1. To The 5 Boroughs Artist: Beastie Boys Weeks on the chart: 1 Style: An enthusiastic return to the brash, late-'80s rap style that the Beastie Boys themselves pioneered, brought up to date with cruder language and post-9/11 politics. Objectionable material: Most of the 15 tracks (profanity, obscenity, vulgarity, blasphemy). Worldview: "Maybe it's time that we impeach Tex and the military muscle that he wants to flex. By the time Bush is done, what will be left?" Overall quality: Half-boy, half-man.
2. Confessions Artist: Usher Weeks on the chart: 13 Style: Mixed-pedigree R&B (love-man, hip-hop). Objectionable material: Risque booklet photos; raunchy sexuality and/or casual cursing ("Caught Up," "Do It to Me," the title cut). Worldview: "[F]rom outside, / all you see is videos and shows, / but there's more to my life / than people could ever know. / Sometimes I gotta smile / when I don't feel like smiling . . . Nobody understands but you, girl." Overall quality: As Confessions go, has nothing on Augustine's.
3. Contraband Artist: Velvet Revolver Weeks on the chart: 2 Style: Sleazy hard rock. Objectionable material: "Sucker Train Blues," "Do It for the Kids," "Big Machine," "Illegal i Song," "Spectacle," "Headspace" (obscenities, profanities). Worldview: "We're all slaves to a big machine, all tied up to a big machine . . . / I guess I chose to be." Overall quality: Faithfully captures the sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll grind (no surprise given the Guns N' Roses and Stone Temple Pilots pedigree of the main members).
4. Here For The Party Artist: Gretchen Wilson Weeks on the chart: 6 Style: Something-for-everyone country-by-numbers. Objectionable material: "Redneck Woman" and the title cut (for casual cursing and/or celebrating white-trashiness at its most slatternly). Worldview: "You might think I'm trashy, a little too hard core, / but in my neck of the woods I'm just the girl next door." Overall quality: The voice is fine but not very country, raising suspicions that fellas may be buying the disc for the figure-flattering booklet photos.
5. Under My Skin Artist: Avril Lavigne Weeks on the chart: 4 Style: Strident hard rock: female, under-21 division. Objectionable material: "Don't Tell Me," "My Happy Ending." Worldview: "I am small and the world is big. / All around me is fast moving . . . / I am young and I am free, / but I get tired and I get weak. / I get lost and I can't sleep." Overall quality: Tries so hard to avoid the sophomore slump that she succumbs to it.
In The Spotlight The singing on Avril Lavigne's Under My Skin (Arista/RCA) is shrill (Evanescence meets the Cranberries), the lyrics generic, and the music Nine Inch Lee Press-On Nails, yet there's something endearingly vulnerable about Miss Lavigne herself. "He wouldn't even open up the door," she sings of an ex-boyfriend. "He never made me feel like I was special." Given the 19-year-old's standing as an icon of independent young-womanhood, such post-feminist longings are both poignant and welcome. Alas, they're also rare, mere oases amid deserts of cliches delivered with a petulance at odds with Miss Lavigne's popularity. No sooner does she assert "I'm gonna live my life" in "Freak Out," for instance, than she's complaining "I can't ever run and hide." She has become, in other words, ambivalent about the very fame for which she probably began recording in the first place. One hopes she has begun learning something about the relationship between seeking and finding as well.