Awake143/RepriseReprise certainly had its work cut out for it five years ago when it aimed to break a young pop-classical singer named Josh Groban. Sixteen million copies of two albums later, it would be easy enough for the 25-year-old to rest easy with more of the same. But on “Awake,” Groban bounds forward via a handful of innovative collaborations with the likes of Dave Matthews, John Ondrasik of Five for Fighting, Herbie Hancock, Imogen Heap and—most notably—Ladysmith Black Mambazo (Paul Simon’s “Graceland”), whom he met while touring in South Africa. There’s still plenty here to soothe and seduce his grown-up fan base—certainly first single “Don’t Give Up (You Are Loved)” and melancholy “February Song” are destined to join his greatest hits—but this collection proves that the momentous talent is just finding his footing. Already No. 1 at based on pre-orders a week before release,  “Awake” is destined to again prove the might of the adult consumer. A retail and artistic titan.—CT

I Will Be
Grammys be damned for not rewarding Leona Lewis a Best New Artist nod. Despite NARAS’ embarrassment, Billboard’s No. 1 new artist of 2008 has plenty to celebrate: Alongside No. 1 album “Spirit,” bestselling single of the year “Bleeding Love,” and top 40 radio top 10 follow-up “Better in Time,” third single “I Will Be” is again paved in gold—a straight-up power ballad, which FM radio has at last recalled that the public treasures (thank you iTunes and Rihanna). The song is powered by a killer vocal that Mariah would adore, gargantuan production that scoops up a heap of cumulus clouds and a chorus and bridge that boast indelible pop songwriting. Overseas, Leona’s cover of Snow Patrol’s “Run,” added to an enhanced version of the album, became the fastest-selling download in British history and promptly shot to No. 1 last month. Alongside her consummate “Footprints in the Sand” (a bonus track on the current U.S. version),
2009 is sounding like a superlative second act for Lewis.

Thinking of You (3:57)
Producers: Butch Walker
Writer: K. Perry
One year ago, Katy Perry’s bemusing debut single “Ur So Gay” was met with trepidation by radio (though embraced by the club community and applauded on this page). Now look at her: Grammy-nominated with No. 1 “I Kissed a Girl” and frolicking top 5 sophomore single “Hot N Cold.” Down-tempo “Thinking of You” is decidedly more earnest, as the singer/songwriter reflects on settling for second best: “You said move on, where do I go/Cause when I’m with him, I am thinking of you.” Perry maintains distinct vocal inflection, while production conjures a mid-‘90’s No Doubt pop/rock palette. Much like Pink, who credibly flip-flops from playgirl to pondering, this is an essential transition for Katy to mutate beyond party girl novelty into savvy staple hitmaker. As a woman who has played the game for longer than most realize, she has earned her keep. “Thinking” is certainly a no-brainer.

GOO GOO DOLLS  Let Love In  (4:15)
Producer: Glen BallardWriters: J. Reznik, G. Ballard, G. WattenbergWarner Bros.By the stats, Goo Goo Dolls are the most popular adult top 40 act in history—and as usual, John Reznik and company deliver a comfortable fit for the format, with a midtempo pop/rock romp big on hooks and hip enough to keep moms feeling youthful. For a while there, Reznik’s DIY accord onmaking records had put him in a rut, but thanks to some able collaborative skills from producer Glenn Ballard, the title track to the Goos’ latest album is well-crafted, plenty melodic and stands a good chance at topping the adult top 40. For good measure, a “rock” version is also included on the promo single, which turns up the guitars for hipper-leaning stations; it’s much preferred—but either way you slice it, this mild cheddar meets the taste test.—CT 

JOHN MELLENCAMP Our Country  (3:30)Producer: John Mellencamp (rock)/Tony Brown (country)Writer: J. MellencampUniversal Republic Longtime super trooper John Mellencamp returns in early 2007with his first album of new material in six years, led by “Our Country,” an appreciable fableof tolerance, hope and empowerment. Without sounding preachy, he implores, “There’s room enough here for science to live/And there’s room enough here for religion to forgive/And try to understand, all the people of this land, this is our country.” Vocally, melodically, lyrically, Mellencamp remains a master—if more for triple-A stations now than the faraway land that is today’s top 40. It’s also trendy nowadays for pop/rock artists to cross to the country charts, but as one of the original heartland performers of the past 20 years, his potential there is organic—and mighty. For the people, by the people. A jubilant return.—CT

DEPECHE MODE  Martyr  (3:07)Producer: Ben HillierWriter:  M. GoreMute/Sire/RepriseOver the past 25 years, Dave Gahan, Andy 'Fletch' Fletcher and Martin Gore have personified—defined—electronica music around the globe, with the occasional step into arena rock. Now, Depeche Mode is celebrating a notable anniversary with its “The Best of, Volume 1,” which collects memorable moments from 11 studio albums over the years. New track “Martyr” certainlymakes the mark, with its hypnotizing, synthesizer-driven imprint, urgent guitars and a sound so retro that you at first wonder if “Martyr” was pulled out of a safe, where it’s been collecting dust for two decades. Fun, reminiscent and yet fresh enough to prove that these guys are as relevant as ever. Not that there was any doubt, mind you.—CT

