For your favorite pop music fan, consider one or more of these 40 albums. Here's what our reviewers said about them:
**** BOB DYLAN, "Love and Theft," Columbia. Far more jubilant and entertaining than the stark "Time Out of Mind," full of the thoughtful, provocative and teasing word play that is Dylan's particular pop genius.
**** ANGIE STONE, "Mahogany Soul," J. There is a sense throughout of real stories, real people, real emotions--and that's as good a definition as any for true soul music. One of the year's most commanding works.
***those BUBBA SPARXX, "Dark Days, Bright Nights," Beat Club/Interscope. The remarkable thing about this debut is that a white rapper with nasty charisma and greasy verbal skills can make us care about his tales of pursuing hotties and pounding booze in the bed of a pickup. Southern gothic as pulp comic book, unsettling and appealing in equal measure.
***those ELTON JOHN, "Songs From the West Coast," Rocket/Universal. The arrangements are more stripped down, the themes more probing and John's singing more personal than on any of the Englishman's studio collections in years.
***those ALICIA KEYS, "Songs in A Minor," J. The 20-year-old New Yorker moves convincingly from the Janet Jackson school of youthful Top 40 attitude to the funky sensuality of Prince to the neo-soul vitality of Macy Gray and Jill Scott. Even if "Songs" doesn't spell out where she's headed, it makes a strong case that's she's going far.
***those TIMBALAND & MAGOO, "Indecent Proposal," Blackground. After a four-year hiatus, the will to party is still strong, but the mood is a bit darker. Still, there are plenty of ways to get lost in "Indecent Proposal's" hip-hop funhouse.
*** MARY J. BLIGE, "No More Drama," MCA. Not as innovative as her early recordings, but "No More Drama" seamlessly incorporates the smoother soul and gospel flavors of 1999's "Mary" with her trademark blend of hip-hop, funk and R&B.
*** GARTH BROOKS, "Scarecrow," Capitol. Despite some excess melodrama, "Scarecrow" is a welcome return to country music for Brooks after the dishearteningly generic pop-rock offerings on his 1999 "Chris Gaines" project. Rather than opening new doors, however, "Scarecrow" works best when it revisits old themes.
***CREED, "Weathered," Wind-Up. No one has mixed hard-core Christianity, crushing hard rock and massive record sales like Creed. The music expands slightly on the band's third album but the band's essential message and artistic strength rest on something vulnerable deep in the din.
*** DMX, "The Great Depression," Def Jam. Unlike such popular rappers as Ja Rule and Jay-Z, who have shifted much of their focus to commercially minded music as their popularity has increased, DMX remains as grimy, hard-core, abrasive and effective as ever.
*** ENYA, ''A Day Without Rain,'' Reprise. The hit ''Only Time'' is characteristic of this ethereal and intensely comforting album, yet again demonstrates her ability to evoke primal beauty through melodically rich, exquisitely produced Celtic-rooted pop.
*** NELLY FURTADO, "Whoa, Nelly!," DreamWorks. It's not always a good sign when an artist draws on as many influences as Furtado does in this debut, but her diversity adds to the songs' bold authority.
*** MACY GRAY, "The Id," Epic. Gray again offers vintage soul, rock and funk strains that are so pure they seem channeled from an earlier era. This time they lack the dark obsessions and exotic urges of some of the unsettling songs on her debut.
*** JAY-Z, "The Blueprint," Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam. Displays a sense of purpose that's been absent since his bone-crushing breakthrough, 1998's Grammy-winning "Vol. 2 ... Hard Knock Life."
*** LIT "Atomic," RCA. The Orange County band serves up more of the backyard party pop about bad girls, cool cars and good booze that's become its signature, and it still works.
*** SHELBY LYNNE "Love, Shelby," Island. This would be a less jarring--and perhaps more compelling--follow-up to "I Am Shelby Lynne" if the musical framing were edgier. Still, she remains a singer-songwriter of outstanding command.
***MAXWELL, "Now," Columbia. On his third album, Maxwell never strains beyond a whisper, drawing listeners in with supple funk moves and bedroom imprecations. If anything, he's almost too reserved as a romancer. This tranquil mood music could have used a little grit to shake things up.
*** OZZY OSBOURNE, "Down to Earth," Epic. The former Black Sabbath frontman's first solo release in seven years is classic Ozzy, all willowy vocals and surging choruses embellished by frantic fret work from Zakk Wylde.
*** RADIOHEAD, "I Might Be Wrong," Capitol. The striking thing about the English band's first live album is how accessible the laboratory-bred "Kid A" and "Amnesiac" music sounds.