For your favorite pop music fan, consider one or more of these 40 albums. Here's what our reviewers said about them:
**** BOB DYLAN, "Love and Theft," Columbia. Far more jubilant and entertaining than the stark "Time Out of Mind," full of the thoughtful, provocative and teasing word play that is Dylan's particular pop genius.
**** ANGIE STONE, "Mahogany Soul," J. There is a sense throughout of real stories, real people, real emotions--and that's as good a definition as any for true soul music. One of the year's most commanding works.
***those BUBBA SPARXX, "Dark Days, Bright Nights," Beat Club/Interscope. The remarkable thing about this debut is that a white rapper with nasty charisma and greasy verbal skills can make us care about his tales of pursuing hotties and pounding booze in the bed of a pickup. Southern gothic as pulp comic book, unsettling and appealing in equal measure.
***those ELTON JOHN, "Songs From the West Coast," Rocket/Universal. The arrangements are more stripped down, the themes more probing and John's singing more personal than on any of the Englishman's studio collections in years.
***those ALICIA KEYS, "Songs in A Minor," J. The 20-year-old New Yorker moves convincingly from the Janet Jackson school of youthful Top 40 attitude to the funky sensuality of Prince to the neo-soul vitality of Macy Gray and Jill Scott. Even if "Songs" doesn't spell out where she's headed, it makes a strong case that's she's going far.
***those TIMBALAND & MAGOO, "Indecent Proposal," Blackground. After a four-year hiatus, the will to party is still strong, but the mood is a bit darker. Still, there are plenty of ways to get lost in "Indecent Proposal's" hip-hop funhouse.
*** MARY J. BLIGE, "No More Drama," MCA. Not as innovative as her early recordings, but "No More Drama" seamlessly incorporates the smoother soul and gospel flavors of 1999's "Mary" with her trademark blend of hip-hop, funk and R&B.;
*** GARTH BROOKS, "Scarecrow," Capitol. Despite some excess melodrama, "Scarecrow" is a welcome return to country music for Brooks after the dishearteningly generic pop-rock offerings on his 1999 "Chris Gaines" project. Rather than opening new doors, however, "Scarecrow" works best when it revisits old themes.
***CREED, "Weathered," Wind-Up. No one has mixed hard-core Christianity, crushing hard rock and massive record sales like Creed. The music expands slightly on the band's third album but the band's essential message and artistic strength rest on something vulnerable deep in the din.
*** DMX, "The Great Depression," Def Jam. Unlike such popular rappers as Ja Rule and Jay-Z, who have shifted much of their focus to commercially minded music as their popularity has increased, DMX remains as grimy, hard-core, abrasive and effective as ever.
*** ENYA, "A Day Without Rain," Reprise. The hit "Only Time" is characteristic of this ethereal and intensely comforting album, yet again demonstrates her ability to evoke primal beauty through melodically rich, exquisitely produced Celtic-rooted pop.
*** NELLY FURTADO, "Whoa, Nelly!," DreamWorks. It's not always a good sign when an artist draws on as many influences as Furtado does in this debut, but her diversity adds to the songs' bold authority.
*** MACY GRAY, "The Id," Epic. Gray again offers vintage soul, rock and funk strains that are so pure they seem channeled from an earlier era. This time they lack the dark obsessions and exotic urges of some of the unsettling songs on her debut.
*** JAY-Z, "The Blueprint," Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam. Displays a sense of purpose that's been absent since his bone-crushing breakthrough, 1998's Grammy-winning "Vol. 2 ... Hard Knock Life."
*** LIT "Atomic," RCA. The Orange County band serves up more of the backyard party pop about bad girls, cool cars and good booze that's become its signature, and it still works.
*** SHELBY LYNNE "Love, Shelby," Island. This would be a less jarring--and perhaps more compelling--follow-up to "I Am Shelby Lynne" if the musical framing were edgier. Still, she remains a singer-songwriter of outstanding command.
***MAXWELL, "Now," Columbia. On his third album, Maxwell never strains beyond a whisper, drawing listeners in with supple funk moves and bedroom imprecations. If anything, he's almost too reserved as a romancer. This tranquil mood music could have used a little grit to shake things up.
*** OZZY OSBOURNE, "Down to Earth," Epic. The former Black Sabbath frontman's first solo release in seven years is classic Ozzy, all willowy vocals and surging choruses embellished by frantic fret work from Zakk Wylde.
*** RADIOHEAD, "I Might Be Wrong," Capitol. The striking thing about the English band's first live album is how accessible the laboratory-bred "Kid A" and "Amnesiac" music sounds.
*** STAIND, "Break the Cycle," Elektra. Oozing with bittersweet choruses and restless guitar riffs, the second album from the melodic Boston metallers is surprisingly exhilarating, considering its dark, angst-filled themes. The band delves deeper into the downbeat songwriting that made its tortured ode "Outside" so powerful.
