Is there a more soulful white dude on the planet right now than Robin Thicke? After his sex-you-up single "Lost Without U" spent 11 weeks at No. 1 on Billboard's R&B chart last year, he's pretty much an honorary brother. He continues to defy color barriers on Something Else
, one of the year's best R&B albums. From the opening flourish of strings, he takes you on a plush magic-carpet ride back to the golden age of '70s soul, whether it's the Sound of Philadelphia
or the sound of Superfly
"The Sweetest Love," the cream of the creamy ballads, comes right out of the Stevie Wonder playbook. But it's Marvin Gaye who remains Thicke's biggest influence, from the bedroom fantasies of "Loverman" to the utopian visions of "Dreamworld," in which he imagines a world where "there would be no black or white."
Props to Michelle Williams for striving to carve out a solo identity separate from Destiny's Child and its force-of-nature frontwoman, Beyoncé
. After two respectable gospel albums, she attempts to reinvent herself as a dance diva on Unexpected. But aside from the club hit "We Break the Dawn
," she never really finds her groove. The synth-heavy "Hello Heartbreak," with overprocessed vocals that suck all of the soul out of her, sounds like a bad Britney knockoff. Williams is better off slowing it down on ballads like the sarcastic kiss-off "Thank U" and the pretty, piano-laced "Too Young for Love." Nothing unexpected, but they work.
DOWNLOAD THIS: "Stop This Car," a Stargate-produced slow jam
Only by the Night
After last year's disappointing Because of the Times
, Kings of Leon rule again on their fourth album. They turn up the heat with "Sex on Fire," a testosterone-fueled rocker that provides the highlight. Another standout track, the slow-grinding "I Want You," keeps the desire burning, while moody, bluesy ballads like "Use Somebody" show that they can think—and feel—above the crotch.
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• The rock-and-soul goddess, 68, is back from retirement with a tour that kicked off Oct. 1, and this new disc featuring hits like "Private Dancer" will have you ready to do the shimmy with her.
TV ON THE RADIO Dear Science
It must be something in the water in Brooklyn: First the Hold Steady and now TVOTR delivers one of the year's best alt-rock albums. Fun and funky, moody and groovy, this Science
project is a winner on many levels.
JENNY LEWIS Acid Tongue
After returning to Rilo Kiley last year, Lewis releases her second solo disc. Despite some help from M. Ward, Chris Robinson and Elvis Costello (on the kicking "Carpetbaggers"), the real allure of this eclectic affair is all her.
JAMES TAYLOR Covers
As its title simply states, the latest from Sweet Baby James is a collection of remakes. Whether taking on country (Dixie Chicks, Glen Campbell) or classic R&B (the Temptations, the Spinners), he's a handy man.
AMIE MIRIELLO I Came Around
From Sara Bareilles to Katy Perry, this has been a big year for the emergence of female singer-songwriters. With her bluesy, tangy voice and folk-meets-piano pop, Miriello is another one to watch.
• Fresh off a No. 1 CD and tour, Kevin, 20, Joe, 19, and Nick, 16, are back home in L.A. but still busy taping a new TV show (JONAS
) and helping promote the new MySpace Music site.
WHAT'S IT LIKE TO FINALLY BE HOME?
Kevin: We're blown away we actually have time to hang out and do things. We're trying to figure out what friends we can see.
Joe: I joined a gym, which is really exciting.
Nick: I'm enjoying spending time with my dog [Elvis]. He's a golden retriever and 17 weeks old. I got him for my birthday from my family. And I'm getting my license next week. I have the wheels already: a '68 Mustang GT, black with a white racing stripe.
WHAT ABOUT THE MOTORCYCLE YOU JUST GOT FOR YOUR BIRTHDAY, JOE?
Joe: I haven't been driving it. I have to get my motorcycle license. But once I get it, you're going to see my motorcycle all over L.A.
YOU JUST SANG FOR STEVIE WONDER.
Kevin: It was crazy. My dad was freaking out.
Nick: We were asked to sing "Happy Birthday" and be at his son's birthday party.
ANY OTHER PINCH-ME MOMENTS?
Joe: Meeting Barack Obama's wife and kids.
Nick: Meeting Britney [Spears]. It's been an amazing time in our lives.
"All of his stuff is great," says Nick. "Love his music."
JUSTIN NOZUKA, HOLLY
"Cool melodies," says Joe. "Like Jack Johnson on Red Bull."
GEORGE STANFORD, "MY OWN WORST ENEMY"
"It's very Billy Joel-esque," says Joe.
BRYAN ADAMS, "WALK ON BY"
"It's one of those songs that you wish you could write," says Joe.