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Coldplay

Mylo Xyloto

Capitol

Buy if you like: U2, the Dears

With the previous Viva La Vida, Coldplay made its bid to rival U2 when it came to grand pop anthems. So there was every reason to expect the band to go grand again on Mylo Xyloto. Which is exactly what the band does. The soaring ballads include "Us Against the World" and "Paradise," which slips some stadium-size backing vocals into the mix. And then there are those mid-tempo anthems, such as the shimmering "Charlie Brown" and "Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall," all foregrounding singer Chris Martin's plaintive croon. None of these songs will surprise fans of Coldplay's other albums, but there are also a few nicely understated ballads, such as "Up In Flames" and "U.F.O.," that provide a welcome break from the epic scale of much of the material. But on balance, Coldplay continues to be as grand as ever, which should keep arenas filled for some time to come. — Alan Sculley

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Tom Waits

Bad As Me

Anti-

Buy if you like: James McMurtry, Captain Beefheart, Nick Cave

Although many of us might not have seen it coming, Bad As Me turns out to be Tom Waits' best record in years, a 45-minute collection of new songs that cover the full spectrum of his output. You'll find plenty of his warped Howlin' Wolf meets Captain Beefheart blues, a smattering of boozy late-night jazz, and his gruff, wily and often sentimental ballads. Waits' vocals are pure gravel and there's plenty of percussion that sounds like trash-can lids banging together, which means it sounds like Waits. But he's at the peak of his form here, blending songs of the down-and-out that are heartfelt and vulnerable with the wryly funny. The latter includes "Satisfied," his answer to the Rolling Stones "Satisfaction," that gets some help from the human riff himself, Keith Richards, who also turns up for a handful of other songs on this altogether satisfying return to form. — L. Kent Wolgamott

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Ryan Adams

Ashes & Fire

Pax·Am/Capitol

Buy if you like: Whiskeytown, Neil Young

Ryan Adams has gone through plenty of flameouts, burning through professional and personal relationships like bottles of booze. But Ashes & Fire, perhaps the most lucid and thoughtful album of his career, affirms he's learned something from those years spent walking on coals. He's scarred, yes, but so much stronger. And humbled. There's no trace of cockiness, just the nuanced emotions of a talented singer/songwriter with a gorgeous voice and compelling lyrics (even if he does lean too heavily on images of light, dark, clouds, rain, water ...). Though still seeking salvation ("Save Me"), he's beaten many of his demons and now sings beautiful love songs, like the hushed and heartfelt "Come Home" (accompanied by his wife, Mandy Moore, along with luminaries like Norah Jones, Benmont Tench and Chris Stills) as well as "I Love You But I Don't Know What to Say." Actually, he says it just fine. — Lynne Margolis

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