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Picks and Pans Main: Music

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Loud |


Just a year after reaching career heights with Rated R-a dark, gritty manifesto that may have scared away some of her PG-13 fans-Rihanna makes an artistic retreat on Loud. Toning down her newfound edginess and pumping up the commercialism, Loud is a blatant attempt to keep up with the competition: Gaga, Katy, Ke$ha et al. In fact, the opening track, “S&M,” is an electro-pop stomper that rips off “Poker Face.” Elsewhere, Rihanna harks back to some of her own, pre-Rated R hits-“Don’t Stop the Music” on “Only Girl (In the World),” “Take a Bow” on “Fading.” And after cowriting nine songs on Rated R, she didn’t lift a pen for Loud. Still, she gets reliable help from the Stargate writing-production team. They-and guest rapper Drake-come through on the No. 1 hit “What’s My Name?” With Ri-Ri in sultry Caribbean-queen mode, it makes the loudest statement here.

Keith Urban

Get Closer |


“I wanna put you in a melody/ I gotta set you to a groove,” sings Keith Urban on “I Put You in a Song,” the feel-good first single of his new album. Of course, the lady who comes to mind in Urban’s songs is Nicole Kidman, and when Get Closer gets intimate, you can almost imagine him serenading his Oscar-winning missus in bed. But despite the voyeuristic pleasures of a cut like “Without You”-a banjo-laced ballad-it wouldn’t work if Urban didn’t make it all so universally appealing. Consumer alert: The best tune, Lori McKenna’s “The Luxury of Knowing,” can only be found on Target’s exclusive deluxe edition.


Cee Lo Green

The Lady Killer |


Bald and chubby, Cee Lo Green would hardly be mistaken for Bond material. But that’s exactly how he announces himself on the 007-esque intro to The Lady Killer. Then he goes on to back it up with one of the smoothest, sexiest albums of the year. With retro stylings that nod to classic soul men like Al Green and Barry White, Green tops even his work with Gnarls Barkley. “F— You” is pure genius.

Kid Cudi

Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager |


Last year’s Man on the Moon: The End of Day was one of the best debuts-hip-hop or otherwise-in recent memory. Like most sequels, though, this quick follow-up-once again structured in multiple acts-can’t match the original: It sometimes gets lost in space with songs that lack shape and focus. Relying more on mood than hooks, it’s a challenging listen, but it rewards with repeat plays-and a good pair of headphones-revealing its many nuances. Atmospheric tracks like “Mojo So Dope” are just that.