George Michael
POP
CRITIC'S CHOICE

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I would like to thank the most patient audience in the history of pop music, for waiting. Again." So writes George Michael in the liner notes of Patience, his first album of new material since 1996's Older. In the interim, he has bided his time with a greatest-hits set (1998's Ladies & Gentlemen: The Best of George Michael) and an overlooked collection of covers (1999's Songs from the Last Century), while making the biggest news after being arrested for lewd conduct in a Beverly Hills park bathroom in 1998. The toilet is exactly where Michael's career appeared to be, but fans who have kept the faith will be rewarded with the virtuous Patience. The disc, which sounds like a sequel to 1990's sublime Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 demonstrates why the British star should have been—and could still wind up being, if he doesn't stick to his claim that this will be his last CD—the Elton John of his generation. Whether on luxurious ballads ("John and Elvis Are Dead"), deceptively breezy midtempo numbers ("Amazing") or extended, club-ready dance tracks ("Precious Box"), Michael, 40, remains one of pop's premier craftsmen. Lyrically, Patience may be Michael's most personal work. Now out as a gay man, he addresses his partner, Kenny Goss, on the atmospheric "American Angel"; a former lover who died of AIDS-related causes on the Latin-tinged "Please Send Me Someone (Anselmo's Song)"; and his uncle, suspected of being gay, who committed suicide, on the poignant "My Mother Had a Brother": "Mother will you tell him about my joy/I live each day with him/ Your son came out, yeah/And I'm still breathing it in." The singer reflects on his Wham! beginnings with Andrew Ridgeley on the sweetly nostalgic "Round Here." And on the haunting closer, "Through," Michael, still possessing one of the best voices in the business, acknowledges his tabloid troubles of recent years: "All this hatred may just make me strong enough/ To walk away." After this triumphant return, let's hope not.

Alanis Morissette
POP-ROCK

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The angry Alanis doesn't live here anymore. Nearly 30, the Canadian singer-songwriter, who as a 21-year-old became the poster girl for bitter young women everywhere with 1995's fiery breakup anthem "You Oughta Know," has chilled out considerably on this satisfying follow-up to 2002's Under Rug Swept. On the key cut "This Grudge," a gripping ballad, Morissette even expresses her intention to let go of the animosity toward a former beau that she has carried for "14 years 30 minutes 15 seconds," in the process fueling 11 songs: "You've been vilified, used as fodder, you deserve a piece of every record." Elsewhere, she sings about the happiness that she has found with her current boyfriend, actor Ryan Reynolds, on the playful "Knees of My Bees," one of several tracks interweaving Middle Eastern textures, and the first single "Everything," a touching paean to total and unconditional love ("You see all my light and you love my dark"). While the kinder, gentler Morissette may have lost some of that Jagged Little Pill edge on Chaos, she is still a musical and lyrical force to be reckoned with.

Lenny Kravitz
ROCK

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Having gone from long dreads to a full-blown Afro to his current (questionable) straightened style, Lenny Kravitz clearly likes to change his hair. But he hasn't altered his sound much since releasing his 1989 debut Let Love Rule, and with few sonic surprises, the retro rocker's seventh studio disc Baptism hardly represents a creative rebirth. It's pretty much the same as every other Lenny Kravitz record, which, after 15 years of consistently solid output, is both a good and a bad thing. There are driving guitar anthems ("Where Are We Runnin'?"), VH1-ready pop ballads ("Calling All Angels"), psychedelic funk workouts ("Sistamamalover") and the odd acoustic turn ("Destiny"). But it's hard to lose the feeling that you've heard it all before. It doesn't help that Kravitz has always borrowed liberally from classic-rock heroes like Hendrix, Zeppelin, the Beatles and the Stones (whose "Jumpin' Jack Flash" is lazily recycled on "Flash"). At least Kravitz tries to shake things up by bringing in Jay-Z for the hip-hop-grooving "Storm." Although Jay-Z, who was returning the favor for Kravitz's appearance on 2002's The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse, seems to be coasting here, he still provides a breath of fresh air.

  • Contributors:
  • Chuck Arnold.