a breakthrough for hair metal in general, marking the point where the genre officially entered the mainstream. Released in 1986, it presented a streamlined combination of pop, hard rock, and metal that appealed to everyone -- especially girls, whom traditional heavy metal often ignored. Slippery When Wet was more indebted to pop than metal, though, and the band made no attempt to hide its commercial ambition, even hiring an outside songwriter to co-write two of the album's biggest singles. The trick paid off as Slippery When Wet became the best-selling album of 1987, beating out contenders like Appetite for Destruction, The Joshua Tree, and Michael Jackson's Bad.

Part of the album's success could be attributed to Desmond Child, a behind-the-scenes songwriter who went on to write hits for Aerosmith, Michael Bolton, and Ricky Martin. With Child's help, Bon Jovi penned a pair of songs that would eventually define their career -- “Living on a Prayer” and “You Give Love a Bad Name” -- two teenage anthems that mixed Springsteen's blue-collar narratives with straightforward, guitar-driven hooks. The band's characters may have been down on their luck -- they worked dead-end jobs, pined for dangerous women, and occasionally rode steel horses -- but Bon Jovi never presented a problem that couldn’t be cured by a good chorus, every one of which seemed to celebrate a glass-half-full mentality. Elsewhere, the group turned to nostalgia, using songs like “Never Say Goodbye” and “Wild in the Streets” to re-create (or fabricate) an untamed, sex-filled youth that undoubtedly appealed to the band’s teen audience. Bon Jovi wasn't nearly as hard-edged as Mötley Crüe or technically proficient as Van Halen, but the guys smartly played to their strengths, shunning the extremes for an accessible, middle-of-the-road approach that wound up appealing to more fans than most of their peers. “It’s alright if you have a good time,” Jon Bon Jovi sang on Slippery When Wet’s first track, “Let It Rock,” and those words essentially served as a mantra for the entire hair metal genre, whose carefree, party-heavy attitude became the soundtrack for the rest of the ‘80s.

Andrew Leahey, Rovi

In Death Reborn

Army of the Pharaohs

The Legend Of Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash
The Legend of Johnny Cash is billed as the "first ever complete career spanning collection," which is true to a certain extent -- other collections cover territory from 1955 to 2003, but this is the first to contain everything from Sun to Cash's Rick Rubin-produced comeback recordings for American in the '90s and 2000s. Since the biggest complaint that could be lodged against the otherwise excellent 2005 box The Legend -- which, despite appearances to the contrary, is an entirely different compilation -- was that it contained none of these Rubin-produced records, it would seem like The Legend Of would be a bit of a godsend, but that's not necessarily true. If The Legend contained too little of Cash's American recordings, The Legend Of contains too many. At 21 tracks it would seem like this would contain most of Cash's signature songs, and while it does contain a great many of them, it's hampered by the whopping six songs devoted to his American recordings -- add to the mix the 1993 Cash-sung U2 cut "The Wanderer" and "Highwayman" by Cash's outlaw supergroup with Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson, and that's just a little under half of the disc devoted to music made after his prime. Not just that, but the music he made after he left Columbia partway through the '80s often does not sit well with his classic Sun and Columbia records -- as soon as the synths and big drums of "Highwayman" kick in, the feel of the music changes. While Rubin's work doesn't sound as completely foreign as the icy Euro-rock textures of "The Wanderer" -- as "Rusty Cage" and "I've Been Everywhere," the two selections from 1996's excellent Unchained prove, Rubin knew how to revitalize Cash's signature sound (tellingly, those are the only Rubin-helmed sessions where Cash was supported by a full band) -- there is simply too much of it here, particularly because the stark, monochromatic acoustic readings of "Delia's Gone" and "Give My Love to Rose" sound neutered compared to the versions Cash cut with the Tennessee Two. Also, such a heavy representation of these American recordings makes the collection lopsided, suggesting that these later works were as good, if not better, than the music that made his fame, fortune, and legend (a suggestion strengthened by the fact that Rubin is the only producer who gets a back-cover billing), which is not the case -- Cash's liveliest, deepest, and best music remains what he cut in the '50s and '60s. And while just over half of this compilation is devoted to that music -- all the big hits are hauled out once again -- there still is too much latter-day material for this to be an entirely accurate, satisfying collection (particularly with such big hits as "Don't Take Your Guns to Town," "Five Feet High and Rising," "Daddy Sang Bass," and "The Ballad of Ira Hayes," among other signature tunes, missing). That said, for a brief one-stop overview of Cash's career, this is pretty good -- comps that concentrate solely on the Sun and Columbia eras are more consistent, but this has most of the big singles, which will certainly fill the needs of those who want a compilation that covers a lot of ground.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

