POP-PUNK

American Idiot

CRITIC'S CHOICE

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Lying low since 2000's Warning, the California trio who kick-started the '90s punk revival with massively infectious, gleefully juvenile speed-rockers like 1994's "Basket Case" roar back onto the scene with American Idiot. But my, how the boys (now all happy dads in their 30s) have grown. Green Day's punker angst, once aimed at bored slackers, has put on combat boots. Their seventh CD is easily their most bitingly political work, providing a raucous chorus for attacking the establishment. The deceptively upbeat title track, already climbing the Top 10, is a tight, signature three-minute rocker on which Billie Joe and the boys declare, "I'm not a part of the red-neck agenda. Now everybody 'Do the Propaganda!'" But for all their grandstanding, punk-pop's founding fathers don't forsake musical innovation. One of the ambitious Idiot's two magnificent nine-minute rock operas, the epic "Jesus of Suburbia," traces disgruntled youth in five distinct segments, proclaiming "We are the kids of war and peace/From Anaheim to the Middle East/We are the stories and disciples of the Jesus of Suburbia." But equally moving are the quietly anguished "Wake Me Up When September Ends," about aging, and the mellow "Give Me Novocaine," an homage to the band's earlier songs like "When I Come Around," with a soothing, rhyming chorus and subdued guitar.

•DOWNLOAD THIS: "Jesus of Suburbia"DOWNLOAD THIS: "Jesus of Suburbia"

ROCK/CLASSICAL

The Delivery Man/II Sogno

Delivery:

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Sogno:

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Warning: This review maybe outdated by the time you finish it. In that time span, Elvis could drop three more albums and an opera. This summer, he appeared in one film (De-Lovely), perhaps inspired the title of another (Napoleon Dynamite, an alias he once used in liner notes) and reissued three old discs, each of them with a sparkling trove of bonus material longer than the original record. Oh, and he's going strong on these two unrelated, indeed opposite, new CDs.

The Delivery Man breaks Costello's string of theme albums to race through a mad decathlon of genres, including a smoking country rocker (the Lucinda Williams duet "There's a Story in Your Voice," his coolest track in years), a soulful torch song ("Either Side of the Same Town"), New Wave ("Bedlam"), country ballads and spare Celtic folk. Costello showed disturbing symptoms of emotion on his last disc, North, but it's touching to hear him return to the vicious smackdowns of his brutal youth: "Liars like you are ten a penny/Women would slap you, if you knew any."

Just to prove he can do anything, Costello lays a carpet of petals with his beautiful orchestral album II Sogno (The Dream), originally written for a ballet adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream. The mood alternates between childlike wonder set to strings and strutting, brassy triumph, recalling the work of film composer John Williams. Somebody shoot a movie around this.

•DOWNLOAD THIS: "There's a Story in Your Voice"DOWNLOAD THIS: "There's a Story in Your Voice"

COUNTRY

Be Here

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Like Urban's previous album, Golden Road, which produced three No. 1 hits, this set of 13 commercial tracks is full of eminently listenable, contagious songs. From the vaguely rueful "Nobody Drinks Alone" to Elton John's "Country Comfort" to the celebratory "These Are the Days," the album is full of well-turned melodies featuring coproducer Dan Huff on mandolin and guitar, and Tim Akers, who fills in the dull moments on keyboards. Urban plays a lot of guitar as well as sings with disarming passion and sincerity.

Urban's devoted fan base will readily forgive him for his occasional mistakes: About the only one worth mentioning is the inflated string section (13 violins, 6 cellos) on the already lachrymose "Tonight I Wanna Cry."

•DOWNLOAD THIS: "Nobody Drinks Alone"DOWNLOAD THIS: "Nobody Drinks Alone"

SOFT ROCK

In the Meantime

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McVie's cool alto kept Fleetwood Mac from flying away on Stevie Nicks's broomstick. On her third solo album (but first in 20 years), she still has a polished adult-contemporary sound, though leaning more toward the restraint of her gentle 1975 love song "Over My Head" than the irresistible, President-electing surge of her "Don't Stop." Some tracks are undistinguished. but a few, such as the life-affirming "Northern Star" and an incongruously sweet one about tortured love, "Calumny," sound like Fleetwood Mac at its laid-back best.

