Best-selling CDs

Culture | A look at five of the most popular music choices

Issue: "George W. Bush: Gut check," April 24, 2004


1 week on chart

Style: Mixed-pedigree R&B (love-man, hip-hop).

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Objectionable material: Booklet photos (Usher in tub, shirtless Usher with topless girlfriend); troglodytic sexuality ("Caught Up," "Do It to Me," the title cut).

Worldview: "[God] has blessed me with so much that I could never put into writing how blessed I am. My creativity, drive and abilities are unmatched" (from the notes). (Translation: A mind is a wonderful thing to waste.)

Overall quality: Sings well.

NOW THAT'S ... MUSIC 15, Various Performers

1 week on chart

Style: Rap-sploitation, bimbo-sploitation, airhead-sploitation, guitar-band-sploitation.

Objectionable material: The rappers' troglodytic sexuality and all-'round low-life crises that come through no matter how many specific expletives are deleted for Wal-Mart shoppers.

Worldview: If you can't sue the illegal downloaders into oblivion, offer them 20 of their favorites for less than the price of a tank of gas.

Overall quality: Compilations do not live by Norah Jones and Sheryl Crow alone.


1 week on chart

Style: The good, the bad, and the ugly of last-gasp metal.

Objectionable material: "Welcome to the Jungle" (double entendres), "You Could Be Mine" (vulgarity), not "Sympathy for the Devil" (which is dramatic, not didactic).

Worldview: "I don't need your civil war. / It feeds the rich while it buries the poor" ("Civil War").

Overall quality: Winds down quickly, in part because the high-profile covers have aged worse than Axl Rose's vocals.


1 week on chart

Style: Contemporary love-man R&B.

Objectionable material: Occasional embarrassingly gauche attempts at sex talk.

Worldview: "It's an all-night thing. And I just wanna thank you, girl, for allowing me to be myself in this bedroom tonight, 'cause you know I just wanna-make you happy. That's right" ("The Baby Maker").

Overall quality: Excellent vocals, banal lyrics, serviceable grooves, way too much at over an hour.


7 weeks on chart

Style: Breathy, after-hours nightclub folk with faint traces of Americana roots.

Worldview: "I'm on my knees empty / You humble me, Lord / You humble me, Lord / Please, please, please forgive me" (from the Kevin Breit-penned "Humble Me").

Overall quality: Increased by the very real possibility that it could function as a gateway disc to someone's discovering Alison Krauss.


Times change. Consider Yusef Islam-aka Cat Stevens. Maybe he supported the Ayatollah Khomeini's call to assassinate Salman Rushdie in 1989, and maybe he didn't, but as soon as he was perceived to support it his music vanished from radio playlists faster than you can say "Dixie Chicks." No station owners were summoned to Washington to answer charges of anti-Muslim "censorship." The 10,000 Maniacs deleted their hit version of Mr. Stevens's "Peace Train" from future pressings of their album.

Fast-forward 14 years. America is fighting a murderously Islamic regime, and Sheryl Crow has a hit with Mr. Stevens's "The First Cut Is the Deepest." It's credited to "C. Stevens." Five months later, it appears on Now 15 (EMI), credited to the once ostracized "Y. Islam." Meanwhile, opposition to the war increases as the notion takes hold that Muslims only murder when provoked (by George W. Bush, by Tony Blair, by Israel). Perhaps Mr. Rushdie should go back underground.


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