1. Queens of the Stone Age, Rated R (Interscope). If only kids would go for a songful hard-rock band. If only the term "stoner-rock" was retired. If only economical song stylings, vicious grooves and an (un)healthy attitude toward recreational substances could combine in a commercially substantive fashion, then Queens of the Stone Age would be recognized, on the basis of this major-label debut, as the best rock 'n' roll band in the world at the moment.
2. DJ Assault, Off the Chain for the Y2K (Intuit-Solar). Some call it Detroit bass music. Some call it ghetto-tech. I call it a potty-mouthed torrent of 808-generated beats and samples that could set a bluenose's bottom a-wigglin'.
3. Outkast, "B.O.B." (RealAudio excerpt) (LaFace/Arista). On Stankonia, the Dirty South yields the most idiosyncratic uptempo hip-hop jam of the year.
4. Bon Jovi, "It's My Life" (Mercury). Aided by Backstreet/Britney/'NSync writer-producer Max Martin, JBJ has come up with a tune on Crush that should make believers out of all of us again.
5. King Crimson, The Construkction of Light (Virgin). Hey all you electronicats! Attention, math-rockers! Listen up, nü-metalheads! Robert Fripp, the owlish little man burning up the fretboard on this record, has a thing or two to teach you.
6. Shelby Lynne, I Am Shelby Lynne (Mercury). Not to knock Shania Twain or Faith Hill, but onetime Nashville thrush Lynne could have tried to grab the same brass ring they did. She didn't, instead crafting something a lot like what Dusty in Memphis would have been were it made 30 years later.
7. Robbie Williams, Sing When You're Winning (Capitol). Not that anybody in the United States knows this, but the 'NSync of 1993 were England's Take That. Imagine then, that after 'NSync broke up, it was Joey Fatone who became the huge star: a versatile, enormously appealing all-around entertainer. Something like that happened with Williams, and this third album is a Whitman's sampler of enjoyable pop.
8. Britney Spears, "Lucky" (Jive). This second single from Spears' Oops... opus is her clearest link to '60s girl-group classics such as Claudine Clark's "Party Lights." This song, as well as most Max Martin-crafted hits, will be the backbone of whatever oldies radio turns out to be 40 years from now.
9. The Fucking Champs, IV (Drag City). Metallica's ...and Justice For All is as much a math-rock staple as Slint's Spiderland. The Champs know this, and anybody checking this record out will as well, as soon as the requisite head-banding is complete.
10. Lil' Bow Wow, "Bounce With Me" (RealAudio excerpt) (Columbia). Aaron Carter and Billy Gilman's records would be much better if they had scintillatingly spare production like that found on this terrific single from Lil' Bow Wow's Beware of Dog. He may be known as Big Bow Wow in a couple of years.
(Rob Kemp is an MTVi News staff writer.)
(Click here to see all of Sonicnet's critics' picks, in rock/pop, hip-hop/R&B, dance/electronic, country, blues/folk, world, jazz and classical.)