21 Totally 80s Hits

Various

Strange Clouds

B.o.B
B.o.B's sophomore effort is missing that little bit of humility that made his debut (2010's The Adventures of Bobby Ray) so approachable, and when you come out of the gate nailing such a wide variety of pop-rap, asking for growth is asking for a lot. On this sophomore effort, B.o.B sounds like the same guy who delivered that debut and with the same set of skills (good lyrics, great pathos, and great punch lines) and aspirations (big across the board), just after numerous nights of bottle service, living in a platinum dream world where Dr. Luke and Lil Wayne contribute to your hazy highlight title track, and where mega-star Taylor Swift replaces Hayley Williams on the worthy "Airplanes" follow-up, "Both of Us." Later it's Nicki Minaj acting like a malfunctioning robot on the hip thrill ride called "Out of My Mind," followed by alt-rocker Ryan Tedder on the warm and cozy morning affirmation titled "Never Let You Go," but B.o.B isn't just influenced by the styles of his guests and is willing to bump a solo strip-club number ("Ray Bands") next to a solo soul-searcher ("So Hard to Breathe") as if albums were always executed like trapeze acts. Combine well funded and well crafted along with the rapper's "no frontin'" attitude -- sometimes he really wants to ease problems, and sometimes he really wants to be at a strip club -- and it starts to come together, plus when Morgan Freeman delivers that big, heavy-handed intro with barely a smirk, B.o.B's choice of audacious over ironic is refreshing. This is bold pop-rap at an "Arena" level, and while partying like a rock star means cohesiveness takes a hit, Strange Clouds is still thrilling and persuasive.

David Jeffries, Rovi

Number One Hits

Tim McGraw
Two years after releasing Greatest Hits, Vol. 3, Tim McGraw put out Number One Hits -- a double-disc distillation of 24 of his biggest hits. Naturally, not every one of his charting singles fit under this rubric, but Number One Hits sticks to the parameters of its title more faithfully than most discs of this nature, including only chart-toppers along with the requisite new cut “Feels Good on My Lips.” Although the sequencing is bewilderingly non-chronological, hop-scotching from one decade to another, Number One Hits does serve up all the high points from McGraw's career, and hints at his range, making this the best overview of his work yet assembled.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Pop Psychology

Neon Trees

Wildflowers

Tom Petty
Under the guidance of producer Rick Rubin, Tom Petty turns in a stripped-down, subtle record with Wildflowers. Coming after two albums of Jeff Lynne-directed bombast, the very sound of the record is refreshing; Petty sounds relaxed and confident. Most of the songs are small gems, but a few are a little too laid-back, almost reaching the point of carelessness. Nevertheless, the finest songs here ("Wildflowers," "You Don't Know How It Feels," "It's Good to Be King," and several others) match the quality of his best material, making Wildflowers one of Petty's most distinctive and best albums.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

American Beauty

Bruce Springsteen

The Marshall Mathers LP2 (Deluxe)