Lucky (3:10)
Producer: Martin Terefe
Writers: J. Mraz, C. Caillat
Jason Mraz’s top 10 single “I’m Yours” transitioned the singer/songer from plucky troubadour to hitmaker at U.S. top 40, adult top 40 and AC—in addition to commanding charts in 15+ nations—not to mention a couplet of Grammy nominations. While sophomore single “Make It Mine” from gold “We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things.” didn’t achieve penetration, third release “Lucky” might be the charm to further propel fame, keenly aligning Mraz with co-writer and duet partner Colbie Caillat, of “Bubbly” and “Realize” notoriety. The track is again organic, dressed with some lush strings and a playful lyric about returning home from a seaside journey to true love: “I’m lucky I’m in love with my best friend, lucky to have been where I have been/Lucky to be coming home again.” At this stage, both singers possess distinctively recognizable voices—and they obviously figured out kinship, because they blend beautifully. At the
least, this will conquer adult radio, but top 40 continues to at last again indulge a pliant playlist. Our bet: This pair will get “Lucky” across the board.—CT

Patience (3:22)
Writers: G. Barlow, H. Donald, J. Orange, J. Shanks, M. Owen
Brit boy band Take That scored a career-redefining comeback with single “Patience” at the end of 2006, which spent a month at the top of the single charts at home (and in Germany, Switzerland and Spain) and won Record of the Year at the Brit Awards. It’s now recast as the first single from Nick Lachey’s third solo album—following gold 2006 album “What’s Left of Me” and the No. 6 Hot 100 title track. His reading is awfully close to the original, but it has two kudos in its corner: First, despite global acclaim, Take That is pretty much an unknown in the States, with just one hit to its credit, 1995’s “Back for Good”; and second, the song is a quintessential fit for Lachey’s record as a balladeer. His version turns up the guitars a few degrees and chugs with more urgency, showcasing a vocal that demonstrates the innate talent he proved a decade ago as a lead in 98 Degrees. While solo white males remain the exception at top 40 radio, Lachey has the (rare) advantage of a major label in his corner—and the exceptional skills of chief Barry Weiss as the day’s ultimate A&R force-field. Let’s hope FM radio realizes that its days of picking and choosing the hits with little regard for the public’s will are a thing of the past. “Patience” sounds like the start of a promising new chapter for a deserving interpreter.

U Want Me 2  (4:02)
Producer: Pierre Marchand
Writers: S. McLachlan, P. Marchand
One might think that after 20 years of melodic mastery, recently elusive Sarah McLachlan might be out of surprises. Best-of collection “Closer,” proffers midtempo ballad “U Want Me 2,” which delivers an identifiable vocal stamp and comfortably familiar production, a la “Building a Mystery.” But the sheer sonic beauty of the track’s melody at least equates previous hits, paving the way for McLachlan to reestablish as a radio staple. For all her quality output, “Want Me” is the best song she has issued this decade, a glorious return deserving adult radio reverence—and beyond, alongside Leona Lewis and Natasha Bedingfield, a Grammy bid for Female Pop Performance.

Don’t Believe In Love (3:54)
Producer: JonBrion
Writers: D. Armstrong, J. Brion, R. Armstrong
The millennium was just blossoming when Dido catapulted in the U.S. with top 40 No. 3/AC No. 1 “Thank You” from debut disc “No Angel, followed by No. 8/AC No. 2 “White Flag” from “Life for Rent,” which sold 2.1 million copies stateside in 2003. It’s a lifetime later in pop’s pantheon, but as long as radio embraces, adults are likely to do the same—despite the fact that Dido’s musical persona remains static. Ambling, downtempo “Don’t Believe In Love” covers familiar ground and creatively, that’s disappointing—but her vocal stamp is identifiable and the song’s moody disposition conjures comfort and immediacy. Sarah McLachlan’s return with radiant “U Want Me 2” is comparable: Those searching out singers they adore will likely find kinship in Dido’s full-length upcoming “Safe Trip Home.”

Sing for You
Hard to believe it's been 20 years since Chapman drove onto the scene in her “Fast Car.” Back then she was a breath of fresh air, injecting the pop world with an earthy, folk-rock sensibility. Throughout her career, she has managed to consistently release quality albums that make the mind think and the heart feel, even managing another top 10 smash on the Hot 100  (1996’s “Give Me One Reason”) in the midst of the grunge craze, no less. Chapman's new single previews her optimistically titled “Our Bright Future” and finds the singer in pop lullaby mode, reminiscing on simpler times in her relationship when she would sing along with the radio to her lover. Interestingly, this is exactly the type of song that Jason Mraz would score big with at pop radio, with its sunny, meant-to be-sung-along-to “doo-doo-do-doo-doo do-doo’s” and a completely accessible toe tapping rhythm section. At best, this should score big at Triple A, AC, and re-introduce this fine talent to new listeners. Television placement anyone?

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