Lil Nas X, Montero

Mostly a gritty Auto-Tune mess exploiting the same tired riff; there's no genre-busting this time. Dollar signs and fronting was so last decade, and this man is no gangsta. And just because he's not heteronormative doesn't mean he's not a chauvinist (notably ugly moments: the title track, "Scoop," "Dolla Sign Slime"). But when he slows down and stops the preening, he can be contemplative, even complex: "Lost in the Citadel," "Tales of Dominica" in particular, and I dug the sweetly yodelly falsetto of "Void" but also his candid self-reflections in "Sun Goes Down." Clearly he has talent. Why doesn't he use it? (Content: F-, S- and N-bombs, adult themes.)


REM, Green

The zenith of REM's discography is this scattershot, eclectic collection of vignettes and jangle where the cover doesn't even match the title. The best part is that they learned from their mistakes on Document: the politics persist, but more subtly, Scott Litt's production is richer and higher quality, and a solid balance of radio-friendly ("Pop Song '89," "Stand" and "Orange Crush") and cerebral ("World Leader Pretend," "Hairshirt" and particularly the heart-rending "The Wrong Child") songs make the album eminently listenable in pieces or end-to-end. 1988-me played the cassette single of "Stand" non-stop, and when I finally bought the full tape it turned me into an REM fan for life. Their later work is where they started to believe their hype, and their worthy earlier works were too often too insular, but this one was their Goldilocks — and that title might even match. The 25th anniversary disc adds another one of those live CDs which is a full example of their then-current setlist but mostly makes you want to buy the originals. (Content: no concerns.)


Def Leppard, Pyromania

This album didn't create hair metal (it's not even clear High 'n' Dry did that), but between the ballads and banging it sure made it work. Tossing their heavy metal roots in the bin, they channeled their inner Dokken and turned out an album that you'll dig every track on even if none of it burns, er, breaks any new ground. Choice moments: the as-you-see-it "Rock Rock (Till You Drop)," some actual albeit actually cheesy pathos in "Photograph" and power anthem "Foolin'." Oh, and don't forget Mutt Lange's mock German count-in to "Rock of Ages," the most relevant contribution a producer has ever made to any album. The 2009 reissue adds a 1983 show live set-list, though other than their cover of CCR's "Travelin' Band" die hard Leppardists won't find a lot there that's new. (Content: mild adult themes.)


Anthrax, Persistence of Time

I'm not sure if the title is an accidental observation on the album's length, but too much of it ends up being an unstable long-form slog that doesn't quite capture the energy of their earlier releases. The shiftier time signatures make it harder to get into instead of drawing you in, and the barer production doesn't showcase their strengths. There are solid cuts: "In My World" has a punchy punk lead-in and great galloping drums, "Intro To Reality" is superb prog metal with almost Queen-like guitars (leading into the paranoia-fueled "Belly Of The Beast" and its grimly literate grind) and closer "Discharge" finally pulls its finger out around two-minutes-thirty. Plus, of course, there's their wonderful headbanger cover of Joe Jackson's "Not The Time," a raucous improvement on the original and probably the high point of the disc. That said, though, most of the tracks just don't reward you enough for sitting through them, and the tracks that are good are mostly too short (or maybe that's why). This album doesn't know what it wants to be and sadly its identity crisis isn't interesting enough to make it worth it. (Content: violent imagery, F-bombs on "Discharge.")


The Ink Spots' Greatest Hits

All but forgotten pioneers of Black music, Bill Kenny and his compatriots were singing R&B in the 1930s and '40s before it was even called that, enlivened by their instrumental skill and signature "talking bass" vocal bridges. Now that the semi-official 1979 compilation If I Didn't Care is all but out of print, intermittent retreads like this somewhat wanting 2012 UK Fabulous release are the easiest way for modern audiences to hear these distant trailblazers croon. Compared to most of the reissues, this album has an incomplete cross-section of their hit singles but includes enough of the hits like "If I Didn't Care," "The Gypsy" and "Java Jive" to please while also throwing in less-well-known versions, covers and B-sides. (Most notable: their version of "You Always Hurt The One You Love," which sounds nothing like Spike Jones' inspired style pastiche; he even added a Hoppy Jones mimic to do the spoken word.) The selection was no doubt budgetary, and the programming sells the band a little short by making them sound more samey than they were, but it's tracks you won't get many other places and a clear stylistic evolution is obvious from the 18 tracks as a whole. What this band needs most is a remaster: the poor quality of their early recordings can be forgiven because of the technology of the time, but this groundbreaking initial incarnation (other, less accomplished, versions followed) deserves better than to disappear into obscurity on the back of bad audio. Unfortunately, however, by remaining the remit of budget outings and special products like this one, and with no one to carry their torch, they still won't get the respect they ought to for as long as they get packaged like this. That's why you should listen to them. (Content: no concerns.)


Depeche Mode, Violator

A veritable oil slick of a disc, black and sleek and smooth on the surface but with iridescent flows and transitions that really grab on to you. It's a little, uh, unrefined in parts and the first couple tracks ("World in My Eyes," "Sweetest Perfection") are thematically banal, but the melodies cover its rougher moments and set up the finer ones to come, especially "Enjoy the Silence," the ominous "Policy of Truth" and "Blue Dress," admittedly a little pervy, but featuring a lovely emotive bridge to the final track. And hey, dig the Floyd "One of These Days" callback in "Clean," and "Personal Jesus" gets points for being conceptually memorable even if the erratic beat isn't exactly a religious experience. A landmark for the twilight of new wave, this album is where they most lived up to their talent. The 2006 reissue adds four bonus tracks on the DVD companion disc, though the two remixes that follow them feel more perfunctory than innovative. (Content: Adult themes in "World in My Eyes" and "Blue Dress.")