Down Tim McGraw (Curb)

There's a little bit of Merle Haggard in Tim McGraw's voice. Unfortunately there's a little bit of the Backstreet Boys too, as McGraw's vocal colorings on these 14 tracks range from mewling boy band to depressed Kurt Cobain, with too few stops in Haggard country.

"Forget About Us," which is rueful but not maudlin and gets bolstered by a striking backup vocal by McGraw's wife, Faith Hill, is one of his finest songs, while the title track effectively takes up the narrator's search for roots. But "Grown Men Don't Cry" is a hypersentimental New Age sensitive-guy tune, and such songs as "Unbroken" kill the mood with incongruous heavy-metal guitar licks. And what's with the 22-page insert detailing McGraw's supposedly angst-ridden life on the road? More Merle and less Melville, please.

Bottom Line: McGraw at his best—and worst

Destiny's Child (Columbia)

Destiny's Child is the Law & Order of the pop charts, having churned through a series of lineup changes while its audience has only grown. In December 1999 original members LaTavia Roberson and LeToya Luckett stormed out of the group, leaving Beyoncé Knowles and Kelly Rowland behind. They were immediately joined by Michelle Williams and Farrah Franklin, but the latter only lasted five months. The survivors carried on as a threesome with a string of hit singles including "Say My Name" and "Independent Women Part 1."

Having thrived despite much critical razzing of their backstage squabbles, Destiny's Child steps up with strong female-empowerment themes on Survivor. "Independent Women Part 1" (a smash after it appeared on last fall's Charlie's Angels soundtrack), its sequel, "Independent Women Part 2," and the title track are thumping, fist-pumping anthems for today's young women.

Artistically, though, Destiny's Child needs to grow up a little. Such formulaic R&B girl-group fare as "Bootylicious," "Fancy" and "Sexy Daddy" aren't nearly worthy of their gorgeous three-part harmonies. Still, their lush, lilting cover of the Bee Gees-written Samantha Sang ballad "Emotion"—on which they rival the brothers Gibb—shows that their musical destiny looks bright.

Bottom Line: Still a work in progress

Tank (Background)

The latest macho man aching to play both thug and Romeo is the R&B singer-songwriter Tank, a.k.a. Durrell Babbs. Celebrating wild women in songs like "My Freak," Tank goes where many have gone before. But despite the pose he manages to tell familiar stories in intriguingly new ways, particularly on his hit single "Maybe I Deserve," whose droning, minimalist melody backs up a painstaking lyrical inventory of the costs of romantic mistakes. With his baritone barely rising above conversational tone, Tank makes you feel his pain with an understated ache.

Bottom Line: This tank rolls

Stevie Nicks (Reprise)

Album of the week


When Sheryl Crow helped induct Stevie Nicks and her Fleetwood Mac mates into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, Crow called the siren "the woman all young girls wanted to be and all men wanted to be with." After years of drug abuse and health problems in the '80s, Nicks has not only cleaned up her act, she has polished it. On her first solo album since 1994, she reins in her loopy side with an assist from Crow, who coproduces, plays guitar and sings backup on a few tracks. And though Nicks dresses like Rhiannon heading for Wicca practice on the cover photo, she keeps things real lyrically—"Sorcerer" is apparently about a drug dealer, not a mystic. Enlisting the gravelly soul of Macy Gray for "Bombay Sapphires" and the Dixie Chicks' Natalie Maines on "Too Far from Texas," she also keeps it real vocally. Best of all is "Fall from Grace," a rocker about sin and redemption from one who has been there and back.

Bottom Line: Another side of pop paradise

David Foster

Leave it to David Foster to transform five unknowns into a pop group. That's what the Grammy-winning producer-songwriter (Celine Dion, Madonna) did on the hit reality-TV show Popstars. The band—Ana Maria Lombo, 22, Maile Misajon, 24, Nicole Scherzinger, 22, Ivette Sosa, 24, and Rosanna Tavarez, 24—called Eden's Crush, have an album due this month and a Top 10 hit ("Get Over Yourself"). "It's slightly formula," admits Foster, 51, "but the days of the Monkees are over."

What were you looking for?

Harmony. All five sing well, but they're not all lead singers. Many girls got weeded out because they couldn't stay in harmony.

How did you select them?

I was right here on my Lifecycle and I just turned the TV around so [that when I played their audition videotapes] I wouldn't see the girls, just hear them sing.

How does the group get along?

They get along, but there's tension. It's like an arranged marriage. Each girl had her own aspirations.

Did you learn anything from all this to pass on to your kids?

Rejection is the biggest part of the business. Like me: I'm trying to write a song for [the upcoming film] Pearl Harbor. The chances are about 5 percent I'll get it.

  • Contributors:
  • Ralph Novak,
  • Chuck Arnold,
  • Amy Linden,
  • Steve Dougherty,
  • N.F. Mendoza.