Picks and Pans Review: Recent Raves

UPDATED 05/26/2008 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 05/26/2008 at 01:00 AM EDT

MADONNA Hard Candy
Teaming up with Justin Timberlake, Timbaland and Pharrell Williams, the nearly 50-year-old diva makes a hipper, hotter and more urban version of Confessions on a Dance Floor. Early front-runner for party album of the year.

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ESTELLE Shine
While occasionally evoking Amy Winehouse, this British singer-rapper sounds more like a disciple of Lauryn Hill on a sparkling U.S. debut. The highlight? "American Boy," her bumping No. 1 U.K. hit featuring Kanye West.

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ASHLEE SIMPSON Bittersweet World
Simpson's shockingly good third CD is sweet revenge on all her critics. The singer moves in a dance-pop direction on tracks like the '80s throwback "Boys," the best Kylie song that Kylie never did.

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GNARLS BARKLEY The Odd Couple
Another trippy journey into psychedelic soultronica, the second disc from Cee-Lo Green and Danger Mouse shows that the pop world would be a lot more boring without this twisted twosome.

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