Culture

Best-Selling CDs

Culture | The top five best-selling cds according to Billboard magazine, May 8

Issue: "Iraq: The image war," May 22, 2004

1. CONFESSIONS

Usher

5 weeks on chart

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Style

Mixed-

pedigree R&B

(love-man, hip-hop).

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.

2. HURT NO MORE

Mario Winans

1 week on chart

Style

Sinuously serpentine R&B,

polished to a high sheen.

Objectionable material

Casual cursing ("I Never Really Was"), racial epithets ("What's Wrong with Me," "Can't Judge Me"), and/or profanities ("This Is the Thanks I Get," "Pretty Girl ...").

Worldview

"Sometimes in life / you come across a woman. / It's just undeniable."

Overall quality

Not so much better than the trademark gospel of Mr. Winans's family that it justifies his selling his birthright.

3. MUSICOLOGY

Prince

1 week on chart

Style

More of the combustible mix that might have resulted had Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, and Sly Stone inhabited the same body.

Objectionable material

Scattered sexual allusions ("On the Couch," "Illusion, Coma, Pimp and Circumstance").

Worldview

"Ain't no sense in voting. / Same song with a different name" ("Dear Mr. Man").

Overall quality

Higher than usual, due in part to the emergence of a genuine marital subtext.

4.... WHAT I CALL MUSIC 15

Various Performers

5 weeks 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

Buying 20 of one's favorite songs for less than the price of a tank of gas beats being sued for illegal downloading.

Overall quality

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

5. THE REASON

Hoobastank

20 weeks on chart

Style

Clichés and non sequiturs set to taut, high-energy guitar rock.

Worldview

"Why are you always telling me what you want me to believe? / I'd like to think that I can go my own way and meet you in the end" ("Same Direction").

Overall quality

Only inhabitants of the notoriously undereducated demographic that makes up Hoobastank's target audience could mistake this puerile, essentially sentimental whining for mature expression.

In the spotlight

Although there has yet to be (to paraphrase an already extant joke) a sequel to Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, the soundtrack has already yielded a spinoff. Handpicked when not hand-solicited by Mr. Gibson himself, the selections on Songs Inspired by the Passion of the Christ (Universal South/UMG Soundtracks) reveal as much about the director's eclectic baby-boomer musical tastes as about his theology.

Aesthetically idiosyncratic, the program juxtaposes original versions of old songs (Leon Russell's "Stranger in a Strange Land," Elvis Presley's "Where No One Walks Alone"), new versions of old songs (the Blind Boys of Alabama doing Thomas Dorsey, Ricky Skaggs doing the Louvins, Holly Williams doing Hank Williams Sr., Dolores O'Riordan doing "Ave Maria"), and recent versions of recent songs that in tone if not subject matter somehow seem to belong (Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave). It's too uneven for devotional use, but as a gospel attention-getter for a diversity-worshipping generation, it's not bad.

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