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Scissor Sisters "Ta-Dah!" (Universal)

Goes well with playful disco pop and Ziggy Stardust.

Fabulous and full of frolic, the sophomore release from the Scissor Sisters twirls and pumps with Abba-like beats, Bee Gees falsetto and an undeniable sense of sass and originality that we haven't seen since the days of Ziggy Stardust.

Free of samples and monotonous refrains, this is disco dance-pop at its absolute finest. The jaunty piano-led "She's My Man" has Elton John circa 1983 all over it, which is no surprise given that the legendary Englishman collaborated with the band on a handful of its 12 new tracks. Frontman Jake Shears leads us into a wonderland of cosmic star-streams and pulses on the ironic "I Don't Feel Like Dancin'" and dazzles amid the glitter-encrusted throbs of "Paul McCartney."

The token ballad on the disc, "Land of a Thousand Words," is slightly forgettable, and the only misstep that the band makes in its hour-long romp. With just the right amount of camp, pageantry and sexy soul, the Scissor Sisters make pop music playful again. **** — Hilary Langford



Fergie "The Dutchess" (Interscope Records)

Goes well with mind-numbing boredom and Gwen Stefani posters.

Shame on Stacy Ferguson. With the opportunity to step out from the Black Eyed Peas and show her stuff, she does nothing more than waste our time with samples and blatant knockoffs of songs we've heard a thousand times before.

"Fergalicious" opens the disc and hijacks J.J. Fad's '80s classic, "Supersonic," to the point of sacrilege. "London Bridge" wants to be Gwen Stefani's "Hollaback Girl" with its thick beats and stomps, and "Mary Jane Shoes" finds Fergie alongside Rita Marley, essentially covering "No Woman, No Cry" under the guise of an original reggae song.

A few cuts are worth a listen, including the midtempo pop gem "Big Girls Don't Cry" and "Glamorous," featuring Ludacris. Overall, the disc is danceable but devoid of ingenuity. Fergie should have named her debut "The Dutchess of Bore." ** — H.L.



Lupe Fiasco "Food & Liquor" (Atlantic Records)

Goes well with intelligent hip-hop and Q-Tip.

The major theme on the debut album of Mr. Fiasco's (real name: Wasalu Muhammad Jaco) is quite clear. It's willpower. After guesting on several rap artists' records, most notably Kanye West's "Touch the Sky," and staying strong amid problems with several music labels, Lupe finally gets his chance to come into his own using a commanding and smooth delivery, not unlike successes Q-Tip and Nas.

"Just Might Be OK" and the semiautobiographical "Kick, Push" (referring to the skateboarding motion) contain hooky melodies as well as rhymes that are wise beyond Fiasco's 25 years. A handful of guest MCs help out, including Grammy-nominated R&B artist Jill Scott and the one-and-only Jay-Z on "Pressure."

The track "American Terrorist," focusing on social-class differences that create racial and political problems in our world, is intriguing from start to finish. Intelligent hip-hop of the commercially successful variety is hard to come by these days, which should give Fiasco even more reason to celebrate one of the best records of the year thus far. **** — Mike Kulick



Sparta "Threes" (Hollywood Music)

Texas is principally known for three things: cowboy hats, cattle herds and George W. Bush. But the El Paso four-piece Sparta is not content with that kind of recognition. Since their days as indie post-punk legends At the Drive-In, Sparta has consistently delivered catchy music, but nothing that separates itself from other radio-friendly bands.

On its third album, conveniently titled "Threes," Sparta has strayed from its punk roots in favor of more melodically charged songs. With the addition of guitarist Keeley Davis, a Richmonder who played with Engine Down and Denali, the three-guitar band makes no qualms about the focus of its sound, which is full of guitar-driven melody.

While the music has changed, Sparta hasn't completely given up on the politically charged subject matter of its punk days. The first single, "Taking Back Control," takes aim at the Lone Star State's former governor. The song is a call for answers and a plea for resolution in the war on terror. Regardless of the change, Sparta still has something to say. ** — Scott Whitener



Beyoncé Knowles "B'Day" (Columbia)

Goes well with raging R&B and boyfriend flares.

It takes ingenuity for an artist as ubiquitous as Beyoncé Giselle Knowles to avoid being looked at as the cute, talented little cousin at the family reunion who keeps tapping you on the shoulder with "look what I can do" while you're trying to eat.

The disc's array of producers comes with a reliable collection of R&B, hip-hop-tinged tracks to rival her 2003 solo debut ("Dangerously in Love"), but that is not what intrigues. What sets "B'Day" apart is a bubbling, overflowing rage in Beyoncé's voice that'll have you repeating burners like recently released singles "Ring the Alarm" and "Resentment." You'll wonder if she's shooting flare signals at her rapper boyfriend Jay- Z.

The first single, "Déjà Vu," has done what it was supposed to on the charts, and when the perfumed swagger of the ballad "Irreplaceable" hits the streets full-force, wounded women who never paid attention to your little cousin will be pushing you out of the way and waving their cell phones in appreciation. This is an album centered on female anthems that ring genuine: Good luck with getting back to the rest of your life. The movie based on the play "Dreamgirls," featuring you-know-who, comes out in December. **** — Willie Hobbs S

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