808s & Heartbreak
What do you do after completing a Grammy-winning rap trilogy? Why, start singing! Which is exactly what Kanye West
does on his risky, even radical fourth album. Suffice to say, he's no John Legend. But his electronically manipulated vocals help create a virtual world where he explores cool—and chilly—ambient sounds. West out-T-Pains T-Pain with his Auto-Tuned delivery on songs like the hit first single, "Love Lockdown," one of the hypnotic, haunting highlights. While he seldom raps on 808s & Heartbreak
—which refers to the drum machine and his breakup with ex-fiancée Alexis Phifer—West does bring in emcees like Young Jeezy and Lil Wayne. On "See You in My Nightmares," Wayne and West make a dream team.
Welcome back to the jungle. Finally. After well over a decade—and a reported $13-14 million—in the making, Chinese Democracy
is really here. While it'd be pretty impossible for anything to live up to that kind of buildup, Guns N' Roses comes back with a bang. Aside from those dubious dreads on Axl Rose, the only remaining original member, the band largely seems frozen in time with blazing, bone-crunching rockers and sweeping, epic ballads. (What, did you want them to go electro?) But when sampling MLK on "Madagascar," GNR feels very of the Obama moment.
DOWNLOAD THIS: "Better"—bruised heart, bruising attack
In the City
Kevin Rudolf got a big boost from hooking up with Lil Wayne on the Top 5 hit "Let It Rock." The genre-splicing highlight of his debut, it's the kind of party anthem you can imagine Kid Rock might drop if he were just getting started. The singer-guitarist's City
is a place where rock coexists with dance, pop intermingles with hip-hop (other guest rappers include Nas and Rick Ross). But it could use more urban flavor.
Day & Age
After venturing into Springsteen-esque arena rock on 2006's sorely underappreciated Sam's Town
, the Killers smoothly return to the dance-friendly territory of their multiplatinum debut, 2004's Hot Fuss
. Helping them get their groove back is producer Stuart Price, the electronic-music wiz who worked on Madonna
's Confessions on a Dance Floor
. There is a rhythmic thrust to tracks like "Losing Touch," with its R&B swagger punctuated by horns, and "Joy Ride," which hitches itself to a funky bass line and a feel-good chorus. The latter, sax and all, as well as the synthed-up standout "Human," take Day & Age
bumping back to the '80s.
Being a contestant on The Celebrity Apprentice
doesn't exactly help one's artistic cred. But after appearing on the reality TV show last season, Trace Adkins proves that he hasn't lost his creative mojo. X
, his 10th album, finds the country singer in fine form, whether he's playing the rascal or the romantic, taking it to the honky-tonk or to church (on the gospel-infused single "Muddy Water"). When he's singing about being "skin on skin" on "Let's Do That Again" or getting cheeky on "Hauling One Thing" ("I'm only hauling one thing/ Girl, it belongs to you"), his thick baritone can also make him one sexy cowboy.
DOWNLOAD THIS: "Better Than I Thought It'd Be," a bluesy kiss-off
For more information on where to find our Download This picks, go to people.com/downloadthis
It's already been a great year for Coldplay, but it gets even better with this eight-track supplement to 2008's vital Viva La Vida
. Among the five new songs is the Radiohead-like "Rainy Day."
TWILIGHT Original Soundtrack
Even before the vampire flick hit theaters, this opened at No. 1 on Billboard's album chart. It's a collection of moody alt-rockers, including two new songs by Paramore, guaranteed to slay the Gossip Girl
IL DIVO The Promise
The global-minded gimmick of this pop-classical quartet—four hunks, four homelands—has helped them belt millions around the world into submission. If you liked 'em before, you'll probably like 'em again—add a half star.
BUTCH WALKER Sycamore Meadows
Walker, who's produced and written for artists like Pink
, Avril Lavigne
and Katy Perry, may lack the "it" factor of those stars. But this pop-rock album shows that he can deliver the goods for himself too.
INGRID MICHAELSON Be OK
Aside from making you feel pretty OK about yourself—it benefits the Stand Up to Cancer campaign—this compilation of previously unreleased songs, covers and live recordings has its simple folk-pop charms.
Just in time for the holidays, Ireland's megaselling new-age goddess, 47, has released a seasonal CD, And Winter Came ...
ON WHAT SHE LOVES ABOUT WINTER I find it very reflective. There's a calmness; everything kind of slows down. I do a lot of songwriting in wintertime.
ON THE HOLIDAYS I love Christmastime—the tree, exchanging presents. But what's really important is catching up with certain people that you only get to see that one time of the year. I've spent some Christmases in Sydney because I have family there as well.
ON HER BEST HOLIDAY MEMORY I was 5, and it was my first time singing in the church choir. We would rehearse "Silent Night," and I remember the excitement of talking about Christmas with my friends on the walk to the church and on the way back.
ON HER CASTLE IN IRELAND It's on about 3 1/2 acres on a hill. It was built in honor of Queen Victoria, so it was called Victoria Castle. [Now it's called] Manderley, and that actually comes from the book Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
. It's a very Victorian castle, so I thought it should have a very romantic name.
SARAH BUXTON, who cowrote Keith Urban
's 2007 hit single "Stupid Boy," previews her full-length debut with "Space," a heartrending country ballad. At myspace.com/sarahbuxton.
pairs with protégée Esmée Denters on the funky "Follow My Lead," a digital-only track benefiting Shriners Hospital for Children. At music.myspace.com.
CYNDI LAUPER & THE HIVES face off on the bouncy, '60s-tinged "A Christmas Duel." At iTunes.com.