Eminem

Crash My Party

Luke Bryan

Sail Out

Jhené Aiko

Back For The First Time

Ludacris
When Def Jam signed Ludacris in 2000, the Atlanta rapper had already released a regionally successful independent album (Incognegro) with a hot single ("What's Your Fantasy"). So rather than send Ludacris back into the studio to record a follow-up album, Def Jam chose to repackage Incognegro as Back for the First Time (the title a play on the re-released nature of the music) and append some new material. The decision proved wise. Incognegro had been a strong album debut, produced largely by talented newcomer Shondrae, along with Organized Noize (who produce "Game Got Switched") and Jermaine Dupri ("Get Off Me"), and featuring a roster of hungry underground rappers (I-20, Fat Wilson, Shawnna, Pastor Troy, 4-Ize). Plus, "What's Your Fantasy" was already a proven hit, if perhaps too explicit for mainstream radio play. The real difference between Incognegro and Back for the First Time, however, is the newly recorded material -- four songs, each a standout: the Neptunes-produced club-banger "Southern Hospitality," the previously released Timbaland-produced "Phat Rabbit," the rowdy U.G.K.-featuring "Stick 'Em Up," and the provocative Trina and Foxy Brown remix of "What's Your Fantasy." The most significant of these additions is "Southern Hospitality," a feel-good party song that -- sequenced late in the album, at track 14 -- comes as a pleasant relief after the proceeding up-from-the-underground hardcore tone of Incognegro/Back for the First Time. [The clean version edits all moments of profanity.]

Jason Birchmeier, Rovi

20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best Of Lynyrd Syknyrd

Lynyrd Skynyrd
Like any record company worth their salt, MCA knows a good gimmick when they see it, and when the millennium came around -- well, the 20th Century Masters -- The Millennium Collection wasn't too far behind. Supposedly, the millennium is a momentous occasion, but it's hard to feel that way when it's used as another excuse to turn out a budget-line series. But apart from the presumptuous title, 20th Century Masters -- The Millennium Collection turns out to be a very good budget-line series. True, it's impossible for any of these brief collections to be definitive, but they're nevertheless solid samplers that don't feature a bad song in the bunch. For example, take Lynyrd Skynyrd's 20th Century volume -- it's an irresistible ten-song summary of their MCA years. There may be a couple of noteworthy songs missing, but many of their best-known songs are here, including "Sweet Home Alabama," "What's Your Name," "Gimme Three Steps," "You Got That Right," "Saturday Night Special," "That Smell," and "Free Bird." Serious fans will want something more extensive, but this is an excellent introduction for neophytes and a great sampler for casual fans, considering its length and price. That doesn't erase the ridiculousness of the series title, but the silliness is excusable when the music and the collections are good.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Mastermind (Deluxe)

Rick Ross

Food

Kelis

Thriller

Michael Jackson
Off the Wall was a massive success, spawning four Top Ten hits (two of them number ones), but nothing could have prepared Michael Jackson for Thriller. Nobody could have prepared anybody for the success of Thriller, since the magnitude of its success was simply unimaginable -- an album that sold 40 million copies in its initial chart run, with "seven" of its nine tracks reaching the Top Ten (for the record, the terrific "Baby Be Mine" and the pretty good ballad "The Lady in My Life" are not like the others). This was a record that had something for everybody, building on the basic blueprint of Off the Wall by adding harder funk, hard rock, softer ballads, and smoother soul -- expanding the approach to have something for every audience. That alone would have given the album a good shot at a huge audience, but it also arrived precisely when MTV was reaching its ascendancy, and Jackson helped the network by being not just its first superstar, but first black star as much as the network helped him. This all would have made it a success (and its success, in turn, served as a new standard for success), but it stayed on the charts, turning out singles, for nearly two years because it was really, really good. True, it wasn't as tight as Off the Wall -- and the ridiculous, late-night house-of-horrors title track is the prime culprit, arriving in the middle of the record and sucking out its momentum -- but those one or two cuts don't detract from a phenomenal set of music. It's calculated, to be sure, but the chutzpah of those calculations (before this, nobody would even have thought to bring in metal virtuoso Eddie Van Halen to play on a disco cut) is outdone by their success. This is where a song as gentle and lovely as "Human Nature" coexists comfortably with the tough, scared "Beat It," the sweet schmaltz of the Paul McCartney duet "The Girl Is Mine," and the frizzy funk of "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)." And, although this is an undeniably fun record, the paranoia is already creeping in, manifesting itself in the record's two best songs: "Billie Jean," where a woman claims Michael is the father of her child, and the delirious "Wanna Be Startin' Something," the freshest funk on the album, but the most claustrophobic, scariest track Jackson ever recorded. These give the record its anchor and are part of the reason why the record is more than just a phenomenon. The other reason, of course, is that much of this is just simply great music.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

