Susan Boyle, "I Dreamed a Dream" (Syco Music/Columbia)
All 12 cuts on the debut album by the 48-year-old overnight sensation from "Britain's Got Talent" offer variations on the same aural concept: Boyle's impressively clear, steady voice with barely a catch in the throat and plain, unadorned phrasing, emanating from what sounds like the center of a large cathedral. Most of the arrangements feature piano and hovering strings and have no backbeats; some are flecked with guitar. Now and then a gospel chorus swells discreetly, and distant drum rolls add gravity.
The selections blur the line between sacred and secular, as Boyle invests torch songs ("Cry Me a River," "The End of the World") and hymns ("How Great Thou Art," "Amazing Grace") with the same attitude of faithful perseverance against the odds. The closest thing to an up-tempo number is a slowed-down rendition of the Monkees' hit "Daydream Believer." In the most striking cut, Boyle turns the Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses" into a starkly beautiful declaration of tenacity and resolution. The hushed mood of it all recalls Celine Dion's blockbuster hit "My Heart Will Go On," without the Celtic inflections and drier eyes. On an album without humor or melodrama, a devotional spirit reigns.
STEPHEN HOLDEN, NEW YORK TIMES
Lady Gaga, "The Fame Monster" (Streamline/Konlive/Cherrytree/Interscope)
Suddenly she's everywhere: performing on "Gossip Girl;" writing a song for Michael Bolton; immolating a polar bear in the "Bad Romance" video. Unburdened by fears of overexposure, or pants, Lady Gaga is pop's newest shiny thing, a real-life kewpie doll weaned on a steady diet of Wagner and Ecstasy.
It should tell you something that this eight-song addendum to her debut "The Fame" is also being sold in a pricey special edition that includes a lock of her hair, as if she were some kind of secular saint.
Erected from a similarly fabulous set of influences (goth, '80s Top 40 pop, Madonna, lite industrial, anything German), "Monster" mostly rides the same sticky electro-pop groove as its predecessor. The disc feels cohesive, not at all like an odds 'n' ends collection, although it is: "Alejandro" borrows liberally from Abba's "Fernando," to happy effect. The blithely awful "Dance in the Dark" is an overlong hat tip to Madonna's "Vogue." The hiccupy Beyoncé collaboration "Telephone" could have been a sizzling diva vamp-off, but poor Beyoncé's Earth-person charisma is no match for whatever it is Gaga has.
Most everything here is really about Lady Gaga. "I love that lavender blonde/ The way she moves/ The way she walks" she coos on "So Happy I Could Die," and yes: She's talking about herself.
ALLISON STEWART, WASHINGTON POST