1 Modern Times [Listen]
"Thunder on the Mountain" kicks off with a salty old Chuck Berry riff, stretched out into a six-minute lust letter to Alicia Keys, and things only get weirder from there. Dylan hasn't sounded this frisky since John Wesley Harding in 1968, and like that underrated masterpiece, Modern Times is a groove album disguised as a poetry album, leaning hard on the rhythm section. Dylan breathes fire while his current road band beats up on some tough blues and country licks: the Muddy Waters stomp "Rollin' and Tumblin'," the Irish parlor ballad "Nettie Moore" and the mean Slim Harpo strut "Someday Baby," which as an iPod commercial became the closest thing to a hit single he's had since the Traveling Wilburys. Where can he go from Modern Times? Anywhere he goddamn wants.
2 Stadium Arcadium
RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS
Love songs, nothing but love songs, across two CDs of encyclopedic variety and explosive verve: Stadium Arcadium, the Chili Peppers' first Number One album, is also a confessional and creative triumph. Anthony Kiedis sings of commitment and contentment with naked need and joy, as the rest of the band swings through psychedelic bravado, sunburst pop and supercharged funk, often in the same song. The icing everywhere: John Frusciante's Hendrix-in-my-head guitar flourishes and blowouts.
3 Rather Ripped [Listen]
Their mean age now up to forty-eight with thirtysomething troublemaker Jim O'Rourke gone, indie's gray eminences made a light, simple, terse, almost-pop album. Granted, the guitar hook on, for instance, "Do You Believe in Rapture?" wouldn't sound so lovely if they and all their progeny hadn't long since adjusted our harmonic expectations. But who better to play to our expanded capacity for tuneful beauty? The vocal star of Rather Ripped is Kim Gordon, breathlessly girlish at fifty-three as she and her husband evoke visions of dalliance, displacement, recrimination and salvation that never become unequivocally literal.
4 Return to Cookie Mountain [Listen]
TV ON THE RADIO
This Brooklyn band's major-label debut comes with David Bowie's seal of approval -- the Thin White Duke contributes vocals to "Province." More important is the fact that you can hear Bowie so clearly, nestled into the distinctive vocal blend of Kyp Malone's police-siren falsetto and Tunde Adebimpe's R&B tenor. The deliberate enigma of TV on the Radio's art rock has given way to a spacey magic, especially in the dark drone and drive of "Wolf Like Me," which sounds like the Bowie of Low -- with a pair of Arthur Lees at the mike.
With crack-rap ascendant, Wu-Tang's iron man dares Young Jeezy to tell everything he knows -- not by showing off fresh slang but by displaying his knowledge of old-school slangin'. As always, Ghost raps on the edge of some kind of breakout or breakdown, but whether revitalizing Bomb Squad freneticism or settling into the ominous luxury of RZA soul, it's the beats that seal the deal.