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Sunday, June 10, 2007

GOOD GIRL GONE BAD

Rihanna

Rihanna is the most recent urban songstress to spit out her bubble-gum sound and try on some vaguely hard-rock elements in an effort to come across as edgy. Like Ciara and Kelis before her, Def Jam's princess has taken a page out of the Janet Jackson playbook and restyled herself by trading in her teasing lyrics, fizzy production, lip gloss and short skirts for tough lyrics, guitar riffs, smoky eye shadow and shorter skirts.

"Good Girl Gone Bad," Rihanna's third LP, features a more rugged, eclectic sound than her previous albums, but it isn't exactly R&B rebel music. Still, it is a fun, uncomplicated dance record that is blessedly light on ballads and heavy on the sort of electronic music that best complements the singer's android vocals.

Lead single "Umbrella," with its over-the-top enunciation and vocal seizures, manages to be more fluffy and adorable than aggravating, and "Don't Stop the Music" is a Crystal Waters-inspired house track that gives Rihanna a chance to sing with Michael Jackson by sampling the beloved "mama-say-mama-sa-mama-ku-sa" lyric from his "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'." "Say It" uses a similar trick by reviving the dancehall track from Mad Cobra's '90s hit "Flex."

"Good Girl Gone Bad" stumbles only when it veers into traditional R&B, thus highlighting the shortcomings of Rihanna's voice. She is seriously out of her league on the Ne-Yo duet "Hate That I Love You" and similarly lacking on "Rehab," whose title invites comparisons to Amy Winehouse. Rihanna just doesn't have a strong voice like the Brit singer. And when she tries to sing as if she does, it seems she hasn't just "gone bad," she's rotten.

-- Sarah Godfrey

DOWNLOAD THESE:"Umbrella," "Don't Stop the Music," "Say It"

EAT ME, DRINK ME

Marilyn Manson

The Columbine High School massacre of 1999 was a nightmare for Marilyn Manson, and not just because he was a partial scapegoat. Modern life has gotten way scarier than shock-rock. A new Manson album? Yawn.

So, like a vampire, he must attempt to outlive us. He feasts on young flesh: His girlfriend, actress Evan Rachel Wood, is 19. But more crucial to the success of "Eat Me, Drink Me," he must find an equally innocent audience of fresh meat. "The young get less bolder / The legends get older / I stay the same," he sings on "Mutilation Is the Most Sincere Form of Flattery."

Now 38, the "Antichrist Superstar" has purged most of his bile. He's inspired here by his own black teardrops (a failed marriage to burlesque revivalist Dita Von Teese) and a red-blooded male's passion (teen queen Wood). The trade-off is that there's nothing like his hissed hit from 1996, "The Beautiful People." Hooky alt-metal has been cremated and replaced by alternately brooding and melodic rock.

Manson's hollow loneliness rings true during heart-stabbing moments such as "Just a Car Crash Away." And although Goth vibes usually taste best served cold, he's hot on the Cure-laced single "Heart-Shaped Glasses." Manson is less convincing when he tries to get cute. On "You and Me and the Devil Makes 3," he sings, "I've got mood poisoning / You must be something that I hate." It's too bad Manson never sounds as smart in song as he did when interviewed by Michael Moore for "Bowling for Columbine."

-- Michael Deeds

DOWNLOAD THESE:"Heart-Shaped Glasses," "The Red Carpet Grave"

BETWEEN RAISING HELL AND AMAZING GRACE

Big & Rich

Big & Rich have been challenging assumptions about what qualifies as country music ever since they convened their Muzik Mafia, a federation of iconoclastic artists, six years ago in Nashville. With this third album, they take their philosophy of "music without boundaries" further afield than ever.

The gospel-steeped "Eternity," which opens with a gorgeous a cappella passage sung by John Legend, is a stirring demonstration of just how compatible soul music and steel guitars can be. Similarly, "Please Man," a punning appeal to the duo's detractors that features Wyclef Jean, shows how well reggae rhythms and rippling banjo runs can go together. The twang-ripened cover of AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long" is a neat parlor trick, but the anthemic "Radio," a metal-tinged original cauterized by buzzing electric guitars, will likely prove the more enduring of the two in concert.

Not everything on the record flouts Nashville conventions. "Lost in This Moment," the album's first single, is a fairly conventional country ballad that showcases the duo's close harmony singing. "Faster Than Angels Fly," an atmospheric meditation that could pass for an outtake from Bruce Springsteen's "Tunnel of Love," is one of mainstream country's more winning -- as opposed to pandering -- appropriations of '80s album-oriented rock.

To close the proceedings, Big & Rich crank things back up with "Loud," a paean to the joys of making noise that comes off more like Metallica-lite than anything else. It's too bad they didn't include the crunk remix of the track that they did with rapper Lil Jon instead. It might have turned some heads.

-- Bill Friskics-Warren

DOWNLOAD THESE: "Eternity," "Please Man," "You Shook Me All Night Long"

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