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Kanye West

808s & Heartbreak

Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam

Sounds like: Hip-hop and soul meld into gold

Short take: West keeps the good life going

Throughout Kanye West's first three studio efforts, there's been an overarching narcissistic vibe that's served the outspoken hip-hop and soul artist well. He further ups the self-absorption ante on 808s & Heartbreak. Whether boasting of sexual prowess on "Paranoid" (with Mr. Hudson) or beating his chest on "Amazing" (featuring Young Jeezy), West has his id and ego so out of whack that the songs become interesting character studies. But the cornerstone track, the piano-driven "Welcome to Heartbreak," finds a vocally distorted West laying his cards and life on the table, singing, "My friends show me pictures of their kids / All I can show them are pictures of my cribs." West's honesty (including his post-Katrina diatribe on MTV) has been his calling card, and it's words from his gold-plated heart that make 808s & Heartbreak another West success story. John Benson


Rocket 88

Rocket 88

Wounded Bird Records

Sounds like: Boogie woogie solos, chordal shenanigans and a jackhammer beat

Short take: Stones sideman's masterpiece

Rocket 88 founder Ian Stewart is one of rock's unsung heroes. An early Rolling Stones instigator who didn't have the "right look," he played their recording sessions, drove the van and looked after his "five little snots," as he called them. In his heart, though, he was always a stone-cold boogie woogie man. (He once refused to play on "Wild Horses" because of its minor key.) On Rocket 88, first released in 1981, the rhythm section raises eyebrows: Charlie Watts on drums and Jack Bruce on bass. Horns abound; Alexis Korner handles guitar and vocals. Recorded live in West Germany, everyone is extremely on. Stewart is long gone, but this is finally out on CD. And you can almost see the lantern-jawed pianist somewhere grabbing Brian Jones by the neck and shouting, "See, I told you someone still cares." Bill Bentley


Guns N' Roses

Chinese Democracy


Sounds like: A rock retrospective

Short take: Good to hear Axl, but ...

Tomes will be written about the nearly 15 years, $15 million and revolving door of producers that helped make this album. "All I've got is precious time," Axl Rose taunts in the title track. But the years haven't been kind to the noodling of Rock Band staple "Shackler's Revenge." Rose sounds as if he's using "Street of Dreams" as a cistern to catch "November Rain" and its mauldlin '90s melodrama. His strongest tracks, however, trump anything by his ex-mates in Velvet Revolver and hold their own against any mainstream rock band release in at least a decade. His screech settles into the whiskey-meets-Williamsburg track "Better" (easily the album's strongest), and is at ease in the unexpectedly funky, Timbaland-esque "If the World." All in all, not horrendous. But as a blogger who leaked nine tracks found out the hard way, not exactly worth getting arrested for. Jason Notte

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