good kid, m.A.A.d city

Kendrick Lamar
Hip-hop debuts don't come much more "highly anticipated" than Kendrick Lamar's. A series of killer mixtapes displayed his talent for thought-provoking street lyrics delivered with an attention-grabbing flow, and then there was his membership in the Black Hippy crew with his brethren Ab-Soul, Schoolboy Q, and Jay Rock all issuing solo releases that pleased the "true hip-hop" set, setting the stage for a massive fourth and final. Top it off with a pre-release "XXL Magazine" cover that he shared with his label boss and all-around legend Dr. Dre, and the "biggest debut since Illmatic" stuff starts to flow, but Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City would be a milestone even without the back-story, offering cool and compelling lyrics, great guests (Drake, Dr. Dre, and MC Eiht) and attractive production (from Pharrell, Just Blaze, Tabu, and others). Here, Kendrick is living his life like status and cash were extra credit. It is what makes this kid so "good" as he navigates his "mad" city (Compton) with experience and wisdom beyond his years (25). He's shamelessly bold about the allure of the trap, contrasting the sickness of his city with the universal feeling of getting homesick, and carrying a Springsteen-sized love for the home team. Course, in his gang-ruled city, N.W.A. "was" the home team, but as the truly beautiful, steeped-in-soul, biographic key track "The Art of Peer Pressure" finds a reluctant young Kendrick and his friends feeding off the life-force of Young Jeezy's debut album, it's something Clash, Public Enemy, and all other rebel music fans can relate to. Still, when he realizes that hero Jeezy must have risen above the game -- because the real playas are damned and never show their faces -- it spawns a kind of elevated gangsta rap that's as pimp-connectable as the most vicious Eazy-E, and yet poignant enough to blow the dust off any cracked soul. Equally heavy is the cautionary tale of drank dubbed "Swimming Pools," yet that highlight is as hooky and hallucinatory as most Houston drank anthems, and breaks off into one of the chilling, cassette-quality interludes that connect the album, adding to the documentary or eavesdropping quality of it all. Soul children will experience déjà vu when "Poetic Justice" slides by with its Janet Jackson sample -- sounding like it came off his Aunt's VHS copy of the movie it's named after -- while the closing "Compton" is an anthem sure to make the Game jealous, featuring Dre in beast mode, acting pre-Chronic and pre-Death Row. This journey through the concrete jungle of Compton is worth taking because of the artistic richness within, plus the attraction of a whip-smart rapper flying high during his rookie season. Any hesitation about the horror of it all is quickly wiped away by Kendrick's mix of true talk, open heart, open mind, and extended hand. Add it all up and even without the hype, this one is still potent and smart enough to rise to the top of the pile.

Paper Trail

T.I.
House arrest would likely slow anyone's daily routine. It probably played a factor in T.I.'s decision to write down his rhymes for the first time since his debut. A year of jail time on the horizon would, just the same, impact a writer's output, and it has done just that on Paper Trail. Plenty of these tracks have nothing to do with T.I.'s federal weapons conviction -- escapist fare like the number one Hot 100 single "Whatever You Like" and the mindnumbing "Porn Star," where he's barely coasting -- but there is a sense of urgency and a new dimension of self-reflection not touched upon throughout the holding pattern that was T.I. vs T.I.P. And when he's just battling, as on "I'm Illy," he reaches a level of indignant rage that manages to top that of "I'm Talkin' to You." The M.I.A.-sampling, Kanye West-produced "Swagga Like Us" features verses from Jay-Z, West, and Lil Wayne, but its chunky, rugged, alien beat could've hit even harder with just T.I., whose pent-up swagger makes for the best vocal fit. The cut with multiple features that is deserving of even more talk is "On Top of the World," where B.o.B. and (especially) Ludacris complement atypical wealth-related T.I. boasts like "Cousins in college -- where you think they get tuition from?" The production work also helps place the album above T.I. vs T.I.P.; Toomp's return provides some much needed punch, as does Danja's slow motion, almost bluesy, organ-drenched beat for "No Matter What." [This edition was sold exclusively at Circuit City.]

