Updated Friday, July 5, 2002, at 1:16 PM
Born To Reign, by Will Smith (Sony). The multimedia phenomenon that is Will Smith returns with more "Radio Disney-friendly rap" (Chris Willman, Entertainment Weekly) timed to coincide with the release of Men in Black II. Smith's insistence on profanity-free lyrics and refusal to pose as a thug actually earn praise from some critics. "The worst thing in the world would be for him to sell out at this late date for any dubious street cred," writes Steve Jones of USA Today. Instead, he sticks with the "tried-and-true formula" of "bubble-gum rap songs even your church-going grandmother can enjoy" (Renee Graham, the Boston Globe). (Read about the current activities of former Smith partner DJ Jazzy Jeff, who is, surprisingly, not washed up.)— B.M.L.
Heathen Chemistry, by Oasis (Sony). Critics say Oasis sticks to the sounds that made them famous on this, their fifth album. There are "bluesy rockers," "crossover stabs," and a "requisite anthem" (Billboard) called "Little by Little," which some reviewers praise but others call "the kind of earnest 'Wind Beneath My Wings' crap even Bryan Adams would know to edit" (Tom Moon, Rolling Stone). As to how this record compares to their universally lauded first two albums and their two universally panned follow-ups, the jury is still out. The New York Daily News' Jim Farber calls Heathen Chemistry the band's "best album since the second one," while Time Out's Chris Salmon says it's "tragically average pub-rock-by-numbers." Others, including the London Times' Paul Connolly, take the middle road: It's "brilliant in places, shockingly bad in others." (Click here to play the "Kiss the Gallagher Brothers" game. Buy.)— B.M.L.
Cry, by Simple Minds (Eagle/EMI). A wishy-washy reception for this new disc from the '80s post-punk duo most famous for the suddenly more-poignant Breakfast Club anthem "Don't You (Forget About Me)." The nostalgia-hungry call it "largely solid" (John D. Luerssen, Billboard) because it "remains rooted in the band's haunting vocals and synthesizer sounds" (Derek Simmonsen, the Washington Times). But most sadly say there's really nothing new here and that "none of Cry is profound": "[N]ew songs such as 'One Step Closer' and the title tune successfully reclaim the band's earlier mode, although there sometimes seems to be even less beneath the music's luxuriant veneer than was there two decades ago" (Mark Jenkins, the Washington Post). (Check out the band's new Web site.)— A.B.
Adam Baer is a culture critic for the New York Sun and contributor to the New York Times Book Review, Travel + Leisure, and Slate, among other publications.
Ben Mathis-Lilley is a senior editor at Buzzfeed.
Stills from: The Power Puff Girls Movie © 2002 Cartoon Network, Inc.; Like Mike by Sidney Baldwin and © 2002 20th Century Fox; Men in Black II © 2002 Columbia Pictures. All rights reserved. Photo of Margaret Cho by Rocky Schenck.