The Best Damn Thing

REVIEWED BY CHUCK ARNOLD

POP-ROCK

For those of you who thought Avril Lavigne might have mellowed after getting married last summer (to Sum 41's Deryck Whibley), think again. The 22-year-old singer rips into her third CD as if to prove that, Vera Wang wedding gown aside, she is the same bratty punk she always was. She launches into The Best Damn Thing with four punchy, pouty rockers that shred Ashlee Simpson, Lindsay Lohan and company. Best is the feisty first single "Girlfriend," on which Lavigne lets her claws out, black fingernail polish and all: "She's like so whatever/You could do so much better." She keeps her snarl firmly in place on other standout tracks like the title tune and "One of Those Girls" (one of two cuts produced by her husband). Smartly, the whiny-voiced Lavigne keeps the ballads—and the honeymoon sentiments—to a minimum. She's much better as a mean girl than a mushy one.
[STARS 3]

DOWNLOAD THIS: "Girlfriend"

Pure BS

REVIEWED BY RALPH NOVAK

COUNTRY

While enjoyable, this album is undercut by the tone of self-pity that infects too many of the songs. Worst are "It Ain't Easy Being Me" and "The More I Drink," on which Shelton concedes, "If I have one drink, I have 13/Nah, there ain't no in between." On the other hand, "Don't Make Me" and "I Don't Care" are affecting romantic tunes that play to Shelton's strengths. And "The Last Country Song" is a playful romp with a pithy guest vocal by George Jones. John Anderson also sings on one track, and a strong group of musicians add pure authenticity.
[STARS 2.5]

DOWNLOAD THIS: "Don't Make Me"

Cassadaga

CRITIC'S CHOICE

ALT-FOLK

In 2005 Bright Eyes—the brainchild of indie hero Conor Oberst—simultaneously released two vastly different albums: the electronica-infused Digital Ash in a Digital Urn and the mostly acoustic I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning. Fortunately, this is more of a sequel to the latter, far better disc. There's a real down-hominess to Cassadaga—which gets its name from a small Florida town inhabited by psychics—on twangy tunes like first single "Four Winds" and "I Must Belong Somewhere," the kind of bright ditty that will keep Oberst's "new Dylan" buzz going.
[STARS 3.5]

DOWNLOAD THIS: "I Must Belong Somewhere"

Year Zero

INDUSTRIAL

Like a particularly puzzling episode of Lost, the ambitious new concept album from Trent Reznor's Nine Inch Nails may leave some folks scratching their heads. It takes place ca. 2022 and depicts an apocalyptic future, with "The Beginning of the End" setting the ominous tone: "We think we climb so high/Up all the backs we've condemned/We face our consequence/This is the beginning of the end." While the songs jumped out at you on 2005's superior With Teeth, here tracks like the grinding "Me, I'm Not" creep up on you, drawing you into Reznor's sinister world.
[STARS 3]

DOWNLOAD THIS: "Capital G"

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>You know you are major when you can get Prince to bow down before you. It's a testament to the influence and importance of Mitchell that she is also worshipped by the likes of Sarah McLachlan, Annie Lennox, Björk, Elvis Costello and James Taylor, all of whom appear on this classy salute. Clearly, they could drink a case of Joni and they'd still be on their feet.

>JOE Ain't Nothin' Like Me The title of Joe's latest CD seems to attest to his singular abilities as a loveman. But on these slow jams and hip-hoppish midtempo numbers he doesn't sound much different from fellow R&B Romeos like R. Kelly ("Go Hard"), Brian McKnight ("Feel for You") and Usher ("Let's Just Do It"). [STARS 2]

PATTI SMITH Twelve The recently inducted Rock and Roll Hall of Famer salutes such other all-timers as Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, Neil Young and Stevie Wonder on these 12 Pattified covers. The highlight? Her radical reworking of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," which she deconstructs into a folk-punker that Kurt Cobain would barely recognize. [STARS 3]

DENIECE WILLIAMS Love, Niecy Style Long before Mariah was hitting those glass-shattering notes, there was Niecy. And it's good to hear the songbird back on this set of '60s, '70s and '80s R&B covers. Her fluttery soprano soars on "This Time I'll Be Sweeter." But did we really need a remake of Kool & the Gang's "Cherish"? [STARS 2.5]

>MY PLAYLIST

The 40-year-old country star recently released her ninth studio disc, Waking Up Laughing, and is touring the U.S. through August.

RICKIE LEE JONES, RICKIE LEE JONES My husband and I listened to it a lot when we were dating. The way the songs paint a picture, it's a piece of art.

SARAH MCLACHLAN, SURFACING It brings back great memories [of when] I did Lilith Fair. It was kind of my soundtrack for that amazing experience.

PATTY GRIFFIN, FLAMING RED It's more of a rock sound for her. Sometimes I put this on before I go onstage. It helps get me in the mood to play rock star.

EVA CASSIDY, SONGBIRD I must have bought 50 or 60 copies of this album over the years because I wanted to share it with everyone I knew. It's like you can feel her heart when she sings.