Avril Lavigne (Arista)

Thanks to her catchy guitar-driven single "Complicated," Lavigne, 17, is poised to be the next teen-pop princess. But unlike her more mature counterparts Michelle Branch and Vanessa Carlton, she's not in a big hurry to ditch adolescence. Lavigne laces this fun debut with charming punk attitude on youthful cuts like "Sk8er Boi," about not judging a boy by his clothes.

While Lavigne may be young, she's not that innocent. One moment she's coyly sexy, the next she's irreparably wounded. With a malleable alto that slips effortlessly from hushed whisper to angst-ridden roar, she shows an impressive range. Though she has room to grow as a lyricist ("I'm not the milk and Cheerios in your spoon," she raps on one tune), Lavigne displays an emotional grace beyond her years on the string-drenched ballad "I'm with You."

Bottom Line: Don't let this one go

David Bowie (ISO/Columbia)

This is Major Tom to Ground Control: Get a therapist up here pronto. With song after song about lost love, this moody and melancholy CD has more departures than LaGuardia Airport. And more security worries: In the past Bowie has frequently taken dark lyrics and made them dance, but seldom has his work sounded so starkly apocalyptic.

Bowie lives in New York City, which may explain why his mind is full of images of "steel on the skyline/sky made of glass...I can see it now/I can feel it die" and a plea to "please don't tear this world asunder...please make sure we get tomorrow." Warnings of blood, fear and fire appear against a disquieting backdrop of electronic effects and spacey keyboards, frequently with thrashing, grunge rhythm sections. Foo Fighters front man Dave Grohl even crashes in with a heavy-metal guitar on one track. Only a few songs, such as the poignant, strings-laden "Everyone Says 'Hi,'" deploy Bowie's melodic gifts; otherwise, this is grim hard rock painted from a palette of black, blacker and blackest.

Bottom Line: Ashes to ashes

A Tribute to ZZ Top
Various Artists (RCA)

ZZ Top gone country? The idea is not as bizarre as you might think. As this tribute album by many of Nashville's top male performers demonstrates, the Texas trio's blues-rock tunes have always been informed by a rootsy, southern sensibility. The best tracks here are by the performers most comfortable with country blues—Willie Nelson's "She Loves My Automobile," Hank Williams III's "Fearless Boogie" and Dwight Yoakam's "I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide." And Lonestar's version of "Gimme All Your Lovin'" shows just how close the contemporary country band's raucous approach is to ZZ Top's, capturing the exuberant spirit and shameless hubris of the hirsute honorees.

Bottom Line: Wake up and catch some ZZs

Boyz II Men (Arista)

At ages 28 to 31, the members of the R&B vocal group Boyz II Men aren't lads anymore, but they haven't evolved much musically since their heyday in the early to mid-'90s. On their latest disc the four-part harmonists still find it hard to say goodbye to yesterday with a predictable collection of love ballads, recycling romantic themes that have shriveled up like air-dried rose petals. Once again the Boyz have teamed with writer-producer Babyface, but his sappy slow jam "The Color of Love" doesn't compare with past collaborations like 1992's "End of the Road." Things get even worse, though, when they kick up the tempo on the dated hip-hop track "Ain't a Thang Wrong," which sounds like your grandfather trying to get jiggy.

Bottom Line: Arrested development

Raphael Saadiq (Pookie/Universal)

Album of the week


He has been a member of groups Tony Toni Toné and Lucy Pearl as well as a writer-producer for the likes of D'Angelo and Whitney Houston. Still, Saadiq has long been one of R&B's best-kept secrets. Not anymore. His debut solo disc showcases his talents as an all-around artist: singer, songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist. Evoking the classic soul of Al Green and Curtis Mayfleld, while updating it with subtle hip-hop touches such as scratching, Instant Vintage sounds at once old and new school. Saadiq's smooth, relaxed vocals are refreshingly understated. And he brings a breezy bounce to tunes like "Be Here," a deceptively funky duet with D'Angelo. Other guests include Angie Stone and TLC's T-Boz, but Saadiq is the one who really gets to sparkle on gospel-tinged gems like "Tick Tock," which should stand the test of time.

Bottom Line: A fine Vintage

Doves (Capitol)

You can sense it when the opening track turns out to be an eerie 90-second, slow-burning synthesizer riff: Oh dear, you've wandered into one of those Epic British Albums. Symptoms that you have EBA (see also the works of Oasis and the Verve) include swelling (to the size of seven-minute opuses), trembling (what happens when instruments feverishly pile atop each other to build shaky sonic towers in the sky) and catatonia (those trance-inducing, U2-style big-guitar riffs).

Then there are those truisms in the lyrics: "Follow your own path," "You turn around and life's passed you by" and "Seize the time/'Cause it's now or never, baby." Ignore the words, though, and those chiming guitars are irresistibly tuneful. If the Doves turn down the ponderousness a notch, they could be a worthy successor to the best band to come out of their Manchester hometown, the late-'80s melody-makers the Stone Roses.

Bottom Line: A little too soaring

Katie Cassidy

Her favorite subject is math, but right now Katie Cassidy, 15, is thinking about history, as in whether it will repeat itself. She hopes her first release as a singer, a hip-pop cover, approaches the success of the original: dad David Cassidy's 1970 No. 1 with the Partridge Family "I Think I Love You." "She wants to play it for him in person," says her ex-model mom, Sherry Benedon, 49, who had a long on-again, off-again relationship with David, although they never married. "She wants to see his face."

That face may be a little red—as in upset—now. "He doesn't agree with me singing," admits Katie, who says Dad advised her to wait until she was 18. Still, her father says, "I love my daughter and I support what she does." The 10th grader, who got a break when a record producer she met at a drugstore asked her to give her mother his card, lives in L.A. with stepdad Richard Benedon, 50, and Mom, who encourages her daughter's career: "She's very mature."

Mature enough to also get modeling gigs: She posed as a cheerleader on the cover of 'N Sync's Celebrity disc last year. Not that Cassidy worships the boy band or anything. "You go through stages," she says. "I went through my teenybopper phase. That's over now."

  • Contributors:
  • Sona Charaipotra,
  • Kyle Smith,
  • Ralph Novak,
  • Chuck Arnold,
  • Marisa Laudadio.