Andy Kellman, Rovi

Talk Dirty

Jason Derulo

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

You Make Me Brave (Live)

Bethel Music

Recess

Skrillex

Automatic For The People

R.E.M.
Turning away from the sweet pop of Out of Time, R.E.M. created a haunting, melancholy masterpiece with Automatic for the People. At its core, the album is a collection of folk songs about aging, death, and loss, but the music has a grand, epic sweep provided by layers of lush strings, interweaving acoustic instruments, and shimmering keyboards. Automatic for the People captures the group at a crossroads, as they moved from cult heroes to elder statesmen, and the album is a graceful transition into their new status. It is a reflective album, with frank discussions on mortality, but it is not a despairing record -- "Nightswimming," "Everybody Hurts," and "Sweetness Follows" have a comforting melancholy, while "Find the River" provides a positive sense of closure. R.E.M. have never been as emotionally direct as they are on Automatic for the People, nor have they ever created music quite as rich and timeless, and while the record is not an easy listen, it is the most rewarding record in their oeuvre.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Madonna

Madonna

The Best Of Sade

Sade
It's easy to dismiss Sade as makeout music for Calvin Klein Obsession models, but she created an impressive body of work over the course of a decade, a series of moody singles with cool jazz passion and the kick of good R&B. All the hits are here, of course, from "Smooth Operator" to "No Ordinary Love."

Eddie Huffman, Rovi

A Decade Of Hits 1969-1979

The Allman Brothers Band
The record industry's blatantly greedy ploy of remastering and "upgrading" CDs is shameful. The sonics are usually improved, but the CDs could have been mastered properly the first time. But then fans wouldn't buy the same titles twice. The Allman Brothers Band's indispensable compilation A Decade of Hits 1969-1979 was reissued in 2000, just nine years after the original release. The remastered 2000 edition still features the same 16 songs, but the packaging and liner notes include an essay by Guitar World journalist Alan Paul, photos, and detailed recording credits. It would be easy to argue that individual albums like Idlewild South, Live at Fillmore East, Eat a Peach, or Brothers and Sisters are more cohesive artistic statements, but no self-respecting rock & roll fan should be without a copy of A Decade of Hits 1969-1979, which includes the cream of those albums. It's impossible to go wrong with one CD featuring Gregg Allman's harrowing "Whipping Post" and gorgeous "Midnight Rider," Dickey Betts' soaring "Ramblin' Man," and the lovely instrumentals "Jessica" and "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed," let alone the blues covers "Statesboro Blues" and "One Way Out," which many people probably don't realize are covers because the band embodies them so much. Fans shouldn't have much of a problem recognizing the 2000 version. The cover featuring the band logo stitched on the denim jacket is still intact, but the white lettering is laid out a little differently on both the front and back covers. Plus, the shrink-wrap has an identifying sticker. Better still, just look at the copyright date. The first pressing's liner notes include a typographical error; there's a noticeable gap within the essay text where the Enlightened Rogues title is missing.

Bret Adams, Rovi

My Krazy Life (Deluxe)

YG

Living Out Loud

OCD: Moosh & Twist

Rapture

Anita Baker
Though Anita Baker got some airplay out of The Songstress, that promising solo debut didn't bring her financial security. In fact, Baker was earning her living as a legal secretary in her native Detroit when she signed with Elektra in the mid-'80s. Elektra gave her a strong promotional push, and the equally superb Rapture became the megahit that The Songstress should have been. To its credit, Elektra made her a major star by focusing on Baker's strong point -- romantic but gospel-influenced R&B/pop ballads and "slow jams," sometimes with jazz overtones -- and letting her be true to herself. Rapture gave Baker one moving hit after another, including "Sweet Love," "Caught up in the Rapture," "Same Ole Love," and "No One in This World." Praising Baker in a 1986 interview, veteran R&B critic Steve Ivory asserted, "To me, singers like Anita Baker and Frankie Beverly define what R&B or soul music is all about." Indeed, Rapture's tremendous success made it clear that there was still a sizeable market for adult-oriented, more traditional R&B singing.

