After brooding over his broken heart on 2005's moody Get Behind Me Satan, White Stripes leader Jack White returns to loud guitars on Icky Thump. While unhappy relationships still haunt his lyrics, White approaches the topic with hard-earned wisdom instead of resorting to Satan's melancholy outlook.
But while Icky Thump recaptures White's passion for blues-based rock, it also finds him venturing into new sonic territory, such as the Celtic "Prickly Thorn, but Sweetly Worn." Where past albums have felt like White unburdening his soul, Icky Thump is a looser, more spirited affair, and the group's sense of fun is contagious.
Though it may contain fewer hits than earlier Queens albums, Era Vulgaris brilliantly showcases Josh Homme's distinctive songwriting talents, focusing on taut tunes about casual depravity and random weirdness.
When Homme split with creative partner Nick Oliveri in 2005, there were concerns that Queens would be unable to replicate their past success. But Era Vulgaris sounds like the work of a man determined to prove the worriers wrong while simultaneously making an unholy ruckus.
They may be famous enough to get Jay-Z on their record, but that doesn't mean this Chicago quartet have overcome their insecurities about girls and success. Luckily, they turn that self-doubt into explosive pop-punk that anybody can sing along with.
FOB's twin turbo engines are Pete Wentz's earnest, confessional lyrics and Patrick Stump's radio-focused tunes and yearning vocals. Though they'll never be as "cool" as some of their tougher-sounding contemporaries, the band perfectly captures the drama of young love.
Bold and bleak, Year Zero ambitiously sketches a disturbing future beset with all-powerful governments and nuclear war. Setting his sights on the Bush administration, Trent Reznor cranks up his industrial hard rock until his songs bristle with paranoia and rage.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Year Zero didn't enjoy the chart success of earlier Nine Inch Nails efforts, but as a work of political protest, it has few equals. Songs like "Survivalism" eschew easily digestible radio hooks, but their compelling structures suck you in regardless.
Reclaiming his crown as the king of arena rock, Dave Grohl continues to demonstrate a high level of craft unrivaled among his peers. In proud Foo tradition, Echoes is an arresting mixture of straightforward melodic rockers and wistful acoustic moments.
As the band's often goofy videos attest, the Foo Fighters tackle serious themes, such as self-reliance, with a winning playfulness that makes their songs not just memorable, but hopeful. And their fiendish knack for radio anthems remains as potent as ever.
Though he dabbles in hip-hop and country, what ultimately makes Kid Rock so rock 'n' roll is his absolute insistence on doing whatever the hell he wants. Rock N Roll Jesus is one confident track after another, fueled by an unquenchable thirst for good times and bad girls.
Riding a gloriously over-the-top guitar riff, "So Hott" throws out leering come-ons to a sexy stranger, while "All Summer Long" finds Kid fondly reminiscing about doing drugs and chasing love at 18. He may not be the second coming his album title suggests, but he's still the life of the party.
The second album from Velvet Revolver could be the group's last, but Libertad amply demonstrates that they're still flush with good ideas, balancing Slash's classic-rock riffs with Scott Weiland's snake-charmer vocals.
Velvet Revolver may be the byproduct of two hugely popular bands, Guns N' Roses and Stone Temple Pilots, but Libertad plays like a harmonious melding of their different sounds; more pop-oriented than GNR, but more sonically aggressive than STP. If Weiland and the boys ever decide to bury the hatchet, hopefully they can pick up where Libertad leaves off.
Attention, all you guys lusting after Paramore singer Hayley Williams: If you cross her, she will write a song about you. And, from the sounds of Riot!, it'll probably be super-catchy. On their sophomore album, the band live up to all the "next big thing" hype, blasting three-minute pop-punk corkers about puppy love gone bad.
She may not even be 20 yet, but on songs like "That's What You Get," Williams sings like a grown woman who has suffered through a lifetime of romantic disappointment. Helping her get over her heartbreak are Josh Farro's bright, clean guitar lines and the tight, bouncy drums of Zac Farro.
As if Aaron Gillespie wasn’t busy enough with his Christian metal group Underoath, he now has a side project, too. And on the strength of Southern Weather, it’s obvious that Gillespie has too many good tunes for just one musical unit.
The Almost harness Underoath’s more melodic tendencies, transforming them into intimate emo-style rock. And as compared to the dizzying complexity of Underoath’s concentrated sonic attack, Southern Weather feels positively stripped-down, Gillespie’s voice left free and clear to express itself.
One of Marilyn Manson's least calculatedly "shocking" records, Eat Me, Drink Me may also be one of his best, favoring sturdy new wave hooks instead of cheap horror-movie theatrics.
The welcome return to inspired songwriting also reinvigorates his dark introspection, such as on "If I Was Your Vampire," a bloodcurdling tale that merges vampire lore with a story of a dangerously obsessive relationship. Eat Me, Drink Me is a reminder of what Manson does best: turning scary industrial-rock noises into universal messages of fear and self-doubt.