*** P.O.D., "Satellite," Atlantic. This giant leap forward for the San Diego quartet sharpens its emotional and spiritual edge, and manages to transcend the antagonistic attitude and formula beats of most rap-metal bands.
*** SYSTEM OF A DOWN, "Toxicity," American Recordings. The quartet's second album has an eccentric feel and a non-sequitur approach. Most of "Toxicity's" ragged, manic structures are too distracting to effectively convey the sociological statements behind them, but the inventive presentation is challenging nonetheless.
*** VARIOUS ARTISTS, "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack, Mercury. Soundtrack producer T Bone Burnett went to the right people for romanticized nostalgia, including Gillian Welch, Alison Krauss, John Hartford and Norman Blake. The music mirrors the film's odd, epic quests for redemption.
**GHOSTFACE KILLAH, "Bulletproof Wallets," Epic. RZA produces only four tracks on this Wu-Tang Clan solo spinoff, resulting in beat anemia. Guest shots from Wu compatriots Method Man and Raekwon inject a little shock treatment, but not enough to revive this pallid effort.
**ENRIQUE IGLESIAS, "Escape," Interscope. Iglesias wants badly to show range and depth, but both elude him and his collaborators, who prove high on craft but low on art in these variations on ultra-current pop styles and neo new-wave beats.
**those INCUBUS, "Morning View," Epic/Immortal. The band's aim remains a grand form of post-grunge progressive rock that's weighty, earnest and uniformly somber. There's something sincere and direct and admirably independent about it, but "Morning View" is performed and recorded so cleanly that it tastes of disinfectant.
**those MICHAEL JACKSON, "Invincible," Epic. There are some inspired moments in the 77-minute collection, but there are also stretches that are sappy, derivative and labored. The excesses show what happens when you have an unlimited budget, no time constraints and an uncertain vision.
**those MICK JAGGER, "Goddess in the Doorway," Virgin. There are some winning tunes in Jagger's fourth solo album, but you'll probably find yourself longing for the soulfulness and electricity the Rolling Stones could bring to them.
**those JA RULE, "Pain Is Love," Def Jam. When Ja Rule veers from romantic overtures, he simply recycles hard-core themes without adding any clever phrasings. It's telling that the rapper, who earned his stripes as a hard-core artist, now makes better love than war.
**MARC ANTHONY, "Libre," Sony Discos/Columbia. The singer's first salsa album in four years is a slick production, but it lacks the soul and spontaneity that mark the best tropical music. His fans will be ecstatic to get nine more torch tunes, but hard-core salsa fans hoping for something new and daring will be disappointed.
**those DAVE MATTHEWS BAND, "Live in Chicago 12.19.98," RCA. This two-CD set captures the band in its jam-minded prime. The faithful will revel in a sharply executed rock-funk-jazz melange, and the unpersuaded will continue to wonder what's the fuss.
**those PAUL McCARTNEY, "Driving Rain," Capitol. This is a warm, personal affair, whose musical textures are what you'd expect from one of rock's masters of melody, but it's not an ambitious or striking work.
**those NATALIE MERCHANT, "Motherland," Elektra. Merchant's third studio album opens with perhaps her most potent three-song stretch since the 10,000 Maniacs days, but "Motherland" eventually nods off, as the arrangements become plain and formality replaces urgency.
**those NICKELBACK, "Silver Side Up," Roadrunner. This Canadian band's polished grunge may lack originality, but its earnestness is almost engaging enough to transcend its shortcomings.
** 'N SYNC, "Celebrity," Jive. Veering unevenly between superstar attitude and poor-little-big-shot vulnerability, the lads still show no sign of being anything more than the flavor of however many moments are left to be squeezed from the predictable pastiches of Prince, Michael Jackson, the Bee Gees and miscellaneous betters.
**those SHAKIRA, "Laundry Service," Epic. The Colombian star's English-language debut is a lightweight mix of angular, new-wave-pop; offbeat amalgams of Madonna and U2; Beatles-flavored ballads; Arabic and Latin touches; bits of R&B; etc. She and her collaborators are so intent on providing something for everyone that you can't clearly hear what she's about.
**those USHER, "8701," Arista. There's less staccato rap-singing and more crooning, and the collection has a less hyper feel, with a casual flow evoking his hero Marvin Gaye. But Usher too often reverts to generic promises of ecstasy and moony breakup/make- up sentiments.
**TOBY KEITH, "Pull My Chain," DreamWorks. The country singer has built himself an odd niche where he can vacillate between a drippy romantic and a breast-beating testosterone case. Only near the end of the album do some genuine-sounding vulnerability and sincerity emerge.
**PINK, "Missundaztood," Arista. The singer offers an eccentric blend of R&B;, rock and dance styles, but despite the broader palette, the songs share with Pink's debut a tendency to sound vaguely familiar.
*those JEWEL, "This Way," Atlantic. This album marks small advances over her first two albums, but mainly it's like being stuck at an endless coffeehouse open-mike night. A little-engine-that-could spunk keeps the surface in motion, but it's inert underneath.