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"Fearless" is a mix of awkward-but-novel devices (reggae beats, Daft Punk samples) and nakedly confessional songwriting. Sullivan has a big, churchy voice she doesn't yet know how to harness, and spends most of "Fearless" following it around. The overall effect is raw and intimate: "Fear" catalogues Sullivan's neuroses (one can relate right up to the part where she sings, "I'm scared to think that the label dropped me/I'm scared to think of my album flopping"); "Lions, Tigers and Bears" is a chest-thumping showstopper; "Bust Your Windows" is an urban retelling of "Before He Cheats" ("You know I did it 'cause I left my mark/Wrote my initials with the crowbar") that will make you miss the comparative subtleties of the original.

-- Allison Stewart

DOWNLOAD THESE:"Need U Bad," "Lions, Tigers & Bears"


Kings of Leon

Some bands are built to last. Kings of Leon doesn't seem like one of those bands. The Tennessee family outfit (three Followill brothers, plus a cousin on drums) has never threatened to become much more than a guilty pleasure, playing the kind of chugging riff-rockers you crank up for a song or two while mindlessly dancing in your apartment. (A phenomenon accurately captured in a commercial a few years ago.) Still, the band's first three albums showed an appealing youthful bravado, plus sass and swagger to spare.

This time out the Followill clan has taken a stab at sophistication, and the result is a tedious album with arena-rock ambition and not much else. The echo-laden guitars, big choruses and too-crisp drums are predictable calling cards for a band aiming for a more "mature" sound, and those gambits sound forced and dull. Perhaps there's not much glory in being "the Southern-rock Strokes," as the band was tagged early in its career, but it's still better than being faceless U2 impersonator No. 1,293. Songs like "Use Somebody" and "I Want You" plod along, with the band spending more energy on minor studio embellishments than memorable hooks.

The only track that really takes off is "Sex on Fire," a song as splendidly stupid as its title indicates. Singer Caleb Followill warbles his way through his usual mess of lyrics -- basically non sequiturs of things Beavis and Butt-head would find cool -- and when he howls "Your sex is on fire!" it makes you laugh but pump your fist all the same. The rest of the album could badly use some of that energy.

-- David Malitz


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