1. Out of Exile - Audioslave Weeks on chart:
Style: A grim blend of grunge and heavy metal.
Worldview: The usual inarticulate confusion and alienation of the perennially adolescent ("To be yourself is all that you can do"; "I like gospel music and canned applause / 'cause it doesn't remind me of anything"; "I can walk on water yet won't even try, / so drown me slowly").
Overall quality: Proof that '90s music is aging even faster than its practitioners' tattoos.
2. Be - Common Weeks on chart:
Style: Rap enlivened by melodic pre-rap samples.
Objectionable material: The usual racial epithets, obscenities, and sexual raunch.
Worldview: That his daughter is important because the "Messiah might even return through her," that rappers "write songs about wrong 'cause it's hard to see right," that being faithful to God might be more interesting if He "was a Her."
Overall quality: Serious and good intentions undermined by hip-hop's all too "common" cluelessness.
3. The Emancipation of Mimi - Mariah Carey Weeks on chart:
Style: Sleek R&B.
Objectionable material: Casual cursing ("We Belong Together," "Get Your Number" featuring Jermaine Dupri); obscenities ("Say Somethin'" featuring Snoop Dogg; "One and Only" featuring Twista); lasciviousness ("Your Girl").
Worldview: Tracks 1-13: puppy love and/or lust; Track 14: "Carry me home, / higher, Jesus. / Carry me higher, Lord."
Overall quality: The similarities to Janet Jackson make Ms. Carey's opportunism easier to notice than her talent.
4. Mezmerize - System of a Down Weeks on chart:
Style: Scabrously satirical heavy metal.
Objectionable material: Bad language ("B.Y.O.B.," "Violent Pornography," "Lost in Hollywood," "Cigaro").
Worldview: Anti-pornography ("Violent Pornography"), anti-Tinsel Town ("Old School Hollywood," "Lost in Hollywood"), anti-military retaliation for 9/11 ("Sad Statue," "B.Y.O.B.").
Overall quality: From its puerile and heavy-handed cynicism to its excessive musical convolutions, the 21st-century heavy-metal equivalent of Jethro Tull.
5. Honkytonk University - Toby Keith Weeks on chart:
Style: Playfully macho country.
Objectionable material: Occasional casual cursing, crude slang, and cavalier if self-deprecating randiness.
Worldview: Five songs in which she's left or is leaving him plus one in which he's left her equals, Women: You can't live with 'em and you can't live without 'em.
Overall quality: Merle Haggard's cameo notwithstanding, it's Hank Williams Jr. and Jimmy Buffett without whom these songs would not exist.
In the spotlight Twenty-five years ago rumors began reaching the United States of four new-wave Christian musicians in England known as After the Fire who were signed to a major label and enjoying a measure of critical and commercial success only dreamed of by their American counterparts. Alas, by the time their English-language cover of Falco's "Der Kommissar" hit the U.S. top 10, their breakup was a fait accompli, and for years their recordings have been hard to find. Now with the release of the two-disc Der Kommissar: The CBS Recordings, Edsel Records makes it easy to experience ATF stateside. While certain aspects of the group's sound (herky-jerky vocals, the prominent synthesizer) will strike younger ears as dated, the hooks and energy remain fresh. And the forthright if seldom explicit evangelical nature of the lyrics still demonstrates the possibility of proclaiming truth in a determinedly frivolous pop-culture medium.