1. Stardust -- Rod Stewart
Weeks on chart: 1
Style: Gershwin and Gershwin, Rodgers and Hart, Hoagy Carmichael, Cole Porter, Frank Loesser, et al.
Worldview: There's no business like show business.
Overall quality: At its best, the strongest of Mr. Stewart's three forays into Broadway-musical song, marred only by two too many gimmicky duets (Bette Midler, Dolly Parton) and an over-sweet "What a Wonderful World" that does not eclipse Louis Armstrong's.
2. Suit -- Nelly
Weeks on chart: 6
Objectionable material: The intermittent FCC-banned language besmirching nearly every song.
Worldview: "A man walked past with his sign, 'Will work for food, clothes or cash,' / and he asked if he could pump my gas, so I let him. . . . / I even asked . . . his name, where he was from. . . . / He kinda looked surprised that anyone would even take an interest in his life."
Overall quality: Makes rappers seem human.
3. 50 Number Ones -- George Strait
Weeks on chart: 3
Style: Commercially blockbuster country distilled to its honky-tonk, Western-swing essence.
Worldview: Ex's in Texas falling to pieces together one night at a time while the world slips away like ocean-front property amid the chill of an early fall.
Overall quality: The equivalent of four vinyl albums, too many chart-toppers to get through in one sitting; ideal, however, for those adept at using the "random" setting of their multi-disc changer.
4. Confessions -- Usher
Weeks on chart: 31
Style: Love-man R&B meets hip-hop.
Objectionable material: Risqué 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."
Overall quality: Makes one pine for the fall of Usher's house.
5. Genius Loves Company -- Ray Charles
Weeks on chart: 6
Style: Omnivorously eclectic American pop.
Worldview: Ray Charles loved every kind of music, and every kind of music loved him back.
Overall quality: Although the Michael McDonald, Bonnie Raitt, Gladys Knight, B.B. King, Johnny Mathis, and Van Morrison duets hold up better than the James Taylor, Elton John, Natalie Cole, and Willie Nelson duets, the music only really comes to life when the Genius starts to sing.
In the spotlight
The hip-hop scene is, and probably ever shall be, an esthetic and moral cesspool. But, in the spirit of fair play, it should be noted that, from beneath its veneer of clueless sleaze, Suit (Universal), one of two new albums by the rapper Nelly, glints with occasional self-knowledge and good humor. Not that it's suitable for adolescents or adults with refined conservative sensibilities, but for fostering sympathy with the enemies whom Christians are commanded to love, it has no equal among current best-sellers. Suit's user-friendliness derives in part from its tone. Nelly's a low-life, sure, but he's a nice low-life. He can also generate appealing R&B musical backdrops, even if he has to lean on samples to do so. The biggest surprise, though, is "Die for You," an estranged father's heart-wrenching birthday greeting to a 10-year-old son who wants to see him right now but who must settle instead for the song that the hole in his heart inspired.