"Bitter," the third release from Washington native Me'Shell NdegeOcello, is the sort of album that major labels aren't supposed to make these days: personal, downbeat, self-indulgent, short on hooks. Perhaps because she records for Maverick, Madonna's Warner Bros. imprint, the singer-bassist has been allowed to make a concept album about being dumped. NdegeOcello (or her A&R representative) probably hoped for something as distinctively bummed-out as Marvin Gaye's divorce epic, "Here, My Dear," but she didn't get it. Her anguish may be unique, but the songs it inspired aren't.

The album's title song pretty much says it all, although tunes like "Fool of Me," "Wasted Time" and "Loyalty" say it again (and again). Accompanied by former Princelings Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman and a string section, NdegeOcello broods and purrs, alternately bemoaning and cajoling love. "I feel so dumb," she admits. "What kind of fool am I?" The titles of two instrumentals, "Adam" and "Eve," make the implicit claim that the singer's heartbreak is mythic and primal, but the music isn't striking enough to sell that premise. NdegeOcello's megalomania begins to seem justified only on the almost-lively final track, "Grace," where she contemplates two conflicting claims on her soul--those of a lover and of God. Instead of ending with this dispute, maybe this is where the album should have begun.

(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8173.)

Prince The artist still known as Prince--at least at his former label, Warner Bros.--reportedly has many hours of unreleased material on the shelf. If these leftovers mostly resemble the music on "The Vault . . . Old Friends 4 Sale," perhaps the shelf is the best place for them. These 10 songs are respectable, but they lack the spark--and trademark eclecticism--of Prince's finest work.

Most of this garage-sale collection is jazzy funk with extended showcases for the performer's sidemen, notably the horn players. When the singer-songwriter occasionally does present an idea, it's usually borrowed: "Today, today is the first day of the rest of my life" is the greeting-card-wisdom refrain of "The Rest of My Life," while "Sarah" takes its "is that you?" hook from Chuck Berry's "Nadine." The eight-minute "She Spoke 2 Me" vamps tiresomely, while at 2:28 and 1:09, respectively, the slow-burn ballad "Extraordinary" and "My Little Pill"--in which Prince curiously claims that "a pixie does my laundry and the universe my will"--sound like sketches. Clearly these songs needed more work, but it's easy to understand why their creator never bothered.

(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8174.)

CAPTION: The anguish in Me'Shell NdegeOcello's third album may be unique, but the songs it inspired are cliched and self-indulgent.