16 Food & Liquor [Listen]
"Now come on everybody, let's make cocaine cool/ We need a few more half-naked women up in the pool": Fiasco's debut is smart, ballsy hip-hop both backpackers and Jay-Z fans can love. The A-list production helps: Kanye pumps "The Cool" full of dark funk, and the jazzy "I Gotcha" has the best Neptunes beat the Clipse didn't get.
17 Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not [Listen]
Arctic Monkeys came charging out of England, blowing up worldwide with no looks, no fashion, a dumb name and garage-punk nuggets built in the grim steel town of Sheffield. What makes them special is that they're common-as-muck lads from down the pub, full of slang and cheap lager, singing about bouncers who won't let you in, bad benders and one-night stands. All this plus "The View From the Afternoon," the best drunk-texting song ever: "You can pour your heart out around three o'clock/When the two-for-one's undone the writer's block."
18 Game Theory [Listen]
The best band in hip-hop still refuses to make records conventional enough to get over on radio and luxury-SUV stereos. Game Theory is classic studio Roots, full of invention and left turns. It doesn't quite have the lift of the band's shows, but there's a consolation prize for Philly-soul heads: a cameo on "Long Time" by one of the city's R&B greats, Bunny Sigler.
19 Taking the Long Way [Listen]
The Dixie Chicks respond to their rough past few years with brass balls: This disc shows they didn't regret speaking out against the Iraq War, and Natalie Maines sounds almost punk at times. There is also a whole lot of craft -- Long Way is a widescreen pop record with gorgeous country rock, killer power ballads and fierce honky-tonk.
20 The Black Parade [Listen]
MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE
This New Jersey band's third studio album is the best mid-Seventies record of 2006 -- an ingenious, unrestrained paraphrasing of the over-the-top glam theater of Queen and classic Alice Cooper. The relentless message of Parade is: Life sucks, and death is no great escape. But My Chemical Romance rev up the pathos with an arena-ripe panache that ensures their trip to the mausoleum will run right through Madison Square Garden.