1. Circus – Britney Spears
Britney’s back! No, really, she’s back this time. Unlike last year’s excellent but somewhat robotic Blackout, Spears is engaging and energetic on Circus. The title track is one of the best pop songs released by anyone in ages. She tells off cheating lovers on the zippy “Womanizer,” turns the tables on the paparazzi on the sure-to-be club hit “Kill the Lights,” and takes some time out to get more than a little naughty on “If You Seek Amy” (say it fast to yourself). Britney is sure to keep hold of her increasing dance/club monopoly with the infectious “Mannequin” and “Shattered Glass.” She even dares to get a little funky (“Lace and Leather”) this go around. You won’t want to miss out on Britney’s Circus. It’s probably more fun than it should be, but who cares when pop confections are this enticing?
2. Dark Horse – Nickelback
This Canadian rock band’s last album sold beyond any expectations. No reason to think this album won’t go over just as well. Critics can grumble all they want about Nickelback, but the public just doesn’t seem to notice, or maybe they just don’t care. With arena-rocking tracks like “Burn It to the Ground” and “Something in Your Mouth,” audiences are more than willing to overlook any lack of substance or twinge of immaturity. A rock album seemingly crafted for radio, not a single dud is found on Dark Horse. Songs range from the contemplative “Gotta Be Somebody” to the blatantly lowbrow “Next Go ‘Round.” Nickelback also know their way around a rock narrative, and they prove it with the brilliant yet campy “Shakin’ Hands.” But the band really soars when they take a stab at a truly difficult subject “Just to Get High.” Dark Horse will go down as yet another Nickelback nightmare for the rock faithful, but a limitlessly enjoyable mainstream record for those who don’t take themselves so seriously.
3. Doll Domination – The Pussycat Dolls
Admittedly, this isn’t the pure campy pleasure that was PCD. Gone (for the most part) are the blatant sex-teases and campy come-ons. What’s left is a slightly more grown-up Dolls. While the first dance-oriented single took off (“When I Grow Up”), the best parts of this album have been strangely neglected. Snoop Dogg makes another appearance on Doll Domination in what proves to be the album’s most irresistible club thumper, the confusing yet suggestive “Bottle Pop.” The Dolls find their funky innerselves on “Whatcha Think About That” and “I Hate This Part,” while not forgetting to get a little sappy on “Happily Never After.” Thankfully, they haven’t completely forgotten their amusingly sassy side, as “In Person” and “Whatchamacallit” prove. The deluxe edition comes packaged with a second CD of solo songs, with “If I Was a Man” and “I Don’t Wanna Fall in Love” being tracks that shouldn’t have been relegated to a B-side.
4. Something Else – Robin Thicke
Mainstream audiences tend to overlook a great deal of talented artists if for no other reason than mainstream radio seems to want nothing to do with anything beyond the narrowly defined pop-rock-R&B-rap quartet of acceptability. Thankfully, Robin broke right through that barrier with his hit track “Lost Without U” on The Evolution of Robin Thicke.Something Else affects a different vibe than his last album. Thicke has reportedly described it as “wine and bubbly music.” From the smooth jam of “Magic” (which he later revealed to be referencing Barack Obama) and “Sidestep” to the chilled out soul of “Ms. Harmony” and “The Sweetest Love,” Something Else is a superb soul album by an unusually gifted vocalist.
5. Keeps Gettin’ Better: A Decade of Hits – Christina Aguilera
If you don’t recognize the majority of these tracks by merely their titles, you’ve probably been hiding under a rock for the last ten years. Ever since Christina captivated the pop audience with her late-nineties hit “Genie in a Bottle,” she’s been unstoppable. After a mere three (English language) studio albums, she has released a greatest hits album full of bona fide greatest hits. This compilation takes listeners from the nostalgically snappy nineties bliss of “Come on Over Baby (All I Want Is You) to the Andrews Sisters-style throwback of the recent “Candyman.” Also making appearances are the controversial “Dirrty” and anthem-ballad “Beautiful” along with four (kind of) brand-new tracks. “Genie 2.0” is an effective electronic/dance remake while “You Are What You Are (Beautiful)” is a yawner of experimental electronica. The two actual new tracks, “Keeps Gettin’ Better” and “Dynamite,” are both well-crafted surefire hits, with the first packing a controlled diva punch and the second being a radio friendly digital pop finger-snapper.