Alex Henderson, Rovi

Whitesnake's Greatest Hits

Whitesnake
Whitesnake's Greatest Hits collects the cream of the band's later '80s efforts, gathering most of its material from Slide It In, Whitesnake, and Slip of the Tongue. Bigger fans will find worthwhile album tracks on the former two efforts, but this collection of Zeppelin-ish rock anthems and hooky power ballads are all most fans will need.

Steve Huey, Rovi

Synchronicity

The Police
Simultaneously more pop-oriented and experimental than either Ghost in the Machine or Zenyatta Mondatta, Synchronicity made the Police superstars, generating no less than five hit singles. With the exception of "Synchronicity II," which sounds disarmingly like a crappy Billy Idol song, every one of those singles is a classic. "Every Breath You Take" has a seductive, rolling beat masking its maliciousness, "King of Pain" and "Wrapped Around Your Finger" are devilishly infectious new wave singles, and "Tea in the Sahara" is hypnotic in its measured, melancholy choruses. But, like so many other Police albums, these songs are surrounded by utterly inconsequential filler. This time, the group relies heavily on jazzy textures for Sting's songs, which only work on the jumping, marimba-driven "Synchronicity I." Then, as if to prove that the Police were still a band, there's one song apiece from Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers, both of which are awful, as if they're trying to sabotage the album. Since they arrive on the first side, which is devoid of singles, they do, making the album sound like two EPs: one filled with first-rate pop, and one an exercise in self-indulgence. While the hits are among Sting's best, they also illustrate that he was ready to leave the Police behind for a solo career, which is exactly what he did.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

By Any Means

Kevin Gates

La Gárgola

Chevelle

Rented World

The Menzingers

Street Songs

Rick James
Disappointed because Garden of Love wasn't as well-received as it should have been, Rick James made a triumphant return to defiant, in-your-face funk with the triple-platinum Street Songs. This was not only his best-selling album ever, it was also his best period, and certainly the most exciting album released in 1981. The gloves came all the way off this time, and James is as loud and proud as ever on such arresting hits as "Super Freak," "Give It to Me, Baby," and "Ghetto Life." Ballads aren't a high priority, but those he does offer (including his stunning duet with Teena Marie, "Fire and Desire,") are first-rate. One song that's questionable (to say the least) is the inflammatory "Mr. Policeman," a commentary on police misconduct that condemns law enforcement in general instead of simply indicting those who abuse their authority. But then, the thing that makes this hot-headed diatribe extreme is what makes the album on the whole so arresting -- honest, gut-level emotion. James simply follows what's in his gut and lets it rip. Even the world's most casual funksters shouldn't be without this pearl of an album. [The reissue of Street Songs adds 12" mixes of "Give It to Me Baby" and "Super Freak" as bonus tracks.]

Alex Henderson, Rovi

The Outsiders

Eric Church

Heartbeat

Da' T.R.U.T.H.

Word Of Mouf

Ludacris
Ludacris' second album for Def Jam, Word of Mouf, is a superstar affair that aims for mass appeal with a broad array of different styles. Nearly every track features some sort of collaborator, either hitmaking producers like Timbaland and Organized Noize, big-name rappers like Mystikal and Twista, hook-singing crooners like Nate Dogg and Jagged Edge, or fellow Disturbing tha Peace group members I-20, Shawnna, Lil' Fate, and Tity Boi -- and sometimes a combinations of these various ingredients. The resulting album is surely impressive, propelled by lively production, colorful guests, and an omnipresent touch of humor. More hilarious than before, Ludacris lightens his lyrical style here, leaving behind much of thuggishness that had characterized his previous album, Back for the First Time, in favor of witty puns and sly innuendoes. A particularly humorous highlight is the previously released (on the Rush Hour 2 soundtrack) single "Area Codes," a tongue-twisting, good-spirited Jazze Pha production. Less humorous though likewise standout is the lead single, "Rollout (My Business)," a rallying Timbaland production with a simple yet inescapable hook. Other highlights include the Organized Noize-produced booty-shaker "Saturday (Oooh Oooh!)," the Jagged Edge-sung "Freaky Thangs," and the Beats by the Pound-esque posse track "Move Bitch." There's also a hidden bonus track here that's likewise an explosive collaboration, the Jermaine Dupri-led "Welcome to Atlanta." There are a lot of highlights here; however, amid all of these various team-ups you do lose a little bit of the sincere, personal edge that had characterized much of Ludacris' debut. Even so, it's overall a worthy exchange, since there's something here on Word of Mouf for everyone, signaling Ludacris' leap from the Dirty South underground to the pop-rap mass market. [A Japanese version added a bonus track.]

