Includes 5x5 Year 2000 Christina Calendar. Like fellow former Mickey Mouse clubber Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera kicks off her debut album with a teen-lust nugget--in this case, the No. 1 single "Genie in a Bottle"--that the rest of the disc can't possibly live up to. Aguilera has a strong voice, but patterns herself after iffy role models such as Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey. Aside from "Genie," most of this music is straight from the cookie cutter, like the less than successfully sultry "When You Put Your Hands on Me" and the Mulan ballad showpiece "Reflection." In chart terms, though, there'll be no stopping her--at least for a while. --Rickey Wright
2011 album from the Italian trio who first appeared on the popular talent show Ti Lascio Una Canzone and dazzled television viewers with their flawless rendition of the Neapolitan standard "O Sole Mio." The boys won the competition easily. Piero, Ignazio, and Gianluca recorded Il Volo in Los Angeles and Rome, as well as at London's famed Abbey Road Studios. The album is a stellar showcase for these three young singers' astonishing vocal talent and interpretive gifts as they take on a range of both new and traditional, classically influenced pop songs.
Shakira ~ Laundry Service Colombian superstar Shakira's first English-language disc, Laundry Service, carries the pointed credit "Entire Album Produced by Shakira." That might be a signal to U.S. fans who helped two of her previous discs go platinum under the media radar--a sign that this planned breakthrough has more to offer than the input of a score of image makers and outside writers. And it does; even the occasional clunky lyric comes directly from her overflowing heart. Laundry Service's meld of danceable pop and rockier ideas and textures follows the similar path of the singer-songwriter's previous work. Indeed, for all its high-end production values, the record is ultimately one of the least glossy crossover vehicles imaginable. Despite an occasional lean toward Celine Dion territory ("Underneath Your Clothes"), it has a freshness that's sure to win over new listeners even after the first single, the sly "Whenever, Wherever," has reached the saturation point. While still not fully formed as an artist, she's getting close to something of her own--something that may flower after she dumps the vocal Alanis-isms. For now, it's still a pleasure to watch her grow. --Rickey Wright
CD Incl. Madonna Duet Puerto Rican superstar Ricky Martin's self-titled first English-language album is a triumph of an omnivorous world-pop sensibility--but more important is that at its best, it's a real kick. The first single, "Livin' la Vida Loca," employs a revved-up ska tempo to praise a girl whose "lips are devil red [and] skin's the color of mocha." Martin is no less irresistible on the disc's other uptempo numbers, such as "Spanish Eyes," "The Cup of Life" (the 1998 World Cup theme which with he stole the Grammy telecast a few months before this CD's release), and the Soul Coughing-indebted "Shake Your Bon Bon." Ricky Martin loses momentum with its draggier ballads--even the much-touted Madonna duet, "Be Careful (Cuidade con Mi Corazon)," doesn't spark--but overall, it deserves its inevitable multiplatinum success. --Rickey Wright