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HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE | TOP POP ALBUMS

Listen Up, Elves!

We've scouted out the best and most popular CDs from hip-hop to Latin sounds and straight-ahead rock. Top Pop Albums

December 02, 1999|CALENDAR WRITERS

*** ENRIQUE IGLESIAS, "Enrique," Interscope. Essentially the kind of seamlessly produced, catchy record he made in his three-album Spanish-language career, with two steps forward: a gorgeous duet with Whitney Houston and a respectable version of Bruce Springsteen's "Sad Eyes."

** 1/2 KORN, "Issues," Immortal/Epic. Ah, to be young and in pain. Korn's real progress here is in the music, the richest array of sounds the band has made, comparable in places to, if derivative of, Trent Reznor's work.

*** KURUPT, "Tha Streetz Iz a Mutha," ANTRA/Artemis. This Dogg Pound member returns to top form on his second solo album. A hidden track, "Callin' Out Names," disses DMX and is the talk of the underground hip-hop scene.

*** LIL WAYNE, "Tha Block Is Hot," Cash Money/Universal. The New Orleans rapper's energetic debut wins with imaginative wordplay and dramatic production.

*** LIMP BIZKIT, "Significant Other," Flip/Interscope. Thequintet still packs plenty of stormy attitude, but it tempers the sledgehammer attack with a few subtle moves that add some welcome depth to the songs.

** 1/2 RICKY MARTIN, "Ricky Martin," Columbia. In this noisy, sparkling pop extravaganza, Martin covers so many musical genres with such an unapologetic hunger for world domination that it's difficult not to be blown away. Still, his considerable charisma can't hide the fact that the album sounds and feels prefabricated.

** METALLICA, "S&M, Metallica With the San Francisco Symphony Conducted by Michael Kamen," Elektra. Michael Kamen's arrangements often display an 007 gushiness that works against Metallica's dynamic tension. But when slower songs are truly re-imagined, thetuxes pay their way.

*** ALANIS MORISSETTE, "MTV Unplugged," Maverick. A marvelous performance that finds her rethinking her songs rather than just replaying them. Includes four previously unreleased tunes, including a version of the Police's "King of Pain."

** 1/2 NAS, "Nastradamus," Columbia. On his fourth album, the rapper's insights and storytelling are as keen as ever. But his sense of urgency and emotion seem minimal, as if in graduating from the ghetto, he's misplaced the gritty edge that made him a hero.

*** NINE INCH NAILS, "The Fragile," Nothing. Trent Reznor strips away all his armor and expresses inner confusion and pain in ways that are both frightening and sad. There's no glamour or comfort in these tracks, only longing and dread. Not every step of this 100-minute musical journey is really necessary, but this is a profoundly challenging and moving work.

*** RAEKWON, "Immobilarity," Loud. The Wu-Tang Clan member demonstrates tremendous growth from his gangster-heavy debut, exchanging his relentless onslaught of crime capers for a number of cautionary, inspirational and light-hearted tales.

*** Q-TIP, "Amplified," Arista. Only a few tracks on this solo debut would have fit into the musical mission of Q-Tip's old group, a Tribe Called Quest. The various musical approaches make "Amplified" an eclectic and enjoyable hip-hop experience.

**** RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE, "The Battle of Los Angeles," Epic. The breakthrough is that Rage begins to add some surprise left jabs and right hooks to its primal sonic attack, giving us music that is richer texturally and, in some places, warmer and more convincing.

** 1/2 LEANN RIMES, "LeAnn Rimes," Curb. Her voice has become richer, but at 17 she still imitates rather than truly inhabits the deepest emotions of these heartbreak-heavy country classics.

*** SANTANA, "Supernatural," Arista. Carlos Santana's guitar soars throughout this vigorous album, stimulated by a host of young guest artists, from Wyclef Jean to Matchbox 20's Rob Thomas.

** 1/2 SAVAGE GARDEN, "Affirmation," Columbia. The Australian dance-pop duo sometimes has a fetching innocence and a real sense of fun. But they plunge into Serious Territory about halfway through, turning the whole affair into a major drag.

*** BARBRA STREISAND, "A Love Like Ours," Columbia. The set of songs extolling the joys and blessings of l'amour offers some of the most unaffected, emotionally direct work that the uber-diva has done in years.

** THIRD EYE BLIND, "Blue," Elektra. The San Franciscans' yearning, churning rock-pop still carries echoes from the grunge '90s. It's pleasant, hard-rocking stuff that leaves no impression at all.

*** VARIOUS ARTISTS, "End of Days" soundtrack, Geffen. Axl Rose reemerges after a long absence, with his new Guns N' Roses lineup featured right alongside Korn, Limp Bizkit, et al. But great acts don't just join the pack, they lead it, and the new GNR song, "Oh My God," provides few revelations about Rose's prospects of returning to the forefront.

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Albums and other gifts in this section are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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