Jason Birchmeier, Rovi

Night Visions

Imagine Dragons
Even though Night Visions has several repackaged tunes from Imagine Dragons' previous EPs, including the instantly appealing breakthrough hit "It's Time," the band's debut LP is a confident, commercially savvy collection of energetic hooks, crunchy electro beats and glossy synthesizers. With sweeping choruses and booming bass, it's big-sounding party rock, but the savvy, kitchen-sink production of Alex da Kid makes other would-be singles like "Bleeding Out" and "Tiptoe" as interesting as they are overwhelming. Even though under all the layers there are occasionally pockets of pure cheese ("With the beast inside, there's nowhere we can hide," Dan Reynolds sings on "Demons"), the scope of the band's full-length debut leaves a big impression.

Nate Cavalieri, Google Play

Pure Heroine

Lorde

Greatest Hits

Huey Lewis
There have been many Huey Lewis & the News hits compilations released overseas, but 2006's simply named Greatest Hits is only the second U.S. comp, following Time Flies, which appeared a decade earlier. At a generous 21 tracks, Greatest Hits is not only five songs longer than Time Flies, but it's a better-chosen collection, too. It may be missing "Bad Is Bad," but it has a stronger selection of early songs, like the wonderful "Hope You Love Me Like You Say You Do," plus a better selection of latter-day songs, including Huey's duet with Gwyneth Paltrow on Smokey Robinson's "Cruisin'." That doesn't mean the disc is perfect, however; although this does have stronger representation of their earlier material, it could use just a little bit more, and the non-chronological sequencing is a bit of a headache. That said, this has all the hits and no weak songs, making it the best Huey Lewis & the News compilation yet.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

16 Biggest Hits

Charlie Daniels
You'd be hard-pressed to find a better single-disc Charlie Daniels Band greatest-hits compilation than 16 Biggest Hits, which indeed lives up to its billing, rounding up a balanced selection of hits that span from 1973 to 1989 -- from "Uneasy Rider" to "(What This World Needs Is) A Few More Rednecks." Granted, the Charlie Daniels of the mid-'70s sounds a lot rawer than the Charlie Daniels of the mid- to late '80s, with some listeners no doubt preferring the rowdiness of the former to the polished appeal of the latter, and vice versa. But either way, it's nice to have such a range of music represented here on 16 Biggest Hits, because it showcases how the Charlie Daniels Band -- and, by extension, country music altogether -- evolved over the decades, getting steadily streamlined for broader appeal. The Essential Charlie Daniels Band, released a few years earlier, has a lot in common with 16 Biggest Hits, though at only 14 tracks and non-chronologically sequenced, it's slightly inferior. The chronological sequencing of 16 Biggest Hits is key, for it plays out like history itself, as Charlie Daniels grew from his Southern rock and outlaw country roots -- best exemplified by Fire on the Mountain (1974), represented here by three songs -- to his flag-waving anthems of the '80s like "In America," "Still in Saigon," and "(What This World Needs Is) A Few More Rednecks." Of course, there are a lot more Charlie Daniels Band highlights than the 16 here, but few were bigger than these. And if indeed you're looking for a more definitive collection of music, The Ultimate Charlie Daniels Band is recommended, offering 30 songs over the course of two discs, and also Roots Remain, an all-encompassing 45-song triple-disc set including rarities.

Jason Birchmeier, Rovi

Nothing Was The Same (Deluxe)

Drake

Best Of Volume 1

Van Halen

Sugar

G. Love & Special Sauce

Disintegration

The Cure