REVIEWED BY CHUCK ARNOLD
The hype surrounding Britain's Arctic Monkeys has reached King Kong-like proportions: Recently the influential U.K. music magazine NME ranked their indie-rock debut (which just arrived in the States after being released overseas last month) at No. 5 on a list of the best British albums ever. Considering the Beatles and the Stones alone, that kind of buzz seems, well, bananas. But as much as any barely legal band could probably measure up to such impossibly high expectations, the Monkeys do on an exhilarating CD that will win over even the most jaded listener who has been bamboozled by too many Next Great Things. You know you're in for something special when you get to track 2, the No. 1 U.K. hit "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor." It's an irresistible come-on, all raging hormones and raw guitars, that showcases the quartet's rambunctious energy, killer rhythm section and frontman Alex Turner's machete-sharp lyrics. "Your name isn't Rio, but I don't care for sand," he snarls in a cheeky nod to Duran Duran. Arctic Monkeys clearly know their British pop history, evoking the Clash with a postpunk explosion one minute and the Smiths with a blissfully melodic jangle the next. Is it one of the five greatest British albums of all time? No. But it wouldn't be going out on much of a limb to say it makes the t op 100, maybe Top 50. And that ain't bad.
DOWNLOAD THIS: "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor"
REVIEWED BY CHRIS STRAUSS
"Once I wanted to be the greatest," announces Chan Marshall, who records under the name Cat Power, at the beginning of her seventh CD. Then the singer-songwriter proceeds to deliver an emotional knockout worthy of Muhammad Ali in his prime. Recorded in Memphis with members of Al Green's band, The Greatest trades in the lo-fi folk-rock of Marshall's previous work for a '70s soul vibe. One thing that remains, though, is her ability to rip out your heart. With her achingly beautiful voice and desolate lyrics, Marshall delivers the perfect rainyday companion. On the breakup ode "Empty Shell" she laments that "all that's left is an empty shell of my heart that is crushed." Such despair may not result in a terrific social life, but it certainly does make for a great record.
DOWNLOAD THIS: "Empty Shell"
In My Own Words
Love songs are the soul man's bread and butter, the way to every female fan's heart. On the bittersweet single "So Sick," Ne-Yo takes aim at the genre he lives by, confessing after a particularly painful breakup that "I'm so sick of love songs/ So sad and slow/ So why can't I turn off the radio?" Yet the tune, a Top 10 hit on both the pop and R&B charts, is just the kind of sensitive slow jam guaranteed to make the ladies swoon. There's more where that came from on Ne-Yo's debut, which casts the 26-year-old singer as a baby Babyface. In addition to possessing a lithe, silky tenor reminiscent of Face, Ne-Yo, like his progenitor, is also a sought-after songwriter whose credits include Mario's No. 1 smash "Let Me Love You." His composing skills are evident on cuts like the lush midtempo "I Ain't Gotta Tell You" and the undeniable charmer "When You're Mad," where old school meets new school.
DOWNLOAD THIS: "So Sick"
I'm a Mountain
On her lovely, nature-worshipping third album, Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah Harmer proves you don't have to come up through Nashville to get country music right. Harmer, who grew up in a rural part of Ontario, celebrates her love for the land with a down-home rootsiness on these winsome country, bluegrass and folk tunes. On songs such as the luminous first single, "I Am Aglow," Harmer brings Dolly Parton to mind with her sweet, slightly tremulous soprano. She even covers Parton's "Will He Be Waiting for Me" with a nimble, skipping-through-the-grass lightness that does Miss Dolly proud.
DOWNLOAD THIS: "I Am Aglow"
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With their gold second album, Move Along, featuring the Top 10 hit "Dirty Little Secret," and a tour launching March 15, these Rejects have been embraced by the public. We caught up with singer-bassist Tyson Ritter, 21.
ON HOW THEY GOT THAT NAME We were trying to think of a name that was funny. Someone said the All-Americans. Someone said the Rejects. And then the All-American Rejects were born. We're all from Oklahoma. You can't get more all-American than that. And we used to be the ones who would be playing music instead of getting real jobs, real girlfriends, all that. So we were different than everyone else. Now that things are going well, the name is kind of ironic, but it's still very accurate.
ON THE JOY OF TOURING It's a secret agent's life. It's a different city every day. Rules aren't enforced as much, and you can party as much as you want to. I love it. I'd tour all the time if I could.
ON HIS RELATIONSHIP STATUS I've fallen into the rock and roll cliché: I've got a supermodel girlfriend [Kim Smith], and I love her. We've been together almost three years. It's an exciting life, and I get to have her with me.
ON THE BAND'S BEST-KEPT SECRET We're just regular guys. We've got the Midwest thing going on. We aren't the typical rockers who are used to all the stuff. We're simple kids who are in a little bit over our heads but having a great time.
Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not