Looking for gift ideas? The list of the most popular CDs is always a place to start. For a little guidance, Calendar's pop staff surveyed 40 of the nation's most popular or critically acclaimed albums.
*** BOYZ II MEN, "Evolution," Motown. The vocal quartet seems determined to put childish things aside, and although the album is low on energy in places, the songs that do work manage to get matters right.
*** MARIAH CAREY, "Butterfly," Columbia. Easily the most personal, confessional-sounding record Carey has done. She gets most adventurous on a gorgeous, soulful version of Prince's "The Beautiful Ones."
** 1/2 LSG, "LSG," EastWest. Teaming powerhouse vocalists Gerald Levert, Keith Sweat and Johnny Gill sounds good on paper, but there is a reticence in their work together. You can feel them trying not to out-sing each other, and there's not much rugged, take-no-prisoners vocalizing in effect here.
** 1/2 USHER, "My Way," LaFace. Weak songwriting notwithstanding, the hip-hop heartthrob has star presence to spare. The sex emphasis wears thin, but only because Usher's songs aren't as interesting as their subject matter.
** VARIOUS ARTISTS, "Anastasia: Music From the Motion Picture," Atlantic. The tunes are as typically lightweight as these types of soundtracks generally are. Deana Carter, Richard Marx-Donna Lewis, Aaliyah and Thalia perform songs that are pleasant but quickly evaporate from memory.
Albums and other items in Gift Guide are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).