April 04, 2011 12:00 PM

Jennifer Hudson

I Remember Me |

R&B

The challenge for Jennifer Hudson-a pure singer who is not yet a real songwriter-is to find material that measures up to that massive voice. For her second album, which improves upon 2008’s Grammy-winning self-titled debut, she has the best songwriters and producers that money can buy. And with Whitney Houston still as the model, they deliver the diva goods. While the R. Kelly ballad “Where You At” may be somewhat underwhelming as a first single, there are much better contributions from Stargate (the you-go-girl anthem “I Got This”), Ne-Yo (the old-school slow jam “Why Is It So Hard”) and Alicia Keys (the piano- and snare-drum-lifted “Angel”). The latter also kicks in two soul-disco throwbacks, “Everybody Needs Love” and “Don’t Look Down,” that allow the sometimes stiff Hudson to cut loose and have some fun. Hey, a girl’s got to shake that hot new bod!

CRITIC’S CHOICE

Chris Brown

F.A.M.E. |

R&B-POP

“I want it all back,” pleads Chris Brown on “All Back,” a ballad so convincingly contrite it may win over even his harshest critics. Of course, what will really put his career back on track after his 2009 assault charge is hot song after hot song, and F.A.M.E. (which stands for “Forgiving All My Enemies”) has just that. This is the kind of R&B-pop blockbuster that Michael Jackson might have made if he were 21 in 2011. Whether he’s rocking the club (the galloping groove “Yeah 3X”), the street (the Lil Wayne/Busta Rhymes collaboration “Look at Me Now”) or your heart (the Justin Bieber duet “Next to You”), Brown is a star reborn.

The Strokes

Angles |

ALT-ROCK

Since the last Strokes album, 2006’s First Impressions of Earth, both frontman Julian Casablancas and guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. have released solo albums. It’s Casablancas’ solo debut, 2009’s pop-flavored Phrazes for the Young, that inspires the direction of Angles. Brimming with melodic accessibility-from the Men at Work-esque opener “Machu Picchu” to the psychedelic-tinged closer “Life Is Simple in the Moonlight”-this could take the New York indie rockers out of the garage and into living rooms across America. But tracks like the single “Under Cover of Darkness” still pack a punk punch too.

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