For T.I., spending five months under house arrest on weapons charges clearly provided a creative shot in the arm. The rap star, who still faces a year in prison, comes out guns blazing on Paper Trail
. Led by the No. 1 single "Whatever You Like," it's a near-perfect hip-hop album for 2008, loaded with hardcore bangers, pop-friendly hooks, party anthems and confessional lyrics—with a murderer's row of collaborators.
The hip-pop highlight "Live Your Life" features Rihanna
(can she do any wrong?) with a hypnotic vocal sample and a rousing chorus that nods to the Naughty by Nature classic "Hip Hop Hooray." Another killer is "Swagga Like Us"—a boastfest with Kanye West
, Jay-Z and Lil Wayne that lives up to its four-star billing. Meanwhile, reflective moments like the Justin Timberlake
-assisted "Dead and Gone" find T.I. dealing with his demons—and sounding more vital than ever.
They've always been moody dudes, but things were looking particularly gloomy for Keane following the release of 2006's Under the Iron Sea
(when the British trio canceled a tour while lead singer Tom Chaplin went to rehab). But on their third album they actually sound like they're having fun. "Spiralling," the opening cut and first single, sets the bouncy tone with its '80s-inspired dance-pop.
Other up-tempo highlights like "You Haven't Told Me Anything" and "Better Than This" sound as if they could have been on the soundtrack to a Molly Ringwald movie. The latter is, like, totally Wham! Keane still being Keane, though, the lyrics aren't always as upbeat as the music. And the sweetly pining "You Don't See Me," one of only three real ballads, demonstrates that they can still make perfect melancholy.
Her new album may be titled Little Honey
, but Lucinda Williams has never been the sugary type. She keeps it raw on this strong follow-up to last year's excellent West, which finds the rootsy singer-songwriter veering more toward rock on tunes like the stomping garage opener "Real Love." Elsewhere she gets gutbucket-bluesy on the ballad "Tears of Joy," while on "Jailhouse Tears" she has some old-time country fun with Elvis Costello. On "Little Rock Star" she speaks knowingly to the Amy Winehouses of the world: "With all of your talent, and so much to gain/To toss it away like that would be such a shame." Amen, sister.
DOWNLOAD THIS: "If Wishes Were Horses," a dusty heartbreaker
Dig Out Your Soul
The brothers Gallagher of Oasis—singer Liam and guitarist Noel—can't seem to stay out of trouble. When they're not fighting each other, they're getting roughed up by others. (Last month Noel was attacked onstage in Toronto.) Thankfully things are a lot more harmonious on Oasis' new album—whether they're rocking out on the standout single "The Shock of the Lightning" or tripping out on the psychedelic-tinged "Soldier On." And Soul, recorded at Abbey Road, continues their channeling of the Beatles on melodic moments like "I'm Outta Time."
Little Bit of Everything
There is indeed a little bit of everything on Billy Currington's third album: breezy, beach-ready ditties ("Swimmin' in Sunshine"); blue-eyed soulful shuffles ("Everything"); good-ol'-boy honky-tonk ("That's How Country Boys Roll"); and even a taste of Tex-Mex ("I Shall Return"). It's all solid if unspectacular, boosted by Currington's everyman appeal and easygoing delivery, which serves him well with a classic country line like, "God is great, beer is good, and people are crazy."
DOWNLOAD THIS: "Don't," a soft-rocker
For more information on where to find our Download This picks, go to people.com/downloadthis
>• It's been five years since her last studio album. But with hits like "I Will Remember You," this disc (subtitled The Best of Sarah McLachlan
) reminds us why she never goes out of style.
VAL EMMICH Little Daggers
Emmich—who joined the cast of Ugly Betty
this season as Betty's musician neighbor—shows that he's the real deal on his sixth album. This collection of acoustic-based pop has its little charms. Betty probably couldn't resist.
DEMI LOVATO Don't Forget
It pays to have friends like the Jonas Brothers
: On Lovato's debut the Camp Rock
-er gets some help from her costars, who cowrote six songs with her. At its best, it's a cross between the Jonases and Miley Cyrus
KRISTY LEE COOK Why Wait
Nashville has been kind to American Idol
also-rans, from Josh Gracin to Kellie Pickler
. While Cook—seventh last season—manages to not embarrass herself, her debut certainly won't have Carrie Underwood
JAMES MORRISON Songs for You, Truths for Me
Despite its success in his native U.K., Morrison's debut Undiscovered
was more like Unappreciated in the States. But these soul-pop Songs
with shades of blues deserve to be heard.
• The sexy girl group is back, making everyone want to be hot like them with Doll Domination
, their second CD. We chatted with head Doll Nicole Scherzinger (center), 30.
ON DELAYING HER SOLO CD
I realized I needed to hold off and put out another Dolls album first. Some of the songs I had in mind for my solo album turned out to be on [Doll Domination].
ON NOT BEING A MAN MAGNET
No one hits on me. I probably scare the living daylights out of men. I don't really see myself as sexy; I'm the biggest nerd I know.
ON DATING RACE-CAR DRIVER LEWIS HAMILTON
We met last year in Munich at the [MTV] Europe Music Awards. It's nice to date someone who's not in this industry, and who's passionate and the best at what he does.
ON WHO'D MAKE A GREAT PUSSYCAT DOLL
Sarah Palin. She seems like a headstrong woman, a tough chick. And she's hot!
ON HER PICKS FOR THE MALE PCD
Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson
and Ben Stiller. And Johnny Depp
as the lead singer. If you look sexy up in the dictionary, it's just him!