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Classic rock, teen pop grown up and one surprisingly slowly brewed comeback - Sound Advice - various recordings reviewed - Sound Recording Review

CHRISTINA AGUILERA

Stripped (RCA Records)

Despite calling in producers like Pink's fairy godmother Linda Perry, Aguilera's most valuable asset is her voice, especially now that she's working her lower register. On Make Me Over," it's a thrill to hear the caterwauler sounding like she's just woken up. While the lyrics plow fresher ground than genies in bellies ("I'm OK" addresses her parents' divorce), it's the range of styles Aguilera covers that make this one of the best bets of the fall.

Rebecca Wallwork

COOLIO

El Cool Magnifico (D3 Entertainment)

Infectious, street-smart and silly, Coolio returns to his good vs. bad cop West Coast formula, exuding cocksure confidence. "Sunshine" wisely cobbles the neo-psychedelic motif of the Beatles' Dear Prudence," but it is Shake It Up" that reveals Coolio as a man on a chart-topping mission.

Tom Semioli

TORI AMOS

Scarlet's Walk (Epic Records)

Scarlet's Walk marks a return to classic Amos--a tapestry of dramatic, spiraling compositions, haunted yet beautiful vocals, and naked songwriting that doesn't hold back. Scarlet's Walk is nominally a concept album exploring the history of America, but Amos could be singing the phone book and it'd still be compelling.

Matt Diehl

RILO KILEY

The Execution of All Things (Saddle Creek)

An alumna of the kitsch classic Troop Beverly Hills (1989), Jenny Lewis has strong roots in Hollywood, but her L.A. rock band leans more toward the quiet charm of mountains, rivers and streams. Crystal-clear vocals, sunny arrangements and sharp songwriting make Rib Kiley's second record the musical equivalent of a rejuvenating trip to Big Sur.

Nicholas Messing

RYAN ADAMS

Demolition (Lost Highway)

This collection of raw demos--many of which were shockingly left off Adams' last album, Gold--contains some precious keepers: Everything from sweaty, Replacements-style rave-ups like "Starting To Hurt" to folksy, altcountry pickin' tunes. But it's on stark heartbreakers like "Dear Chicago" that Demolition is at its crushing, devastating best.

ADD N TO (X)

Ray Rogers

Loud Like Nature (Mute Records)

A rough and ready mix of sex, synth and big-drum raunch, this is about as loud as nature gets. Long before the hawking of new electro, this Brit trio was mating computer blips with acoustic boom, splicing together go-go beats and robot voices for a new-era grind that is as terrifying as it is titillating. Add N to (X) create a sound which not only embraces technology, but feels it up and takes it home.

Jessica Hundley

TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS

The Last DJ (Warner Bros. Records)

A sense of stunned disbelief at the flaccid corporate soLind of modern rock gives Petty's songs a zealous, wry bite. "All the music gave me / Was a craving for lite beer," he croons in the Stax-flavored "Money Becomes King." In the elegiac, Beatles-esque "Dreamville," he remembers when he was electrified by a visit to a music store to buy a guitar string. Now Petty's making music worthy of a future generation's nostalgia.

Dimitri Ehrlich

SINEAD O'CONNOR

Sean-No's Nua (Vanguard Records)

In the hands of O'Connor, traditional Irish music--which might be considered a fringe musical enjoyment--becomes something radiant, beautiful and even sexy. Surviving enough controversy to sink a battleship takes more than force of will; it takes force of talent and, as evidenced here, O'Connor has it in volumes, starting with that inimitable voice.

Jarret McNeill

SOFT CELL

Cruelty Without Beauty (Cooking Vinyl/spinART)

Remember the song "Tainted Love"? Contrary to their one-hit wonder status in the States, Soft Cell actually had quite a slew of chart-busters elsewhere. When they went their separate ways, Marc Almond-helped usher in the lounge trend, while Dave Ball became a sought-after remixer and producer. After a nice long rest from each other (18 years!), Almond and [Ball have finally brought Soft Cell back from the dead, resurrecting the lyrically dark, dance-happy kitchen-sink dramas and slinky sleaze-fests of old.

Anita Sarko

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