Lil' Kim (Atlantic)

On her first new album in three years, Lil' Kim takes lyrical aim at Eve, the woman who has supplanted Kim as the first lady of hard-core hip-hop. "Even being No. 2, your chances are slim/'Cause when God made Adam, he should have made Kim," she rhymes on the disc's closer, "Came Back for You." But when Kim raps on the same track, "I'm back on the scene/ My favorite color is green," she sounds about as hard-core as Kermit the Frog. Elsewhere on her spotty third CD, Kim continues to let rip the raw, sexually explicit lyrics for which she is famous on tracks such as the old-schoolish "Hold It Now." She also makes numerous references to her late lover, the Notorious B.I.G., even sampling one of his television interviews on the disc's intro. The Queen Bee is better off looking forward by experimenting with Middle Eastern sounds and trip-hop beats on party cuts like "(When Kim Say) Can You Hear Me Now?"—featuring a guest rap by Missy Elliott—and the Missy-esque first single "The Jump Off."

BOTTOM LINE: Mafia puts out hit-and-miss results


Various Artists (Motown)

The trouble with doing a Stevie Wonder tribute album is that no one can touch the original versions of these songs. As star-studded as this disc is—with everyone from Mary J. Blige to Marc Anthony to Eric Clapton covering Wonder gems—Conception ultimately makes you want to dust off your old Stevie records and hear the real thing. Many of the remakes, such as Wonder soundalike Glenn Lewis's version of "Superstition," are a bit too faithful. Meanwhile R&B singer Joe's hip-hoppish take on "That Girl," which features an awkward rap by Mr. Cheeks, tries a little too hard to be contemporary. Still, it's hard to really mess up material this Wonder-ful. Among the best interpretations are Stephen Marley's reggae-intensified reworking of "Master Blaster" and Dave Hollister's gospel-powered rendition of "Love's in Need of Love Today."

BOTTOM LINE: Fails to reach higher ground

Everclear (Capitol)

Everclear's sixth album combines the melodic pop punch of 2000's Songs from an American Movie, Vol. One: Learning How to Smile with the post-grunge blast of its sequel from the same year, Vol. Two: Good Time for a Bad Attitude. The alt-rock trio, with 12 songs written by singer-guitarist Art Alexakis, once again makes witty, sharp observations on Americana. On the first single, "Volvo Driving Soccer Mom," Alexakis sings about a woman who has traded in her wild ways for the suburban dream: "I got busted for possession of my wizard-shaped bong...but now I'm different, now I sing a new song." On "Blackjack," he refers to Attorney General John Ashcroft as "Scary John," while on "New York Times" he says that "you got to read between the lines." Although Alexakis, bassist Craig Montoya and drummer Greg Eklund don't break any new musical ground, they continue to make intelligent, tuneful rock for grown-ups.

BOTTOM LINE: Ever solid