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This week's reviews: Staind's grand 'Illusion'; Shwayze, hazy daze; new Macdonald

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Swallow these capsules and you'll be able to fake your way through a conversation on the latest albums. Read the entire reviews and you can sound like an expert. Capsules first:

> On Staind's "aptly titled sixth studio album," the band "has yet to budge from the minor-key, major-pain formula it's glumly but fiercely embraced for more than a decade," Edna Gundersen states authoritatively.

> Malibu rapper (if that's not an oxymoron, it should be) Shwayze's "songs are fun, and they linger about as long as a puff of smoke," sums up Steve Jones.

> The latest from The Academy Is ... is "the pop-punk equivalent of a teen-sex melodrama," says Brian Mansfield, ready for his soundbite.

> New Scottish singer/songwriter Amy Macdonald's debut album features "punchy but often distinctly earnest tunes," says a fairly favorably impressed Elysa Gardner.

> On her debut, Karina "nimbly sidesteps the pitfalls that beset most 16-year-old ingenues," Steve Jones is pleased to discover.

Full reviews and links follow.

> This week's spotlight album:

Staind, The Illusion of Progress: * * 1/2 -- Handy self-reviewing album title

Still loitering at Kurt Cobain’s funeral, Staind has yet to budge from the minor-key, major-pain formula it’s glumly but fiercely embraced for more than a decade. On the band’s aptly titled sixth studio album, Aaron Lewis and company remain steadfast post-grunge disciples despite promises of musical leaps. One touted enhancement: the word “pain” never surfaces in the lyrics. Cue the thesaurus! There’s still enough distress and agony for a Dead Man Walking sequel, and the album’s clichéd rock drone and inventory of complaints start to blur into one lulling lugubrious lament.

On the bright side — and Illusion needs one — Staind serves up a nicely crafted ballad or two and manages a few engaging surprises, including the spare, acoustic Tangled Up in You, politically charged Rainy Day Parade and The Corner, with a gospel choir and bluesy grandeur worthy of Pink Floyd. — Edna Gundersen

>>Download: The Corner, All I Want, Believe >>Consider: Believe, This Is It, Rainy Day Parade >>Skip: Pardon Me, Save Me, The Way I Am

> More notable albums:

Shwayze: * * 1/2 -- Summer daze

Reality for the laid-back Malibu rapper and his producer/acoustic guitarist, Cisco Adler, can be summed up in words that rhyme with Shwayze — crazy, lazy, hazy (especially the last). The stoner stars of MTV’s Buzzin’ blaze their way through a bevy of beach blanket babes while keeping it mellow with hits of humor. The songs are fun, even utterly silly at times, and they linger about as long as a puff of smoke. — Steve Jones

>>Download: Corona and Lime, Polaroid, Flashlight >>Skip: Buzzin’

The Academy Is ... , Fast Times at Barrington High: * * * -- Rock 'n' roll high school

Chicago’s The Academy Is ... comes of age on its third album by going back to high school. As Cameron Crowe or any emo band knows, that’s an emotional mine rich enough to supply a filmmaker or a songwriter with plenty of material. Full of romantic conflict and barely suppressed energy, Fast Times is the pop-punk equivalent of a teen-sex melodrama, more John Hughes than Judd Apatow. — Brian Mansfield

>>Download: About a Girl, Summer Hair = Forever Young, His Girl Friday >>Consider: One More Weekend

Amy Macdonald, This Is the Life: * * * -- Have a nice 'Life'

Another week, another album by a sassy songbird from the U.K. – in this case, Scotland, which may explain why Macdonald has been compared to KT Tunstall. But the 20-year-old’s punchy but often distinctly earnest tunes and piquant but tender singing nod to less obvious influences, from favorite bands such as Travis to Sinead O’Connor and Dolores O’Riordan. Macdonald clearly still has a lot of living, and learning, to do, but Life is an engaging introduction. — Elysa Gardner

>>Download: Mr. Rock & Roll, A Wish for Something More >>Consider: Poison Prince, L.A. >>Skip: Youth of Today

Karina, First Love: * * * -- Age-appropriate R&B

Karina nimbly sidesteps the pitfalls that beset most 16-year-old ingenues — being too gushy or too grown. It turns out that the songwriting pianist’s first love is music, and she puts her impressive pipes to work singing about things like family, determination and being yourself. Then there are boys, but only if they come correct. It all comes from a teen who seems smart enough not to try to grow up too soon. — Jones

>>Download: ’90s Baby, 16@War, Slow Motion, Winner >>Skip: Can’t Find the Words

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