By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Nelly Furtado "Say It Right," Loose(Geffen)
Ten years after Aaliyah's "One in a Million," Timbaland is still using the same heaving synth waves and tricky, Tourettic drum programming, but the rest of the pop world still hasn't caught up. Here, Tim channels early-'90s Peter Gabriel, his rippling bongos and staccato mouth-clicks granting a vaguely Afropop lilt to those pillowy keyboards. There's also a little Eno in the peals of distorto-guitar that bubble up in the coda. With her airy chirp, Furtado sounds like she's singing a duet with a volcano—she can't overpower it, so she lets her voice float lazily over the fires.
The All-American Rejects "It Ends Tonight," Move Along (Interscope)
These guys are humping the emo zeitgeist for all it's worth, hiding huge, transcendent pop hooks behind MySpace self-involvement and Tyson Ritter's piercing helium yowl. This inevitable breakup power ballad might be their most satisfying bit of formulaic expertise yet: Pro Tooled strings and super-processed acoustic guitars soar slowly upward before exploding into a gloriously meaningless chorus, and those whoa-oh-oh backing vocals just kill. It's about as punk as Def Leppard, and that's not a complaint.
"Keep Holding On," Eragon soundtrack (RCA)
The bad news: Avril has all but deadened her bratty mall-punk bite so she can make a piece of blandly inspirational Broadway fluff for the soundtrack to a movie about dragons. Her guitars don't crunch anymore, and she doesn't use her high notes like knives. The good news: This song's string arrangement is a fucking monster, moving from slow wind-chime flourishes on the intro to spinning crescendos on the bridge. With backing like that, anyone can be a convincing Auto-Tuned balladeer, even someone who was meant for better things.