Jackson's foray into post-modern swinging seems like space-age evolution when compared to the pop conventionalism of Carey's Butterfly. If The Velvet Rope is the hip choice to have spinning around in your car's CD changer, then Butterfly is the guilty pleasure tucked away under your mattress. Don't be duped by the prissy title -- there's something ghettoish afoot. Why else would Carey recruit Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs and his Bad Boy crew to go buck wild on her frumpy first track "Honey," or enlist melodious homies Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and Jodeci doppelgangers Dru Hill to join her on a couple of tracks?

It's simple: Mariah Carey wants to be down. Carey's attempt to come straight from the streets on Butterfly is so interesting -- and at times so silly -- that it's not all that bad. We all know that Carey is just about as streetwise as a New York City tourist, so her semi-gimmicky effort to break out of songbird form, especially after her breakup with Sony Music head Tommy Mottola, has some surprising appeal.

The only caveat is why she felt the need to redo, note for note, yelp for yelp, Prince's "Beautiful Ones." (This ties with Ginuwine's throbbing rendition of "When Doves Cry" as the most unnecessary Prince cover of the year.) Not to worry, though: the disc is still mostly made up of the schmaltzy, David Foster-esque ballads that have made Carey famous. (***)

-- Craig D. Lindsey

Brooks and Dunn
The Greatest Hits Collection

Fall is here, and it's beginning to smell a lot like money as the music industry gears up for the Christmas onslaught. Rest assured, Nashville superheroes Brooks and Dunn are scrambling to find a prime spot under the tree, and with the simultaneous release of The Greatest Hits Collection CD and video, they're certainly covering all their bases. Sure, B&D's all-too-familiar paeans to romantic comings and goings have a certain handsome gloss and heart-tugging sentiment that no one can blame kicker radio for gobbling up. But ultimately, these greatest hits amount to little more than one monumental cliche after another. Except for the three new tracks tacked on to attract hard-core fans, everything here is already so overly familiar, so played into the ground, that you wonder why anyone would want to waste good leather boot scootin' to them again. (**)

-- Jim Caliguiri

Sweet 75
Sweet 75

Let's get this straight right now: Nirvana has absolutely nothing to do with Sweet 75. While Dave Grohl has taken things in a logical grunge-pop progression with his Foo Fighters, the other half of the Nirvana rhythm section, bassist Krist Novoselic, is responsible for this utter disaster -- which, one can assume, has been thrust upon the public simply because Novoselic happened to be a member of one of the most influential American rock bands ever.

"I'm dirty and cranky / The world's my ashtray," howls Novoselic's cranky cohort, Yva Las Vegas, in "Lay Me Down," and it goes way down from there. Just as Vegas's moniker might conjure images of desolation, corruption and despair, Sweet 75 sounds similarly lonely, dirty and barren. Novoselic's guitar work is a clunky, stuttering affair mired in awkward transitions and tiring, vainglorious solos, while Vegas shrieks like a smoke-choked Linda Perry, waxing woeful, angry and abused in a host of self-defeating tales ("I used to be lovely / But now I'm not") and self-purging psychological profiles.

Only on "La Vida" does Vegas actually bother to carry a tune, and Sweet 75 hits an all-time low with "Poor Kitty," which has the singer screaming herself hoarse. Weirdly enough, Herb Alpert lends his considerable presence to Sweet 75, as do R.E.M.'s Peter Buck, Ministry drummer Will Reiflin and producer Paul Fox, all of whom try in vain to clean up this mess. Still, the result is somewhat akin to one of those Robert Altman ensemble outings in which a half-dozen Oscar-caliber actors are looking around at each other for anything resembling a script. (*)

-- Stephen Gershon

CDs rated on a one to five star scale.

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