A large return to form and accessibility with ex-Prince running the gamut of old and new school funk, hip-hop (with Chuck D) and ballads. There are plenty of potential singles here, though the guest appearances of Gwen Stefani and Sheryl Crow add little to the rockier numbers. HHHH
Matthew Sweet `In Reverse' (Volcano)
Still largely unnoticed over here, Sweet's seventh full album is another prime dose of powerpop. This time, the emphasis is on slower numbers with four of them played live by a 15-piece band in a Spector-era reverb chamber to produce sharp, highly textured sounds. HHHH
Shola Ama `In Return' (WEA/Freakstreet)
The former Brit and Mobo winner has been away for two years and in that time Bev Knight has replaced her at the top of the UK soul pile. However, Ama's second album sees her on good poppy form, incorporating gospel, funk and swing styles. HHH
Natalie Merchant `Live in Concert' (Eastwest)
Recorded in New York this June, Merchant lends her strong yet melancholic vocals to several of her own best tunes and those of former band 10,000 Maniacs. It's good late-night listening, but covers of "After the Goldrush" and especially "Space Oddity" are misguided.
Diana Ross `Every Day Is a New Day' (RossRecords/EMI)
It's been hard to avoid the recent Ross publicity drive but despite the introduction of African rhythms and modern studio trickery, this album of mainly ballads and torch songs sounds past its sell-by date already. HH
SINGLE OF THE WEEK
The Flaming Lips `Waitin' for a Superman' (Warner Bros)
Another slice of eccentricity from the Oklahoma City band, this time in the form of a quirky ballad, fleshed out beautifully with swathes of strings, keyboards and wrinkly drumbeats, resulting in a grand cinematic dreamscape.