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Picks and Pans Main: Music

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Chris Brown

Graffiti |


Even for a performer accustomed to executing fancy footwork, Chris Brown is in a tricky position releasing a new album just 10 months after assaulting then-girlfriend Rihanna. Even if he made another Thriller, would it really be possible for his fans to forgive and forget? Brown spends half of Graffiti acting like the whole thing never happened. On swaggering jams like “I Can Transform Ya,” the rubbery-grooved first single with Lil Wayne and Swizz Beatz, he’s still a 20-year-old fly guy. But there are also regretful breakup songs (“So Cold”) and wound-licking ballads (“Lucky Me”) that paint a deeper picture.

DOWNLOAD THIS: “Crawl,” a soaring, heartfelt piece of romantic redemption

Allison Iraheta

Just Like You |


If Allison Iraheta is striving to be just like anyone on her debut album, it’s Pink. From her tough rock edge to the bluesy shades of her voice—both belying her 17 years—last season’s fourth-place-finisher on American Idol sounds like she could be Pink’s bratty little sister. In fact, the power ballad “No One Else” was cowritten by the “So What” singer (along with Idol’s Kara DioGuardi). Two other tracks, including the punk-spiked standout “Friday I’ll Be Over U,” were produced by Max Martin, a frequent Pink collaborator. Elsewhere, “Scars,” all vulnerable introspection, sounds like it could be an outtake from M!ssundaztood. At least until she finds her own voice, Iraheta has picked a good person to emulate.

R. Kelly

Untitled |


The title—or lack thereof—of R. Kelly’s new album is unfortunately an indicator that, 17 years after his recording debut, the R&B star is running out of fresh ideas. When he makes lyrical reference to his 1993 classic 12 Play on “Go Low”—one of his routine bump-and-grinders—it feels like a concession that his most inspired days are behind him. Still, Kelly shows that he has a few surprises left. On “Echo,” for instance, he uses yodeling—yes, yodeling—as an expression of sexual ecstasy. Meanwhile, on the humorous highlight “Be My #2,” he cleverly plays on his player image over a soul-disco groove that conjures up bell-bottoms and Teddy Pendergrass.

Susan Boyle

I Dreamed a Dream |


As a reality TV star, Susan Boyle was a compelling feel-good story. As a recording artist, though, there’s little interesting about her. It’s as if your sweet Aunt Alice, the one who warbles at family gatherings, got a record deal. Boyle, the sentimental favorite who finished second on Britain’s Got Talent in May, turns up the schmaltz on this karaoke-ish collection of covers ranging from the Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses” to Madonna‘s “You’ll See.” She lacks the requisite sultriness to bring any real heat to a torch song like “Cry Me a River,” while her attempts at gospel on numbers such as the hymn “How Great Thou Art” will leave you uninspired.