UPDATED 07/09/2007 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 07/09/2007 at 01:00 AM EDT

Kelly Clarkson
My December | [3 stars]

Stakes are so high for Kelly Clarkson's third album that the singer and her record label reportedly battled over creative differences. And Clarkson is clearly in fighting mode on tracks like the first single, "Never Again," which, fueled by raging guitars and ripping drums, is even meaner than "Since U Been Gone," though not quite as memorable. Less pop-hooky and more hard-rocking—cuts like "Haunted" conjure up Evanescence, while "Hole," with its monster riffage, is a virtual headbanger—My December is unlikely to approach the multiplatinum success of 2004's Breakaway. But Clarkson scores some artistic victories along the way, none better than "Sober," an earnest, U2-esque ballad that just may forever erase memories of From Justin to Kelly.

Velvet Revolver
Libertad | [3 stars]

With expatriates from Guns N'Roses (guitarist Slash, drummer Matt Sorum and bassist Duff McKagan) and Stone Temple Pilots (lead singer Scott Weiland), Velvet Revolver formed a winning union on 2004's hit debut Contraband. They continue their hard-rock rule on Libertad (which is Spanish for "freedom"). There is plenty of sleazy good fun to be had on testosterone-charged tracks like "Let It Roll," "She Mine" and first single "She Builds Quick Machines." But the supergroup strikes a more sobering tone on "Pills, Demons & Etc.," which seems to allude to the death of Weiland's brother Michael last March from a drug overdose. "You bought a ticket to the one place that I won't be going to visit," he sings. Thankfully, Weiland and gang live to rock on.

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