•DOWNLOAD THIS: "Calumny"DOWNLOAD THIS: "Calumny"

COUNTRY

This I Gotta See

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Louisiana produces many black-influenced white musicians, but a real feel for the blues and zydeco aren't automatically inherited. Despite being born 31 years ago in Monroe, La., Griggs couldn't be more white bread if he had Wonder stamped on his forehead. This is his third album, and anyone waiting for him to show a hint of Louisiana soul or funk is still waiting.

Griggs does have a pleasant voice and an easy style. Romantic ballads are his strength, but he goes to that well way too often. He's at his best when he stops relaxing and finally flexes a little spirit, on "Hillbilly Band" and "No Mississippi."

•DOWNLOAD THIS: "Hillbilly Band"DOWNLOAD THIS: "Hillbilly Band"

ROCK

Let's Bottle Bohemia

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This Dublin band's shiny happy music has so much pep it fairly hops out of your hands and pogos around the room. The Thrills do college rock at its best, centered around sunny guitar lines but with funky synthesizers, a mandolin and even violins flying in for brief visits like neighbors dying to share gossip. Singer-songwriter Conor Deasy sounds like an earnest but slightly naughty schoolboy as he sings sly lyrics like "dry humping on dance floors/Is this what they call sex on a Saturday night?" Even when he's singing about hate, he can't help sounding cute, and he thinks creative anguish is overrated: "Damn those rape victims and their five star reviews." Everything's in place for these jaunty, witty lads to become another campus favorite in the mold of Fountains of Wayne.

• DOWNLOAD THIS: "Tell Me Something I Don't Know" DOWNLOAD THIS: "Tell Me Something I Don't Know"

JAZZ-POP

Lazy Afternoon

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"I know this is a jazz record and all," says Regina Belle, who is best known for her R&B stylings, "but I'm feeling like singing." So she sets aside her jazz cool and uncorks a joyous, nearly a cappella medley of old-school faves "The Love I Lost" and "For the Love of You" with mellow harmonizing backup. If Belle's enchanting voice has a familiar ring, thank Disney. Her career was going just fine with hits like 1989's "Come to Me" when in 1992 she broke out by teaming with Peabo Bryson on the chart-topping "A Whole New World (Aladdin's Theme)." Soon enough her gospel-bred pipes and sultry appeal acquired Grammy-winning pop acclaim. With Lazy Afternoon Belle tests her versatility. Here blues, Broadway and bossa nova meet for contemporary jazz with an R&B heart.

While Belle's sound can recall Anita Baker, her phrasings conjure Nancy Wilson. But it's the power and emotion of her voice that impress on tracks like "Moanin'," a gospel-tinged post-bop classic made funky with a James Brown bass line, and the swinging "What Are You Afraid Of," inviting all to "come a little closer, stay a little longer." Don't disappoint the lady.

•DOWNLOAD THIS: "If I Ruled the World"DOWNLOAD THIS: "If I Ruled the World"

Yellowcard

Headliners on this year's alt-rock Warped tour and winners of the viewer-voted MTV2 Award at the VMAs, Cali quintet Yellowcard (named after a soccer term) is crashing the charts with its platinum pop-punk debut, Ocean Avenue. Frontman Ryan Key shares the view.

ON WINNING AT THE VMAS I didn't know I was weepy, but so they tell me. It didn't help that the Beastie Boys were handing us the award, because they're one of my all-time favorite bands. Meeting Bruce Willis was pretty huge. Every time we walked by, he was like, "Yeah, Yellowcard!" And he shook our hands, it was cool!

ON LIFE ON THE ROAD We just got our first tour bus last year. We'd been driving ourselves around in our eight-passenger van. We had a shower on the bus for our Warped tour, and I was impressed-everyone got a shower every day. Nobody left their towels lying around. [But] when there are 12 people on the bus it gets kind of disgusting.

ON THE BREAKUP ANTHEM "ONLY ONE" It's very much like a guy, isn't it? I wrote about how it felt to be really emotionally involved with someone you don't want to be with anymore. Like, "Sorry, gotta do this on my own." I wrote it just so that my ex could have it. It's hard to think about it being the song little kids in middle school are breaking up to. That wasn't really what we were going for.

ON THE FANS I don't know if girls follow us around. No underwear on the stage. Not really.

  • Contributors:
  • Sona Charaipotra,
  • Kyle Smith,
  • Ralph Novak,
  • V.R. Peterson.