Janet Jackson
R&B-POP
CRITIC'S CHOICE

bgwhite bgwhite bgwhite  



"Do you want me just for what you see?/Do you think that I'm that person you watch on TV?" sings Janet Jackson on the confessional title track of her eighth studio album (which takes its title from the singer's middle name). Of course, after her infamous Super Bowl halftime peep show, Michael's little sister has gone from the Normal Jackson to the Nasty Jackson. On her latest, which continues the streak of first-rate R&B-pop discs she has released since her 1986 breakthrough Control, the controversial diva doesn't shy away from her girl-gone-wild rep. From her topless pose on the CD cover to the sexually explicit lyrics on cuts such as the jazz-kissed "Moist," Jackson unabashedly gets her freak on. "Relax, it's just sex," she says at the end of the futuristic funk throwdown "Sexhibition," as if to address her conservative critics. But Jackson has been turning up the heat ever since 1993's excellent janet; in fact, many tracks here evoke the lush sensual rush of that earlier disc's midtempo gem "That's the Way Love Goes" and the vintage slow jam "Any Time, Any Place." However, there is a fresh, more R & B-centric sound to Damita Jo thanks to Jackson's collaboration with other producers in addition to her longtime team Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. Babyface contributes the lovely, acoustic-guitar-laced ballad "Thinkin' Bout My Ex," Dallas Austin delivers the Princely pop-rocker "Just a Little While," and Swedes BAG & Arnthor kick in the hypnotic house number "All Nite (Don't Stop)." But it's producer-rapper Kanye West who makes the biggest impression. Songs like the old-school charmer "I Want You," which recalls West's work with Alicia Keys on "You Don't Know My Name," and the buoyant hip-hopper "Strawberry Bounce," built around a Jay-Z sample, return the attention to Jackson's music, where it belongs.

N.E.R.D.
ALT HIP-HOP

bgwhite bgwhite bgwhite  



Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo, the Grammy-winning production duo known as the Neptunes, blasted into the artistic stratosphere with their own group N.E.R.D. (which stands for No One Ever Really Dies) on 2002's brilliant In Search Of... That album ventured far beyond the hip-hop territory they have covered with everyone from Jay-Z to Justin Timberlake. While the follow-up isn't quite as fresh or fun, it still flies high. N.E.R.D., which also includes Williams and Hugo's high school pal Shay Haley (who doesn't seem to do much—what is he, the beer-runner?), continues to break hip-hop boundaries, deftly fusing new wave, '70s rock and Beatle-esque pop into a quirky punk-funk pastiche. Whereas N.E.R.D. used a backing band on In Search Of..., Williams and Hugo capably handle most of the instruments on Fly or Die (with Lenny Kravitz adding guitar, as well as guest vocals, on the Hendrix-like "Maybe"). And with his "slight but oddly effective delivery on standout tracks such as the utopian "Wonderful Place" and the sexy, jungle-grooving "She Wants to Move," Williams, who had a solo hit last year with "Frontin'," shows that he has become a real star.

Aerosmith
BLUES-ROCK

bgwhite bgwhite bgwhite  



Blues great Muddy Waters once sang, "The blues had a baby, and they named the baby rock and roll." That lineage has been evident in Aerosmith's music since Steven Tyler and company launched their recording career in 1973. On this follow-up to 2001's platinum Just Push Play, the band pays fitting tribute to its musical roots, pouring sweet emotion into a collection of blues covers. Indeed, this labor of love finds the veteran rockers sounding as if they are having tons of fun on rollicking numbers such as Big Joe Williams's "Baby Please Don't Go," Mississippi Fred McDowell's "You Got to Move" and the Bo Diddley classic "Road Runner." The album also includes one original song, the trademark power ballad "The Grind," that underlines Aerosmith's ability to seamlessly blend blues and rock sensibilities. Best, though, is "Never Loved a Girl," a rootsy reworking of Aretha Franklin's "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)" that showcases Tyler's raspy wail and Joe Perry's bluesy guitar licks. But they could have done without the traditional gospel "Jesus Is on the Main Line," which won't make anyone a believer.

Robi Draco Rosa
POP-ROCK

bgwhite bgwhite   



Robi Draco Rosa, an alum of the old Puerto Rican boy band Menudo (which will be relaunched after a talent search taking place later this year), is hoping to pull a Ricky Martin and find grown-up success. Although Rosa, 34, cowrote and coproduced such hits as "Livin' La Vida Loca," "The Cup of Life" and "Maria" for Martin, he actually sounds like the anti-Ricky on this English-language effort. His sophisticated stylings on Mad Love hint that he wants to be the Latin Sting, with mixed results.

The singer-songwriter-guitarist smoothly blends pop, rock, Latin, jazz and world beat influences, giving an artful allure to tracks such as the sweeping title tune. But Rosa, whose lyrics were inspired by his love affair with actress-wife Angela Alvarado, takes himself a little too seriously at times; this disc can be maddeningly moody. Where's a good bon-bon shaker when you need it?

David Lee Murphy
COUNTRY

bgwhite bgwhite bgwhite  



After a brief but successful run as a country singer in the mid '90s, Murphy stopped to smell the royalties from songs he wrote for artists such as Hank Williams Jr., Montgomery Gentry and Trick Pony. But he is back recording with this gently rocking set of 12 songs. Happily, Murphy shows a sense of musical history. He cowrote the title track with the late Waylon Jennings, and the tune reflects the unwavering musicality and brazen individuality that was Jennings. Meanwhile, "Ghost in the Jukebox" neatly salutes Hank Williams the Elder and Charlie Rich. All in all, it's good to have this country-rocker back.

LIV TYLER "Raw Power by Iggy & the Stooges. I was totally obsessed by it. I was just a little kid, and I'd run around the house naked like he was on the cover, singing all those great songs."

RACHEL BILSON(The O.C.) "Paula Abdul's Forever Your Girl. Paula was the first concert I ever went to. I wanted to dance and sing just like her."

JENNIFER LOVE HEWITT "Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam with Full Force. I loved it. I still have it."

SEAN HAYES "Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy [by Elton John]."

JASON BATEMAN "Zenyatta Mendatta by the Police. I was really into the Police."

LAKE BELL(Miss Match) "The Cars' Greatest Hits. I have three older brothers who always listened to them, so through osmosis I became obsessed with them."

LINDSAY LOHAN "The Immaculate Collection by Madonna. I'm a huge Madonna fan. My favorite song is 'Material Girl.'"

ANDREW FIRESTONE "Dr. Feelgood by Mötley Crüe. I lip-synched [to it] and jumped around my bedroom with the lights off."

CHAD LOWE "Bruce Springsteen's Born in the U.S.A. It's one of the greatest albums of all time. And it's Bruce. Need I say more?"

ANDRE 3000 (OutKast) "Paid in Full [by Eric B. and Rakim]. On the cover they wore these cool Gucci jogging suits."

  • Contributors:
  • Chuck Arnold,
  • Ralph Novak.