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Three critics with different musical tastes offer competing takes on recent noteworthy albums.


1 = Skip it
5 = Try it
10 = Buy it

(Illustrations by James Taylor.)  

Tom the Guitar Hero
A song by his group True Love was recently featured on The O.C. Currently opening a recording studio in Hoboken. Describes himself as “psyched” to learn that he’s younger than the members of his new favorite band, the Hold Steady.

Peter the Enduring Enthusiast
Gained a reputation for encyclopedic knowledge of the music world in his late-seventies days at NYU film school; keeps up with the Nellie McKays of the world though he’s settled in Park Slope with wife and daughter. Interests range from Sinéad O’Connor to Sam Cooke. All-time favorite concert: the Neville Brothers.

Gabriella the Freshman
A Manhattanite born and raised who graduated last summer from Trinity. Believes Freddie Mercury owned the greatest voice in human history. Current favorites include the Strokes, the Stones, and an Afro-Cuban rap quartet called Orishas.

Modern Times
Bob Dylan
The Victoria’s Secret pitchman’s 44th album, featuring ten tracks with old-timey names (“Rollin’ and Tumblin’ ”) and old-timey instrumentation (honky-tonk piano, steel guitar, and the like).

Tom [Rating: 8]: The music here is by-the-numbers bluesy fare, and if you’ve ever been in a jam session, you’ll know that trying to play a I-IV-V chord progression without sounding comically masturbatory, like the bar band in Road House or something, is nearly impossible. Unless you’re as cool as Bob Dylan and can still throw out aphorisms like “tomorrow keeps turning around” at age 65.
Best track: “Thunder On the Mountain”

Peter [Rating: 7]: The consensus seems to be that Dylan’s first No. 1 record in 30 years is his best since Blood on the Tracks, but I’m not buying it. It’s enjoyably atmospheric in the tossed-off-in-the-living-room way he’s perfected. But the songs are long, repetitious, and often less than engaging lyrically, lacking the thematic ambition and melodic variety of Love and Theft (which is still his best since Blood on the Tracks).
Best track: “The Levee’s Gonna Break”

Gabriella [Rating: 5]: Feels like the work of a local act down South. This wouldn’t be a bad thing if Dylan’s singing weren’t so bland—maybe he was trying to be understated, but it’s just dull, and adds nothing to lyrical themes (and sometimes actual lyrics, like “If it keep on rainin’, the levee gonna break”) that we’ve heard before.
Best track: “Nettie Moore”

Back To Basics
Christina Aguilera
A double album mixing old- and new-school R&B with a sheen of torch-singer classiness that’s an intentional departure for the erstwhile advocate of the “dirrty” lifestyle.

Tom [Rating: 7]:Cynics might say that Christina Aguilera is giving shout-outs to Etta James, John Coltrane, and Marvin Gaye because she feels like she’s already earned a spot in the musical-genius firmament. Maybe, but those mentions actually get a few whippersnappers who’ve never heard of Let’s Get It On to fire up their search engines, and the soul and jazz samples found here indicate that she’s at least a legit fan.
Best track: “Makes Me Wanna Pray”

Peter [Rating: 4]:To me, this set is most appealing when Aguilera remembers the album’s mission to “pay tribute to those before me who laid it down and paved the way,” singing solid blues, gospel, and swing tricked up with hip-hop scratching and trippy effects. But too often her big voice ends up fighting meandering modern pop and insipid lyrics that signify mostly because they’re sung so loud.
Best track: “Makes Me Wanna Pray”

Gabriella [Rating: 2]:No doubt she has a good voice, but the constant vocal roller coaster gets irksome and didn’t exactly remind me of her self-proclaimed influences like Ella Fitzgerald or Otis Redding. Reams of unnecessary “ooohh-whooahh-ohh”s have stuck in my head and driven me crazy for days.
Best track: “I Got Trouble”

The Information
Eclectic rap-rock produced by Nigel Godrich, who, ever since he worked with Radiohead on OK Computer, must be mentioned prominently in any description of an album he is even remotely associated with. Really, it’s the law.

Tom [Rating: 9]: The grooves are groovy, the hooks are delivered with appealing nonchalance, and there’s not a single bar or verse that doesn’t provide evidence of Beck’s uncanny hipness radar.
Best track: “Cellphone's Dead”

Peter [Rating: 6]: A tongue-in-cheek countdown, drumming on a basic kit, a simple bass line, Beck starts to rap, and the record begins. It’s a comforting sound, but while Beck has great taste and a fabulous sonic vocabulary, his limited vocal range means he has to push himself to write (and sing) effective melodies. He’s done it before, but most of this album doesn’t escape a seeming songwriting malaise.
Best track: “Elevator Music”

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